Water quality topics we should talk about, but don’t

18 December 2012

One of the top 10 news stories about water during 2012 was the one that entitled “Could tap water cause Lou Gehrig’s Disease” (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, an incurable neurodegenerative ailment). While the jury is still out on this one, and may be so for a while yet, nothing gets readers more stirred up than the possibility that your tap water could kill you – and in a not very nice way.

To-date the information suggests that geographical clusters, in which a higher prevalence of ALS exists in relation to a particular source of water, exist.  When I was a student, we were taught about the “cancer gardens” that existed in the South African Transkei – areas where esophageal cancer were way above the norm.   The links between cyanobacteria, BMAA and ALS may have similar links – we simply don’t know yet.  The nature of the BMAA toxin suggest that it may be an environmental trigger and that there may well be aetiological links between it and damage to brain cells – again there is much to be learnt but this does not mean that the possibility (remember the precautionary principle) can be ignored in the meantime.  We have seen what can happen by ignoring eutrophication for too long…

As stated at the 22nd ALS Symposium,

Environmental exposure to BMAA from the aquatic food web [= the dam near you] may lead to increased brain uptake and protein incorporation over time.  Misincorporation of BMAA into cerebral proteins may alter normal function, folding and proteosomal degradation, increasing the risk for neurodegenerative diseases that affect aging populations. 

The issue of water quality – and all that is encompassed by the term – remains something of a dark horse – by this I mean its not a topic that ‘experts’ readily speak about – as it will probably make you quite unpopular on the lecture circuit.  Lecture evening and specialist presentations by ‘critical thinkers’ have become quite popular – but I have my doubts.  More often than not its the same group of people, saying the same things – but with the slides panel-beaten into a different order from this week to next.  They target issues at broad level and all have a singular failing – they seem incapable of expanding their information “think-tank” to include a wider range of opinions – or indeed opinions on central key issues such as water quality.  As with talking about unpopular topics (topics that the authorities or Big Business would rather not have discussed too openly), diluting the pool could have a negative impact on lecture-circuit income.

All too many researchers have been dismissed or otherwise ‘got rid of’ from speaking about that of which we shall not speak!  There are all too few Jane Gray’s around to tilt at the windmills of  “lets not upset the funders” science!

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