Chemicals, Ken Bigley and others

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Chemicals in children need not be a cause for concern

Chemicals in children need not be a cause for concern

Sir: The WWF report on man-made chemicals is out of balance ("Children as young as nine have potentially harmful chemicals in their blood, says study", 8 October). The Royal Society of Chemistry believes as strongly as any other organisation that man-made chemicals should not be allowed to damage children and adults of any age of this generation or any future generation. Where the RSC diverges from the views of the WWF is on the critically important issue of the level of any man-made chemicals detected in human bodies.

Just because a toxin is measurable in us it does not follow that it is harmful. The central matter should be the amount of the chemical present. Almost any chemical material - including those found in vegetables and salads - will harm a person if it is present in a sufficiently large quantity. The amount of man-made chemicals in our bodies that the WWF is talking about would, transposed into a comparison based on timescale, represent just one second in a 30 year period. This element of scale is overlooked in the WWF report.

Organisations, including my own, engaged in supplying science-based information must strive to be balanced, restrained and holistic in all reports, because the public has the right to be well-informed by all parties.

Dr DAVID GIACHARDI
Royal Society of Chemistry
London W1

Sir: The fact that human blood contains a cocktail of chemicals is predictable. Any chemical which is markedly more soluble in oil than in water will tend to accumulate in biological tissues. However, the detection of them is generally more a tribute to the exquisite sensitivity of modern analytical chemistry than a cause for concern.

Such chemicals are attacked by the body's metabolic mechanisms and changed into water-soluble products which can be excreted. They don't stay there for ever. For example, from studies in which human volunteers ate tablets of the organochlorine insecticide dieldrin for two years and then stopped, Hunter reported in 1969 that the tissue concentration fell to half its original value in about one year. The concentration found at any one time will reflect the current intake, rather than any historic value, so children and adults would be expected to contain similar concentrations. If anything, children eat more for their bodyweight than do adults, so it is not surprising if their blood concentrations are higher.

MICHAEL K BALDWIN
Sittingbourne, Kent

Bigley family's bravery deserves our respect

Sir: It was with great sadness that I learnt of the murder of Mr Ken Bigley in Iraq. I know I am not alone in wishing to extend my condolences and my sympathies to his courageous family.

I wish to make no political point nor do I wish to condemn the various parties complicit in Mr Bigley's death. Rather I would commend Mr Bigley's family in the highest possible terms. It is often quoted that politics is the art of the possible, yet Mr Bigley's family has demonstrated that this shows a remarkable lack of imagination. In the place of bitterness and resignation they have shown hope and determination. They have not conceded one inch to the seemingly impossible, and they have acted with an unrelenting tenacity and courage that has earned for them the eternal respect of many people across the world.

If I have a hope for Mr Bigley's family, it is that the grief they must surely feel should, in some small way, be tempered by pride in what they attempted to achieve. They are not only a credit to themselves, their community and to our nation, they are a credit to Ken Bigley, and in their valiant attempt to save him they have given him the greatest of epitaphs.

RICHARD MANN
Norwich

Sir: I, like all feeling people, utterly condemn the murder of Kenneth Bigley. I worry though, that this tragic event will be used as justification for the continuation of war in Iraq. Neutralising the threat posed by extremist groups is what governments should be spending their budgets on; instead we squander billions maiming and murdering Iraqi civilians for disingenuous reasons, creating even more extremists.

We must not confuse the killers of Ken Bigley with the ordinary people of Iraq. Dehumanising an entire race of people is the first tool of propagandists, since it allows us to circumvent the protests of our conscience. The sad truth is that the long-term efforts of Saddam Hussein, the West's two wars and more than a decade of our genocidal sanctions have utterly destroyed the morale of the Iraqi people and the infrastructure of their country. While lawlessness is allowed to prevail and democracy withheld from an oppressed nation hungry for a say in their own lives, we will see more tragedies.

We must use our own votes wisely. The US election in November and the British elections next year will be our opportunity to show that we will not accept corruption and lies from those who represent us. To keep our citizens safe, we must change the way westerners are viewed in the world, and this change can only start on election day.

STELLA JORGENSEN
Coatbridge, Lanarkshire

Sir: Your attempt in a leading article to link Ken Bigley's horrific murder with Labour's election success in 1997 is bizarre ("These ghastly images of murder symbolise a reckless misadventure", 9 October). Few who celebrated that victory would have been naive enough to believe that it would miraculously end all horror in our world.

Your opposition to the war in Iraq is understandable. The blindness it seems to have induced to Labour's many achievements over the past seven years is not.

BRIAN HUGHES
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Sir: Whilst no one would want to deny Kenneth Bigley's family the sympathy it deserves, we seem to be in danger of overlooking the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis. Is it any less tragic to be a civilian killed by a laser-guided missile, or to have been beheaded by insurgents, both groups of perpetrators believing their actions are justified by the righteousness of their cause?

MARTIN F LEE
Birmingham

British citizenship

Sir: Chris McClelland (letter, 7 October) is right to say that to blame individual German citizens today for the atrocities of Hitler's government is irrational. However, if it is irrational to blame German citizens for the actions of their government 60 years ago, is it not also irrational to blame British citizens today for the actions of our government? Any German "lucky enough" to have a valid claim to Irish citizenship cannot hide the shame of his nation's past by rejecting his nation. Likewise, Chris cannot hide his perceived shame of his government's actions in the present by rejecting his British passport.

I did not become British by filling out a membership form. I was born British. It is a lifetime membership. I have the same claim to citizenship that enabled my brother to get his Irish passport. Our mother is Irish and I share the affection and respect for her country that she has shown for mine. Were I to be granted an Irish passport it would be carried with pride alongside, not instead of, my British one.

DES McCLELLAND
Nuneaton, Warwickshire

Sir: Chris McClelland claims he obtained an Irish passport partly through shame at the actions of the British Government over Iraq and partly because he fears British citizens have become terrorist targets. One wonders if his sense of shame extended to abandoning his UK passport. As to being safe from terrorists, they do not check the nationality of their victims, whether in Iraq, New York or Madrid. Neither can countries hope for safety by obsequious neutrality in a battle between good and evil.

STEPHEN PARKIN
Rotherham, South Yorkshire

Old chestnuts

Sir: Julius Caesar may have not seen beech in Britain ("Once there were giants", 30 September; letter, 5 October). However Sir Harry Godwin, in his history of the British flora, gives evidence for its occurrence and local abundance at a much earlier date. He suggests that Caesar may have been referring to sweet chestnut, a much more important tree to the Romans as it could be used as food for both people and horses.

English Nature does regard it as important to maintain examples of western oak woodland from Cornwall to Cumbria, but our climate appears to be changing. On current predictions, the suitable range of some of our woodland species will shift over the next 50-100 years. Beech is expected to lose ground in the south-east, but its "climate space" will increase in the north and west. We need to consider whether beech spread into oak woodland should now be accepted in some woods, as a forerunner of that change.

KEITH KIRBY
Forestry and Woodland Officer
English Nature
Peterborough

Welsh connections

Sir: What on earth does Henry Jones-Davies think he is doing complaining about "unrestricted immigration" to Wales and the consequent destruction of Welsh culture (letter, 9 October)? He should know that the high priests of political correctness have pronounced worldwide migration and consequent cultural destruction to be desirable. Full stop and end of argument: arguing with the politically correct is not allowed, and exposes one to accusations of xenophobia, racism, bigotry, and other snide accusations which the politically correct use for want of intelligent argument.

RALPH MUSGRAVE
Durham

Sir: If all the Asian incomers to England Mr Hockley slyly mentioned at the end of his letter ("Welsh melodrama", 7 October) would speak only Urdu in restaurants, corner shops, parish-committee and school-governor meetings, post offices, police stations and hospitals, maybe his comparison with the situation in Wales would make sense. But the Asian incomers are not like the English. They have the grace, the imagination, the canniness, to learn the language of the country they come to. My neighbour can't even be bothered to learn how to say the name of his house.

TWM MORYS
Rhoslan, Gwynedd

Sir: Jan Morris (6 October) is incorrect in stating that Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch is "the longest place name in Europe". Gorsafawddacha'idraigodanheddogleddollônpenrhynareurdraethceredigion - a railway station in Gwynedd - is longer by nine Welsh letters. The station was named for publicity, and to outdo Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. The name translates as: "The Mawddach station and its dragon teeth at the Northern Penrhyn Road on the golden beach of Cardigan Bay."

ADAM DAVIES
Newport, South Wales

Global families

Sir: Terence Blacker (1 October) has rather missed the point of the current wave of interest in genealogy. It is not a question of a family tree versus a living family - quite the opposite! Far from basking in the light of the past glories of illustrious ancestors, the internet has made it easier to gain knowledge of a wider family, to revive the clan. People with whom you share a common ancestor can be contacted in the four corners of the earth and corresponded with over the internet.

The Blackers may not have their own website but several families now do, a place where they can put items on family research on the message board and, for example, correspond with or even arrange to meet your 5C 3R (fifth cousin three times removed). There are even gatherings of the clans: one of my lines is having a get-together next year in Canada. It is a very sociable pastime!

CRISPIN ROGERS
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Gambling losses

Sir: Matthew Norman's powerful exposé of our suicidal gambling policy (8 October) ought to be compulsory reading for every MP. The Government is supporting a £40bn industry that not only relies on people's weaknesses, but knowingly bankrupts its customers while destroying their families. How ironic that the self-proclaimed party of the family, the Labour Party, has handed over the £800m Millennium Dome, symbol of our future, to a casino consortium.

JOYCE GLASSER
London NW3

Iraq statistics

Sir: I wonder whether those railing against the effects of the Iraq war are doing so only out of conviction, or something else. UN and other statistics show a death-rate due to homicide (including bombings etc) of about 32 per 100,000 in Iraq. The current homicide rate in South Africa is over 50 per 100,000. Should we now bemoan the downfall of apartheid and recall the warnings of its proponents at to what would follow?

JOHN GOLDMAN
London W1

Choice for men

Sir: The circumcised Mr Straub (letter, 9 September) is happy to have lost, at the age of 25, something of what nature gave him. There are also folk who have lost much else from that area of the body, and plenty of others who have lost fingers, toes and even whole limbs at their own desire, and often "DIY". What many people are against is the removal of anything, without the full and informed consent of the individual concerned. Please leave baby boys with all their bits until the individual can make up his own mind.

MARTIN MOTTRAM
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Voyage of discovery

Sir: In his obituary of Maurice Wilkins (9 October), Watson Fuller rightly draws attention to Alec Stokes, who is credited with solving the theoretical problem of the structure of DNA "on the train home". Stokes himself wrote, with typical understatement, that he "completed this bit of work in something under 24 hours", rather longer than it takes to reach Welwyn Garden City from London!

SEWERYN CHOMET
King's College, University of London

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