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Risk Expert: GMOs Could Destroy the Global Ecosystem Washington's Blog

Risk Expert: GMOs Could Destroy the Global Ecosystem Washington’s Blog.

 

Risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb predicted the 2008 financial crisis, by pointing out that commonly-used risk models were wrong.  Distinguished professor of risk engineering at New York University, author of best-sellers The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, Taleb became financially independent after the crash of 1987, and wealthy during the 2008 financial crisis.

Now, Taleb is using his statistical risk acumen to take on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Taleb’s conclusion:  GMOs could cause “an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet.”

Sound crazy?

Sure it does … but only because we don’t understand statistics, and so we have no handle on what’s risky and what’s not.

Taleb and his 2 co-authors write in a new draft paper:

For nature, the “ruin” is ecocide: an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet.

***

Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs fall squarely under [the precautionary principle, i.e. the rule that we should err on the side of caution if something is really dangerous] not because of the harm to the consumer because of their systemic risk on the system.

Top-down modifications to the system (through GMOs) are categorically and statistically different from bottom up ones (regular farming, progressive tinkering with crops, etc.) There is no comparison between the tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of arbitrarily taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another. Saying that such a product is natural misses the statistical process by which things become ”natural”. [i.e. evolving over thousands of years in a natural ecosystem, or at least breeding over several generations.]

What people miss is that the modification of crops impacts everyone and exports the error from the local to the globalI do not wish to pay—or have my descendants pay—for errors by executives of Monsanto. We should exert the precautionary principle there—our non-naive version—simply because we would only discover errors after considerable and irreversible environmental damage.

Taleb shreds GMO-boosters – including biologists – who don’t understand basic statistics:

Calling the GMO approach “scientific” betrays a very poor—indeed warped—understanding of probabilistic payoffs and risk management.

***

It became popular to claim irrationality for GMO and other skepticism on the part of the general public —not realizing that there is in fact an ”expert problem” and such skepticism is healthy and even necessary for survival. For instance, in The Rational Animal, the author pathologize people for not accepting GMOs although ”the World Health Organization has never found evidence of ill effects” a standard confusion of evidence of absence and absence of evidence. Such a pathologizing is similar to behavioral researchers labeling hyperbolic discounting as ”irrational” when in fact it is largely the researcher who has a very narrow model and richer models make the ”irrationality” go away).

In other words, lack of knowledge of basic statistical principles leads GMO supporters astray. For example, they don’t understand the concept that “interdependence” creates  “thick tails” … leading to a “black swan” catastrophic risk event:

Fat tails result (among other things) from the interdependence of components, leading to aggregate variations becoming much more severe than individual ones. Interdependence disrupts the functioning of the central limit theorem, by which the aggregate is more stable than the sum of the parts. Whether components are independent or interdependent matters a lot to systemic disasters such as pandemics or generalized crises. The interdependence increases the probability of ruin, to the point of certainty.

(This concept is important in the financial world, as well.)

As Forbes’ Brian Stoffel notes:

Let’s say each GM seed that’s produced holds a 0.1% chance of — somehow, in the intricately interdependent web of nature — leading to a catastrophic breakdown of the ecosystem that we rely on for life. All by itself, it doesn’t seem too harmful, but with each new seed that’s developed, the risk gets greater and greater.

The chart below demonstrates how, over time, even a 0.1% chance of ecocide can be dangerous.

I cannot stress enough that the probabilities I am using are for illustrative purposes only. Neither I, nor Taleb, claim to know what the chances are of any one type of seed causing such destruction.

The focus, instead, should be on the fact that the “total ecocide barrier” is bound to be hit, over a long enough time, with even incredibly small odds. Taleb includes a similar graph in his work, but no breakdown of the actual variables at play.

Source: Author’s input, based on Taleb, Read, and Bar-Yam paper

Taleb debunks other pro-GMO claims as well, such as:

1. The Risk of Famine If We Don’t Use GMOs. Taleb says:

Invoking the risk of “famine” as an alternative to GMOs is a deceitful strategy, no different from urging people to play Russian roulette in order to get out of poverty.

And calling the GMO approach “scientific” betrays a very poor—indeed warped—understanding of probabilistic payoffs and risk management.

2.  Nothing Is Totally Safe, So Should We Discard All Technology?  Taleb says this is an anti-scientific argument. Some risks are small, or are only risks to one individual or a small group of people.  When you’re talking about risks which could wipe out all life on Earth, it’s a totally different analysis.

3. Assuming that Nature Is Always Good Is Anti-Scientific.  Taleb says that statistical risk analysis don’t use assumptions such as nature is “good” or “bad”. Rather, it looks at the statistical evidence that things persist in nature for thousands of years if they are robust and anti-fragile.  Ecosystems break down if they become unstable.

GMO engineers may be smart in their field, but they are ignorant when it comes to long-run ecological reality:

We are not saying nature is the smartest pos­sible, we are saying that time is smarter than GMO engineers. Plain statistical significance.

3.  People Brought Potatoes from the Americas Back to Europe, Without Problem.  Taleb says that potatoes evolved and competed over thousands of years in the Americas, and so proved that they did not disrupt ecosystems. On the other hand, GMOs are brand spanking new … created in the blink of the eye in a lab.

4.

As if “ecocide”isn’t enough, there are many other reasons to oppose GMO foods … at least without rigorous testing, including decreased crop yieldincreased pesticide requirements, and potentiallysevere health effects.

On the plus side?  A few companies will make a lot of money.

Chinese woman dies from bird flu strain new to humans – World – CBC News

Chinese woman dies from bird flu strain new to humans – World – CBC News.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed 384 people worldwide since 2003.The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed 384 people worldwide since 2003.

Chinese authorities said Wednesday that a 73-year-old Chinese woman died after being infected with a bird flu strain that had sickened a human for the first time, a development that the World Health Organization called “worrisome.”

China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the woman in the city of Nanchang had been infected by the H10N8 bird flu virus, a strain that had not previously been found in people, the Jiangxi province health department said on its website.

This is the second new bird flu strain to emerge in humans this year in China. In late March, the H7N9 bird flu virus broke out, infecting 140 people and killing 45, almost all of them on the mainland. The outbreak was controlled after the country closed many of its live animal markets — scientists had assumed the virus was infecting people through exposure to live birds.

Timothy O’Leary, spokesman for the World Health Organization’s regional office in Manila, said WHO officials were working closely with Chinese authorities to better understand the new virus. He said though its source remains unknown, birds are known to carry it and it would not be surprising if another human case was detected.

“It’s worrisome any time a disease jumps the species barrier from animals to humans. That said, the case is under investigation (by Chinese authorities) and there’s no evidence of human-to-human transmission yet,” O’Leary said by phone.

In the new case, the Jiangxi health department said the woman had severe pneumonia before dying Dec. 6 in a hospital in Nanchang.

She had suffered high blood pressure, heart disease and other underlying health problems that lowered her immunity, the health department said. Her medical history showed that she had been in contact with live poultry.

The health department said “no abnormalities” have been found in people who had close contact with her. It did not say if they had been tested or quarantined, though China has in previous outbreaks taken those measures.

Experts are cautious when it comes to bird flu viruses infecting humans. They have been closely watching the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has killed 384 people worldwide since 2003. The virus remains hard to catch with most human infections linked to contact with infected poultry, but scientists fear it could mutate and spread rapidly among people, potentially sparking a pandemic.

 

China “Fixes” Pollution Problem… By Raising Danger Threshold | Zero Hedge

China “Fixes” Pollution Problem… By Raising Danger Threshold | Zero Hedge.

If you don’t like the frequency of your air-quality alerts, you don’t have to keep them. That is the message that the Chinese government has made loud and clear as Bloomberg reports, Shanghai’s environmental authority took decisive action to address the pollution – it cynically adjusted the threshold for “alerts” to ensure there won’t be so many. In a move remininscent of Japan’s raising of the “safe” radioactive threshold level, China has apparently decided – rather than accept responsibility for the disaster – to avoid it by making the “safe” pollution level over 50% more polluted (up from 75 to 115 micrograms per cubic meter) – almost 5 times the WHO’s “safe” level of 25 micrograms.

Via Bloomberg,

As the smog that has choked Shanghai for much of the last week reached hazardous levels, the city’s environmental authority took decisive action to address the frequent air-quality alerts: It adjusted standards downward to ensure that there won’t be so many.

It was a cynical move, surely made to protect the bureau’s image in the face of unrelenting pollution that only seems to grow worse, despite government promises to address it.At this advanced stage in China’s development, nobody in the country (or elsewhere) — not even the loyal state news media — seems to believe that the problem is solvable, at least not any time soon. Even worse, nobody — not the state and certainly not the growing number of middle-class consumers (and car buyers) — seems ready to take responsibility for the mess.

If you can’t fix it, you might as well try to avoid responsibility for it, the thinking seems to go. It therefore comes as no surprise that Shanghai’s Environmental Protection Bureau decided to lower the benchmark for alerting the public about pollution risks. It will now issue alerts only when the concentration of the most dangerous particulates in the city’s air, known asPM2.5 (particulates smaller than 2.5 micometers in diameter) reach 115 micrograms per cubic meter. The previous standard was 75 micrograms per cubic meter. (The World Health Organization recommends not exceeding 25 micrograms per cubic meter in a 24-hour period.)

The state-owned English-language China Daily explained the decision in tone that almost obscured the absurdity of the maneuver: “The bureau said it believes the original standard is too strict, given that haze is common in the Yangtze River Delta region in winter.

On social networks like Weibo and Wechat, Beijingers now show photos of blue skies and white clouds as if they’re on vacation.” This show-off behavior left a bad taste, he concedes, before concluding with a final sentence that ought to serve as a rallying cry in China: “I really hope that someday people will resume reacting to blue skies and white clouds in a ‘normal’ manner.”

That’s a hope that probably won’t be fulfilled in this decade or even the next.

 

Shanghai smog cancels flights, reduces visibility to metres – World – CBC News

Shanghai smog cancels flights, reduces visibility to metres – World – CBC News.

Shanghai smogShanghai’s concentration of tiny, harmful PM 2.5 particles reached 602.5 micrograms per cubic metre Friday afternoon, compared with the World Health Organization’s safety guideline of 25 micrograms. (China Daily/Reuters)

Shanghai authorities ordered schoolchildren indoors and halted all construction Friday as China’s financial hub suffered one its worst bouts of air pollution, bringing visibility down to a few dozen metres, delaying flights and obscuring the city’s spectacular skyline.

The financial district was shrouded in a yellow haze, and noticeably fewer people walked the city’s streets. Vehicle traffic also was thinner, as authorities pulled 30 per cent of government vehicles from the roads. They also banned fireworks and public sporting events.

“I feel like I’m living in clouds of smog,” said Zheng Qiaoyun, a local resident who kept her six-month-old son at home. “I have a headache, I’m coughing, and it’s hard to breathe on my way to my office.”

‘Today, Shanghai air really has a layered taste. At first, it tastes slightly astringent with some smokiness. Upon full contact with your palate, the aftertaste has some earthy bitterness…’– Alan Yu, chef

Shanghai’s concentration of tiny, harmful PM 2.5 particles reached 602.5 micrograms per cubic metre Friday afternoon, an extremely hazardous level that was the highest since the city began recording such data last December. That compares with the World Health Organization’s safety guideline of 25 micrograms.

The dirty air that has gripped Shanghai and its neighbouring provinces for days is attributed to coal burning, car exhaust, factory pollution and weather patterns, and is a stark reminder that pollution is a serious challenge in China. Beijing, the capital, has seen extremely heavy smog several times over the past year. In the far northeastern city of Harbin, some monitoring sites reported PM 2.5 rates up to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in October, when the winter heating season kicked off.

Pollution levels unusual for Shanghai

As a coastal city, Shanghai usually has mild to modest air pollution, but recent weather patterns have left the city’s air stagnant. On China’s social media, netizens swapped jokes over the rivalry between Shanghai and Beijing, saying the financial hub was catching up with the capital in air pollution.

Alan Yu, a chef in Shanghai, satirized the air on his microblog as though he were sampling a new vintage of wine.

“Today, Shanghai air really has a layered taste. At first, it tastes slightly astringent with some smokiness. Upon full contact with your palate, the aftertaste has some earthy bitterness, and upon careful distinguishing you can even feel some dust-like particulate matter,” Yu wrote.

The environmental group Greenpeace said slow-moving and low-hanging air masses had carried factory emissions from Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong provinces to Shanghai. But it said the root problem lies with the excessive industrial emissions in the region, including Zhejiang province to the south.

“Both Jiangsu and Zhejiang should act as soon as possible to set goals to reduce their coal consumption so that the Yantze River Delta will again be green with fresh air,” Huang Wei, a Greenpeace project manager, said in a statement.

 

What You Should Be Doing NOW to Protect Yourself from Radiation | Zero Hedge

What You Should Be Doing NOW to Protect Yourself from Radiation | Zero Hedge.

It is well-known that potassium iodide works to protect against damage from radioactive iodine by saturating our body (the thyroid gland, specifically) with harmless iodine, so that our bodies are unable to absorb radioactive iodine from nuclear accidents.

For example, the World Health Organization notes:

The thyroid gland is at particular risk from irradiation from radioactive iodine because the thyroid uses iodine to produce hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism.  The thyroid gland does not differentiate between non-radioactive and radioactive iodine.

***

When taken at the appropriate dosage and within the correct time interval around exposure to radioactive iodine, KI [i.e. potassium iodide] saturates the thyroid gland with stable (non-radioactive) iodine. As a result, radioactive iodine will not be taken up and stored by the thyroid gland.

However, KI only protects against one particular radioactive element, radioactive iodine, which has a half life of only 8.02 days.* That means that the iodine loses half of its radioactivity within 8 days.  For example, after the initial Fukushima melt-down, radioactive iodine was found in California kelp.

But the longer-term threat lies elsewhere.  As the New York Times noted – in addition to iodine-131 – the big danger is cesium:

Over the long term, the big threat to human health is cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years.

At that rate of disintegration, John Emsley wrote in “Nature’s Building Blocks” (Oxford, 2001), “it takes over 200 years to reduce it to 1 percent of its former level.”

It is cesium-137 that still contaminates much of the land in Ukraine around the Chernobyl reactor.

***

Cesium-137 mixes easily with water and is chemically similar to potassium. It thus mimics how potassium gets metabolized in the body and can enter through many foods, including milk.

***

The Environmental Protection Agency says that … once dispersed in the environment … cesium-137 “is impossible to avoid.”

Cesium-137 is light enough to be carried by the wind a substantial distance. And it is being carried by ocean currents towards the West Coast of North America.

Fortunately – while little-known in the medical community – other harmless minerals can help “saturate” our bodies so as to minimize the uptake of other harmful types of radiation.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Army Medical Department Center and School explained in its book Medical Consequences of Radiological and Nuclear Weapons (Chapter 4):

One of the keys to a successful treatment outcome is to reduce or eliminate the uptake of internalized radionuclides before they can reach the critical organ.

***

The terms “blocking” or “diluting” agent can, in most cases, be used interchangeably. These compounds reduce the uptake of a radionuclide by saturating binding sites with a stable, nonradioactive element, thereby diluting the deleterious effect of the radioisotope. For example, potassium iodide is the FDA-recommended treatment to prevent radioactive iodine from being sequestered in the thyroid…. Nonradioactive strontium compounds may also be used to block the uptake of radioactive strontium. In addition, elements with chemical properties similar to the internalized radio-nuclide are often used as blocking agents. For example, calcium, and to a lesser extent phosphorus, can be used to block uptake of radioactive strontium.

The American Association of Physicists In Medicine agrees:

As does the book published in 2006 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, called Weapons of Mass Casualties and Terrorism Response:

After the U.S. military conducted above-ground nuclear tests on Bikini Island, scientists found that adding potassium to the soil reduced the uptake of radioactive cesium by the plants:

The first of a series of long-term field experiments was established on Bikini Island during the late 1980s to evaluate potential remediation techniques to reduce the uptake of cesium-137 into plants (Robison and Stone, 1998). Based on these experiments, the most effective and practical method for reducing the uptake of cesium-137 into food crop products was to treat agricultural areas with potassium fertilizer (KCl).

John Harte – Professor at the University of California at Berkeley in Energy and Resources and Ecosystem Sciences, a PhD physicist who previously taught physics at Yale, a recipient of the Pew Scholars Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship,  the Leo Szilard prize from the American Physical Society, and who has served on six National Academy of Sciences Committees and has authored over 170 scientific publications, including six books – notes:

Marine fish are usually about 100 times lower in cesium-137 than are freshwater fish because potassium, which is more abundant in seawater, blocks uptake of cesium by marine organisms.

The same is true in mammals.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes:

Cesium is a close chemical analogue of potassium. Cesium has been shown to compete with potassium for transport through potassium channels and can also substitute for potassium in activation of the sodium pump and subsequent transport into the cell.

***

Elimination rates of cesium may be altered by potassium intake.  Following the intraperitoneal injection of 137 Cs in rats, a basal diet supplemented with 8–11% potassium resulted in cesium clearance of 60 days compared to about 120 days for rats receiving the unsupplemented basal diet that contained 1% potassium

(Richmond and Furchner 1961). After 20 days on the diets, rats receiving supplemental potassium had body burdens of 137 Cs that were one-half those of the rats not receiving supplemental potassium. This finding shows that  supplemental potassium reduces the uptake and increases the elimination of ingested 137 Cs.

Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt – a medical doctor with a master’s of public health, on the Faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, editor of the best-seller Food and Nutrients in Disease Management – says that the same is true for humans:

Plutonium is treated like iron by our bodies. So getting enough iron will help reduce absorption of plutonium. And see this. (Plutonium is a very heavy element, and so normally cannot travel too far. Therefore, adequate iron intake is primarily important for those living in Japan.)

Here are the recommended daily allowances (RDA) for various minerals (data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture):

You can buy calciumpotassiumiron supplements. You can also buy non-radioactive strontium supplements.  Or incorporate foods high in calciumpotassium, and iron.

(Selenium also helps protect our bodies from radiation. See  thisthis and this.)

In addition to these minerals, getting enough of certain vitamins is helpful.

A number of scientific articles conclude that Vitamin A helps to protect us from radiation. See thisthis and this.

Numerous studies show that Vitamin C helps to protect the body against radiation.

Vitamin D can help repair damage to DNA, and may help protect against low-level radiation.   As Science Daily reports:

Radiological health expert Daniel Hayes, Ph.D., of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suggests that a form of vitamin D could be one of our body’s main protections against damage from low levels of radiation. Writing in the International Journal of Low Radiation, Hayes explains that calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D, may protect us from background radiation and could be used as a safe protective agent before or after a low-level nuclear incident.

***

“Vitamin D by its preventive/ameliorating actions should be given serious consideration as a protective agent against sublethal radiation injury, and in particular that induced by low-level radiation,” concludes Hayes.

It takes a couple of weeks or months to build up our body’s levels of Vitamin D.  You cannot just pop a bunch of pills and raise your Vitamin D level.   You should never take more than the recommended dose, and  – even if you did – it wouldn’t raise your vitamin D level all at once.  As such, we should start now …

Vitamin E has also shown promise in protecting from low-level radiation, at least in animal studies. Here and here.

Here are the RDAs for vitamins (data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture):

You can buy vitamin supplements, or eat foods rich in vitamins ACD and E.

Antioxidant-rich foods also help protect you against low-level radiation. See this for the science behind antioxidant protection from radiation, tips on inexpensive, anti-oxidant rich foods … and other valuable tips on how to protect yourself from radiation.

The bottom line: starting to saturate your body now with the right types of healthy vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can help protect you against radiation if it hits in the future.

Postscript: We only advocate taking the RDA for various nutrients, which is healthy for you anyway. We are not talking about mega-doses.

We have spent hours looking through medical journal articles for other foods which help protect against radiation.  Here are the results.

For a more complete discussion of commonly-accepted scientific consensus on different prevention and treatment options, please review the Army’s Medical Consequences of Radiological and Nuclear Weapons and the The American Association of Physicists In Medicine’s Medical Management of Radionuclide Internal Contamination.

*  You should not take potassium iodide supplements unless you are exposed to high doses of radioactive iodine, because it can damage some people’s health.  These supplements are only for short-term, high-dose ratiation protection, not for years-long low-dose exposure. For long-term exposures, a daily, baseline level of iodine is healthier.

Potassium iodide is found in most common table salt.  However, if exposed to air, the iodine content can largely evaporate within a month or so.  So store your salt in as air-tight a condition as possible.  Also, it is important not to ingest too much potassium iodide, and most of us already get a lot of salt in our diets from processed foods.  (The RDA for “sodium” – i.e. salt – is listed in the table above on the RDAs for various minerals)

Here is RDA for iodine:

And here are some iodine-rich foods.

Click here for a discussion by two medical doctors about preventative iodine doses.

Disclaimer: We are not doctors or health professionals, and this should not be taken as medical advice. Nothing contained herein is intended to diagnose or treat any condition.

 

Chinese Smog Claims “First” Victim As 8 Year Old Girl Diagnosed With Lung Cancer | Zero Hedge

Chinese Smog Claims “First” Victim As 8 Year Old Girl Diagnosed With Lung Cancer | Zero Hedge.

Over the past year, pictures of China’s unprecedented air pollution have been seen around the world (for a sample seehere and here), Chinese smog has been exported to Japan, and there is even a dedicated hourly twitter update looking at the quality, or lack thereof, of Beijing air. As such, it was only a matter of time before the tragic consequences of China’s unprecedented and unplanned scramble to industrialize started manifesting themselves. This happened overnight when an eight-year-old girl has become China’s youngest lung cancer patient, reports said, with doctors blaming pollution as the direct cause of her illness. The girl, whose name was not given, lives near a major road in the eastern province of Jiangsu, said Xinhuanet, the website of China’s official news agency.

Since this is just what is officially reported, one can only imagine just how bad the reality is behind the Ministry of Truth firewall, but at least China is finally starting to come clean on its pollution problem, in what one can only hope is an attempt to remedy it. However, if that means even slower growth and a less furious scramble to industrialize through the construction of ghost cities, this will likely mean even slower economic growth, even less of an inflation tolerance by the premier and the PBOC, and even more animosity toward Bernanke’s QE, which as we reported earlier is the main reason for today’s reddish tint in the equity futures.

AFP reports that according to a doctor at Jiangsu Cancer Hospital in Nanjing, the 8-year old girl had been exposed to harmful particles and dust over a long period of time.

Lung cancer cases among children are extremely rare, with the average age for diagnosis at about 70, according to the American Cancer Society.

But the incidence of the disease has skyrocketed in China as the country’s rapid development has brought with it deteriorating air quality, particularly in urban areas.

Lung cancer deaths in China have multiplied more than four times over the past 30 years, according to Beijing’s health ministry. Cancer is now the leading cause of death in the smog-ridden capital.

The report of the eight-year-old girl’s diagnosis comes after choking smog enveloped the northeastern city of Harbin two weeks ago, bringing flights and ground transport to a standstill and forcing schools to shut for several days, with visibility in some areas reduced to less than 50 metres.

At the height of the smog, the city’s levels of PM2.5 — the smallest, most dangerous type of airborne particle — reached 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre, 40 times the World Health Organization’s recommended standard.

High levels of PM2.5 have been linked to health problems including lung cancer and heart disease.

And now with China finally admitting it has a health hazard problem, one wonders how long until Japan does the same with the even greater environmental catastrophe that is Fukushima, or will Abe continue to hide the disastrous health consequences of the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl until his entire economic revitalization house of cards comes tumbling down and he is once again escorted out of the building in yet another epic case of diarrhea?

 

Syria hit by polio outbreak, UN confirms – World – CBC News

Syria hit by polio outbreak, UN confirms – World – CBC News. (source)

Refugee children look out from a fence from inside a Syrian refugee camp just at the border in Turkey in June 2011.  The UN's health agency said Tuesday it has confirmed 10 polio cases in northeast Syria, the first confirmed outbreak of the diseases in Syria in 14 years. Refugee children look out from a fence from inside a Syrian refugee camp just at the border in Turkey in June 2011. The UN’s health agency said Tuesday it has confirmed 10 polio cases in northeast Syria, the first confirmed outbreak of the diseases in Syria in 14 years. (Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press)Related Stories

The UN’s health agency said Tuesday it has confirmed 10 polio cases in northeast Syria, the first confirmed outbreak of the diseases in the country in 14 years, with a risk of spreading across the region.

Officials are awaiting lab results on another 12 cases showing polio symptoms, said World Health Organization spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer.

Rosenbauer said the confirmed cases are among babies and toddlers, all under 2, who were “under-immunized.”

The polio virus, a highly contagious disease, usually infects children in unsanitary conditions through the consumption of food or liquid contaminated with feces. It attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyze, and can spread widely and unnoticed before it starts crippling children.

“This is a communicable disease — with population movements it can travel to other areas,” said Rosenbauer. “So the risk is high of spread across the region.”

Vaccination campaign

Syria had launched a vaccination campaign around the country days after the Geneva-based WHO said it had received reports of children showing symptoms of polio in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province, but the campaign faces difficulty with lack of access in many parts of the war-torn country.

Nearly all Syrian children were vaccinated against the disease before the civil war began more than 2 1/2 years ago. Polio was last reported in Syria in 1999.

The Syrian conflict, which began as a largely peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011, has triggered a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale, killing more than 100,000 people, driving nearly 7 million more from their homes and devastating cities and towns.

U.N. officials have warned of the spread of disease in Syria because of lack of access to basic hygiene and vaccinations.

 

Another Chinese Megapolis Shut Down By “Hazardous” Smog | Zero Hedge

Another Chinese Megapolis Shut Down By “Hazardous” Smog | Zero Hedge. (source)

Just two weeks ago we discussed the dismal smog that had closed roads and ariports around Beijing during the recent holiday. The situation has got worse, far worse, since then. As Reuters reports (and the stunning images below show), choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China’s largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspend classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport in the country’s first major air pollution crisis of the winter. An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people. A level above 300 is considered hazardous! China’s leadership is concerned about air quality because it is a constant source of public anger.

Via Reuters

Users of China’s popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging site reacted with both anger and bitter sarcasm over Harbin’s air pollution.

“After years of effort, the wise and hard-working people of Harbin have finally managed to skip both the middle-class society and the communist society stages, and have now entered a fairyland society!” wrote one user.

Other parts of northeastern China also experienced severe smog, including Tangshan, two hours east of Beijing, and Changchun, the capital of Jilin province which borders Heilongjiang.

Via EuroNews

The World Health Organisation recommends daily levels of particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers to be no more than twenty. Anything above 300 is considered dangerous. Levels around 1,000 were recorded in some parts of Harbin. All schools were shut and the airport was closed.

Harbin is home to some 11 million people and lies in the northeastern Heilongjiang province of China. Other parts of northeastern China also experienced severe smog.

Visibility has reduced to only around 10 metres causing traffic jams.

China’s leadership is concerned about air quality because it is a constant source of public anger.

The smog is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

This is the freeway… (spot the cars)

Via CTV,

 

WHO: Air pollution leading cause of cancer – Europe – Al Jazeera English

WHO: Air pollution leading cause of cancer – Europe – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Outdoor air pollution is a leading cause of cancer in humans, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The IARC said on Thursday that a panel of top experts had found “sufficient evidence” that exposure to outdoor air pollution caused lung cancer and raised the risk of bladder cancer.

The predominant sources of outdoor air pollution were transport, power generation, emissions from factories and farms, and residential heating and cooking, the UN agency said.

The most recent data, from 2010, showed that 223,000 lung cancer deaths worldwide were the result of air pollution, the report said.

“Our task was to evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants,” said the IARC’s Dana Loomis.

“The results from the reviewed studies point in the same direction: the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution,” he added.

Industrial pollution

Although the composition of air pollution and levels of exposure can vary dramatically between locations, the agency said its conclusions applied to all regions of the globe.

It said pollution exposure levels increased significantly in some parts of the world in recent years, notably in rapidly industrialising nations with large populations.

The latest findings were based on overall air quality, and based on an in-depth study of thousands of medical research projects conducted around the world over decades.

Air pollution was already known to increase the risk of respiratory and heart diseases.

“Classifying outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans is an important step,” said the IARC’s director Christopher Wild.

“There are effective ways to reduce air pollution and, given the scale of the exposure affecting people worldwide, this report should send a strong signal to the international community to take action without further delay.”

The data did not enable experts to establish whether particular groups of people were more or less vulnerable to cancer from pollution, but Kurt Straif of IARC said it was clear that risk rose in line with exposure.

Diesel exhaust and what is known as “particulate matter” – which includes soot – have been classified as carcinogenic by the IARC.

The IARC said that it was set to publish its in-depth conclusions on October 24 on the specialised website The Lancet Oncology.

 

How the World Health Organisation covered up Iraq’s nuclear nightmare | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

How the World Health Organisation covered up Iraq’s nuclear nightmare | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com. (source)

Ex-UN, WHO officials reveal political interference to suppress scientific evidence of postwar environmental health catastrophe

Spc Travis Hunter loads armor-piercing depleted uranium-tipped shells during the second Iraq war

Spc Travis Hunter loads armor-piercing depleted uranium-tipped 25mm shells during the second Iraq war Photograph: John Moore/AP

Last month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a long awaited document summarising the findings of an in-depth investigation into the prevalence of congenital birth defects (CBD) in Iraq, which many experts believe is linked to the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions by Allied forces. According to the ‘summary report’:

“The rates for spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and congenital birth defects found in the study are consistent with or even lower than international estimates. The study provides no clear evidence to suggest an unusually high rate of congenital birth defects in Iraq.”

Jaffar Hussain, WHO’s Head of Mission in Iraq, said that the report is based on survey techniques that are “renowned worldwide” and that the study was peer reviewed “extensively” by international experts.

Backtrack

But the conclusions contrasted dramatically from previous statements about the research findings from Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH) officials involved in the study. Earlier this year, BBC News spoke to MOH researchers who confirmed the joint report would furnish “damning evidence” that rates of birth defects are higher in areas experiencing heavy fighting in the 2003 war. In an early press release, WHO similarly acknowledged “existing MOH statistics showing high number of CBD cases” in the “high risk” areas selected for study.

The publication of this ‘summary document’ on the World Health Organisation’s website has raised questions from independent experts and former United Nations and WHO officials, who question the validity of its findings and its anonymous authorship. They highlight the existence of abundant research demonstrating not only significant rates of congenital birth defects in many areas of Iraq, but also a plausible link to the impact of depleted uranium.

For years, medical doctors in Iraq have reported “a high level of birth defects.” Other peer-reviewed studies have documented a dramatic increase in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the aftermath of US military bombardment. In Fallujah, doctors are witnessing a “massive unprecedented number” of heart defects, and an increase in the number of nervous system defects. Analysis of pre-2003 data compared to now showed that “the rate of congenital heart defects was 95 per 1,000 births – 13 times the rate found in Europe.”

The purpose of the WHO study was to probe the data further, but some say the project is deeply flawed.

Politicised science

Dr. Keith Bavistock of the Department of Environmental Science, University of Eastern Finland, is a retired 13-year WHO expert on radiation and health. He told me that the new ‘summary document’ was at best “disappointing.” He condemned the decision from “the very outset to preclude the possibility of looking at the extent to which the increase of birth defects is linked to the use of depleted uranium”, and further slammed the document’s lack of scientific credibility.

“This document is not of scientific quality. It wouldn’t pass peer review in one of the worst journals. One of the biggest methodological problems, among many, is that the document does not even attempt to look at existing medical records in Iraqi hospitals – these are proper clinical records which document the diagnoses of the relevant cases being actually discovered by Iraqi doctors. These medics collecting clinical records are reporting higher birth defects than the study acknowledges. Instead, the document focuses on interviews with mothers as a basis for diagnosis, many of whom are traumatised in this environment, their memories unreliable, and are not qualified to make diagnosis.”

I asked Dr. Baverstock if, given the document’s avoidance of analysing the key evidence – clinical records compiled by Iraqi medics – there was reason to believe the research findings were compromised under political pressure. He said:

“The way this document has been produced is extremely suspicious. There are question marks about the role of the US and UK, who have a conflict of interest in this sort of study due to compensation issues that might arise from findings determining a link between higher birth defects and DU. I can say that the US and UK have been very reluctant to disclose the locations of DU deployment, which might throw further light on this correlation.”

If so, it would not be the first time the WHO had reportedly quashed research on DU potentially embarrassing for the Allies. In 2001, Baverstock was on the editorial board for a WHO research project clearing the US and UK of responsibility for environmental health hazards involved in DU deployment. His detailed editorial recommendations accounting for new research proving uranium’s nature as as a genotoxin (capable of changing DNA) were ignored and overruled:

“My editorial changes were suppressed, even though some of the research was from Department of Defense studies looking at subjects who had ingested DU from friendly fire, clearly proving that DU was genutoxic.”

Baverstock then co-authored his own scientific paper on the subject arguing for plausibility of the link between DU and high rates of birth defects in Iraq, but said that WHO blocked publication of the study“because they didn’t like its conclusions.”

“The extent to which scientific principles are being bent to fit politically convenient conclusions is alarming”, said Baverstock.

Environmental contamination from the Iraq War

Other independent experts have also weighed in criticising the WHO study. The British medical journal, The Lancet, reports that despite the study’s claims, a “scientific standard of peer review… may not have been fully achieved.”

One scientist named as a peer-reviewer for the project, Simon Cousens, professor of epidemiology and statistics at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), told The Lancet that he “attended a relatively brief meeting of around one and a half hours, so just gave some comments on an early presentation of the results. I wouldn’t classify that as thorough peer review.”

Just how distant the new WHO-sponsored study is from the last decade’s scientific literature is clear from a new report released earlier this year by a Tokyo-based NGO, Human Rights Now (HRN), which conducted a review of the existing literature as well as a fact-finding mission to Fallujah.

The HRN report investigated recorded birth defects at a major hospital in Fallujah for the year 2012, confirmed first hand birth defect incidences over a one-month period in 2013, and interviewed doctors and parents of children born with birth defects. The report concluded there was:

“… an extraordinary situation of congenital birth defects in both nature and quantity. The investigation demonstrated a significant rise of these health consequences in the period following the war… An overview of scientific literature relating to the effects of uranium and heavy metals associated with munitions used in the 2003 Iraq War and occupation, together with potential exposure pathways, strongly suggest that environmental contamination resulting from combat during the Iraq War may be playing a significant role in the observed rate of birth defects.”

The report criticised both the UN and the WHO for approaches that are “insufficient to meet the needs of the issues within their mandate.”

Definitive evidence

According to Hans von Sponeck, former UN assistant secretary general and UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, the gap between previous claims made by MOH researchers about the study, and the new ‘summary document’, justified public scepticism.

“The brevity of this report is unacceptable”, he told me:

“Everybody was expecting a proper, professional scientific paper, with properly scrutinised and checkable empirical data. Although I would be guarded about jumping to conclusions, WHO cannot be surprised if people ask questions about whether the body is giving into bilateral political pressures.”

Von Sponeck said that US political pressure on WHO had scuppered previous investigations into the impact of DU on Iraq:

“I served in Baghdad and was confronted with the reality of the environmental impact of DU. In 2001, I saw in Geneva how a WHO mission to conduct on-spot assessments in Basra and southern Iraq, where depleted uranium had led to devastating environmental health problems, was aborted under US political pressure.”

I asked him if such political pressure on the UN body could explain the unscientific nature of the latest report. “It would not be surprising if such US pressure has continued”, he said:

“There is definitive evidence of an alarming rise in birth defects, leukaemia, cancer and other carcinogenic diseases in Iraq after the war. Looking at the stark difference between previous descriptions of the WHO study’s findings and this new report, it seems that someone, somewhere clumsily decided that they would not release these damning findings, but instead obscure them.”

The International Coalition to Ban Depleted Uranium (ICBUW) has called for WHO to release the project’s data-set so that it can be subjected to independent, transparent analysis. The UN body continues to ignore these calls and defend the integrity of the research.

 

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