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March 02, 2023
Positively Dreadful
My Forever Chemical Romance

In This Episode

The train derailment in East Palestine, OH, created a state of uncertainty over how severe the contamination is and the risks posed by acute and chronic exposure to the chemicals that spilled and combusted. At the same time, we’re living through a period of scientific and industrial history that seems to drown us in information about what is and isn’t toxic. And it feels like all of us, not just residents of eastern Ohio, ought to have a clear sense of which products and pollutants pose real risks to us. How long can we expect the residents of East Palestine to remain exposed to toxic air and water? Even if government officials say the air and water is safe, can Ohioans rest easy? And generally, how can any of us process the deluge of information we receive about the risks of various substances and foods that we encounter or ingest all the time? Are microplastics actually killing us?! Is beef highly carcinogenic?! Or is it essential for good health?! Or neither?! It all becomes pretty overwhelming, and it’s easy to feel unsettled by, but also a bit numb to, so many dire warnings in the news, on social media, and elsewhere. Tufts Medical School Professor Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths joins host Brian Beutler to discuss how we can live happy lives without being anxious all the time, but with enough awareness and knowledge to protect ourselves from real dangers.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Brian Beutler: Hi everyone. Welcome to Positively Dreadful. With me your host, Brian Beutler. We touched briefly last week on the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Mostly to discuss how certain elected officials had seized on it for political purposes. 

 

[clip of Donald Trump]: And they were doing nothing for you. They were intending to do absolutely nothing for you. 

 

[clip of Pete Buttigieg]: What we’ve seen is industry goes to Washington and they get their way. They got their way on a Christmas tree of regulatory changes that the last administration made on its way out the door in December of 2020. 

 

[clip of Joe Biden]: Let’s put this in perspective. Within 2 hours of that derailment, the EPA was in there within 2 hours. 

 

Brian Beutler: But beneath that political jockeying and even beneath the policy failures that made the derailment more likely, there’s a real environmental health dimension to the story that seems likely to persist until long after the political vultures scatter and the policy recriminations are behind us. And I say seems likely because as best I can tell, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the questions of how severe the contamination is and what the risks of acute and chronic exposure to these particular chemicals are. There are actually dozens of chemicals on that train. Some of them burned, some seeped into the ground in the water supply. And we know, because reporters have documented it, that nearby residents are presenting with skin and eye and lung irritation. So it would it would beggar belief for anyone to say everything is currently safe and there is no long term danger to anyone. But my sense, just as a layperson, is it’s hard to provide locals any definitive guidance because for obvious reasons, we don’t intentionally expose humans to burning vinyl chloride or make them drink unusual amounts of n-butyl acrylate to see what happens to them over the course of a decade or 25 years. At the same time, we’re living through a period of scientific and industrial history that seems to drown us in information about what is toxic, what is carcinogenic, and so on. And it feels like all of us, not just residents of eastern Ohio, ought to have a clearer sense of what really poses risks to us. What risks are overhyped and what we just don’t know enough about to say. So the most up to date reporting I’ve read out of East Palestine is both unsurprising and worrying and kind of eerily familiar. The worrying part is that researchers from Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon analyzed Environmental Protection Agency data and concluded that nine air pollutant levels near the derailment could create long term health problems, including cancers, if if those levels don’t return to normal. The less worrying part is that the independent scientists and government scientists seem to agree that the people living there now would have to remain exposed to pollution at this level for months or even years before it would create these long term health risks for them. But then for me at least, the question is how long can we expect their exposure to last? The answer seems at least partially in our hands, because the air pollutants should dissipate. And I think we can expect a serious effort to remove toxins from the ground and water. But does that mean that the people who’ve experienced acute exposure can can rest easy? There’s enough uncertainty that I have a hard time putting myself in the shoes of the residents of East Palestine and imagine what I would do if I lived there. As a congenital skeptic, my spidey sense starts to tingle whenever something horrible happens and a government or corporate leader says the air is safe, the water is safe. I have very clear memories of watching the 9/11 cleanup effort on TV. And I also remember when the first responders to that disaster started developing terrible illnesses years later and had to beg the government for help. And that was acute exposure on the level of chronic exposure. I have sort of fuzzier memories of Erin Brockovich, the actual person, blowing the whistle on on Pacific Gas and Electric for polluting a California town’s water supply with hexavalent chromium. I remember the movie version of that controversy more clearly. 

 

[clip from Erin Brockovich]: Toxicologists that I’ve been talking to, he gave me a list of problems that can come from hexavalent chromium exposure. Everything you all have is on that list. No, no, no, no. That’s that’s not what. That’s not what our doctor said. He said that. Well, that one’s got absolutely nothing to do with the other. But PG&E paid for that doctor. 

 

Brian Beutler: And if movie adaptations of real industrial contamination scandals are your thing, I’d point you to a 2019 movie called Dark Waters, which dramatizes the case against DuPont Chemical for contaminating a West Virginia town with PFOA. 

 

[clip from Dark Waters]: Two of the seven women, nearly 30%, gave birth to babies that have the exact facial deformities that your company already knew about. We’re done here. 

 

Brian Beutler: So PFOA is a is a so-called forever chemical used to manufacture Teflon, and it is linked now to cancers and autoimmune diseases. So I have a couple of goals for this week’s conversation. One is I want to better understand where the East Palestine accident lands on this sort of spectrum of industrial disasters. But I also want to know more generally how those of us who aren’t proximate to acute environmental hazards should process all of the information we’re constantly bombarded with about the various risks associated with this or that substance or food that we encounter or ingest all the time. When I saw that movie Dark Waters, my mind raced back to my childhood because I remember my mother cooking dinner on these old scratched up Teflon pans. And that’s now become an unsettling memory because because I believe what I’ve heard and seen and read about the harmful effects of ingesting PFOA, but not everything that is said to be hazardous by various experts or supposed experts is an industrial byproduct dumped into the environment. So, for instance, when the pandemic first struck, I spent a fair amount of time looking for credible fitness experts on social media. Mostly what I’m speaking about are trainers who weren’t principally online trying to sell supplements or lifestyle and wellness items, just people who knew how to program good, challenging workouts that their followers could do from home. What does that have to do with industrial disasters? Maybe not much, but. But as soon as you venture into that realm, the Instagram algorithm will quickly confront you with content from other users, people with doctorates and advanced degrees who make all kinds of alarmist claims. For instance, you may have heard that ubiquitous microplastics which we ingest when we eat food or drink liquids that are stored in plastics, are slowly killing us by promoting obesity and inflammation and cancer. Same warnings about seed oils. Depending on whom you listen to eating beef is either highly carcinogenic or is actually essential for good health in real life, where experts are actually trying their best to help people sort truth from fiction. States like California with strict regulatory regimes require carcinogen warnings on all kinds of products. And speaking only for myself, it becomes pretty overwhelming. I think of it as my job to be a discerning consumer of information, but I don’t really know what to do with all of this. I find myself dismissing a lot of it as suspect, especially when these harbingers of doom are trying to sell me something. But at the same time, my wife and I really did just trade in our nonstick cookware and plastic Tupperware for stainless steel and glass. And we didn’t do that because we are certain that this is healthier. But we we simply don’t know how to gauge the risk. I feel unsettled by the sheer ubiquity of harmful chemicals in the environment, but also a bit numb to it. After marinating in all of these dire warnings for years. So I’m in the market for something better, something that you can’t ingest in a capsule form for the low, low price of $70 a bottle. And that is a rubric, a way of thinking about or processing all this information, all the contradictions of sorting real risk from everything else. And I think that’s important because the goal should be to help people in East Palestine and beyond live happy lives without being anxious all the time, but with enough awareness and knowledge to protect themselves from real dangers. So I’m not sure we’ll get all the way there in one podcast episode with one expert, but we’re going to try. Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths is a professor at Tufts Medical School with special expertise in environmental health risks. And I’m hoping he can put all of this into perspective for me. Dr. Griffiths, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate you being here. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to your audience also. Thanks very much. 

 

Brian Beutler: Of course. So I’m a layman, as I mentioned, and I want to be sure I didn’t make any elementary errors in that introduction. So if I did, let me know. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: No, I don’t think so. I think you’ve expressed what I hear from a lot of people in terms of concerns and how do I adjudicate all these different things that I hear, some of which are good and bad and so forth, and how do I make sense of all of it? 

 

Brian Beutler: So then let’s start in East Palestine and then we can zoom out and talk about more general risks or pseudo risks. What do you find most concerning about the accident there, and what, if anything, do you think isn’t really terribly worrisome? 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Well, I guess I’ll start by saying that what hit me was that we didn’t have sound you know, transportation for all this stuff, you know? So we have these tanker loads of chemicals that we have, shall we say, a lack of clarity in terms of what’s going to be the long term results and so forth, and that for want of a better system for making sure that the wheels weren’t getting overheated, since that seems to be what’s going on here, that this this derailment happened because, you know, there’s there’s like a thousand of these a year and it’s terrible. And I think we can do better than that in terms of reducing the exposures that we have to these chemicals. It’s not, you know, and the communities that get hit by this are often ones, you know, in rural areas or there are people who don’t make a lot of money and they don’t have a lot of resources and stuff like that. That’s exactly what we’re seeing playing out here. And so that’s that’s one angle on this. There’s an [?] element of I guess I’ll call it environmental justice. You know, these people this is not a it’s not a good thing that’s going to happen for them. I mean, even if there were to be no health consequences, just think what’s happened to the value of their property and is anybody going to want to buy a piece of property in this area? You know, all those kinds of things. So in terms of the, you know, health consequences, I’m actually more concerned about the stuff that’s gotten in both the chemicals that were being transported, plus the burn results, which we have no idea really what those are getting into the groundwater. And you correctly pointed out that even though there’s some nasty odors and there’s stuff that looks like it’s affecting people in terms of rashes and things like that, that will essentially be blown away, and one would expect the concentrations of those to decrease markedly. You know, with with wind and time and stuff like that, that will help dissipate that stuff. Now, it’s possible people may still have off odors that they notice because it’ll come up out of the ground so that, in fact, that may be kind of a reservoir for that kind of stuff in the long run. But at least the toxic soot and all that other garbage that resulted from the burn, you know, those levels should be going down quite a bit. So I’m I’m mostly concerned about what’s getting down into the water. 

 

Brian Beutler: Is that why the company, I believe it was recommended to local officials to to to control burn the spill because that at least would blow away as opposed to letting it all kind of seep into the ground. Was that sort of the rationale? 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Well, in addition and I’m only privy to news reports as well, too, there was some concern about explosions. So, I mean. 

 

Brian Beutler: Right, right, right. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: You know, it’s one thing to have this stuff burn in a controlled way, but to have that stuff go boom, you probably would have destroyed the whole town. 

 

Brian Beutler: Right. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: So, you know. And anyway, I think that that was another another element to this. 

 

Brian Beutler: So you mentioned the groundwater and that was sort of intuitively what what what I thought as well. But obviously between the air and the water, there’s just the ground. And it, hearing you talk made me think of everything I’ve read about continued reservoirs of lead, you know, kids playing in playgrounds in urban areas where they’re getting lead exposure basically from the dirt. [laughs] And if, you know, as as the toxic soot and all the chemicals in the air settle to the ground. Can we know how long it’s going to stay there and what the you know, the risk to future generations who want to take their kids to play in the park in eastern Ohio that that that that will be a source of long term exposure. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: But I don’t think we have any any way to know, to be quite honest. We don’t even know what the burnt products are. And these things tend to result in extremely large mixtures of weird, you know, compounds. And so, you know, some of them we might model, you know, we might think, well, maybe it’s similar to something else that’s happened and do we know anything from some similar kind of thing in the past. But, you know, as sophisticated as we are, we may not even have the tools to understand how broad that spectrum of of of combustion reaction chemicals are. And the other thing is that, you know, we as a I don’t know, as a society, as cultures, humans, we only have data on what some of the toxic nature of some of these compounds is going to be. But the vast majority of the ones that we would probably see with something where you’ve got a burn [?] like this, we don’t really know. And we have a lot of evidence that actually some chemicals don’t bind to soil and they can continue to diffuse through groundwater in, you know, sometimes for miles after what we’ve had a contaminant go in. So. There’s a lot we don’t know. And that can’t be very reassuring to [laughter] people who live here. I mean, I you know, and it it may be true that when you do the kind of testing that we do, we don’t see the chemicals that were in the tankers at high levels to cause concern. My guess is, as I said, there may be some reactions that went on during the burning. And we don’t know what happens with those. And we don’t really even have good characterization methods for all that stuff. I mean, if you go back in time, like, I don’t know, 40 years or something like that, 50 years actually, people started because we had the techniques to be able to detect chemicals. People started to get worried about some of the compounds that form after we disinfect water. And so they said, oh, what do you know? We have these in the water and what do they do? Well, we didn’t know. And. As time has gone on. Now, the methods we use for finding things in the water has gotten more and more specific. It’s gotten more precise. We can measure smaller amounts. And so that’s one of the things that’s one of the reasons, for example, that everyone’s all upset about the PFOS and the, the whole Teflon fine like co— Set of compounds, because now we can detect them. They’re present in most water systems and vanishingly small amounts, but we can find them now, we can track them, we can pay attention in a way that 20 years ago or something like that, we didn’t have the methods to be able to do so the, part of this. Feeds into a longer story, which is the more we look for this stuff, there’s more stuff we’re finding and the we live sort of in a sea of trace amounts of chemicals. And, you know, it’s in our water, it’s in our air and all this kind of stuff. And we really don’t know what it all does. 

 

Brian Beutler: I, I want to get back, I think, to the to the PFOS question, because, you know, and your point about us kind of discovering more and more about the things we don’t really know anything about being kind of ambient around us, but here with PFOS, you know, we can we can find it. We can I think we can even test people’s blood for it at the same time. Like it doesn’t seem like it would do anyone much good to create a panic about it and have people race out to to see how much exposure they’ve had to this stuff. So what? So that they can spend the rest of their lives worrying about what effect it’s going to have on them. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah, you know, I mean, one of the one of the questions that comes up based on what you’ve just said is, well, if I lived someplace with a lot of PFAS in it or, you know, one of the other compounds, it’s very closely related. How do I get rid of it, right? I mean, can I eat something or can I drink something or can I take a pill or something like that that would reduce these levels? And and you know what? We don’t have any good thoughts about that. And it’s interesting, you know, people for some of these chemicals, if you if you were to start drinking water and eat food that had absolutely none of them in them and you had no occupational exposure like some firefighters have had or things like that, you know, some of these chemicals, it would still take you six or seven years to get rid of even just half of what you’ve got in your body. They’re very, when they call them forever chemicals, it’s because they don’t break down. And once they get into you, they don’t seem to want to leave. [laughs]

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: And so, you know. You know, what this stuff makes me do is I think, what you and your family have done. I mean, I got rid of all of our pans that had these nonstick surfaces like that. I use different kinds of things. You know, if I want something that’s a nonstick, you know, surface, I can use some of the new ceramics and stuff like that or stainless steel or as you as you mentioned. But it’s really kind of unclear what to do. I mean, certainly if we want to reduce our exposure. You got to quit making the stuff and you got to quit putting it in food and on dental floss and, you know, stuff like that where it’s a convenience. But it’s not more than that. You know, nobody is you know, you know, nobody’s going to die if we get rid of these chemicals. You know, they are a convenience at the most, you know. I just want to point out Brian, you know, that in some countries, they they operate differently than we do. They say if this chemical was not found in nature, then you can’t put it into the nature. Right. You know, you can’t have industrial byproducts that you allow to go there and do something with them. Right. But in this country, we don’t we let people kind of make anything they want and sometimes dump stuff that they shouldn’t, in retrospect have done, because we require that there be strong evidence of a problem before we do anything about it. And so here you’ve got this community now where they’ve got they don’t know what’s going to be in their water. They don’t know what kind of combinations of stuff are there. In the same way that like lots of people who’ve been worried about PFAS and PFOS and the other congeners and stuff like that, they don’t know what’s going to happen, you know. So the best thing to do is probably reduce your exposure, get rid of the stuff that you don’t need. [music plays]

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Brian Beutler: When something like this happens, train derails near town lights, a bunch of chemicals on fire, stuff drips into the water. Officials, I’m imagining review the manifests on the to see what was on the train and what what may have spilled, what people may have been exposed to or may become exposed to. And then my supposition is they try to figure out what those toxins do to the human body and in that process. So where if you’re an EPA official or a local environmental official in Ohio or, you know, from the health department near where the train derailed, what sources are these officials turning to? Like, are there good sources where people try to deduce what constitutes a safe versus harmful amount of vinyl chloride or hexavalent chromium? 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah. So so for these chemicals that are really widely used, there have been toxicological studies where they expose rats and mice and different kinds of other animals and things like that to those chemicals. And they give an idea about acutely if you get a big honking load of this stuff, how much do you need to kill yourself to do something else if you’re a rat or a mouse or something like that? Right. The issue that comes up is not, you know, something which kills you in terms of exposure. It’s chronic low level exposure. And that’s and, you know, you just want to be honest. Those are more expensive studies to do because you’ve got to keep the rats and mice around for a long time. And if you’re interested in knowing things about like reproductive effects, does it does it mess with your sperm and your eggs and all that kind of stuff? And are the problems that your unborn kids are going to have? Well, then you’ve got to keep the rats and mice around and you got to let them breed for a while and then you see whether or not there’s some higher chance, let’s say, of congenital problems of some sort, you know, heart defects or something like that. And so once you start going down that pathway, these things become really quite expensive to do. And imagine, you know, that’s for okay one compound. Well, what happens when you’ve got ten and then what do you do when you maybe have a thousand byproducts of a burn in some low level? And so what I say is that in terms of exposure to the chemicals that were on the train, yeah, there’s pretty good toxicological information. Some would have been done by the companies that make it. Some would have been done by organizations like the EPA or similar ones in other countries. Sometimes scientists are interested in it for other reasons, and so they may do that independently of company financing or not working for a federal agency. And so, you know, local health departments can do stuff, too, where they look at concentrations of stuff and try and do some epidemiology. You know, one of the things about this brand that’s really difficult is, you know, you know, let’s imagine that some enlightened people who were involved in this said, oh, okay, what we need to do is track the health of everybody in this community. So we need to even for people without health care, because we’ve got you know systems like this, we need to get everybody enrolled in a study where we follow them and see if they have any untoward effects because of this. And, you know, that would allow for early detection of a problem. But you could imagine that it’s much better to find out you’ve got a cancer early rather than late and stuff like that, or if there are some other effects that occur because of this, you know, and that to me would be the most enlightened response to answer your question about this. 

 

Brian Beutler: Hmm. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: You know, we can’t go back in time. We can’t make the spill not happen, but we can pay attention to the people in the same way that like all those kids who got poisoned in Flint, Michigan, as well as the adults. Let’s not forget that there were adults drinking that water, too, and lead like leads to cognitive problems for them too. And hypertension, a whole bunch of other stuff. It’s not just the kids who suffered. So, you know, I think the best thing to do would be remediation out the wazoo. Test, test, test, look for these compounds as well. But I would I would suggest the best thing to do would be to enroll these folks into some kind of long term health study. You know, we have the Framingham study where we found out a lot about, you know, health risks from things people eat or drink or smoke, you know, stuff like that. Well, you know, it’s not a huge community, I would think, paying attention to them and and trying to do some early detection of any health problems that arise in the future would be smart. 

 

Brian Beutler: What you’re saying makes tons of sense because, I mean, I don’t really know what I’m talking about here, but it seems like it’d be trivial for the government or a collaboration between the federal government in Ohio to set up a clinic there. That’s basically the people of that town. Their health care is run through the clinic and they will be on the lookout for the kinds of long term effects that we know might be caused by some of these chemicals. And then we’ll be able to attack the consequences on the front end instead of having a situation like in West Virginia with DuPont, where you just go in years later and find out, hey, there’s a lot more cancer here than you would expect. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Right, right. 

 

Brian Beutler: Given the demographics of this population. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Right. 

 

Brian Beutler: At which point it’s too late for a lot of those people. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: The time to do something like that is now. The exposure just happened. And if you know, I know that folks have had irritations and rashes and smell stuff that, you know, must not be very pleasant and stuff like that. But in terms of the serious health consequences that we all worry about, things like cancer or reproductive effects that, you know, or maybe autoimmune disease, stuff like that, those are the kinds of things where the thing to do is get your baseline right now, get in there. 

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Get people assessed and then follow them. That’s that would be my two cents about the way to do something like this. 

 

Brian Beutler: So but it, it sounds like as you were saying before, about just the difficulty and the cost of really understanding what we’re dealing with with all of these chemicals and what, what might happen when you burn them is that, you know, sometimes this country has an allergy to spending money on things that might might help people. And I you know, I hear you saying that. And it got me thinking like if instead of train tracks where the accident occurred, there was a nuclear reactor and the nuclear reactor melted down, we’d I think we’d be able to say almost right away, everyone leave. You’re probably never going to come home. We’d create an exclusion zone, right? 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Brian Beutler: We we could use Geiger counters to help people avoid excess radiation exposure. Right. But but when it’s an industrial chemical, we seem to be flying blind. Is that really just we don’t spend the money required to really know how dangerous this stuff is? 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Well, there’s some knowledge because there have been events like this that have happened also in the past. And we haven’t seen, for example, that everyone drops dead a year later or that everybody gets, you know, turns green and gets cancer, some odd type and, you know, stuff like that. But, you know, that would be such an outrageous circumstance. That would be something that would get the attention of everyone. Similar to what you just said in terms of a nuclear accident. So we haven’t seen things like that. But what we do see when people are, you know, living next to refineries or things like that, I mean, they call that whole area the southern Mississippi River, Cancer Alley for a reason. And that’s because there are industrial chemical releases into the water and into the air and there are very high rates of cancer from there. Well, I’m not trying to say that living in this community is the same thing as living in Cancer Alley. They got a hit of some stuff. There’s no more continued exposure. Some of the stuff that was in the air is going to blow off and dissipate, and some of the stuff that went into the ground may bind to soil or something like that. But having said that, you know, the truth is this is you know, it requires something kind of dramatic to get the attention of policymakers often and to do the things like that. And so, you know, to one extent maybe all the political controversy and, you know, showmanship that’s been going on, if it were to help to establish, you know, by a level headed people, you know, something where we follow those folks over time to make sure they didn’t get something. And we use this as a learning moment, as a way. You know, it’s a very unfortunate event. Well, why don’t we learn from it? You know, why don’t we learn from it? It’s pennies on the dollar compared to what we might prevent. It might add an impetus for doing things like better rail cars or better sensors on these things to figure out when they’re going to actually, you know, fail in terms of wheels and stuff like that. You know, this apparently did not meet the criteria for being a hazardous train because even though there are, you know, you know, I think something well over a dozen tanker guards, I think it was 18 or 19 or something like that, I may be wrong, but I would think that it meets, you know, my commonsense idea about what a bad thing could happen. But it didn’t meet the guidelines that exist right now. So, you know, I would again, hope this would be a teaching moment for for stuff like that. We certainly don’t want exposure to things that we don’t even understand. 

 

Brian Beutler: Right. And well, it seems like we’re we’re okay in this country about fighting the last war after something like this happens, we figure out what the cause of it was. We introduced a new rule or regulation meant to prevent the exact same thing from happening all over again. And sometimes we don’t because the industry will fight it. Or there’s just a partisan problem and we can’t overcome it. But to do something that would be more dramatic, like you were alluding to the precautionary principle earlier as a as a as a scientist and a communicator, how how do you approach sort of discussing that issue or or trying to persuade people about it? Because so it seems to me like every generation we run a new disastrous experiment with population health in the name of economic prosperity. So, we, lead was everywhere a generation or two ago. And now, now it’s PFOS. And I don’t know what the next one is going to be. And it when when I when I look back at just that recent history, I think what you were saying makes a lot of sense. But there will be people, you know, unfettered capitalists and libertarians and whoever else who can always say, look, it’s terrible that a whole generation got exposed to lead, but the good outweighs the bad and just. And just think about how much progress we would have lost if we never had lead pipes and lead paint and leaded gasoline. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Oh, yeah, yeah. 

 

Brian Beutler: [laughs] I mean, I’m making that example up. But. But. It ends up becoming a clash of these pretty radical, radically opposed ideas. One is don’t make don’t allow things that we don’t really understand to become ubiquitous. Only to find out later that they are are damaging versus. You know, we we need to explore all the horizons and—

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Brian Beutler: —and you know, we’ll make missteps along the way and so on. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Well, you know, Brian, the way that I have found to get people’s attention is to say, okay, you probably care about your kids or you probably care about your relatives or you care about your sister who’s about to get pregnant or, you know, things like that, and then say, well, you know, if we use an economic model for this, we would say, well, if somebody dies ten years from now, it’s not as big an impact as somebody dying right now. We kind of discount it over time, right? Well, actually, most people don’t just count effects on their grandchildren and they don’t discount things like that to their descendants and family and stuff like that. So, you know, if anything, I know a lot of people who say, you know, I’d lose my arm rather than have my kid exposed to this or something like that. And I think that that’s the kind of stuff we’re talking about. The way to look at this is not through an economic lens. What this is, is something that should be looked at in a intensely humane lens. We do not want people to suffer because we you know, we took the easy route kind of stuff. Anyway, I have found that more successful than lots of other arguments. And, you know, that’s at least one approach to take. 

 

Brian Beutler: In that spirit. If you had family in East Palestine, what would you advise them to do now? 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Oh, hell, let’s see. Number one. Oh. I don’t know to what degree the testing of the water has been. So I know that if it goes through the normal channels of water testing, where they look for the usual levels of chemicals and stuff like that, you know, maybe it’s okay. And I think that probably the water is safe. But if I was living there, I would probably be doing something like either drinking bottled water until I had some more assurance or use the filter that uses something like activated charcoal. And the reason for that is activated charcoal turns out to bind to many chemicals. And so there are a lot of commercial things in the market. I’m not going to mention a specific name of one of them, but there are lots and lots of these water filters that exist, and most people use them because of taste issues or esthetic issues know they don’t like the smell of the water or something like that, or it tastes like chlorine or stuff like that. But that same charcoal type filter would absorb stuff, and at least in the short term I would if it was me or a relative right there, I’d say, why don’t you do that until the information for more extensive water testing is done? You know, it’s clear there’s not like higher numbers of bacteria there. And the chemicals that were in the tanks, okay, I’m sure that they measured, you know, they looked for those and stuff like that, but. I’d be pretty I’d still be cautious about that. I mean, Brian, to be honest, this is an agricultural community and so there may be things like pesticides in the water already or herbicides. There may be things that are high levels of some of the agricultural chemicals that are put on the soil, too. So. You know, that that may be in the background in terms of what’s going on. So, you know, I—

 

Brian Beutler: Right. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: I doubt that this is sort a pristine water supply without the presence of any of those. 

 

Brian Beutler: Right. And then in the future, if we don’t track these, these people will, will end up confounded a bit, right? Because if they end up with high levels of cancers or high levels of other chronic illnesses. It’ll be hard to dissociate what the spill caused versus— 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

 

Brian Beutler: Right. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: I mean, what, it might be possible to identify a group of people that really are very unlikely to have been exposed to these chemicals. And it could be because they live, you know, slightly outside of town or someplace where the water doesn’t go. I’m sure the groundwater there actually flows very slowly in some direction. And so if it if that’s true just about everywhere in the country, it’s not static. And if that’s the case, then you should be able to find some reasonable community that’s pretty similar and use that as a comparison group. 

 

Brian Beutler: Got it. Got it. That makes sense. Okay, let’s let’s zoom out a bit. I don’t want to diminish the immediate crisis in Ohio, but but before the accident there, we the the media consuming public were already awash in dire warnings about tons of things that we encounter all the time. So how do you you address this a little bit when you when you said that you, like me, got rid of nonstick cookware and things like that. But how as an expert do you think about what’s worth worrying about and what’s more worth shrugging off? 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Well, okay, I I’m a physician. I take care of people. And so, you know, I worry. You know, bigger picture, your you know, I worry about things like car accidents and I worry about like people with crummy diets and they end up with heart disease and stuff like that happening. Or, you know, there’s there’s a lot of risks out there. You know, you know, we have opioid epidemic that’s really bad it’s killed a lot of people. Firearms are now the leading cause of death in children in some ages. I mean, there’s a lot of bad stuff out there. Having said that, um, the exposures we get through things like drinking water are fairly ubiquitous. You don’t have much choice about it. Right. [laughs] You know, it’s the water supply. You know. You know, you know, and, you know, systems to, you know, give you maybe 100% confidence, you know, like your own internal, you know, system for treating water inside your house or something like that are prohibitively expensive for a lot of people and don’t make any sense. I mean, the reason why we had this remarkable and dramatic fall in lots of infectious diseases, you know, 100 years ago is because we started treating our water. You know, we filter our water, we treat it. We do all these kinds of things. We’ve had these immense benefits. So anyway, this stuff is not top of my list in terms of worry, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t prudently think about how to reduce risks that may exist and that, you know, people don’t people don’t have any choice about, you know, And so the you know, if you’ve got lead pipes in your town, you didn’t even know it while you’re getting, you know, a neurotoxin and something that probably is going to affect you, you know, when you get late in life and you start to get a little demented, how much of it was led and how much of it was Alzheimer’s? You know, you could prevent the lead stuff. You don’t need the hypertension either. And so when you’re looking at large groups of people, you get these big effects because they’re just so many people affected. Having said that, the risk from some of these chemicals is clearly related to people being in close proximity to where they were manufactured or if they worked there or if they got dumped into water and things went down. I mean, there’s even reports, you know, in the literature about alligators that are downstream of a place where they were making these Teflon like chemicals where the alligators have autoimmune problems. I mean, you know, it’s it’s like an indicator species in terms of something that’s there. But anyway, I mean, you know, I think, you know, we have COVID for cr— 

 

Brian Beutler: [laughs] Oh, yeah that.

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: I mean Brian, we’ve got a COVID, you know. Well, you know, we we one, know, we had more than a million people die of COVID in the course of a couple of years. So, you know, those are the. I’ll be honest and say that’s the stuff that really flips me out. This stuff, I think, is something where you can say there’s uncertainty about it, but we also don’t know that we’re all dying like flies from leukemia. 

 

Brian Beutler: Right, right, right, right. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: So. So we can put that, we could put boundaries on the risk kind of. 

 

Brian Beutler: And then from there you could you could say to people that freaking out, being scared, going out and spending tons of money to retrofit your home to protect against the incursion of every last drop of PFOS and whatever else like. Yes. May technically reduce your risk at the margin but is no way to go through life, right. I mean. And—

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: No yeah, it’s not. And and you know if if let’s say you could get away with a water treatment system inside your house and it cost you three grand. Five grand, six grand, maybe that money would be better spent doing something like eating better food or— 

 

Brian Beutler: Right. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: You know, making sure that your car is in good repair so you don’t have a car accident or buying a gun closet. So, you know, the neighbor doesn’t come over, steal a gun and commit suicide or something like that. I mean, you know, there are things where the where you can say the risks are probably higher. [music plays]

 

Brian Beutler: I remember when the Affordable Care Act was, Congress was debating it. And, you know, it was a long debate and a lot of it centered around the, you know, the way universal health care would benefit people’s health. And then there was this, you know, sort of counter argument that you’re forcing people to buy health insurance. You know, could you force people to eat broccoli? And I remember thinking like, that’s a ridiculous. You know, leap to make. And also thinking that if you could enforce like a universal broccoli mandate [laughter] or like a universal or like a universal, you have to take 10,000 steps a day mandate that it would do a lot more than giving everyone health insurance to increase life expectancy and reduce chronic illness, because so much of it comes from policies unrelated to who has health insurance and lifestyle choices people make that aren’t directly connected to how exposed they are to toxins or to viruses or whatever else. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah. Yeah, well, you know, it’s a complicated business. 

 

Brian Beutler: Yes. [laughs]

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: And of course, you know, there’s people talk about what their rights are in terms of, you know, I have the right to not do this or right not to do that and stuff like that. But we also don’t talk about responsibilities very much in in in these kinds of conversations. They tend to be all around the rights people have, but not the responsibilities. And sometimes moral suasion is helpful in that. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get everything you want in life and so forth. But, you know, Brian there are these people who’ve come up with this idea of something called a polypill. I don’t know if you ever heard of this, but imagine that you’ve got a pill where you get a little bit of something that’s going to help you and a little bit of something else that’s been shown to help people and you put all of them together into one pill and then you see what happens right and you give it to people and—

 

Brian Beutler: Okay, yeah, yeah, sure, I have heard of this. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: And and anyway, you know, there’s data coming out from some of these studies that actually death rates are lower and stuff like this. [laughs] So, you know, in a sense it’s, it’s the exposure to small amounts of something good for you as opposed to small amounts of things that we have no idea in terms of what they’re going to do for you. But there are there are lots of ways to slice and dice these different kinds of things. You know, I live in Massachusetts. I’m a physician. I thought it was criminal before we had our own, you know, Mass-Care, you know, kind of option that was signed in by our former governor, Mr. Romney. And, you know, I can’t tell you how many people I have seen weeping in the hospital who didn’t have insurance when I was able to say to them, don’t worry, don’t worry, you know, we’re going to take care of you. And we even have a system where we give you retrospective enrollment like one month beforehand before you get hospitalized. You’re not going to go bankrupt. You’re not going to become homeless. You know, you’re not going to have those kinds of things. 

 

Brian Beutler: I have physicians in my family who tell similar stories, and it just mind boggling that this was a problem that took so many decades to solve. What you said earlier makes me think two things. One is somebody get me these pills. They sound good. Yeah, that’s like the second is like broccoli. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. The second is is sort of on the other side of the of the, you know, exposure thing. You know, one place where I have difficulty ascertaining what’s the real risk, what’s being hyped, what’s just a product of, of mass media being bad at conveying good information is like more recent studies suggesting a correlation between red meat intake and colon cancer. And I, you know, I, I could, in theory, go read all these papers and try to understand exactly what the association between the two things is. But realistically, I have a job to do and then I don’t really want to read a bunch of—

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah, right, right. 

 

Brian Beutler: So I start wondering to myself, you know, is is red. Are they trying to tell me that red meat is carcinogenic or are they trying to tell me that people who eat lots of red meat are also likelier to do other risky things, they maybe eat too much in general, there’s higher rates of obesity in that population. And and so this is why we find cancer in in many people who ingest—

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah well Brian you just you just nailed something that’s a really important thing and that is there’s a lot of stuff in the media about, say, a cross-sectional study where you don’t really know what the exposures are. All you’re looking at is an association and you can’t show that it’s causal that it’s actually caused this. All you know is that you did a study and it turns out that what pops out of this is that these folks who have colon cancer tell you that they eat a lot of red meat. And so, you know, you go through the mathematical blah, blah with this kind of stuff, and that holds up even when you correct for ages and, you know, you know where they live and, you know, stuff like that that you normally do. So there’s a piece to this, which is that you get intriguing signals sometimes from these things. But again, they’re not enough to prove it. And of course, you know, if if your paycheck is, you know, one linked to, let’s say, the production of red meat, you’re going to say, well, I don’t know if it’s unproven, let’s not worry about it, you know, or you know, that kind of stuff. And if you’re a worrywart, you know, you’re going to go down the rabbit hole. And the truth is that our our knowledge of the world progresses relatively slowly. And sometimes it takes years to do the kinds of studies that are careful to set them up. So you can answer this and in that kind of way. And, you know, I think we have to have an appetite for two things. One of them is to do them [laughs] you know, and and the second thing is to think about what is just prudent. You know, and you mentioned the precautionary principle, and I alluded to it earlier, which is, you know, if you cannot avoid doing something like dumping chemicals in the creek or, you know, they used to be able to take motor oil, you know, think about the carcinogens in—

 

Brian Beutler: Mm hmm. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: —that and actually drill a well and dump it down in there. And so, like 25, 30 years ago, that was outlawed. But until that point, people had just been dumping this junk down into the grounds. Oh, I’m not going to worry about that kind of stuff. Well, that’s not very smart, you know, and that’s basically discounting the future effects on other people as opposed to elevating the risk and saying, that’s my children or that’s my family or that’s my community, and I want to be responsible about stuff and not put anybody at potential risk in the future. Hm.

 

Brian Beutler: When I was thinking about the red meat question in particular, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Argentina many years ago and they eat tons of red meat there. I mean, way more than— 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yes, yeah, yeah. 

 

Brian Beutler: —anyone, anyone I know here, even my even like people who I know who like hamburgers the most right. And I was thinking to myself, you know, this has got to be a confounded finding. And it’s really just people who eat red meat are more likely do other things or whatever, because if red meat caused colon cancer, then surely we would know that it was rampant in Argentina. And so I was like, you know, maybe I should Google that before I sit down for this interview. And, you know, the first studies that I found were like, Argentina has the second highest colon cancer [laughter] rates in the world or something like that. So then I’m thinking, okay, maybe this is actually real and not just—

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah, Brian, there’s there’s something called the ecological fallacy, which is that you compare people in different countries and you say, oh, many more fish in Japan, and we eat more beef in the U.S. and so what do we see? And the truth is populations are different for lots of other reasons. 

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: And so that is the confounding element. It’s good for like, you know, the generation of questions and sometimes you can get a signal or a clue. But again, it’s you can get led down the rabbit hole. You really can. 

 

Brian Beutler: Okay. So I, it seems like I may have just like fallen prey to my own. You know, the thing I’m trying to bring light to right there is [laughter] so in my line of work. In my line of work, we talk a lot about this idea of media literacy, right? Like the idea that for for citizens to be informed, they need to be pretty savvy about how to interpret the news. And it’s it’s like a huge challenge for the industry, but at least we have a term for it. And there are people thinking about how do we modify the way we present the news to people so that they come away better informed than we’re making them now. Is there like a scientific analog to this, like easy ways for people to develop a kind of like scientific literacy so that when they hear someone that they trust, tell them not to eat legumes or to get rid of all the plastic in their homes, or that gas stoves are hazardous, they know, or they can quickly ascertain at least whether there’s a real danger there or whether it’s bullshit, how imminent the danger is. If it is real, what what good reasonable remedial steps are, etc.. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Boy that one’s a toughie Brian cause for some things you can go to. What I see is creditable sources, you know. And so I’m, you know, by profession, I’m a physician— 

 

Brian Beutler: Right. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: —I’m a scientist. I do epidemiological studies things like that. So, you know, part of what I do is I go look and see what’s in the scientific literature, and I know how to go through it. For a lot of people, though, they just go and they go on the Internet and the first thing that pops up in their feed, they take it as gospel in terms of what’s there. So I think the, the business of media sophistication, literacy is really important. I’m drawn to the fact that I guess it’s in Finland, all the kids there get teaching in school about disinformation, you know, and they and you know, they’re taught how to recognize it, you know, and stuff like that. And then there’s another piece to this too, which is a behavioral one, which is and Brian, maybe you’ve got a term for this, but the way I recall this is like if you find a $20 bill and it gives you some pleasure, that’s one thing. But if you lose a $20 bill, it’s like three or four times the emotional impact. So things that are negative have a lot more impact than things that are positive. And I’m not sure what term you would use in terms of jargon for that. But you know, it’s easy— 

 

Brian Beutler: Well—

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: —for people to pass on a bad story than a good one.

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah. In the media, we call it if it bleeds, it leads. And so that is one of the reasons why when you turn on the news, you’re more likely to hear about how some household product is probably going to kill you than you know about how actually, it’s probably not that big of a risk. And it’s—

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: It’s not newsworthy, yeah. 

 

Brian Beutler: —it it trips up the whole industry because, you know, not everything is like you find out that, you know, people on on Fox News are like, we have to lie or else people will abandon us and our company will become less valuable. That’s not something that happens in real journalism a lot. But what does happen is people who are really good at what they do and they care about it. They realize that if they were spending all of their time writing about or talking about how many lives were saved by malaria nets, they would be conveying really important information about how this innovation, simple innovation that has done tremendous amount of good in the world and also their readerships would plummet, their viewership would plummet, and they’d be out of a job. And so they don’t do it. And we don’t really have a good answer for it except to like once every blue moon invite a credible expert on to a podcast and say, help, help me make myself less crazy about all the all the bad news that I keep hearing. [laughter]

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Well—

 

Brian Beutler: I guess. Go ahead. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: No I was just gonna say, I mean, we are inundated with this kind of stuff. And, you know, if you’re trying to sell something or other and you can tie it to something that’s going to get people’s attention, then, you know, this is what happens. But it it still, I think, means that it’s incumbent on people who others will listen to. You know, either it’s because of your job or because of the power of your voice. And you know, you’ve got a podcast you know those kind of things. I still think it’s important to talk about the good things and to point out, you know, how it’s better than it used to be. You know, Brian, I, I was teaching a course a couple of years ago. And students were really bummed out. We had a pandemic going on and they’re worried about sort of, you know, the global warming stuff and things like this. And I had to do a whole separate lecture on how the environment is better off than it was in 1970. You know, we don’t have the same levels of air pollutants in the country. You know, I live in New England and, you know, we had acid rain fall and that’s gotten much better. We have many fewer deaths of trees. The air is purer in the United States because of what we did, you know, decades ago. And sometimes it takes decades to work and you have to be patient. But it’s really important to say we can stay focused. We are people with more than 2 seconds of an attention span and we can recognize something and we can also we can create hierarchies of risk. You know, we can have hierarchies of stuff. I mean, I mentioned car accidents and firearm injuries and, you know, stuff like this. And, you know, we can we can do that. And we can also think about things that are voluntary and not voluntary. So, you know, if if there’s something that you do that’s risky, okay. You’ve made a choice, right? But if you get some dreadful disease because the mosquitoes have it and there’s a new disease out there that’s malaria like or something that’s passed by mosquitoes, that’s kind of involuntary because you’re outdoors and a lot of people have to be outdoors during the day or, you know, at dusk and dawn and stuff like that and get bitten. So, you know, there’s an element to this, too, in terms of this which is voluntary or involuntary. 

 

Brian Beutler: What’s in our control and what isn’t. Yeah. This is really what I want. Whenever I hear about any new problem or whatever is a chart that’s like, you know, up here is, you know, driving like speeding through a city street. And the risk of that and then lower down the chain is you drink tap water instead of bottled water. And then way down at the bottom is something else. And and so just try to try to situate new risks in our existing framework of old risks that we understand really well. So that people, you know, it’s like it’s not perfect, right? Like some people are aerophobes, even though they know that flying is safer than driving, you know, a thousand times safer than driving. But it’s at least helpful to be possessed of that kind of knowledge if your goal is to be, you know, get through life without without dealing with, you know, anxiety about every single new thing that that is introduced into your environment. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Yeah. When when West Nile first was introduced in the United States, I lived in the town where the first cases were being reported in the mosquitoes in Massachusetts, and it’s a part of Boston called West Roxbury. And so everybody was flipping out about this. And it turned out that that year there were half a dozen people who got sick with West Nile or passed away, which is terrible and all that kind of stuff. But that was a one in a million, you know, kind of thing in terms of the population, the size of Massachusetts. Folks were, you know, I had neighbors who were flipping out about this, but they wouldn’t think twice about driving 20 miles over the speed limit in their car with no seatbelt on. So they had—

 

Brian Beutler: Right. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: —they had accepted that risk because it was familiar to them. 

 

Brian Beutler: Right. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: And it was the unfamiliar, uncontrollable thing that had that weight to grab their emotion. 

 

Brian Beutler: Right and we’re zooming through that with COVID now, the the it’s a new thing that we don’t understand to like, actually everyone’s just sitting in a restaurant together now, accepting, accepting higher risk, because, you know, because they know how to control it better. They’re vaccinated, but also because they’re just, you know, it’s less mysterious bracketing the question what people in my industry can do well, because we tend not to be good at self-correcting. [laughs] Can we close on this is short of of prevailing upon the government to adopt something like a precautionary principle in our regulatory framework. Is there a better way for the government and state governments to think about like product regulation, mandatory warning labels? The things that we do do here to try to protect people or give them information that’s can can make them more prudent consumers or whatever to do a better job protecting them without over saturating them with information in a way that either makes them confused or overly scared or just numb because they’re like, I’m surrounded by stuff that’s apparently going to kill me and I’m just going to tune it out now. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Well, you know, that’s a big question. That’s one of those $64 million questions. I would think it’s probably a mixture of things. One of them is just what we were talking about, doing some handicapping where you say the magnitude of this risk is similar to driving a car or it’s the same thing as like, you know, walking outside with an umbrella in a rainstorm with lightning. And it’s made of metal. Okay. So, you know, you get hit by lightning. It’s pretty bad news. But still, it’s relatively rare event. But, you know, you can you can avoid this or it could be something like this is the same kind of risk that we see you know we do have good information about, for example, the amount of saturated fats that people eat and heart disease. So you could say, well, you know, burgers are good and, you know, da da da da da. But this also means that when you get to a certain age, you have a much higher risk of these cardiac complications because of that kind of stuff. Now, sometimes when it’s in the future, it’s harder for people to deal with it if it’s immediate. And, you know, everybody’s a little different along those lines. But so. You know, I guess what I’d say is that being able to give somebody some kind of way to calibrate this risk and, you know. Things really are a lot better than they used to be 50 or 100 years ago. I mean, in 1900, right. A third of the people in this country used to die of tuberculosis. Right. I mean, these things are gone because of some of the stuff we’ve done. I mean, when I say gone, I mean at that level. And it took on certain kinds of things to prevent in the future these kinds of reasonable things in terms of doing stuff. So I you know, it seems to me that for a lot of these issues, the thing to do is kind of, figure out a way to triangulate toward something that a prudent person would do, even when there’s a lack of knowledge about how big the effect is. I mean, with the PFOS stuff, you know, we still don’t even know what the range of health consequences are. And we’ve all got this stuff in us. I mean, I know you’ve got it in you and I’ve got it in me like everybody in the United States has got this stuff and my water supply has it. And I drink the water every day. But, you know, it seems to me that the established risk for that right now is low enough that it’s not worth my taking 6000 bucks and putting it in a specialized system [?] you know what I’m trying to say? So it’s like—

 

Brian Beutler: Yes. Yes.

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: —the risk of this is is it’s it’s something for us to pay attention to. We want to prudently get rid of anything. I don’t buy, for example, dental floss anymore that has the Teflon stuff on it that makes it easier to do, you don’t do those kinds of things anymore. So I, what I see here is kind of like a risk reduction kind of thing where, you know, you’re you’re saying, well, you know, and, and, um, and I think that’s a reasonable approach to take. It also means you’re probably not giving up the things that you love in life to, you know, you don’t need to say, I’m going to eat less saturated fat and give up all of your favorite things in life. You can still do it, but less you know, of that kind of stuff. 

 

Brian Beutler: Yeah, it sounds great. And it it’s sort of exactly why I wanted to have you on. Like, we don’t need to become a nation of of Howard Hughes’s in order to make our lives a little less risky, but still enjoyable.  

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Now, Brian how many people do you think know that Howard Hughes was a phobe about everything? That’s not common knowledge, man. Come on. 

 

Brian Beutler: [laughter] All right. We we will issue a disclaimer at the top, Howard Hughes locked himself in doors and and stored bottles of his own urine because he was a crazy person. You don’t need to do that to live a long [laughter] and healthy life. Dr. Jeff Griffiths, thank you for spending so much for your time with us. This was great. 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: Always a pleasure. Thanks very much for having me on. [music plays]

 

Brian Beutler: Let’s rewind back to the top of the conversation, which, for whatever it’s worth, I found extremely informative and useful. This was a politics free conversation, in part because I didn’t want to drag Dr. Griffiths into the muck of bad faith and nonsense that subsumed the discourse around East Palestine. And in part, I just didn’t want to confuse the issue, which is about health dangers real and imagined posed to Americans by lax industrial regulation. It’s about what we can do to reduce risk, what we can do to help people navigate the risks without walking through life afraid and what we can do to help people like those in East Palestine who become collateral damage to our system. And he had tons of good, simple, straightforward ideas about those things. Beyond regulating or reregulating rail companies, which is the idea at the front of everyone’s mind. What about setting up a clinic or hospital there to treat the residents when they become sick? Monitor the incidence of chronic illnesses over time. Help people and also learn something about the health consequences of this industrial pollution. Seems great. Simple, smart, voluntary. But of course, to do that, government would have to establish and fund the program now and commit to it over time. Which is exactly the opposite of what it normally does in situations like this, which is walk away from these disasters after they’ve been cleaned up and then let the victims fend for themselves or maybe fight it out in court. So here’s my one vaguely political comment. Some enterprising mix of senators and representatives should draft an East Palestine restitution bill that includes, yes, new rules, binding freight companies, their cargo and maintenance, compensation for victims, and the establishment of a small health system to get ahead of any medical complications that the people there may face in the coming years. Then let’s have a vote on it and see who’s the champion of the forgotten man and who’s full of shit. [music plays] Positively Dreadful is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is Michael Martinez. Our producer is Olivia Martinez and our associate producer is Emma Illick-Frank. Evan Sutton mixes and edits the show each week. Our theme music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.