Mass spectrometer

It takes more than a mass spectrometer, more than even a mass spectrometer and an ISO certification, to make you a scientist. Honesty helps too!

Heavy metals here, there, everywhere…

One of the key narratives among the supporters and practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), particularly those with a conspiratorial world-view, is the claim that vast portions of the US general populous is being deliberately poisoned by certain corporations, special-interest groups, invested individuals, and the US government. Some of these supporters and practitioners go as far as to claim that this conspiracy is global in scope and not restricted solely to the USA. Among the supposed vectors of this poisoning is the claim of elevated and/or toxic levels of heavy-metals in such items as foods, vaccines, as well as municipal drinking water supplies; I will address the latter in this article.

One prolific web-based publication supporting this narrative is Natural News. Many of its writers, including its editor-in-chief Mr. Mike Adams (The Health Ranger), have added outspoken support to these claims of…someone…deliberately poisoning the drinking water. A brief search on Google using the appropriate keywords produces a large number of hits, with many of these hits being found on the Natural News website, and many have heavy-metal “detoxing” as a central theme. Titles of these Natural News articles include:

Of particular interest are three recent articles by Adams himself. In reference to his first article, during announcing the launch of his Natural Science Journal, Adams openly states that none of the existing science establishment (Academia, Corporate and Government) can be trusted [Internet Archive]. This is clearly illustrated in that announcement as follows:

In a world where nearly all so-called “science” is actually little more than corporate fraud and government malfeasance, nearly all mainstream science journals have been taken over by pharmaceutical and biotech interests. As a result, they destroy and suppress human knowledge rather than expanding it.

All the big science journals — Nature, The British Medical Journal, The Lancet and so on — function almost entirely as science prostitutes for corporate interests, spewing out a vomitous cascade of fraudulent, industry ghostwritten “doctored” studies that the industry pretends represent real science. This sad, filthy corruption of science harms the reputation of science itself and detracts from the valuable expansion of knowledge that can be achieved when science is practiced in the interests of humanity rather than corporate profits.

My aim is to rescue science from corporate prostitution and return science to the democratic, decentralized domain of the curious and the informed. (That means you.) This is why today, I have extraordinary news to unveil… a milestone for independent science conducted in the public interest… something that hasn’t happened before in the history of our world.

Today I’m announcing the launch of a new, independent, peer-reviewed science journal called the Natural Science Journal — a science journal that rejects all corporate money, government influence and all the blind, obedient “consensus” science narratives that only end in stupidity.

The actual first article itself, entitled: “ICP-MS analysis of toxic elements (heavy metals) in 100 municipal water samples from across the United States” [Internet Archive], is a simple laboratory report discussing the results obtained. It makes no remarkable claims and is written at the level of a laboratory analyst or technician. However, there is an attempt in the results and conclusion section by the author to make more of the actual observed heavy-metal levels measured than is warranted. The second article, however, is more direct and inflammatory. In it Adams openly claims [Internet Archive] that certain invested individuals and groups are deliberate poisoning the general US public using dangerously elevated levels of various heavy-metals in municipal and state drinking water sources. In this second article [Internet Archive] he referenced to further analytical results of US municipal and state drinking water undertaken by his CWC laboratory. Adams’ accusations are clearly demonstrated in both the title of the article (“Obama’s EPA caught covering up high heavy metals pollution across U.S. cities as federal government wages multi-faceted WAR against its own citizens”) and its content which states:

Our citizen-powered EPA Watch program has now resulted in the open source publishing of heavy metals contamination tests of 230 municipal water samples across America. The results show that two to three per cent of the U.S. water is highly contaminated with toxic heavy metals, poisoning an estimated 10 million Americans with brain-damaging contaminants that surpass EPA limits.

Yet the EPA has not alerted Americans to these toxic heavy metals in their water. Just as in the case of Flint, Michigan, the EPA is systematically covering up irrefutable scientific evidence of heavy metals water contamination across America.

The third article [Internet Archive], the most recent, is just a continuation of Adams’ accusations based on the data referenced in his second:

(NaturalNews) We’ve now published the water testing results for 239 water samples collected by our readers all across America.

As promised, this is part of our effort to conduct real science in the public interest and share the results publicly… even as the corrupt, criminal federal government conspires to hide these data from the public. (The EPA, like every agency of the government regime, has become a corrupt, anti-science front group that deliberately pollutes America’s waterways while covering up its crimes.)

Finally, in the last week Mr Adams has posted two new articles in which he promotes the opening of his CWC laboratory to the public for testing purposes. They reference the earlier articles containing data for the first 100 and, then, extended 239 water samples.

… Or not

Fortunately, Adams did not only make the aforementioned claims, he also supplied the actual results measured by his Consumer Wellness Center Laboratory. Before diving into the raw data, there is one item that Adams must receive the appropriate due recognition for, namely the ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation recently achieved by his Consumer Wellness Center Laboratory. Having personally spent nearly two decades dealing with ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation for multiple laboratory analytical methods, I am fully aware of the large amount of effort and work required to achieve and maintain such an accreditation.

However, I believe that this accreditation will not provide Adams, his supporters, and those in the CAM arena with the “magic-bullet” they hoped for against the established sciences (academic, corporate and government). In fact, some of them may actually start to view it as a poisoned chalice in the near future.

Tilting at ISO 17025 accredited ICP-MS wind-mills

The ISO/IEC 17025 standard is a lab-based quality system for the accurate, precise, and repeatable measurement of laboratory samples via internationally accepted standards, methodologies, procedures, and techniques to produce results that, when necessary, can be successfully used in any competent legal system. The standard itself is divided into two general sections, an Administrative section and a Technical section. Together they cover all aspects of running an accredited laboratory.

A key criteria underlining the entire ISO/IEC 17025 standard is traceability. Everything must be traceable back to its source/origin and/or to the international standards that the ISO/IEC 17025 standard is based on. This provides an accredited laboratory with a very capable system that is both internationally recognized and which generates reliable and trust-worthy results. Without the traceability, the entire quality system collapses.

The single weakness of the system is around sampling. Many accredited laboratories test samples that are provided by a third party rather than being collected by the accredited laboratory themselves. This is the situation Adams’ Consumer Wellness Center Laboratory finds itself in with regards the Municipal and State water samples.

An Inductive Coupled Plasma/Mass-Spectroscopy (ICP-MS) is the combination of two useful analytical techniques: Inductive Coupled Plasma with a Plasma Sampling Interface and Mass-Spectroscopy. An ICP-MS instrument is actually two analytical instruments linked together by an appropriate sample junction. The initial test sample is fed into the Inductive Coupled Plasma torch which converts the heavy-metals in the sample into ions and delivers these to the MS instrument. The MS instrument then determines the type of molecule each component is, based on its measured molecular mass, as well as its concentration which can be referenced back to original sample and its make-up.

Another aspect of any analytical chemistry technique is the condition of the original sample and any associated preparation required before analysis. It can can be either a solid or liquid or gas, and may require specialized preparation depending on the type of analysis. For water samples, another aspect is whether the samples were supplied as a solution (complete dissolution of components) or a suspension/colloid (fine solid material floating/suspended within the water). For a suspension/colloid, the solid material is usually first separated from the water sample before analysis can commence, but for clear solutions — such as the water samples analyzed by Mr Adams’ Consumer Wellness Center Laboratory — sample preparation tends to be minimal.

And the raw data says …

So Mr Adams did us the favor of providing the analytical data for municipal and state water samples tested by his CWC laboratory. This allows not only a review of his data against his claims, but also a more thorough statistical interrogation of the data. A summary of this statistical interrogation is given in the table following (Table 1).

Table 1: Summary of CWC Laboratory analysis of 239 municipal and state water sources in the USA [Internet Archive]
Aluminium
(Al)
ppb (µg/l)
Copper
(Cu)
ppb (µg/l)
Arsenic
(As)
ppb (µg/l)
Cadmium
(Cd)
ppb (µg/l)
Mercury
(Hg)
ppb (µg/l)
Lead
(Pb)
ppb (µg/l)
All Metals As, Cd, Hg, Pb
No. (%) No. (%)
Variance (Ơ2) 2 730.10 35 369.63 1.34 0.08 0.00 79.56 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Std. Deviation (Ơ) 52.25 188.07 1.16 0.29 0.00 8.92 n/a n/a n/a n/a
No. samples with
Z-Scores: >= 3ơ
8 5 5 5 0 3 23 9.6% 11 4.6%
AVE 28.69 101.01 0.80 0.08 0.00 1.49 n/a n/a n/a n/a
EPA permitted
max. (ppb)
500 1300 10 5 2 15 n/a n/a n/a n/a
% of EPA max. 5.74 7.77 7.97 1.67 0.00 9.91 n/a n/a n/a n/a
No. samples
exceeding
max. spec.
0 1 1 0 0 4 6 2.5% 5 2.1%

An initial review of the data provided by Adams indicated that few of the samples tested were outside the specifications stipulated by the EPA. When subjected to a Z-score analysis, a few interesting (but not unexpected) observations were made. For those unfamiliar with Z-Score statistics, it is a statistical method for determining whether each analytical data-point in a sample set is statistical similar or different for the sample set in question. This allows the reviewer of the data to note, with a given level of confidence, if an individual sample is significantly different from the others and, thus, which samples to take note of (ie. whether a particular sample approaches the maximum specifications set for it). Of the 239 samples analyzed, only 23 results were statistically different at a 99% confidence level (i.e. 3 sigma / 3ơ) based on a Z-Score analysis. That is equivalent to only 9.6% of the entire data set of all metals analyzed. If we remove aluminum and copper from the analysis, assuming that these elevated levels are coming from public water infrastructure that is old and/or in disrepair (ie. rusting water lines and pipes — a less scientific, but still reasonable assumption) and focus on the heavy-metals of considerably more concern (arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead, which are known for their severely toxic properties), then only 4.6% (i.e. 11 samples) are statistically different and thus are worth further investigation. However, the main finding behind the Z-Score is that the data sets for the water samples tested are mostly uniform, with most of the samples being statistically similar in that they generally have low levels of heavy-metal contamination.

Review of the averages (ie. the mean) across each heavy-metal indicated that all of the averages were below 10% of the maximum limit specified by the EPA, even when including the few elevated “outlier’ readings. That is to say, the average sample was well below the EPA levels of concern. Finally, of all 239 samples tested, only 2.5% (ie. 6 samples) exceeded the maximum limits specified by the EPA, and this drops to 2.1% when aluminum and copper are excluded from the average.

However, in Adams’ third article he states:

EPA limits, by the way, are much higher than what the United Nations requires for third world nations. So even water the EPA declares to be “safe” for Americans to drink may be considered unfit for human consumption in places like Somalia. (How’s that for a little factoid you didn’t expect?)

However Adams claims in this regards are without any merit as given by limits specified for drinking water by both the EU and WHO (Table 2).

Table 2: Heavy metal limits specified by the EPA, WHO and EU
Aluminium
(Al)
ppb (µg/l)
Copper
(Cu)
ppb (µg/l)
Arsenic
(As)
ppb (µg/l)
Cadmium
(Cd)
ppb (µg/l)
Mercury
(Hg)
ppb (µg/l)
Lead
(Pb)
ppb (µg/l)
EPA (Permitted
Maximum)
500 1 300 10 5 2 15
WHO (Permitted
Maximum)
200 2 000 10 3 1 10
EU (Permitted
Maximum)
200 100* /
3 000*
50 5 1 50

* EU Copper / guideline (no limit specified): 100 ppb running water / 3000ppb standing water

In general, the differences between the EPA, WHO and the EU are small. In some cases the EPA is a little less stringent, in other cases its limits are stricter, and for the rest they are essentially identical. In particular, for the four heavy metals of concern (arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead) the EPA is on par with both WHO (UN) and the EU. Adams attempted to create the impression that the EPA limits are significant higher than the UN (and dangerously so) but this is clearly not the case from the limits specified. This raises the question as to why Adams made such an accusation. One likely possibility is that Adams is aware that his own data does not strongly support the contention that there is a vast conspiracy to deliberately poison the US public en masse. Thus to create that impression he made the erroneous and deceptive claim about the UN limits for heavy metal contamination of drinking water being significantly lower than those used by the EPA — ie. In other words he was trying to forcibly create a crisis, a “phantom menace” if you will, where there actual was none. If true, this is action is to be condemned with the harshest censure as any individual that claims to be a scientist violates the main precept of science when he or she tries to force the data to fit a pre-existing hypothesis. The data tests the hypothesis, the hypothesis does not dictate the data.

Thus, instead of supporting Adams claims of mass heavy-metal poisoning through drinking water, Adams’ CWC laboratory results actually proven the complete opposite. If Adams, his supporters, and those of likeminded were correct in their speculation, the laboratory data would have shown significantly more samples with heavy-metal contamination above the EPA limits and much higher heavy-metals contents in almost all water samples for all metals tested in general.

If Adams was truly serious …

If Adams and his supporters were truly serious about the possibility of dangerously contaminated drinking water, then they should approach the entire issue much differently. For one, Adams should have designed a much better experiment, as his present design-of-experiment (DOE) is terribly weak. His “one-tap, one-sample, analyzed-once” approach is grossly inadequate. He should be sampling for each zip-code referenced in the data at more than one location and source, and at each source in triplicate. This would reduce any possible variation that typically arises when sampling a large system. Furthermore, this sampling should also be repeated multiple times over an extended time period, for example weekly or bi-weekly at each location and source over a period of about three months to a year. In addition, the overall analysis should not focus solely on single data points, as Adams present approach does, but rather on patterns in the data such as specific water supplies showing elevated heavy-metal repeatedly over long periods of time, with a particular emphasis on the much more dangerous elements of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead. One further aspect of Adams’ DOE that must be addressed is that no attempt was made to account for the spread of population density in reference to the ZIP-codes tested. There is no way of knowing whether the water samples that demonstrated results above the maximum specified by the EPA were from small rural or town communities of a hundred or so people, or cities of millions. In light of this, making the claim that: “…poisoning an estimated 10 million Americans with brain-damaging contaminants …” is not scientifically justified as no attempt was made to account for population density.

In the end, it is easy for individuals or groups to make unfounded and pseudoscientific claims, but when people try to fit actual scientific fact and measurements — particularly using reliable and accurate analytical techniques — to the pseudoscience, then there is bound to be a conflict between the two. In that case, the well-executed science must always win.


bio-cd-pearcey

CD “Tiger” Pearcey obtained his Master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. The title of his Masters dissertation was “Catalytic Oxidative Coupling of Methane with Consecutive Gas-Phase Reaction”. His original Bachelor of Science degree was a double major in Chemistry and Biochemistry. Pearcey has over 20 years’ experience in applied chemical research, most of which was obtained in service to his present employer who is a leading manufacturer in the paper, pulp, and dissolving pulp industry. Pearcey manages the laboratory with a speciality in bleaching technology at one of the company’s main research facilities.

The views expressed are those of the author, CD Pearcey, and do not reflect those of his employer on any topic in question.

 

 

Posted by Craig D Pearcey

CD “Tiger” Pearcey obtained his Master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. The title of his Masters dissertation was “Catalytic Oxidative Coupling of Methane with Consecutive Gas-Phase Reaction”. His original Bachelor of Science degree was a double major in Chemistry and Biochemistry. Pearcey has over 20 years’ experience in applied chemical research, most of which was obtained in service to his present employer who is a leading manufacturer in the paper, pulp, and dissolving pulp industry. Pearcey manages the laboratory with a speciality in bleaching technology at one of the company’s main research facilities. The views expressed are those of the author, CD Pearcey, and do not reflect those of his employer on any topic in question.

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