Category Archives: Health

Diagnoses of 9/11-linked cancers have tripled in less than 3 years

Susan Edelman reports for the New York Post:

More than 5,400 Ground Zero responders and others who lived, worked or went to school near the fallen Twin Towers have come down with 9/11-linked cancers, a grim tally that has tripled in the past 2¹/₂ years.

As of June 30, 5,441 people enrolled in the WTC Health Program have been diagnosed with 6,378 separate cancers, with some struck by more than one type, officials said.

That’s up from 1,822 victims in January 2014.

“You see an alarming increase,” said Dr. Michael Crane, medical director of the WTC Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“It’s been steady for at least the last year and a half — we’re seeing new people here being certified for cancer 10 to 15 times week. That’s every week. ” Crane told The Post.

The program now monitors more than 48,000 cops, hardhats, volunteer firefighters, utility workers and others who toiled at Ground Zero. The FDNY has its own 9/11 health program with 16,000 members.

In all, at least 1,140 have died, officials said.

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Diversity, Disability and Eugenics: An Interview with Rob Sparrow

Xavier Symons writes for Bio Edge:

Australian bioethicist Rob Sparrow has written extensively on topics ranging from political philosophy and minority rights to the ethics of war, robot ethics and even the ethics of nanotechnology. Yet he is arguably best known for his work in bioethics. While in one sense part of a mainstream bioethics academy, Professor Sparrow often provides a refreshingly unique perspective and challenges establishment opinions in the field. As Richard R. Sharp has noted, “Sparrow’s scholarship exemplifies the value of the intellectual gadfly – even when that work ruffles a few feathers among the bioethical elite.”

In the following interview Professor Sparrow and BioEdge’s Xavier Symons discuss current controversies in bioethics and, in particular, questions surrounding genetic diversity, the elimination of disability, and the so-called new eugenics.

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Study showing decline in dog fertility may have human implications

Tim Radford reports for The Guardian:

[…] Richard Lea, of Nottingham University’s school of veterinary medicine and science, and colleagues collected samples of semen from a carefully monitored population of labradors, border collies, German shepherds and golden retrievers used as stud to breed dogs intended to help the disabled. They tested 1,925 samples of ejaculate from a total of 232 different dogs at the rate of between 42 and 97 dogs every year.

And they found a drop in sperm motility – the ability to swim in a straight line – of 2.4% per year from 1988 to 1998. Even once some dogs were excluded from the study because their fertility was in some way in question, from 2002 to 2014 the scientists still measured a decline of 1.2% per year.

They also confirmed the presence of environmental chemicals known as PCBs and phthalates in the canine semen, and in testicles of dogs castrated by veterinary surgeons in the course of routine neutering treatment. These chemicals are ubiquitous, and have been linked to both fertility issues and birth defects.

At the heart of the research is not the dog, but the question of male human fertility. Repeated tests over more than 70 years have shown a downward trend in male fertility, but there has always been argument about the consistency and accuracy of the findings.

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Plastic manufacturing chemical BPS harms egg cells, study suggests

Science Daily reports:

Bisphenol S, a chemical used to manufacture polycarbonate water bottles and many other products such as epoxy glues and cash receipts, is an increasingly common replacement for bisphenol A, the of which was discontinued because of concerns about its harmful effects on the reproductive system. In a new study, UCLA researchers have found that BPS is just as harmful to the reproductive system as the chemical it replaced. BPS damages a woman’s eggs and at lower doses than BPA.

While looking for replacements to toxic chemicals, manufacturers tend to choose substitute chemicals that, while technically different, often share similar physical properties. Due to increasing consumer pressure, companies have replaced BPA with other related compounds now found in many “BPA-free” products. However we do not know how safe these substitutes are. These uncertainties led the researchers to ask whether BPS could impart detrimental effects on reproduction similar to BPA’s.

The researchers exposed a common laboratory model, the roundworm, to several concentrations of BPA and/or BPS that approximate the levels of BPA and/or BPS found in humans. They followed the worms through the duration of their reproductive periods and measured their fertility.

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Diagnosing the Urge to Run for Office

Scott Lilienfeld and Ashley Watts wrote for Politico Magazine late last year:

Psych_sidebarlead2.jpg[…] Research going back as far as 1998 suggests that modern politicians are more narcissistic than people in other professions. But in fact, politicians—at least those in positions of high power—might also be more narcissistic than ever. In a 2013 study published in Psychological Science, we and several colleagues examined a trait called grandiose narcissism, which comprises immodesty, boastfulness and interpersonal dominance (a certain presidential candidate in a gold-plated tower in Manhattan comes to mind). For every president up to and including George W. Bush, we asked eminent biographers and experts to complete extensive personality ratings for the five years before each president took office. The ratings revealed an intriguing trend: Grandiose narcissism levels are higher in more recent presidents than in earlier ones. Despite some caveats to this result, we also found that levels of several other traits, such as those linked to interpersonal oddity, were not higher in more recent presidents. Ultimately, our findings raise the possibility that the mounting pressures on candidates to be telegenic and adept at self-presentation may be selecting for heightened self-centeredness.

Rising narcissism levels in our politicians might be cause for concern. But today’s grueling campaigns might also select for such adaptive traits as emotional resilience, stick-to-itiveness and impulse control. Of course, even if a presidential candidate is driven partly by ambition, this does not mean he or she is not also driven by love of country. Even egomaniacs can be animated by a higher calling.

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Pope attacks culture of ‘perfect people’

Michael Cook reports for BioEdge:

Pope Francis has made a stinging, if familiar, attack on the bioethics of a consumer society in an address in Rome. He decried the tendency to search for the perfect body and to warehouse the disabled out of sight to avoid offending the sensibilities of the “privileged few”.

In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model.

Such persons should best be kept apart, in some “enclosure” – even a gilded one – or in “islands” of pietism or social welfare, so that they do not hold back the pace of a false well-being. In some cases, we are even told that it is better to eliminate them as soon as possible, because they become an unacceptable economic burden in time of crisis.

Yet what an illusion it is when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability! They fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations.

The world does not become better because only apparently “perfect” people live there – I say “perfect” rather than “false” – but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase.

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Are We All Becoming Pavlov’s Dogs?

Larry Rosen Ph.D. writes for Psychology Today:

MIT Press[…] I do a lot of people watching and I have noticed that we are now spending more time with our faces staring at our phone than we spend with our faces looking around the world or looking directly at another person.

In a recent study colleagues and I asked 216 undergraduate students to use an app called Instant Quantified Self that tallied the number of times the student unlocked his/her phone during the day and how many minutes it remained unlocked. Strikingly, the average student (and our students are typically older, averaging about 25 years old instead of the usual 20-year-old college student) unlocked his/her phone roughly 60 times a day for about 4 minutes each time. In all, the phone was in use 4 hours! And this does not count time spent on a laptop, tablet, or any other device.

What are they doing on their phones? Mostly accessing social connections including text messaging, reading or posting on social media, dealing with email or any app that involves connecting with another human being.

Pavlov paired food with a bell; we seem to be pairing our human connection with our phone. We may not salivate but our brain is certainly responding to those internal and external alerts.

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The Happiness Industry: How Corporations Are Obsessed With Making Us ‘Happy’

An excerpt of The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being by William Davies recently appeared at Alternet:

Since the World Economic Forum (WEF) was founded in 1971, its annual meeting in Davos has served as a useful indicator of the global economic zeitgeist. These conferences, which last a few days in late January, bring together corporate executives, senior politicians, representatives of NGOs and a sprinkling of concerned celebrities to address the main issues confronting the global economy and the decision-makers tasked with looking after it.

In the 1970s, when the WEF was still known as the ‘European Management Forum’, its main concern was slumping productivity growth in Europe. In the 1980s, it became preoccupied with market deregulation. In the 1990s, innovation and the internet came to the fore, and by the early 2000s, with the global economy humming, it began to admit a range of more ‘social’ concerns, alongside the obvious post-9/11 security anxiety. For the five years after the banking meltdown of 2008, Davos meetings were primarily concerned with how to get the old show back on the road.

At the 2014 meeting, rubbing shoulders with the billionaires, pop stars and presidents was a less likely attendee: a Buddhist monk. Every morning, before the conference proceedings began, delegates had the opportunity to meditate with the monk and learn relaxation techniques. ‘You are not the slave of your thoughts’, the man in red and yellow robes, clutching an iPad, informed his audience. ‘One way is to just gaze at them . . . like a shepherd sitting above a meadow watching the sheep’. A few hundred thoughts of stock portfolios and illicit gifts for secretaries back home most likely meandered their way across the mental pastures of his audience.

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What Is Fentanyl? The Drug That Killed Prince Has Killed Thousands of Others

Alex Johnson reports for NBC News:

[…] Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid — its chemical name is the tongue-twisting N-phenyl-N-[1-(2 phenylethyl)-4-piperidinyl] monohydrochloride — that was first formulated during the 1950s as a safer and more effective alternative to the painkillers morphine and meperidine.

Its creators at the Belgian drug company Janssen Pharmaceutica got the “more effective” part right.

Fentanyl is the strongest opioid approved for medical use in the United States, rated as 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse.

It’s the go-to drug to dull the crippling, otherwise-untouchable pain experienced by many patients with advanced cancer.

The safety part of the equation is another matter.

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The Awful Diseases on the Way

Annie Sparrow writes in her review of Pandemic by Sonia Shah for The New York Review of Books:

Pandemics—the uncontrolled spread of highly contagious diseases across countries and continents—are a modern phenomenon. The word itself, a neologism from Greek words for “all” and “people,” has been used only since the mid-nineteenth century. Epidemics—localized outbreaks of diseases—have always been part of human history, but pandemics require a minimum density of population and an effective means of transport. Since “Spanish” flu burst from the trenches of World War I in 1918, infecting 20 percent of the world’s population and killing upward of 50 million people, fears of a similar pandemic have preoccupied public health practitioners, politicians, and philanthropists. World War II, in which the German army deliberately caused malaria epidemics and the Japanese experimented with anthrax and plague as biological weapons, created new fears.

In response, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), founded in 1946 to control malaria domestically, launched its Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1951 to defend against possible biological warfare, an odd emphasis given the uncontrolled polio epidemics raging in the 1940s and 1950s in the United States and Europe. But in the world of public health, the latest threat often takes precedence over the most prevalent.

According to the doctor, writer, and philanthropist Larry Brilliant, “outbreaks are inevitable, pandemics are optional.” Brilliant, a well-known expert on global health, ought to know, since he has had much to do with smallpox eradication. Smallpox, arguably the worst disease in human history, caused half a billion deaths during the twentieth century alone. The strain called Variola major—the most lethal cause—killed one third of all infected and permanently scarred all survivors. In 1975, Rahima Banu, a two-year-old Bangladeshi girl, became the last case of V. major smallpox. Two years later, Ali, a twenty-three-year-old hospital cook in Somalia, became the last case of V. minor. Rahima and Ali survived. Smallpox did not.

Forty years later, smallpox is still the only disease affecting humans ever to have been eradicated. (Rinderpest, a virus affecting cows—literally “cattle plague”—was eradicated in 2011.) There is optimism that polio and guinea worm may soon follow. Meanwhile, dozens of new infectious diseases have emerged, including the pathogens behind the twenty-first-century “pan-epidemics”—a term coined by Dr. Daniel Lucey to describe SARS, avian flu, swine flu, MERS, Ebola, and now Zika.

The fear, fascination, and financial incentives that these new diseases create divert attention and resources from ancient diseases like cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, which infect and kill far more people. Ebola has caused relatively few deaths, while TBinfects 9.6 million people each year and kills 1.5 million, and malaria infects more than 200 million, killing nearly half a million. (Ali, smallpox’s last survivor, later succumbed to malaria.)

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda in monkeys bitten by forest mosquitoes. In recent years, monkeys have sought food outside the forests, and Zika virus has diversified: its carriers now include Aedes aegypti, a tough mosquito with a preference for human blood and urban environments, and it has spread to the Americas.A. aegypti also carries dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus, but it is the evolving pan-epidemic of catastrophic birth defects that makes Zika particularly terrifying. In Brazil there have been 1,271 confirmed cases of microcephaly—babies born with severely stunted brains, blindness, and other congenital defects. Cases identified in Colombia, French Polynesia, Panama, Martinique, and Cabo Verde provide advance notice of the likely scale of the damage being wreaked.

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Corporate Beer Overlords Will Soon Own 1 Out of 3 Beers Made on Earth

Tom Philpott reports for Mother Jones:

Nothing says America like an ice-cold can of lavishly marketed, insipidly flavored beer. That’s the calculation of AB InBev, the Belgium-based conglomerate that owns Budweiser, the brand that once towered over the US beer landscape like a giant beer-can balloon at a fraternity tailgate party. Earlier this month, AB InBev replaced “Budweiser” with “America” on the front of its 12-ounce cans and bottles sold in the United States, while also adorning the label with quotes from the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “America the Beautiful.” You’ll be able to pop open an icy America until the November election, after which Bud packaging will revert to normal.

Yet the gimmick, lampooned by John Oliver and celebrated by Donald Trump, is unlikely to lift Budweiser’s longsagging US sales. And Bud Light, still America’s favorite beer and InBev’s crown jewel, is also fading in popularity. That’s why AB InBev is pursuing a megamerger with South African and UK rival SAB Miller. The $100 billion deal, which won approval by antitrust authorities in the European Union Tuesday, would give the combined company about 30 percent of the global beer market by volume, analysts say, making it the source of about one of every three beers consumed on Earth. Brands include Bud (or, um, “America”), Stella Artois, Beck’s, Corona, and Leffe.

But the buyout isn’t about Europe or the United States at all—AB InBev’s bold Bud rebrand aside. Indeed, to pass antitrust muster in Europe, the combined company had to agree to “sell almost the whole of SABMiller’s beer business in Europe,” Reuters reports. The United States and Europe are “mature”—i.e., slow-growing—beer markets. The real action right now is elsewhere. As Reuters puts it, AB InBev is “looking to boost its presence in Africa and Latin American countries to offset weaker markets such as the United States, where drinkers are shunning mainstream lagers in favor of craft brews and cocktails.”

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The Toxic Toll of Indonesia’s Gold Mines

Richard C. Paddock reports for National Geographic:

[…] Millions of people in 70 countries across Asia, Africa, and South America have been exposed to high levels of mercury as small-scale mining has proliferated over the past decade. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that at least 10 million miners, including at least four million women and children, are working in small “artisanal” gold mines, which produce as much as 15 percent of the world’s gold.

More than a million miners scratch out an illegal living digging for gold in at least 850 hot spots, says Yuyun Ismawati, a 2009 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize who has conducted extensive research on small-scale mining. Many of them fall prey to corrupt authorities who take a share of the gold rather than enforcing a law that bans mercury use.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,500 islands with the world’s fourth largest population, has one of the worst mercury problems, according to Stephan Bose-O’Reilly, a children’s health expert who volunteers at the Indonesian environmental group BaliFokus Foundation.

“Indonesia is a real global hot spot,” Bose-O’Reilly said during a recent trip to Indonesia examine miners in the gold fields. “I haven’t seen anything worse than here.”

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Dear “Skeptics”: Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More

John Horgan is a science journalist who recently spoke at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) from May 12-15 in New York City. His speech has been republished in Scientific American:

I hate preaching to the converted. If you were Buddhists, I’d bash Buddhism. But you’re skeptics, so I have to bash skepticism.

I’m a science journalist. I don’t celebrate science, I criticize it, because science needs critics more than cheerleaders. I point out gaps between scientific hype and reality. That keeps me busy, because, as you know, most peer-reviewed scientific claims are wrong.

So I’m a skeptic, but with a small S, not capital S. I don’t belong to skeptical societies. I don’t hang out with people who self-identify as capital-S Skeptics. Or Atheists. Or Rationalists.

When people like this get together, they become tribal. They pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they are compared to those outside the tribe. But belonging to a tribe often makes you dumber.

Here’s an example involving two idols of Capital-S Skepticism: biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss. Krauss recently wrote a book, A Universe from Nothing. He claims that physics is answering the old question, Why is there something rather than nothing?

Krauss’s book doesn’t come close to fulfilling the promise of its title, but Dawkins loved it. He writes in the book’s afterword: “If On the Origin of Species was biology’s deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see A Universe From Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology.”

Just to be clear: Dawkins is comparing Lawrence Krauss to Charles Darwin. Why would Dawkins say something so foolish? Because he hates religion so much that it impairs his scientific judgment. He succumbs to what you might call “The Science Delusion.”

“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attackdisbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food.

These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted.

Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions. In the rest of this talk, I’ll give you examples of hard targets from physics, medicine and biology. I’ll wrap up with a rant about war, the hardest target of all.

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Leaked TTIP Documents Cast Doubt on EU-US Trade Deal

Arthur Neslen reports for The Guardian:

Talks for a free trade deal between Europe and the US face a serious impasse with “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, according to leaked negotiating texts.

The two sides are also at odds over US demands that would require the EU to break promises it has made on environmental protection.

President Obama said last week he was confident a deal could be reached. But the leaked negotiating drafts and internal positions, which were obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, paint a very different picture.

“Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” says one internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and US approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Talks on engineering were also “characterised by continuous reluctance on the part of the US to engage in this sector,” the confidential briefing says.

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Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Will Remain a Threat for 3,000 Years

Matthew Schofield reports for McClachty:

Twenty years after the disaster, Yuri Andreyev, a former senior engineer at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, pointed to the destroyed Reactor No. 4 in a photo made a few hours after the April 26, 1986, explosion. // Efrem Lukatsky / AP Before the fire, the vomiting, the deaths and the vanishing home, it was the promise of bumper cars that captured the imagination of the boys.

It was 30 years ago that Pripyat and the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant became synonymous with nuclear disaster, that the word Chernobyl came to mean more than just a little village in rural Ukraine, and this place became more than just another spot in the shadowy Soviet Union.

Even 30 years later – 25 years after the country that built it ceased to exist – the full damage of that day is still argued.

Death toll estimates run from hundreds to millions. The area near the reactor is both a teeming wildlife refuge and an irradiated ghost-scape. Much of eastern and central Europe continues to deal with fallout aftermath. The infamous Reactor Number 4 remains a problem that is neither solved nor solvable.

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CIA’s Venture Capital Arm Is Funding Skin Care Products That Collect DNA

Lee Fang reports for The Intercept:

clearista-1Skincential Sciences, a company with an innovative line of cosmetic products marketed as a way to erase blemishes and soften skin, has caught the attention of beauty bloggers on YouTube, Oprah’s lifestyle magazine, and celebrity skin care professionals. Documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the firm has also attracted interest and funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”

Though the public-facing side of the company touts a range of skin care products, Skincential Sciences developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin, revealing unique biomarkers that can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests, including DNA collection.

Skincential Science’s noninvasive procedure, described on the Clearista website as “painless,” is said to require only water, a special detergent, and a few brushes against the skin, making it a convenient option for restoring the glow of a youthful complexion — and a novel technique for gathering information about a person’s biochemistry.

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Leaked Report Reveals Unsanitary Conditions At UN Bases During Haitian Cholera Epidemic: Interview with Brian Concannon

Jessica Desvarieux talks to Brian Concannon, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who says the United States is actively discouraging countries from holding the UN accountable for bringing cholera to Haiti. (The Real News)

U.S. Radioactive Weapons Fueling Birth Defects in Iraq: Interview with Barbara Koeppel

Jessica Desvarieux talks to investigative journalist Barbara Koeppel who is the author of a recent article in the Washington Spectator which examines how the U.S. is getting away with using radioactive weapons that are causing spikes in birth defects and cancer in both Iraqi citizens and U.S. veterans. (The Real News)

U.S. Navy Secretly Conducting Electromagnetic Warfare Training on Washington Roads

Dahr Jamail reports for Truthout:

(Photo: Olympic Park Road via Shutterstock; Edited; LW / TO)Without public notification of any kind, the US Navy has secretly been conducting electromagnetic warfare testing and training on public roads in western Washington State for more than five years.

An email thread between the Navy and the US Forest Service between 2010 and 2012, recently obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Oregon-based author and activist Carol Van Strum in November 2014, revealed that the Navy has likely been driving mobile electromagnetic warfare emitters and conducting electromagnetic warfare training in the Olympic National Forest and on public roads on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula since 2010.

[…] As Truthout previously reported, the Navy itself has produced a medical study showing that exposure to electromagnetic radiation causes a myriad of human health problems, including corneal damage, tubular degeneration of testicles, brain heating, sterility, altered penile function, death, cranial nerve disorders, seizures, convulsions, depression, insomnia, chest pain, and even sparking between dental fillings.

Other reports by the US Air Force, NASA, medical doctors and scientific publications confirm these and other deleterious health effects that would result from the Navy’s electromagnetic weaponry arsenal, in addition to large-scale negative impacts on birds, aquatic life and other biota.

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U.S. Military Burn Pits Built on Chemical Weapons Facilities Tied to Soldiers’ Illness

Lauren Walker reports for The Guardian:

In 2007, shortly after vice-president Joe Biden learned that his eldest son would be deployed to Iraq, the then-presidential hopeful turned to a modest crowd at the Iowa state fair and admitted that he didn’t want Beau to go. “But I tell you what,” he said, his family lined up behind him. “I don’t want my grandson or my granddaughters going back in 15 years and so how we leave makes a big difference.”

Beau arrived in Iraq the following year, and spent the next several months serving as a Jag officer at Camp Victory, just outside of the Baghdad airport, and Joint Base Balad, nearly 40 miles north of Baghdad. Though he returned home safely in September 2009, he woke up one day a few months later with an inexplicable headache, numbness in his limbs and paralysis on one side of his body. Beau had suffered a mild stroke. His health deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Less than two years later, he died at the age of 46.

Though the underlying cause of Beau’s cancer cannot be confirmed, evidence gathered in a new book out Tuesday suggests a possible link between his illness and service. Based on clusters of similar cases, scientific studies and expert opinions, author Joseph Hickman proposes in The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers that US service members in Iraq and Afghanistan confronted more than one unexpected enemy that followed them home. Many soldiers complain of respiratory issues relating to their burn pit exposure. But others likely developed more life-threatening conditions such as cancers, Hickman contends, because of what the burn pits were built on top of: the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program.

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Is Zika Virus Linked to Deforestation? Interview with Robert G. Wallace

Sharmini Peries talks to evolutionary biologist and public health expert Robert G. Wallace who discusses the Zika virus and its links to deforestation and climate change, as well as the re-emergence of mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and malaria. (The Real News)

The Man Who Studies the Spread of Ignorance

Georgina Kenyon reports for BBC Future:

In 1979, a secret memo from the tobacco industry was revealed to the public. Called the Smoking and Health Proposal, and written a decade earlier by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, it revealed many of the tactics employed by big tobacco to counter “anti-cigarette forces”.

In one of the paper’s most revealing sections, it looks at how to market cigarettes to the mass public: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

This revelation piqued the interest of Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, who started delving into the practices of tobacco firms and how they had spread confusion about whether smoking caused cancer.

Proctor had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking. This search led him to create a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology.

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The Theranos scandal should be a wake-up call, but it probably won’t be

Rebecca Robins reports for STAT:

Not even the holiday slowdown could bring a reprieve for the beleaguered blood-testing company Theranos.

This week brought the latest installment of the Wall Street Journal’s ongoing investigation into the company, this time detailing accusations from two former employees that Theranos tampered with its data and cherry-picked its results. An opportunistic law firm then piggybacked on the newspaper’s reporting, announcing Tuesday that it was investigating whether the company made claims to investors that violate securities laws.

It’s the latest in a relentless parade of damaging news for the Silicon Valley upstart, which was valued last year at $9 billion, the most of any venture-backed company working in health care today. Its charismatic founder, 31-year-old Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes, has promised to provide quick, accurate medical test results from just a few drops of blood pricked from a finger.

Not many new companies have risen as high or fallen as far as Theranos. But it’s hardly the only firm that’s raised big bucks before proving it had the technology to back up the hype — and it’s unlikely to be the last. “I bet that it’s happening right now,” said Dr. John Ioannidis, a Stanford professor who studies scientific robustness.

STAT asked scientists who have been closely watching the Theranos scandal to predict its fallout. They expressed hope that it might be a wake-up call for the biotech industry to prioritize science over speculation — but said that the existing structures and incentives make it likely that plenty more companies like Theranos will thrive.

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Adding fluoride to water supply may have no benefit, say experts

Haroon Siddique reports for The Guardian:

Water fluoridation has been in place in England for more than 40 years, and now covers about 6 million people. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls adding fluoride to drinking water one of the 10 great public health achievements in the 20th century.

Public Health England (PHE) describes it as “a safe and effective public health measure” to combat tooth decay in children and, alongside dentists’ groups, has called for it to be implemented more widely.

But health experts are calling for a moratorium on water fluoridation, claiming that the benefits of such schemes, as opposed to those of topical fluoride (directly applied to the teeth), are unproved.

Furthermore, critics cite studies claiming to have identified a number of possible negative associations of fluoridation, including bone cancer in boys, bladder cancer, hyperthyroidism, hip fractures and lower IQ in children.

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Irradiated: 33,480 Americans Dead After 70 Years of Atomic Weaponry

Brittany Peterson reports for McClatchy:

“Irradiated,” a special report published today by McClatchy, offers an unprecedented look at the costs of war and the risks of a strong defense, using federal records to chronicle the deaths of at least 33,480 nuclear workers who helped the U.S. win World War II and the Cold War.

The number of deaths has never been disclosed by federal officials. It’s more than four times the number of American casualties in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it looms large as the nation prepares for its second nuclear age, with a $1 trillion plan to modernize its nuclear weapons over the next 30 years.

McClatchy determined the count after analyzing more than 70 million records in a database obtained from the U.S. Department of Labor under the Freedom of Information Act. It includes all workers who are dead after they or their survivors received compensation under a special fund created in 2001 to help those who got sick in the construction of America’s nuclear arsenal.

A total of 107,394 workers have been diagnosed with cancers and other diseases after building the nation’s nuclear stockpile over the last seven decades. The project includes an interactive database that offers details on all 107,394 workers.

McClatchy’s yearlong investigation, set in 10 states, puts readers in the living rooms of sick workers in South Carolina, on a picket line in Texas and at a cemetery in Tennessee. It includes interviews with more than 100 workers, government officials, experts and activists and across the country.

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The DuPont and Dow Chemical Merger: A Bad Deal for People and the Planet

Sarah Lazare writes for Common Dreams:

Watchdog groups are sounding the alarm after two of the oldest and largest corporations in the United States—DuPont and Dow Chemical—announced Friday plans to merge into a $130 billion giant, thereby establishing the world’s biggest seed and pesticide conglomerate.

The new behemoth, named DowDuPont, would then be split into “three independent, publicly traded companies through tax-free spin-offs,” according to a joint corporate statement marking one of the the largest deals of 2015.

These companies would focus on agriculture, material science, and “technology and innovation-driven Specialty Products company,” the statement continues. Together, they would form the second-largest chemical company world-wide.

The merger, if it goes through, is expected to slash numerous jobs.

And it would expand the influence of two Big Ag players, with the combined venture retaining control over “17 percent of global pesticide sales and about 40 percent of America’s corn-seed and soybean markets,” according to the calculations of Washington Post analysts.

Rights groups warn that this large share would be very bad for people and the planet—and called on the Department of Justice to block the merger.

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The Dark Side of the New Zealand Dairy Industry

Animal welfare organisations SAFE and Farmwatch set up hidden cameras across 12 farms and a slaughter house in New Zealand. Here’s what they discovered. (SAFE and Farmwatch)

Pfizer-Allergan to Create the World’s Largest Pharmaceutical Company: Interview with James Henry

Jessica Devereux talks to economist James Henry about why the U.S. Congress will turn a blind eye to the Pfizer-Allergan merger deal which will create world’s largest pharmaceutical company, higher drug prices, and hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue. (The Real News)

A Growing Disenchantment With October ‘Pinkification’

Gina Kolata reports for The New York Times:

[…] Pinkwashing, as some breast cancer activists call it, has become an October rite, to “raise awareness” of breast cancer during what has for years been called National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Those who promote the pink campaigns say they raise millions of dollars to fight the disease.

“When I see Delta flight attendants dressed in pink, I thank them,” said Daniela Campari, senior vice president for marketing at the American Cancer Society.

But many women with breast cancer hate the spectacle. “I call it the puke campaign,” said Marlene McCarthy, the director of the Rhode Island Breast Cancer Coalition, who has metastatic breast cancer.

“Breast cancer awareness,” critics charge, has become a sort of feel-good catchall, associated with screening and early detection, and the ubiquitous pink a marketing opportunity for companies of all types. For all the awareness, they note, breast cancer incidence has been nearly flat and there still is no cure for women whose cancer has spread beyond the breast to other organs, like the liver or bones.

“What do we have to show for the billions spent on pink ribbon products?” asked Karuna Jaggar, the executive director of Breast Cancer Action, an activist group whose slogan is “Think before you pink.”

She concluded: “A lot of us are done with awareness. We want action.”

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Why The Pharmaceutical Industry Is The Worst