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July 2008

Who cares about the blood supply? Apparently not the Red Cross.

Credit the NY Times' Stephanie Strom with breaking the story:  "Problems persist with Red Cross Blood services.

Did you know that for 15 years, the American Red Cross has been under a federal court order to improve the way it collects and processes blood?  Me neither.

Problems cited in the many FDA reports include:

  • Improper screening of donors
  • Poor blood-drawing technique
  • Failures to test for syphilis
  • Failures to discard deficient blood

Strom's story has everything, including a whistle-blower who was later fired, incredible financial and database mismanagement, falsified records, and hints of a sadly typical non-profit culture in which most people don't make any money, while the incompetent top execs are grossly overpaid.

Who knows what damage has been done to patients?  After all, the Red Cross controls 43 percent of the nation's blood supply, and much of what goes wrong can be conveniently hidden...

As a former CEO of the Red Cross put it, "Patients who get blood transfusions tend to be pretty sick. If they spike a fever post-transfusion, no one is likely to suspect that the blood caused it."

Of course, that's the "problem" when attempting to judge health care outcomes.  People who are admitted to hospitals are, uh, sick--and sick people sometimes die.  So, how can it be our fault?

Partial ban on phthalates not smart

The US Congress agreed on 28 July 2008 to an outright ban on some phthalates in children’s toys and child care items, and an interim prohibition on other phthalates pending further research on their impact on infant health.

To the casual observer, it sounds like our elected officials are guarding our health, but this is just cheap politics based on junk science.  Speaking as someone who worked in elite labs during my graduate and undergraduate education--including a stint with brilliant Nobel laureate Willard F. Libby (for Carbon-14 dating)--it blows my mind to see what passes for research these days.

Incredibly, people seem to be assured of grants if they can only find a chemical--any chemical--and come up with a "study" that will show harmful effects.  Sadly, the majority of these studies would not have passed muster for a high school science fair 30 years ago.

When PC mixes with science, we all lose.

I think this nonsense dates back to Rachel Carson's long discredited Silent Spring.  After all, banning DDT accomplished a lot, right?  Millions of Africans died of malaria, and there was not a SINGLE benefit to the environment that has ever been documented.

Congress failed to accept these very simple facts:

1.     The products affected are still going to need plasticizers, and no one can predict the effects of these mostly untested phthalate substitutes.

2.     Phthalates are among the most tested chemicals on earth.

Need I remind you of some past bans, and other foolish so-called environmental actions?

Despite reams of scientific papers attesting to their safety, silicone breast implants were banned, and nearly $1 billion was paid in settlements to alleged victims, only to have the implants restored to the marketplace by the FDA a scant few years later.

Despite obvious problems with supply--to say nothing of its non-effect on helping air pollution--biofuels, especially ethanol were thrust on the market, only to lead to hikes in food prices and additional costs to refiners--passed on to the consumer, thank you very much.

Despite issues with mercury pollution, and the fact that they simply cannot replace incandescent lighting in all applications, efforts are underway to ban conventional light bulbs, supposedly to have them all replaced with compact fluorescents.  This is particularly stupid, since the compacts are great--in their place! 

Despite issues of cost, payback time, and what to do with the batteries once they're exhausted--not to mention that they look like they are supposed to be occupied by an effete space alien--hybrid cars are pushed by many.  To the manufacturer, they are a curiosity that generates wonderful PR.

The list goes on...

If you have trouble understanding how Congress can do some of the things it does, remember how you hated the goody-two shoes brown-nosing kids that played politics to get elected to student office?  Well, that's who is in Congress.  Any questions?

Comments from the field on the FEMA trailers

While no one wants to go public with it, and that's quite understandable, I've gotten plenty of favorable comments on the cigarette smoke/formaldehyde piece, and Frank Duncan's rather non-PC take on the aftermath of Katrina.

These comments came in via direct e-mail to me, or via phone from those who know me.

The people making these comments came from industry, government (at the agency and legislative level), and the legal profession--to name only a few sources.  Perhaps this means that in some quarters, anyway, the victim mantra is getting real old.

BTW--it goes without saying that all direct communication to me is treated in the strictest confidence.

Taking a look at holistic medicine

Our recent HND posting entitled "A Look At Holistic Medicine:  Theory And Practice," lays the groundwork...

Holistic medicine is described as a doctrine of preventive and therapeutic medicine that emphasizes the necessity of looking at the whole person--his body, mind, emotions, and environment--rather than at an isolated function or organ; and which promotes the use of a wide range of health practices and therapies. Another aspect of holistic medicine puts ownership of the patient's health back with the patient, teaching the precepts of exercise, a good diet, adequate sleep, fresh air, and moderation in personal habits.

This healing doctrine differs from conventional or allopathic medicine, whereby a disease is treated using remedies (generally pharmaceutical drugs) which produce effects different from those produced by the disease under treatment.

As it happens, many patients--especially aging baby boomers--have much higher expectations for their health than did previous generations. A large percentage of people are seeking alternative care, and take as negative role models such celebrities as the late Tony Snow, who pursued orthodox therapies all the way down the line, and even mocked alternative methods, only to die at age 53. While death is not optional, examination of other approaches seems prudent in this information-rich age of ours.

We then describe some of what goes on in a real holistic practice operated by an innovative MD.

Check it out.

Do as Al says, not as Al does

This one, from Lorne Gunter, of Canada's National Post was too good to pass up...

On Thursday (17 July), former U. S. vice-president Al Gore delivered a major address calling on his country to abandon all fossil fuels within 10 years. By 2018, U. S. electricity and fuel should come entirely from "renewable energy and truly clean, carbon-free sources," he said.  Tickets to the event encouraged attendees to "please use public transit, bicycling or other climate-friendly means" to reach the lecture hall.

So how did Mr. Gore and his retinue arrive? In two Lincoln Town Cars and a full-sized SUV that sat idling with the air conditioners blasting while the Gore party was inside.

It was 34°C (93°F) in Washington. Al Gore can't be expected to get into an overheated vehicle after he's worked up a sweat telling others how to save the planet.

Remember, too, the Nobel prizewinning environmentalist lives in a Tennessee mansion that produces a carbon footprint 20 times that of the average American home. A sizable chunk of his personal fortune comes from royalties on a zinc mine which had to be temporarily closed five years ago in part because the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled it one of the worst-polluting mine sites in America. Illegal toxins were frequently discharged into nearby rivers.

Mr. Gore's Live Earth benefit concert last summer flew scores of rock bands to stages around the world in carbon-spewing private jets. To cover the emissions from his own frequent use of private jets, Mr. Gore set up a company that buys carbon offsets, so that in effect he is paying himself for his carbon indulgences, writing off the expense on one hand, while pocketing the proceeds on the other.

Apparently if the world is ever to reach the carbon-free future Mr. Gore dreams of, it will have to get there without Al's help.

But take heart, there is increasing evidence that man-made carbon dioxide may not be causing global warming. Indeed, there is increasing debate in the scientific community whether there is even any warming occurring at all. Mr. Gore might just be able to keep going from jet to limo to estate guilt-free (if not carbon-free) for as long as he wishes.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that seven mountain glaciers in northern California were advancing. They joined glaciers in southern Norway, Sweden, the New Zealand Alps and the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan. Indeed, worldwide, there are nearly half as many glaciers advancing as retreating.

How did the AP explain this? Well, all the shrinking glaciers it mentioned in its story were melting due to global warming, while the growing ones were "benefiting from changing weather patterns." Glacier melt is proof of a climate crisis, while--on the same planet, under the same global conditions --glacier melt is chalked up as a mere natural phenomenon.

Facts that don't fit the global-warming dogma -- call them inconvenient truths -- are to be dismissed as unimportant. Only those that feed the environmental hysteria are proof of something ominous.

So I'm sure they're entirely inconsequential, but here, anyway, are some anecdotes that cast doubt on the notion that emissions from our SUVs and power plants are dangerously harming the climate.

Greenland isn't melting. And while Arctic sea ice may have thinned in the past three decades by about 3% per decade, according to the U. S. National Snow and Ice Date Center, Antarctic ice (which is about 20 times as voluminous as the Arctic kind) has grown by 1% per decade,

Also, after last summer's record melt in the Arctic, this summer's melt in Antarctica was the smallest on record. And NASA satellites have found that Arctic Sea ice coverage this year is more than one million square kilometers greater than last year's, greater than the average of the last three years and 10-20 centimeters thicker than in 2007. According to observations by the Danish Meteorological Institute, we "have to go back 15 years to find ice expansion so far south."

Snow coverage in North America this winter was greater than at any time in recorded history. China had its worst winter in a century, and the southern hemisphere its worst in the past 50 years.

And while global temperatures increased slightly in June, through the end of May, the nine-month decline in temperatures beginning in September was greater [0.8°C (1.4°F) ] than all the warming of the 20th century [0.6°C (1.1°F)].

All of this may prove nothing (although if these signals pointed toward warming, you can bet they'd be billed as proof a coming climate catastrophe). But they should at least give Mr. Gore comfort that he need not sacrifice his high-carbon lifestyle just to prove he can walk the walk.

Cigarette smoking and the FEMA trailer testing

In an earlier article, I criticized the CDC for not taking into account the fact that cigarette smoke contains lots of formaldehyde, when they measured formaldehyde concentrations in the trailers.

Now I'm thinking that there could be an explanation...

Bear in mind that these CDC guys are far from stupid.  They know quite well that cigarette smoke contains formaldehyde.  Indeed, many of them probably also know that occupancies with smokers can have up to THREE TIMES the normal level of formaldehyde. 

So, why didn't they run a test for a marker for cigarette smoke while they were testing for formaldehyde, and just eliminate the smokers' trailers from the final results?

Simple.  FEMA is already digging out from a PR disaster.  How would it have helped to essentially "blame the victim"?

Think about it.  Mr. Trailer Dweller has been complaining about health effects caused by high concentrations of formaldehyde in his trailer.  Suppose they tell him that his "high concentration" was actually a result of his smoking--and by the way, smoking is also bad for your health, sunny Jim!

Why, that would never do, since the FEMA trailer dwellers have now become a protected victim class.

As the agency and the trailer manufacturers are finding out:  No good deed goes unpunished.

I'm betting that the next time FEMA wants to buy some trailers, they're going to have a real hard time finding vendors--even with their new 16 parts-per-billion standard.  Unless they indemnify the manufacturers, they will just come up empty.

Jo Stafford--R.I.P.

Music is surely part of the environment, and we lost one of the all-time great singers—who was never known to cop an attitude—last week.

Jo Stafford was especially loved by the World War II generation, and stayed active through the 1960s.  When asked why she had stopped singing, she replied, "For the same reason that Lana Turner doesn't pose in bathing suits anymore."

Stafford's hits included "I'll Be Seeing You,"  "Jambalaya,"  "Make Love to Me!," and the 1952 monster smash "You Belong To Me," that stayed at Billboard magazine's number one position for an incredible 12 weeks.

Gifted with a cool expressive tone, often described as honey-voiced, and perfect intonation, some critics described Stafford as using no vibrato, but that is incorrect.  She did use vibrato tastefully, but to a much lesser extent than singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, whose voices lacked Stafford's sweetness.

Much loved by soldiers during the War, she was nicknamed G.I. Jo.

Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Reuiéscat in pace. Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.

Safety pro Frank Duncan's take on the Katrina aftermath and the FEMA trailers

We picked this one up from an industrial hygiene health group on Yahoo.  The following are the thoughts of Frank G. Duncan, who lived through it...

Having been through Katrina in New Orleans, and Slidell, Louisiana, I have become not just tired but exasperated with the never ending pot-shots taken at the US Government for all of the failings. I'm sorry, but it is just not fair.

Over 1,250,000 people were in the danger zone and were warned to evacuate. About 1,000-2,000 people actually died. A lot of those who died had decided to ride out the storm in their homes. It was a fatal mistake.

When Hurricane Betsy hit back in the 1960's (And yes, I was in that one, too.) a lot of people drowned in their attics when the water rose and there was no way out. There was a proposal to require an axe to be stored in the attics in St. Bernard Parish, but, unfortunately, it was dropped. Many people were found there after Hurricane Katrina. Trapped and unable to escape. But this time they had much more than plenty of warning.

The US Government weather bureau had started telling people that there was going to be a BIG problem when this storm came ashore. And Katrina was tracked for many days as it cruised along the Gulf Coast. If you didn't know that there was trouble coming, you had to be deaf, dumb, and blind. It was headline news for almost a week. It was on TV, radio, and the newspapers ad nauseum.

Katrina hit shore on August 29, a Monday, and did as much devastation as any war. Even the Interstates were impassable at first, let alone surface streets and local roads. I am not really sure that people outside the impact area really understood how bad the damage was. It was not just New Orleans that was flooded, but many other communities to the north and east. One third of Slidell, my town, was also under water.

Most of the power grid was destroyed-but that is not a problem of the US Government since that is run by private industry. There was no phone service at all. Once again not the US Governments doing since that is run by private industry, too. With no power, there was no water. Once again, though, this was a municipal problem, not the US governments responsibility. Also with no power, there was no sewage treatment. (The US Government did help out there by threatening to sue the communities that failed to treat their sewage.)

Although there were shortages of food, water and gasoline, by Wednesday following the storm, there were locations set up in most areas where you could drive up in your vehicle, tell how many people you needed help for, and they would throw in MRE's (a self-contained, individual field ration), gallons of water, and packages of ice as needed at no charge. That was two days after the storm. That was the US Government at work. There were people who didn't get all they wanted to eat or drink, but no one that I know of died of starvation or thirst. There were a lot of uncomfortable people who suffered from the heat, but the US Government can't be held responsible for that. I'm sorry, but it has ALWAYS been hot in the South in August and September.

Now we get to the crux of this discussion and that is the presence of formaldehyde in the trailers. The US Government set about trying to provide for the IMMEDIATE housing of upwards of 100,000 people. Not next year. Not next month. Not next week, but NOW. Right now. Today. Of course, that couldn't happen. There weren't that many free trailers in the whole of the US.

But designs were made and contracts were let and private industry went to work on a 24/7 schedule to turn out living quarters. By the standards of most of the world, they were luxurious indeed. They have air conditioning, stoves, heaters, hot water, a shower, as well as places to eat and sleep. For free. No rent.

Now the problem of formaldehyde is to be considered. The source of the formaldehyde is the plywood, particle board, and carpeting. I want any of the group out there to design a portable shelter with all of the listed amenities that is easy to build with available materials and is also cheap and fast to build. These trailers are to be built by the thousands, by many different companies with standard tools that are readily available. But have NO formaldehyde. Would somebody please step up to the plate with a design. I very much want to see it. They may not have been perfect, but they were far better than nothing.

I would also like to point out that if someone had even the faintest concern about formaldehyde, they didn't have to take a free trailer. They could go buy a tent. They could build a lean-to out of the storm debris. They could live in one of the tens of thousands of vacant houses still dotting the area. They could enjoy the fresh air containing the fetid miasma from rotting animals and vegetation. Not to mention the suffocating heat and humidity. They also need to remember not to ever buy a new home, since all of the materials in a new house also emit formaldehyde.

Can we do anything about noise pollution?

While it is easy enough to garner agreement on air and water pollution, noise pollution is an entirely different matter.

You may think it's noise pollution if the kid next door plays gangsta rap too loud at all hours, but it's music to his ears.  If you live by an airport, you may dread the noise, but for all those travelers, it is short-term, and essential to their plans.

Then, there's the little matter of enforcement.  EPA had an office for this, but it was disbanded in 1981.

We discuss these issues in a new HND piece, and detail suggestions from grassroots organizations trying to do something about the problem.

As it happens, I got some e-mail moments after the HND piece was posted from a specialist in how excess noise causes various health and sociological effects, essentially saying that I wasn't aggressive enough in my article.  You be the judge.

BTW, here is where you can get a nifty white noise generator.  White noise can overcome even the worst noise pollution.  In this case, all you need is your computer and a set of headphones.  The same company has a few other software products that are simple, neat, and inexpensive.

Making The Big Green Move...Or Not

Both political parties—especially the Dems—talk a whole lot about the environment, lowering the carbon imprint (or footprint), and being energy efficient.  But what about two huge events, that involve travel for thousands of people, as well as massive energy consumption at the destination?  And what if there were no good reason why these events should be taking place at all?

I'm referring, of course, to this summer's political conventions.

As things now stand, both parties have chosen their presidential candidates.  The VP choices will be made in due course, and the platforms are being hammered out right now.  So, one might ask, if John Q. Public is being told to tighten his energy belt, why do the parties get a free pass?

The official reason is that it is very important for the party faithful to get together in this manner, it is traditional to do so, and that "the country" expects no less.  In addition, being appointed a delegate with a convention floor pass is a prize doled out to rank and file workers, who will no doubt show their gratitude by laboring all the harder come this fall.

The actual reason is a bit more complex.  First of all "the environment" and "reduce your carbon footprint" are nothing more than election year campaign platitudes.  They sound good, but mean absolutely nothing, or if they COULD mean something, no policy specifics are ever given.  After all, Obama touts "change we can believe in."  Can anyone in the US explain what that means?

How can you believe in some sort of change, without knowing the details?  You can't, but if you are caught up in the cult of personality, it doesn't really matter.  On the other hand, if you are a realist, and recognize that campaign promises are almost never kept, you are not part of the intended audience for political conventions.

Beyond this, it simply comes down to the dollars.  Try counting up the money involved with thousands of airplane tickets, thousands of hotel rooms, and tens of thousands of meals.  Who knows what kind of backroom deals were made by the cities to secure the conventions—but you can be sure that money changed hands.

What an incredibly bold move it would be for one party to simply proclaim:  We are taking the step to reduce our carbon footprint, and will be having a virtual convention.  Some penalties will be paid to all the pre-booked vendors, but look at what we have saved!

But, you see, to do this would require that the parties actually believe in something more than just winning an election.  More than that, the politicians would have to adjust their own behavior—rather than simply scold you for yours—when it came to the environment.

Call this a golden opportunity squandered.