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Dr. Irma West in retirement, today.

staff to inspect the properties. An article entitled “Death By Dust” appeared in a national magazine, accompanied by surreptitiously-obtained aerial photographs of the quarries and factories. The problem was referred to the USPHS, but little was done except to urge the workers to wear protective clothing and filtration masks. And if brucellosis and silicosis were not enough, poisonings of farm workers and aerial crop dusting pilots, due to organophosphate pesticides, were becoming epidemic in California. So Irma and her crew went off to educate the doctors in agricultural areas on how to recognize and handle organophosphate toxicity. She writes : “It was a hard sell to (convince) physicians... to give toxic doses of atropine to save a life.” The information that the public health personnel gathered prompted the development

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Sierra Sacramento Valley Medicine

of a new generation of crop duster aircraft. The open cockpits were replaced by positive pressurized pilot compartments, and the chemicals were stored under and behind the pilot, not in the front of the plane. The Grumman “Ag Cat” was the first such plane taking to the air in 1957, and is still in use today. Organophosphates continue to be used around the world, but much more restrictively than in the twentieth century. In 1968, Irma was the lead author for a paper published in JAMA (July 29, 1968; vol 204, pp 266-271) which studied  1,024 single vehicle accidents in California. Of that number, there were 871 driver deaths, and the assumption of law enforcement and medical authorities, prior to Irma’s study, was that the majority of those deaths were due to “natural” causes or perhaps carbon monoxide leaking into the passenger compartment. Toxicology studies, however, revealed no carbon monoxide or illicit drug involvement. Rather, it was found that of the 871 dead drivers, 648 had an average blood alcohol level of 0.19mg/100 ml. The paper sparked a long-needed national discussion about drunk driving. Now, based here in Sacramento, she received a call from a local doctor who said he had two patients who were seriously ill with lead poisoning, and both of them worked at the same car battery recycling operation in West Sacramento. One even had a gingival “lead line,” something Irma had never seen before. She visited the plant, not far from where Raley Field now stands, on Riske Lane (“Well named,” comments Irma). The air was heavy with fumes as the poorly-ventilated furnaces melted the batteries to recover the lead. The owner was straightaway served with papers to cease all operations, and arrangements were made to test all employees for lead toxicity. The papers were cosigned by Irma and an engineer at the local State Industrial Safety Office (now Cal/OSHA). Their individual office addresses were included as well. Not long after he had been served, the owner of the plant came armed to the engineer’s office and held a gun to the man’s head, threatening

2015-Sep/Oct - SSV Medicine  

Sierra Sacramento Valley Medicine is the official journal of the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society (SSVMS) and promotes the history,...

2015-Sep/Oct - SSV Medicine  

Sierra Sacramento Valley Medicine is the official journal of the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society (SSVMS) and promotes the history,...