A survey of more than 1,000 randomly selected residents of the United States has found that chemical sensitivity has increased dramatically in the last 10 years. One in four participants reported they were sensitive to common chemicals such as those in paints, cleaning supplies, and air fresheners. Nearly half of this group identified themselves as having been medically diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), suggesting the diagnosis is far more widespread than previously recognized. Study author Professor Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne regards the findings as further evidence we need to cut back on chemicals that are hurting people. Steinemann told IFLScience she conducted the first survey of how widespread chemical sensitivity is in America a decade ago. Common symptoms reported included dizziness, migraines, and breathing difficulties.
When she repeated it in 2016 using a representative sample of 1,137 people, she found the proportion reporting adverse health effects since 2006 had jumped from 11.6 to 25.9 percent. More than three-quarters described these as sometimes being severe enough to be disabling. The rate among adults diagnosed with MCS leapt from 3.9 to 12.8 percent. Almost one in eight people in the survey had been diagnosed with MCS, something that has slipped beneath the radar of health authorities. Although some of the increase might be attributed to rising awareness of the problem, Steinemann is convinced there has been a real rise in those affected. She told IFLScience this is probably both because the responsible chemicals are becoming more widespread and because the effects are cumulative. The frequency Steinemann has now reported in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine was similar in urban and rural areas, and across many demographics. Contrary to the perception that women are more affected than men, however, Steinemann found sensitivity was particularly high among males aged 25-34. The health effects are dire, with 61 percent of those with MCS reporting missing work days as a result of exposure to triggers such as fragranced consumer products. Steinemann advocates eliminating the chemical triggers wherever possible, particularly moving to “fragrance-free workplaces, health care facilities, and schools.” She notes that when she tested air fresheners and other fragranced household products marketed as environmentally friendly, she found the same hazardous and petroleum-based chemicals in them as the mainstream options, suggesting they are likely equally triggering. She proposes “going back to the cleaning products our grandparents used”, such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. An important limitation of the study is that the data was based on self-reports. Still, cutting out unnecessary sensitivity triggers can be important for society as a whole. Steinemann refers to a recent study showing that the same common chemicals now make up as much urban pollution as car exhausts. “People with MCS are like human canaries,” she said in a statement. “They react earlier and more severely to chemical pollutants, even at low levels.”
Researchers have found that a drug already approved for use to treat cancer can reduce some of the social difficulties associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in mice. Published in Nature Neuroscience, the work hints at the possibility of using drugs to alleviate some of the main social symptoms displayed by those with ASD. Others, though, are warning that these are incredibly early days and that the applications to the majority of autistic people are very limited. “We have discovered a small molecule compound that shows a profound and prolonged effect on autism-like social deficits without obvious side effects, while many currently-used compounds for treating a variety of psychiatric diseases have failed to exhibit the therapeutic efficacy for this core symptom of autism,” said Zhen Yan, who coauthored the research. Using mice missing a particular gene known as Shank 3, which is associated with changes in social preference often seen in those with ASD, the researchers tested a particular cancer drug known as romidepsin. The drug basically loosened the DNA wound around proteins in the nuclei of cells, allowing genes involved in neuronal signaling that were previously inaccessible to be transcribed. This, in turn, influenced the social behavior of the mice. In fact, the researchers found that over 200 genes that were suppressed by the DNA being wound too tightly around the proteins suddenly started being expressed as normal. Other researchers have urged caution about reading too much into this study, however.
“Autism is a very diverse condition with many different genes playing a role so developing a mouse model to represent it is challenging,” explained Dr Georgina Warner, research manager at the autism charity Autistica, who was not involved in the study. “While mouse studies like this one can play an important role in research, findings can’t easily be applied to humans.” In the case of this particular study, for example, the use of mice with the Shank 3 gene knocked out has very limited applications for humans. The authors themselves admit that those without this gene only represent between 0.5 and 2 percent of ASD cases, and for the vast majority who don’t, this study might not be particularly relevant at all. “The study reports interesting findings about the drug romidepsin, but it’s far too early to say whether it would have any effect on autistic people’s social skills,” Dr Warner continued. “It’s also not clear that all autistic people would welcome a drug which aimed to improve their social ability, especially if it had other side effects.”
An archaeologist well known for ancient discoveries mainly in Europe is suspected of having faked some of his most important finds, possibly even running a forger’s workshop, it has been revealed.
James Mellaart, who died in 2012, was most famous for discovering Çatalhöyük, a 9,000-year-old settlement in Turkey, in 1961. This settlement, one of the world’s oldest known towns, is not under dispute. Inhabited for around 2,000 years, it has been a goldmine for archaeologists studying the effects of the discovery of agriculture and the domestication of animals on humans. What made it truly special though was the discovery of a rich variety of Stone Age art, from figurines to murals on the walls depicting aurochs, lions, headless women, and men with erections, which has been translated as one of the earliest examples of religion.
One mural depicting a volcano erupting was even thought to be the world’s oldest landscape painting. But the British archaeologist has been accused of forging some of his finds. Mellart, who died at the age of 86, insisted that his peers published his unreleased work after his death, allowing them access to his research. He had identified particular texts as important and to be published immediately, so his estate forwarded these to the Luwian Studies Foundation. Last month they were given access to his London home to check a few things, see his original notes etc. And this is where it gets murky. Led by geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger, president of the Luwian Studies Foundation, what they found has left them horrified and “betrayed”. Drafts of the tale of Muksus (left) with the final text (right). (C) Luwian Studies Mellaart had claimed to have discovered ancient texts telling the tale of a Trojan hero called Muksus written in the Luwian language, something he claimed he didn’t understand, hence asking for Zangger’s help. But Zangger found in his apartment notes that showed Mellaart could read and write Luwian rather well, as well as “drafts” of the Muksus story. Zangger also found pieces of rocks engraved with what looked like initial sketches of artwork he recognized as the kind Mellaart claimed to have found at Çatalhöyük. Mellaart went on to publish drawings of the murals he found, without photos or the originals as he claimed they crumbled to dust after he found them. Sketches found of the “murals” of Çatalhöyük. (C) Luwian Studies
As you can imagine, this has now cast doubt on many of Mellaart’s findings over the years, with Zangger suggesting he ran a “forger’s workshop” from his home. However, there is no evidence that Mellart fabricated artifacts, according to the Luwian Studies Foundation. “His creative work was limited to drawings and texts,” it said in a statement. Unsurprisingly, it has left his colleagues and peers feeling angry and not sure what to trust as well as possibly embarrassed about any work they may have published based on his “discoveries”. “I feel abused,” Zangger told Live Science, claiming “he had no scruples when it came to harming other people’s careers.”