Day: September 6, 2007

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Diacetyl Media Coverage Rant

06Sep07Capture.jpgFeel free to disregard if you don’t like rants, but the NY Times story of one man’s at-home exposure to diacetyl and the resulting case of bronchiolitis obliterans has made the most emailed list as of 06-Sep-07, and propelled diacetyl into the big time. Now, anyone who keeps half an eye on occupational health issues (or reads the pump handle) would have known that at least 5 workers in the flavoring industry had died of this disease, and many many more were afflicted by bronchiolitis obliterans. Yet, the press completely ignored this issue. As soon as one person had the same problem at home, it suddenly became a frontpage issue, causing all kinds of backpedalling by Conagra and big popcorn (gotta love that phrase!!).

There is a casual and systemic disregard for blue collar worker’s rights in this country, starting from an institutional distaste for unions, lack of health coverage, job security, pensions, playing one set of workers against the other, using selectively and arbitrarily enforced immigration laws to keep workers pliant, putting industry executives and lobbyists in charge of agencies that are supposed to keep workers’ welfare in mind, stressing “voluntary” regulation. failing to react to new information, I could go on and on, but you know the deal.

Why is it that the US national press can identify so much easier with one isolated case of popcorn lung while having ignored all the other occupational exposure cases? I am just a scientist, no sociologist/economist/anthropologist, but it seems to me that the press here is way too white collar and just cannot relate to the average agricultural/industrial worker. The average journalist is a white man with a journalism major from a reputable school who cut his chops doing unpaid work for the school paper. These kinds of educational and apprenticeship requirements filter the journalist worker pool to a rather homogeneous white, middle class tepidity. Because the average journalist can’t identify with issues faced by blue collar America, there’s this unstated assumption that somehow, their lives are hard and fraught with danger and uncertainty, but they don’t really deserve much better, it’s their lot in life. It’s probably because they did not study hard enough or were smart enough.

As usual, there are no easy answers. I would say Agitate, Agitate, Agitate!! But what do I know about blue collar America? People are working so hard to make ends meet without a safety net or anyone looking out for them that they have just about enough energy to get through the day and face the next one.


Virus Implicated In Colony Collapse Disorder In Bees

This is a potentially important find, but as usual, I feel the need to stress that at this point in time, as the scientists did too, that they correlated the presence of this virus with the prevalence of Colony Collapse Disorder. It is likely that this virus, while being a contributing factor, is not the only cause. Other contributors may include stress, the fact that these bee hives are transported thousands of miles, etc.

But, great detective work by this collaborative team of academics, American government scientists and one for-profit company.

ScienceDaily: Virus Implicated In Colony Collapse Disorder In Bees

A team led by scientists from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Pennsylvania State University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, University of Arizona, and 454 Life Sciences has found a significant connection between the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honey bees.

The findings, an important step in addressing the disorder that is decimating bee colonies across the country, are published in the journal Science.

In colony collapse disorder, honey bee colonies inexplicably lose all of their worker bees. CCD has resulted in a loss of 50-90% of colonies in beekeeping operations across the U.S.

I was just thinking I should check on the progress of scientists towards finding a cause for this issue, seems like I did not have to!

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Shaming People into Pooping Indoors

Meanwhile, in the other India, people still poop outdoors…

Using shame to change sanitary habits – Los Angeles Times

Every morning before sunrise, Ravi Shankar Singh, a cheerful man known to his neighbors as “Luv” Singh, sets out to patrol the potholed roads and rice fields of this north Indian village. He carries a whistle and a flashlight. He sings while he walks. The village’s self-appointed sanitation guardian, Singh is on the lookout for anyone squatting in the fields or alleys, using the cover of darkness to do what millions of people have always done across India: defecate outdoors. After years of programs to increase the number of latrines in villages, the government still has not managed to eradicate a practice that is cited in the spread of water-borne illnesses and parasites, such as diarrhea and hookworms. Critics say the obstacle is not so much the shortage of latrines, though that, too, remains a problem for nearly half of India’s rural population. The main challenge is getting people to use the facilities they have. Singh says he’s found a way. When he spots someone squatting, he lets loose with a blast on his whistle. Or shines his light on the offender. Or both.

This is clearly a serious public health issue and one that is linked to many avoidable deaths from disease. I am not sure if blowing whistles at people is an ethical way to do it. In a country where actual toilet facilities are still rare, and the people who grew up in this scarcity have internalized the fact that they have to “externalize” their poop, just providing facilities and shaming them is not enough.

Just as with most things in India, no easy answers, I guess the right combination of education (especially targeting the young), enforcement through fines, and most importantly, saturation coverage of clean and easily available toilets would eventually work.  But it will take time, and of course, public urination is a completely  different beast!