Monday, December 04, 2006

New Blog: The Pump Handle

Unlike the dead tree media, we in the blogosphere welcome newcomers to our turf. One recent welcome addition to the public health section of blogdom is The Pump Handle:
a place for people interested in public health and the environment to discuss the issues that interest us, particularly when they’re not getting the treatment we think they deserve in the mainstream media.
The Pump Handle is a group blog, many of the contributors being my favorite people oft quoted in Confined Space: Dr. David Michaels and Celeste Monforton of George Washington University, Revere of Effect Measure, Drs. Richard Clapp (of IBM cancer study fame) and David Ozonoff, both of Boston University School of Public Health. And rounding off the bunch are Liz Borkowski works for the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and Susan Wood, PhD, is a Research Professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.

But, of course, contributors are only as good as their contributions. And there are some pretty good ones. One recent post addresses the problems of "forgotten workers"
in those workplaces with the dirtiest jobs, where the lowest wages prevail, where many do not speak English, and where there is no union to defend their rights or speak for them.
David Michaels, who has written extensively on how corporate scientists "manufacture uncertainty" has a post about how the Global Warming deniers are using the same arguments that the tobacco industry used to "manufacture uncertainly" about whether smoking causes cancer.

Richard Clapp, who has done groundbreaking work on cancer among IBM workers (which I've written about here and here) has a post describing his fight with the publisher of Clinics in Occupational and Environmental Medicine and IBM to be able to publish the results of his study. He did publish recently, and the word is getting out:
The on-line journal tracks the number of times articles are accessed and posts this on the website. In the first month, the article was accessed over nine thousand times and reached the second position among the 100 articles published since the journal began in July, 2002. As of Nov. 23, the article is approaching 10,000 accessions and has been the topic of email and listserv conversations throughout the health and safety and environmental networks.
OK, enough. Now you go read it.

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering where the title -- The Pump Handle -- comes from:
The story of the pump handle is familiar to any first-semester public health student: During the London cholera epidemic of 1854, John Snow examined maps of cholera cases and traced the disease to water from a local pump. At the time, the prevailing theory held that cholera spread through the air, rather than water, so Snow faced criticism from others in the science community – not to mention resistance from the water companies. He finally convinced community leaders to remove the pump’s handle to prevent further exposure.

More than a century later, thousands of people still die from cholera each year, and providing clean drinking water to the world’s entire population is a far-off goal. The Pump Handle symbolizes both a public health victory and the challenges facing the public health and environmental fields today.
But Snow's action is significant in another way in today's world. Although he was one of the first to actually use epidemiology to successfully fight a public health hazard, the actual cause of Cholera wasn't discovered for another thirty years.

Think about that in today's context, where despite overwhelming epidemiological evidence that working around a chemical or a work process may cause occupational disease (think popcorn lung or ergonomics), industry fights any regulatory action until every single question is answered about the precise mechanism in which the chemical or work process causes the illness. Looking at disease patterns, it's clear that diacetyl destroys workers' lungs and that repetitive lifting causes back injuries. Do we know that exact physical mechanism in which these occur? No. Is there still uncertainty? Yes. Do we need to wait until we've figured it all out before acting to protect workers? According to corporate America, yes, even if it takes decades and more dead and disabled workers. According to good public health practice, no. Chemicals shouldn't have the same rights as people -- to be considered innocent until proven guilty -- by the illness and death of workers. Think about the Broad St. pump handle when confronted with their arguments.

But I digress. Go read the Pump Handle. Bookmark it. Tell them Jordan sent you.