Cell Phones & Cigarettes: What do they have in Common?
Do Electric Cars Cause Cancer?
The world of electric cars is a rah-rah world. There are numerous economic arguments against their widespread adoption, but that hasn't stopped government officials, environmental activists, and most importantly automakers from moving aggressively toward electrified transportation. On balance, ramped-up EV development is a good thing: Over the next 40 years, our existing oil supplies are going to run out, according to a set of more-or-less accepted geological assumptions generally referred to as "peak oil." The concept, which was first articulated in the 1950s by a petroleum scientist named M. King Hubbert, doesn't say, Bam! We're suddenly going to have no more oil in 2020 or whatever. Rather, the theory says that petroleum discovery and production will at some point peak, after which it will follow a declining rather than ascending curve. Depending on whom you talk to, peak oil has already happened, is happening, will happen soon, or is a few decades off. But there's agreement that it will take place.
So we need to switch over to alternative forms of transportation, or at least prepare ourselves to do so. Because transportation consumes a major amount of oil, bringing EVs into the picture in a big way is seen as a solution, with the added benefit of eliminating tailpipe emissions and at least stabilizing global warming (although the burning of coal for energy also has to go away). Obviously, however, an EV running off an electric motor with a battery that can weigh 600 lbs. raises the health-hazard issue: Does the electromagnetic field generated by the car pose a threat to drivers and passengers?
This question has been bandied around the blogosphere, and answered as best as can be, given limited research, much of which is extrapolated from EMF studies of the fields generated by power lines, cell phones, household appliances, and so on. The National Cancer Institute says that there are indications that EMFs can cause certain cancers, but the research is far from conclusive. EVs and hybrids haven't been in the market long enough for studies to be done, although automakers have tested their vehicles for EMFs (conventional cars as well as hybrids and EVs), and found them to be within accepted limits.
Unfortunately, nothing in this area is completely benign. Autos pose risk simply because they go fast and there are lots of them, enough for 40,000 people to die in accidents every year. But we trade that off for the convenience of personal mobility. EVs will solve peak oil and some emissions problems, but they will also stress the power-generating grid, initially run, in a matter of speaking, mostly on coal, and create thousands of new, rolling EMFs. Ultimately, the only way to completely dodge these problems is to remake society according to radical efficiency principles: live in compact communities (as large as megacities or as small as rural villages, but no gray-area exurbs in between), generate power from sources such as wind and sun (which means much less power than what we currently get from fossil fuels), abandon personal mobility, limit freight shipping, etc., etc., etc.
That's right, it's not going to happen. So even in the seemingly unlikely event that EVs and hybrids do cause cancer, we'll have to tolerate that risk, if we're going to move forward rather than back.
Common mechanism underlies many diseases of excitability
Inherited mutations in voltage-gated sodium channels (Navs) are associated with many different human diseases, including genetic forms of epilepsy and chronic pain. Theodore Cummins and colleagues, at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, have now determined the functional consequence of three such mutations. As noted by Stephen Cannon and Bruce Bean, in an accompanying commentary, these results suggest that there might be a common mechanism for many channelopathies, diseases arising from mutations in ion channel genes such as those analyzed by Cummins and colleagues.
The authors studied the functional consequences of mutations in the human peripheral neuronal sodium channel Nav1.7, the human skeletal muscle sodium channel Nav1.4, and the human heart sodium channel Nav1.5, which are associated with an extreme pain disorder, a muscle condition characterized by slow relaxation of the muscles, and a heart condition and sudden infant death syndrome, respectively.
Expression of these mutated proteins in a rat-derived dorsal root ganglion neuronal system led to the conclusion that the mutations all altered opening of the sodium channels such that the channels quickly reopened after an electrical impulse had been fired by the nerve cell causing a resurgent sodium current that triggered a second electrical impulse to be fired rapidly after the first. These observations are consistent with the diseases all being characterized by excitability, over activity of cells that rely on electrical currents, such as nerve cells, skeletal muscle cells, and heart muscle cells.
Theodore R. Cummins
Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.
Phone: (317) 278-9342; Fax: (317) 278-5849; E-mail: email@example.com.
View this article at: http://www.jci.org/articles/view/40801?key=5c50c65d9dc478d53b04
TITLE: Sodium channels gone wild: resurgent current from neuronal and muscle channelopathies
Stephen C. Cannon
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, USA.
Phone: (214) 645-6225; Fax: (214) 645-6239; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
View this article at: http://www.jci.org/articles/view/41340?key=Zo8jH8YTR4w86PqUFq0w