Human health risks from oil pipeline spills

October 9, 2011

Oil pipelines have been in the news a lot this past year, between the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and various publicized oil spills. Potential human health effects of these spills are one of the concerns frequently raised, so I’m going to take a fairly high-level look at the potential risks here. Environmental effects are a separate topic that I’ll hopefully get to in the future.

First off, to have a human health risk, you have to have a few conditions met. The first is obviously that you have to have a potentially harmful chemical. Since any chemical, whether natural or synthetic, is potentially harmful at some dose, that one is kind of a given. The second condition is that chemical must get to where humans can be exposed. The third is that humans have to be exposed to enough of the chemical to have a potential for adverse health effects.

When oil is inside a pipeline there isn’t really any potential for exposure. So what happens when oil is released during a pipeline rupture?

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Cell phones and cancer – revisited

July 4, 2011

ResearchBlogging.orgA few weeks ago the classification of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF, the radiation from cell phones) as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) made headlines. At the time, my position was that it is hard to draw conclusions from a press release, but that given the criteria for classification as a possible human carcinogen, the information in the press release and the data available in the scientific literature I didn’t see a need to panic.

Now more technical information about the IARC evaluation is available, published in the Lancet; while it still isn’t the full IARC technical monograph (which we probably won’t see for several months at least) it does provide a bit more insight into the basis for the IARC classification. At virtually the same time, another analysis of the same data by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) Standing Committee on Epidemiology has been published, which concluded that “the accumulating evidence is increasingly against the hypothesis that mobile phone use can cause brain tumours in adults.” Which of these two apparently conflicting conclusions should we believe? Read the rest of this entry »

Measuring mercury exposure (and why provoked urine testing is the wrong way to do it)

February 18, 2011

A commenter by the name of “Robin” asked for information on mercury toxicity a while back due to her husband having reported high mercury levels. My workload is finally getting close enough to being under control that I can tackle this. However, it’s a complicated topic with a few different aspects. Before I actually get into some of the effects of mercury, I think a bit of context is important. So for this first post I’m going to talk about how mercury exposure is measured and how to know if mercury levels really are elevated. I’ll follow that up with some future posts (hopefully within the next week or so) about where this mercury exposure is coming from, and what the effects can be [Update: part 2 on some causes of high mercury levels is here, and part 3 on the different types of mercury is here]. Some of the concepts in this post build on an earlier entry on measuring chemicals in blood and urine.

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