Top 12 of the biggest health scandals in history

For the past few weeks, health scandals of food origin have followed and resembled each other in France. At the beginning of April, two children died, contaminated by E. Coli bacteria after consuming a famous brand of frozen pizzas. Right after, it’s the blow: the vast majority of our favorite chocolates leave the shelves of our supermarkets after many cases of Salmonella. In short, health scandals are unfortunately quite common, but some have been particularly violent… It sends shivers down your spine.

1. The Colonia High School case in New Jersey

This is the latest chilling news in terms of a health scandal: a hundred cases of brain tumors, including glioblastomas (the most aggressive form of brain cancer), have been identified in this New Jersey high school. Al Lupiano, a former student, now an environmental scientist who contracted the disease himself, sees only one explanation: environmental factors. For him, it is the factory which exploited uranium ore a few kilometers from the school, between the years 1940 and 1967, which could be responsible. An investigation in this direction is opened.

2. The asbestos scandal

After the Second World War and until its ban in 1997, asbestos was widely used in construction in France, in particular for its insulating properties, despite knowledge of its dangerousness and its carcinogenic nature. In 2005, a Senate report estimated that 35,000 deaths related to use between 1965 and 1995, and 100,000 by 2025. For its part, in 2015, the National Institute for Health Surveillance (InvS) reveals that the material is responsible for approximately 2,200 new cases of cancer. In 2000, for the very first time, the State was directly implicated: it was recognized as “responsible for the harmful consequences of the death” of four people infected by the Marseille administrative court.

3. Chlordecone

Chlordecone is an insecticide, widely used in the banana plantations of Martinique and Guadeloupe, from 1973 to 1993. Its objective: to fight against the banana weevil. Between 2004 and 2007, a study was conducted by Pr Pascal Blanchet (CHU of Pointe-à-Pitre) and Dr Luc Multinger (Inserm) on the effects of this product. Result: they confirm in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that Chlordecone is responsible for a significant increase in the risk of prostate cancer. Exposed men would have an 80% increased risk of developing the disease. Today, the two islands have one of the highest prostate cancer incidence rates in the world.

The Paris prosecutor had already estimated in March 2021 that “the vast majority of the facts were already prescribed”

Posted by Franceinfo on Tuesday, April 5, 2022

4. The adulterated milk scandal

A scandal that shook the world, and more particularly China, for 10 months in 2008. Twenty companies, including the powerful Chinese food group Sanlu, are accused of being responsible for the deaths of six children and 300,000 sick. Questioned: the presence of melanin in powdered milk. This chemical, used to give consistency to milk, but also in the manufacture of glue and plastic, could cause kidney stones. As if it weren’t already gloomy enough as it is: the powerful agribusiness initially stifled complaints and continued to distribute its milk. Four people would have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment in this largely censored scandal, and two would have already been executed… Well, I’ve really spoiled the atmosphere there, haven’t I? (Source.)

5. The adulterated oil scandal

Since we are on the trend of “adulterated” products, know that this translates into “products altered in their purity”. Definition made, we can continue. This 1981 scandal, which caused more than 20,600 victims in Spain, including 370 to 835 deaths, is a health disaster of industrial origin. As early as 1981, the Spanish authorities attributed the disaster to denatured oils. Two years later, the responsibility of the latter was recognized at a conference in Madrid. This is called “toxic oil syndrome”. The WHO then establishes a strong correlation between the consumption of these oils and the syndrome. However, the exact etiological agents could not be identified with certainty. In this sense, an investigation by Courrier Internationale denounces other culprits: organophosphates. The article accuses the government of having smothered the affair and blamed the oils to avoid, in particular, major economic losses.

6. The mad cow crisis

It was 26 years ago. On February 28, 1991, the first French case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was identified. It is a neurodegenerative disease which affects cattle, and which is transmitted by the animal meal used to feed cattle and which can… Be transmitted to humans. Unfortunately, that is what is happening. As of 24 January 2017, there were 223 human victims of Creutzfeldt-Jakobdans disease worldwide, including 177 in the UK and 27 in France. Millions of cattle were also slaughtered.

7. The dioxin crisis

In the section of good big sanitary crap triggered by animal meal: the dioxin crisis. This food scandal exploded in Belgium in 1999, after the discovery of (hang on) polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin in these flours, used to feed chickens. To combat this, various measures have been taken, including: the slaughter of 7 million chickens and 60,000 pigs. In 2015, Nik Van Larebeke of the University of Ghent, who is studying the consequences of the crisis, announced that he had identified 20,000 additional cases of cancer in women, 22,000 cases of diabetes and 24,000 cases of hypertension.

8. Cucumber Crisis

Also known by the darned simpler name of the “2011 epidemic of gastroenteritis and haemolytic-uremic syndrome in Europe”. So understand that we will speak here of “cucumber crisis”, for a question of heaviness of the text. In 2011, an epidemic caused by the bacterium Escherichia coli 0104:H4 (which we will call “E. Coli”, for the same reasons as those mentioned above), began in Germany in mid-May. Responsible: sprouted seeds from organic farming. Consequences (dramatic): 53 dead. It is the largest known epidemic of this type. It also triggered a serious economic crisis in the Spanish agricultural sector and then in all European countries.

9. Avian flu

How to talk about chickens without bouncing on the avian flu? And it must be said that vis-à-vis this disease, we are still in the sauce… Just a few days ago, six new outbreaks of the disease were discovered in the Dordogne. “Avian flu” refers to the different forms of the disease caused by the flu virus, which infects birds, both wild and domestic. We also talk about avian influenza. In 2004, an H5N1 strain of the virus caused concern because of its possible transmission to humans. Between 2004 and 2005, there were 59 deaths related to the disease.

10. Baumol Powder Case

This is a health scandal that is all the sadder in that it affects infants… In 1952, this baby talc was contaminated with a derivative… of arsenic. The king of poisons is poured instead of zinc oxide in the preparation. An unintentional, but deadly act. In this terrible case, 82 babies died. The manufacturer, Jacques Cazenave, was sentenced 7 years later to… 18 months in prison, suspended.

A very creepy story, which immediately makes us think of the Morhange talc case. In the 1970s, 36 children died and 168 others were poisoned by this powder. Since the case seems sadly modeled on the previous one: 38 kilos of hexachlorophene, a powerful and highly toxic bactericide, were mixed with 600 kilos of talc, inadvertently.

11. The Radium Girls

In 1917, several young women were hired by the US Radium Corporation in Newark (New Jersey) to paint the dials of watches and aeronautical instruments with radium using luminescent paint. Weird phenomenon: they start to shine. Literally. Their clothes, hair and skin glow in the dark. In fact, by exposing themselves to radium, they received large doses of ionizing radiation. Consequences of this exposure: many of them have suffered from anemia, bone fractures, necrosis of the jaw and cancerous tumors of the bones (osteosarcomas). Some have died.

12. Love Channel

“Love Canal” is a suburb of Niagara Falls. Its name comes from the entrepreneur William Love who had a canal dug there at the end of the 19th century. The project was finally aborted, leaving a 1000 m long ditch. The land was finally bought in 1941 by the Hooker Chemical company, which discharged… 22,000 tonnes of toxic products. In 1953, the company closed, and the land became a small town, with schools and attractive residential houses. In the 1970s, the scandal broke: the soils were impregnated with these toxic products which rose to the surface. The water changes color, the basements smell bad, pets and birds die in colossal numbers, infants are born with numerous malformations… 950 families are then evacuated. This environmental and health crisis gives the city a sad record: most residents have not lived beyond 50 years.

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