New Computer Fund

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Error Cascade

Judith Curry had a post on Error Cascade back in 2012.  There are tons of ways to screw up and one not so big screw up can lead to a progression of more screw ups that end in pretty spectacular failures.

There is some fairly new hysteria online about Arsenic in rice, water, apple juice and just about everything, since Arsenic is common if soils.  Some of the "Organic Gurus" primed the pump with Arsenic in poultry.  OMG!  Chicken farmers are feeding Arsenic to chickens then you eat them!!  Damn, that has to be bad, right?

I was bored and Googled a few things.  It appears the Arsenic deal started in Bangladesh in 1994.  Water wells had a higher than normal level so the WHO stepped in to set a few standards a limit Arsenic in water to about 50 ppb.  Since most places do not have as high a level, the WHO set somewhat arbitrarily a 10 ppb standard for every place else.  Once the drinking water standard was set and set pretty low, the US EPA requested research into field testing kits that were cheap and could read down to close to zero to include the 10 ppd water standard.

I haven't found out everything I want about the timing of Arsenic sample testing, but it appears that 5 ppb with any real accuracy is a pretty new development.  Consumer Reports got some on the new test kits and started testing whatever blew wind up their skirts and had a "block buster" discovery that some rice crop could have up to around 160 ppb Arsenic content.  This got the US "health food" guys going.

In the mean time, scientists with WHO recommended that Bangladeshi folks switch from deeper wells to shallow wells and surface water to reduce exposure to the killer Arsenic.  Surface water and shallow wells are not know to be great water sources in areas with poor sanitation, lots of people and lots of diseases.  So a MIT study found that the water source switch was killing more children that the Arsenic.

The FDA, concerned with the US food supply, basically took the position that there is no evidence that Arsenic in low ppb amounts is doing any harm.  The Arsenic in chicken haters pretty much forced the FDA to set limits on Arsenic in poultry even though that Arsenic was "organic" and posed a much lower health risk than Inorganic Arsenic.

All the time this was going on, "Organic Food" fans were developing pseudo-scientific remedies for Arsenic poisoning that has never been determine to really be a problem.  I stumbled on "Seattle Organic Restaurants" website and they recommended a "cleansing" using bananas and coconut milk to flush the deadly toxin from your pristine bodies.  Coconut milk and bananas can have as much or more Arsenic as some rices and both are an order of magnitude greater that the frigging chicken which has mainly organic arsenic to begin with :)

I am extremely grateful to Dr. Curry for enlightening me with error cascade because the terminology I was used to was "Cluster Fuck".

Throwing the Baby out with the Drinking Water: Unintended Consequences of Arsenic Mitigation Efforts in Bangladesh,

Update: More cascade potential fun.  Flint City has started replacing lead pipe run outs with new copper run outs to the meter.  Toronto, Canada did the same and noted that partial replacement, city to meter but no owner change out tended to make the lead situation worse.  Most northern cities do not like using PVC for run outs mainly because of union plumber concerns.  Using non-conductive PVC instead of copper would reduce at least part of the issues with partial replacement.  So catastrophe fans, things should get interesting.  Toronto's lead pipe replacement program questioned.

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