Letters for the week of September 4-10, 2002

Extreme sports; extreme propaganda; extreme diets; extreme theories; extreme scents; and you thought the East Bay was a mellow place?

The Kite, Stupid
Great article on an unknown but emerging sport (“Flying High,” Aug. 14). But shouldn’t there have been a photo of a kite? I’m pretty sure most people don’t understand how high-power traction-kiting works. These incredible moves and speeds are possible because of the kite design. The board is just a regular board.

One of the most remarkable aspects of kitesurfing is the exquisite merging of sky and water. The reader misses that if you only show the surfer.
David Wagner, Oakland

Shielding the Truth
Community members have good reason to distrust the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, its owner, the US Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as regards the hauling of Bevatron debris through Berkeley streets and on highways to Richmond and Livermore landfills or the Nevada Test Site (“Berkeley Bevatron Blues,” August 7).

If dangerous radioactive isotopes were not used, why did the lab install twenty-foot-thick concrete shields in the Bevatron to protect employees? What kinds of radioactivity were induced in these concrete shields and their metal reinforcements? If the lab is so sure the debris is nonradioactive, why do landfill operators have to sign that they will not recycle Bevatron metals? An Environmental Impact Review is called for to review this information.

The DOT considers material with less than two million picocuries per kilogram of radioactivity to be nonradioactive and uncontaminated! Despite this current regulation, even weaker transportation regulations are now under consideration by both the DOT and NRC. New regulations are being adopted to relax protections and allow more radioactive waste out into commerce unregulated, e.g., furniture, vehicles, children’s toys, soil concrete, medical devices, and more.

Is it a coincidence that tritium (low-level) was found at the Amito Reservoir, 1.5 miles from the tritium facility, above the Claremont Hotel in census tract 4001 (includes top of Panoramic Hill), and that the incidence of breast cancer in that tract from 1988-1990 was eighteen cases, more than twice the expected rate in the SF Bay Area, cancer capital of the nation? Yet the lab and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tell us those at the Lawrence Hall of Science, only 110 meters away from the tritium stack, need have no concern.

Because of tritium contamination, LBNL qualifies as a Superfund site. It has an EPA Hazard Rating Score of 50.35! Sites with scores as low as 28.5 qualify. However, the EPA made an administrative decision that the DOE need not clean up the tritium contamination. So much for environmental protection.

As for Berkeley’s consultant, Franke, vindicating the lab,, that is not so. Though Franke said there was no evidence to suggest that any individual received a radiation exposure from tritium emissions that exceeded EPA’s maximum allowable dose, there was no evidence of the opposite — that any individual did not receive a radiation exposure that exceeded the maximum allowable. Franke found that the tritium airborne releases were not adequately monitored; that silica gel samples were likely inefficient in catching all the tritiated water in stack effluents; and that the real-time Overhoff monitor presented large uncertainties in the data, making tritium-release estimates unreliable. Thus the adage applies: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Franke reiterated throughout his sixty-page report that further independent studies are needed. Lab apologists ignore all but one line of the entire report.

The community needs comprehensive data on the Bevatron debris so an informed decision can be made regarding the advisability of hauling the waste on our streets and highways. The Precautionary Principle is in order.
Gene Bernardi, Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste, Berkeley

Asthma: It’s Diet
I am 85 years old with a history of asthma since childhood (“Waiting to Inhale,” Aug. 7). Frequent visits — too numerous to remember — to hospital emergency rooms was my lifestyle. But it has been twelve years since my last ER visit.

Asthmatics cannot clear the air of toxins and allergens, but the immune system can be strengthened enough to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. The role of histamine activity in the body, I am told, is to protect against invasion of toxins and allergens. Dehydration causes histamines to cause exaggerated bronchial muscle contractions, thus producing an asthma attack.

By carefully selecting foods and beverages in my diet, I am able to control my asthma. The formula is: Avoid all starches, including cereals and pasta. Drink no soft drinks, milk, or fruit juices; then add a half-teaspoon of salt to an eight-cup container of water and drink it every day. This regimen works for me. The only side effects I have experienced are lower blood pressure, and arthritic pains have gone.
Edgar T. Monk, Richmond

Asthma: It’s Blood Type
I am surprised however how little attention was given to triggers such as perfumes and other chemical fragrances (i.e. detergents, cosmetics, aftershave, etc.). I have had breathing problems from being exposed to these personal products and would imagine that others have as well.

I think certain people are being more affected by pollution, chemicals, and chemical fragrances not because of some inherent “illness,” but because of different physical systems such as blood type and immune response. Some people with highly protective immune systems characterized by the “O” blood type may never get sick, but could be knocked over dead by a chemical, while someone else who gets colds all the time could inhale acetone all day and never feel any breathing problems because their immune system just isn’t responding.
Linda Pomerantz, Sausalito

Asthma: It’s Fragrances
“So why don’t we even know what causes asthma?” Ms. Hung has the answer neatly hidden in two paragraphs: “Gordon can’t use insecticides, certain cleaning products, or perfumes because they trigger her allergies, which in turn could trigger an asthma attack,” and “The first time Sholinbeck visited Letrice, she discussed common triggers for asthma: dust mites, cockroaches, cigarette smoke, mold, and sometimes perfume and cleaning products.”

According to the US EPA, people spend about ninety percent of their time indoors. That agency also stated that indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air and it can become a thousand times more polluted. We must bring the clean-air concept into our own homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals, health-care facilities, doctors’ offices, places of worship, public buildings, meetings, transportation conveyances, etc.

We can make our indoor air cleaner by making wiser decisions. Purchase paints, carpets, adhesives, cleaning and maintenance supplies, and personal care products that emit lower levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Move away from pesticides to safer, least-toxic means of controlling pests. And purchase products that do not contain synthetic scent, innocuously listed on the label as “fragrance.”

The fragrance industry is unregulated and further protected by trade secret laws that do a mighty fine job of shielding the industry from the public’s right to know. Thanks to the industry’s trade-secret status, even one’s astute doctor, who realizes that fragrances are causing asthma and/or other diseases, cannot learn — without benefit of an expensive analysis — of the chemicals used to make fragrances.

The FDA does not regulate the fragrance industry, and cannot test fragrances before marketing; it can’t demand from the industry a list of products that have drawn complaints from users — that information may be voluntarily given. The one thing the FDA can do, it doesn’t do … and that’s to require warning labels on fragrances released to market without adequate testing.

These days, synthetic scents are largely made from petrochemicals. Synthetic scents have become ubiquitous during the past two decades. And what else is significant about these past two decades? Asthma rates, and rates of other chronic illnesses, including cancers, have skyrocketed. Does anyone else just possibly see a hint of a correlation here?

Yes, there is much to be learned about synthetic scents and their role in adverse health events — including asthma!

Visit the Environmental Health Network Web site (www.ehnca.org). We are here to help you avoid the often-preventable disability of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. And along the way, you may find that the “cure” for chronic illnesses — including asthma and cancers — is in the relatively simple act of preventing them.
Barbara Wilkie, Berkeley

Solidarity Forever
Jonathan Kauffman hit the nail on the head in “Foie Gras Follies,” (Kitchen Sink, August 21). pointing out that it is our separation from the cruel and bloody production methods of animal agriculture that allows us to consume the products of that system. While foie gras constitutes an issue of class within the Western context, all meat, dairy, and eggs require massive inputs of nonrenewable resources. By eating at the top of the food chain, we eat gluttonously, taking more than our fair share of the Earth’s resources. While hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken parts may seem to constitute solid proletariat fare, in the context of the world’s populations, they represent zero solidarity.
Alka Chandna, Ph.D., Director, Food & Social Justice Project, San Francisco

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