PFAS vs. Malaria -- Unintended Consequences

4Q Basket Case

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One of my favorite topics is unintended consequences of well-intended actions. First, a bit of background

PFAS is an acronym for long scientific name for chemicals commonly referred to as "forever chemicals"....chemicals that either don't break down at all or break down only over centuries.

As with many things, PFAS weren't included in products in order to pollute the soil. They were included because they performed a valuable function. When they were removed for understandable environmental reasons, that function needed to be performed by some other -- presumably more environmentally friendly -- substance.

Which brings us around to PFAS vs. Malaria and this article from Bloomberg.

Rise in Malaria Cases Tied Mosquito Net Changes - Bloomberg

According to the article malaria bed nets perform two functions. First, they create a physical barrier between mosquitoes and the sleeping person. Second, because they're impregnated with insecticide, they reduce the mosquito population by killing insects that light on them.

Trouble is, while they're still an effective physical barrier, they're not nearly as effective as they used to be at killing mosquitoes. This has been one component in the rise in cases of malaria.

After some investigation, researchers found that old nets were still effective. It was the new ones that weren't up to snuff. Turns out, there was a change in the manufacturing process. The old coating contained PFAS, and was therefore replaced with a new less offensive substitute. But the new coating doesn't work nearly as well.

So we're faced with a dilmemma -- PFAS or increased incidence of malaria. Not a good choice either way. But the article touches on the fact that other coatings without PFAS would be effective.....they're just more expensive. So the debate shouldn't have been PFAS vs. no PFAS. It should have been multi-faceted:

1. PFAS vs. no PFAS.
2. If no PFAS, what is the substitute?
3. Is the substitute as effective as the substance being replaced?
4. How much does an effective replacement cost?
5. If the effective replacement costs more, are we willing to tolerate the increase in order to get effective mosquito reduction?
6. The majority of areas affected by malaria are tropical / jungle areas which also are affected by low incomes. So if "we" are willing to tolerate the increased cost of an effective mosquito bed net, who exactly will pay for that?

So because the debate stopped at #1, we now have a much less effective bed net, which has led to more malaria.

As with many things totally unrelated to this topic, simply abolishing the immediate problem is often not the full answer. That type of incomplete and lazy thinking can cause downstream problems that nobody thought about.
 

NationalTitles18

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So am I to believe that enough mosquitos are killed by lighting on netting to make an appreciable difference in malaria cases?

If I am to believe that, why should I?

And is it enough to explain the increase in malaria cases?

What other factors could be contributing to the problem?

I'm open to evidence indicating my above concerns are misplaced.

I'm afraid someone with an agenda took off running in front of the evidence without realizing that correlation is not always causation.

I appreciate that there was one study in one country, but that would have very limited implications without wider study.

But we also must consider if increased costs would reduce the number of physical barriers to mosquitos biting at night, which seems more important overall than mosquitos being killed. A barrier would seem to be more effective than no barrier, even if the barrier is not as effective as an insecticide. So that part has to be considered as well.

PFAS do far more than potentially cause cancer. They are implicated in a host of negative effects on the human body. Continued use would cause further accumulation in the environment when present levels will already have an effect on multiple generations of people.

It is reasonable to ask the question regarding risks vs benefits, though, and nothing I've said discounts that line of reasoning.

But in the absence of further evidence I don't think the conclusion can be made that the change caused the increase in malaria cases or that the benefits outweigh the risks for using PFAS.

And there is a fair amount of evidence that other factors contributed more to the increase than this change.



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4Q Basket Case

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So am I to believe that enough mosquitos are killed by lighting on netting to make an appreciable difference in malaria cases?

If I am to believe that, why should I?

And is it enough to explain the increase in malaria cases?

What other factors could be contributing to the problem?

I'm open to evidence indicating my above concerns are misplaced.

I'm afraid someone with an agenda took off running in front of the evidence without realizing that correlation is not always causation.

I appreciate that there was one study in one country, but that would have very limited implications without wider study.

But we also must consider if increased costs would reduce the number of physical barriers to mosquitos biting at night, which seems more important overall than mosquitos being killed. A barrier would seem to be more effective than no barrier, even if the barrier is not as effective as an insecticide. So that part has to be considered as well.

PFAS do far more than potentially cause cancer. They are implicated in a host of negative effects on the human body. Continued use would cause further accumulation in the environment when present levels will already have an effect on multiple generations of people.

It is reasonable to ask the question regarding risks vs benefits, though, and nothing I've said discounts that line of reasoning.

But in the absence of further evidence I don't think the conclusion can be made that the change caused the increase in malaria cases or that the benefits outweigh the risks for using PFAS.

And there is a fair amount of evidence that other factors contributed more to the increase than this change.



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I don't think you meant to, but you're kind of making my point for me.

We should consider downstream consequences of a decision before the decision is made.

If you think Bloomberg in general or Anna Edney (the author) in particular has an agenda that doesn't comport with your own positions, you're free to take it up with them.
 

NationalTitles18

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I don't think you meant to, but you're kind of making my point for me.

We should consider downstream consequences of a decision before the decision is made.

If you think Bloomberg in general or Anna Edney (the author) in particular has an agenda that doesn't comport with your own positions, you're free to take it up with them.
Bloomberg didn’t post it here so I mentioned it to you.

In fairness, it may just be a poorly written article without an underlying agenda.

Do you have any evidence that downstream consequences were not considered prior to the change?
 

Go Bama

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I’m having a hard time buying into mosquitoes lighting onto bedding nets is reducing mosquito populations at all. Besides, I don’t think I want to sleep under a net that literally kills mosquitoes. I fear breathing harmful fumes or the insecticide being absorbed through the skin.
 

4Q Basket Case

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Bloomberg didn’t post it here so I mentioned it to you.

In fairness, it may just be a poorly written article without an underlying agenda.

Do you have any evidence that downstream consequences were not considered prior to the change?
No recordings or transcripts or first-hand reiterations of meetings where it was discussed, it's hard to prove that they weren't considered.

Still, I've never heard anyone say, "Well, I'd rather have malaria than SFAS." So in that sense, yes.

But again, the point is not for SFAS. The point is that we make a lot of decisions only to be confronted with unexpected consequences later.

If you're old enough, you may remember removing phosphates from laundry detergents. All well and good until the clothes weren't as clean anymore. I'm not here to say whether no more phosphates from laundry detergent was worth putting up with less clean clothes. Just that it was not part of the debate.

Low flush toilets save water. But especially with fecal matter, don't always do their job (pun intended). So for sanitary reasons you end up flushing multiple times. Does that really save water? I don't remember anyone saying, "Buy toilets with low flush volume. They might not perform well all the time, but that's a small price to pay for the water saved."

Totally unrelated to the environment, several on this board have advocated doing away with federal guarantees of student loans in favor of letting the banks take the losses. After all, if the banks get the interest income, they should also have the risk of loss, right?

I pointed out that without the federal guarantee, such a loan would be an unsafe and unsound banking practice. That's because (1) the primary source of repayment -- the student's post-graduation income -- won't exist for several years into the future, assuming it exists at all, and (2) You can't repossess knowledge, so there is no secondary source of repayment -- collateral.

Without the guarantee, the program is therefore killed because the day the loan is booked it will at best be classified as non-performing and at worst charged off. IOW, only rich kids would qualify for the newly non-guaranteed student loans.

I got called everything allowed on TF, precisely because the people doing that either didn't consider or didn't understand the downstream consequences of making the suits take the risk.

Can I prove that they didn't consider that? No. I can't get inside their thought processes. But I do know that no one came out and said, "In order to stick it to the suits, I'm good with only rich kids getting student loans."
 

NationalTitles18

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More background:


It seems Vestaguard's supplier stopped producing the PFAS material that was used in the netting, so it appears according to this interview that perhaps the change was a response to whatever forces in the market pushed the supplier to stop producing rather than a decision by Vestaguard. They did, however, choose the new material, whatever that is.

It should be noted that the chemicals in question are without a doubt very harmful to humans and that the long term consequences have to be considered for using them vs not using them. It seems manufacturers have decided to abandon those chemicals. The EU is regulating them. Manufacturers are concerned the EPA will follow suit. More info here:


Lawsuits from prior mistreatment of workers by exposure when the companies knew the harms also played a role:

 
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CrimsonJazz

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Government is absolutely atrocious at foreseeing consequences. Or even identifying after the fact the the unforeseen consequences are bad A drunk bull in a china shop. Blunder after blunder.
Penn and Teller did a segment many moons ago about endangered animals and how if one is found on your land, you won't be allowed to develop it in any meaningful way. The result? People shooting endangered critters to make sure no one finds out they live there. What the EPA doesn't know can't hurt them (or the landowner).
 
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Bodhisattva

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Penn and Teller did a segment many moons ago about endangered animals and how if one is found on your land, you won't be allowed to develop it in any meaningful way. The result? People shooting endangered critters to make sure no one finds out they live there. What the EPA doesn't know can't hurt them (or the landowner).
Definitely. When I worked for the homebuilder, there were several stories about various families having a lot of wooded acres out in the sticks of Maryland. Except after a few generations, now their respective lands were on the edge of development, and what once didn't have a lot of monetary value was now worth millions. Only problem was that a few eagles resided on the property. Until they didn't. Multi-generational wealth conflicted with an absolute prohibition of any kind of development. The eagles quietly and anonymously lost.
 
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Bamaro

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Definitely. When I worked for the homebuilder, there were several stories about various families having a lot of wooded acres out in the sticks of Maryland. Except after a few generations, now their respective lands were on the edge of development, and what once didn't have a lot of monetary value was now worth millions. Only problem was that a few eagles resided on the property. Until they didn't. Multi-generational wealth conflicted with an absolute prohibition of any kind of development. The eagles quietly and anonymously lost.
AKA, greed won out
 

JDCrimson

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Back in the good ole days before we were all woke pansies, we would add said insecticide to our bath water, put it in a lotion and died an early death from stomach cancer with dignity...

I’m having a hard time buying into mosquitoes lighting onto bedding nets is reducing mosquito populations at all. Besides, I don’t think I want to sleep under a net that literally kills mosquitoes. I fear breathing harmful fumes or the insecticide being absorbed through the skin.
 

Bodhisattva

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AKA, greed won out
I have a narrow definition of greed. People will pursue their (perceived) self interest. I can certainly understand why someone would want to exchange their property for millions of dollars and be opposed to the governmental decision that rendered their land virtually worthless. With only one (relatively) easy way to make one's property worth millions again, the outcome doesn't surprise me at all. An inflexible law intended to save the eagles had the unintended consequence with the opposite result.
 

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