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Nerve gas cult leader hanged

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that the leader (Shoko Asahara) of the horrible nerve gas cult in Japan (Aum Shinrikyo) has been hung in Japan. I first heard of this cult before the nerve gas attack which made it famous for all the wrong reasons (infamous). Some of the tales which were leaking out from this cult were perfectly horrifying, one author in a book on religious cults described some of the deeds of the cult as being like something from a Edgar Alan Poe story. But he did comment that it would be unlikely that Poe would have been able to imagine some of the atrocities which involve modern technology.

The Japanese have a death penalty for murder, I checked and a Law academic (Prof Norio Takahashi) wrote some time ago

In the “serial shooting murder case (Nagayama Incident) (Showa 58-7-8 Police Procedure 37-6 609 pages), the supreme court ruled that the death penalty may be imposed inevitably in consideration of the degree of criminal liability and balance of justice based on a nine-point set of criteria which includes;

  1. degree of viciousness of the crime,
  2. motive of the crime,
  3. how the crime was committed-especially the manner in which the victim was killed,
  4. outcome of the crime especially the number of murdered victims,
  5. sentiments of the victim’s bereaved family members,
  6. impact of the crime on society,
  7. defendant’s age,
  8. defendant’s previous criminal record,
  9. degree of remorse shown by the defendant.

Now if we look at Shoko Asahara we can point out that

  1. The murder weapon causes the victims to suffer greatly before death, this also touches point three.
  2. The motivation for the crime was an attempt to overthrow the state and inhibit the actions of the police.
  3. The crime does involve wanton cruelty.
  4. The attack caused multiple deaths (13) and causes injuries to many other people (1000s)
  5. I have no idea what the different families think about the death sentence, but Minoru Kariya whose father died in another of the cults crimes (the smaller scale nerve gas attack) supported the death sentence.
  6. The crime was intended to have a serious impact on society and the first nerve gas attack was an attempt to inhibit the legal system (it targeted judges involved in a case regarding the cult)
  7. The defendant was an adult at the time of the crime.
  8. The defendant has a criminal record at the time the crime was committed
  9. I am unable to be sure, but from what I have heard the defendant has shown little or no remorse.

So according to the nine points, using the criteria used by the legal system in Japan it appears that Shoko Asahara is a candidate for the death penalty. I have to ask however what is the point of the death penalty ? In a perverse way the “ultimate punishment” renders the criminal incapable of any further punishment. So if we wanted to impose a truely ultimate punishment then the hanging will defeat our attempts to punish the criminal. I will comment shortly on the chemistry of this case.


This should have been in Camera

Dear Reader,

The recklessness of some people drives me to a new level of distraction, I have chosen to not name the case or the newspaper in this blog article but I will tell you the story. Some irksome pest tries to build a homemade bomb, this homemade special fails. Then the news paper reports the court case explaining how and why it failed to detonate.

What I think is that any public discussion of a failed bomb is an educational moment which we are better off without. The problem I see is that building any complex gadget is hard when you have to make everything yourself. Having had an interest in electronics I can tell you that many gadgets have taken a lot of development work to get to the level which the public now considers “normal”.

Also having been in the business of developing chemical processes, I can tell you that the creation of a process (or even just the implementation of an existing process)  can take a lot of work. One of the things which always makes it more easy is a knowledge of how someone else did it successfully and an understanding of what went wrong the last time.

The knowledge that a particular method or material is unsuitable for a task is a great help, it saves a lot of time and effort. The reason is that a person will not go chasing after something which does not work. By publishing a truthful discussion of how a bomber failed the newspapers are helping the next generation of bombers by improving their knowledge.

Some years ago I was told something interesting at the ITU in Germany, they commented that a large fraction of illicit plutonium samples which have been intercepted contain red materials. They believe that the Soviet intelligence services leaked some misinformation about “red mercury”. The story is that “red mercury” greatly increases the ease of building a working nuclear weapon.

By releasing this crazy story about a spoof material, the Soviets were attempting to  waste the time and efforts of would-be nuclear terrorists. By encouraging them to chase a false lead it would have helped world peace. The reason is that every hour and dollar a terrorist spends looking for ways to obtain and use this material is a hour or dollar which they could not use one something which is more likely to provide them with a weapon. Very clever I think !

I have to ask why the facts of this type of case be discussed in public, and why the newspaper staff did not have the sense not to self censor what they published.

Martin Shkreli arrested

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that Martin Shkreli has been arrested in the USA, he has been accused of trading in an illegal manner, a more detailed news report about the deeds which he is accused of can be seen here. Now it is possible to read a 51 page legal document about the crimes he is charged with if you do not have the time to read the original. It has some seven different crimes which Martin and another person are accused of. Now while some of the things he has been accused of sound serious to me, but we should understand that in the eyes of the law he is still innocent as he has not been convicted by a court.

If we look at the conduct of Martin then sadly even if he has behaved in a legal manner it has not been in what I would view as a moral manner. The company Turing Pharmaceuticals obtained the rights to a drug (pyrimethamine) and increased the price to a crazy level per pill, the former CEO of this company happened to be wait for it Martin Shkreli. I wrote former as he is no longer the CEO, he has been recently dismissed.

One of the things which Turing are accused of his preventing researchers obtaining their product, this is in an attempt to prevent someone else doing the comparative trials required to bring an alternative generic product to the marketplace. This is something which the RSC have accused Turing of having done, I see a simple solution. If Turing are able to control the distribution of their pills in the USA, then allow data obtained in a clinical trial of two or more versions of the drug done somewhere else (such as the UK) to be used by the US authority to make the choice regarding “should they issue a license” to a second supplier in the USA.

Drug regulators can be a bit funny (not funny ha ha) on data obtained outside their part of the world. For example in Japan it took a very long time (35 years) for low dose oral contraceptives to be licensed, in the 1980s they wanted to do safety trials for the “pill”. But I have to ask why it took until 1999 to decide if the pill was safe and effective. My reasoning is that a normal and rational drug regulator would be using data from around the world. It would pay attention to studies done in China, USA, Russia, France, Sweden, the UK and elsewhere. It could be quite easy in the early 1990s to make a good decision based on non japanese studies. One paper on the subject expressed the view that because of some vested interests the regulator in Japan was very slow to approve of “the pill”. For more detail see A. Goto, M.R. Reich and I. Aitken, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1999, volume 282, issue 22, pages 2173 to 2177.

Now this price increase brings me to an important point, I hold the view that a company, even a drug company, should try to make a profit. A reasonable profit, they should cover the cost of production, research and development together with the other costs of running the company. But it is immoral to push up the price of a life saving product to the point that people are unable to afford it.

One of the problems is that some people want to ignore intellectual property rights, some people want to be able to infringe patents and do other things which harm the interests of the intellectual property owners. For example India wants to force drug companies to give cheap licenses to produce drugs to Indian drug makers. Now like many things it is not a black and white issue.

The argument for is: “By forcing the western drug company to issue a license to an Indian company, that the general public in India will have an affordable supply of a lifesaving drug”

The argument against is “By harming the ability of a drug company to make money from a drug which is protected by a patent, it reduces to removes any incentive for the drug company to develop any new drugs”

While what India is doing is controversial, the protections granted by law to the holders of intellectual property could become even weaker. The Pirate party have stated

We will reduce the duration of copyright to 10 years, closer to the original duration of 14 years, reflecting the much greater ease with which works can now be made and distributed.

Shorter copyright will encourage artists to keep on creating new work; will allow new art forms, such as mash-ups; and will stop big businesses from relying on large back-catalogues rather than investing in new content.

Our 10 year copyright length will include within it a renewal after 5 years, allowing works in which the creator is no longer interested to fall into the public domain after 5 years.

Now as a person who has produced content looks at this, I am thinking that if the copyright I own on what I write only lasts for ten years then I have close to no incentive for making any more original content. They may not understand it, or choose to ignore it, but sometimes copyright holders such as me are known to give away their product with a very relaxed license or even for free with “copyleft”. The problem is that to operate copyleft requires copyright to exist. I mailed the UK Pirate party on the 17th of December to ask them exactly what they mean. I was mailed back very quickly on the same day by their deputy leader, well regardless of what we might end up thinking of them they give a “random blogger” what I would call the royal treatment.

Now it is important for us not to allow the fact that they so quickly made contact with me to alter our view of their ideas, David Elston confirmed that they want to reduce the length of all legal protections for intellectual property to only ten years. David expresses the view that strong laws protecting intellectual property do not provide any protection, I would have to disagree the ability of a person or company to obtain a court order to stop something which is infringing their intellectual property rights is a useful thing to be able to obtain. My own view of civil law is that going to court is something not to be taken lightly but when you are dealing with someone who ignores nice and polite letters, and refuses to try to resolve things with less formal means then you may have little choice but to start a lawsuit.

He also used the argument on me that Ofcom figures suggest that file sharers, copyright violators in the view of others, spend more money on line. His data indicates that for each £ 16 spent on line by regular internet users the file sharers spend £ 26. I think that this is a bad argument. It does not prove that file sharers spend more money in any particular place.

I might spend next to no money on wine but a bank robber who has held up SEB, NatWest, HSBC and add the name of another bank might spend £ 300 a week on fancy wine. This does not mean that the bank robber is better for society than me, he might spend more at the wine shop but if you consider the rights of the banking sector (and the people working there together with customers) then the bank robber still is harmful to the banking sector regardless of how much he spends at the wine shop. Even while bankers might not be popular after the banking scandals of the last decade we need a healthy banking sector for society to operate well.

It does not matter how much a person spends or how many charity donations they make if they trample on the rights of someone else by stealing from another person. Without seeing the exact text of the Ofcom report it is impossible to know exactly where the two populations spend their money.

Now after we have seen two extremes in the debate on intellectual property, lets return to the chemistry of the matter. Which I think will be less troublesome to my readers. V.Sethuraman and P.T.Muthiah in Acta Crystallogr.,Sect.E:Struct.Rep.Online , 2002, volume 58, page o817 reported the crystal structure of the free base. I have looked at this. In common with the salts of the drug which are also present in the Cambridge database the two aromatic rings are not coplanar. The single bond linking the two is twisted such that the amino and ethyl groups on one aromatic ring (the diazine) are far away from the hydrogens on the benzene ring. This is what I think is a clear examine of steric inhibition of an electronic effect which would lower the energy of the molecule. Here is one view of the molecule.

pyrimethamine first view

pyrimethamine first view

Here is another view in case the first one was not clear in your mind.

pyrimethamine a view along the C-C bond linking the two aromatic rings

pyrimethamine a view along the C-C bond linking the two aromatic rings

The fact that P.K.Bryant, J.Colby, R.G.Jenks, P.R.Lowe, C.H.Schwalbe in Acta Crystallogr.,Sect.A, 1984, volume 40, page C79a reported the crystal structure of the HCl salt is clear evidence that the drug has been known about for a very long time.

Radiological assualt

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that something deeply wrong has occurred according to a law suit in the USA. People who know me well will know that I am not the most exactly the most antiradiation person in the world, but I do hold the view that the reckless exposure of people to radiation is wrong and should be punished by criminal law.

For example the East German authorities years ago are strongly suspected of having used radiation for a series of nefarious purposes, such as inducing cancer in political prisoners. Those responsible should go to jail for murder or GBH.

In the USA according to the lawsuit the police in one area are accused of making unreasonable searches of people and subjecting them to X-ray examinations which include the high dose CT scans. The most perverted part of it is that bills are being sent to the victims of this police misconduct for these examinations. It reminds me of an ancient jewish folk tale about Sodom and Gomorrah, some of the oldest jewish texts on the subject of these two cities state that their crimes are not sexual in nature. Instead  it was the cruelty and vile crimes against strangers which were the reason why these two cities had to go. Lot and Abraham left before a prehistoric version of a naplam airstrike occured.

One story was that Eliezer, Abraham’s servant went to visit Lot. He got into a dispute with one of the local men who hit him with a stone making him bleed. He was then told he would have to pay his attacker for the service of making him bleed (doctors at this time would do bloodletting), then one of the judges of the city (whose job it was to pervert the law) agreed that he would have to pay his attacker. What happened next was that Eliezer hit the judge in the head and told him to settle both debts by paying his original attacker.

Here in the US case I see a similar attempt to force a victim of a crime to pay for the “service” of the criminal.

While some people might consider it immoral let us for argument’s sake consider how much a human life is worth in terms of money. One 1977 paper from the UK considers the value of a life, the lower estimate was £50 while the upper estimate was £20000000. The lower value is from a view of the value of a unborn child, which I think is too low a value while the higher value is from a study of building codes (Ronan point).

Now using US data on inflation this £ 20000000 would now be worth 77.28 million UK pounds.

Now the dose from a CT scan of the lower torso gives you a dose of 10 mSv, which is half my yearly limit as a radiation worker.

If we use the normal 5 % chance of cancer as a result of 1 Sv of radiation then the court ordered CAT scan will have a small chance of killing the person (1 in 2000). If we assume that all cancers are fatal then we can make the next step.

If we multiply the chance of killing the person with 77.28 million pounds we get a number of £ 38640, which according to the current exchange rate (1.61 US$ per UK£) gives a sum of 62210.4 US$.

I think in this case that the RICO act can apply which allows triple damages to be awarded which brings the radiological aspect to $ 186631.2. Now I think that compared with the other aspects of the unreasonable search that this amount of money is a small amount. But the criminal law side of the event could (and should) get very nasty for the police.

While I think that members of the public who might be exposed as a result of radiological accidents should enjoy the protection of criminal law. But in the case of an accidental exposure the mens rea (guilty mind or intent) to deliberately perform an act which exposes another person to radiation is not present. While a person might be careless or lazy and thus expose the public to radiation, due to the lack of intent to expose others to radiation the person should be pubished more lightly than a person who chooses to expose others. It is similar to my mind to the distinction between murder and manslaughter.

In this case the mens rea falls short of the extreme level of depraved indifference to human life which would be needed in a professional radiation worker who chooses to spike a child’s breakfast with large amounts (mCi amounts of calcium-45) of radioactivity. Trust me experiments with radioactive breakfasts have been done but with about far less radioactivity (microCi range doses of calcium-45, one mCi = 1000 microCi).

I think that a suitable rod for these policemen’s backs could be radiation law. This is because the X-ray examination is clearly not in the best medical interests of the person, and as they have not freely agreed to undergo this exposure then the law should regard is as compelled radiation work.

Having a knowledge of radiation work I would say that if we declare the motorist to be an involuntary radiation worker then I suspect that a vast litany of violations of radiation law have occurred. For example no preexposure medical assessment has been made of the person’s fitness to be a radiation worker has occurred. I reason that both the police and the hospital should be considered as possible targets for prosecution.

I also think that if the medical staff of the hospital were aware that the person was being scanned against their will (no free consent) then they should be struck off from their professional bodies and thus no longer be allowed to practise their profession. This might seem harsh but I hold the view that a strong argument exists for using extreme punishments to discourage radiological assaults.

Is honest belief a perfect excuse

Dear Reader,

In recent times the Russians have decided that the Greenpeace 30 are hooligans rather than pirates, now Greenpeace and their supporters are calling for the release of the Greenpeace 30 and are saying how harsh the Russians are. But we should bear in mind that the ship did enter a restricted area near an oil / gas platform without permission. Two Greenpeace protestors did climb onto the platform. I think that they were lucky not to have been shot doing that. I would never dream of trying to force my way into an industrial or nuclear site, I tend to find that presenting myself at the front gate and talking politely to the guards (on a day they are expecting me) works well for me.

Now it is clear to me that Greenpeace sincerely hold the view that they are doing something noble, they think that they are helping to save the world. But I would like us to think is a sincerely held belief (a wrong one) an excuse for anything. For example if I think that the postal worker driving up to my house is about to stick a bomb in my postbox and that I should use violence to prevent this act of terrorism.  Am I being reasonable or would I just have an overactive imagination or be going paranoid ? I think that the latter would be true.

Now lets consider a group of people who have a very different view of the world to the typical person, these are people in psychotic states. But I want to make one thing very clear first. It is a little known fact that the majority of mentally ill people are harmless (including psychoics), if anything most of them are more of a threat to themselves (with their chaotic lifestyles and self harm) than they are a threat to random members of the public.

But sadly there are some who are a danger to others, one of the classic groups which are a danger to the general public are those psychotic people who are experiencing the “positive” symptoms of schizophrenia. Some times their delusions, disordered thoughts and hallucinations can make them sincerely believe that they are under attack from other people.

These people who they think are attacking them appear to be randomly selected, but I suspect that public figures tend to be the subject of more of these delusions than the average person.

A quick yahoo search using the terms “paranoid schizophrenic stabbed” reveals a great number of news paper articles such as this one from Reading, Erith, Bristol and Brimingham. Now I hope that I have not given any of you nightmares but if you read these four randomly chosen cases you will see that in general society tends to keep those who have carried out serious acts of violence while in psychotic states in secure hospitals (or prisons sometimes) until they are no longer thought to be a threat to the public.

While I feel sorry for people who have experienced the terror of persecutory delusions I understand that some of these people need to be isolated from society while others need to be kept away from some things.

For example should we allow a person who is prone to intense persecutory delusions to work as a gunsmith with free and easy access to firearms ? I think not, in the same way as a person who has a serious alcohol problem (drunk on a regular basis before lunch time) should not be allowed to work as an air traffic controller (until they have cleaned up their alcohol problem) the gunsmith with these delusions should not be allowed to work alone in a room with 1000 assault rifles until he/she has been shown to be cured or at least not be a threat to himself or others.

A less harmful behaviour which could come from a delusion that the toy shop staff are torturing a child which has metamorphosed into a barbapapa soft toy. A deluded person might then steal the barbapapas from the toy shop, while it is less harmful than a violent act I still think that the soft toys should be returned to the toy shop and the liberator of the barbapapas should not be viewed as a hero. While the person might have has a sincere belief that a justification existed for taking the soft toy I still think that while the person might be found “not guilty by reason of insanity” their stealing of the barbapapas is not a commendable act.

Now imagine that I sincerely believe that the people in the wool shop are sewing a dragon together with magic wool which will come to life and breathe fire and lay waste Sweden (major environmental damage) then I hope my readers will understand that the fact my misguided act (stealing all the wool) was an attempt to protect the environment does not make it a noble act.

Now while stealing the wool might irk the local knitters, a crime which endangers people is a more serious matter. I was told recently by a seaman that the Russian gas platform may have had divers working in the water at the time of the Greenpeace protest. We will never know if the Russians were being truthful about the divers in the water at the time or not (or if they were posting the standard warnings that divers were at work), but this adds a new dimension to the event.

Lets assume that Greenpeace have a sincere belief that the use of oil and gas is harmful to the environment, they then choose to have a protest where they drive motorboats close to a platform. Now if these motorboats endanger divers working in the water then I hold the view that a crime has been committed by Greenpeace. Both the people doing it and the organisation as a whole would be even more guilty if some ill came to the workers on the platform or in the sea.

Ben the seaman told me that he would never go within three quarters of a mile of a ship which has divers in the water for safety reasons, now we need to understand that while it is important that we look after the environment it is more important that we protect human life. I would argue that the death of a single gas platform worker is more serious that a very large oil spill which fouls many birds.

I would also say that endangering or harming an oil / gas field worker is a perfect way for Greenpeace (and the environmental movement in general) to upset people and harm the interests of the environment. It does not matter how noble their aims and views are, it does not matter how sincerely they think that they are doing the right thing if they are putting workers in danger then it is wrong.

One of the best justifications for improving the environment is to improve the health of people, by improving the environment many diseases can be reduced or eliminated. For example in Japan after world war two a series of horrible pollution related diseases occurred (cadmium poisoning, mercury poisoning and air pollution related ill health), by keeping the environment clean the rate of these diseases can be reduced.

But if while protesting against the factory spewing mercury into the river where the locals catch the fish they feed themselves on we were to drive a car in a reckless manner and run over some of the local children then however successful we are at cleaning up the environment we have failed as instead of giving the children a cleaner environment to enjoy and live in we have snuffed out their lives.

Rather than doing something to make the world a better place we would have done the reverse. I would also argue that killing a man working for a living is also making the world a worse place for him, his family, his country and his coworkers. I also want to point something out, some years ago the Greenpeace ship (Rainbow Warrior) was bombed, it is said that the bombers never intended to kill anyone but they managed to kill a member of the crew.

Even if you believe the bombers claim that they never wanted to kill anyone, I would still stay that the reckless disregard for human life exhibited when they bombed the ship makes them guilty of murder. Now I am sure that all Greenpeace staff and members will agree with my view of the bombers guilt, we should apply the same logic to a group of Greenpeace protestors who endanger workers. We should think for a moment about the scandal which would occur if the Greenpeace protestors killed a diver the same way that Kirsty MacColl died.

Now we should consider what should be done about Greenpeace, what is it reasonable for the Russians to do ? Should they charge only the Captain (and the senior members of the ship’s crew), should they charge the junior members of the crew, should they charge only the people who climbed onto the platform and should they charge Greenpeace as a corporate body ?

Years ago at the University of Sussex a serious accident occurred in the chemistry department, some details can be seen here. After this accident the university as a corporate body was dragged to court and then punished. Should the same happen to Greenpeace ? It could be argued that the people at the HQ had no idea of exactly what the people on the ship were going to do, but on the other hand it can be argued that they should have considered what the people on the ship might do. It can be argued that the boss of the ship (Captain) had a duty to make sure the people under him worked safely and obeyed the law, and that the people who the captain answered to had a duty to supervise the captain. It can be argued that they should have made a point of knowing what their subordinates were doing and also to supervise them.

As I am not an expert on Russian law I can not say what will or should happen, but I want to ask you what should the Russians do ?

The swedish version of the spanner case

Dear Reader,

On friday by chance we were discussing fire control equipment which uses something called Argonite, this is a trade name for a 50/50 mixture of argon and nitrogen which is used as a fire extinguishing system. One of the students talked about suffocation with Argonite, I then pointed out that lack of oxygen (Inert gas asphyxiation) has totally different biology in humans to suffocation which involves a high level of carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood.

Now while reading the news I read that a man in Sweden has been convicted of a crime against the person relating to erotic asphyxiation (strangulation). The Swedish court of appeal has upheld the man’s conviction but they downgraded the crime. I think that the court should have considered the man’s actions to be very grave crimes. Alex Comfort in his book (The Joy of Sex) strongly condemes this practice as very dangerous, so I am not alone in being opposed to this activity.

Some years ago (1987) in the UK there was a case known as the “spanner case”. As this blog is a family show I will not tell you of the worst of the sexual tortures which occurred during S&M sex, But this case revolved around should a person be able to consent to an assault committed against them. One of the judges who had to deal with the case commented “Society is entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult of violence. Pleasure derived from the infliction of pain is an evil thing. Cruelty is uncivilised”, he also expressed the view that the convictions of the S&M fanatics should be upheld.

One argument is that a person should be free to consent to what ever they like, I have an alternative argument. While the people do not intend to seriously injure each other there is a problem. Their conduct is jolly reckless and it should be clear to a “reasonable man” that a large risk exists of a fatal outcome or another outcome which causes some permanent disability.

I assume that a lot of people will find the sexual practises in both cases offensive and very immoral, but if we leave our morals out of it for a moment another compelling argument exists for banning “choke sex” and the dire extreme S&M seen in the spanner case.

A citizen does not live in isolation, those who work should all pay into a common fund (through tax) which allows society to take care of people who need help. It provides funds for fire fighting, police, hospital treatment for ill people, education for children, pensions for old people and other social care. If a person takes a reckless risk with their wellbeing such as riding a motorcycle with no helmet then they place themselves at risk of changing themselves from a person who generates money to run society into a person who is a drain on society.

A brain injured motorcyclist may well need expensive special health and social care for the rest of their live, while I do not advocate a refusal of care for people who injure themselves doing something I think is stupid or immoral I do think that it is reasonable for the state to use criminal law to deter or punish people who place themselves in grave danger under some conditions.

The key thing is that riding a motorcycle with no helmet, driving a car without wearing a seat belt and the horrible S&M sex are reckless acts which offer no reward to either the individual or society which outweighs the risks. So I think that we should use criminal law to ban these activities.

On the other hand, cheese rolling contests, sleeping in a bed and dog ownership are all activities which do carry a risk of physical harm but the rewards to society and the individual strongly outweight the risks. We should not allow “health and safety” to be used as an excuse to ban these things.

For example it is possible for me to roll out of my bed and crash onto the floor breaking some part of my body this is a remote but plausible risk, the reward of sleeping in a bed is that I do not have to sleep on the floor and get cold. I think that the majority of my readers would agree that the benefits of sleeping in a bed outweigh the risks. So we should never have a law banning normal beds, maybe beds which are surrounded with spikes or lethal 2000 volt fences should be outlawed but my normal bed should remain legal !

While performing emergency repair work on my dog (pulling a bone which was stuck in the dog’s mouth out), I have been slightly injured by a panicking dog (a couple of small cuts to the hands). This is an example of a risk of dog ownership, on the other hand the social and emotional benefits of dog ownership outweigh the risk of a minor injury occurring during ECM (emergency canine maintenance not electronic counter measures).

The cheese rolling is clearly an activity in which people can get hurt, but the cultural significance of a pack of men (and women) chasing a cheese down a steep hill is so great that it should remain legal !

Prop 65 and cocamide diethanolamine

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that a court case which relates to fatty acid N,N-dihydroxyethyl amides, it relates to what I think is a stupid law in California. The reason why I think that Prop 65 is stupid is that the law paints so many chemicals and substances with the dire warning of “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

The problem is that california has the potential to be “swamped in a sea generic warning signs” these are the words of the Attorney General in california. See page 25 of this document. The great problem is that so many things can cause birth defects and other reproductive harm but are exceptionally weak agents of harm.

For example aspirin (salicylic acid), beer and cigarette smoke have teratogenic effects. Alcohol is a weak carcinogen in humans. But is it reasonable to plaster a crate of beer with the same generic warning as you put on a real nasty substance like HMPA, asbestos, beryllium oxide, methoxyethanol or DES (Diethylstilbestrol). I am strongly in favour of putting a clear warning on a substance or area which has a strong carcinogen or teratogen, but I am very much against misusing warning signs by fly posting every surface with a bland warning.

The latest court case which I have heard about involves cocamide diethanolamine, I think that while some evidence exists to suggest it can cause cancer in animals it is interesting to know that no evidence for carcinogenic action in humans exists. But the best bit is that it does not flunk the Ames test. For a copy of the IARC report on this compound see here.

Many carcinogens fail the Ames test which is based on Salmonella typhimurium, While some false positives and false negatives occur with the Ames test it is a good test for spotting substances which damage DNA. To cause cancer from healthy normal cells some DNA damage is needed, but it is interesting to note that some carcinogens are substances which promote cancer. They speed up the growth of cancers, for example many steroidal sex hormones can speed up the growth of cancer and as a result some of them carry the R45 warning when you look them up at Aldrich. For example testosterone (CAS [58-22-0]) has the R45 warning.

I have looked up at Aldrich the closely related compound lauric acid diethanolamide (R36/38 which means irritant), and this substance is not flagged with a carcinogen warning. For good measure I looked up the amine which these amides are made from (diethanolamine, CAS [ 111-42-2]) and yet again there is no cancer warning in the risk phrases which are associated with this compound, but it does mention genetic damage.

So I dug into the chemical literature, and I found something interesting. A review of the carcinogenic activity of diethanolamine (DEA) in rodents was written by Hon-Wing Leung, Lisa M. Kamendulis and William T. Stott (Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 2005, 43(3), pages 260-271). I have looked at this paper and it does state that dermal exposure to diethanolamine causes liver cancer in mice. By the way dermal exposure means putting it on the skin.

While in mice DEA (Diethanol amine not “drug enforcement agency“) and related compounds can be shown clearly to cause cancer, in rats these compounds these compounds do not appear to be carcinogenic. Hon-Wing Leung’s paper suggests that the DEA exerts a carcinogenic effect by altering the behaviour of a key nutrient for rodents (Choline) in the experimental animals. This alteration in the choline behaviour alters the biological methylation in the mice which may lead to cancer.

The final big point from this paper is the comment that Hon-Wing Leung et. al. made that humans are far less sensitive to choline deficiency than rodents, so the observation of the carcinogenic action of DEA in mice may not be relevent to humans. So I think that the court case which relates to using Prop 65 on personal care products is a bad court case.

I think that while prop 65 was passed with the best of intentions it has turned into a monster (and a silly one at that), what I think should be done is the law should be altered. The warning should only be used when a reasonable chance exists that a product, process or place will result in a person being exposed at a level which has a “reasonable” chance of causing harm. When the level is below this limit then no sign should be used, also the public should have the right to make reasonable requests for the concentrations of substances.

Where the concentrations of the substances are less than 10 % of my limits then I think that if a NGO makes a request for the concentration measurement then the NGO should have to pay for the measurement. Also vexatious requests from the general public should be treated in the following way, if the testing suggests that the concentration is below 10 % of the limit then the member of the public should be billed if they have made more than n requests in the last five years where the result has been less than 10 % of the limit. I will leave it up to the courts and the government to choose what value n should be.

Maybe for each test requested by “John Doe” which shows more than the limit he should get x free tests extra. This would make people choose the tests they want with some care rather than demanding the whole city is tested for everything with one sample being taken each meter on a grid which covers the whole of LA !

On the other hand for some places and types of activity should be required to pay for some testing to make sure that they stay within the legal limit. For example an indoor car park (parking lot for my US readers) should be required to make sure that carbon monoxide levels are kept low by using passive CO detectors which can be left in place for weeks on end.

The limit could be chosen for a substance which acts in a random (Stochastic) way, if we assume that the radiation dose to cancer risk is 5% for each Sv of dose. Then we could use the 1 mSv annual limit for the general public as the start point for our reasoning, this would mean that if a person is exposed to more than 1 in 20000 chance of harm to them, or a 1 in 100000 chance of having a child with a birth defect then the law should apply.

While for a person using a single product which could harm them this is a good limit, for a person who is exposed to several products we need a more complex system. I think that an hourly risk equivalent to 2.5 microSv (a 1 in 400000 risk per hour of death) is too high. You might want to consider a person such as a bar man who is exposed to second hand smoke.

I would set the risk per hour more strictly than the UK workplace radiation law (Upper limit for an area which the general public can enter, 2.5 microSv per hour the last time I looked at IRR99), this could be viewed as being based on a 40 hour working week. If we set it based on a 100 hour working week then we would get a 1 in 1 million risk as the hourly limit for death of a person while we would then end up with a 1 in 5 million for the birth defect risk. Maybe I am being too strict or maybe I am being too relaxed, again I would leave it up to the law makers to choose what “working week” to base their reasoning on.

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