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August 2001
Vol. 10, No. 08, p 9
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Deeper Diagnosis
Clyde Burnham’s article on heartburn [Health Perspectives, “Something You Ate?”, June 2001] neglected to mention achalasia, a tightening of the esophageal sphincter muscle. I had trouble with spitting at night and swallowing. My regular doctor first treated me for gastric acid reflux, which did not help. He then sent me out for an endoscopic examination, which showed no ulcer, cancer tumor, or hiatal hernia. For further testing I swallowed barium sulfate and after an esophagus manometer pressure test, I was diagnosed with achalasia. My doctor listed three possible treatments: 1) Use a balloon to dilate the muscle, 2) Inject the muscle with botulinum toxin, or 3) Cut the muscle some to relax it. The first two methods are not considered permanent and may have to be repeated later. I went for the surgery two years ago and have not had any more problems.

Warren A. Wilson

Risky Business
I agree with much that James Ryan had to say in his editorial [For Openers, “Then and Now, No Win”, June 2001] and enjoyed the companion articles on GMO foods. I have to agree that when bad things happen many people look for someone to blame, and if they recently received a vaccination or ate a GMO food, that is where they will place the blame and call on an attorney. It cannot be a random event or an act of God.

What frustrates many of my scientific colleagues is the demand for proof of “zero risk” for a chemical, a vaccine, or a GMO food. In scientific or actuarial terms, zero risk does not exist. What this demand for zero risk actually represents is zero trust by lay people in the so-called experts. Remember, one of the old definitions of an expert is that “X” is used to define an unknown quantity and a “spurt” is a drip under pressure.

By underestimating real risks and talking down to folks, we have no one to blame but ourselves for this lack of trust. It is this total lack of trust in scientists, the experts, that creates a huge barrier to overcome when promoting new biotechnology breakthroughs.

Brian A. McMillen
Professor of Pharmacology
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858

I read with interest your article on testing fume hoods [Instruments & Applications, “Reality-Check Your Fume Hoods”, June 2001] and I strongly agree about testing. I recalled my frequent exposure to sodium azide at my first chemist job because a pigeon had expired in the fume hood exhaust duct. We had no performance tests in place and only discovered the blockage when we installed a larger fume hood.

I was, however, surprised and concerned that the photo and air flow schematics that you showed in the article was for biological safety cabinets and not fume hoods. These devices are very different in their respective airflows, in what they protect laboratory workers from, and in how they are tested.

Perhaps TCAW will provide an article on fume hoods and biological safety cabinets for the benefit of chemists who may not know what a biological safety cabinet is and how they protect laboratory workers and what they can and cannot protect them from.

Anyone who is interested in biosafety cabinets can check out Chapter 8 of the publication Anthology of Biosafety II—Facility Design Considerations, published by the American Biological Safety Association, Mundelien, OH (847) 949-1517.

Cliff Colby

Medicinal Musings
I thoroughly enjoy the Chemistry Chronicles series and other articles on the history of chemistry. I did notice an error, however, in the very interesting article on sulfa drugs by David M. Kiefer [Chemistry Chronicles, “Miracle Medicines”, June 2001]. The article states that arsphenamine “was effective against the trypanosomes that cause syphilis” and later that “syphilis and malaria are caused by protozoa”. According to my reference (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary), a trypanosome is a “parasitic flagellate protozoan” while syphilis is caused by Treponema pallidum, a spirochete or “slender spirally undulating bacteria”.

Gene Rearick
Twin Falls, ID

The advent of the sulfa drugs in the mid-1930s gave physicians a powerful weapon and the “modern” history also has importance. Early in the history of burn care, silver nitrate solutions were used as the treatment despite their many drawbacks. However, in the early to mid-1960s, Drs. Robert Lindberg, Arthur Mason, and John Moncrief at the Institute for Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston, the Army’s burn center, found that Sulfamylon (or Mafenide, which is alpha-amino-p-toluenesulfonamide), applied topically as an ointment, was very effective against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the organism that caused sepsis in the burned patients. Unlike the other sulfonamides, Sulfamylon did not crystallize in the kidney since the body could metabolize it and the metabolite was excreted. The survival rate for burn victims was very much improved due to this work.

Charles Ritchey

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