A little update.

This may be of interest to people living in Washington, but also of general interest.
http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/rare-birth-defects-still-spiking-washington-state-n86916

This was also posted under science and technology

I’m not trying to start a conspicary theory but I do find it interesting that this area was the hub of developement for the plutonimum bomb in WWll.

Don’t worry. They are recommending folic acid supplements. That should take care of whatever the problem is. Ya think?

Babies being born without most or parts of their brains, pushes emotional buttons for me. So I was tempted to say something bitterly sarcastic, like, You lefty, tree-hugging, socialist Nazis, are at it again. Trying to initiate another hoax about something terrible happening because of human actions, to further your liberal agenda. Everyone knows that babies being born, in repeated clusters in certain localities, happens all the time. It is a naturally occurring cycle. Anthropogenic, my ass.
I was tempted to say that. But instead, I had a vague recollection of this happening in south Texas some years ago. I looked up several articles on it. It was happening in 14 counties along the Mexican border and first brought to light in 1992-93. A few million dollars were spent, to no avail, to determine the cause. The clusters apparently continued to occur, peaking again around 1998. Still no identified cause, though various sources of pollution were suspected, and looked at. Then, I saw an article from 2006, that seemed to have pinned down the culprit: corn that had a fungus containing fumonisin, a toxin associated with birth defects. Hispanic women, in the areas, were found to have a higher level of fumonisin, and were twice as likely to have the babies with birth defects. Presumably, they also ate more corn tortillas. Okay, so problem solved?.. I then see a much more recent study that doesn’t seem to have any clear answers, and doesn’t even mention corn, fungus, or fumonisin. But it does mention folic acid. AFAIK, a higher than normal percentage of birth defects are still occurring down there.
I guess reality can be more bitter than sarcasm.

As mentioned in the other thread which I referenced above, most of these so clusters turn out ot be nothing more than statistical flukes with nothing in common but their apparent proximity to each other. While some investigation may be warranted from the public health authorities very few will ever be due to tainted water or food or air or any other public health risk.
As an example, On Long Island ( NY) there is a higher incidence of breast cancer than average. The public demanded an investigation and millions were spent on a large study done over a number of years. The final results did not link breast cancer to any environmental factors. What was more upsetting is that the breast cancer patient groups and local politicians were so enraged by the results that they came out in the press demanding that those in charge of the study be fired.
When people see a cluster it seems to be human nature to want to believe there is some common cause but more often than not the cluster or association is a mirage. We don;t get upset if 10 cases of brain cancer occur along 100 mile stretch of highway but if those same cases occur along a 10 mile stretch everyone is much more fearful and concerned.

As mentioned in the other thread which I referenced above, most of these so clusters turn out ot be nothing more than statistical flukes with nothing in common but their apparent proximity to each other. While some investigation may be warranted from the public health authorities very few will ever be due to tainted water or food or air or any other public health risk. As an example, On Long Island ( NY) there is a higher incidence of breast cancer than average. The public demanded an investigation and millions were spent on a large study done over a number of years. The final results did not link breast cancer to any environmental factors. What was more upsetting is that the breast cancer patient groups and local politicians were so enraged by the results that they came out in the press demanding that those in charge of the study be fired. When people see a cluster it seems to be human nature to want to believe there is some common cause but more often than not the cluster or association is a mirage. We don;t get upset if 10 cases of brain cancer occur along 100 mile stretch of highway but if those same cases occur along a 10 mile stretch everyone is much more fearful and concerned.
Yes, much like the hoax of AAF (anthropogenic ass fatness). My ass being fatter than normal has never conclusively been scientifically determined to be due to human causes, though most dieticians would point to simple correlations between my ass fatness and my dietary intake and dearth of physical activity. We could waste millions trying to definitively determine the true cause of my ass fatness, but the sad truth is we will probably never know for sure. And even if we knew, conclusively, that my ass fatness was due to human activity (or human inactivity) (Hmmph, fat chance of that) attempts to correct the problem would, no doubt, cause more harm than good.

No response? Perhaps I have obfuscated my points, or perhaps no one other than I appreciates, what I consider to be, elegantly scripted biting satire. I shall attempt to clarify my thoughts on this matter.
Even if it is true that we humans only become concerned about babies being born without brains, when it occurs in “statistically anomalous clusters in certain localities”, and even if it is true that there are rarely, if ever, actual common causes, the fact is that we do get concerned, at times, because “statistically anomalous clusters in certain localities” have been recurring for some time, now. And lots of money has apparently been wasted in doing scientific studies, when the best resulting answers are: “We don’t know.”, “We may never know conclusively.” , and “Expectant mothers should take more folic acid.” And meanwhile, the costs of caring for babies with much of their brains missing, is likely even greater than the cost of the ineffective research.
It occurs to me that there may be something fundamentally inadequate about the scientific methodologies that have been employed. e.g., Perhaps (just a thought) single subject research designs should be employed, rather than the more traditional group designs that attempt to weed out, one at a time, the potentially thousands of possible variables, to no avail. Or we could be content to wait further decades for the results of longitudinal studies, (also traditional), and perhaps get similar, apparently useless results in another 20 something years.
Or we (not I) but we, in general, can be content with the answer, that when enough babies are born, it is just going to happen, sometimes, that some of them will be born without brains. So there is really nothing to be done about it, except “Take those folic acid supplements.”
Or perhaps we really don’t want to know the possible multitude of causes of babies being born without brains. (There is a cause, or various causes.) But do we want to negatively effect the corn tortilla industry if only one in a million babies are born without brains, due to an occasional fungus toxicity? And disrupt the chemical industry, the coal industry, the oil and gas industry, the fertilizer industry, etc., if just one in a million babies are born without brains, due to associated pollutants? And disrupt the nuclear energy industry, if only one in a million brainless baby births is due to radiation poisoning? And waste boatloads of money trying to detect some mysterious seemingly innocuous virus that only leads to one brainless baby birth out of a million? etc., etc., etc.? Of course not. I mean even Captain Kirk and Spock taught us that the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the one… Or wait… was it the other way around?

Tim I had pointed out in the other post on this subject that we are always going to see some “clumpiness” even in a pretty random distribution of human diseases so it is quite possible and even likely that the majority of these clusters have no external environmental causes so it is reasonable to investigate these clusters but I woud certainly not break the bank trying to find the cause of every cluster of 50 or 100 cases.
You seem to thin there is a better way to investigate clusters. Perhaps you could elaborate on that further.

The problem is that most people have a rather primitive understanding of probability and statistics. They are sure there is some underlying meaning to all these clusters. Everyone knows that heads come up 50% of the time with coin tosses, but we also know that we can have runs of a half dozen or more of either heads or tails, and we don’t bother asking what the hidden meaning of this is.
On the other side, I’m sure that if we did a search of a wide variety of medical conditions, we’d find areas where they occurred less frequently than they did on average. How should we handle that information?
Occam

Tim I had pointed out in the other post on this subject that we are always going to see some "clumpiness" even in a pretty random distribution of human diseases so it is quite possible and even likely that the majority of these clusters have no external environmental causes so it is reasonable to investigate these clusters but I woud certainly not break the bank trying to find the cause of every cluster of 50 or 100 cases. You seem to thin there is a better way to investigate clusters. Perhaps you could elaborate on that further.
Investigating clusters the way they have been investigated, has apparently been, essentially, fruitless, in coming up with any useful results, if the point is to determine why a small percentage of births, are of babies who are missing brain parts. Perhaps money would be better spent in designing and carrying out rigorous, individual, case studies of each and every baby that is born without all of its brains. I am not familiar with the methodologies of the research that has been done, but since there is nothing very worthwhile to show from it, after decades, it seems reasonable to me to question those methodologies.
... On the other side, I'm sure that if we did a search of a wide variety of medical conditions, we'd find areas where they occurred less frequently than they did on average. How should we handle that information? Occam
I imagine that would just be described as statistically anomalous, also. Okay, fine, we know that they are usually statistical anomalies (in clusters or in areas with lower than usual occurrences). Great. That tells us it is usually not a common, single cause. But that's about all that it tells us. The babies who are actually born brainless, did not develop that condition because of statistics.

Quoting TimB:

The babies who are actually born brainless, did not develop that condition because of statistics.
I think you missed my point, Tim. Just as every effect has a cause, being born without a brain indicates that there was something that caused that. And there may be a whole host of causes, genetic, chemical, physical, eetc. that could be implicated.
Let’s assume that out of every 1,000,000 births 2,000 are born with a brain defect, that’s 0.2%. Should we expect that there will be 1,999 normal births, then one defective one? Following that, another 1,999 then a defect? Then another 1,999 then one damaged? Of course not, just as we don’t expect heads and tails to alternate.
I’m sure some research doctors are searching for the causes, and possible preventive measures, however, just because one city has five defects in 2,000 births, and another has only one in 2,000 births doesn’t mean we should jump to the conclusion that there are special circumstances that caused these different ratios. While it may be the case, it’s far more likely that the differences are just random occurrances similar to heads or tails coming up five times in a row.
Occam

Quoting TimB:
The babies who are actually born brainless, did not develop that condition because of statistics.
I think you missed my point, Tim. Just as every effect has a cause, being born without a brain indicates that there was something that caused that. And there may be a whole host of causes, genetic, chemical, physical, eetc. that could be implicated. Let's assume that out of every 1,000,000 births 2,000 are born with a brain defect, that's 0.2%. Should we expect that there will be 1,999 normal births, then one defective one? Following that, another 1,999 then a defect? Then another 1,999 then one damaged? Of course not, just as we don't expect heads and tails to alternate. I'm sure some research doctors are searching for the causes, and possible preventive measures, however, just because one city has five defects in 2,000 births, and another has only one in 2,000 births doesn't mean we should jump to the conclusion that there are special circumstances that caused these different ratios. While it may be the case, it's far more likely that the differences are just random occurrances similar to heads or tails coming up five times in a row. Occam
Perhaps we are speaking past each other. We agree that something causes a baby to be born without a brain. I implicitly acknowledged that the causes could be one or a combination of some of a whole host of factors. I acknowledged that statistical clusters can occur anomalously (without a common cause). (Your response here, seems to suggest that I acknowledged none of those things. ???) What I did not acknowledge is your surety that "research doctors are searching for the causes, and possible preventive measures". At least, they don't seem to me to be doing so, very effectively. If there was effective research in this matter, don't you think that after decades of such research, there would be recommendations beyond, "take more folic acid supplements"? I think that you missed my point, and went on to re-assert the point made by McGyver (which I have already acknowledged). Again, my point is that knowing that there is a certain number of children that will be born brainless, and knowing that these may, by chance, cluster in certain localities without common cause/s, tells us almost nothing about the actual causes. Repeatedly making the statistical cluster anomaly point, is not sufficient in addressing the problem of babies being be born without brains. Just as "Take folic acid supplements." as the prime recommendation for addressing the problem is not sufficient. I don't know if babies have been being born (without brains) throughout human history or whether it has increased or decreased in rate, or stayed the same, in rate, over time. But I am aware that it was happening in 1992 and has continued to happen since. That's at least the past 22 years. So, again, after, at least, 22 years, where is the effective research that has lead to reports that indicate ways to avoid having a baby without a brain, other than to suggest taking folic acid?

Okay, I just saw that the CDC says that anencephaly (brainless or partially brainless babies) occurs in the 1st month of fetal development. They think that folic acid deficiency may sometimes play a role, simply because there has been a 27% decrease in anencephaly since folic acid was introduced as a food additive to grains.
If folic acid deficiency, does indeed play a role in anencephaly, then why does every woman of child bearing age not know to make damn sure she has plenty of folic acid in her system if she ever gets sperm anywhere near her eggs? Why did I not know that when I was getting my sperm close to eggs? Something seems terribly wrong, to me, with our nation’s information dissemination.
If a woman is already pregnant for a month, IT IS TOO LATE to worry about folic acid or anything else, to prevent anencephaly.
There should be rules that everyone who is capable of reproduction knows. Here’s a couple that I suggest: 1) females who are capable of reproduction should not fuck any guy with viable semen, when her folic acid level is low. 2) guys with viable semen should never fuck any female who can get pregnant, when her folic acid is low.
The CDC also said that Hispanic women are more likely to have anencephalic babies. But said that it remains a mystery as to why. (Nothing about fumonisin.)

On second thought, since they are only going on a correlation of decreased anencephaly since the introduction of folic acid additives to food, it seems to me that it could alternatively or also be that sperm is defective in males with low folic acid levels.
So add rule number 3) guys with viable semen, who have any hope of ever fucking a woman who is capable of reproduction, should not only use a damn sturdy rubber if they want to prevent pregnancy, but should also make sure that their own diet is consistently rich in folic acid, in case they don’t prevent pregnancy.
Will most guys follow such rules? Very doubtful. But at least, if they subsequently father an anencephalic baby, they will know that they may have caused it.

On second thought, since they are only going on a correlation of decreased anencephaly since the introduction of folic acid additives to food, it seems to me that it could alternatively or also be that sperm is defective in males with low folic acid levels. So add rule number 3) guys with viable semen, who have any hope of ever fucking a woman who is capable of reproduction, should not only use a damn sturdy rubber if they want to prevent pregnancy, but should also make sure that their own diet is consistently rich in folic acid, in case they don't prevent pregnancy. Will most guys follow such rules? Very doubtful. But at least, if they subsequently father an anencephalic baby, they will know that they may have caused it.
Maybe condoms should have folic acid tablets included in the package. I don't know, however, whether men would be any more likely to take the folic acid than they are to use a condom, especially in a non committed relationship. Most never know in what condition any resulting babies are born. Lois
So, again, after, at least, 22 years, where is the effective research that has lead to reports that indicate ways to avoid having a baby without a brain, other than to suggest taking folic acid?
I think this illustrates a common but inappropriate expectation of science that feeds a lot of disenchantment with it, as well as some of the conspiracy theorizing associated with medicine. Science has advanced our knowledge in a way that has allowed us to better our own health to a degree unprecedented in human history. In a couple of centuries, we have improved the length and quality of human life more than in all the preceding millennia of our existence. We have eliminated entire diseases (e.g. smallpox), and nearly eliminated many others (and would have except for the intransigence of human fear and stupidity that fuels resistance to vaccination programs). Terrible new scourges have arisen, such as HIV, and yet in a few decades we have made great progress controlling them (sadly, mostly in countries able to afford the fruits of scientific research, but that is a problem with our economic systems, not with science). Bubonic plague devastated enormous parts of the world unchecked for many centuries, by comparison. It is hard to argue that science has not been stunningly successful in improving human health. Yet that cane easily lead to an overestimation of our abilities. The low-hanging fruit have been picked, and today massive research studies are considered successful if they can explain 15% of the variation in the occurrence of some disease. But that seems inadequate to most people, and leaves the impression that the research isn't able to figure out "the cause" of whatever problem is being studies. And unfortunately, this often leads people to reliance on unscientific approaches to dealing with health problems, which supports a tremendously profitable snake oil industry. The fact that these small clusters of cases, which as has already been pointed out and accepted may be statistical anomalies without any single common cause, or the basic problem of anencephaly cannot be solved in a couple of decades leads to the suggestion that either the methods of science aren't working or that scientists aren't trying hard enough. That view seems to me more a function of unrealistic expectations than evidence of a failure of science or scientists. Of course, we should care about these individuals and make efforts to find a way to prevent this problem from occurring. But we cannot do everything all at once, and as a proportion of the health problems we must devote our resources to understanding and solving, these clusters are tiny. The fact that they are tragic doesn't necessarily mean we should do more, inevitably at the expense of efforts to understand and deal with much larger, equally tragic but often less dramatic health problems.
... Maybe condoms should have folic acid tablets included in the package. I don't know, however, whether men would be any more likely to take the folic acid than they are to use a condom, especially in a non committed relationship. Most never know in what condition any resulting babies are born. Lois
Folic acid fortified condoms. Clever idea. As I looked in to it, however, I discovered that excessive folic acid supplementation can also, possibly, have some down sides. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/the-ups-and-downs-of-folic-acid-fortification.htm Too much folic acid may make colorectal cancers more likely. High blood levels of folic acid may mask the detection of B-12 deficiencies and anemia. Regular unfortified food sources of folic acid are not thought to be a problem. Perhaps someone can figure out how to make condoms out of broccoli. (Just kidding. I don't have that particular unrealistic expectation.)
... Maybe condoms should have folic acid tablets included in the package. I don't know, however, whether men would be any more likely to take the folic acid than they are to use a condom, especially in a non committed relationship. Most never know in what condition any resulting babies are born. Lois
Folic acid fortified condoms. Clever idea. As I looked in to it, however, I discovered that excessive folic acid supplementation can also, possibly, have some down sides. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/the-ups-and-downs-of-folic-acid-fortification.htm Too much folic acid may make colorectal cancers more likely. High blood levels of folic acid may mask the detection of B-12 deficiencies and anemia. Regular unfortified food sources of folic acid are not thought to be a problem. Perhaps someone can figure out how to make condoms out of broccoli. (Just kidding. I don't have that particular unrealistic expectation.) Now there's an idea worth pursuing! You may be onto something! ;) Lois