Some teachers are pricks, and then some

12 09 2010

A simple investigation experiment looking at the pH of blood at a Tasmanian high school has turned into a biohazard scare after teacher somehow thought sharing needles would be totally fine for adolescent boys. In some muddled form of defence the teacher did “attempt to sterilise the needle with methylated spirits between tests.” (Methylated spirits its not really suitable for sterilizing).

Pretty much any official is saying that this was a major balls up by the teacher, and I’m finding hard to believe that with all the red tape (in the for of occupational health and safety) present in Australian workplaces these days, that this investigation was ever approved. I have no problem with hands on experiments. In fact, I think these should be encouraged. On top of that, if we expect to have smart and scientifically literate graduates from high school, experiments involving potential biohazards should be allowed. However (or even because of that) it still very important to recognise that risks are involved and the appropriate precautions be taken.

Do read the comments on The Mercury article too.

There seems to be some sections of the world who are somehow thinking that the teacher has not done anything wrong, because there are no schoolboys in Tasmania with bloodborne infectious disease. Perhaps they could do well to investigate the Health and Ageing website which show that historically (prior to vaccinations) they have been one of the highest risk groups for Hepatitis (which is probably the largest worry in this instance, rather than HIV). Blood-borne transmission is probably the number one risk that health organisations try to minimize to prevent the spread of disease.

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Killer cornflakes, nothing to laugh at

20 09 2008

via small dead animals

Sometimes it’s unclear where the media-hype and the real dangers collide.

Serious dangers are emerging for Australia (and other parts of the world) that are well beyond what people would expect. No one was certainly planning on the Murray-Darling drying up (well no one who had any actual power to do anything about it).

A news report from earlier this year warned that arid conditions could trigger fungal outbreaks amongst food products that could lead to serious food poisoning hazards. CQU actually made the news by warning of “mass hallucinations, manic depression, gangrene, abortions, reduced fertility and painful, convulsive death”.

You might think that standard food safety standards should mandate alerts if any food source gets contaminated, right? However, these symptons aren’t caused by a single heavy dose of mycotoxin, but several small doses over an extended time period. It all adds up if you consider the amount of foodstuff you eat on a regular basis made from cereal crops (unless you’re allergic to gluten or something).

Small dead animals appears to be a right-wing climate change skeptic, and the comments certainly are full of grand ridicule of environmental health as a profession and the idea of killer cornflakes.

However I can’t help but consider the recent food poison scares emerging from China (melamine in milk) and Japan (pesticides and mycotoxins in rice/sake). Not necessarily directly caused by global warming – but definitely shows that food poisoning is a serious risk. And also consider, more fungal outbreaks will mean more reliance on (over)using chemical fungicides on crops.