Monday, May 18, 2009

Environmentalists: What Are They Good For? (Part two)

With the DDT battles as a highly successful prelude, the environmentalists took off, flags flying. Next on the list was Cyclamate. This sugar substitute was another of those substances discovered in the mid thirties that were on track to make human life more convenient, but like DDT it was banned in 1969 over fears of cancer. Discovered serendipitously in 1937, cyclamates were by the 50’s being used as a sugar substitute for the obese and as an additive in products from soft drinks to salad dressing. Between 1963 and 1970 cyclamates production and use had blossomed to 21 million pounds per year.

Then, in 1969, FDA scientist Jacqueline Verrett appeared on the TV show Nightline with malformed chicks that had been injected with cyclamates (a result that could also be reproduced with injections of air or water). A few days later, Abbott Laboratories which manufactured cyclamates produced a study showing that of 240 lab rats that were fed cyclamates and saccharin, 8 had developed kidney tumors (No one made the connection then that that feeding had been the equivalent of humans drinking 350 cans of soda per day). Secretary Robert Finch of Health, Education and Welfare banned the drug immediately.
Studies over the next 20 were unable to show that neither cyclamates nor its metabolite was carcinogenic. The U.S. ban stands to this day.
In subsequent years, dozens of other studies reported no cancer risk in rats, mice, dogs, hamsters and monkeys. By the mid-1980s professional health organizations from around the world agreed with the National Academy of Sciences that "the totality of evidence from studies in animals does not indicate that cyclamate (or its metabolite) is carcinogenic." More than 50 countries, including Canada, have now approved or re-approved the use of the sweetener. [1]
[1] Elizabeth Whelan ,The Bitter Truth About a Sweetener Scare, Copyright 1999 Wall Street Journal, August 26, 1999, as reproduced in
Moving forward to 1980, we come to the great acid rain scare in which most of the forests of the eastern United States would be decimated and the mountain lakes would be too acidic to support life. This was said to be a result of coal-burning factories and power plants in the Midwest (and later in China, and India) spewing all manner of acidic by-products that were then carried by air currents and dropped on the mountains and forests. Europe had its own version based on coal use in England and the Ruhr Valley.

In 1980 the U.S. Federal Government launched the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) which eventually employed 700 scientists and cost upwards of $500,000,000. After 10 years of careful study, NAPAP found that the effect of acid rain, while real (those pollutants could combine with moisture in the air to form a weak sulpheric acid solution), the effect on forests and crops was negligible. The study also found that the Nation’s lakes and streams were in much better condition than the EPA and other critics had asserted. In fact the study found that among thousands of U.S. lakes, only 4 percent were somewhat acidic. One-quarter of those were acidic due to natural causes, leaving only 3 percent somewhat influenced by human activities. One tree, Red Spruce, was suspected to be suffering some effects of acid rain, but those findings were confounded by other variables affecting the species[1].
The study found many of the Adirondack lakes (an important subset of the crisis stories) were acidic when explorers first entered the region, and likely contained few fish at the time. Logging (and burning) the virgin forests prior to 1900 reduced the regional lake acidity. Acidity then rebounded with the decline of logging. Peat bogs are common in the Adirondacks, as are cranberries and blueberries, all of which require acid soils. It is well known that glacial-influenced granitic soils, common in the Adirondacks, are typically acidic and runoff from such soils will of course collect in local surface water[2].

Among the many findings of the NAPAP study (as well as other studies in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere in the world) were that acid rain attributed to man-caused sources were generally local in nature, not carried large distances from concentrated industrial sources[3].
The Final Report of NAPAP was never published and received very little attention from either the media or the politicians (who had already created a draconian Clean Air Act based on the fear and innuendo rather than the science that had cost them (and us) a half a billion dollars). Interestingly, the EPA still pushes the acid rain story on its website and sites aimed at schoolchildren extolling the same message abound.

Alar, a chemical used in the fruit industry to retard ripening on the tree (to gain better color and easier picking) was singled out in a 1989 60 Minutes episode as a cancer-causing chemical. The TV program was working from a report posted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a main purveyor of environmental crisis stories over the past 35 years. In this case the story was developed and distributed by the NRDC in a carefully orchestrated campaign prepared by a company which continues to figure prominently in these types of scares, Fenton Communications. As a result of the broadcast, Uniroyal Chemical pulled the chemical from the market, and apple growers lost millions of dollars in that year. The truth, of course, was much less than the hype. Alar does have carcinogenic properties but only at fantastic and impossible doses. After the program had created its intended panic amongst the public, the truth came out about the chemical.
The lab tests that prompted the scare required an amount of Alar equal to over 5,000 gallons (20,000 L) of apple juice per day. Consumers Union[1] ran its own studies and estimated the human lifetime cancer risk to be 5 per million, as compared to the previously-reported figure of 50 cases per million.[2]
This story is one of very few that resulted in a bigger black eye for the environmentalists than the producers and users of the chemical because of the careful lab work conducted and publicized by the well respected Consumers Union and their highly influential magazine, Consumers Report.

No story of chemical scares would be complete without the mention of the archetypal chemical bogeyman of all, 2,4-D. This herbicide is another of those useful chemicals produced in the WWII era and cleared for use by the civilian population. It is widely and successfully used to control shrub encroachment in conifer plantations. During the Vietnam War it was mixed in a 50/50 ratio with 2,4,5-T to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam to reduce cover used by the Viet Cong. While this was a successful application, reports began filtering back about people developing symptoms of toxic poisoning. It turned out that, in the manufacture of 2,4,5-T a dioxin could be formed if heat balances were not properly maintained. Thus began yet another series of catastrophic stories about the deadly effect of chemicals and in this one, 2,4-D was implicated, wrongly it turned out.

At one point in my career, I oversaw brush and pest control treatments on a Ranger District and in that capacity I was required to have a pesticide applicator certification. This required yearly training to maintain the certification. I remember that at one of the courses being taught by a researcher from Oregon State University (Dr. Frank Dost). He recounted the story of the cancer scare in the southwest corner of Oregon. This was in many of the papers of the day and was characterized by a population of women whose babies purportedly showed a higher than normal incidence of teratomas at birth. I followed the stories closely because my daughter was born with a large (benign) teratoma. Local and national papers and news programs focused on the use of 2,4-D in local forests for shrub control as the obvious culprit. After the usual hue and cry and the decision of private and government foresters to curtail the use of 2,4-D in the area, Oregon State University commenced a series of studies on the effects of the chemical on human health.
What the studies found was that a person would have to ingest huge amounts of the chemical to show symptoms, that it was not persistent in the body or organs (in fact 82% is excreted in unchanged form), that the half life of residue in the bodies of living organisms is 10 to 20 hours, and that mutagenic and teratogenic responses in humans required very large and chronic doses[1].

The story about the birth defects in southwest Oregon, like most of these environmental scares, had some basis in fact. There were birth defects noted in that population. This time period, however, was the 60’s and encompassed the “back to the earth/hippy” movement of the day, and southern Oregon was one of the Mecca’s for that movement. When researchers controlled for the number of young women of childbearing age in that area, the incidence of birth defects was found to be less than would be expected in the normal population.

As respects specifically teratomas, among the known causes (all dose related) are; oxygen, 2,4D, Nicotine, caffeine, vitamin deficiency, DMSO, oral contraceptive, Vitamin A, and sucrose.[2]
It is interesting as well to note that 3% of live births have a defect identified at birth and only 3% of all defects have been identified as owing to external effects such as chemicals, malnutrition, etc. Also, about 25% of all known pregnancies fail. If you have a community made up primarily of young, child-bearing people, this effect can seem magnified and tied to something else. Added to that is the fact that 60% to 70% of all conceptions fail and the bulk of these are related to genetics.[3]

And, finally, the safety factor applied to chemicals is typically 100 times the dose that kills 50% of laboratory trial animals (LD50). Interestingly, it is 5 for aspirin, which was “grandfathered” in. That is, the aspirin in common use today is 20 times more toxic than 2,4D when used at its recommended dose.[4] Most substances tested and certified by the FDA (such as food, cosmetics, toiletries, etc.) have to reach a safety margin of 1 in 20 chances of causing a problem, it is a 1 in 100 margin for chemicals

As for TCDD, the dioxin found in 2,4,5-T? It has never been proved to be a particularly toxic substance despite the popular belief to the contrary. It is detected in low concentrations whenever organic material is burned especially if combustion is incomplete. It can, therefore, be produced in forest fires, engine exhaust and volcanic eruptions. Studies have shown that guinea pigs fed dioxin develop a variety of chronic and lethal effects but that in hamsters, it requires a dose 5000 times larger to cause the same effects[5].

The “hype” is news; the refutation isn’t. Therefore the lies live and the respect for science and scientific advancement withers. The political summary in the United Nations report on climate gains wide credence; the dissent of scientists that contributed to the main body of the report is hidden. Polar bear populations expand; they are included on the threatened species list. Wolf populations explode; environmentalists fight their removal from the list. Ospreys are as common as house flies and the new problem is that Bald Eagles are killing the Great Cormorants. Always a crisis. Never a solution.
[2] Dost, 1982
[3] Dost, 1982
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ray, Dixie Lee and Lou Guzzo, Trashing the Planet, 1990, Regnery Gateway Press
[1] Consumers Union is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving consumers in the United States. Its mission is to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers. Its income is derived from the sale of its magazine Consumer Reports and other services, and from noncommercial contributions, grants, and fees.
[1] NAPAP, 1990 Final Report (unpublished), see Wall Street Journal editorial, “No PAP From NAPAP, 26 January 1990.
[2] Ray, Dixie Lee and Lou Guzzo, Trashing the Planet, 1990, Regnery Gateway Press
[3] Ibid.
[1] Elizabeth Whelan ,The Bitter Truth About a Sweetener Scare, Copyright 1999 Wall Street Journal, August 26, 1999, as reproduced in

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