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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Health Note: Spain Poisoning

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Jessica Penney reports on a massive poisoning incident in Spain twenty years ago.


ROSS: Just ahead, your letters and comments. First, this Environmental Health Note from Jessica Penney.


PENNEY: In 1981, thousands of people near Madrid came down with severe cases of debilitating muscle pain, rashes and respiratory failure. More than 20,000 people fell ill to the mysterious syndrome and nearly 500 died. Some people thought the disease may have come from pesticides on tomatoes. Others believed cats and dogs spread it. And many people killed their pets as a result.

But, a just released report from the World Health Organization confirms the cause of the disease to be an industrial lubricant made from rapeseeds that was illegally sold as olive oil. The disease is now known as Toxic Oil Syndrome.

The WHO report on the incident says that up to 80% of the victims are still crippled by lung problems, muscle pain, and hardening of the joints and skin. It also suggests that a unique set of circumstances led to the epidemic. The researchers believe that the lethal oil contains a particular toxin that formed during the refining process. And they think the poison causes its victims immune systems to attack their own bodies.

None of the makers of the oil had to pay fines for their actions. But five years ago, the Spanish government was found guilty of lax regulation. And victims were awarded about $2 billion in compensation. That's this week's Health Note. I'm Jessica Penney.

ROSS: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: David Rothenberg "In the Rainforest" SUDDEN MUSIC (Mysterious Mountain Music-2002)]



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