In 1936, three workers at the Halowax Corporation in New York State, who had been working with chlorinated naphthalenes, developed chloracne – a skin condition that Viktor Yushenko’s face brought dramatically to world attention in 2004, when he was standing as the pro-Western candidate for the presidency of Ukraine.
Chloracne can be caused by many chlorinated compounds from vinyl chloride, through polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Many medicines are chlorinated. I have no idea if this chlorination, as in Zyprexa, olanzapine, for instance can be a problem but Zyprexa and other compounds can certainly give rise to chloracne.
The three workers went on to develop jaundice and then liver failure and died. Halowax had shortly beforehand increased the strength of the chlorinated compounds that went into their halowaxes, which were used as insulators for electrical wires.
The company called in Cecil Drinker, then the dean of Harvard School of Public Health. Drinker and colleagues had helped create industrial hygiene. In this case, the approach involved taking air samples and then testing the chemicals found in the air on laboratory animals – chlorinated naphthalenes and biphenyls. The new more intensely chlorinated compounds were in fact more likely to cause liver damage than the older mixes. The trick then was to find the dose that could cause this problem in rats, half the dose, set this new dose as the maximal exposure permitted, and then recommend ventilation and related measures that would ensure the factory milieu never reached these levels.
There was a tacit understanding that industrial hygienists would not recommend safe levels too difficult for factories to reach. Having undertaken work to manage the issues, factories were well placed in the case of litigation to show they had acted responsibly.
Your point being?
The problem was these tests measured the acute effects of chlorinated compounds – six weeks. They assumed the problems arose from inhalation. And they measured the average effects. This leaves no room for an unusual sensitivity to a chemical, or chronic exposure or exposure that arises from chlorides or related compounds absorbed in unexpected ways.
Vinyl Chlorides can be very safe if used acutely and with discrimination. They are among the materials of choice for dominatrix outfits – as in the featured image.
The vinyl chlorides however also give rise to dioxins. Viktor Yanushenko’s chloracne likely came from dioxin levels that were at 4000 times the safe level in his body. He survived this apparently very acute exposure, which is widely thought to have been a poisoning.
But the cancers that lots of other people have developed since have come not from poisoning by political opponents, or from Sexual Games even those that until recently might have been seen as perverse (longer than usual exposure, variations on the norm and… ), but from chronic exposure to much lower doses than were in the Halowax air in the form of dioxins that have ended up in the food chain.
Without any conspiracy involved, the best science of the day, stamped with a Harvard imprimatur, completely missed the problem. But it did give industry great cover, and helped create the Harvard Department of Public Health and now Global Health.
To be continued.