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Subject: Safe Minds & Mercury Policy Project Statement on Homeland Security Rider

For Immediate Release

Contacts: Michael Bender, Mercury Policy Project, 802-223-9000
Lyn Redwood, Safe Minds, 404-932-1786
Sallie Bernard, Safe Minds, 970-429-1460


Drug Maker Tells Congressional Staff That They Won't Produce Smallpox Vaccine Without Amendment Granting Immunity From Mercury Vaccine Lawsuits

Washington,DC - A thimerosal liability shield rider tacked on to the Homeland Security Bill at the last minute and passed by the US House last week is being opposed by lawmakers, activists and parents of children with autism as unfair and irresponsible.

The rider would effectively end lawsuits for damages caused to children after multiple mercury exposures from thimerosal in infant vaccines. An amendment introduced into the US Senate by Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Tom Daschle (D-SD) to remove this and other riders unrelated to bioterrorism is scheduled to be voted on this Monday, November 18th.

"The Mercury Policy Project and Safe Minds hope the entire Senate will support this amendment and not let a small number of corporations exploit a national threat to America to further their own private agendas," said Michael Bender, Director of the Mercury Policy Project. "While no one now wants to take credit for it, this rider smacks of payback, smells of blackmail, has no relation to homeland security and should be defeated."

According to news reports and congressional staff, representatives of at least one drug manufacturer have told the White House and several US senate staff that they won't produce the smallpox vaccines requested by the Administration to protect Americans against bioterrorism if the liability shielding amendment for thimerosal is defeated. Yet neither the smallpox nor anthrax vaccines - our primary defenses against possible biological warfare - contain thimerosal. Rather, thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that has been used in infant vaccines and is increasingly in the spotlight.

"We are heartened that Senators Lieberman and Daschle are offering an amendment to remove extraneous additions like the thimerosal liability shield from the Homeland Security Act," stated Sallie Bernard, Executive Director of Safe Minds. "This addition is an example of all that is wrong with a system of using last minute riders to subvert the legislative process."

More than $14 million was recently contributed to congressional candidates prior to the elections by the pharmaceutical industry. The most generous donor was Eli Lilly, who contributed $1.6 million and apparently has the most to lose--having developed and generously profited from the sales of thimerosal for over 40 years.

"Instead of providing immunity, Congress should be passing legislation investigating why the Food & Drug Administration and American public were misled by Eli Lilly into believing that their product was safe--when company documents paint a completely different picture," said Lyn Redwood, RN, President of Safe Minds and parent of a child with numerous disabilities associated with mercury toxicity after receiving 125 times the Environmental Protection Agency's allowable exposure to mercury.

"More and more parents believe that autism affecting their children is related to a mercury preservative used in numerous vaccines," said Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, which has held several thimerosal and autism-related hearings. "These provisions in the bill will cut off their recourse to the courts, and that's just wrong."

Internal documents reviewed as a result of discovery in current litigation filed against the pharmaceutical giant reveal that Eli Lilly was aware of concerns resulting from thimerosal exposure since the early 1940's and was advised by its Medical Science Department in 1967 that the claim "Non-toxic" be removed from its thimerosal labels. Lilly's own materials safety data sheet acknowledges that exposure in children may cause mild to severe mental retardation and that mercury poisoning may occur.

On Friday, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent a letter to Secretary Tommy Thompson, Director of Health and Human Services, and White House Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels requesting information on the Bush administration's involvement in the amendment. Daniels was previously employed by Eli Lilly as a top executive. According to a news report, Waxman said "It now seems apparent the administration's priority has been legislation that protects manufacturers but not injured people."

The thimerosal lawsuits began appearing in 2000 after the federal government asked manufacturers of childhood vaccines to stop using mercury-based preservatives. The Homeland Security bill rider would keep the lawsuits out of state courts, preventing large judgments, and instead refer complaints to a 14-year-old federal program limiting compensation to $250,000 for those who suffer the side effects of vaccines. Further, the rider would uphold the current statute of limitations, thereby continuing to bar the majority of affected children from seeking compensation--and without any other legal recourse.

According to recent Centers for Disease Control investigations, Autism Spectrum Disorders affect approximately 1 in 150 American children today. A recent report estimates the lifetime costs of caring for children with autism at around $2 million each.

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