September 13, 2011
By September 1, the Risk Monger should have been dead. Chemicals have kept him from dying and now radioactive isotopes are helping to find a way to keep him living. During the time in and out of hospitals, I have been able to reflect on the benefits to society of chemicals and nuclear and I appreciate that NGOs like Greenpeace have not been successful in their campaigns to restrict these scientific technologies.
A personal story: As a long-distance runner, I am used to listening to my body. One day in July, during a hard workout, I did not like what I had heard. I was having a vascular episode and by the third day of increasing hypertensive peaks, I checked into the hospital and let the doctors and machines take over. Having lived with high blood pressure for the last 20 years (a gift from both of my parents), I was aware that something else was at work. They put me on a series of chemicals to stabilize my situation as my peaks were putting me in stroke territory, and we started the search for the cause.
Chemicals are not simply grey smokestacks and Bhopal. The activists who use the media to paste that image in the public mind are not chemists (and are not responsible). At a basic level, everything is made of chemicals. The average meal contains around 10,000 different chemicals, creating cocktail effects that give us energy and sustain life. As they are natural chemicals, we don’t pay much attention to them, but many natural chemicals are indeed carcinogenic or pathogenic. All chemicals can be toxic, but it is the dose that makes the poison (and most doses are far from poisonous).
NGO activists have told us that we must take precaution with synthetic chemicals – those that man (ie, industry) has made. These include medicines, disinfectants and additives that save lives. These also include polymers, insulation and solar technologies that save energy. And synthetic chemicals are also coolants, packaging and preservatives to help keep food safe. Synthetic chemicals protect people, crops, animals and the environment. But they are attacked by activists like Greenpeace because of a long-standing anti-industry agenda and their naive assumption of nature.
Nature was taking a nasty swing at me in July and I welcomed those synthetic chemicals into my body. Most people live long, productive lives with hypertension – synthetic chemicals are mostly intended to maintain and improve our quality of life. In my case, within five days, we found a good balance to allow me to continue my training for the Amsterdam marathon. Because fear sells more newspapers though, chemists have not been as successful as NGO activists in shaping our perception of chemicals and their benefits.
One problem I have though, is that our pharmaco-culture has made doctors lazy (and over-worked). Doctors tend to respond to problems with prescriptions – if the problem persists, increase the dose. If there is pain, relieve it with painkillers. There is no time to follow it up until there is a crisis. With an aging population and crises in many health-care systems, the problem will worsen. “House” is just a TV programme – in reality, I am the only one to take responsibility to protect my health and search for a solution.
I listen to my body enough to know that such vascular episodes don’t just happen so the search began to find out what was causing it, and why it is persisting. For the last couple weeks, I have been in tests, hooked up to massive machines and injected with all sorts of chemicals. Many naturalists would say that being hooked up to machines is no way to live. As I trust science and technology, I can only reply that being dead at 48 is no way to live. Last week I underwent a Cardiolite stress test – essentially two sessions of nuclear imaging where they flush radioactive chemicals directly into my heart. As I was being injected with these radioisotopes, I asked the rather informative technician about the chemical (in this case, radioactive thallium).
“Is this dangerous for me?”
No, it is a very light dose.
“Light dose as in Fukushima-fed beef or Chernobyl lettuce?”
Smiling: Probably stronger than both of them, but still no risk.
After sharing a few jokes about how Engineer Merkel is one frightened bunny, I couldn’t help but use the occasion to ask more.
“Where do the radioactive isotopes go after the test?”
They are disposed of in the digestive system.
Smiling: “You mean my pee will be radioactive?”
As I went home, feeling fine, I wondered why Greenpeace continues to try to terrify people about sciences that save and improve lives. Couldn’t they just stop their political power games and accept the benefits from science? Then I flushed the toilet and concentrated on more important things, like my next run in the Belgian rain.David Zaruk