Sunday, August 2, 2015

Our environment flows through us--poisons and all

Our environment flows through us, literally.

And that’s a powerful ally of the politics of fear.

An East Coast inventor recently re-energized his career with a press release and a speaking tour. Shiva Ayyadurai said he had shown that genetically engineered soy has formaldehyde in it. Gasp! Formaldehyde is embalming fluid.

Yes, and it’s also a naturally occurring chemical that is found everywhere, including at low levels in normal human beings. It’s naturally found in non-GM soy, and in carrots, tomatoes, fish, red meat, rainwater, and even air.

Ayyadurai announced he’d done a study of GM versus non-GM soy “in silico.” That means he did it in a computer, not in a biology lab, which is to say, there’s no actual hands-on study that supports his assertion that formaldehyde is any different depending on the source of your soy.

A recent statewide anti-GM speaking tour also left audiences fearful, due to a blend of tantalizing fact and bold fictions.

One of the speakers, Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a computer scientist, insisted that new pesticides are not properly tested, and that they’re dangerous. She failed to note that a new pesticide goes through as many as 300 studies before receiving approval for use. Here’s some of what the EPA studies. 

Seneff is famous for predicting that 80 percent of boys and 50 percent of all children will be autistic by 2025, and that this is caused by the herbicide Roundup (or vaccines, or both.) She cites as evidence a graph of Roundup sales that she says matches a graph of autism increase since the 80s. Coincidence?

There are lots of coincidental correlations. A graph of CO2 increase in the atmosphere since then matches pretty well, too. A graph of the nominal gross domestic product of the People’s Republic of China is a real close match.

Roundup is certainly found in our environment, but Seneff, in the talk I attended, never mentioned one of the standards of the science of toxicology: That the dose makes the poison. And at normal levels of exposure, regulatory agencies have found there’s no threat.

We are part of our environment, and the environment flows through us.

At the low amounts found throughout our environment, formaldehyde is normal and harmless. In high amounts, it causes numerous problems. The focus on dose is one of the reasons that regulatory agencies set tolerance levels for food, drinking water and so forth—they set the levels for all kinds of compounds, below which there is little or no danger—even if at high levels there may be serious impacts.

Ralph Nader’s career was built on the book, “Unsafe At Any Speed.” One of the mantras of the fear industry is that if something is dangerous at high levels, it’s dangerous at all levels.

Formaldehyde? The National Cancer Institute says that high levels of it from industrial sources are a problem, but it adds that “Formaldehyde also occurs naturally in the environment. It is produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes.”

 The environment flows through us.

Even if you don’t ingest coffee, tea or chocolate, there is probably caffeine in your body. One source is the groundwater, where some of the caffeine ends up that other people ingest. The small amounts don’t harm you.

There is arsenic, which in some forms is a potent poison, in your system. You generally get it from food sources, but also tobacco. It generally washes out of your system fairly quickly. Here’s a World Health Organization fact sheet on arsenic. 

The deadly poison cyanide is in food, too. Here’s a Centers for Disease Control paper on it. 
Yes, there are normal human levels of cyanide, most of which comes from food

We have potent poisons in our systems--many of them. At low enough levels, they’re not an issue.

One of the instructive compounds is water. Just enough, and you’re fine. Not enough, and you suffer from dehydration, which can kill you. Too much, and you suffer from water intoxication or hyperhydration, which can lead to nausea, confusion, seizures and ultimately death.

Back to Seneff and Ayyadurai. They’re both spinning the fear so hard that it’s difficult in their statements to find clear, balanced conclusions.

This is not to understate the dangers of exposure to dangerous levels of chemicals, but to say that we should judge our threats rationally.

We sit here with formaldehyde, arsenic and cyanide in our systems, same as our ancestors did. And that’s no more of a threat to us than it was to them.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2015

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