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http://www.who.int/environmental_health_emergencies/disease_outbreaks/chemical_diseases/en/ Right here the WHO admits very vaguely that "There are many examples of disease outbreaks that are caused by exposure to chemicals or toxins". They do not give but one example but do admit it has happened.


I did find some stuff on arsenic/plants/calcium.

Arsenic interferes with phosphorous up take in rice, but plants can overcome this if more calcium is added.

The article says:

"that Ca supplementation improves rice seedlings tolerance to As-induced oxidative stress by reducing As uptake, enhancing their antioxidant defense and glyoxalase systems, and also improving growth and physiological condition."

So, were they adding more calcium at Olaa, even so the thirsty plant still took up plenty of arsenic and calcium both?


This is not arsenic but I am sure that arsenic also interferes with calcium uptakes.

This was from a paper on Aluminum Toxicity and Plant tolerance:

"Aluminum interferes with the uptake, transport and use of several essential elements, including Cu, Zn, Ca, Mg, Mn, K, P and Fe. Excess of Al reduces the uptake of certain elements and increases that of others, the patterns being dependent on the element, the plant part and species involved. A major factor is the pH concentration. At an acid pH, below 5.5, the antagonism between Ca and Al is probably the most important factor affecting Ca uptake by plants."


Jeannette Bishop;

That was interesting about the up take rate of sugar cane. "A very thirsty plant" I had forgotten that.

There are certain species of water plants used regularly to filter pollutants out of the water;
These are used around sewage treatment plants, as well as in 80s in polluted waters. They were then suppose to harvest them and buried them.

Sweet flag -- a tall reed that grows wild in ditches around here are planted on top of septic gravel systems put in really swampy areas to help in the evaporation rates. One county put such a system in one of their elementary school where I use to teach. .


Jeannette Bishop:

Leeching or leaching all sounds the same, so from where I am from it is a given that they can be used interchangeable and I do it all the time with here and hear. LOL!

Flint was treating the water just like it was still a very populated city. Putting in little phosphates and lots more chlorine The water set in the pipes and the chorine eat away the phosphate lining in the pipes and was not being replaced

Here is a good article -- with pictures even.

. http://michiganradio.org/post/flints-water-system-healing-itself-says-epa#stream/0

Jeannette Bishop

That should be "leaching," twice now.

Jeannette Bishop

Benedetta, here's more on pressure-treated wood and the arsenic leeching out of it:


Jeannette Bishop

Benedetta, I'm not sure I fully understand the Flint water concerns. I had the idea that chlorine was causing the leeching of lead or maybe it was that it accelerated it?

Thank you for the info about metal corrosion and pressure treated wood.

Jeannette Bishop

Thanks so much for explaining the lead corrosion coming off of or out of the coils of whatever a vacuum pan is when subjected to acid treatments to remove the lime build up on said coils (I think I really needed an extra explanation--and I hope I really do get it now).

My GoogleU does bring up lots of Hawaiian links with an "arsenic sugarcane" search and a blip (link on page 2 of my search) about Pakistan and water contamination with arsenic, believed to be from pesticide use:


Wikipedia says that polio is still considered endemic there and in Afghanistan...

And there was this headache of a puzzle... http://www.ticotimes.net/2015/02/17/study-links-sugarcane-fieldwork-with-kidney-disease-epidemic-in-central-america ... something seems to be more dangerous for the kidneys (particularly for young men) harvesting sugarcane than in applying pesticides to sugarcane.

Also, sugarcane bagasse and activated charcoal seem to be pretty effective for arsenic removal from water:


I don't know if that indicates sugarcane is likely to uptake arsenic through the roots or from external exposure, but your description (reference?) of a "thirsty plant" had me envisioning the plant drinking up pesticides particularly.

And (from a different GoogleU search) they are now researching the use of sugarcane in constructed wetlands to help with water filtration, but I can't tell (as most of these go over my head and I get tired of swimming and stop reading after briefest of perusals) if there is any aim or understood function of removing metals (mostly seems to be about removing "nutrients"):


Though higher levels of lead and cadmium were observed in cultivated polluted wetland crops (cocoyam? and sugarcane) here...


...with expressed concern about polluting/cultivating in such areas.

And this suggests that uptake of arsenic does happen (I can't judge how significantly), and the amount might vary by species:


"How to best use farmland contaminated with low to moderate levels of heavy metals remains a challenge in many parts of the world. Here, we screened sugar cane varieties to identify those with a low ability to accumulate heavy metals and with high tolerance."

So if you aim to use "low to moderate"ly contaminated farmland, it's nice to know they are now theoretically looking at what species actually uptake less (in China anyway).

Here we just saturate our fields with CAFO waste that can't be legally dumped in rivers, etc...so should I be glad we don't (can't?) grow sugarcane in the lower 48? (And should I be glad that I can't really eat any anymore anyway--why might that be?)

And we're maybe still using "modified arsenic pesticides" on cotton:

"Even so, arsenate pesticides were not officially banned in the United States until the 1980s. (And modified arsenic pesticides such as MMA and DMA are still approved for use on cotton)."


Dan; Thanks so much for more detail on the corrosions of lead soldering. .

Heavy scale always involves lime (calcium plus something else) on the vacuum pan coils and that darn heavy cloudy organic something attached again to lime (calcium and something else)

Something else - what does arsenic do with calcium?

calcium arsenate is a well know insecticide; would they know enough at the sugar factory to figure it out.

You know; this kind of makes you wonder about food safety even today. It would be almost impossible to test for everything coming in from so many areas of the world .

Dan Olmsted

a round of answers -- the "scale" stuck to coils in the vacuum pan and boiling it out with acid caused the lead in the coils to dissolve as well as the scale. (i rephrased the article to make that clear.)

"the principal objection they had found to our sugars last season was the formation of heavy scale on the vacuum pan coils, making it necessary to boil them out with caustic soda and acid every two weeks. The soda dissolved the lead in the joints of the pan coils and walls in the pan, causing leaks."
as you point out this could also be a toxic "ingredient" in the finished product although presumably they boiled the scale in between periods of refining. i don't have a lot of confidence in their quality control -- "they had been able to reduce the quantity of scale by using carbonate of soda in the melt liquor, but it was too expensive."

arsenic in cotton is another interesting subject.

as to what eckart, agee and norris knew or suspected about arsenic as an issue with the problems with sediment and grain ... we'll never know. i wonder if the refiners knew there had been a new pesticide in use at Olaa. probably not, it's a long way away and a small part of the sugar they got every year, and arsenic was the glyphosate of its day -- widespread and "safe." did it occur to anybody after the polio outbreak began that there might be a connection? again we'll never know. they did seem to change strategies for fighting weeds, as benedetta points out, but why they did that and what role arsenic played going forward is something i don't have a grip on but hope to figure out someday.
people make fun of google as a research tool, of course, and i spend a lot of time in places like the national library of medicine and the national agricultural library here in washington. but just google arsenic and sugarcane and you'll see it comes up in hawaii, and specifically olaa, but almost nowhere else on earth and no specific references after 1916 that i could find. it's like it drops into a black hole. -- dan


Anyone know what the effects of arsenic would be on cotton thread -- ?


Lime is a generic word for a whole lot of different types of Calcium and something else.


Jeannette Bishop

Since the Flint Michigan deal - I have wondered - at all the lead pipes in the world and yet we drink the water. The whole thing in Michigan -was they treating the water like Flint was still a big huge city. Apparently they add something to the water to coat the lead pipes and keep the water from direct contact. Lead pipes are just so easy to work with.

Rome and lead and water - if enough water ran over and through the lead it built up - lime - and acted as a barrier as well.

But lead lining corroding problem would indicate as we all know another metal being involved.

Reading the instruction in use of pressure treated wool there are pages about the Use corrosion-resistant nails and joist hangers with pressure treated wood--- pages of warnings that copper sulfate and arsenic - both causes corrosion of all the metal hardware that goes into attaching the pressure treated wood all together.


Great research by the way; to find the manufacturers notes on this sugar and interesting that the guys from Hawaii came over to have a look see - hmmmmm, I do wonder.

Did R.S. Norris, know about the arsenic treatment -how involved was he? H.P. Agee did know that spraying of arsenic but did he say anything - bet he didn't. .

But they switched over to cover cloths after that year cause it is clear that production of sugar cane went down, and on top of that the sugar factory said that the golden syrup was clouded and thus was selling it off cheap.

It looks like R.S Norris and Agree and Echart decided not to mention to the sugar producers that that organic precipitate might be laced with arsenic. They had to wonder and worry about it -- and they all know all that can happen with arsenic poisoning . Living in those big plantation houses was just too much of a draw -- that and a reputation. Keep quiet and it will all blow over.


I am glad you put that last bit into the article - I think it was important. They said in the end it was some organic matter.

Organic matter that would be in all the sugar from all over the world, but this organic matter precipitated out more than usually making it cloudy and cheap.

Everything has it's own dissolving capabilities.

Surely some one knows - some where about what arsenic does in the presents of organics in a sugary solutions. How does carbon and all precipitates out or organics in sugar. They should know cause there has been enough made from lots cane and sugar beets

Jeannette Bishop

"...corroded lead in the refinery tanks..."

Where was the lead coming from? Another case of synergy?

Dan Olmsted

Tim, thanks for bringing this up. In fact, they did do a test on Hawaiian sugar at the west coast refinery. Here is what it says, on page 72 and 73 of the planters journal i linked to

"on account of the ease with which the sediment goes into solution and the high density and viscosity of the syrup, we have found it difficult to separate out, and for that reason have not had sufficient time to isolate the substance in a pure form. Analysis of the ash of some of the syrup from which the sediment had been removed and of the crude separated residue showed the main constituents to be as follows" -- then listed potash, soda, lime, magnesia, sulfuric anhydride and chlorin. After further purification they still ended up with combinations of some of those, and said "the purest product still contains considerable organic matter, so the sediment may be an organic compound. Under the microscope the sediment is seen to be made up of very small, needle-shaped crystals arranged in bundles."
i asked our trusty environmental toxicologist about this and she replied: "Most likely the crystals were some form of calcium, such as calcium oxide or calcium carbonate. Calcium would have been plentiful in the sediment from the sugar (note the finding of lime). Arsenic was most likely present but would not have been plentiful in the sediment. On the other hand it didn’t need to be plentiful to be effective. I don’t know the conditions under which inorganic arsenic is converted to the pure crystalline element but no doubt those conditions are more extreme than what is found in a sugar refinery."
i'm going to add this into the article though at the end of the day i'm not sure it's telling us much, especially since it is not the sugar in question -- at the east coast refineries. would welcome any thoughts about it, though...dan

Tim Lundeen

@dan fascinating as always!

It's hard to believe that no one did an analysis of the impurities in the cane syrup or the grains. Seems like that would have been an obvious concern for the growers/refiners...

Dan Olmsted

hi david, i was just rereading the polio and diet article which makes a lot of interesting connections. one it doesn't make is that the first big epidemic started in brooklyn where the most sugar was refined! roosevelt is certainly interesting and uncertain as well. one thing that argues for a role for the poliovirus is that the rest of his family went on a camping trip the weekend he started getting sick -- he was feeling too poorly to go although not yet suffering from paralysis -- and all those family members felt the milder symptoms of neck pain, etcetera. so i'm still inclined to think it's a viral-toxin interaction in his case as well. but fascinating to speculate. i plan to take another look at that.

what really makes me crazy is that the "experts" in new york should have paid more attention to foods as a possible factor, regardless of their preconceptions. they were really condescending about it, as the experts have been ever since and not just about polio. it's one thing to get it wrong and another to sneer at the ordinary people who actually got it right! to a significant extent, that is the story of medicine....

i haven't spent much time on the ages of children during outbreaks other than i know it kept rising. i wonder how that fits with a toxin as a factor or co-factor.

mrs franklin -- it was a bit of serendipity to have stumbled upon her story as it opened up this idea of sugar to me. she seems way too old and too involved with children never to have gotten polio in that milieu of 1916 immigrant brooklyn, unless it was a new strain or something, which doesn't seem terribly likely. to be the very oldest person affected, to have the job she did, and the symptoms the way they developed points to something besides "garden variety" poliomyelitis.


david m burd

To me, what is also enigmatic about the NYC "polio" epidemic are the ages of children that had (from many medical references) already gone through subclinical or asymptomatic "polio infection in their gastrointestinal systems" by age one and one-half years, thus being becoming naturally immune.

As Mrs. Franklin should already been immune; after all "poliomyelitis" was long known as 'infantile paralysis.' And, as Dan & Mark long ago made the case about FDR being crippled in the prime of life it seems almost certain his more accurately described Guillane Barre Syndrome (not polio) was from toxic pesticides/fungicides or industrial paper-making chemicals in the cold waters he swam in just prior to his paralysis.

Frequently in the midst of a sudden crisis (real or imagined) the Medical System has thrown all similar illness cases (in this case, muscle flaccidity, death, etc.) into a single basket. In the case of NYC in 1916, it seems plausible that arsenic-tainted sweets of every source including ice cream are one THE best suspects. The article I sent to Dan (I appreciate his mentioning it) is a must read for those digging deeper. One bottom line conclusion for me is the present day mania demanding World-Wide polio vaccination is clearly the wrong (and toxic) way to go.

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