SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Uranium-in-hair test useless
For the past few weeks, the ‘uranium in hair’ news story from Faridkot has been receiving a lot of media attention. The presence of uranium in hair is nothing new. In USA, several analytical laboratories analyze hair samples and offer advice and treatment. At US $180 per sample, it is a thriving business. Experts argue that the test is useless in the diagnosis of diseases.

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Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL
As we all know the ozone layer is being depleted and the ozone gas present in this layer is decreasing. I have read that ozone is prepared from petrochemical reactions (please correct me if I am wrong). If it is released below the troposphere it can be poisonous to us. Can’t we create ozone and fill it in a container and release it in the ozone layer so that the loss of ozone from the ozone layer can be filled up? Can it be done?

 


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Uranium-in-hair test useless
K.S. Parthasarathy

For the past few weeks, the ‘uranium in hair’ news story from Faridkot has been receiving a lot of media attention.The presence of uranium in hair is nothing new. In USA, several analytical laboratories analyze hair samples and offer advice and treatment. At US $180 per sample, it is a thriving business. Experts argue that the test is useless in the diagnosis of diseases.

Presence of uranium in the hair of children by itself does not mean anything. “I have data on uranium in hair for more than 20,000 persons. I have never seen a single case in which it was clinically significant and affected treatment”, said Dr William Walsh, a specialist in the field responding to my e-mail query.

According to Ronald Kathren, Emeritus Professor, Washington State University, a well-known expert on uranium related fields, background levels of uranium in hair vary highly from person to person and region to region, depending largely on dietary factors.

On June 17, 2008, Aetna, the US agency providing scientific information on health care, asserted that hair analysis has not been proven to be of use in either the diagnosis or treatment of autism.

The American Autism Society concluded thus: “The exact cause of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is not well understood. …..Currently there are no biological markers for ASD, and diagnosis is based solely on behavioral criteria”.

Pritpal Sigh, head of Baba Farid claimed that “the results were startling”… “around 80 per cent of samples… revealed the presence of uranium in levels that the experts have described as pathological,” he said.

Did they collect for comparison, hair samples from their healthy siblings or from normal children from the regions from which the autistic children came? The study appears to be flawed. My repeated attempts to get the uranium test results from the German Company failed.

Some people made un-substantiated, un-scientific and preposterous claims on the origin of uranium. They attributed the allegedly increased levels to Indian nuclear reactors at 150 km away away, Pakistan’s reactors and winds from Afghanistan. A competent team of scientists from the Department of Atomic Energy is studying the matter. I do not want to prejudice their investigation.

During the 60s, some people in USA argued that uranium in peaches from a region near the Hudson River might have originated from a uranium enrichment plant located across the river.

An enterprising lawyer found that peaches from far off California also contained uranium. Peaches grown in cultivated farms, using fertilizers were more “radioactive” than those grown in virgin fields. Phosphatic fertilizers contain uranium!

Uranium run off from the fields may cause increase in the concentration of uranium in drinking water. This aspect needs closer investigation. Uranium enters body through food and water. Most of it is excreted promptly. Body retains a small portion. A portion of it appears in hair.

We cannot avoid the presence of uranium around us. It is present in rocks, soil, water etc. The first one metre layer of a ten cent (one tenth of an acre) piece of land may contain about one kg of uranium. It may be more, or less depending on local geology. Water entering the soil pores carries traces of uranium with it.

Normally, the uranium concentrations in water in India are less than a fraction of a microgramme to a few microgrammes per litre. Scientists have measured moderately high concentrations at a few locations.

Researchers have found that the maximum concentrations of a few hundred to a few thousand microgrmmes per litre in USA, Finland and UK. For uranium, the maximum acceptable concentration of uranium in water is based on its chemical toxicity.

On September 15, 2008, Pritpal Singh sought financial support from Mukesh Ambani. “Dr Carin Smit with her team visited our centre and stayed with us for 15 days and diagnosed the most severe cases and came to the conclusion that mostly kids are highly toxified because of Mercury,” he wrote.

Now Smit claims that uranium is the cause for the health conditions of the children! The investigations on the appropriateness and the legality of some of the treatment practices such as “chelation therapy”, advocated by the foreign team, may open a can of worms.

— The writer is former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board

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Trends

Actress Laurence Iseli performs during a rehearsal of the musical "Robots" at the Barnabe Theatre in Servion, near Lausanne, April 22, 2009. The musical tells the story of a man in self-imposed exile who lives with three robots (a butler, a pet and a dancer) and who is facing a visit from a woman who represents his last link with the outside world. The three automatons were developed by a spin-off from the EPFL called BlueBotics and are able to act autonomously and interact with the two actors and the set. The musical will have its world premiere May 1. — Reuters photo 

Arctic fossil shows how seals went from land to sea

OTTAWA: Scientists in Canada’s Arctic have discovered the fossil of a previously unknown web-footed carnivore that helps explain how seals developed from land-based mammals, a member of the team said on Wednesday. The very primitive animal, measuring around 110 cm (43 inches) from nose to tail, had a body similar to that of an otter, with a skull more closely related to a seal.

Smallest exoplanet found in search for Earth’s twin

SANTIAGO: Scientists searching for a planet like Earth said on Tuesday they have found the smallest planet ever detected outside the solar system, less than twice the size of our own. The exoplanet, a planet that orbits a star beyond the solar system, is called Gliese 581e after the star it circles. Because of its relatively small size it is likely rocky, like Earth, as opposed to gas giants such as Jupiter or Saturn, the astronomers said.

Japan mulls satellite for missile launch detection

TOKYO: Japan is mulling an early warning satellite that can detect missile launches, a government official said Wednesday, amid worries about North Korea’s missile power. Pyongyang launched a rocket on April 5, which Japan saw as a disguised missile test. The launch has sparked calls for Japan to consider possessing an early warning satellite and beefing up its missile shield.

Gene technology threatens new racism: Vatican

GENEVA: Technology allowing parents to choose the genetic characteristics of their babies threatens to breed new forms of racism, the Vatican told a United Nations race conference on Wednesday. Pope Benedict earlier this week said the heated U.N. forum, which several Western powers are boycotting to avoid giving legitimacy to criticism of Israel, was an important initiative to confront all forms of modern discrimination.

Could lice prevent asthma?

WASHINGTON : Could lice be the secret to preventing asthma? Research on mice shows that those carrying the most lice had calmer immune systems than uninfested rodents, and they said their finding may have implications for studying the causes of asthma and allergies in people. Egyptian woman dies of bird flu: MENA CAIRO : A 25-year-old Egyptian woman has died of the H5N1 bird flu virus, the 25th human fatality of the disease in Egypt, state news agency MENA said on Wednesday. The woman, from Cairo, died of respiratory failure, MENA reported. — Reuters

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THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL

As we all know the ozone layer is being depleted and the ozone gas present in this layer is decreasing. I have read that ozone is prepared from petrochemical reactions (please correct me if I am wrong). If it is released below the troposphere it can be poisonous to us. Can’t we create ozone and fill it in a container and release it in the ozone layer so that the loss of ozone from the ozone layer can be filled up? Can it be done?

Thank you for your question. I have been advising readers of The Tribune to search for some of their questions from the archive of my column in the online edition of the paper. I tried doing that just now and found that I had answered a similar question over six years ago. I am repeating the response that I found. I hope this answers your question.

Ozone is created, as you say, by the action of sunlight, particularly the hard ultraviolet, on molecular oxygen in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The atoms of oxygen released in the process combine with molecules of oxygen to form ozone. These processes go on, along with the processes of destruction of ozone. This destruction occurs through collisions and through absorption of the ultraviolet that would otherwise reach us on the ground.

The population of ozone, and hence its efficacy in affording us protection, is determined by the balance of its production and destruction processes. This balance has now been tilted in the direction of greater destruction-causing a deficit we call a hole.

You must remember that the life of an ozone molecule is only a few minutes. It is its death through ultraviolet absorption that protects us. If CFC and other chemicals released in the atmosphere begin to remove ozone there is not enough left to efficiently absorb the ultraviolet. The only way we can help fill up the hole is to reduce this extra destruction we produce through harmful chemical pollution.

It is not easy to think of industrially producing ozone and transporting it up to the top of the atmosphere. Even if we were to use more than a shuttle flight a day it would take a thousand years or more to transport enough. We cannot produce ozone and let it out in the atmosphere hoping that it would form a shield. First, too much ozone near the ground is not good for health. Second, ozone is heavier than oxygen and hydrogen and would not rush to the top of the atmosphere. And finally it would in any case be destroyed through collisions in the dense atmosphere.

Readers wanting to ask Prof Yash Pal a question can

e-mail him at palyash.pal@gmail.com

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