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October 10, 2004

'Skewed' by Martin Walker


Reviewed by Robert Allen - Blue Reviews

Skewed is an essential text that needs to be available to everyone who goes to college with the ideal in their head that they want to work in the chemical industry or practice medicine. It also needs to be in every major bookstore, and the author needs to appear on tv, radio and in print telling his story. For too long industry and its apologists have dominated the media with their cynicism and their lies.

Martin Walker - Skewed Cover.jpg

Sore in Southampton

Fifty four year old Val Newsome knew that "the terrible pain down the left hand side" of her body had something to do with the swarf fire which had begun on Southampton's Northam Bridge quayside.

As the smoke and fumes drifted over most of Southampton she wondered if anyone else in her immediate area of Bitterne Park was suffering. Embarking on a tour within a two mile radius of her home she visited over 30 houses and interviewed mothers outside playgroups and on the phone, asking them the same question: "How have you been feeling because I've not been feeling at all well?"

Her enquiries indicated that over 80 people had multiple symptoms, "predominantly severe headaches, nausea and stomach upsets but also chest pains, tension, coughing, sore throats, vomiting, skin rashes, cramps, mental confusion, loss of memory and unsteadiness. Many said they had a sense of being drugged. Asthma attacks were increased and some children became asthmatic. People complained of stinging eyes, tight chests, increased catarrh and stiffness of joints".

The 2,000 tonnes of mixed swarf - metal shavings with waste oils - spontaneously combusted despite concern from the local fire brigade and local authority about the amount that had built up on the quayside. It raged for five weeks and was allowed to burn out. Despite the concerns of the communities who believed their ill health was a consequence of the fire, Dr Simon Voss, a public health consultant, was able to tell the media that he was satisfied there had been no danger to the health of the public.

By dismissing the anecdotal evidence of communities, individuals, soldiers and workers exposed to low level pollution, health authorities, medical practitioners, medical institutions and insurance companies are abrogating their responsibility to public health, content instead to allow industry to dictate health standards that do not reflect the reality of peoples' lives or even contemporary scientific knowledge.

Evidence of pollution allows industry to argue that their processes are not to blame for modern illness like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (better known as ME) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. It is now becoming obvious that acute exposures to the chemical mix in the air, in the water and in our food can trigger diverse reactions in chemically sensitive individuals and occasionally lead to sensitivity in otherwise healthy people.

Chemicals are regarded as relatively harmless if clinical damage cannot be detected. According to those prepared to accept that there is a real problem, animal models, clinicopathological studies and epidemiological investigations are regarded as not sensitive enough to detect the effects of low level exposures to pollutants. Animal models are used to study the effects of high doses of chemicals but as Nicholas Ashford and Claudia Miller note in Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes, "rats, mice and other animals are unable to tell researchers if they have headaches, fell depressed or anxious or are nauseated"; they conclude, "thus, the subtle effects of low level chemical exposure may be missed completely".

Epidemiological studies point to associations between events, but as multiple chemical sensitivity is the consequence of multiple triggers resulting in multiple health effects, according to Ashford and Miller, "epidemiology may be an insensitive tool".

Problems in the Port

Cora Lonsdale thought the doctors' response was absurd. Fed up with the intransigence of the local health authority she had put together a questionnaire herself and sent it out. It was a simple exercise; she wanted to know what environmental illnesses people were suffering from. In her own estate, Stanney Grange, 325 forms covering 928 people were returned. Another 136 forms covering 496 people were returned from neighbouring areas of Ellesmere Port. Out of the total of 461 forms (1,424 people) she noted 183 cases of asthma, 30 of bronchitis, 217 relating to chest, eyes and nose and 52 to eczema, cancer, angina and heart. On her own estate the 52 of the 129 asthma cases were in children under 10 years of age.

"These are only the ones we know about," she announced. "We know something is going on and we will not be fooled any longer. This survey proves the point and some of the results are frightening. We just hope it can be the start of an in-depth enquiry by the council; if they can send out forms for elections and the census they can come round and find out in detail about our health problems. They would get a hell of a shock."

But the council weren't impressed. Their medical advisor, Dr Paul Hunter, challenged the survey, suggesting that it was statistically open to bias. Smoking rather than local pollution was as likely to have an adverse effect on health trends. The increase in asthma, he added, was consistent with the national average.

Cora Lonsdale refused to have her survey dismissed so lightly. "There was no statistical bias in our survey, just the truth, and you are left wondering what these people are trying to hide. What they say to patients privately is that Ellesmere Port's atmosphere is not conducive to good health. Why don't they say that publicly; who is pulling their strings? What we have heard from the doctors so far hardly gives confidence, but one thing is certain, smoking is not at the root of Ellesmere Port's health problems and it is a joke to even suggest it."

And clinicopathological studies, because they rely on the presence of a clinical sign, laboratory measurement or tissue pathology, are, add Ashford and Miller, "not likely to be sensitive to the early effects of low level exposures, that is prior to end-organ damage".

This is a snapshot of the accurate and honest science. Val Newsome and Cora Lonsdale were not aware that science had revealed some of the clues about the strange illnesses communities all over the world are experiencing. They were not aware because the chemical industry and its apologists, which include the academic and medical professions, has, in the words of Martin J. Walker, a way of stifling science with cynicism, lies and revisionism.

Newsome and Lonsdale were lucky. The medical profession chose to dismiss them. In different circumstances they might have found themselves "sectioned" and carted off to a mental institution. The stuff of spy thrillers surely. No, the stuff of reality, because you see Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome, ME and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity do not exist. They are the figment of tortured imaginations.

According to Walker, "Those who propose the view that these illnesses have a psychological origin, really mean just that - these illnesses and all their manifestations are produced by a disturbance of mental processes, an aspect of mental ill health".

The fact that science has known for a long time that chemically induced illnesses are a consequence of industry and its processes is really not the issue, that issue is liability - who pays? For the majority of the 20th century it was the sufferers of chemical induced illnesses who paid while the chemical industry, the medical profession and the insurance companies carefully and cleverly invented the Big Lie, because they and those who used industrial products, including the militaries of the world, did not want to pay.

This is the essence of Martin Walker's book. Sadly, the history of the collusion between the chemical industry and the medical and insurance professions is not in the public domain. Walker is among a small group of people who have struggled to reveal the cynicism, lies and revisionism, and to give hope to people, including those who have been wrongly accused. This is the real essence of his book, the simple fact that people like Newsome and Lonsdale were not crazy in the head, that their studies based on anecdotal evidence were true, and that chemically induced illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome, ME and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity not only exist, they are harming people.

Skewed is an essential text that needs to be available to everyone who goes to college with the ideal in their head that they want to work in the chemical industry or practice medicine. It also needs to be in every major bookstore, and the author needs to appear on tv, radio and in print telling his story. For too long industry and its apologists have dominated the media with their cynicism and their lies.

The title of the book suggests that the medical profession, particularly the psychiatric wing, is biased. There is clearly no argument about that, yet Walker has not prejudged them. "It is important with respect to the academics and scientists involved that we retain a balanced perspective," he writes. "We have to assume that these individuals have sincerely held beliefs, which they act out according to their professional understanding".

Given his own knowledge - and Skewed is one of the best examples of investigation around - this is an admirable stance. At the conclusion of the book Walker is correct when he states that it "would be unwise to hold our breath in anticipation of a serious, well funded, scientific medical or even judicial examination of the cause of ME and other fatigue illnesses".

It is unwise because the cost to industry would be too high, leaving us all to "the mercy of corporate interests and those who act consciously or unconsciously as their agents".

Martin Walker's book reveals only one aspect of this story. It is a not a book about science nor even a book about the illnesses involved. It is a book about the extent industry will go to protect its interests. We need more writers doing investigations like Martin Walker to make industry accountable for their actions, and to make them pay, as individuals, for these actions.

Order SKEWED via Amazon

SKEWED can also be obtained from:

Slingshot Publications
BM Box 8314
London WC1N 3XX

Cheques made out to Slingshot Publications must be sent in advance with orders. The cover price of SKEWED is £12. Single copies cost £12 plus postage and packing, which comes to £14.40. Anyone wanting ten copies or over can have them with a £4 reduction on each copy and no postage or packing charge.

Individuals or organisations involved in ME, CFS, Gulf War Syndrome, and MCS, who are interested in raising money for their group can obtain copies of SKEWED at even more greatly reduced rates, after discussions with Slingshot.

Information about Slingshot Publications, flyers, order forms and details of other books, can also be obtained from the box number.

To download the pdf order form click here:

Candida International - Skewed order form


mandato da Robin Good il Sunday October 10 2004
aggiornato il Monday September 11 2006

URL of this article:


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