Archives for the day of: November 19, 2010

Chicago Tribune: Metra riders subjected to high amounts of diesel soot.

Day after day, thousands of commuters are breathing high levels of toxic diesel pollution trapped in Chicago’s two major rail stations and even inside the trains they ride, a Tribune investigation has found. Testing by the newspaper found the amount of diesel soot lingering in the air steadily increases as commuters walk deeper into Union Station or the Ogilvie Transportation Center. Levels of the lung– and heart-damaging pollution jump higher on platforms, where acrid blue clouds of diesel exhaust hover between trains, many of them built in the 1970s. It gets dramatically worse, not better, after boarding a train. As the doors close and the locomotive pulls out of the station, Tribune testing found, the air trapped inside the stainless-steel cars contains levels of diesel soot up to 72 times higher than on the streets outside.More . . .

Tampa Tribune: The enemy didn’t hurt soldier in Iraq; the toxic smoke did.

Bill McKenna served two tours as a U.S. Army sergeant in Iraq. No bullet ever hit him, no shrapnel from an improvised explosive device ever pierced his skin. But sitting on the couch of his Spring Hill home, it’s obvious he’s suffering from the wounds of war: He’s blind in one eye, is missing some teeth and his head is scarred. He has cancer, knee problems, doesn’t hear well and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. McKenna’s cancer, according to him and to his doctors at the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital, is directly attributable to constant exposure to the thick, acrid smoke that wafted almost every hour of every day across Balad Air Base in Iraq where McKenna was stationed for about 18 months. In bases across Afghanistan and Iraq, amputated body parts, Humvee parts, human waste, plastic meal trays and other garbage is incinerated, using jet fuel, in large trenches called burn pits. The smoke billowing from the pits is so pervasive it can be seen from miles away. More . . .

Chemical & Engineering News: Fetal origins of disease.

A growing body of scientific research suggests that exposure to chemical toxicants in the womb can lead to chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, later in life. Although scientists agree that the evidence is compelling, many of them are frustrated because such data aren’t being used in regulatory decision-making and risk assessment.  More . . .

In May of 2008, Newsweek Science writer and author Sharon Begley reviewed the book “Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.”

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That science can be bought is hardly news to anyone who knows about tobacco “scientists.” But how pervasive, effective and stealthy this science-for-hire is—as masterfully documented by David Michaels of George Washington University in his new book, “Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health”—will shock anyone who still believes that “science” and “integrity” are soulmates. In studies of how toxic chemicals affect human health, Michaels told me, “It’s quite easy to take a positive result [showing harmful effects] and turn it falsely negative. This epidemiological alchemy is used widely.”

The alchemy is all in how you design your study and massage the data. Want to show that chemical x does not raise the risk of cancer? Then follow the exposed population for only a few years, since the cancers that most chemicals cause take 20 or 30 years to show up. Since workers are healthier than the general population, they start with a lower death rate; only by comparing rates of something the chemical is specifically suspected of causing—a particular lung disease, perhaps—can you detect a problem. Or, combine data on groups who got a lot of the suspect chemical, such as factory workers, with those who got little or none, perhaps their white-collar bosses. The low disease rates in the latter will dilute the high rates in the former, making it seem that x isn’t that toxic. All these ruses have been used, delaying government action on chemicals including benzene, vinyl chloride, asbestos, chromium, beryllium and a long list of others that cause cancer in humans. “Any competent epidemiologist can employ particular tricks of the trade when certain results are desired,” Michaels writes.

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This is all very big business. “Product-defense firms” have sprung up to spin the science and manufacture doubt—proudly. . . .

Make no mistake: raising doubt has run up the body count. By the early 1980s, for instance, studies had shown that children who took aspirin when they had a viral infection such as chickenpox were at greater risk of developing Reye’s syndrome, which damages the brain and liver and is fatal in about one case in three. Desperate to protect their market, aspirin makers claimed the science was flawed, called for more research (a constant refrain), and ran public-service announcements assuring parents, “We do know that no medication has been proven to cause Reye’s.” The campaign delayed by years the requirement that aspirin carry a warning label about children and Reye’s. In the interim, thousands of kids developed Reye’s. Hundreds died.

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Video of David Michaels authors@Google presentation.

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