Gone for a week. Vacation. Back. First thing, walked the dogs in the 'hood. Got a half dozen mosquito bites. So I thought the mayor bombed the mosquitos while I was gone. What is up with that? Are there still mosquitos where you live?
Also just back from vacation, next thing, after the dogs, was Steve Blow, the aw-shucks columnist on The Dallas Morning News local news page. He had a column equating people who worry about chemicals in the mosquito spray to the West Texas guy who said he was afraid UN troops would invade Lubbock if Obama got reelected and Todd Akin, the Missouri Senatorial candidate who believes women can squeeze their vaginas tight enough to kill the sperm of rapists.
"You would think it was napalm those planes were laying down," Blow wrote, "not the same stuff trucks have been spraying for years."
The headline over his column referred to all of the people he was talking about as "lunatic fringe." Of course, it caught my eye, since I'm one of them -- not the vagina squeezers but the spray worriers. I wrote about the spray compounds and chemical health hazards several times before leaving town.
It so happens that on the same day Blow was calling people lunatics for worrying about chemical exposure, The New York Times published two pieces that went directly to the concerns I have been writing about -- growing scientific evidence that autism and other brain-related disorders may be tied to chemicals that affect the immune system.
The first was a column by Nicholas Kristof, about substances called endocrine disruptors, a type of chemical that is an important element in both the spray from trucks and the different spray from the airplanes to which we have been exposed in Dallas. Before I left town I reported on the presence of piperonyl butoxide, an endocrine disruptor, in the bug spray the mayor bombed us with from the mosquito planes. Kristof was talking about a better-known one, bisphenol-A, or BPA, used in plastic containers.
Both do the same thing. They are a monkey wrench thrown into an animal's immune system. In the case of the pesticides, it's a deliberate monkey wrench so the target animal can't mount a defense against the killing element in the pesticide. Unfortunately, scientists suspect it may work the same way on non-target animals, like us. In BPA, the effect on immune systems is an unintended side effect.
Research published in top peer-reviewed journals is reporting hard links between minute, even infinitesimal exposures of pregnant animals to these substances and what researchers believe are core elements of autism. An alarming discussion of how all of this this may work is in the second piece I found in the Sunday review section of the Times yesterday.
That piece discusses a growing body of research linking autism, attention deficit and other disorders to immune system problems during pregnancy. Scientists, noting that autism is nonexistent in Third World societies, are beginning to wonder if we may be doing it to ourselves by knocking out our own immune systems with pharmaceuticals. Far be it from me to suggest that I personally have any answers. If I remember correctly, one piece of advice I did offer in what I wrote before I left town was that people not go to journalists for answers to problems like these, to which I might now add local politicians.
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But to suggest that it's wacky or "lunatic" to be curious and alert is just ... what can I say? Stupid. I was on KNON this morning at 7 a.m. doing my wildly insanely dangerously popular Monday morning radio show, also called "Get Off My Lawn," and a caller asked me if we should just let people die of West Nile.
No. Yes. Maybe. I don't know. That's not the question. The aerial spraying doesn't kill all the mosquitos. Other methods, like treating stagnant water, do kill a lot of mosquitos. Is the incremental amount of protection from aerial spraying worth the risks and unknowns from chemical exposure?
These are some more questions I have: Did anybody in the mayor's office even investigate the research on endocrine disruptors? Is there a single person on the mayor's staff who is familiar with the term?
And then this question: Was Howdy Doody not really a goofy marionette on a popular 1950s children's television show but in fact as conspiracists have suggested a little boy disguised as a puppet and did he leave show business and grow up and become Steve Blow? That could answer a whole bunch of questions for me.