Health

Ozone, Asthma, and EPA Junk Science

On June 22, 2017, the Arizona Daily Star ran a story with the alarmist headline: “Tucson-area air quality the worst in five years.” The “worst in five years” thing is that on just five days during the past three months ground-level ozone measurements exceeded the EPA standard of 70ppb by a few parts per billion. “Ozone levels at Saguaro National Park-East that topped the 70 parts per billion federal standard: June 15 — 77 ppb, June 14 — 73 ppb, May 12 — 71 ppb, April 21 — 73 ppb, April 20 — 74 ppb.” The EPA claims that ozone causes asthma and other respiratory ailments, hence the strict standards. But, the EPA’s own data debunks the claim.

For many years, the EPA has been conducting experiments on the effects of ozone exposure. They placed volunteers in a closed room and subjected them to 300ppb and 400ppb ozone for two hours while they performed mild exercise. The 6,000 volunteers included children, the elderly, and even asthmatics. The EPA reports that “not a single adverse event.. [was] observed.” (Source)

There is also independent data showing that EPA ozone standards are bunk. For instance, there was “No association between air quality (PM2.5, ozone) and hospital admissions for asthma in University of California-Davis Health System during 2010-2012 (19,000+ cases). (Source)

According to the Institute for Energy Research, “average ozone concentrations nationwide dropped by 33 percent from 1980 to 2014. Since the incorporation of the 2008 standards, average ozone levels have declined by more than 9 percent, nationally.”

IER also reports: “According to an August 2015 report by NERA Economic Consulting, which analyzed the impacts of a 65 ppb standard (EPA ultimately went with a slightly higher 70 ppb standard), the total compliance costs could total $1.13 trillion from 2017 to 2040. The rule could also lead to annualized GDP declines of $140 billion as well as $840 in consumption losses for households.” (Source)

The EPA’s rules were endorsed by a panel of scientists required by law to review them, called the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Both the Clean Air Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act required that CASAC panels be independent and unbiased. So was the panel independent and/or unbiased? A report shows that members of the board received a total of $192 million worth of EPA grants. (Source)

Some background:

“Ground-level ozone is formed through a chemical reaction when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) interact with sunlight. Emissions from power plants, industrial facilities, automobiles, gasoline vapors and solvents are all sources of NOx and VOCs. Natural sources, such as plant life and fires, also contribute to the formation of ozone; today, given how much ozone levels in the United States have already been reduced, a significant portion of a given area’s ozone concentration is made up of natural background ozone and ozone that has traveled from other states and, increasingly, from overseas.” (Source, study by National Association of Manufacturers)

A measurement problem:

“While the EPA has long known that ozone measurements are significantly biased upward by mercury vapor, the agency has required States to use ultraviolet ozone monitors subject to mercury interference. These ozone monitors blow air between an ultraviolet (UV) lamp and a UV detector. Ozone strongly absorbs UV, so reductions in UV arriving at the detector are proportional to the ozone in the air. But mercury vapor and other contaminants in air also absorb UV, thus, artificially inflating the amount of ‘ozone’ that is measured. The bias can range from a few parts per billion to many more.” (Source)

Mercury occurs in soil in and around Tucson. It is possible that readings recorded by local instruments may be “biased upward” by the mercury contained in blowing dust. A study in Avra Valley, west of Tucson, found soil mercury values up to 750ppb. (Arizona Geological Survey, Open-File Report 81-5, 1981).

The AZ Star article expresses much concern over the County exceeding EPA standards. These standards are the current law, so they may have economic consequences for non-attainment. There is, however, no proof that exceeding these standards have any effect on health.

See also: EPA experiments on humans debunk their ozone and particulate matter health claims

Will Trump rein in regulation?

Have we just witnessed a second American revolution; one that repudiates the policies of the political establishment of both Republicans and Democrats? We had a hint of this when Trump beat out establishment Republicans in the primary.

Trump will have much to deal with. In this article I will concentrate on the EPA, an agency whose regulations have trampled private property rights, and killed much inexpensive electricity generation.

What if, in his inaugural address, Trump were to issue an executive order that says something like “no federal agency shall regulate carbon dioxide emissions from burning of fossil fuels and all existing regulations to that effect are null and void?” Even the EPA admits that the possible effect on climate of its “Clean Power Plan” is prevention of just 0.03°C by the year 2100. That would be a great positive step in quelling the climate madness. It would also boost our economy. EPA regulations on particulate matter have no basis in science (see references below).

The EPA itself could be phased out and replaced by the environmental agencies of each state.

The EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule (WOTUS, see here and here) impacts private property rights because the rule has become so invasive that it regulates every puddle and rill that may occur on or pass through a property.

In addition to the above:

The U.S. should withdrawal from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, from the Paris climate agreement and from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC). These agencies and agreements suck money and provide no benefit. In the thousands of pages from reports by the IPCC, they have never produced any physical evidence that carbon dioxide emissions play a significant role in controlling global temperature.

The U.S. should also terminate all federal government subsidies for climate change research and for “renewable” energy. Let the solar and wind turbine companies test the demand for their product on the free market without any artificial markets produced by mandates and subsidies.

Endangered species listings based on projected climate change should be rescinded. In fact, the Endangered Species act should be amended or replaced with something that is more science-based and provides a positive incentive for conservation.

I hope Trump can “drain the swamp” and make the government serve the people once again.

 

See also:

EPA Clean Power Plan is Junk Science

EPA’s own human experiments debunk health claims

EPA claims on dangers of particulate matter are false

EPA Clean Power Plan is Junk Science

Replace the Environmental Protection Agency

EPA targets wrong cause of haze in Grand Canyon

The Flaws in the Endangered Species Act

 

 

The Origin of Vaccine Fears

Some parents refuse to have their children vaccinated because of the fear that the vaccinations may cause autism and other problems. That fear was bolstered in Britain with the publication of a 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. That paper claimed a link between the triple vaccine combination MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) and inflammatory bowel disease and autism. The paper was retracted in 2010 after a long investigation by reporter Brian Deer for the London Sunday Times. Wakefield was removed from the U.K. medical registry in 2010, after the longest-ever professional misconduct hearing by the UK’s General Medical Council.

You can read a summary of the seven-year investigation here: http://briandeer.com/mmr/lancet-summary.htm It is a long article which I will further summarize.

According to the article:

It all started with a British lawyer, Richard Barr, “a jobbing solicitor in the small eastern English town of King’s Lynn, who hoped to raise a speculative class action lawsuit against drug companies which manufactured the triple shot. Barr hired medical researcher Andrew Wakefield to find some problem with MMR. “The goal was to find evidence of what the two men claimed to be a ‘new syndrome’, intended to be the centrepiece of (later failed) litigation on behalf of an eventual 1,600 British families, recruited through media stories.”

Wakefield’s entire study “reported on the cases of just 12 anonymous children with apparent brain disorders who had been admitted to a pediatric bowel unit at the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead, north London, between July 1996 and February 1997.”

“The prime cause of the alarm was findings in the paper claiming that the parents of two thirds of the 12 children blamed MMR for the sudden onset of what was described as a combination of both an inflammatory bowel disease and what Wakefield called ‘regressive autism’, in which language and basic skills were said to have been lost. Most disturbingly, the first behavioral symptoms were reported to have appeared within only 14 days of the shot.”

Deer’s investigation showed that Wakefield was well-paid for his findings. The investigation also found a conflict of interest: The Sunday Times investigation found that in “June 1997 – nearly nine months before the press conference at which Wakefield called for single vaccines – he had filed a patent on products, including his own supposedly ‘safer’ single measles vaccine, which only stood any prospect of success if confidence in MMR was damaged.”

Deer’s investigation also found that the original 12 children were not what they appeared to be. “In the Lancet, the 12 children (11 boys and one girl) had been held out as merely a routine series of kids with developmental disorders and digestive symptoms, needing care from the London hospital. That so many of their parents blamed problems on one common vaccine, understandably, caused public concern. But Deer discovered that nearly all the children (aged between 2½ and 9½) had been pre-selected through MMR campaign groups, and that, at the time of their admission, most of their parents were clients and contacts of the lawyer, Barr.”

“The investigation revealed, moreover, that the paper’s incredible purported finding – of a sudden onset of autism within days of vaccination – was a sham: laundering into medical literature, as apparent facts, the unverified, vague – and sometimes altered – memories and assertions of a group of unnamed parents who, unknown to the journal and its readers, were bound to blame MMR when they came to the hospital because that was why they had been brought there.”

The bottom line is that the original paper, which precipitated so much concern, was based on fraud. No other researchers have been able to replicate the results of Wakefield’s original paper.
Read the entire summary of investigation linked above.

Platinum group metals fight pollution and cancer

The platinum group metals are exceptionally rare elements vital to the healthcare, energy and transportation sectors. The six metals’ unique characteristics make them essential in or necessary to production of 20% of goods manufactured today.

Platinum group metals make major contributions to our health, playing a significant role in fighting cancer as active ingredients in chemotherapy drugs. They are also used in implants for radiation therapy. Because of their resistance to corrosion, platinum group metals are frequently found in pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, catheters, stents and neuromodulation devices.

Platinum group metals are key components of automobile pollution control devices and fuel cell technology that powers our electronic devices, cars and homes.

The info-graphic below from the National Mining Association shows the many uses of platinum group metals. This info-graphic could be a resource for teachers. More info-graphics are linked to below.

The platinum info-graphic can be downloaded as a PDF file at:

 http://mineralsmakelife.org/resources/details/platinum-group-metals-platinum-is-powerful

PGM_Infographic_FINAL-page-001

See other info-graphics from NMA here:

Gold in modern life

Importance of Copper

Importance of domestic mining to manufacturing

Iron – critical to nearly every industry

Minerals vital to modern life – a short video

Potash and Phosphate help feed the world

How we use rare earth elements

Zinc the building block of summer fun

New study suggests that eating nuts prolongs your life – or does it?

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined consumption of nuts in relation to total mortality.  According to a press release in the Arizona Daily Star “Eating nuts is tied to lower risk of death” “The risk of dying of heart disease dropped 29 percent and the risk of dying of cancer fell 11 percent among those who had nuts seven or more times a week compared with people who never ate them.”

Many studies suggest that eating nuts have a beneficial effect on health.  The study in question was a statistical study of 170,000 health-care professionals that were followed for many years.

The results of the study are consistent with the conclusion that eating nuts every day prolongs life.  However, the results were also consistent with the conclusion that healthier people tend to eat more nuts than less healthy people, so the association is a coincidence.  Correlation does not prove causation.  Hence the study can’t really determine cause and effect.

You can read the complete article in the New England Journal of Medicine here and form your own conclusion.

Here are some details of the study:

“Dietary intake was measured with the use of validated food-frequency questionnaires administered every 2 to 4 years.”  This assumes the respondents correctly remembered, and honestly reported nut consumption.

The study excluded people with history of cancer, heart disease, or stroke.  It also excluded smokers, the extremely thin, the extremely fat, and diabetics.  Therefore, the study selected people who were genetically healthy or who had good health habits.

The study concludes: “In conclusion, our analysis of samples from these two prospective cohort studies showed significant inverse associations of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. Nonetheless, epidemiologic observations establish associations, not causality, and not all findings from observational studies have been confirmed in controlled, randomized clinical trials.”

Although the study did not really prove that nuts prolong life, nuts do have many benefits, so go nuts.

See also:

Statistical Games #1

Statistical Games #2 Stroke for Stroke

Statistical Significance in Science – how to game the system

ADEQ shows a better way for environmental permitting and protection

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has the mission to protect public health and the environment.  They have to vet and permit operations big and small.  They do this through three main divisions: Air Quality, Waste programs, and Water Quality.

In a previous post, “How NEPA crushes productivity,” I wrote about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a byzantine Federal bureaucratic maze that stifles productivity.  The length, complexity and uncertainty of the permitting process of NEPA now takes a mining company about 10 years to obtain the necessary Federal permits for a major project.  That puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage since other countries are more efficient in this regard.  For instance, permitting time in Canada and Australia is typically less than two years.

In contrast to the Federal NEPA process, ADEQ has a process that gets the job done much more efficiently and now ADEQ is striving to make it even better.  The ADEQ system should be a model for the Feds.

I asked ADEQ Director Henry Darwin some questions about the philosophy and workings of ADEQ:

Wryheat: 1. What advancements in regulations and permitting time lines has ADEQ made recently?

Darwin:

ADEQ has applied “Lean techniques” to its permitting processes and is now making permitting decisions much faster.  Permits that previously required 18 months to process are now being processed in less than a year.  Certain interim permitting steps, administrative review for example, previously took up to 60 days and can now be completed in a single meeting.

Wryheat note: “Lean techniques” according to Wikipedia “is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, ‘value’ is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.  Essentially, lean is centered on preserving value with less work.”

Wryheat: 2. Do you believe that economic activity, especially mining, can co-exist with good environmental stewardship? If so, how?

Darwin:

I have long believed environmental protection and economic development go hand in hand. It is a little recognized fact that poor countries and countries that are emerging from poverty have the most difficult time protecting the environment. The converse is also true; a strong economy provides society the wherewithal to protect the environment.  As a result, the best indicator of a healthy natural environment is often a healthy economic environment.

Wryheat: 3. To some, mining and environmental quality are opposites. How does ADEQ reconcile the apparent conflict?

Darwin:

This is a false choice. Prudent use of natural resources and environmental protection are not at odds. Conflict between the two only arises at the extreme of either activity, and legal protections exist to minimize mining’s adverse impacts. ADEQ doesn’t get to decide whether a mine opens, but through our permitting processes, we ensure mining operations occur in an environmentally responsible way that limits harmful emissions to our air, water and soil. It’s worth noting, as important as the mining industry is to Arizona’s economy, our state leaders recognized the value in protecting our precious natural resources. This is why they passed the Environmental Quality Act in 1986, which not only established ADEQ as a separate, cabinet level agency, but also created the Aquifer Protection Permit program, the first comprehensive groundwater protection program in the nation. As a result, every mine that operates in Arizona must obtain a permit that ensures groundwater is protected.

Wryheat: 4. What do you regard as the minimum time for ADEQ to vet a major project and what does the process consist of?

Darwin:

In the recent past we have permitted several large projects in as little as six months, but timeframes are project-specific and providing a general timeframe would be subject to error. We encourage any party who is planning a major project to visit with us to establish a plan for expeditious permitting. An expeditious process consists of the following major steps:

Pre-Application Meeting: Face to face pre-application meeting

Administrative Review: A real time and face to face administrative review meeting to make sure the applications is complete

Substantive Review: Regular phone contact between the ADEQ permit writer and the applicant’s consultant during substantive review

Applicant Review of Permit Conditions

Public Comment

Public Comment Response

Final Payment

Issue Permit

Wryheat: 5. Does ADEQ regard itself, in its role of protecting the environment, a partner of business or a strict watchdog, or both? How is that reconciled?

Darwin:

As I said in my response to Question 2, above, a strong economy and safe, healthy environment are not adversarial. In fact, one of our agency’s strategic goals is to support environmentally responsible economic growth. Companies that do business in Arizona often require our products and services (permits, or example) in order to operate. Such companies are, in fact, our customers, and ADEQ must deliver value as our customers define it. This doesn’t mean we give our customers everything they want, because the customer is not always right. We have shareholders, too, namely taxpayers, who require a solid return on their investment; they want clear skies, clean water and land that is safe to roam, work and play. There must always be a healthy balance between delivering customer value and providing that solid return on investment for Arizona taxpayers.

I asked some representatives of the mining industry about their perception of ADEQ.

From Kathy Arnold, VP Environmental & Regulatory Affairs, Rosemont Copper Company:

ADEQ has made great strides with permitting both in setting specific requirements and in setting specific timeframes. This gives businesses the certainty necessary for determining timeframes.  ADEQ has been working on developing processes and rules for programs and their stakeholder system allows people to give input necessary so rules can be fully vetted and understood before implementation. The overall process for permits is fair and can be followed without political interference. The enforcement of the rules and permits is tough but again fair.  

From  Steve Trussell, Executive Director, Arizona Rock Products Association:

The ADEQ has recently worked on several projects that have been of key interest to citizens of our state in terms of air and water quality, but two that come to mind as of late are efforts to respond to  components of Governor Jan Brewer’s Four Cornerstones Document which was presented at the State of the State Address in January of this year. 

The ADEQ began the laborious task of process waste reduction regarding the amount of steps it takes to get a permit out the door by reducing licensing time frames.  ADEQ hosted events which included stakeholders in order to identify the factors that arise in permitting that could be potentially holding up permit approvals.  Permitting can be a challenge depending on the specific project and the current regulatory requirements and is a key factor in business investment in Arizona.  ADEQ has employed LEAN process improvements that have and will continue to reduce permitting delays for both air and water permitting and will be implementing the lessons learned across the boards and within all sections of the agency.  The agency reports that processing times have been reduced by one-third and have allowed companies to allocate valuable resources elsewhere. 

Additionally, the ADEQ will further enjoy expeditious submittals, approvals and reporting compliance as a result of their proposed e-portal which will allow the agency to move in a paperless direction.  The portal will enable a permitted source to track, report and submit payment on all of their various permits with the agency, and all in one place.  A process that once required a tremendous amount of time and effort from a record keeping and delivery standpoint would now be possible at the project site.

These are merely a few examples of progressive steps the ADEQ has taken to be protective of the environment while addressing time and resource sensitivity of Arizona’s businesses. Governor Brewer had this to say about the initiative, “The completion of this project, with its cost savings, convenience, and compliance assistance, will be a boon to business regulated by the ADEQ and help attract new business to Arizona” and the members of the Arizona Rock Products Association. couldn’t agree more.  All business organizations regulated by the ADEQ should encourage the legislature to support this laudable effort.

Mr. Darwin sent me some information on the proposed e-portal Mr. Trussel mentioned.  The new site will be called MyDEQ.  The program “will  funded through existing revenue ($10 million) from the Vehicle Emissions Inspections Fund.”

Here are some highlights of the proposed program:

MyDEQ1

MyDEQ2

The Federal government should take notice of ADEQ methods and try to emulate them.

See also:

Mining and the bureaucracy

How NEPA crushes productivity

Uncorrected Forest Service errors block marble mine

Pima County versus Rosemont

The importance of minerals to our economy and national security

Genetically Modified Foods, nothing to fear

Genetically modified crops (GMs or GMOs for genetically modified organisms) have existed for thousands of years, but now that we know how to splice genes in the laboratory, there is concern over food safety.  Much of that concern is unwarranted.  Nevertheless, there are campaigns to require product labeling when some foodstuffs contain GMOs. (See a story about such a campaign in Tucson here.) The food industry is generally against that requirement for two reasons: 1) it implies that the produce is somehow inferior to non-modified foods, and 2) costs; it could require companies to have separate processing lines for GMO and non-GMO foods.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has a statement on GMOs and labeling which begins:

“There are several current efforts to require labeling of foods containing products derived from genetically modified crop plants, commonly known as GM crops or GMOs. These efforts are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. Rather, these initiatives are driven by a variety of factors, ranging from the persistent perception that such foods are somehow “unnatural” and potentially dangerous to the desire to gain competitive advantage by legislating attachment of a label meant to alarm. Another misconception used as a rationale for labeling is that GM crops are untested.”

See full statement here.

Humans have been genetically modifying food crops for a long time.  Ever hear of teosinte?  It is a grass that grows in Mexico and Central America.  Many thousands of years ago, farmers began selecting the seeds from certain individual teosinte plants that favored larger seeds or kernels and planted these larger seeds to encourage the trait.  This process is known as selective breeding or artificial selection. Eventually the plant became known as maize (corn).  The maize or corn cob looks nothing like the original plant but, according to the University of Utah, “at the DNA level, the two are surprisingly alike. They have the same number of chromosomes and a remarkably similar arrangement of genes. In fact, teosinte can cross-breed with modern maize varieties to form maize-teosinte hybrids that can go on to reproduce naturally.”

Beginning in the 1950s, Norman Borlaug, so-called father of the Green Revolution, took selective breeding to new heights.  His work helped save millions of lives.  An article in Forbes Magazine recounts the story:

“First, he and his colleagues laboriously crossbred thousands of wheat varieties from around the world to produce some new ones with resistance to rust, a destructive plant pest; this raised yields 20% to 40%.

“Second, he crafted so-called dwarf wheat varieties, which were smaller than the old shoulder-high varieties that bent in the wind and touched the ground (thereby becoming unharvestable); the new waist or knee-high dwarfs stayed erect and held up huge loads of grain.  The yields were boosted even further.

“Third, he devised an ingenious technique called “shuttle breeding”– growing two successive plantings each year, instead of the usual one, in different regions of Mexico.  The availability of two test generations of wheat each year cut by half the years required for breeding new varieties.  Moreover, because the two regions possessed distinctly different climatic conditions, the resulting new early-maturing, rust-resistant varieties were broadly adapted to many latitudes, altitudes and soil types.  This wide adaptability, which flew in the face of agricultural orthodoxy, proved invaluable, and Mexican wheat yields skyrocketed.”

As a result, Mexico became an exporter of wheat and India and Pakistan doubled their production.

Borlaug’s work also led to the development of high-yield rice, including vitamin-A-rich “golden rice” in Asia.

Advances in molecular biology allow gene splicing to produce GMOs faster than the older method of selective breeding.  Is this unnatural?  I suppose that strictly speaking it is, but it just continues a process that we have been using for thousands of years.  Modern gene splicing makes it easier to create crops with desirable characteristics and also easier to make sure undesirable traits are prevented or eliminated.

GMOs have been a controversial topic in the European Union.  Last year, however, the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisor said “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are no riskier than their conventionally farmed equivalents…There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food.”

Professor Alan McHughen, a plant molecular geneticist at UC Riverside wrote a book called “Pandora’s Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods” in which he reviews the fears and facts surrounding GMOs.. McHughen is generally in favor of GMOs.  In a recent article he claims:

“GMO technologies have been around since the early 1970s and have given us many useful products, from human insulin to safer crops grown with fewer pesticides. Moreover, in over 30 years of experience, according to authoritative sources such as the U.S. National Academies and the American Medical Association, there is not one documented case of harm to humans, animals or the environment from GM products.”

McHughen does note that  “Recently, French scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini and his team published a peer-reviewed paper that claimed harm to test animals after they were fed GM corn for two years.”

Andrew Revkin of the New York Times writes of that study here.  The study claimed to find big impacts on longevity and cancer rates in rats fed Roundup-ready corn.  Revkin notes some red-flags in the study: “One issue is that, while the experiments ran for two years, far longer than most rat studies of food safety, the chosen rat breed commonly develops tumors after two years. Combined with small sample size (the different test groups had 20 animals each), this has led even some advocates for GMO labeling to question the results….Another red flag was that tumor rates didn’t increase in line with the dose of GMOs fed to animals, as scientists would expect to see if the genetically engineered corn were to blame…”

A study reported in Food and Chemical Toxicology, April, 2012, examined 12 long-term projects and 12 multi-generational studies of the effects of diets containing GM maize, potato, soybean, rice, or triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye) on animal health.  ” Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed.”

One oft cited concern is allergic reaction to food.  Gene modification involves substituting or adding a protein, and almost any protein can be an allergen.  If you do an internet search of “GMO” and “allergies” you will find thousands of sites expressing concern but almost none providing any clinical evidence of GMO-caused allergies.  When American-grown Starlink corn was first introduced into the UK, many people claimed asthma symptoms worsened.  The CDC investigated but could not find a link.  GMO soybeans have also been accused of causing allergies.  A Korean clinical study found no difference in reactions to GMO and non-GMO soybeans.  Ironically, I saw that there are some attempts to reduce food allergies, such as to peanuts, through genetic modification. By law, if a new protein trait has been added, the protein must be shown to be neither toxic nor allergenic.

As far as I can tell, there are no significant health safety issues associated with GMO foods.  Calls for labeling such as the one reportedrecently in the Arizona Daily Star seem to be based on ignorance and fear rather than evidence.  If, however, there is some real proof that certain GMO foods cause adverse effects (like peanuts allergies), then such products should be labeled. We have been using GMO foods for a long time and, so far, no such danger has been identified.

For more information see an article by molecular biologist Michael Eisen “How Bt Corn And Roundup Ready Soy Work – And Why They Should Not Scare You.”  He writes: “Approximately 90% of soybeans, maize, cotton and sugar beets grown in the US are have been genetically modified to produce a protein that kills common insect pests or to make them highly tolerant of an herbicide used to control weeds, or in some cases both. To make a rational judgment about whether these specific GMOs are good or bad, it’s important to understand exactly what they are and how they work.”  He also notes that use of GMOs has greatly reduced the need for pesticides. See the rest of his article here.

Please take note: This post is about food safety and does not address the separate issue of possible cross-pollination from GMO crops, an issue of great economic concern to organic farmers.  However, I will mention that there are methods to minimize or prevent cross-pollination as discussed by the University of Minnesota here and the University of Arizona here. Organic farmers can also use GMO-resistant strains. For instance, a new lineage of organic corn hybrids, known as PuraMaize®, seek to end the battle of GMO corn contamination. Using a natural gene blocking system, these organic hybrids are able to prevent fertilization of foreign GMO and colored corn varieties.

Assertive headline mis-characterizes the reality of a medical research study

A press release on EurekAlert caught my eye because it looked suspicious. The headline: “Children living near toxic waste sites experience higher blood lead levels resulting in lower IQ.” That assertive headline implies a rigorous study that tested the blood lead levels of many children, but, as we will see, the assertion is an assumption based on computer modeling, not testing.

We often see ominous headlines similar to the one above in the mainstream media. They can cause great concern. But it pays to look at the details. The headline is qualified in the first sentence of the press release with the phrase “may experience higher blood lead levels” but many of the media reports went with the headline. This headline came from a press release by the  Mount Sinai School of Medicine (see the entire press release here).  So, what methods did the researchers use to justify even the modified description?

The operative paragraph in the press release is this one:

“Researchers measured lead levels in soil and drinking water at 200 toxic waste sites in 31 countries then estimated the blood lead levels in 779,989 children who were potentially exposed to lead from these sites in 2010. The blood lead levels ranged from 1.5 to 104 µg/dL, with an average of 21 µg/dL in children ages four years and younger. According to Dr. Chatham-Stephens, first author of the study, these higher blood lead levels could result in an estimated loss of five to eight IQ points per child and an incidence of mild mental retardation in 6 out of every 1,000 children.”

There are many precise numbers implying rigorous research. But, the phrases “estimated the blood levels,” “potentially exposed,” and “could result” should raise a red flag.

The whole thesis of this research is based on guesswork and assumption. The researchers did not measure lead levels in children’s blood; nor did they test IQ levels; and they did not interact with 779,989 children. Further investigation reveals that all the numbers, including the reported blood lead levels, are extrapolations from computer modeling.

The paper title is “The Pediatric Burden of Disease from Lead Exposure at Toxic Waste Sites in Low and Middle Income Countries.” I could not find the full published paper, but I did find the abstract here. From the abstract we find that the numbers reported in the press release are indeed products of computer modeling, not from actual measurement. The paper in question is apparently a subset of a larger study by the same authors:“Burden of disease from toxic waste sites in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines in 2010” which is available online. The methodology described there confirms that no blood tests were performed. So, all those impressive looking precise numbers in the press release are mere artifacts of the assumptions used in a computer model.

The point here is that while the contention of the research might be correct, the reality is that we don’t know because the researchers, as far as I can tell, never validated the modeling with ground truth. We know no more now than we did before the research was conducted and the relationship postulated.

I think stories like this reflect poor practice in both journalism and science. I also noted that the study was done in conjunction with the Blacksmith Institute, an advocacy group, so there may be some promotional incentive for the press release headline.

The principle danger from this kind of study, besides worrying the public, is that policy makers may read only the headlines and propose inappropriate solutions to problems that may not exist.

A version of this article first appeared in the Arizona Daily Independent.

See also:

Be wary of statistical traps

 

Breaking: EPA sued in federal court over illegal human testing

Public health consultant Steve Milloy, publisher of Junkscience.com and the nonprofit American Tradition Institute Environmental Law Center (ATI) have sued the EPA for conducting illegal life- and health-threatening scientific experiments on human subjects. The tests are still ongoing and conducted “with the assistance of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine” according to Milloy.

Milloy says:

Since at least 2004 and up through the Obama administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been secretly testing highly toxic/lethal air pollutants on unhealthy human study subjects for the sole purpose of finding out what harm would be caused by the exposures. In no case, were the human study subjects fully informed of the dangers posed by the experimentation, nor were they intended to benefit from the experimentation.

The mere approval and conduct of these experiments (in which the EPA treated human beings as guinea pigs for toxicity testing), not to mention the EPA’s failure to obtain informed consent from the study subjects, violates virtually every regulation established since World War II, including federal regulations and EPA’s own rules, concerning the protection of human subjects used in scientific experimentation. EPA may also incur criminal and civil liabilities from this conduct.

What are the EPA experiments?

EPA has conducted/is conducting at least four separate projects in which already-unhealthy study subjects were/are being exposed to high-levels of diesel exhaust and toxic air pollution particles (known as “PM2.5”). “High-levels” means exposures 10-20 times greater than EPA regulatory standards.

XCON Study. Starting in 2004, the EPA exposed adults with metabolic syndrome (including the elderly) to high levels of toxic PM2.5.

OMEGACON Study. Starting in 2007, the EPA exposed older adults to high levels of diesel exhaust (which contains PM2.5 and other “toxic” substances) and then “treated” them with omega-3 fatty acids to see if whatever harm caused by PM2.5 was mitigated. In 2008, the diesel exhaust was replaced by plain PM2.5.

KINGCON Study. Starting in 2008, the EPA exposed older adults with moderate asthma to PM2.5.

CAPTAIN Study. The EPA is now recruiting older adults (including the elderly up to 75 years) to “… find out if a component of ambient air pollution to which we are all exposed, particulate matter (PM), produced by car and coal-fired power plants, increases the risks of changes in the heart and whether genotype will lessen the risks caused by PM.

The findings are given in detail at a new website: http://epahumantesting.com/ . The left sidebar of that site takes you on a guided tour.

Compact fluorescent bulbs may contribute to skin cancer

A new study from Stony Brook University, published in the journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, revealed “significant levels of UVC and UVA, which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coatings, present in all CFL bulbs studied.” UVC and UVA can cause skin cancers.

The paper abstract reads:

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs can provide the same amount of lumens as incandescent light bulbs, using one quarter of the energy. Recently, CFL exposure was found to exacerbate existing skin conditions; however, the effects of CFL exposure on healthy skin tissue have not been thoroughly investigated. In this study, we studied the effects of exposure to CFL illumination on healthy human skin tissue cells (fibroblasts and keratinocytes). Cells exposed to CFLs exhibited a decrease in the proliferation rate, a significant increase in the production of reactive oxygen species, and a decrease in their ability to contract collagen. Measurements of UV emissions from these bulbs found significant levels of UVC and UVA (mercury [Hg] emission lines), which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coatings, present in all bulbs studied. The response of the cells to the CFLs was consistent with damage from UV radiation, which was further enhanced when low dosages of TiO2 nanoparticles (NPs), normally used for UV absorption, were added prior to exposure. No effect on cells, with or without TiO2 NPs, was observed when they were exposed to incandescent light of the same intensity.

See the press release here.

Dr. Miriam Rafailovich, the lead researcher said, “Our study revealed that the response of healthy skin cells to UV emitted from CFL bulbs is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation.” She also noted, “Skin cell damage was further enhanced when low dosages of TiO2 (titanium dioxide) nanoparticles were introduced to the skin cells prior to exposure.” Titanium dioxide is frequently used in sun blocker creams and in cosmetics.

Dr. Rafailovich added, “Our research shows that it is best to avoid using them [CFLs] at close distances and that they are safest when placed behind an additional glass cover.”

Reader note: I did not have access to the full paper, so I am unable to assess their methodology.

See also:

How Many Haz-Mat Suits Do You Need to Change a Lightbulb?

The EPA procedures you must follow if you break a compact fluorescent light bulb

Would you pay $50 for a light bulb?