Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

That said . . .

Yes,the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex has been spraying radioactive particles into the atmosphere and as a result they are destroying a lot of produce and the people in Tokyo aren't drinking the water. That's bad news to be sure -- although the fact is if you did eat the spinach or drink the water nothing bad would happen. If it all stayed as radioactive as it is now, or maybe got a bit worse, which it probably will, then if you kept on eating and drinking for a while you would eventually increase your risk for cancer and possibly other health problems. But it would take a lot more radioactive contamination over quite a long time for this to have a major public health impact.

But while people are freaking out over this rare though certainly disturbing occurrence, coal fired power plants are spewing non-radioactive (or more accurately, scarcely radioactive) particulates all the time. And they kill people! So does motor vehicle exhaust. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that air pollution contributes to 2.5% of all deaths in the high income countries. You can look at all the global health risks here. (Warning: pretty big PDF, from the World Health Organization.) Radioactivity isn't anywhere on there, and it still won't be even after recent events. It's just trivial.

Coal -- from mining it, but mostly from burning it -- kills people by the tens of thousands every year. So does petroleum. (You will be interested to know that the most important health consequences of fine particulate pollution are heart disease and stroke, not pulmonary consequences or cancer as you might imagine.) But this is all just totally fine. Nobody is freaking out about it. Y'all just go on breathing the air like nothing is happening.

Y'all are nuts, basically.


Ferdzy said...

Well no. I'm freaking out about nuclear power AND coal burning plants.

But you know what all the locals are up in arms about? Windpower. Yes, that's right. Windpower. Them windmills are noisy you know, or if it's a noise nobody but them can hear, well, they have vibrations. And they've killed a bird or two. And they make people sick. (Really, they think this.)

I hate people. Stop the planet; I want to get off.

Cervantes said...

Yep, whatever annoyances wind turbines may represent, they're far more benign than the alternatives. But people accept what's familiar.

kathy a. said...

here is another article, also apparently drawn from the WHO info. got this from a soccor mom who is more than a little freaked about nuclear contamination, but keeps looking for more info.