|The Week That Was
Sept. 18, 2004
1. New on the Web: WITH SCARE STORIES RAMPANT ABOUT THE RISKS OF X-RAY SCANS, THE OBSERVATIONS BY DR GERALD LOONEY ON RADIATION HORMESIS ARE MOST TIMELY. He has also replied to stories in the WSJ and NYT (see below) , both based on reports from Columbia University.
2. STUDY CITES RISKS OF FULL-BODY SCANS
3. THE DIM REALITIES OF A HYDROGEN ECONOMY
4. KERRY'S ETHANOL PLAN IS CORNY
5. HURRICANE HYPE
6. COLD RAISES HEART ATTACK RISK FOR HYPERTENSIVES
7. THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LAYS A GLOBAL WARMING EGG
8. AG LAWSUIT UPDATE
2. Study Cites Risks Of Full-Body Scans
Each year, thousands of people with no symptoms of disease undergo whole-body computed tomography scans -- called CT or CAT scans -- often without the knowledge of their primary doctor. The aim is to check the body for any cancerous tumors or cardiovascular conditions even before symptoms arise, in order to start treatment as early as possible.
In a finding that may further fuel the debate over the wisdom of elective
whole-body CT scans, researchers from Columbia University say the radiation
from these increasingly popular screenings could increase a person's risk
of death from cancer.
** Survivors of the 1945 bombings received doses ranging from 5 to 50 milliSieverts (mSv), with a mean dosage of 20, according to the study.
** Researchers said the effective dose for one full-body CT scan, which uses rotating X-rays to create images, would be 12 mSv; that's equivalent to an estimated 600 conventional chest X-rays, or about 100 mammograms.
** Americans already get about 3.6 milliSieverts a year from natural resources but last year, some 57 million CT scans were performed in the United States, including thousands of whole-body scans, according to the American College of Radiology.
Critics says the new study has its limits, for in comparing Japanese bomb survivors with the general U.S. population, researchers are assessing two geographically and ethnically different populations, with different genetic make-ups.
Source: Christopher Windham "Study Cites Risks of Full-Body Scans,"
Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2004; and David J. Brenner and Carl D.
Elliston, "Estimated Radiation Risks Potentially Associated with
Full-Body CT Screening,"
Letter to WSJ
Although I have been a physician for four decades, I am writing this letter as a patient and cancer survivor. This latter status would not be possible without a recent death-depriving CT Total Body Scan (TBS).
Originally, I had shared the politically correct professional view that TBS is a gimmick and fad that offers much financial reward to the scan providers, but little medical reward to the consumers of these services. However, when I was due for colonoscopy, I decided to learn for myself what this new technology had to offer, so I scheduled a TBS including virtual colonoscopy. I was shocked the next morning when the radiologist reading the scan urgently called me to report that I had a 5cm mass in my left kidney, most likely a cancer. This completely asymptomatic renal cell carcinoma was confirmed on further scans and ultrasound imaging which showed no sign of metastasis, and was successfully removed endoscopically within the month, with no need for chemotherapy or irradiation.
Since then, I have reviewed my records and experiences with several radiologists, and they have decided to get a TBS for themselves within the near future. Thus, even though I am sure these authors would consider me and my case insignificant and anecdotal, I find growing opposition to Brenner and Elliston's cavalier assertion that there is no evidence of TBS effectiveness in finding hidden disease. Furthermore, I am amazed that these Columbia University researchers would compound their error by using one of the greatest scientific frauds of the past century, the Linear No-threshold (LNT) hypothesis of radiation exposure risk, to indict this new technology as carcinogenic.
If the LNT were indeed true, then life on earth would have succumbed billions of years ago instead of surviving and spreading all over this globe during much higher background levels and cosmic radiation spikes far surpassing today's multiple X-rays and CT scans, and even atomic-bomb exposures. If grade-school students can immediately grasp this simple but profound fact, why is it perennially incomprehensible to graduate students and medical faculty as well as government regulators?
Gerald Looney, MD, MPH Irvine, CA
Reckless Full-Body Medical Scans
Nobody seems quite sure how many Americans get the full-body scans each year. The number is believed to mount into the tens of thousands or conceivably hundreds of thousands. The scans are performed mostly at freestanding clinics that have sprung up to promote the procedure. They can cost more than $1,000 and are seldom covered by insurance, so the clients are presumably affluent or so concerned about hidden disease that they will pay.
The scans are supposed to detect early signs of lung cancer, colon cancer and coronary artery disease, among other ailments, thus allowing for timely treatment. But the evidence that they are effective is mostly anecdotal. No scientific studies have yet shown a health or life-saving benefit, and there is controversy among experts over a high false-positive rate that forces patients to undergo needless further tests. The Food and Drug Administration and the American College of Radiology, among other expert groups, oppose full-body scans in people who have no symptoms of disease
A study published in May by Yale University researchers found that radiologists and emergency room physicians were largely unaware of how much radiation the scans delivered, and now a study by Columbia University researchers highlights the risk of dying from radiation-induced cancer. A single full-body scan delivers a radiation dose nearly 100 times that of a screening mammogram and only slightly lower than the dose received by atomic bomb survivors a mile and a half from the burst sites. That's not a huge added risk (only a 1-in-1,250 risk of dying from cancer), but people worried about hidden disease would presumably want repeated, regular screenings. Full-body scans administered annually for 30 years starting at age 45 could cause one cancer death in every 50 patients, the new study estimates. That is a disturbingly high risk for a procedure of dubious benefit.
Letter to the NEW YORK TIMES
Since my opinion is diametrically opposed to your Editorial on Sept. 6 and its purported expert source, I hope you will print this letter to allow your readers to judge for themselves.
This is a saga of one household and two patients, one who followed your editorial advice, and one who ignored and disobeyed it. The adherent dies while a disbeliever who chooses "reckless FBS" survives, disproving your glib assertion that "FBS to scan healthy individuals for hidden disease have never been shown to be effective."
However, this error pales in comparison to your next bald-faced assertion that "the scans may be harmful. A new study finds that the scans impart radiation doses comparable to those received by atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing a small but significant increase in the risk of cancer." This tempest in a teapot is purely the result of a faulty teapot, the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) hyPOThesis, a precautionary theoretical concept that never should have been accepted, much less followed blindly, even as exculpatory evidence for safe low-level radiation exposure grew steadily.
Fortunately, nature has always ignored the LNT, which says that life
should have quickly died on the vine, and LNT adherents who believe that
only their meaningless protective nostrums and machinations are saving
man from nuclear annihilation. Somehow, even the FDA and American College
of Radiology have forgotten the ancient medical dictum, Primum Non Nocere,
and have helped produce a nuclear phobia afflicting not only individual
patients, but entire professions and nations. Further discussion of this
issue can be found at:
Gerald L. Looney, MD, MPH
Some policymakers see the eventual switch to hydrogen-powered cars as inevitable, and the Bush administration has allocated $1.7 billion to the development of automotive hydrogen fuel cells for commercial use by 2020. But the road to hydrogen dependence is a bumpy one:
** Steam reformers, which are used to break down natural gas into hydrogen and CO2 molecules, are only about 85 percent efficient; 15 percent of energy in natural gas is lost during the process.
** It costs about $5 to produce enough hydrogen equivalent to the energy potential of one gallon of gasoline.
** Hydrogen's low density would require 21 tanker trucks to haul the amount of energy delivered by a single gasoline truck today, and a hydrogen tanker traveling 500 kilometers would use an amount of hydrogen equaling 40 percent of its cargo.
** At room temperature, hydrogen takes up 3,000 times more space as an energy-equivalent amount of gasoline, therefore, compressed or liquefied gas must be used in vehicle tanks; but tanks on today's hydrogen vehicles take up to eight times as much space as a normal gas tank to store an equivalent amount of fuel.
Furthermore, the necessary infrastructure to fuel about 40 percent of American car would cost about $500 billion.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions if the hydrogen is produced through electric power plants that burn fossil fuels. But using solar or wind power to generate hydrogen is expensive; indeed, solar power still costs 10 times more than coal, in spite of its cost declining substantially over 20 years.
Source: Robert F. Service, "The Hydrogen Backlash," Science,
Aug 13, 2004.
A new study finds that major applications for hydrogen envisioned in hydrogen-economy scenarios could be more efficiently accomplished with technologies that use electricity directly. It concludes that in key roles envisioned for hydrogen as an energy carrier -- namely transmission of remote renewable resources, storage of intermittent renewables or for use in vehicles -- electricity offers options that are more energy-efficient and might preclude mass-scale emergence of hydrogen technologies.
The study -- Carrying the Energy Future: Comparing Hydrogen and Electricity for Transmission, Storage and Transportation - was issued by the Institute for Lifecycle Environmental Assessment and was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It found that energy penalties incurred in manufacturing hydrogen place it at a competitive disadvantage compared with electricity. "The first and most important understanding about the proposed hydrogen energy system is that hydrogen is not an energy source," say study authors Patrick Mazza and Roel Hammerschlag. "It is an energy storage medium and carrier. And like the only other commonplace energy carrier --electricity -- hydrogen must be made."
The study compares the actual energy available when hydrogen and electricity carriers are employed and finds that electricity delivers substantially greater end-use energy. Advocates of hydrogen portray it as a means to transmit abundant renewable energy resources located distant from markets, such as sunlight in the Southwestern U.S. or wind in the Great Plains region. Electricity generated in solar panels or wind turbines would be converted to hydrogen via electrolysis, a process that uses electrical current to break the bonds of hydrogen and oxygen in water. Electricity would be recovered through electrochemical reactions generated when hydrogen and oxygen join in a fuel cell. However, when energy penalties are taken into account, says the study, only 45 - 55% of original energy remains compared to 92% if transmitted as electricity. Therefore, electrical transmission provides roughly twice the end-use energy.
The study concludes that even though the use of hydrogen as clean vehicle fuel is the most prominent of its foreseen uses, relative inefficiencies of hydrogen compared with direct electricity play out in vehicle technology too. "Using electricity to charge electric vehicles (EVs) provides twice the miles per kWh than employing electricity to make hydrogen fuel," says Mazza. "While conventional wisdom has it that the EV is a technological dead-end, hobbled by limited range and extended recharging times, advanced battery technologies could substantially extend ranges and meet the needs of a more substantial share of the market than is commonly understood. Lithium ion batteries developed for portable electronics are now working in prototype EVs that go nearly 250 miles between charges."
The study distinguishes between hydrogen and fuel cells. While a hydrogen fuel system is hindered by multiple inefficiencies, fuel cells can form an important part of highly efficient systems that convert biofuels or fossil fuels to electricity. Fuel cells can operate as stationary electrical generators, potentially at significantly higher efficiencies than central power stations or other distributed generators. Emergence of a substantial fuel cell market is in no way conditioned on mass application in vehicles or development of a hydrogen network. The study recommends that hydrogen and electricity advocates focus on complementary development that can support both pathways. This includes rapid expansion of renewables, improvement in hybrid vehicle technology, vehicle-to-grid applications that employ parked vehicles as grid energy storage, and development of biomass supplies from which liquid vehicle fuels and hydrogen can be made.
Source: Power Engineering, August 2004
SEPP Comment: Keep your eye on the development of fuel cells that
can use methane or methanol directly to generate electric power.
** Ethanol production would require U.S. farmers to plant an additional 850 million acres of corn, which would require more cropland. [1.3 million square miles , to be exact]
** Since the United States doesn't have enough cropland to support 850 million acres, wetlands and forests would have to be converted into farmland, which would destroy wildlife habitats.
** Last year, American farmers harvested the largest corn crop ever, but even so, it was not enough to meet the worldwide demand for livestock feed; moreover, the demand is expected to triple by 2050.
** The only potential cropland for growing corn is in Brazil, but Brazil would profit from ethanol while taxpayers pay billions of tax dollars, and American farmers would continue to grow the same amount of corn.
Source: Dennis Avery, "Croplands Can't Support Ethanol Push,"
The Myrtle Beach Sun-News, August 26, 2004.
Florida prepares for devastation as global warming comes home to Bush's America
By Andrew Buncombe in Palm Beach, Florida
Hurricane Frances - a vast storm the size of Texas - yesterday began to hit the Florida coastline, bringing 100mph winds and torrential tropical rain.
But a US government body admits -- despite President George Bush's refusal to join international action to combat global warming -- that it is likely to be only a foretaste of things to come as the climate changes.
[...] experts are getting increasingly worried. Last month beat all previous
US records for big hurricanes and tornadoes, and equalled them for tropical
One of the world's leading authorities predicted two more
big hurricanes before November's presidential election. And things are
expected to get worse as global warming takes hold....
Some experts attribute the increased [hurricane] activity to global warming,
but others say it's just part of natural cycles.
With two major hurricanes hitting Florida in quick succession, with another
on the way, the global-warming loonies might start pointing to these events
as "another sign of global warming. In that event, the following
link might be useful:
A two-year study at the University of Burgundy (France) looked at 748 people admitted to local hospitals with heart attacks. Of those, 50% were suffering from high blood pressure. Heart attacks doubled for them when temperatures were below 38 degF or when temperature dropped by more than 9 degF on the day of the attack. The mechanism is thought to be a narrowing of blood vessels during cold weather
The report did not speculate about the effects of global warming , which is expected to reduce the diurnal temperature range by mostly raising night-time and winter temperatures.
Another hazard of colder weather, better known, is increasing deaths
from influenza and pneumonia.
7. The National Geographic Lays An Egg (on Global Warming)
Wm Allen , editor-in chief of NG, in his letter ("The Scientific Approach," Wash Times 9/17) attacking the Commentary (9/7) by Prof Patrick J Michaels, states that the NG "meticulously" researched for four years its super-hyped Sept cover story "Global Warming." He claims that "the preponderance of scientific evidence worldwide overwhelmingly proves the planet is heating up..." Just the opposite is true, however. In two peer-reviewed research papers published in the July 9 issue of Geophysical Research Letters (with Michaels as coauthor), we showed that out of four data sets, three show no significant global warming. Advocates of Global Warming simply ignore all contrary evidence --hardly a "scientific approach."
In the process of disparaging Prof Michaels, Mr Allen makes a great deal of the fact that coal-burning utilities support some of Michaels' work; but does not mention that most of the research support comes from government. Has it ever occurred to Mr Allen that Michaels' views are shaped by the science rather than sources of support? It is ironic that the American Association of Geographers gave its 2003 award for best climate-science paper to Michaels and coauthors. The NG should have discovered this in their "meticulous research."
PS. I am terminating my subscription to the NG and will advise my friends
and colleagues to do likewise.
To SEPP supporters : You are invited to write a comment to Wm Allen
8. AG Lawsuit Update
The Cincinnati Post (July 22) satirizes Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch's statement: "It's imperative that we confront those responsible [electric power companies] for unleashing an invader with the power to wreak unspeakable havoc on our climate, and to damage and destroy our ecosystems"
"Good golly. If fossil-fueled powerplants are that much of a public nuisance, maybe we'd better shut them down right now. That might reduce Rhode Islanders to living off whatever fish they can catch with a net, but it would take care of that invader."