Friday, August 05, 2005

Let's Hear It for Chemicals

Connecticut might get a new law that requires employers to notify if they use trichloroethylene—a chemical for cleaning metal—the logic being that it might cause cancer.

This new rule spawns from a court battle involving Neil Clifford, who claims he got cancer from working a site where someone dumped a lot of TCE. Even though the site’s adjacent to a group of condos, he’s the only case.

In the testimony, Dr. John Meyer said that TCE might cause cancer in humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer notes the evidence for this is claim is limited. But governments are paranoid and love spending money so the DEP spent $750,000 cleaning up the site anyway.

Laws, by their very nature, are bitches to get rid of once passed. This is doubly true for theoretically preventing things that might threaten human or animal health. TCE might cause deadly cancer, but it might not. Why demonize a useful tool without knowing if it really is harmful or not? Are we going to do the same thing to TCE as we did to DDT? This is how it starts.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, too bad we have that "promote the general welfare" clause. DDT is a poison that was sprayed over wide areas and killed more than just bugs. While it was meant for insects and the like, it quickly moved up the food chain. It was correctly banned for that reason.

Crichton's novel leaves out one important fact. You use one item to try and wipe out one group of bugs, there will still be survivors who are able to breed and become resistant to that substance. As a whole insects have demonstrated the ability to quickly adapt to poisons. Banning DDT to control malaria did not "kill more people than Hitler" as he claims. More likely it saved people by slowing down the evolution of these resistant bugs. These DDT-proof insects have been found. They exist. Thanks to the DDT ban, they have to compete with the "normal" mosquitoes. Competition is suppose to be a good thing right? Why do you want to cut out the competition and produce a more advanced, deadlier mosquito?

Finally, if you think TCE is safe why don't you drink some or inhale it as a mist? It may or may not cause cancer, but that doesn't mean it is safe. TCE is deadly.


David said...

Okay time for a reality check.

In 1972, DDT was the subject of a seven-month-long congressional investigation to determine if it had and ill-effect on the environment and the people it sought to protect. Their conclusion, after a parade of experts and scientists, was that it didn't. This was, by the way, after malaria was all but eliminated from the country, so it's not like they were lying to the public to save extra lives.

Despite this conclusion, the EPA unilaterally banned DDT. The head of the EPA at the time, William Ruckleshaus, would later say that bans of toxic substances are more political in nature than scientific. He was, by the way, the one who order the federal investigation in the first place. The US would later lead and encourage almost all nations to follow suit.

Since then, DDT has yet to demonstrate the terrible environmental/health effects that we're told they have. (Though there have been everything from mistakes to outright fraud to "prove" it does.)

If DDT were in use today in the third world, it would not, repeat, would NOT be used to "kill all mosquitoes." That's just impossible. It would be sprayed in wetlands and other stagnant water pools near human civilization. That's how it was used fifty years ago and guess what? We still have mosquitoes.

And saying insects are "DDT-proof" is overblown; a few countries in recent years use DDT anyway and their malaria numbers plumented. Either these insects are not as immuned as people think, or there are very few of these insects, I don't know. But clearly DDT can still work today and would have continued to be an effective weapon for YEARS after its ban.

An important side note; the WHO allows some countries to use DDT in extremely limited amounts, which likely increased the capacity for mosquitoes to resist. Much like if you have a little bit of poison enough times, you can build up an immunity. Of course, if DDT wasn't banned, far fewer mosquitoes wouldn't have adapted to the inkling of DDT that was still allowed to seep in.

Thus it is entirely possible that the DDT ban is directly responsible for most malaria deaths; again malaria is a rare event (about a hundred deaths a year) in the US thanks to DDT. DDT also remains the most effective weapon AND most affordable tool third world countries have against malaria.

So just for fun, lets look at the numbers:

Hilter: ~11 million deaths
Stalin: 20-50 million deaths
Malaria: 89 million deaths (since 1972)

Even if we divide by five, to represent a building immunity, we still get more deaths than Hilter.

To clarify, I NEVER said TCE is safe. That's a load of crap; of course it's not. I just said the evidence that it causes cancer isn't yet sound and thus law pertaining to it are premature.

Again, this paralells DDT closely; everyone assumed it caused cancer and did a million other things people told them it did. Lawmakers bought it and passed laws and it kept getting worse even though DDT is safe enough to eat. (J Gordon Edwards, an avid climber of peaks over 10,000 feet, would eat a spoonful of DDT at the begining of his DDT lectures, a practice he maintained for 30 years. That spoonful was 200 times the normal intake of the chemical. Edwards lived to the ripe age of 84 only after dying of a heart attack.)

If only people would understand that "promoting the general welfare" usually means leaving things the hell alone.

Anonymous said...

All you said of TCE was that it might cause cancer. It wouldn't have been hard to say "in addition to being a deadly chemical TCE is also ..." By making your statement in the vacuum a reasonable person would have thought TCE was as harmful as an expired bottle of Pepto.

I should also point out Congress and science haven't had the best of relationships. You can parade all the experts you want, if Congress doesn't want to believe them, they won't. Not to mention how much money the chemical companies paid lobbists. Do you honestly think Congress disagreed with the experts because they didn't make their case?

There were DDT-resistant mosiquotes found in India more than 10 years before the ban. Without the ban, DDT would have become less effective as resistant is built.

"Of course, if DDT wasn't banned, far fewer mosquitoes wouldn't have adapted to the inkling of DDT that was still allowed to seep in."
You have it backwards. If DDT wasn't banned MORE mosquitoes would have adapted because more would have survived the initial spraing and continue to breed. Wide use of DDT would have isolated enough of them from the normal mosquito population to evolve a wide-spread defence. The reason why DDT is still effective today is because of the ban and small-scale use not despite it. Check your biology to see how evolution happens and how traits are passed on. It happens in small isolated populations. The condition continued use of DDT would have created if it wasn't banned.

DDT was being sprayed all over the place because it was cheap. But that kind of carelss use did cause enviromental damage. That is why it was banned and that is why it is not as effective as it could be. And often in nature, developing resistance to one poison includes resistance to others. DDT is no exception.

If DDT wouldn't have stopped every mosquitoes and case of malaria, they why list every death as "possibly" being connected to it? Why not mention the fact the disease itself is developing resistance to drugs. To blame all the malaria deaths on the DDT ban is ridiclous. Not only were they numerous other factors to skew the numbers, you'd also have to take into account how many would have died from maleria bites from DDT-resistant mosquitoes. And with the ban, there would have been a lot more of them.

Plus the who "killed more than Hitler" arguement is pretty insulting because it is comparing whatever your against to the biggest example of evil in the past century. I could say the Catholic Church or capitalism killed more people than Hitler and have numbers to back it up. Would you compare either of them to what Hitler did?

People still die from malaria even in places where DDT is being used. By your logic, every death that happens when DDT is involved should be blamed on DDT. Sicle cell is a genetic disease that occurs when you have a full pair of a certain gene. Having just half the pair gives a person resistance to malaria. That's why sicle cell continues to persist, it is a side effect of a genetic advantage. Would you say increased sicle screening and treatment increased the amout of malaria deaths because fewer people had the beneficial gene?

As for J Gordon Edwards, so what? One example does not create a rule. There are people smoking a pack of cigaretts a day living longer than those who don't smoke. Does that mean smoking doesn't cause cancer? If you believe him, have a swig of DDT yourself once a month.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to include this link. The DDT Ban Myth


David said...

Fair enough...I did some checking and massive use of DDT did lead to resistent mosquitoes. But that wasn't because of malaria prevention; it was because of farmers who didn't know how to use it properly. DDT in malaria prevention was always small amounts.

Thus banning DDT for the farming reason is akine to banning driving because some are caseless, thus hurting themselves and others. Malaria is the number three killer in the world; shouldn't we encourage third world countries to use every tool at their disposal? The WHO doesn't think so (in their most recent assessment of the malaria condition, they don't even list DDT in their reccomendations sections).

But you're right that science and politics rarely see eye to eye because even though Ruckelshaus never attended an hour of that seven month long hearing, even though he ordered the investigation in the first place, even though the EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded DDT posed no threat to humans or wildlife, Ruckelshaus single-handedly banned it anyway.

Be careful when you mention DDT-resistant mosquitoes; just because they are resistent, doesn't mean they like to hang around it. While DDT won't kill such mosquitoes, they will avoid places its sprayed, protecting human life just the same. These "avoiding mosquitoes" isn't insignificant. According to the Mosquito Control Assoc and American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, "The continued efficacy of DDT in Africa, India, Brazil, and Mexico, where 69% of all reported cases of malaria occur and where vectors are physiologically resistant to DDT (excluding Brazil), serves as one indicator that repellency is very important in preventing indoor transmission of malaria." [Emphasis Added]

Is it a cope out to make a Hilter reference? I don't think so in this case. The evidence is pretty strong, especially since when these countries stop using DDT, malaria cases (and deaths) jump. We will, of course, never know for sure because it is more complicated than that, but don't get so caught up in the rhetoric that you ignore the very real element of truth in that claim.

"As for J Gordon Edwards, so what? One example does not create a rule." Very true, but the evidence backs it up. Check out the link at the end of this post and look under "Human Exposure."

Finally, re-read the article. The point was TCE might cause cancer, and because of that doubt, it shouldn't be banned. I never said it was safe to play in. If a "reasonable" person makes the erroneous jump that thus "TCE was as harmful as an expired bottle of Pepto," that person isn't very reasonable.

Here's that link.

oldies fan said...

I found this blog while researching TCE and it's effects on people. I am from a town that is dealing with major contamination due to a pesticide plant.

The myth that DDT being banned has had major consequences is flawed on many levels. Scientists have proved that children who are regularly exposed to pesticides have lower IQ's than children who aren't. With all the talk of society being "dumbed down" this is significant.

TCE seems to be the up and coming chemical hazard. For years government agencies have argued that ground water contamination did not have a direct link to illness. Turns out they were wrong and hundrens of previously cleaned up sites are no longer considered clean. How many of these sites involve schools?

I live in "small town USA" and this plant sits right smack in the middle of town. The school sits on property originally owned by the plant and half the town has been contaminated by air and ground water contamination. On the up side we never had mosquitoes when I was a kid. The long term cost of that luxury were not worth it.

Just my 2-cents.