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Eco Science - Ten - Epidemics and Climate

Eco Science - Ten - Epidemics and Climate

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608 /
UNDERSTANDING ENVIRONMENTAL
DISRUPTION
measures.
Distribution
ofNyaccines)
for
instance,
would
,fr
be
difficult
if
airlines, trains,andtrucks were
not_
^running.In
many
parts of the world, public-health conditions
are
developing that have
a
high potential
for
disaster.
The rats that live on stored grain in India have renewedthe specter of a
major
outbreak of (bubonicplague/Nitrate pollution
of
water
is
creating
conditions
in
whichdangerous
soil
organisms
are
brought into contact with
human
beingsfor the first time. Theorganism thathasrecently caused cases
of a
fatal
meningitis
has
beenidentified
as a soil-dwelling amoeba.
228
It may be
just
the
first
of
many such agentstoappear seemingly
from
nowhere.
Trrigarinri
project
8
in the
tropics
and
subtropics
around
V
the
world
are spreading
the
Conditions that
promote
the
/.garasitic
diseas^fchistosomiastTTbilharzia]^
which,
to-
/
gether
witHJlnalaris!^
is one of the two
most prevalent
serious
diseases
on
Earth.
229
The
broadcast
use of
chemotheragy_and
antibiotics
has
created
a
serious,
medical problem through
the
inTrnffyfrinn
r>f
resistance^
JTL
bacteriaandother
parasitesjModification
of
the
^climate would~also
inevitablyjnjuencejdisease
patterns^
for
example,thelengthoftime viruses remain infectiousis inpartafunctionofhumidity.Atrend toward dryingwould encourage some, whereas
others
would thrive
in
increased
moisture.
,
Tt
is
smpfwi^
in
addition,
thatviruses against which there
is
little
or no
resistance
in
human
populations
can easily be
done
in
theory;
it mayalready
have been doneinpractice. There wereat onetimerumorsof thedevelopmentby theAmericanCBWestablishment
of a
pneumonic
rabies,
one
that, instead
of
being transmittedby
bite,
istransmittedin thesameway
as
the common cold:
from
person to person via exhaleddroplets.
This
is
certainly
possible,
since under special
conditions
(such
as
those
that sometimes occur
in
caves
full
of
rabid rats) rabies appears
to
have been transmittedthrough the
air.
Such a disease
would
be a disastrously
effective
weapon
if it
were
transmitted
by
infectedindividuals before symptoms appear, since once they doappear, rabies is (with one notable recent exception) 100percent
fatal.
Other possibilities
for
lethal agents
are/lO'
many—for
example^nthrax)
which even
in its
"naturalvCI
state can be transmitted by contaminated
aerosols.
plague,
tularemia,
Q-fever, and encephalitis, to name a
_
jew
231
—disseminated
in
their
natural forms
or in
the
form
of
special
"hot"
strains
that are
drug-resistant
or
superlethal.
Besides direct assaults
on
human
beingj,.
overt
or covert
attacks
on
aSarion's
food
supplt
mjgbLbe-
rnade
byintroducing
plant
diseases. The
more crowded
i
population is, and me smaller its per-capita
food
sup-plies,
the
better
a
target
it
would
be
fos-a
biolo;warfare
attack.
ATTVocfe.
°f\.
ges!
J
off
,
feather
changes
can
trigger
epidemics.
23
^
As
if the threat of a natural pandemic were notgruesome enough, there
is
always
the
threat
of
biological
warfare
or of an accidental escape of lethal agents
from
abiological warfare laboratory or, conceivably,
from
alaboratory engaged in genetic engineering experiments
~~x
r
(seejnaterial
on
recombinant
DNA
research
in
Chapter")
/
J4]J Although most
laypeople
have long been
afraid
of
J
thermonuclear war, they are
just
beginning to grasp
the
colossal hazard posed
by
chemical
and
biological warfare(CBW). Any country with one or two well-trained
microbiologists
andevenamodest budgetcanbuildits
own
biological doomsday weapons. Constructing lethal
228
J.
H.
Callicott,
Amcbic meningo
encephalitis.
229
K.
S. Warren, Precarious odyssey of an
unconquered
parasite; N.Ansari,
Epidemiology
and
control
of schistosomiasis.
230
K.
E. F.
Watt,
Ecology
and
resourcemanagement,
McGraw-Hill,New York,
1968,
p. 162 ff.
Why would nations develop such weapons?
For
tfce
same
reason they develop others.
They
hope
to
immur.;ii
or
otherwise protect theirownpopulationsand fc;avoid
a
biological backlash.
These
weapons have
;
special appeal
for
small
and
poor powers, which seethemselves threatened by larger, richer ones and
which
lack the
funds
or the expertise to develop
nuclearweapons.
252
Chemical-biological weaponsmayneverbe used, but
that
doesnotruleout thepossibilityof anaccident.
Virus
laboratories, especially,
are
notoriously unsafe.
By
196",
some 2700 laboratory workers had become
accidentally
infected with viruses transmittedby
insects,
and
107
had
died.
233
Their
deaths were caused by just one
group
231
F. M. LaForce
et
al,
Epidemiologic
study
of a
fatal
case
of
inhalaLi;
-
anthrax; J.
Lederberg,
Swift
biological
advance
can be bent to
gescc-.^.
232
M.
Meselson, Behind the Nixon
policy
for chemical and biolofjiaj
warfare.
2
"Hanson,
et al.,
Arbovirus infections.
 
DIRECT ASSAULTS
ON
WELL-BEING
/
1609
of
viruses. Fatal
accidents
occur
in
laboratories where
work
is done on other kinds of viruses, as well as othermicroorganisms.
The
inability
of
government
CBW
agencies to avoid accidents was made clear by the SkullValley, Utah,
CBW
disaster
of
1968,
in
which manythousands
of
sheep were poisoned when
a
chemical agent
"escaped,"
254
and by the
possible escape
of
VenezuelanEquine Encephalitis
from
the Dugway, Utah, provingground in 1967. Congressman Richard D. McCarthy of
New
York announced
in
1969 that
CBW
agents
were
being transported aroundthecountryinsmall containers
on
commezaal
airliners!
In J969,^President
Nixon announced
the
unilateralrenunciationby theUnited Statesof the use ofbiological
warfare,
even in retaliation.
235
He directed that the stocks
234
P.M.
Boffey,
6000
sheep stricken near CBW center.
J!5
M.
Meselson,Chemical
and
biologicalv
Mav
1970.
of
biological agents
be
destroyed
and
that further work
onjiefenses
_agajnst_
biologica^weapons
be transferred
from
the
Department
of
Defensgjp
the
Department
of
Health, Education and Welfare._Destruction of
U.S._
biological
warfare
materials was systematically
carried^out
in 1970 and
1971,^feougjC5(l9753it
was
discovered
that
the
(Central
intelligence
Agency\had not destroyed
sometoxins
in its
possession.
'ific
American,
Some level
of
research might
bejgntinuing
clandes-
tinely
in the
United
jtates
^although
the
possibilityseems
remote),
and_it would be a simple matter for a
future
administration quickly
to
reestablish biological
warfare-xapability.
Indeed,
with
the
rapidly increasingability
of
biologists
to
manipulate
the
genetics
of
micro-
organisms,
dtegossibilities
for
creating deadly agents
jieem
endless^*
FurthermoreTthere^
is
littksign
that
the
U.S. action
has led to the end of
work
on
biological
weapons
elsewhere. Biological
warfare
laboratories
are
potential sources of a man-made
"solution"
to
the
population
explosion^It
is essential that some way befound
to
block
all
further work
on
biological
weapons—
the
risk
for
humanity
is
simply
too
great.It should be clear now that humanity is creating anenormous array of hazards that directly threaten thehealth
and
welfare
of all
people. Unfortunately
many
of
these hazards are poorly understood, and
many
un-doubtedly remain unrecognized at present. The nextchapter shows that
the
level
ofTindirect
threats
to
human/welfare
Is
just
ashighand
the
levelofunderstanding
just as
low.
;3
*P.
Berg
ct
al.,
Potential
biohazards
of
recombiningDNAmolecules.
Recommended for
Further
Reading
Cairns,
John. 1975. The cancer problem.
Scientific
American,
November. A superbsemi-popular reviewofenvironmental
carcinogenesis.
Council
on
Environmental Quality (CEQ). Annual.
Environmental
quality.
GovernmentPrinting
Office,
Washington, D.C. Extensive data and discussion on recent measuredlevels of air and water pollution across the United
States,
as well as special topics inenergy, land use, transportation,
radiation,
and
environmental legislation
and
regulation.
Huddle,
N.; M.
Reich;
and N.
Stiskin.
1975.
Island
of
dreams:
Environmental
crisis
in
Japan.
Autumn
Press,
New York. Well-documented and illustrated survey of the seriousenvironmental problems
of one of the
world's most intensely industrial nations.
 
HE
HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING
A WAY OUT
>
some research institutes need
to be
investigating
and
reporting
on
much more detailed questions.
For
exam-ple,
is
medical research being done with adequate
attention
to theneedsof all
segments
of thepopulation
and to birth control as well as death control? Are the
benefits
and risks of the breeder reactor being studied inproper depth? What
are the
possible dangerous con-sequencesoffurther investigatingthepropertiesof agiven virus or biocidal compound?
These
questions have been settled largely
by the
scientific community
in the
past,
with results that
can
most charitably be described as
mixed.
26
For a long time
the
thrust
in
research
was
that whatever could
be
triedshould
be
tried. Physicists exploded
the first
atomic
bomb
after Germany
had
been defeated
andJapan's
defeat
was a
certainty,
although
some of
them apparently
thought
at the time
there
was a
nonzero
chance
that
theexplosion
would
destroy
all
life
on
Earth.
21
It is
difficult
to
findparallels,outside nuclear weaponry, displaying quitethis degree of willingness to risk total environmentaldisaster, but traces of it arguably are present in proposals
to
"wait
and
see" what
the
consequences
of
assaulting
the
ozone layer with fluorocarbons or SST fleets will be.
.
On the
bright side,
microbiologists Paul
Bers;
and
Stanley Cohen of Stanford and Herbert Boyer of the
Universityof California in
mid-1974
called_oji_
their
"""""""""•
>
^™——«-——*S53
B^BBMBW*""
to
bring
to a
halt research
orfcecombinanj
^studies
involvingtransfers
of
genetic material
from
one
species
to
another.
28
They
recognized thathybrid microorganisms could cause extraordinarily vir-ulent infectious disease
and
that
die
experimental work(couldconceivablylead
to the
spread
ot
antibioticsiorto the
escape
of
bacterial strains
carrying.
oncogenic (cancer-inducing) viruses.Adistinguished
molecular
biologist
L
Robert
Sinsheimerjhas
written:
~
6
See,
forexample,thecontrasting viewsof F. J.
Dyson,
Thehidden
cost
of
saying
"no!";
and P. R.
Ehrlich,
The
benefits
of
saying
"yes."
-
>7
N.
P.
Davis,
Lawrence and
Oppenheimer.
There
is no
doubt,
in
light
of
present
knowledgeof
nuclear
reactions,
thatthe
chance
of
igniting
the
atmosphere
witha
nuclear bomb
and
thereby extinguishing
all
life
on
Earth
is
truly zero.
A
completely persuasive case
on the
point
is
made
by
H. A. Bethe, Ultimate
catastrophe?
Bulletin
of
the
Atomic
Scientist,
June
1976,
pp.
36-37.
Bethe's
further
contention, however,
that
the
scientists
on the
nuclear bomb
project were
completely sure
of
this
in
1945,
is notpersuasive.
28
P.
Berg,
etal.,
Potential
biohazardsof
recombinant DNA
molecules.
Could
an
Escherichiacoli
strain
[a
variety
of a
ubiqui-tous bacterial resident
on the
human digestive tract]carrying all or part of an oncogenic virus becomeresistant
in the
human intestine? Could
it
therebybecome
a
possible source
of
maUgmancv?
j^p^ld
such
a_
strain
spread
rhrnuphnnf
a human
population?What
would
be theconsequenceif even
an
insulin-secreting,
strain
became an
intestinal resident?
Not to
mention
the more malign or just plain stupid scenarios such asthose which depict the insertion of the gene forbotulinus toxin into
Escherichia
coli>
M
In early 1975 an international scientific meeting es-tablished a set of safety principles under which suchresearch could
be
continued.
The
scientists
at the meet-
ing
concluded that
the
more dangerous experimentsshould
be
deferred
until
special
"crippled"
strains
of
organisms could be
developed—
that
is, strains with avery low probability of surviving outside the laboratory
(experience has
shown that
thereis no
such thing
as
an^
"escape-proof'
microbiological
laboratory^.
Some
of the
scientists, however, argued against social control
of the
experiments, claiming an absolute right to
free
inquiry.Since that meeting, various attempts have been made
to
draft
rules that would permit doing this dangerousresearch,
and
there
has
been continuing
controversy.
30
In
these cases, scientists
themselves
have assessed
the
risks
and then
"voted"
for all of humanity. With regard
to the
atomic bomb,
the
possible savings
in
American(and Japanese) lives
by
shortening World
War II
may-have come
into
the
calculus,
and
perhaps
also the thought
that sooner
or
later someone else would blow
up an
A-bomb without knowing
for
sure
that it would notdestroy
the
planet.
But
would
the
people
of the
planet
(to
say
nothing of the other living organisms) have voted yes
to
taking, say,
a
one-in-a-million
chance
on
oblivion
in
order
to
speed victory
for the
United States
in
World
War II?
(That
the chances of
killing
all
life
on the
planetturned out to be zero is beside the
point—
the scientistsinvolved were not sure of that at the time.)
''Troubled
dawn
for
genetic
engineering.
The
article also contains
2
good, brief, layperson's introduction
to the
technology
of DNA
manipulation.
30
Sinsheimer, Troubled
dawn; Nicholas
Wade,
Recombinant DNA:
NIH
Group Stirs storm
by
drafting laxer rules; Bernard Dixon, Recom-
binant
DNA: Rules without enforcement?
,

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