Friday, July 6, 2007

Food and Chemical Priorities

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

(This appeared in Plating & Surface Finishing, 94, 27, May 2007)

Which of the following would trouble you most:

Food poisoning by unknown agents.
Animal excreta in your food.
Infinitesimal amounts of different chemicals in your body.
Infinitesimal amounts of different chemicals in your drinking water?

Here is some additional information to help you make your decision:

Food poisoning- Eric Schlosser in his book, Fast Food Nation, notes, “Every day in the US, roughly 200,000 people are sickened by a food borne disease, 900 are hospitalized and 14 die. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than a quarter of the American population suffers a bout of food poisoning each year.” (1)

Animal excreta in food- Experts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decide on how much contamination is to be allowed in foods sold for human consumption. There is no question regarding ‘how much’ since it would be impossible to produce food that had no contaminants whatsoever. Here are FDA guidelines for maximum levels of certain ‘impurities’ in some foods: Brussels sprouts- 10 aphids per ounce, Shelled peanuts- 1 insect per 5 pounds, Golden raisins- 20 whole or equivalent insects per pound, Tomato juice- 3 fly eggs per ounce, Whole pepper- 1 mg or more mammalian excreta per pound, Popcorn- 2 rodent hairs per pound, Fig paste- 4 insect heads per ounce, Peanut butter- 9 insect fragments per ounce, Sesame seeds- 5 mg or more mammalian excreta per pound, Cocoa beans- 10 mg or more mammalian excreta per pound. (A Whole insect includes separate head, or body portions with head attached. (2)

With chemicals, we talk about a few parts per million, parts per billion, or even parts per trillion. With animal excreta, note that 10 mg per pound is equivalent to 20 parts per million. Serious parts per million!

Infinitesimal amounts of different chemicals in your body- Now that new lab techniques allow us to find compounds that occur in mind-bendingly tiny amounts, advocacy groups assert a whole new array of doubts. This, coupled with the fact that the media, unaware of the fact that it is common scientific knowledge that traces of environmental chemicals, both synthetic and natural make their way into our bodies, enter the spin zone of the advocacy groups and present the information as if were new shocking news. (3)

Infinitesimal amounts of different chemicals in your drinking water- As new technology enables detection of infinitesimally smaller doses of chemicals in the environment, Southern California water quality officials have learned that an array of hardy pharmaceuticals are defying even the most sophisticated sewage treatments in use. Although the amounts discovered are in the parts per trillion range (equivalent to one second in 32,000 years) folks still get concerned. “The contamination raises questions about the safety of reclaimed water consumed by the public and the health of wild creatures that inhabit waterways,” says the Los Angeles Times. (4)

So what would you be most concerned about? Would you ignore the food poisoning which clearly is documented as a real issue, or body parts and turds in food, and accept the present scare tactics that deem that any amount of any newly discovered chemical in food or water is a real problem. If so, I feel sorry for you, since as scientists get more and more clever, you’re going to find more and more to worry about. Your ‘chemophobia’ will continue to raise itself to new levels.

Every piece of food we eat, every breath we take, every move we make results in the ingestion of a chemical of some sort. Every chemical has the ability to kill, but only if the quantities are high enough. As the Swiss physician Paracelsus stated: “What is not poison? All things are poison and nothing is without poison. It is only the dose that makes a thing a poison.”

Perhaps the simplest answer to chemophobia is this. It is based on a misperception. Everything is made up of chemicals. A report by the National Research Council noted that about 5,000,000 different chemical substances are known to exist. Of those 5 million, less than 30 have been definitely linked to cancer in humans, 1,500 have been found to be carcinogenic in tests on animals and about 7,000 have been tested for carcinogenicity. Again, if you missed those number, less than 30 out of five million known chemical substances have been definitely linked to cancer in humans. (5)


1. Eric Shlosser, Fast Food Nation, (New York, Perennial Press, 2002), 195

2. The Food Defect Action Levels, Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC, May 1988. (See

3. Todd Seavey, “A ChemicalOver Reaction,TechCentral Station, January 20, 2003. (See,search “Todd Seavey”).

4. Maria Cone, “Traces of Prescription Drugs Found in Aquifers,” Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2006

5. John Adams, Risk, (London, University College, 1995), 45

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Revenge Effect of Too Much Purity

Jack Dini

(This appeared in Plating & Surface Finishing, 90, 24, November 2003)

In our zeal to remove every last bit of contaminant from everything we eat, drink, or breathe, we may be doing a disservice to our health.

Thomas DeGregori reports, “We may have been too successful in creating a more hygienic environment leading to other problems. Good hygiene makes good sense but obsessive hygienr---‘the antibacterial craze’---can be counterproductive since it is as meaningless to be free of all microorganisms, including the sometime harmful ones, as it is to be free of all ‘chemicals.’ Some researchers have found a correlation between too much hygiene and increased allergy. Studies have revealed an increased frequency of allergies, cases of asthma and eczema in persons who have been raised in an environment overly protective against mircroorganisms.” (1)

Fernando Martinez adds. “There is now convincing evidence indicating that the prevalence of allergic diseases in general, and of asthma in particular, is on the rise in high income societies. Many hypothesis have been proposed to explain these increases, but the most widely discussed and the most controversial is the so-called ‘hygiene hypothesis.’ This hypothesis was first enunciated in quite straightforward terms: the Western lifestyle has succeeded in markedly decreasing the incidence of infections in early life, and these infections may have a protective effect on the subsequent development of allergies.” (2)

Bjorn Lomborg lists the following findings that seem to support the ‘hygiene hypothesis.’ (3)

· Children who suffer many infections (and get their immune system exercised) apparently face a smaller risk of getting asthma.
· The youngest children in large families face a smaller chance of getting asthma because their older siblings have passed many infections on to them.
· A recent Italian study showed that men heavily exposed to microbes were less likely to experience respiratory allergy.
· Several other studies have also shown that exposure to measles, parasites, and tuberculosis seems to reduce the risk of getting asthma.
· Children receiving oral antibiotics by the age of 2 were more susceptible to allergies than children who had no antibiotics, and children with early and repeated viral infections seem to have a reduced risk of developing asthma.

Doctors in England have suggested that mass vaccination against chicken pox would bring on a more serious epidemic of shingles in adults. Their studies have shown that adults who don’t live with children, or who live with immunized children, are much more likely to develop shingles. (4)

These recent studies aren’t the first time that epidemiologists have found that cleanliness wasn’t the cure-all for disease prevention. In the 1920s and 1930s, cleanliness, far from combating polio, was promoting it. Edward Tenner observes, “When all infants acquired the virus in the first days of their lives, while still protected by antibodies from their mothers’ blood, paralysis was almost unknown.” (5) Tenner goes on to add that German measles only turned into a serious disease after fewer and fewer children were infected with it. He also notes, “that the more casual French attitude toward exposure to germs makes their effects less severe in late life.” And speaking of the French, you’ve undoubtedly heard or read that the French have a low incidence of heart disease. Many folks suggest this is because of the wine they drink. I wonder if it could be because of dirt and here’s why. Lynn Payer has written a fascinating book, Medicine and Culture, wherein she compares different cultural approaches to health and illness. She notes, “The English and Americans have a saying, ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ The French don’t. While Americans assume that if it’s clean it must be healthy, the French are quick to point out the health advantages of dirt, or at least the health advantages of tolerating dirt.” (6) She adds, “The French don’t get turista when they travel, according to one French doctor, because they’ve acquired the immunity at home.” The French life-style can allow exposure to certain germs, a form a natural vaccination favored by the French over man’s vaccination. (7)

Chemotherapy, which is often effective against many forms of cancer can have the undesired effect of suppressing the immune system, leading to bacterial infections that the weakened immune system cannot contain. (8) Children with leukemia experienced a significant drop in their antibody levels against measles and rubella as a result of chemotherapy. (9)

Here are some other examples where absolute purity isn’t the answer. Raphael Kazmann quotes Philip West of Louisiana State University, “Turning now to productive water, it is quite apparent that absolute purity is out of the question. If the Mississippi River, passing Baton Rouge and New Orleans consisted of distilled water, there would be no seafood industry such as we now have in Louisiana. Without copper ‘contaminating’ the water there would be no oysters. Traces of iron, manganese, cobalt, copper, and zinc are essential for the crabs, snapper, flounder, shrimp and other creatures that abound in Gulf waters. As unpleasant as it sounds, even the sewage discharges into the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi River systems pollute and thus ultimately nourish the water.” (10)

With animals, chemically induced hormetic (beneficial at low doses) effects have been claimed for crabs, clams, oysters, fish, insects, worms, mice, rats, ants, pigs, dogs and humans. E. J. Calabrese and his colleagues report, “The range of agents employed in such studies has been wide, including numerous antibiotics, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), ethanol, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals, essential trace elements, pesticides, and a variety of miscellaneous agents, including chemotherapeutic agents, solvents such as carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, cyanide, sodium, and others.” (11)

Arsenic poisoning from drinking water in Bangladesh has been called the largest mass poisoning of a population in history by the World Health Organization (WHO). Rebecca Rawls notes that the poisoning may be exacerbated by the lack of certain metals in the drinking water, which, if present, might mitigate some of arsenic’s ill effects. (12) Two of these ‘missing’ metals are selenium and zinc. Selenium, which can inhibit arsenic toxicity, was not found in 92% of the water samples tested and zinc, which promotes the repair of tissues damaged by arsenic, could not be found in 18% of the samples.


1. Thomas R. DeGregori, The Environment, Our Natural Resources, and Modern Technology, (Ames, Iowa, Iowa State Press, 2002), 130
2. Fernando D. Martinez, “The coming –of-age of the hygiene hypothesis,” Respiratory Research, 2, 129, 2001
3. Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001), 187
4. “It’s Good To Be Around Sick Kids,” Discover, 24, 35, January 2003
5. Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back, (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 56
6. Lynn Payer, Medicine and Culture, (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1996), 67
7. Lynn Payer, Medicine and Culture, 69
8. Michael Shnayerson and Mark J. Plotkin, The Killers Within, (New York, Little, Brown and Company, 2002), 4
9. Anna Nilsson, “Consider reimmunizing children after chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” Hem/Onc Today, 3, 10, October 2002
10. Raphael G. Kazmann, “Environmental Tyranny-A Threat to Democracy,” in Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns, Jay H. Lehr, Editor, (New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992), 311
11. E. L. Calabrese, Margaret E. McCarthy and Elaina Kenyon, “The Occurrence of Chemically Induced Hormesis,” Health Physics, 52, 531, 1987
12. Rebecca L. Rawls, “Tackling Arsenic in Bangladesh,” Chemical & Engineering News, 80, 42, October 21, 2002

A Dangerous Pollution Source

Jack Dini

(This appeared in Plating & Surface Finishing, 92, 34, May 2005)

We spend billions of dollars in an attempt to minimize pollutants such as formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, trichloroethylene, chloroform, cyanide, hydrochloric acid, radiation, hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, and nitric oxide. What do all of these have in common? One answer is that they all bring to mind scary, perhaps carcinogenic agents, created in most part by industry. Another answer is that these are all created by ourselves, within our own bodies, without any help from outside forces such as industry or the environment. They are all unintended consequences of pollution. So here’s the dilemma if you’re one of those folks who dream of a pristine place, free of industry and other pollution created by humans—you can’t get away from these contaminants. By virtue of being human you create them every day. There’s more: the average human body contains enough sulfur to kill all fleas on an average dog, carbon to make 900 pencils, potassium to fire a toy cannon, fat to make 7 bars of soap, phosphorus to make 2,200 match heads, water to fill a ten gallon tank, and enough iron to make a 3 inch nail.(1)

Science writer James Trefil sums our body pollution problems quite succinctly, “Surprisingly, the greatest number of carcinogens facing human cells do not come from outside the body, but are normal by-products of human metabolism.”(2)

As a result of metabolism, formaldehyde is present in our blood at concentrations around 3 ppm. Many organic compounds of concern to the EPA are normal byproducts of mammalian metabolism. At least 15 of these products, including 1,4-dioxane, trichloroethylene (TCE), and chloroform are on the “List of Hazardous Air Pollutants” regulated under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act. The EPA concerns itself at ambient air concentrations less than one-ten thousandth the level found in normal intestinal gases.(3) Think about this for a moment; if EPA were to regulate our metabolism we would be out of compliance by a factor of about 10,000!

Human metabolism itself is capable of providing the body with 70 mg of nitrate per day, equivalent to that coming from outside sources. Cyanide and thiocyanate are naturally present in urine and blood but this does not necessarily indicate poisoning. Courtney Young reports that potassium cyanide reacts with water and ammonia under pressure to produce adenine, which is a building block to DNA. Hydrogen cyanide promotes polypeptide formation from amino acids; polypeptides than complex to form proteins. In this regard, cyanide is necessary to all forms of life and its presence does not mean imminent illness or death.(4)

At the concentration secreted by the stomach lining, hydrochloric acid (pH less than 1) is deadly to living cells and powerful enough to dissolve zinc. This raises the question, why don’t we just corrode ourselves from the inside out? The answer isn’t really known but the acid and accompanying enzymes are kept at bay by an alkaline lining of mucous on the stomach wall. If this lining is breached, the acid and enzymes go to work on the stomach, and the result is a gastric ulcer.(5)

Each of us excretes a minimum of 1.5 grams of phosphorus per day, so that the annual input to the environment is more than one-half billion pounds as phosphorus pentoxide. It was this fact that led the Soap and Detergent Association to investigate economical treatment techniques for the removal of phosphates from sewage.(6)


Our blood contains potassium 40, from which we get an internal dose of around 30 millirems of radiation in one year. For comparison purposes, some other radiation exposures include, 40 millirems per year from annual medical X-rays, 65 millirems per year for living in the mile-high city of Denver, and 5 millirems for every transcontinental round trip by air. The yearly safe limit of radiation exposure has been set at 5000 millirems per year, so all of these exposure are not problematic. Further, as James Muckerheide notes, “the damage to cells from metabolism is millions of times more damaging than that of radiation.”(7)

Ozone is a familiar component of air in industrial and urban settings where the gas is a hazardous component of smog. Guess What? Recently, investigators at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) reported that the human body makes ozone. One hypothesis is that we do this as part of a mechanism to protect ourselves from bacteria and fungi.(8)

Lastly, nitric oxide, an industrial gas and environmental pollutant, is extremely important to our bodies. It regulates our bodily activities from our head to our toes. Every moment of our life, our body generates a constant supply of nitric oxide molecules, none of which last more than a few seconds.

So there you are. We continue to try and remove pollution from the world around us, and yet our own bodies are serious culprits in creating some of the very pollutants we strive to eliminate.


1. “The Incredible Human Body, Part 2,”; accessed September 9, 2004

2. James Trefil, Human Nature, (New York, Times Books, 2004), 99

3. Jane M. Orient, “Microorganisms, Molecules, and Environmental Risk Assessment: Assumptions and Outcomes,” Chapter 12 in Standard Handbook of Environmental Science, Health, and Technology, J. H. Lehr, Editor, (New York, McGraw-Hill, 2000), 12.50

4. Courtney A. Young, “Cyanide: Just the Facts,” in Cyanide: Social, Industrial and Economic Aspects, Courtney A. Young, Larry G. Tidwell and Corby A. Anderson, Editors, (Warrendale, Pennsylvania, The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, 2001), 97

5. Philip Ball, Life’s Matrix: A Bibliography of Water, (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 247

6. William McGucken, Lake Erie Rehabilitated, (Akron, Ohio, University of Akron Press, 2000), 75

7. James Muckerheide, “The Beneficial Effects of Low-Dose Radiation,” 23rd Annual Meeting, Doctors For Disaster Preparedness, Las Vegas, NV, July 17, 2005

8. “Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute Make Strides in Addressing Mysteries of Ozone in the Human Body,” The Scripps Research Institute, February 28, 2003,

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fearing Frog Deformities-Media and Environmentalists Croaking in the Wind

Jack W. Dini
Livermore, California

(This appeared in Plating & Surface Finishing, 94, 37, December 2007)

Hideously deformed frogs, multiple legs sprouting from their various body parts, are the poster amphibians of the environmental movement. Their fragile eggs are supposedly poisoned by agricultural pesticides and other insidious chemical slough, exposed to global warming, and to radiation streaming through the ozone hole. Frogs are utterly defenseless against man’s corruption of the environment.

So, what’s your reaction when you hear about these deformed creatures? A lot of folks would respond the way researcher Stanley Sessions of Hartwick College did when he heard about deformed frogs in Minnesota. “Actually, when I first heard about the Minnesota situation, I immediately suspected a chemical substance,” Sessions admitted. “That’s the first thing everybody thinks of. You see a screwed-up animal in the field and that’s the conclusion you jump to.”(1) Not even Sessions, who ultimately debunked the chemical substance issue with frogs, could ultimately resist the temptation.

Following this line of thought, let’s go on an excursion into the world of frogs to see how the public consciousness has been shaped by the media and environmentalists.

Yellow-legged frogs of the High Sierra

Bonner Cohen reports, “The mountain yellow-legged frog, Rana muscosa, began disappearing from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the first half of the twentieth century, and the amphibian’s decline has become even more pronounced in recent decades. Today, the frog is absent from almost all the Sierra Nevada’s high-altitude lakes where it once thrived. The frog’s seemingly inexplicable demise has provoked much speculation in the media and among scientists, with parasites, ultra-violet radiation, fungal disease, and especially pesticides blamed for the frog’s troubles. (2)

Pesticides and herbicides drifting into the mountains from California central valley farmlands became the favored culprit, and the media and environmentalists played it to the hilt. A minimal amount of data, generated by the US Geological Survey (USGS) was all it took to spawn the inevitable lawsuits by environmental activists. They sued the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the EPA for failing to review the impact of pesticides on California frogs and other amphibians. Alex Avery reports, “Collectively, these lawsuits have already cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and are far from over.” (3)

However, as Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story. It turns out that the disappearance of the yellow-legged frogs has an entirely different explanation. Folks had been stocking the lakes, rivers, and streams in the West with all types of fish, starting as early as the 1880s. As part of this action, trout were introduced into the glacial lakes of the Sierra Nevada and by 1924 wildlife biologists noted that mountain yellow-bellied tadpoles and trout were rarely seen in the same lakes. This continued with thousands of fingerlings being dropped by aircraft in high altitude lakes where there had been lots of frogs but not fish at all. (4) Guess what happened? The frog populations decreased.

Vance Vredenburg of the University of California at Berkeley began removing trout from five separate High Sierra lakes in the late 1990s. He saw frog population explosions and reported, “There are at least 10,000 lakes in the High Sierra. Ninety to 95 percent of them hold introduced species of trout but no more frogs at all. And there may be plenty of lakes that have plenty of frogs, but few or no fish. So the answer is pretty straightforward, and it doesn’t get much simpler: with no trout you get an immediate and dramatic response.” (5)

Minnesota frogs

In 1995, a group of middle school pupils in Minnesota found some deformed northern leopard frogs and posted pictures of the poor creatures on the Internet. Mark Rosen observes, “The frog story had all the elements that make a newspaper reporters’ ears perk up: children—to provide excellent visuals and add just the right amount of ‘cute’ factor, a defenseless victim—the frogs, an ultimate evil—pollution, and a possible danger to everyone—the frogs could ostensibly be ‘canaries in a mineshaft.’” (6) By 1997, an alarming number of newspaper articles had been written on the topic, enough that Stanley Sessions, mentioned earlier in this article, was prompted to comment, “I have never seen a scientific or biological phenomenon grow so fast with so few publications.” Later in 1998 in a letter to Science magazine, Sessions noted that “Approximately half of the recent reports of deformed amphibians in the United States and Canada are from a single study (my own) of one site in California published in 1990.” (7)

In September 1997 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced the results of tests at a press conference attended by the national media, including PBS and ABC’s “Nightline.” The MPCA officials announced that they had found water from sites where malformed frogs has been reported and it was very potent in deforming frogs in their laboratory experiment. However, they weren’t able to identify what it was in the water that had caused the problem. They then offered bottled water to families concerned about the wells in their areas. (4)

Bonner Cohen notes, “Bottled water may have eased the fears of local residents, but MCPA’s tests soon came under withering criticism from scientists with the EPA. According to EPA, it was simply a natural lack of calcium and other salts in Minnesota water that was deforming the laboratory raised African clawed frog embryos, not a chemical contaminant.” (8) As lead EPA researcher Joe Tietge put it; “You could probably take tap water from any county in Minnesota and get results like this. In science, spurious correlations happen all the time,” and they are “one of the weakest forms of evidence to support a hypothesis.” (9) Added another EPA researcher, “Results don’t mean anything if they are interpreted improperly. Anybody with a tropical fish aquarium knows that if you fill it with tap water it will kill the fish. That doesn’t mean your tap water isn’t safe to drink.” (10)

Looking for the real culprit? It appears to be a parasitic flatworm called trematodes. Two papers that appeared in Science in 1999 proposed a parasite theory. (11, 12) As Alex Avery notes, “Northern leopard frogs in the wild are afflicted at an early age by a tiny parasitic flatworm called trematodes (Ribeiroia). The parasites are shed by snails in ponds where they are picked up by frog tadpoles. Once in the tadpoles, they cause cellular dislocations that lead to deformities in adult frogs.” (3) The parasite theory was first proposed by Stanley Sessions who initially blamed chemicals. Sessions says of the trematodes, “It’s about as close to using an egg beater on the limb bud cells as you can get.” (13)

After publishing his theory, Sessions met with high skepticism. He concluded that the entire frog investigation was being manipulated and important evidence ignored in efforts to promote further research funding. He suggested that other researchers were tilting their hypothesis toward a chemical contaminant in an effort to garner more funding. (14)

More recent reports support Sessions’ findings. Pieter Johnson and colleagues noted that the extent and frequency of the frog deformities was not all that unusual. They surveyed museum frog specimens collected 100 years ago and found similar rates and kinds of deformities. (15)

Time magazine’s report on global warming’s effect on frogs in Costa Rica

Jumping on the global warming scare, Time magazine published a special report in their April 3, 2006 issue. Here’s what they say about frogs, “With habitats crashing, animals that live there are succumbing too…Last year, researchers in Costa Rica announced that two-thirds of 100 species of harlequin frogs have vanished in the past 30 years, with the severity of each season’s die off following in lockstep with the severity of that year’s warming.” (16)

Courtesy of Marlo Lewis, here are some facts Time didn’t report, “The frogs are not perishing from heat. Annual Costa Rican temperatures have remained remarkably flat during 1979 to 2005. Rather, the frogs are dying from a fungal infection carried by a class of organisms known as chytrids. Time argues global warming is increasing cloud cover, which limits the frogs exposure to sunlight—a natural disinfectant that ‘can rid the frogs of this fungus.’ However, there has been no observed change in Central American cloud cover between 1984 and 2004. So what is causing the frogs to perish in Coast Rica? According to the journal Diversity and Distribution, the chytrid fungus was most likely introduced by humans, possibly eco-tourists and, or field researchers, wrote University of Virginia climatologist Patrick Michael’s in a January 11 story in World Climate Report.” (17)

Lastly, on the topic of global warming, recent research indicates that global warming isn’t triggering a fungal disease killing off Arizona frogs. The culprit in this case also appears to be the chytrid fungus (18).

Leopard frogs and atrazine

Alex Avery describes Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a California researcher, as “the newest media darling in the supposed ‘global frog crisis.’ Over the past four years, Hayes has been profile by National Geographic magazine, Discover magazine, National Public Radio, and virtually every major newspaper in the country.” (3)

Hayes claims that traces of atrazine, one of the most widely used farm weed killers in North America, are affecting frogs from California to the Carolinas. Avery points out, “The media has run with this theory, placing it at the heart of all supposed frog ills. Hayes doesn’t’ argue that atrazine kills frogs or causes deformities. Instead he says that atrazine feminizes male frogs, chemically castrating them. Therefore, Hayes agues, atrazine ‘likely has a significant impact on amphibian populations’ and should be banned.” (3)

Contrary views: Hayes can’t explain why after 30 years of extensive atrazine use, frog populations are still thriving in the areas where it is heavily used. Nor can he provide any field evidence that atrazine has harmed a single frog anywhere. Further, and most importantly, scientists from four universities have been unable to reproduce Hayes” laboratory results. (3)


This short trip into the world of frogs provides one example of how public consciousness has been shaped by the media and environmentalists. Whether frogs are disappearing in California, Costa Rica, or Arizona, or deformed in Minnesota, the popular assumption is that a chemical or global warming is the cause. (19) When you dig deeper into this issue, other explanations backed by sound scientific evidence provide a different view.


1. William Souder, A Plague of Frogs, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 227

2. Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave, (Washington, DC, Capital Research Center, 2006), 114

3. Alex Avery, “Rachel Carson Syndrome: Jumping to Pesticide Conclusions in the Global Frog Crisis,” Hudson Institute, May 2007

4. Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave, 116

5. V. Vredenburg, “Reversing introduced species effects: Experimental removal of introduced fish leads to rapid recovery of a declining frog,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 101, 7646, 2004

6. Mark Rosen, “The Mysterious Vanishing Frogs of North America,” MIT Open Courseware, Writing and the Environment, Spring 2005

7. Stanley K. Sessions, Science, 279, 459, January 23, 1998, (In Letters)

8. Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave, 117

9. William Souder, A Plague of Frogs, 245

10. William Souder, A Plague of Frogs, 244

11. S. K. Sessions, R. A. Franssen and V. L. Horner, “Morphological Clues From Multi-Legged Frogs: Are Retinoids to Blame?” Science, 284, 800, April 1999

12. P. T. J. Johnson, et al., “The Effect of trematode infection on amphibian limb development and survivorship,” Science, 284, 802, April 30, 1999

13. Kristin Leutwyler, “Biologists figure out what accounts for certain side-show frogs,”, May 3, 1999

14. William Souder, A Plague of Frogs, 229

15. P. T. J. Johnson, et al., “Limb deformities as an emerging parasitic disease in amphibians: Evidence from museum specimens and resurvey data,” Conservation Biology, 17, 1724, 2003

16. Jeffrey Kluger, “The Tipping Point,” Time, 167, 28, April 3, 2006

17. Marlo Lewis, “Time’s Climate Change Issue Rife With Deception,” Environment & Climate News, 9, 11, June 2006

18. Tony Davis, “Arizona frog fungus not blamed on warming,” Arizona Daily Star, January 23, 2006

19. Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave, 118

Coal Fires- A Major Pollution Source

Coal Fires- A Major Pollution Source

Jack W. Dini
Livermore, CA

“Scrapping all the cars, SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks in America could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 2%. Extinguishing the fires that burn unchecked at coal deposits around the world could reduce emissions by 2-3% without the economic devastation.”(1)

Are you doing your best to minimize your carbon footprint? If so, that’s commendable. However, it’s not going to make a hoot of a difference in the big picture. For example, here are three facts about the impossibility, or futility, of controlling emissions:

1-Uncontrolled fires in China’s abandoned coal mines release as much carbon dioxide as the entire country of Japan does from useful fuel consumption. (2)

2- The third world is growing. China has 30,000 coal mines and is opening a new power station every five days until 2012. India is right behind in present and future energy consumption; it’s annual demand for coal has been steadily increasing over the past decade, and is now nearly 50% greater than it was a decade ago.(3)

3- People with empty bellies don’t have the luxury of a Western middle-class moralist to worry what may or may not happen 50 to 100 years down the track. If their economic salvation, as in China, is a factory belching goo into the atmosphere, they’re happy to live with that to put bread on the table. (4)

Whatever the West does to ‘save the planet’ is mere gesture unless the rest of the world agrees to give up its right to grow as we’ve grown. The Al Gore machine seeks to limit each person to 1 ton of carbon per year. The proposal is to create a system of carbon allowances that will be rationing cards of the future. (2) This is an admirable goal for folks in developed countries, but what is left unstated is that the remaining four fifths of the world’s population (almost 5 billion people) are doing their best to feed themselves and emulate our present lifestyle and aren’t about to stop.

Coal Mine Fires

Let’s look at coal mine fires, which are underground smoldering of coal mines. Mine fires can burn for very long periods of time (months or years), until the seam in which they smolder is exhausted. They propagate in a creeping fashion along mine shafts and cracks. Because they are underground, they are extremely difficult and costly to reach and put out.

Michael Woods reports, “Underground coal fires are relentlessly incinerating millions of tons of coal around the world. The blazes spew out huge amounts of air pollutants, force residents to flee their homes, send toxic runoff flowing into waterways, and leave the land as scarred as a battlefield.” (5)

Around the world, thousands of inextinguishable mine fires are burning, especially in China and India. “A global environmental catastrophe,’ is how geologist Glenn Stracher, of East Georgia College in Swainsboro, describes these fires. Stracher co-organized an international symposium on the topic at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2003. The AAAS estimates that mine coal fires, started mainly by human activity, contribute significantly to carbon dioxide emissions—as much as 3% of the world output deriving from such fires in China alone. (6)

One of the worst underground fires in the United States, the Centralia, Pennsylvania mine fire, has been burning since May 1962. The fire was started when the local city council set trash ablaze in an abandoned strip mine that had been used as an illegal dump. The fire burned along a coal seam into tunnels located beneath Centralia, sending smoke and toxic fumes into the air. Kevin Krajick reported in 2005, “A hellish landscape is about all that remains of the once-thriving town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Forty-three years ago, a vast honeycomb of coal mines at the edge of the town caught fire. An underground inferno has been spreading ever since, burning at depths of up to 300 feet, baking surface layers, venting poisonous gases and opening holes large enough to swallow people or cars. The conflagration may burn for another 250 years along an eight mile stretch encompassing 3,700 acres, before it runs out of the coal that fuels it.” (7)

The fire was brought to national and international attention in 1981 after a 12 year old boy fell into an open steaming hole. By that time Centralia had been irreversibly damaged by the fire: in 1980 poisonous gases had begun to infiltrate a local elementary school and several homes in Centralia and whole sections of streets and yards were near collapse from the tremendous heat of the fire. In 1983 a group of concerned citizens eventually won relocation for those who wanted to leave. Most of the 1,000 residents of Centralia chose this option. David DeKok describes the trials and tribulations of Centralia residents in his book, Unseen Danger. (8)

Pennsylvania has over 250,000 acres of abandoned mine lands and has 1/3 of the nation’s mine problems. There are over 45 mine fires burning across Pennsylvania; five underground fires in Allegheny County, five in Percy County, one in Westmoreland, and others in more isolated areas. (9)

Pennsylvania isn’t alone. The US harbors hundreds of blazes from Alaska to Alabama. Near Glenwood Spring, Colorado, an old coal mine has burned for the past 100 years. In the summer of 2002, the blaze ignited a forest fire that consumed 12,000 acres and 43 buildings. Putting it out cost $6.5 million, and the mine still burns. (6) The underground coal seam that ignited the fire has been burning for about 100 years. It was also responsible for the infamous 1994 Storm King Mountain fire that killed 14 firefighters. (6)

China and India

The fires in the United States pale in comparison to those in China which has an estimated 56 coal conflagrations. (10) One, in northern China, consumes up to 200 million tons of coal each year. For comparison, coal consumption in the United States during 2000 was just about one billion tons. (11)

A team from the Netherlands studying the environmental effects of these fires concluded that they release up to 360 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, equal to two to three percent of global carbon dioxide releases. (6)

Soot from the fires in China, India, and other Asian countries are a source of the ‘Asian Brown Haze.’ It’s a 2 mile thick cloud of soot, acid droplets and other material that sometimes stretches across South Asia from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka. (5)

Kevin Krajick reports, “India, where large scale mining began more than a century ago, accounts for the world’s greatest concentration of coal mine fires. Rising surface temperatures, and toxic byproducts in groundwater and soil, have turned the densely populated Raniganj, Singareni, and Jharia coal fields into vast wastelands.” (7) The Jharia is an exclusive storehouse of prime coke coal in the country, consisting of 23 large underground and nine large open cast mines. The mining activities in these coal fields started in 1894 and had really intensified in 1925. The history of the coal mine fire in Jharia can be traced back to 1916 when the fire was first detected. At present, more than 70 mine fires are reported in this region. (12)

Fighting the Fires

Michael Woods notes, “Mine fires are frustratingly difficult and costly to extinguish. Weapons range from backfilling mine shafts to cutting off the oxygen supply with a new foam-like grout that’s squirted into mine shafts like shaving cream and then expands to sniff out the fire. Most are simply left alone to burn until they eventually exhaust their fuel supply.” (5)

Regarding the fighting of the Centralia fire, Krajick reports, “Over some 20 years, firefighters tried eight times to put it out. First they dug trenches, but the fire outpaced them. Then they attempted ‘flushing’—a process that involves augering holes into or ahead of a fire, and pouring down wet sand, gravel, slurries of cement and fly ash to cut off oxygen. Next, state and federal geologists drilled hundreds of exploratory boreholes to define the fire, then dug a huge trench across its supposed path. But the fire had already spread beyond the trench. Flooding the area with water was rejected: it is nearly impossible to inundate a large underground area, especially one as complex and well drained as Centralia. A final solution, to dig a pit three-quarters of a mile long deep as a 45 story building would have cost $660 million, more than the value of the property in the town. It too, was rejected.” (7)

These days remote sensing technology makes it possible to detect coal fires and study their effects. Thermal and optical images along with field-based measurements are used to determine the location, size, depth, propagation direction, burning intensity, temperature and coal consumption of a fire. This information has been useful for fighting fires in northern China. (13)

In the case of the Jharia coalfields in India, measures include bull dozing, leveling and covering with soil to prevent the entry of oxygen and to stabilize the land for vegetation. Fire fighting in this area requires relocation of a large population, which poses to be a bigger problem than the actual fire fighting operations. (12)


While the United States is cutting its own emissions, some nations, especially China and India, are belching out more and more dirty air. As a result, overseas pollution could partly cancel out improvements in US air quality that have cost billions of dollars. (14)

In November 2006, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that China will become the world’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in 2009, overtaking the United States nearly a decade earlier than previously anticipated. Coal is expected to be responsible for three-quarters of that carbon dioxide.(15) Also, according to the IEA, by 2030 coal-based power generation is projected to more than triple while providing roughly one-third of global electricity generation. (16) Do you think this will mean less underground, uncontrolled fires? I surely don’t.


1. “Coal Fires,” Civil Defense Perspectives, 23, 2, January 2007

2. Vlado Bevc, “Global warming nothing but a paper tiger,” The Times, Walnut Creek, CA, January 27, 2007, pA23

3. “An Energy Summary of India,” Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum,; accessed February 13, 2007

4. Daryl McLure, “Climate Change the Latest Doomsayer Call,”, February 10, 2007

5. Michael Woods, “Underground coal fires called a catastrophe,”, Pittsburgh, PA, February 15, 2003

6. “A burning issue,”; accessed February 4, 2007

7. Kevin Krajick, “ Fire in the hole,” Smithsonian, 36, 52, May 2005

8. David DeKok, Unseen Danger, (Philadelphia, PA, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986)

9. Pennsylvania Mine Fire Facts,; accessed February 15, 2007

10. Mike Meyer, “Flaming Dragon,” Smithsonian, 36, 58, May 2005

11. Glenn B. Stracher, “Coal Fires: A Burning Global Recipe for Catastrophe,” Geotimes, October 2002

12. “The Jharia coal field fire,”; accessed February 1, 2007

13. Glenn B. Stracher, Tammy P. Taylor, and Anupma Prakash, “Coal Fires: A Synopsis of Their Origin, Remote Sensing Detection and Thermodynamics of Sublimation,” in Case Histories of Mine Reclamation and Regulation: Environmental Technology for Mining, S., Shannon, Editor, (Vancouver, BC, Robertson GeoConsultants Inc.), 1

14. Traci Watson, “Air pollution form other countries drifts into USA,” USA Today, March 14, 2005, 1

15. Peter Fairley, “China’s Coal Future,” Technology Review, 110, 56, January-February 2007

16. “Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate: Coal Mining Task Force Summary of Action Plant and Projects,”, October 31, 2006