Letters for the week of September 17-23, 2003 

How about leavening your articles about crime, molestation, radiation, and the rest with something occasionally uplifting?

"This Water Fountain Could Kill You!" Feature, 8/27

Stop. Breathe. Look around. Rekindle a sense of wonder.

Q: What do a murdered homeless man, a child molester, and a deadly radioactive drinking fountain have in common?

A: They've all been recent cover stories/photos for the Express.

These stories may all have been worthy of coverage, but I'm wondering if you could put something more uplifting on your cover occasionally to balance things out, and perhaps take a less sensationalistic and fear-based approach to your reporting.
Martin Goosebury, Berkeley

EDITOR'S NOTE

The photograph that accompanied our August 20 cover story "The Molester's Hero" was of attorney Roberto Najera, and not his client, accused -- and acquitted -- child molester Marion Stogner.

You took this issue way too seriously

As professor of nuclear engineering and retired lecturer at U.C. Berkeley, I was intrigued by the cover of the August 27 issue. While Justin Berton's lengthy report sounds factual, I was shocked by the sensationalism in your choice of headlines and pullquotes.

The findings of the pseudoscientist Walter Wagner have been refuted by all bona fide health scientists, as stated in Berton's article. Why give such publicity to a man who seems to be using scare tactics to obtain his moment of fame? This is truly irresponsible journalism.
Dr. Gilbert Melese, Emeryville

You took this issue way too lightly

Walter Wagner may be a comic character, and science may not yet back up his charge that uranium-glazed tiles cause cancer, but the greater issue behind this article -- the connection between environmental hazards and human health -- should be taken seriously. The Center for Environmental Health and others work to eliminate environmental health threats such as industrial carcinogens released into low-income communities of color, as well as toxic chemicals like lead and arsenic in consumer products.

We may never know the "safe" limits of toxic exposures or the combined effect of many small exposures to different toxins in the human body. In the meantime, it is clearly better to act to prevent harm, rather than waiting until harm has been caused.

This simple idea, called the precautionary principle, is being implemented in San Francisco and is currently being developed in Berkeley. Many European cities have already implemented it. Wagner's campaign to eliminate uranium-glazed tiles from schools may not be such a bad idea ... just in case.
Alexis Petru, Center for Environmental Health, Oakland

You took this issue at face value

I generally enjoy reading your lead articles, which often expose underappreciated aspects of society. They are generally written with astute commentary, and well researched. The article "This Water Fountain Could Kill You," in contrast, seemed like a high-schooler's blog, "My Two Days with a Wacko." You essentially ignore any factual background research or fact-checking in the article, portraying it instead as some irrelevant nerd duel.

As obviously demonstrated by the anecdotes in the article, the issue of potentially toxic radiation obviously incites strong emotions in the public, and so perhaps actually providing some independent commentary to help readers uninformed in this matter would help. Certain issues raised in the article (e.g., are Geiger counters precise instruments to quantify radiation?) or obvious issues to anyone informed with the matter (e.g., which is more likely to give you cancer: spending time in front of these uranium-containing tiles, or drinking wine?) could have been checked with many people. Never forget the "big bad" LBNL and LLNL are just a phone call away.

Just for reference, if you ever come by Walter Wagner again, ask him to point his Geiger counter at the banana stand in your local organic grocery store. As you will surely find out, the issue of radiation levels in the community is more complicated than his quixotic crusade.
Modi Wetzler, Berkeley

Perhaps now you should write about fluoridation

I read this week's article on tile radiation, which I found very interesting, especially the reaction of the California Department of Health. I have been writing letters to them for years on another subject, water fluoridation, and they continue to respond with nonsensical flaptrap about the opinion of the "scientific community," which they cannot define or reference. No scientific studies have shown that ingestion of fluoride salts have any benefit to dental health. Studies do show mild improvement from topical application of fluoride (toothpaste, mouthwash, etc.).

Water fluoridation is dangerous and unhealthy. Studies show increases in osteoporosis and other bone abnormalities, while other detrimental health effects are now suspected. Meanwhile, the Cal Department of Health continues to push water districts to fluoridate. Water fluoridation is a crock, and unfortunately most dentists and regulatory scientists, who have little background in toxicology, buy into it.
Name withheld by request, Oakland

CORRECTION

In our September 10 cover story "Home Is Where the Money Is," the San Leandro Police Department evidently misinformed us about the size of the cashier's check that scam artist Linda Broderick transmitted to the Bank of Ireland. Detective Cathy Pickard now says the check was for $100,000, not $300,000, as she first told us. For additional information about Broderick and her two partners in crime, read our written exchange with imprisoned con artist John Patrick Hay on page 16.

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