Tuesday Reads: West, Texas; Boston; Biohazards; and Erosion of Constitutional Rights

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Good Morning!!

I thought I’d start this morning’s post with something beautiful before I get to the news of the day. I came across these amazing photos of birds yesterday–a nice reminder that the natural world can nourish us emotionally and provide respite from startling events and frustrating news that surrounds us in the supposedly “civilized” world of humans.
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Now some news…

The fertilizer plant disaster in West, Texas is still under-reported. From what I can tell from following the story on twitter though, people are hurting down there and really need help. Here are a couple of updates I found this morning.

From CBS in Dallas: West Fertilizer Plant Explosion Cause Could Take Several Weeks to Determine

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is investigating the blast along with the Texas State Fire Marshal.

State records reportedly show the West Fertilizer plant had a yearly capacity of 2,400 tons of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate.

So far, according to the ATF the only possible contributory cause that has been eliminated from consideration is the weather.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers arrived on scene Monday to assist investigators in assessing the 93 by 10 foot crater.

On Monday, the U.S. Homeland Security Department said The West Fertilizer Co. facility isn’t currently regulated under a department program that’s designed to reduce the risk of terrorism at certain high-risk chemical facilities.

CBS-11 has learned Homeland Security is now looking into whether the facility should have submitted paperwork about the chemicals stored at the plant to determine if it should be regulated.

The Christian Science Monitor says, Smoking gun in West, Texas, fertilizer blast: lack of government oversight

Although the cause of the blast is still undetermined, what is clear is that the West Fertilizer Company stored large quantities of highly reactive products, including anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, in the middle of a small town with very little oversight from state or federal agencies. Ammonium nitrate was used by the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 1995, killing 168 people. The West, Texas, explosion killed 14, and injured nearly 200.

Texas does not have an occupational safety and health program that meets federal requirements. The federalOccupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is therefore responsible for ensuring the safety of potentially dangerous workplaces like the West facility.

OSHA has inspected the West plant exactly once in the company’s 51-year history. That 1985 inspection detected multiple “serious” violations of federal safety requirements for which the company paid a grand total of $30 in fines. OSHA’s 1992 process-safety-management standard for highly hazardous chemicals is supposed to protect against disasters like the West explosion, but it wasn’t in place for that inspection.

Regardless, OSHA lacks the resources to undertake the kind of comprehensive inspection needed to ensure compliance with the process safety standard at small facilities like West Fertilizer Company. OSHA’s tiny staff of around 2,400 inspectors is spread so thin that it would take more than 90 years to conduct even cursory inspections of all eligible workplaces in Texas.

That’s pretty horrifying. I have to wonder how many other fertilizer plants like this one are out there like ticking time bombs.

Common Dreams calls attention to another horror story that affects all of us. “You and Your Family Are Guinea Pigs for the Chemical Corporations: How Americans Became Exposed to Biohazards in the Greatest Uncontrolled Experiment Ever Launched”

A hidden epidemic is poisoning America. The toxins are in the air we breathe and the water we drink, in the walls of our homes and the furniture within them. We can’t escape it in our cars. It’s in cities and suburbs. It afflicts rich and poor, young and old. And there’s a reason why you’ve never read about it in the newspaper or seen a report on the nightly news: it has no name — and no antidote.

The culprit behind this silent killer is lead. And vinyl. And formaldehyde. And asbestos. And Bisphenol A. And polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). And thousands more innovations brought to us by the industries that once promised “better living through chemistry,” but instead produced a toxic stew that has made every American a guinea pig and has turned the United States into one grand unnatural experiment.

Today, we are all unwitting subjects in the largest set of drug trials ever. Without our knowledge or consent, we are testing thousands of suspected toxic chemicals and compounds, as well as new substances whose safety is largely unproven and whose effects on human beings are all but unknown. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself has begun monitoring our bodies for 151 potentially dangerous chemicals, detailing the variety of pollutants we store in our bones, muscle, blood, and fat. None of the companies introducing these new chemicals has even bothered to tell us we’re part of their experiment. None of them has asked us to sign consent forms or explained that they have little idea what the long-term side effects of the chemicals they’ve put in our environment — and so our bodies — could be. Nor do they have any clue as to what the synergistic effects of combining so many novel chemicals inside a human body in unknown quantities might produce.

Read it and weep.

Down in South Carolina, Elizabeth Colbert Busch and disgraced former Governor Mark Sanford met in a debate in the race for the district one congressional seat, and Busch got personal.

Read the rest of this entry »


The LeRoy High School Outbreak: “Conversion Disorder” or Environmental Contaminants?

Aerial view of LeRoy Junior/Senior High School

I know everyone has already heard about the outbreak of tics and verbal outbursts (described in the media as “Tourette’s-like symptoms”) in the small town of LeRoy, New York. I thought I’d pull together some information on the case anyway. I have been skeptical about the diagnoses that have been publicized (“conversion disorder” and “mass hysteria”) since I first heard about it.

The media descriptions of conversion disorder haven’t been particularly accurate or helpful, and now that school and county officials are trying to limit investigations into environmental causes for the outbreak, I’m even more suspicious that these symptoms may be caused by exposure to toxins in the environment.

The LeRoy students began having symptoms in September of last year, meaning they have continued for about four months. Here’s a description of the symptoms from CBS News:

Last fall, 12 teenage girls from LeRoy Junior-Senior High School – located in a town about an hour outside of Buffalo, N.Y. – began to show symptoms similar to those of Tourette’s syndrome, including painful shaking and jerking their necks….

The condition was so bad for at least one of the girls that she has yet to return to school. School and state officials investigated the outbreak and school building for several months, and concluded no known environmental substances or infectious agents were found that could have caused the symptoms in the teens.

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler of the Dent Neurologic Institute in Amherst, NY, has seen a number of the girls and has diagnosed them with “conversion disorder,” which is really just more politically correct name for what Sigmund Freud called hysteria. The term is drawn from the Greek word for “uterus,” and of course mostly females receive the diagnosis. Mechler is claiming the symptoms are a result of stress and the students who are affected may have are unconsciously acting out their anxieties through physical symptoms. He’s calling it “mass hysteria,” because a number of girls reported similar symptoms.

Mechtler said today that the media hype is just making the symptoms worse and that students who have kept to themselves have improved while those who went to the media got worse; and now that the national media is focused on the situation, those who had improved are now having increased symptoms. 

So I guess we should all STFU and leave poor little LeRoy alone, then?

Lots more after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »