By Michael J. Bennett, Author of “The Asbestos Racket”
God – or Mother Nature – aren’t political ideologues or bad poets, and cancer isn’t the price we pay for capitalism or a metaphor for our sins.
Perhaps the best example is the fact that survivors of the Nagasaki bombing are living longer and having less cancer than their contemporaries. Great poets such as John Donne are being proven by science to have a much greater understanding of the causes of cancer than anyone other than Paracelsus, the founder of modern medicine.
“Everything is a poison, nothing is a poison, the dose alone makes the poison,” Paracelsus said in the 16th century. And he might have added, sometimes the poison, in small enough doses, can be the cure. God- or nature- does not make himself or herself known through simplistic metaphors such as those found on greeting cards rather than the ironic, paradoxical and ambiguous imagery of great poets such as Donne.
Malcolm Ross is the U.S. Geological Survey expert primarily responsible for exposing the shoddy scientific basis for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation of asbestos. Recently retired after 42 years of service, he surveyed the scientific literature on the causes of cancer and came up with several “believe it or not but they’re all true” findings. Perhaps the remarkable comes from the experience of survivors of Nagasaki, the atomic bombing considered by some the great American sin of the century.
There is now substantial evidence that low levels of radon exposure, which EPA is trying to alarm people about through radio and television ads, is actually protective. Radon is a radioactive gas sometimes found in homes. But, according to T. D. Luckey in an article, “is EPA a Carcinogen?,” published in The Health Physics Society Newsletter of Nov., 1993, there is an inverse relationship between lung cancer rates and radon levels in homes -the more radiation, the less cancer.
“Indeed, low levels of ionizing or ultraviolet radiation induce bent DNA repair mechanisms that appear to repair both radiation-induced spontaneous lesions in the DNA,” R.C. Von Borstel wrote in Science, vol. 266, pg. 1144. “In every case, life expectancy is higher and cancer mortality is greater for the exposed populations than for control and general populations. As an example, radiation protection is found in the survivors of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, the survivors having a greater life expectancy and lower cancer incidence than those who were not exposed to A-bomb radiation.”
However, because this kind of scientifically confirmed information isn’t spread either by government agencies or the media, Ross observed, more than $2.5 billion was wasted on asbestos removal in 1943 alone. “This nefarious activity has cost this nation 50 or more billion dollars,” Ross wrote, “has depreciated commercial buildings by one trillion dollars, and has increased, not decreased risk of injury or death, both from increased exposure to asbestos dusts and on the job accidents by the abatement workers.”
EPA’s efforts, again, to get people to remove lead-based paint homes, “could be even more dangerous,” in terms of health, Ross has warned. EPA, as in the case of radon, is using advertising rather than regulation, and panicking people into using incompetent or greedy contractors. “Children could be subjected to acute lead poisoning through inhalation of paint dust generated by sloppy abatement,” Ross wrote. “Generally, the old lead paint should be sealed and then covered with a new lead-free coating. Contractors are promoting lead paid removal in homes and thus far EPA has not advised against this action which can clearly endanger the health of young children.”
Those who want advice from EPA and the media would be better of with Donne’s abjuration to:
“Go and catch a falling star
Get with child a mandrake root…
Teach me to hear mermaids’ singing.”
For it was Donne, after all, who wrote perhaps the greatest poem about the mystery – and paradox – of death itself?
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou an not so….
One short sleep, we awake eternally,
And death shall be no more:
Death, thou shalt die.”
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