Southern Utah News Articles
A Doctor's Opinion
As a local physician, who will be affected by this coal gasification facility, I would like to present an expert opinion of the biologic effects of burning organic matter at temperatures greater than 1000°. Three things, with potentially toxic consequences, happen under these conditions:
1. Oxygen is forced to combine with various organic elements producing CO2, CO, SO2, and NOx. These chemicals in themselves are unstable and become free radicals, which means that they seek other chemicals with which to react. These other reactants are commonly normal proteins within a cell like enzymes and DNA and in the process of these reactions those normal, healthy elements become impaired.
2. When organic material, especially coal, is subjected to high temperatures various entrapped heavy metals are released, including mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium. These atoms are so large and so heavy that they literally act like a rock and sink the normal processes of metabolism.
3. Carbons, again subjected to high temperatures, form unusual bonds and configurations producing novel elements like benzene, toluene and dioxins. These elements exist nowhere else in nature and so biologic systems have no way to metabolize or process them.
The fact that burning coal and other organic substrate produces toxins is not particularly controversial, that is agreed upon by all observers, including the proponents of this project. Again, unquestionably, this facility will produce toxic emissions. The debate and controversy comes when we talk about the dose of toxic emissions that human biologic systems can sustain, or that this community is willing to tolerate. Viresco claims they have a clean-burning system that will deliver a lower dose of the above list of toxins to us individually and to our community collectively. Suffice it to say this claim needs to be substantiated with careful independent documentation.
I would like to return to the point of dosing of toxic substances to biologic systems. In this regard I would like to make three points:
Point 1. The medical and biological literature is clearly moving toward the conclusion that there is no minimum level of safe toxic exposure.
In other words, every molecule of toxin damages biological systems. The reason for this conclusion is that current cell and systems biology has moved beyond simply looking at structural elements and has moved into signaling in communication systems. We are now well versed in the concept that healthy biologic physiology requires not only structural elements, but also chemical signaling between those elements.
Examples of biologic signaling include hormones (distant messaging), ecosinoids (local messaging), epigenetic phenomenon, and neurotransmitters.
Many of our new modern medicines affect biologic signaling and not biologic structure. The reason for this is that energetic signals are much easier to influence and change than are fixed structures.
Unfortunately, this is even truer for toxic exposures. Molecular signaling is extraordinarily more sensitive to the effects of toxic exposure than is fixed structure. The EPA and the DAQ are political entities that have a considerable amount of inertia build into their bureaucracy and therefore are decades behind this medical research. Their toxic exposure guidelines are antiquated and cannot be used to evaluate toxic dosage risks.
An example of the evolution of this thinking is clearly seen with the history of lead toxicity. For centuries lead was considered an inert substance and was used freely in ceramics and piping. Then an observant pathologist noticed, while doing autopsies on dead people, that they had large lead accumulations on their bones and surmised that this may have contributed to their death. New laws and restrictions were placed upon the use of lead in our immediate environment.
Then in the 1970s, we observed children who are anemic also had measurable lead in their blood. When we tracked down the source of the lead, we found during the housing boom in the 1950s, lead-based paints were used and now peeling off. Children were getting exposed to that lead. More laws and restrictions were placed upon environmental lead exposure. These new maximum acceptable blood levels prevented structural change like bone abnormalities in anemia, but they did not prevent energetic, signaling, and messaging functions, in this case of the brain.
Our children were still getting exposed to trace quantities of volatile lead, tracked to lead in gasoline, and that subtle exposure was causing measurable decreases in children’s IQ. We now have a zero lead tolerance; the correct blood level is 0.00.
Point 2. Burning of coal and other organic substrates in the type of facility proposed occurs at extreme temperatures and only the most durable, essentially indestructible elements survive. These extreme conditions that went into the production of these toxins will never occur naturally.
Therefore, toxic elements once produced will never be removed from the environment. Instead, toxic emissions continue to accumulate in biologic systems and in the environment every day they are produced and can never be removed. These toxins will persist for an eternity, literally, until the earth passes away.
This point is rarely presented in the proposals and fact sheets from industrial developers, but it is not a small point. In fact it constitutes the major burden we have endured from previous industrial efforts. There is a plethora of examples of toxins that were negligible at the time of production, but accumulated to consequential levels over time.
We can start with the R&D on nuclear weapons that occurred in the 1950s. The people in this community, so-called downwinders, are still paying the biologic price now a half a century later. Carbon burning started in the New England states and the sulfur and nitrate oxides were initially thought to be relatively innocuous; however, they did not go away and were washed back into the soil in the form of acid rain. The New England states were almost deforested because of that effect.
Hydrocarbon fertilizer seemed like a good thing for our food industry in the heartland, but even as they were washed away, they did not go away and produced large death zone areas in the Gulf of Mexico. Smoking one cigarette never killed anybody, but the cadmium from that first cigarette will still be in the person’s body when he does die from his 10,000th cigarette.
Point 3. Having drawn a very hard zero tolerance line in the sand with regard to the dosing of toxic substances, I nevertheless acknowledge that we voluntarily expose ourselves to toxins when we perceive that there will be a greater benefit. We all recognize car crashes can kill; yet our modern lifestyle requires we drive them every day.
Everything we do requires careful risk versus benefit analysis. I do risk-benefit analysis every day in my profession. The substances, which I prefer to call therapeutic medicines, which I prescribe, all have toxicities. It is my job to be sure the benefits of these substances far outweigh their toxicities. So I would ask, “What is the true benefit of this proposed facility?” A handful of jobs and a few hotel reservations by visiting scientists do not seem to justify the stimulus grant money of billions of dollars that has gone into developing this facility.
Mr. Guthrie has told us what the benefit of his efforts will be, the development of patents that will allow him to build larger money making facilities in other locations. I remind you this is a research and development facility. I know how to do research and development because every medicine I prescribe has been extensively researched and developed.
In medicine R&D, the first step is to get your basic science done, the second step is to get a bunch of lab rats. You then give your toxin to the lab rats and if they die you feel sorry, but move on to the next experimental drug.
Occasionally the new drug does show some benefit, in which case the substance is taken away from the lab rats and moved on to the third step, which is testing in humans where the benefit will be accrued. Therefore, it is the lot of the lab rat to take on all the toxicity of the research substance without ever being able to receive any of the benefit.
We as individuals and this community collectively are being asked to be the lab rats for Viresco and Mr. Guthrie. We are being asked to absorb all of the toxicity of Mr. Guthrie’s R&D efforts and we are guaranteed to never receive any of the benefit. The risk benefits analysis does not even begin to add up for me and I resent being Viresco’s lab rat. So I am asking you in your capacity to block further development of this ill-conceived project.