Friday, August 30, 2013

Does smelling a perfume mean your health is comprised?

Please provide scientific support for this statement: "Smelling a chemical doesn’t necessarily mean that your health will be compromised (think perfumes)." Hahaha! Perfumes are made from petrochemicals and they have trade secrets. Read "Scent of Danger"

 “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” Paracelsus (1493-1541)

While toxicology has evolved into a complex discipline, to answer that question, it is important to understand its basic concepts. Only then can we better understand how decisions based in toxicology are used to protect populations from the harmful effects of chemicals.

For one: Toxicity is the relative ability of a substance to cause harm to a living organism.

The “relative ability” depends not only on dose (concentration) but also depends on route of entry (inhalation, oral, dermal etc.), duration of exposure (one hour, three days straight, thirty years), frequency of exposure(night time, all day etc.), intra-population differences, among others.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shale dwellers deserve better health reporting

Cabot Well - Montrose
A story came across the wire yesterday “Fracking Health Project Puts Numbers to the Debate.”  The story raises more questions than answers and feeds into the fear already gripping a portion of the population.

Out of the population of 200,000 residents of Washington County, PA, who live around 700 drilled wells, the project focuses its outcome on 27 self-reported symptom sufferers from one clinic. Were they clustered around one well? compression station? several wells? Were their symptoms confirmed through medical examinations? Or is this another rush to release information because of the said data’s importance (Cornell’s Elaine Hill’s PhD thesis comes to mind).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bemoaning the Petrochemical Industry aka Biting the Hand that Feeds You

In response to a June letter that appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard titled “Hydrofracking will worse harm caused by petro-chemical industry: Your letters” can be found here.

Dear Editor:

The ancient Greeks personified the human brain into two systems of thought, Apollo and Dionysus.  The two were a dichotomy, not rivaling, but intertwined. Apollo represented reason and Dionysus, emotion.  Through decades of research, Psychologists Paul Slovic and Daniel Kahneman (winner of a Nobel Peace prize), found that the ancient Greek thought process rang true.

They found that while the two systems are in conflict, they have the ability to work together to understand and perceive risk.  Reason, is slower of the two to process risk. It examines evidence, it calculates and considers. A reason-based decision is easy to explain as it is well thought out. The second system however, emotion, works quickly and is more rudimentary. Not so easy to explain emotion based decisions. People just feel that something is not right. Both systems are essential for our survival. However, according to the psychologist’s research, emotion based decision are normally irrational. The decisions rely on examples that are simple and easily recalled.

Don Hassig blog entry offers a good example. It offers a complete loss of perspective.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

NY Assembly Legislators Err

Is the cautious approach to regulating natural gas extraction preventing a public health catastrophe?

The New State Assembly felt that it is. On Wednesday March 5th, they voted to extend a moratorium that will continue to put on hold the development of New York State’s natural gas resources utilizing High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing.

When asked about the vote, most legislators cited a list of potential negative impacts. Their action inadvertently offered an incomplete picture.

According to the legislators, regulatory decisions should rest solely on potential negative impacts; this stance unfortunately ignores any benefits.

There is a cost to the delay. At the current air pollution rate, health conditions associated with the inhalation of ultrafine soot or particulate matter (PM2.5) will remain (28,000 premature deaths in United States, Canada and Cuba (WHO Global Burden of Disease study) and 3,200 in New York City (NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene)).

Three years ago a study by the Environmental Defense Fund (“The Bottom of the Barrel: How the Dirtiest Heating Oil Pollutes Our Air and Harms Our Health.” 16 December 2009) identified how PM2.5-related negative health impacts could be reduced by replacing heating systems with cleaner burning alternatives like natural gas.

Utilizing this information, New York City issued a mandate that required polluting heating systems to be “cleaned” up. A decision that will save lives and reduce emergency room visits.  

This was good news to the 300,000 children in NYC diagnosed with asthma. What about the asthmatic children living in the rest of the state? When will they hear good news?

Natural gas resources can be developed responsibly and safely by systematically addressing factual concerns. If natural gas is utilized as a cleaner fuel across the state, it can be anticipated that health indicators will improve. 

Uni Blake is an Environmental Consultant who resides in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. She has been studying water and air quality monitoring strategies that can be utilized to ensure the protection of human health and the environment.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Taking on fabricated words

When trying to spread a message quickly and effectively, it helps to have buzz words for maximum impact. It helps even more if you can coin and define your own words. This allows you the control on how the word is utilized; especially if the word represents something “new” in the public arena. This strategy challenges those opposed to your view. It puts them at a serious disadvantage. They first have to interpret a word that has no real known or defined meaning and then find a counter argument. Now, if the word is ill-defined and has a kaleidoscope of characteristics they (the opponents or proponents) end up with a sort of Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills moment. 

Case and point the word “fracking.” The original word frac’ing, was used within the industry to describe a specific technology; “hydraulic fracturing.” In this highly technical process, millions of gallons of water along with a measured amount of chemicals are injected into a well. The well which is drilled vertically then laterally into a shale formation utilizes the water to "hydraulically" fracture the formation leading to the flow of the naturally occurring hydrocarbons that were trapped in the shale. However, “fracking” as it is used commonly takes on varying meanings that are dependent on what the user is trying to illustrate, mostly representing a negative connotation.
The generalizations hidden in this word are vast; its use leads to fuzzy lines between rhetoric and fact. When representatives of the media or self-proclaimed bona fide movement leaders fall into the trap of using this word loosely to increase their appeal, they show a complete lack of intellectual honesty.