AAP opposes U.N. mercury ban

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently came out against a United Nations Environment Program proposal to eliminate mercury in all products and processes worldwide.

The AAP is concerned that the ban would include thimerosol, an ethyl-mercury compound used as a preservative in vaccines, and could devastate public health programs in the developing world.

The academy has issued three commentaries and an endorsement to be published in the journal Pediatrics. All of the articles note that any ban on products containing mercury should exempt thimerosol.

Thimerosol has been used since the 1930s to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination in vaccines stored in multidose vials. Any ban on the substance would require a shift to single-dose vials that would be more costly and require entirely new networks of cold storage facilities and waste disposal capacity, according to the New York Times.

Dr. Louis Z. Cooper, a past AAP president, said that approximately 84 million children around the world depend on vaccines that use thimerosol as a preservative.

"Science clearly documented that we can't find hazards from thimerosal in vaccines," Cooper said, the New York Times reports. "The preservative plays a critical role in distribution of vaccine to the global community. It was a no-brainer what our position needed to be."

"Despite claims of anti-vaccine proponents who have erroneously linked thimerosal to autism, studies during the past 15 years have not shown any evidence of harm," the AAP wrote. "Some of those activists confused ethylmercury with the dangerous neurotoxin methylmercury."

UNEP is scheduled to discuss the matter again in January.