Chemical Chaos

August 2, 2011

Sometimes when I read a book I will find myself attracted to other books on the same topic. This time my latest readings have been on chemistry and the periodic table. The one that started it was The Disappearing Spoon, which is a history of chemistry, the hunt for elements and the creation of the periodic table (check out the extras, especially the videos). This romp into chemistry and the personalities involved is accessible to everyone, including students in upper elementary school. Read the rest of this entry »

I Walk the Talk

July 22, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I went in for my annual medical appointment. We went through the whole routine, and I showed my family doctor my very scratched up arm from pruning the porch-eating rose. I asked if I could get the Tdap since I am a gardener. He looked at my chart, saw I got the vaccine in 2005 and said I was good for another four years.


Then I went on a little trip: Read the rest of this entry »

Not a Moldy Oldy

April 29, 2011

Announcing a new podcast, and it involves mold and other environmental hazards: The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment (podcast download link) (entire podcast archive). It seems everyone is busy with jobs and kids, including Elyse saving the world and Jason Bilotta’s inspection business that deals with mold and other damage. Which is a perfect tie in to the interview with Jerome Paulson, MD of the The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment.

It is a very informative hour. Give it a listen! Read the rest of this entry »

Brian Dunning on “Dangerous” Vaccine Ingredients

September 14, 2010

Spoiler Alert: Fudge Eats a Turtle

January 10, 2010

When Judy Blume’s classic “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” was published in 1972, it might have spawned a craze for pet turtles. In the story, Farley Drexel Hatcher, AKA “Fudge”, satisfies his hunger by swallowing his older brother’s tiny turtle, carapace and all. Whether the book inspired America’s reptile infatuation or was a symptom of it, the 70s was a time when turtles became popular pets. It was also a time when we noticed a spike in salmonellosis.

In 1975, the FDA passed a new law that banned the sale of turtles with shells smaller than four inches. The reason for the new law was that 90% of reptiles are asymptomatic natural carriers of the salmonella bacteria, which can cause bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and a possible risk of death for small children and elderly. The law targets smaller turtles because they are more likely to be inappropriately handled by toddlers with curious mouths, like Fudge from Blume’s books, but also because they are more likely to be sold in pet stores. The CDC estimates that the turtle law has lowered the incidence of reptile salmonellosis by 100,000 each year (a reduction of 77%).

Owning a pet turtle might seem worth the risk of salmonella, but they are not easy to raise. It’s estimated that about 90% of pet turtles die within the first year of being adopted into a family, a statistic explained by a general lack of understanding on how to care for reptiles. Even if turtles seem healthy and clean, and even if they have been kept indoors, turtles are still just as likely to be carriers of salmonella (it doesn’t make them look visibly sick). There’s been a campaign to raise salmonella-free turtles by sterilizing their eggs, but even that has not been proven to effectively reduce the turtle’s chances of carrying salmonella during it’s lifetime.

If you spot a pet store selling baby turtles, you should report them to your nearest office of the FDA.

The reason I wrote this post was because a volunteer for the museum in Cincinnati was showing my kids “Shelly”, a rescued turtle with a prosthetic shell. I innocently asked whether it was a myth that turtles are more prone to carry salmonella, and the volunteer couldn’t answer the question. She said that since the pet was kept indoors, it would likely  not be infected (not true), but she followed with the promise that she asks children to wash hands after touching it (also probably not true).

I thought I’d research the topic and share the info with you.

Autism’s Alternative Treatments

January 4, 2010

It’s about time we wrote an update on all the autism myths swarming around and confusing parents. There seems to be a lull in the antivaccine war drums, but I wouldn’t doubt that another Hydra head will spring up to replace others that have been chopped down.  Indeed, we maybe seeing the next wave of tactics by vaccine haters with a new libel suit against Dr. Paul Offit, a man who has been vilified by his anti-science opponents for (deservedly) making $5 million as a co-inventor of the vaccine for rotavirus. Go to Science-Based Medicine to see the full scoop on Offit’s legal challenge.

So, most of us know what the antivaccine army opposes, but let’s take a look at what they recommend.

What is Lupron? Lupron is a hormone therapy meant to reduce excess testosterone. It’s been used to chemically castrate sex offenders. Mark and David Geier are the scientists who have been promoting this treatment, despite the fact that they are not experts in endocrinology or autism. Lupron has been used to treat precocious puberty and to chemically neuter sex offenders. The amount of Lupron recommended by the Geiers is ten times greater than the dose recommended for precocious puberty, and essentially castrates autistic boys with “masturbation problems”.

There have not been trials of this procedure, so any parent using this method is willfully subjecting their children to a treatment with unknown risks. These $5000 Lupron treatments come in the form of intramuscular injections. It seems that the Geiers themselves are the folks who profit from the injections, and the only evidence behind their recommendation for Lupron is their own poorly done studies. Read more at The Chicago Tribune.

What is chelation? Chelation is the use of untested industrial agents added to creams or pills to draw heavy metals from the body. Some parents use chelation on their autistic children, even when there’s no evidence of higher metal toxicity. Children with autism are given chelating agents to release metals that have been bonded to tissue. Their urine is then tested for heavy metal toxicity, but the results are compared on a scale that was not meant to include results from chelated individuals. Which means that parents are gambling on a risky, potentially dangerous procedure without two important control groups: one to see whether children without autism also have high metal toxicity levels after chelation, and another to see whether non-chelated children report similar levels of progress.

This whole idea that autistic kids are contaminated with toxic levels of metal is based on the accusation that heavy-metals in vaccines stimulate autism, but there has never been any evidence for such an association (mercury is no longer in vaccines and aluminum is a minuscule ingredient). See more at The Los Angeles Times.

The Autism Diet?

I’ve said it before, but now it’s even more official. MSNBC reports that 25 experts have come to a consensus that there is no proof that children with autism are more prone to digestive problems or that gluten/casein-free diets are effective in “curing” (or even helping) symptoms of autism. In fact, the panel, which was funded by The Autism Society and other autism groups, warned pediatricians to watch for malnutrition in children with autism because of the limitations of wheat-free and dairy-free diets.

The idea that gut issues and autism had a connection to the MMR vaccine was, by all accounts, manufactured by Dr. Andrew Wakefield – his study on 12 autistic children has long since been debunked. Yet, Wakefield defiantly stampedes forward at Florida’s Thoughtful House, where he continues to treat autism with an income of a quarter million dollars per year, despite the lack of support from his scientific peers. How nice for the man who revived measles from the dead!


That’s all well and good, I suppose, but I don’t take particular glee in these news stories. There are people in my life who have placed their bets on these expensive treatments. I empathize that they want answers, they want cures, and that they’ll try anything that might have a chance of working. Having a child on the spectrum is an incredible frustration for some people, one that I will likely never understand. Many parents have said that my right to speak on this topic should be revoked because I can’t possibly relate to their struggles. Regardless of those objections, I will report on the evidence as indicated in the legitimate scientific publications and mainstream media.

I will never say that there’s no possibility that some children with autism have high testosterone, are intoxicated with heavy metals, or are unable to digest wheat and dairy. What I will say is that there’s no evidence that these symptoms occur more in children with autism than they do in children without autism. In addition, the treatments for each supposed cause of autism are similarly unproven, and each of these treatments are potentially dangerous to human homeostasis.

Let’s hope that we can come up with a true cure and a definitive cause for autism in the near future.


June 16, 2009

I’ve waffled in my opinions on the plastic known as Bisphenol-A (BPA) as the evidence for it and against it have been volleyed back and forth. Eventually, the debate began to tire me, and I caved in to buying BPA-Free because I would rather be safe than take a risk on a product that could potentially harm my children.

It seemed like BPA was in the clear for a while, but then recently a memo was leaked by the BPA manufacturers that ranks right up there with Brian Dunning’s parody of an illuminati meeting. Except the memo wasn’t a parody. It was a shameful embarrassment to the BPA manufacturers that must be read to be believed.

Recently, a friend to the new group on Facebook posted a link to an analysis of the BPA controversy by the non-profit research organization STATS. I checked out STATS, and they are very skeptic friendly; in fact, their mission seems to fall in line with the skeptic movement. They are dedicated to getting to the truth behind scientific information and helping the media report on it responsibly.

So, check out the STATS report on BPA to see the origins of this “controversy” and how it became manipulated in the media.

Toxins in the News: Carcinogenic Baby Soaps?

March 14, 2009

I don’t want my kid swimming in a tub filled with carcinogens any more than the next parent, which is why it is really scary to read the report from the advocacy group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  They tested for two common toxins (formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane) in shampoos, soaps, lotions, and other bathroom products for babies.  The results of the test are pretty scary.

1,4 Dioxane, an actual carcinogen, does not belong anywhere near my children.  My kids don’t go around drinking shampoo, but they do sometimes playfully drink the bathwater.  According to the CSC, 1,4 Dioxane is an easily preventable toxin, and it’s completely banned in several countries.  Whether this report was responsible (and I’ll get to why it might not be), I wonder why our government has been so stubbornly slow about keeping toxins out of toys and baby products.  Please, get with the program, Uncle Sam.

As for this report, I have my doubts that it was conducted fairly.  For instance, the report should have stated that every single tested product was determined to have safe levels of formaldehyde.  It’s been determined that any exposure below 2,000 parts per million are not harmful.  If you look at the details of the report, there weren’t any products that tested greater than 650 ppm, and most were far less than that.  In my opinion, it shows that the products are safe.  Don’t get me wrong – I would certainly be happy if formaldehyde was completely removed from baby soaps, but not at the expense of some other danger such as mold or bacteria.  The soap companies explain that the trace level of toxins are an unfortunate result of other ingredients that are meant to make the products more gentle and free of bacteria.

Another red flag is that the testing does not seem to be uniform.  Some products were tested for both toxins, and some for only one.  Many of the products were only tested once, which indicates a failure to control for anomalies.  Even more disconcerting, the original research is not available to be peer reviewed, as far as I know.

In addition, the CSC report has raised a red flag with me because they insist that all of the products, even the ones that tested negative for both toxins, are still dangerous.  It seems a little unfair to test various products for two known toxins, but then insist that parents ignore the products that tested negative.  This tells me that the organization had an unfair agenda and created a test that was impossible to pass.

I guess I’m on the fence about this.  I could really use some reinforcements from my readers who might be chemists.  Anybody have informed arguments against this report, or am I justified in being concerned, yet skeptical?

I’ve sent some questions to Campaign for Safe Cosmetics that address some of the questions I brought up here.  Check back for updates.

Toxins In The News 1/28/09

January 28, 2009

TOXINS!!!  They are the plague of my existence.

Bisphenol-A – The estrogen-like chemical in your toddler’s sippy cup and also lining cans of infant formula probably lingers in your body longer than originally thought.

Or does it?  A weak preliminary study by University of Rochester researcher Richard Stahlhut showed that participants who fasted did not completely eliminate BPA from their bodies.  He also showed the world how to conduct a poor study because he did not control for BPA content in the beverages (such as diet soda or tap water).  What was the point of this study again?

Hint:  if you are worried about BPA, and I don’t blame you if you are, BPA-Free bottles and sippy cups are nearly ubiquitous these days… even among the common brands.

Thimerosal – The bad boy toxin of the antivaccine militia, thimerosal has been slandered up and down the blogosphere.  And, why shouldn’t it?  Who wants their baby to be injected with vaccines that contain mercury?  Except, the microquantities of ethylmercury (not methylmercury) are not damaging, and have never been proven to be harmful.  Speaking of proof, a new study in the journal Pediatrics looked at a sample of individuals who had participated in previous research on the pertussis vaccine.  The individuals from the previous study were recently tested for neurological damage, and beyond some expected statistical noise, there was no evidence that thimerosal harmed them.

Hint:  If you are worried about thimerosal, even though you shouldn’t be worried, just know that it’s been removed from childhood vaccines for several year now.  You can request a thimerosal-free flu vaccine from any pediatrician, and your request should be honored.

Fishy Science in the News!

September 26, 2008

Does fish oil improve the test scores of children? Well, it seemed that way to Durham County in England until Dr. Ben Goldacre had a look at the claim.  Apparently, this county administered Omega-3 fish oil pills to 3000 children.  A third of those children improved their test scores that year.  But Goldacre points out that there wasn’t a control group of children who didn’t take the pills.  It seems like a picky thing, but science is only as good as it’s method, and without a control group, we don’t know whether the students’ scores had a boost from other reasons.

Does fish given in infancy reduce the incidence of eczema? Researchers from University of Gothenberg and Queen Silvia’s Chilren’s Hospital performed a prospective cohort study on 5000+ families in Sweden and found that fish in the diet seems to reduce the incidence of eczema by 24%.  Another significant (and unusual) find the media ignored in their headlines was that families with pet birds were 65% less likely to have children with eczema.

This was an observational study based on questionnaires, which can be faulty due to a variety of reasons.  The study does not and can not explain how or why these statistical blips occured, so further testing needs to be done to see whether the interpretations actually fit the statistical observations of the study.