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Volunteers Eat Rocket Fuel

By cp in News
Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:42:56 PM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)

In a study conducted at the Loma Linda Medical Center, Lockheed Martin has been paying volunteers $1000 each to eat perchlorate, a pollutant found in rocket fuel which has been entering the California water system and which is believed to cause thyroid disease. The kicker is that the quantities being consumed in the study are 83 times "safe levels". For a mere thousand dollars, you too can give yourself an incurable (though not untreatable) disease in the name of corporate profits.

This study, which was approved by the ethics boards of three universities (including Boston University) is being denounced as unethical by the Environmental Working Group, an environmental research interest organization. Documents from the study have been posted by the EWG here.


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Volunteers Eat Rocket Fuel | 27 comments (25 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
It's the volunteer's body (3.85 / 14) (#1)
by farmgeek on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 03:59:27 PM EST

Assuming that they have been properly warned of possible ill effects, I see no reason to get upset because some people are willing to ingest chemicals in return for money. Heck, plenty of people pay good money to ingest harmful, yet legal substances all the time, think tobacco.

Now, if there were some plan to get these people addicted to jet fuel and charge them out the wazoo to support their habit, I could see getting upset.

amen (2.57 / 7) (#3)
by electricbarbarella on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:08:58 PM EST

what i don't like is the fact that so many people seem to get all upset when people risk their own health, despite the fact that it's their own damn lives to do with as they please. If people will eat perchlorate for cash, then more power to everyone involved.

-Andy Martin, Home of the Whopper.
Not everything is quantifiable.
[ Parent ]
Society's responsibilities... (4.08 / 12) (#7)
by ism on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:30:23 PM EST

to those who are easily taken advantage of must be taken into consideration. $1000 may not be a lot to you or me, but it is a fortune to impoverished people. I'd like a statistic on the experimental group's income; I'm sure it is disproportionate. Sometimes society has to prevent someone from harming themself, such as those trying to sell themselves into slavery.

I am sure they have to sign a release form, a binding contract of some sort, that assumes they understand what they are agreeing to. However, some of these people are just not smart enough, or too desperate to realize what they are trading for. There's the possibility of an incurable disease. The article mentions periodic checkups, but I do hope that if they develop the disease, they will be taken care of, but I doubt it.

Some additional info would make the situation more clear. After all, three groups said it was okay, so I'm guessing the risks may not be that high. From the available info though, it sounds ethically murky.

[ Parent ]

Well, no... (3.20 / 5) (#11)
by trhurler on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:20:45 PM EST

Actually, for all intents and purposes, it IS legal to sell yourself into slavery, although a creative contract would be necessary to meet the consideration requirement. What you don't seem to understand is that ordinary people who are not mentally incompetent are generally left to their own devices, and the reason is that there is no alternative that doesn't amount to oppression of those deemed "stupid" or "at risk" or whatever by those who deem themselves "superior." Deciding what you can and can't do for your own good is still deciding what you can and can't do.

As for the actual dangers of perchlorate, it isn't -that- bad. In general, the "safe levels" are set much, much lower than they need to be on the ground that in general, it is better to be safe than sorry. Odds are that consuming it in the "safe" dosages has no known biological effect, which would make a study rather pointless. They probably calculated 83x as the point at which a barely detectable effect might be observable. Now, I don't doubt that thyroid problems might be caused or at least contributed to, but the odds are, since jet fuel is highly volatile, that workers in the airline industry end up "consuming" more of the stuff than these volunteers ever will, and they sure as hell didn't have to sign any consent forms.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Question: (1.00 / 2) (#27)
by SexyAlexie on Fri Dec 01, 2000 at 09:50:25 PM EST

Isn't having a job a form of legalised slavery?

[ Parent ]
In other news (3.53 / 13) (#4)
by jabber on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:17:37 PM EST

Despite medically documented proof of harmful effects, millions of people around the globe continue to pay upwards of a thousand dollars per year to major corporations, for the privilege of inhaling carinogenic and emphysema inducing smoke.

Hey, at least in the case of perchlorate, we're actually learning something new about it's effects on the human body - and as long as the volunteers are made aware of the known facts, then it is their informed choice.

If they're coerced, or kept ignorant, it's a different matter - but it doesn't seem to be the case.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Change the title (3.20 / 10) (#5)
by molo on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:23:49 PM EST

Stupid Volunteers Eat Rocket Fuel

I only hope that perchlorate makes these people infertile.

If people are so stupid as to ingest these chemicals purposefully, 83 times above the 'safe' limit, they should be allowed to do so. However, that does NOT give Lockheed the right to ASK people to do this, which will knowingly cause them harm.

Basicly: individual stupidity is a freedom, but corporate stupidity is a crime.

I really wish people weren't sheep and this were a non-issue. Unfortuneately, thats not the case. Lockheed is definitely acting unethicly IMO.

Whenever you walk by a computer and see someone using pico, be kind. Pause for a second and remind yourself that: "There, but for the grace of God, go I." -- Harley Hahn

Corporations (2.50 / 4) (#15)
by trhurler on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 06:58:13 PM EST

Corporations are groups of people. It is, in fact, not a criminal act to, with voluntary informed consent, recruit people to do risky things, nor should it be. Restraint on consenting adults who do not intend to engage in any act which would otherwise be criminal if commited on one's own is always a bad idea.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Reminds me of a short story (3.78 / 14) (#6)
by reshippie on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:28:34 PM EST

It was called "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment". (I have no clue about the Dr.'s spelling, or the author)

The basic plot was, that this "Dr." got a bunch of people together, and told them that he had a bottle of water from the Fountain of Youth, but he wasn't sure. The people eagerly drank it and became young, but it's effects wore off. They then all set off to find the Fountain.

After reading the story, the teacher lead us in a discussion of how immoral and irresponsible the Dr. was. I was the only one in the class that didn't think he was evil or even a bad person.

If they know what they are getting into, well then, it's their lives, and Darwin is in charge.

Those who don't know me, probably shouldn't trust me. Those who do DEFINITELY shouldn't trust me. :-)

Nathaniel Hawthorne (4.00 / 6) (#9)
by desfido on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:50:12 PM EST

... he's the author. You got the spelling right. And interesting comparision.

I think that how evil you think the doctor was depends in part on whether you thought that he was giving it to them mainly so that he can see what happens, or mainly because he used to be friends with the people, and he thinks that they might enjoy it. Or at least, from what I remember of it, since I haven't read it for at least three or four years.

I think it's interesting that your teacher started a discussion about the morality of the doctor's actions. When I first read the story about ten years ago (i.e. when I was about ten :), I thought it was basically a commentary on how sucky and selfish people can be, and how willing they are to fool themselves. Since then, I was required to read it in a couple different classes, and that was always basically the way other students and the teachers would interpret it. I'd never even thought about the possibility of interpreting the doctor as a malicious figure. I think you have to go well beyond what is actually contained within the text to come up with that interpretation. If you want to take the view that it is some sort of retelling of the Fall of Man as depicted in the Jewish and Christian religions, then I suppose you could say that. I also feel you would have to acknowledge that basically it says that Man is responsible for his own forays into evil, and even if some sort of Devil exists, he doesn't really have to do much.

Thus endeth comment the sixth or seventh.

In other words, thus endeth the comment where I realized I had stopped keeping track of how many comments I had made since I started reading this site, and I was too lazy to check. I know, all I have to do is click on that link over on the right, but I don't feel like it, so there.

all fear the DEad Stick FIgures of DOom!
[ Parent ]
Heidegger? (none / 0) (#24)
by ethereal on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 02:21:37 PM EST

That's funny, I thought he was the guy in charge of sucking all of the Mako energy out of the planet for Shinra corporation. Small world, isn't it :)

IMHO, the only question is if the participants in the study were told of the potential dangers of eating perchlorate before tehy signed up. If they weren't informed of the risks, then you can't really say that they knew what they were getting into.


Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

My body is my property. (3.30 / 13) (#10)
by daystar on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 04:55:56 PM EST

... Which is why I am in favor of people selling off their health, or even their bodily organs. Mind you, I'M not going to do it, but I don't think I have the right to stop other people from doing stupid things. Drinking perclorate... tithing to the church... dating my evil ex-girlfriend... all of these things are stupid, but everyone has the right to decide for themselves.

Also, there *IS* a possibility that the dangers of perchlorate are exaggerated. After all, we all know how deadly DDT is, but there aren't any human deaths that can be pointed to. I'm totally in favor of facts being injected into the ecological debate, since the sooner that happens, the sooner people will start ignoring people like Paul Erlich.

There is no God, and I am his prophet.
I would do it. (4.28 / 7) (#13)
by jsmaby on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:23:52 PM EST

As a chemist, I would take part in this experiment. Sure, perchlorate (I assume the potassium salt therof) reacts with stomach acid to form Chlorine gas, but I've been exposed to enough of this that a little more wouldn't hurt. I think it's interesting how frightened people are of chemicals. I teach an intro chem lab; today we started a lab where we are finding the caffeine content in different Cokes (diet, reg, decaff). People were okay with the Coke, because they drink that all the time (it was even distributed in normal bottles), but they were quite weary of the standardized caffeine solution -- it contains nothing that the Coke doesn't have (and concentrations were about the same), but I bet I couldn't get one person to accept a dare to drink some (perhaps I'll try that with Thursday's lab ;)

I remember several years ago there was ER episode where there was a benzene spill, and like the silly drama the show is, gave the impression that one drop of the stuff would kill a person instantly, and everyone in the hospotal where the bottle spilled would probably get cancer. Of course, 50 years ago chemists washed their hands with the stuff, but I'm sure they all died by the time they were 30...right?

Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
[ Parent ]
Assuming it's a salt... (3.60 / 5) (#17)
by fluffy grue on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 08:12:49 PM EST

...wouldn't you be worried about toxicity from whatever the perchlorate is bonded to? Like, what if it's not the potassium salt? And even if it were, couldn't the levels they're ingesting potentially be toxic levels of potassium? I don't know the dosages they're taking, of course, and it's been a while since I've had chemistry, but still... Also, doesn't potassium have some bad thyroid side-effects (which is what they're researching) on its own? I seem to recall that potassium likes to bond to iodine, for example...

Not that I'm opposed to people participating in the study. I'm just wondering about your "it'd just make chlorine gas, which is safe in those quantities" argument. (And yeah, I'm sure that the amount of chlorine gas you're exposed to by being in a swimming pool for an hour is massive orders of magnitude above what these subjects would be getting throughout the entire scope of the study.)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Protection from Deception (3.85 / 7) (#16)
by Khedak on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 07:23:04 PM EST

The argument isn't that the people aren't allowed to eat perchlorate, it's that corporations shouldn't be allowed to encourage them to (by paying them large sums of money). First, because we're concerned about deception (if it exists). The degree of the deception is what determines whether something is permissable or not. It's not a crime to lie to your friends about whether you ate breakfast, but it is a crime to, say, rig a public election. In this case, where the deception can cost people their lives, it's certainly questionable.

Of course before you can talk about deception you have to ask whether the company was being deceptive. That's a subjective judgment and a hard one to make. But then there's our second concern: Should we allow companies to promote behaviour that is harmful? Again, it would depend on the degree of the promotion and the severity of the harm. If a company (or government) poured all of its resources into a racist propaganda campaign, the resulting fervor could get a lot of people killed unjustly, even if the promoting entity itself does nothing (else) wrong. But it's not illegal to promote playing addictive video games, probably because the amount of harm it does (if any) is small, even when the promotion is very strong (Actually this is a debatable one, but I think you can follow what I mean). In this case, when the incentive is a thousand dollars and the harm is again, a threat to life, I think we have cause to be upset.

[ Parent ]
Is it a question of rights? (4.00 / 3) (#19)
by moss on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 04:51:30 AM EST

I don't think it was being claimed that people have no right to participate in the study, nor even that Lockheed has no right to conduct it. Certainly I, at least, can't see how there could be a legal restriction on something like this[1].

Still, you must admit, paying someone to drink something to figure out if it's poisonous--especially when you strongly suspect that it is--is kind of a bastard thing to do. Even though it might be unnacceptable to outlaw such behavior, it certainly warrants a fairly severe public response[2].


[1] Okay, I can see one way: if it did turn out to be seriously harmful, and it could be proven that the people conducting the study had knowingly concealed the risks, I should think they would be liable for the harm they had caused.

[2] Similarly, government restrictions on speech must not be permitted, but certain kinds of speech will nonetheless cause people to be rightly condemned by the society around them.

-- replace the username in my email address with my username here to email me.
[ Parent ]

DDT (2.71 / 7) (#12)
by dreamfish on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:21:11 PM EST

Reminds me of a scientist in the late 60s/early 70s who made a big show about how DDT was perfectly safe and to prove it he ate a handful of it. I think he may still be alive (I know there was a TV programme a few years ago going over the whole DDT saga again on which he appeared and reprised his trick).

Re: DDT (none / 0) (#25)
by ethereal on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 02:28:14 PM EST

Sure, but just see if he can hatch little baby eagles now...


Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

Hmmm... (2.16 / 6) (#14)
by BonzoESC on Tue Nov 28, 2000 at 05:29:16 PM EST

And we still pay stores to sell us twinkies??


Normally, my sig is an image.

mmmm ClO4 how could I ever be mad at you. (2.50 / 4) (#18)
by mmodahl on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 12:49:07 AM EST

We are all whores: every one of us. But I think my price to ingest (already proven deadly) toxins might be a little higher that $1000. Just a thought.

New World Water (2.00 / 4) (#20)
by dj@ on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 09:55:54 AM EST

Here's a link to the lyrics of one of my favorite songs:

New World Water

Hopefully you won't find this link propagation mindless. :)

Replying to my own post (none / 0) (#23)
by dj@ on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 01:37:04 PM EST

I'm kind of curious as to why people didn't like this link at all. (As a side note, I think it would be interesting to have the option of leaving one's ID along with a rating so that people aren't always rating anonymously. It would be neat to see who voted this so low, and some of their perspectives. Maybe we could have the option of including a rating when responding to a post?) Anyway, I think it's a pertinent and relevant link. The story was about chemicals in the water, and this is one of the most clever assessments of the situation I have come across.

Come on, how could you not appreciate the line "Fuck a bank; I need a twenty-year water tank"? That line alone is worth a 3. Haven't people ever heard of the New World Order? Well, this is a play on that, hence, the name "New World Water". Perhaps the ultimate measurement of civilization and progress can be found in the state of water. With all the talk about how civilized and advanced powerful nations are, look at what's happening to the environment and WATER. Progress towards what??!!

Used to have minerals and zinc in it
Now they say it got lead and stink in it

It used to be free now it costs you a fee
Because it's all about getting that cash

Anyway, sorry to bore you. I knew it was a risky post, but I didn't know I would get burned this badly. Perhaps it comes across better in the song, and it loses its essence just in a written form.

[ Parent ]
Missing the point? (4.83 / 6) (#21)
by YellowBook on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 10:49:20 AM EST

I've seen a lot of people writing in saying that "it's my body, I should be able to poison it for money." I don't necessarily disagree with that, but I don't think that's the point. The point is that this experiment is way outside the bounds of standard medical ethics, and yet it has been approved by several university ethics boards -- this is really disturbing.

To put this into perspective, there are basically two kinds of medical studies on humans: those where the subjects may receive some medical benefit from participating -- vaccine trials or experimental cancer treatments, for example. There's the potential for benefit, and any negative effects are incedental (side effects).

The other kind is where there's no potential benefit to the subjects -- sleep deprivation studies, for example. This kind of study has to be justified based on its benefits to society. If there's a potential for permanent damage to the subjects, there had better be a really good justification for the study.

This study is obviously of the second type. So the issue is how well-justified it is. Here are a few data points:

  • Perchlorate is a known poison -- the issue is how poisonous it is (what dose is needed to cause harm). There is some scientific merit to this question, so even though some of the subjects will be harmed by the study (this outcome is inherent in its design), the study could still be ethical.
  • Lockheed-Martin, the sponsor of the study, is "being sued for unspecified damages by a group of San Bernardino County citizens who suffer thyroid cancer and other disorders from ingesting perchlorate that leached from a now-closed Lockheed Martin plant into area water supplies." This suggests that the real motivation for the study isn't scientific interest, but rather that it is being conducted as part of LockMart's legal defense.
  • LockMart will save millions of dollars in cleanup costs if it can prevent the state and the EPA from setting strict standards on perchlorate in drinking water.

My feeling is that the study in and of itself is dubious -- it might be justified, but that would depend on things like the specifics of the experimental protocol that I don't know about, and that I probably wouldn't be qualified to judge anyway. BUT in light of the very tainted motivations associated with the funding of the study, I can't understand how any ethics board could approve of it. This really opens the gates for a lot of ethically questionable medical experimentation.

Corporations are Not Individuals (3.75 / 4) (#22)
by dj@ on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 12:23:01 PM EST

This story reminds me how important it is that corporations be extremely heavily regulated. Individuals look at actions like this one on the part of "Lockheed Martin", and confuse regulating such behavior with regulating the behavior of individuals in general. We try to escape the powers of big government, and what we get is corporations who have escaped the power of big government, with individuals at the mercy of both. The problem is, corporations are a part of the government.

Corporations are primarily a legal document sponsored first and foremost by the United States of America. This means that they are a part of the US government. The private sector is just a different extension of the government, where people are allowed to extend the reach of the government and its currency and given great incentives to do so.

The point is, if the government doesn't regulate the mythical beings it has spawned, who the heck will? Perhaps this story shows just how rediculous it is to rely on consumer choice and discretion to regulate corporate behavior in the free market. The government is the only force that can keep corporations in check, and it makes sense to look at them both as part of one big honkin' government that is totally failing the people.

Hell, I'd Do It (3.00 / 1) (#26)
by CyberQuog on Wed Nov 29, 2000 at 08:04:03 PM EST

If only so I could be nominated for the next Darwin Award

Volunteers Eat Rocket Fuel | 27 comments (25 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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