PFAS in the environment in the news – and in the theatres, soon

A major film will soon be released with regard to, broadly speaking, the topic of Lecture 23 of my latest course. You can already watch the trailer on YouTube:

The film is called “Dark Waters” and some of the actors are Anne Hathaway, Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, and Bill Pullman. It was directed by Todd Haynes.

I found out about this because the Netherlands has tightened the environmental standards with regard to PFAS. No PFAS should be found in the soil, at all, according to the new standards. (For the details, watch the video at the bottom at this page, but it’s in Dutch.)

Thousands of Dutch construction projects have been put on hold because of PFAS in the soil. There are protests going on in the country today, mainly organized by the Dutch construction industry, but also dredging companies and others.

I mentioned PFAS in my book “We need to talk about this”, but I did not include it specifically in Lecture 23.

PFAS. PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). Teflon. PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as C8), which is a PFAS. GenX (HFPO-DA).

If you happen to own pet birds, you’ll know what this is about.

It is about non-stick and relatively heat-resistant materials that are not only used in cookware, but also in for example many space heaters, hair-dryers and, as I just found out, fire-extinguishing foam.

It’s been known for a long time that there were multiple problems with these products and I am pleased to see that this is now officially acknowledged.

I have used Teflon in the form of vials and beakers in the lab, as so little sticks to it. If you’re working with very low concentrations of metals in seawater, as I was at the time, it is important to prevent adsorption to the containers (the vials and beakers etc) you put your seawater in.

Of course, I’ve also had non-stick cookware at home for a while.

Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of problems with these materials:

  1. During production, toxic compounds are released into the local soils, air and waters and workers in those factories can be exposed to high concentrations of these toxic substances. (By the way, “toxic” is a matter of concentration and quantity. Too much of anything is not good for you; what differs is how much “too much” is. What we consider toxic in daily life concerns substances that cause problems in very low quantities or at low concentrations.)
  2. Notably new non-stick materials can release toxins into the air when overheated. This has killed many pet birds and also poultry (releases from heat lamps) because the respiratory system of birds is different (much more efficient) and hence birds are much more sensitive to toxins in the air than mammals.
  3. The related compounds also accumulate in soils and in body tissue.

I haven’t kept up with the topic in the past two years or so and I was not aware of these recent developments in the Netherlands either. So I still have some reading up to do, and maybe some e-mails to write as well.

The point I am making in Lecture 23 and also in this post is that it is impossible to know all the possible consequences of the use of any technological or scientific invention in advance. In the past we have often missed complications that seemed very obvious in retrospect.

This also holds for technologies like CRISPR.

It does not mean that we need to be scared of progress, but that we need to be cautious and use our brains, and also listen to “dissonant” voices.

If you happen to be able to read Dutch or don’t mind automated translations, here are links to Dutch news web pages:

And a link to a report:

And a video:

Autism, and the fourth dimension

I just received an e-mail from Henny Kupferstein that was an eye opener. I knew that she works with autistic children via music, often using services like Skype. I had no idea, however, that she too is autistic!

As far as I know, I’ve never met anyone who is autistic or at least interacted with the person extensively. So I’ve been wondering what it is like to be autistic and I’ve watched videos that weren’t very enlightening to me, other than to make me realize that autistic people deal with the world in a different way, and find ways to deal with the expectations of mainstream people.

I’d previously gotten the impression, from Temple Grandin’s TED Talk, that autistic people have different abilities, special abilities.

In this video, Henny explains in detail how the visual/mathematical world works for her and that it is a thing of great beauty.

Now I understand it a lot better!

What “minor gangsters” and “Chinese bodies” have in common

They are one of “them”. A mere observation. (I have no solutions.)

The “minor gangsters” were Irish musicians and about half of the “Chinese” were Vietnamese, apparently.

(Rory Stewart sees himself as the future mayor of London. I don’t.)

I appreciate the gesture Essex Police made – bowing their heads and taking their hats off – though. We need more of that. Even if was done for PR reasons, it still sends the same message to society.


Gonna be on BBC1 this evening. 7:30, I think. Start listening at 7 if you don’t want to miss themhim. Haven’tHasn’t released any music in about five years. They’reHe’s back.

Here it is! Hmm. It’s a bit different. I like it, but I am not sure yet what to think of it. Takes a few plays, I guess. There’s a whole story in it. Sounds like a lot of pain and tragedy, in the middle. Makes ya wonder. Yeah, okay, I like it.

(Confession: I really really really like Jamelia. And Irene too, I think.)

Tragedy, grief and resilience – not pity

I posted this video when I reached 5:39 and I’d already said “Yeah!” several times! People sometimes truly suffocate others to death with all their pity, with their stifling doom-and-gloom predictions, stopping them from moving on.

But the opposite happens too, of course.

Only you can determine how you will overcome something that happened to you and what the appropriate time for grieving is.

A psychologist, a long time ago, noticed that I seem to be pretty good at what this talk tells me is “benefit finding” (looking for the silver lining, the plus, no matter what it is). “You’re a true survivor!”, she exclaimed. It felt good to be told something like that. And it’s another thing to be grateful for, too.

One of my weaknesses may be that I get bogged down when I pay too much attention to people who tell me that I should be stressed or miserable or worried (or worse, that I am not worthy and should be ashamed or embarrassed over something). You’re supposed to talk about how bad things are. Not about what’s good and nice and wonderful, and fine and cool and okay.

You’re considered silly and childish and immature when you still see the wonderful in little things.

Benefit finding is one of the things Brits aren’t good at, at all, because what they call “whingeing” (an exclusively British word) is part of their culture. (British culture is a strange thing. I’ve learned that some of its peculiarities have resulted from the Brits or English wanting to follow the stoics, which somehow turned in people not acknowledging their own emotions but pushing them down and pretending that what happened didn’t really happen. Many Brits are not very good at relaxing and just being, but this also seems to go for many Americans these days, in a different way.)

The third trait that she mentions I find much harder (but I wrote this at the beginning of when she started explaining it). It’s not always clear in advance whether something is going to harm you or help you (such as, in her case, go to the trial). My solution for that? I ask myself if there is at least one good thing that I can get from it. This can be simply “satisfying my curiosity”.

Some people may call me naive when I give something (or someone) the benefit of the doubt, for the mere sake of finding out whether I was wrong or right about something (or someone). I sometimes attend events that I don’t think will bring me anything at all – just to see if perhaps I was wrong about that. And sometimes, I end up being wonderfully surprised by what I find. The unexpected. At other times, it brings me some form of learning.

I’ve forgotten what the first trait was that she mentioned, so that didn’t resonate strongly with me.

Can YOU still justify supporting Facebook?

Facebook has just added one more feat to its long history of appallingly unethical actions.

It began with the mood manipulation experiments for which the affected users had given no consent.

I thought that this would have major consequences for Facebook.

I was wrong. People just shrugged. They made fusses over Starbucks instead.

So Facebook took it further and further. It meddled in the US elections. It meddled in the UK’s Brexit referendum (the Cambridge Analytica scandal). Its boss gave governments the finger by not showing up for hearings. It paid kids to give it access to their entire digital lives.

And now this. Can you still justify using Facebook (and Instagram, and WhatsApp)?

I can’t.


Errors of the human body – and genome editing in Toronto

I am about to watch a film called “Errors of the human body” that I just ran into at the local Scope charity shop. Although I don’t know yet how much relevance it has within the context of the new eugenics, it reminds me of (the graphics for) a session on 17 October I saw announced on Twitter this afternoon:

If you happen to be in Chicago on the 14th, there is also this: