What is the canary in the coal mine – the sentinel expressing imminent danger – for mesothelioma? One of the easiest yet unknown ways of spotting the risk for mesothelioma?
Veterinarians in Italy believe it’s the wild boar.
History of the Canary in the Coal Mine
The idea of a canary in the coal mine is actually based on true events that happened in our history. When a physiologist who was testing gases discovered that canaries processed oxygen much faster than humans, he hypothesized that they could be used in the coal mines in the 1920s before instrumentation was invented to predict that poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide were too high to support life in the mine.
The canaries would succumb to the carbon monoxide long before humans would, and thus, when the bird passed out, it could be a sign for the whole team of miners to get out of the mine; their life was endangered.
The hypothesis was tried and found to work quite well. The birds could then be resuscitated so they could stay with the team for quite a while. Here’s a link to an old video from the U.S. Bureau of Mines showing the procedure: Canary in the coal mine video
The canaries in the coal mines ended up saving thousands of lives. They’ve been since replaced by technology; the ‘first mine workers to get a pink slip… retired and put out to pasture…’ So who serves as canaries for mesothelioma…giving a clear signal for the risk of mesothelioma?
Who are the Canaries for Detecting the Risk for Mesothelioma?
Canaries helped save lives of humans in those dirty and toxic coal mines but what about for mesothelioma? Is there something that can act as a sentinel telling us all that danger is imminent?
Veterinarians in Italy believe that wild animals such as the boar are suitable sentinels to indicate the risk of mesothelioma due to environmental exposure to asbestos for human populations.
And it makes sense. Asbestos in the environment means that animals – and humans are being exposed to it, and no amount of asbestos is safe. Just as it harms us as humans, asbestos also harms the animals.
Mesothelioma is the same type of tumor of the serosal membranes in both human medicine and veterinary medicine.
The Evidence Reveals Itself
Veterinarians performed a post-mortem autopsy of a wild boar and to their surprise, found all types of nodules in the liver, kidneys, diaphragm, lungs and peritoneum. They then tested for the presence of asbestos in those organs as well as soil samples from where the wild boar lived.
They detected asbestos fibers in all samples tested, demonstrating a possible relationship between the tumor and exposure to the asbestos that was in the environment of the boar. Exposure to asbestos poses a risk for mesothelioma.
If the animals are being affected by the asbestos in the environment, then you can bet that the humans are, too.
And that’s perhaps where the intervention should be made. Once we find an animal connection to mesothelioma, why wait until someone is diagnosed with the disorder and it’s too late? Why not take some intermediary step that can prevent one more death from the horrible disease?
Bioterrorism Veterinarian Has a Suggestion
In a TEDx talk, Tracey McNamara, the veterinarian that was responsible for the discovery of the West Nile virus in 1999, stated that after the West Nile virus, SARS in 2003, H1N1 flu in 2009, and Ebola in 2014, we saw that diseases could jump from animals to man. Because of this, the government recognized that we needed a One Health approach where the complete interface of humans, farm animals, agriculture and the environment could be considered whenever a disease needed further evaluation.
However, in the U.S., we examine every aspect of human health first, then possibly agriculture and finally free-ranging wildlife in some cases. It’s the opposite of looking at how everything interacts. All the various agencies in the different disciplines are silent and ‘stay in their own lanes’.
“It’s hard to find an emerging illness until people are in the morgues,” Dr. McNamara said. “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security looks for aerosolized tularemia, anthrax, and dead people. We use taxpayers as the sentinels!”
All the animals around us can give us a clue as to what is happening with different diseases. Accordingly, the risk for mesothelioma can also be detected.
“Between humans and animals there is no dividing line. We are all animals…” she said. “If we don’t find a way to think outside the box, we may all very well find ourselves inside boxes underground. We must stop ignoring the animals in urban settings or we will serve as the canaries in the coal mine.”
She leaves us with a big concept. “A birdcage could be a metaphor for the mind. The bars are our self-imposed assumptions, which may or may not be true. It’s only when we strip away these rigid thoughts that we can see clearly. And when we are freed of our expectations, we are free to uncover the truth. When we do that, the cage door opens and we will all fly.”
Call to All Mesothelioma Doctors To Expand Your Thinking
What is it that we are missing about mesothelioma? Our medical treatments aren’t working and have a pitiful track record because we can’t detect the risk for mesothelioma before it sets in. This later imposes death sentences on those who are diagnosed with the disease. Something has to change. What clues from the environment – from the animals or plants are we missing that offers the hope and solutions we need?
Colombino, E., et al. Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma in a boar who lived in Calabria (Italy): Wild animal as sentinel system of human health. Sci Total Environ 2019 Sep 15;683:267-274.
Canaries in the coal mine, Tracey McNamara, TEDxUCLA, June 21, 2018. https://youtu.be/qm8NnL582uc
Canary used for testing for carbon monoxide, 1926 US Bureau of Mines.