Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I am repeating below an article that I ran some days ago on "Greenie Watch". I commented at the time that naturally-occurring asbestos has been around in the soil of large parts of Southern California ever since the area was settled in the 1780s -- so we should be seeing lots of asbestos-related disease in the area by now. But there has not been a single report of that! So we have in Southern California a most interesting natural experiment in showing how asbestos is not remotely the threat to health that has been proclaimed.

In response to that posting, I received a couple of emails from an anti-asbestos organization (significantly funded by trial lawyers, I would imagine) disputing what I had said. They implicitly admitted that SoCal did not have an unusually high incidence of asbestos-related disease but tried to explain that away. Their explanation, in my summary, is that there is both "good" and "bad" asbestos (I wonder why we don't usually hear THAT?) and that the bad asbestos has until recently obligingly confined itself to virgin territory undisturbed by man.

If you believe that, you would believe anything, it seems to me. For a start, virgin territory must be as rare in SoCal as are are other sorts of virginity. But I will leave it to unaffilated experts in California soil types to map those types against areas and dates of settlement.

The interest of the article below is to show that in at least some areas the naturally occurring asbestos is of a type that two arms of government consider dangerous and that quite minor human activity -- such as kids playing -- can kick up asbestos-containing dust which can then be breathed in. As much of SoCal is a desert climate made usable by irrigation only, there is a lot of dust there to be kicked up. So even if an area is not quite "virgin", almost any usage that has been made of it should have kicked up lots of asbestos. And all the farming in SoCal using those horrific PLOWS must be saturating the area in asbestos!

I am not of course disputing that heavy industrial and mining exposure to some types of asbestos can cause disease. Toxicologists however have a saying that "The toxicity is in the dose". In other words, scientific caution would dictate that we ask if sub-industrial levels (lower levels) of exposure to asbestos are also harmful. The California example would seem to show that such levels are NOT harmful and that the danger from asbestos has been vastly over-hyped

The U.S. Geological Survey on Tuesday confirmed a federal environmental agency's findings of a particularly dangerous kind of asbestos on playgrounds in El Dorado Hills. USGS experts in mineral identification reached the conclusion after closely examining the playgrounds' study samples of tiny particles that the mining industry asserted were not asbestos.

The investigation found that most of those particles did not conform to the traditional commercial definition of asbestos, as the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association had argued. The microscopic bits of minerals nonetheless were within scientists' widely accepted range of sizes, shapes and chemical compositions counted as "asbestos" for health studies, USGS scientists said. "We don't equate the commercial definition of asbestos with toxicity," said Gregory Meeker, a mineralogist with the USGS Denver office who led the investigation. "It has not been health based. It's been for the guy who wants to mine a deposit and make a profit at it."

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials who conducted the October 2004 study of El Dorado Hills' Community Park and nearby schoolyards said the Geological Survey's findings affirmed its pioneering exposure studies of naturally occurring asbestos in El Dorado Hills and elsewhere in the country. "The survey's study refutes assertions made by the R.J. Lee report and supports our findings and conclusions," said Dan Meer, who supervised the playgrounds' sampling by the EPA's San Francisco regional office.

Spokesman for the industry lobby could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. But the consultant who conducted the review of the EPA sampling had maintained that the environmental agency did not follow proper standards for identifying asbestos particles in air samples. "It is too bad that they chose to ignore a very detailed analysis that we had provided to EPA and USGS," Rich Lee, president of R.J. Lee Group of Pittsburgh, said in July. The EPA study found that children and adults in El Dorado Hills can significantly raise their exposure to breathable asbestos particles simply from the dust kicked up riding a bicycle or playing basketball on outdoor courts.

The main public health concern related to such exposures is mesothelioma, an inoperable and almost always fatal cancer of the membranes lining the chest and other body cavities, asbestos health experts say. Short exposure -- months, not years -- can be enough to instigate the disease, though it typically takes 30 or more years to take hold.

The EPA strapped personal air monitors on agency technicians who mimicked children's activities at the park and on sports fields at Silva Valley Elementary, Jackson Elementary and Rolling Hills Middle schools.

About 1,000 of the El Dorado Hills' 31,000 residents packed the Community Park's gymnasium to learn more from federal scientists. Findings prompted the Community Services District to blacktop the New York Creek trail running through the park and increase irrigation on sports fields to cut dust. The schools also adopted dust controls. At the same, the superintendent of El Dorado County schools was widely circulating copies of the Stone, Sand & Gravel Association's critique discrediting the EPA study. Superintendent Vicki Barber stopped short of endorsing the industry view. But she said it reinforced doubts that she and other local officials harbored over the reliability of EPA asbestos testing. Barber declined to comment Tuesday, saying she had not yet read the full USGS report.

County Supervisor Helen Baumann, who represents El Dorado Hills, called the Geological Survey's study a "a fair analysis" and left her confident that the county is "doing everything we need to do to protect public health." The USGS, the scientific arm of the Interior Department, launched the $100,000 investigation at the request of the EPA, which wanted an independent examination of the industry critique. Last April, the USGS team collected dozens of samples of rock, soil and settled dust in the areas where the environmental agency had conducted its asbestos exposure assessment. USGS mineralogists also analyzed samples the EPA had collected using a number of sophisticated tests to determine the chemistry, mineral composition and form of the asbestos structures detected. The USGS investigators said asbestos health experts, not the mining industry or mineralogists, need to take the lead in redefining asbestos from a health perspective. "Ultimately, it is the health community that must determine what particle types are significant with respect to asbestos-related diseases," the report said


How to live to a ripe old age without losing your marbles

A gene variant that is linked to long life also helps to preserve mental lucidity in old age, scientists have discovered. An Israeli study involving 158 people who lived to 95 or beyond has found that those who inherit a particular version of the gene CETP are twice as likely to have a sharp and alert brain when they are elderly. They are also five times less likely than people with a different version of CETP to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to the study by a team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

The insights into how ageing affects the brain could lead to ways of protecting cognitive function in old age. If drugs could be developed which mimic the protective function of the CETP VV variant they could transform the quality of life of the ageing population.

“Without good brain function, living to age 100 is not an attractive proposition,” said Nir Barzilai, director of the college’s Institute for Ageing Research. “We’ve shown that the same gene variant that helps people live to exceptional ages has the added benefit of helping them think clearly.

“It’s possible that CETP VV’s cognitive effect is to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. In studying these centenarians, we hope to learn why they’re able to resist diseases that affect the general population at a much younger age. This knowledge should greatly aid our efforts to prevent or delay the onset of age-related diseases.”

In the study, Dr Barzilai’s team tested people aged 95 or more to see which version of the CETP gene they had. Ashkenazi Jews, who are of Eastern European origin, are often used as the subjects for genetic research because their restrictive marriage practices mean that their genes vary less than other populations.

CETP is a gene that makes the cholesterol ester protein, which in turn influences the size of the particles in which both “good” (high-density lipoprotein) and “bad” (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol appear in the blood. Larger particles are thought to be beneficial because they are less likely to become wedged into the linings of the blood vessels, where they can clog the arteries causing coronary heart disease, stroke and some forms of dementia and cognitive decline. People who have the CETP VV variant have larger cholesterol particles in their blood, and previous research has shown that they are more likely to live longer than people with other versions of the gene.

About 8 per cent of people aged 70 have the CETP variant, but this rises to 25 per cent among centenarians. This is thought to play a key role in explaining why some people live to very old ages — in developed countries, about 1 in 10,000 people lives to 100.

The research, published in the journal Neurology, found that those with CETP VV were twice as likely as the others to have good brain function. A separate investigation of 124 Ashkenazi Jews aged between 75 and 85 found that CETP VV appeared to protect against dementia: those with the variant were five times less likely to suffer from it.

“It’s possible that this gene variant also protects against the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr Barzilai said.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter? It is just about pure fat. Surely it should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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