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Personal exposure to the pollution controversy.

Recently, while surfing the Web, I entered the name of my hometown, Elrama, Pennsylvania, a metropolis with a total population of 903 people. Lo and behold, up comes a picture of 536 white crosses, placed by Greenpeace, on the little league baseball field in this small town. They are protesting deaths probably due to pollution from the coal-fired plants and other polluting industries so ubiquitous in the western Pennsylvania of older times. They have chosen this small town as the first of a number of public reminders in the Pittsburgh area. Part of that baseball field covered my garden, which in 1950 was a 12-year-old's attempt at breaking into major farming.

The picture includes at least four high-tension electrical towers, and a coal-fired, smoke-belching plant that produces electricity. It sits on the west bank of the Monongahela River, about 15 miles south of Pittsburgh and five miles from a town of more infamy called Donora, where some of my family worked, and my parents regularly shopped. Donora is famous for an inversion-layer-induced smog that trapped the smoke from a zinc processing plant, along with additional steel smelting plants in the area. The smog during that December hindered driving, and operating a motor vehicle was prohibited because of added pollution. The local football game between Donora and neighboring Monongahela was unique to say the least, since kickoffs and punts were lost to the players and fans alike.

The Donora smog occurred in 1948 and is said to have killed 20 citizens, sickened 7,000 people, and according to researcher and epidemiologist, Dr. Devra Davis, probably contributed to lifelong disability and ill health for many thousands more. Dr. Davis, whose website is, was raised in the town of Donora. Her recent text, also entitled, When Smoke Ran Like Water, is an interesting read on exposure and corporate malfeasance, such as adding tetraethyl lead to the gasoline in this country, and then admittedly using a female spokesperson named Ethyl to quell any concerns of personal harm to the populace.

Her text describes the disaster that struck Donora and also references the great London killer smog in 1952. One anecdote relates one resident's inability to find his house because of the smog. He finally heard the tapping cane of a blind man, who took him to his home. London citizens, as well as those of Donora, literally could not see their feet or their hands stretched out in front of them. Even theaters were closed since the smog permeated the auditoriums. That famous inversion layer over London killed an estimated 12,000 citizens. They only realized the extent of the disaster when undertakers ran out of coffins, and florists ran out of flowers.

Being well-versed in scientific research involving the environment, Dr. Davis was requested by Senator Inouye of Hawaii to provide an explanation for why he "got sick" every time he flew non-stop from Hawaii to Washington, D.C. Her assessment of the air quality in the aircraft for such a long trip suggested that the air the passengers breathed left a lot to be desired. That research resulted in media exposure for Dr. Davis and her very capable work. Other authors suggested everything from inactivity, altitude, less oxygen, and jet lag as major factors that may cause ill health coincident with long aircraft flights.

My personal entry into this story revolves around statements from my mother about how I was carried around on a pillow until I was five years old. Some undetermined malady kept me in dire straits as a child, with symptom residuals that extend throughout my lifetime. I was finally seen by a Dr. McClusky in Pittsburgh, who apparently had an alternative healing bent. He advised my mother to massage me each night with castor oil. She complied, and I recovered. Dr. McClusky called me his "McClusky husky" and complimented my mother for her diligence in following his directions.

As was typical in those days, in Elrama and elsewhere, my mother cut a lock of my head hair for my baby book, and dated the sample at November of 1939 at six months of age. Recently unearthing this tome revealed the well-preserved lock of hair in place. I immediately rushed it to the laboratory where I am a consultant, and requested an assessment for mineral load.

In line with the history of smog in the greater Pittsburgh area and Donora locally, concomitant with that piece of geography being referred to as the smoggiest city in the world, my hair mineral readings confirm the probable reasons for my childhood ill health. Confirming further this polluting contamination, my mother would tell me of hanging bed sheets out to dry on the clothes line (there were no clothes dryers), and when she was finished with the last sheet, the first one hung out would be dirty. I was born at home, raised in that environment, and this town of Elrama was next to a major coal-fired, steam engine, switching-yard ... the Pennsylvania Railroad.

My 1939 heavy/toxic metal readings are as follows:
          MGS%  Parts per million  Optimum

Mercury   0.18   1.8                <.03 MG%
Cadmium   0.12   1.2                <.02 MG%
Aluminum  5.24  52.4               <0.9 MG%
Iron      7.20  72.0               <1.8 MG%
Lead      4.57  45.7               <0.5 MG%

The above results clearly place my young body in a seriously ill category--unbeknownst to the medical establishment at the time--and commonly overlooked today. Iron is a nutritional mineral and a necessary element in the right amount. Excess iron, however, can easily be deadly. Major concerns in Poison Control Centers throughout this country center on children who might swallow four commonly available iron tablets. Death from iron ingestion for a 4- or 5-year-old is a significant possibility. Further complicating the threat is the fact that these tablets resemble M & M chocolate candies.

Further assessments of my nutritional minerals suggest severe adrenal gland "burnout," along with profound adrenal stress and a marked hyperthyroidism, no doubt an attempt at compensation to the toxic metal overload. As is common in iron toxicity, manganese excess was also noted. I am advised that manganese is now the element of choice replacing lead in the gasoline supply. The presence of manganese as an exhaust factor may yet prove a significant threat to the health of the citizenry. Patients exhibiting the readings that I demonstrated at six months of age are candidates for imminent death, based upon our lab's experience. The owner of the laboratory expressed wonder that I did not die, considering the severe amount of toxic minerals and the almost total collapse of immune capabilities.

Toxic metal pollution from coal-fired engines, along with steel mills and other metal processing plants is well-documented. These emissions have been proven to release large amounts of mercury and are allegedly the cause of acid rain and mercury-contaminated fish. Two grams of mercury in 20 acres of water render the fish so toxic, they should not be eaten by humans or animals.

Elrama is center-stage in the ongoing efforts of Greenpeace in cleaning up the environment. They are also revisiting my hopes of starting a truck farm. But even then much of the Pennsylvania hillsides adjacent to these plants were rendered devoid of vegetation due to toxic metal emissions. My attempts at cornering the vegetable market would no doubt have been fruitless. I will have to seek other means of making a living.

by William B. Risley, Sr, DC
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Title Annotation:air pollution and related health abonormalities
Author:Risley, William B.
Publication:Original Internist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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