Poison or West Nile? Why Would Anybody ask a Newspaper Guy?

Categories: Schutze

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All right. A brief time-out? Before we all die of West Nile or shut down our endocrine systems with toxins, should we call in somebody who, unlike me or some editorial writer at the Morning News, actually knows something?

An editorial in The Dallas Morning News today more or less endorses aerial spraying of pesticides to combat West Nile disease, citing as the newspaper's main scientific basis an article which, as I have already reported, is very controversial, described by critics as an un-peer-reviewed piece of junk.

However. Astute commenters here have objected that the article I cited was an even less peer-reviewed, less scientific, bigger piece of junk than the one I was calling un-peer-whatever and so on. I looked back over my article. Hmmm. Could have a point. And, uh ... by the way. What are peers exactly?
 

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Four out of five endocrinologists agree, what Dallas needs is some of these bad boys.
Today the News also cites a 2003 study in Virginia and North Carolina which they say proves spraying chemicals on people doesn't hurt anybody. Where to begin with that? Well, first, it makes a big difference which chemicals you spray, and the ones in the study are not what is being used here.

Secondly, if you look at that study closely you find that the studiers examined only a very small sample of people, and they failed to find out whether any of the subjects had been exposed to spraying.

What do I mean, "look at the study closely?" How the hell am I going to look at a study of environmental biochemical reactions closely, armed, as I am, with a pretty worn and faded bachelor's degree that included less science than I probably got watching Saturday kids' shows? It's probably time to reach for something more authoritative here than journalistic ships colliding in the night.

The stuff Dallas sprays is actually not a single chemical but a cocktail of chemicals. One element of that cocktail is a neurotoxin. Another is what's known as an endocrine disruptor that effectively shuts down or jumbles hormone production.

You won't get good answers on endocrine disruptors by simply trolling the easily available public sources. The EPA says unreassuringly, "there is strong evidence that chemical exposure [to endocrine disruptors] has been associated with adverse developmental and reproductive effects on fish and wildlife in particular locations. The relationship of human diseases of the endocrine system and exposure to environmental contaminants, however, is poorly understood and scientifically controversial ..."

But there is no reason to stop with that level of information, any more than we should be satisfied with journalistic opinionators on a subject of this importance. As close as UT Austin, for example, we have Andrea Gore and David Crews, nationally respected experts on chemical exposure in general and endocrine disruptors in particular.

A search for truth in this area is always fraught with peril for a number of reasons. Information is hugely distorted by the propaganda and advertising paid for by the chemical lobby but also by the desperate inexpert push-back of anti-chemistry ideologues.

It isn't necessarily safe to reach into the academic community. If you tap somebody from Texas A&M, you probably have a dude whose lake house was paid for with grants from chemical companies.

What Dallas needs to do is find some truly un-sold-out, smart, credentialed experts in this area. They may be shy about actually coming here to perform live for our cameras, but at least we should be able to get somebody to summarize their work.

West Nile is about to begin its natural cyclical seasonal decline. Maybe we will have some breathing space. We should use it to dig up facts.

On most stuff like this, people are vehement in inverse proportion to their expertise. We're never going to find experts whose opinions are completely noncontroversial, because the subject-matter is too hot for that, but we should be able to find sources of information who are qualified and respected in their fields.

Otherwise, if that sounds like too much work, the best course probably is just to do whatever I say. I know that's what seems to work around my house. (Couldn't resist saying that. Can I maybe stay at your house this weekend?)


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45 comments
krsezr3
krsezr3

A more relevant question in the initial stages of the outbreak here and elsewhere; TX, LA. and MS. are in a serious drought, so why the West Nile flare-up this year? Standing water? I'm sure it exists, but not anywhere I travel. I see yellow yards and even wilting crepe myrtles! Why has Houston largely escaped this mosquito attack? Now they have standing water.

 

And just as in 2009, why have almost all media outlets (we understand how the government works) gone to such extreme lengths to avoid mentioning the name of the chemical being applied and at

least a feigned effort at objective health risks to mammals? The gross decline in competent media scrutiny and questioning is probably the most disturbing facet of this event. And not just AH Belo,

but NBC, AP and CNN as well. IT'S CALLED AQUALUER 20-20 FOLKS. It's not prohibited by the FCC to mention on the air or in print. Viva Stasi and NKVD. Do I get a paid vacation to Gitmo now?

krsezr3
krsezr3

We've been down this road before Jim. If it's framed as an issue of humans versus dragonflies (whose larvae eat the hell out of mosquito larvae), lepidopterans or hymenopterans - guess who wins...regardless of the lack of long term effects from the "drug" sprayed. Toss in "CDC believes," and it's a slam dunk to broadcast dioxin or plutonium. We banned DDT because it almost wiped out our national symbol. Imagine what it would be like if malaria or Yellow Fever were rampant? I can't.

 

Your former next door neighbor

Newtonianphysic
Newtonianphysic

@Dallas_Observer Jim, it is like napalm and many think it smells like victory.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

forensic journalism.....coverage of those that die FROM west nile, and those that are POISONED by mosquito spray....

 

in the end...it is all about written words published by someone seeking to sell advertising.

ChrisDangerShow
ChrisDangerShow

This is absolute stupidity, Instead of being proactive and work w/ the city and county on draining standing pools of water and introducing beneficial insects to those area, Clay The Puppet Boy decides to be lazy like his "Massa" JWP and take a unfortunate easy way out..Thank christ im moving to denton co. At least they're not carpet-bombing their citizens w/ chemicals..

judd_bradbury
judd_bradbury

Jim I have been following your coverage here and it is always good to vet these policies in the open. The best thing about vetting is the production of new ideas. I see two of them posted below. Dry up the water usage and focus on protecting the vulnerable. Simple but very good ideas we could have missed without a discussion. As you know I am in favor of the spraying but Dupont suggested I would have to buy my own lake house.

 

We know the spraying is working as even you commented that several people have reported that their bees died. If the bees die, the mosquitoes die. Having close relations in agriculture I know the importance of bees and their decline is truly a large issue worth studying. For now, in Dallas, spraying seems the best course. There are other solutions and we should try some of them. Since our last discussion a decade ago we have used an annual restocking of frogs, newts, and geckos in our yard. It does work but we also deployed some kind of smelly skeeter oil pots made in Garland this year as we were over run. We are all wearing mosquito bites right now and human deaths are unacceptable. Diligently reviewing what we are doing for impacts and new ideas is always smart. If we can take measures to prevent human deaths we should.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

So we should wait until millions are dead and Dengue Fever and the Ebola virus run rampant?

sidewalkastro
sidewalkastro

I was out on Lake Lewisville last Saturday night and didn't see any mesquitoes. Lots of water but no skeeters. Why, fish eat the larvae! Looking at the map for spraying for Dallas, I would say the problem is over watering. The daily watering replenishs puddles that breed mesquites. After a good rain you might have mesquitoes the following week, but then they taper off because the puddles dry up, not so with daily watering. Tarrant county haven't sprayed so you think they would have more West Nile cases. They don't. A watering ban would be a lot more effective at control, but then all those home owners would throw a hissy fit. So Poison it is. Last time there was aerial spraying was the last time I saw horny toads. I wonder what is going to disappear this time.

AreYouKidding
AreYouKidding

We cannot count on Belo to report or research properly. Please find out what Dallas firm is brokering the deal for the chemicals and airplanes. This push with no public input does not make sense.

MissyFranklin
MissyFranklin

We didn't mind when they were spraying down off Williamson Road because it was horrible, but now that it is hotter, the mosquitoes are not as bad. Either that or it worked, however, we have a swimming pool and we definitely do not want fly-over spraying.

 

Has anyone thought about that? Is the city going to issue plastic non-porous covers for our pools? How will the chemicals mix with Chlorine?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

The other thing to weigh here: if you took us medias absolutely seriously, the entire population of the United States, Canada and Ecuador would have been wiped out long ago by killer bees, SARS, Legionnaire's Disease, bedbugs, Black Mamba snakes and bowling ball-sized hail.

glenn03a
glenn03a

Why can't Dallas County purchase truck loads of OFF and pass it out free to anyone who is in need ?

jared.heath
jared.heath

There were plenty of "studies" in the 70s that said spraying DDT on people wasn't bad.

There were plenty of "studies" in the 50s that said nuclear fallout wasn't that bad (hell, they even had some guys stand UNDER one bomb detonated at high altitude once...go do the research on that one).

 

There were plenty of "studies" in the 80s....

 

I think you get where I'm going with this.  People die.  Taking risks with everyone to save a few isn't always the right choice.

roo_ster
roo_ster

The thing about mosquito abatement is that West Nile is only a small slice of that infectious disease pie. The big boys are malaria & yellow fever. 

 

"What, malaria & yellow fever are unheard of in these parts!" 

 

They are _now._  Malaria cases were found as far north as New York City and was a serious problem in the USA up until 1940.  For example, roughly 30% of the population in the area covered by the TVA in 1933 were infected with malaria.  A yellow fever outbreak in 1867 killed 3000 around Houston and _1/3 the population of Corpus Christi_. Hemorrhagic fever ain't beanbag.

http://www.takeintexas.com/yellow-fever-epidemic-of-1867

http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/

 

After we (and by "we" I mean some really smart old white guys 100 years ago) figured out the causes & vectors of these diseases (mosquitoes), we (as a nation, states, municipalities) went on a decades-long anti-mosquito crusade.  Man-made standing water was hammered, swamps were drained (Eeeek! Wetland destruction!), and yes, lots of insecticides were sprayed hither and yon.  And then more tons of insecticide.

 

Today, we luxuriate in an almost 100% malaria & yellow fever environment.  Fact is, we forgot how we got here and we are coasting on the accomplishments of our forbears (sound familiar?).  We need to stay on top of the issue, emptying man-made stagnant water pools, draining swamps (Eeek!), and yes, spraying the ever-mother-loving heck out of the few pesticides still not outlawed.

 

Simple fact is, if we let the skeeters get the upper hand, an outbreak of malaria or yellow fever will kill & incapacitate more folks than would ever see ill effects from getting buttered up head to toe in permethrin salsa.

RTGolden
RTGolden

The great thing about beginning the aerial spraying now, at the start of the natural downturn in mosquito activity, is after the spraying they'll be able to point at the decline and declare an unqualified success.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

I'm going to relax until the mosquitoes, killer bees, Asian carp, and zebra mussels all unite into a League of Evil and unveil a master plan. 

 

Then I'll panic.

Honeybee
Honeybee

So my pediatrician tells me that my family has probably already had West Nile and didn't know it bc the virus is generally not a problem in young, healthy people (by young I mean under 70).  If so, we would now be naturally immunized.

 

Instead of spraying poisons on everyone, why don't we protect the vulnerable and let everyone else become naturally immunized while they are still at very low risk of harm from the virus?

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

 @judd_bradbury Thank you for a sensible comment.  Furthermore, bees can be brought in to replace any that die.  Try replacing a loved one.

GetReal
GetReal

 @randi.trollop 9 people dying is not a state of emergency! There are over 6 million people in the 4 core county's of Dallas. More people die from heat exposure. Most people who get WN will never show symptoms of the virus or they will be mild. The only thing that is a state of emergency is our inability to think   objectively.

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

 @sidewalkastro Excellent point which ties into the DMN article about water use in these areas.  But you'll never get these neighborhoods to give up their lush green yards.  Brown yards in the summer are so déclassé

AreYouKidding
AreYouKidding

 @JimSX Old people are panicking and unfortunately, nature and humankind will be the carnage, left in the wake of their selfishness. Their selfishness has destroyed our economy, health care and now it will destroy nature.

pak152
pak152

 @jared.heath "http://sppiblog.org/news/opinion-the-50th-anniversary-of-silent-spring-a-lethal-legacy"

 

100 things to know about DDT

http://junkscience.com/1999/07/26/100-things-you-should-know-about-ddt/

 

Buchenwald prisoners sprayed with DDT to kill disease carrying lice

http://www.dpcamps.org/buchenwald.jpg

 

"The new book, The Excellent Powder: DDT’s Political and Scientific History, of which I am a secondary author, describes how, over many decades, manipulations of data, science, and opinions turned perceptions of DDT from a life-saving chemical to the totemic villain for the environmental movement. Even supporters of DDT for disease control may be surprised that DDT never caused the near extinction of several bird species, such as the bald eagle and peregrine falcon. The Excellent Powder provides a detailed account of the actual threats to these species and describes the actions, unrelated to DDT, which secured their survival."

http://www.american.com/archive/2010/april/the-excellent-powder

 

movinondown
movinondown

 @jared.heath "There were plenty of "studies" in the 50s that said nuclear fallout wasn't that bad (hell, they even had some guys stand UNDER one bomb detonated at high altitude once...go do the research on that one)."

 

 

There is no fallout from a high altitude detonation. Maybe you should do your own research?

 

 

pak152
pak152

 @roo_ster and we are seeing the reintroduction of dengue fever another mosquito borne disease

 

Honeybee
Honeybee

 @roo_ster I've posted this before, but the New Yorker recently did a very interesting article about genetically modified mosquitos being released to combat yellow fever and malaria, as well as dengue fever.  Only 1 species carries those diseases and that 1 species is creeping back into the US.  

 

The story of how Walter Reed linked mosquitos to yellow fever is a fascinating one, too.  True science and his experiment volunteers are some of human history's forgotten heroes.

 

Anyway, thought you'd be interested

engmofo
engmofo

@Scruffygeist An Axis of Bevil?

GetReal
GetReal

 @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @judd_bradbury    People with weak vulnerable immune systems will always die of something and often it is something as common as a cold.

 

They are the ones who are dying from this disease. Every account I read where someone developed a debilitating illness, as a result of west nile , are people who waited more than a week, once they developed any symptoms. In every instance, their family said, they did not like going to the doctor.

 

So we should nuke the environment and poison everything we come in contact with because people refuse to be responsible about their watering, wearing protection, going to the doctor at the fist sign of any abnormal physical symptom or because someone is already sick and exposure to anything, can and kill them, including a cold? I'm sorry, but people die! We can't destroy a healthy environment and healthy individuals to save a few weak ones. Trying to save the weakest in any species, at the expense of the strongest and its robust environment is how species become extinct.

 

I spend a lot of time outdoors and if I had to guess, I've already got an immunity to it. Most people who get bit by west Nile mosquitoes, never know it and they develop a life long protection.   If getting bitten  means life long immunity, I'm willing to take a chance with mine and my family's life.

evl71
evl71

 @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz  @judd_bradbury 

Well I guess an infertile loved one is better then a dead one. RIGHT NOW. Try looking at the big picture, and your loved one's future offspring. Oh wait, there isn't any. Why, because your family can no longer reproduce. End of story.

GetReal
GetReal

 @AreYouKidding It's actually the conservatives and by the looks of the zip codes targeted for spraying, it's true, it's where the conservatives live.  Most of them are old, but some of them, like Jim are okay.

jared.heath
jared.heath

 @movinondown Fallout/ Radiation.  That's simply semantics (and you know it if you know that Fallout only comes from ground particles).

 

And I'd debate your comment anyway...there are plenty of particles in the air that could be classified as "fallout" if a nuclear blast occurs above it....it becomes fallout when irradiated.

 

Any dust/haze/other particle that might be inhaled after irradiation would be called "fallout" by anybody knowledgeable about nuclear fission effects.

 

And please...I don't need to research it at all.

 

 

ImRight
ImRight

 @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Fact is, 9 deaths is no reason to spray pesticides on millions of people.  WN is NOT that bad: The ratio to symptom severity with WN is 110:30:1, with 110 showing no symptoms, 30 showing mild symptoms (headache, mild fever), and 1 person with severe symptoms.  The probability of WN being fatal is even lower. More damage would be done from spraying than wearing bugspray if you go out in the evenings.

 

FURTHERMORE, your stupidity is one of the biggest problems with America.  Do us all a favor and play with your cats instead of speaking your dim-witted opinions.  Ebola will never be carried by mosquitoes, and dart sucks.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

 @GetReal Nut cake!  It's millions of cars that poison and destroy the environment.  Use DART!

GetReal
GetReal

Not educating yourself to facts is the biggest challenge we face regarding this problem.  Because you refuse to, people like you are leading the charge to poison and destroy our environment.

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