Thursday, April 15, 2010

Danger Around Us - Plastics & Bombs: from Time Magazine

A couple of interesting pieces from Time lately about two very different threats to public health...

The first was "Environmental Toxins" from the Apr 12 issue... which also contained the iPad and Apple stories I posted on and linked to here.

The toxins piece is by Bryan Walsh and all about the chemicals in plastics and other products we purchase. What it immediately brought to mind for me was my blog post from Feb 2009 on the BPA chemical component in shatterproof plastic (such as yep... baby bottles). The linked to BusinessWeek piece "The Real Story Behind Bisphenol A" was one of the more disconcerting articles I've come across in the last few years of reading BW.

The subheading of this Time article is "chemicals in plastics and other products seem harmless, but mounting evidence links them to health problems — and Washington lacks the power to protect us." To that end, here's a quote in the piece from Walsh...

"If you want to market a new drug, you need to convince the FDA-in multiple tests, over the course of years-that it won't cause serious harm. If you want to sell a new pesticide, you need to prove the same thing. The burden of proof is on the manufacturers to make the grade, and government regulators are the final judge. But if you want to market a new chemical for use in a product-even one that will come into contact with children or pregnant women-it's up to the EPA to prove that it's unsafe, using whatever data are provided by the chemical company, with little power to ask for more."

Not much more to say than that.


The second "danger around us" piece from Time was "Rescuing a Potential Nuke from the Chile Quake" out of the Apr 19 edition.

In it, Eben Harrell recounts a story of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) which is charged with seeking out and securing around the globe sufficient quantities of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to build a nuclear bomb. Specifically, representatives of the agency were in Santiago, Chile to take possession of around 40 lb. of HEU when the magnitude 8.8 quake hit.

From that point, it was quite a tale of speed and alternate action in getting the material and then getting it safely out of the country.

Equally interesting was Harrell's mention of how HEU became so widely disseminated through a mid-1950s program called Atoms for Peace. To whit... HEU was given out to countries that could both prove they would use it for peaceful research (into things like medical isotopes) and would submit to regular inspection of said potential bomb material.

Maybe a good idea, maybe not... but, certainly an interesting one.