Talk:1971 Iraq poison grain disaster

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Good article 1971 Iraq poison grain disaster has been listed as one of the Natural sciences good articles under the good article criteria. If you can improve it further, please do so. If it no longer meets these criteria, you can reassess it.
Article milestones
Date Process Result
August 7, 2010 Good article nominee Listed
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GA Review[edit]

This review is transcluded from Talk:1971 Iraq poison grain disaster/GA1. The edit link for this section can be used to add comments to the review.

Reviewer: Renata (talk) 01:34, 15 July 2010 (UTC)

First of, handshake for battling systemic bias. Second, quite a nice article. Third, I reorganized bunch of text for a more logical flow -- I grouped distribution with distribution, causes with causes, numbers of patients with numbers of patients, etc. Please review to make sure I did not mess up and you agree with it. There are, however, a bunch of points that I found confusing, unclear and some vital info missing:

  • Green tickY Images like this were suppressed in state media. -> ref needed
  • Added.
  • Green tickY Due to a number of factors, including foreign-language labelling and environmental causes -> clarify "environmental causes", otherwise very vague
  • Clarified.
  • Green tickY symptoms include parathesia, ataxia (and elsewhere) -> provide a short English-language explanation for readers so they would not have to click on the links
  • Explained in at least one place; do say if you think such an explanation should be repeated.
  • Reworded myself. Renata (talk) 04:23, 17 July 2010 (UTC)
  • Green tickY the largest such disaster -> clarify "such". I would assume "mercury poisoning"? But isn't Minamata disease larger?
  • Clarified. The author of the ref doesn't specifically note which measure he's using; this case is higher in affectees but lower in deaths.
  • Green tickY mercury make it a successful fungicide -> introduction talks about fertiliser, not fungicide
  • The original ref said "fertiliser", but that's either far too general or plain wrong. Changed.
  • Green tickY Prices for it had lowered on world markets -> what is "it"? mercury? Methylmercury (is it traded?)? The sentence implies that the price dropped because health concerns/bans -- if so, please state explicitly.
  • Reference isn't clear, so I've removed it. It certainly did not state any explicit reason.
  • Green tickY Before the 1971 incident, around 200–300 cases of methylmercury poisoning had been reported worldwide, with another 1000 involving the related ethylmercury compound.[1] In 1956, there had been around 200 cases, and 70 deaths; in 1960 there had been 1000 cases and 200 deaths, in both cases due to ethylmercury compounds. -> numbers don't agree. 1st sentence says that total cases since beginning of time to 1971 were 1000 for ethylmercury. The second sentence says that there were 1000 cases in 1960 alone. I would also assume that the second sentence refers to outbreaks in Iraq -- if so, please make it clear.
  • "Bakir" says (the sentences do not follow each other in the original):"Prior to the present outbreak in Iraq, between 200 and 300 cases of methylmercury poisoning had been reported in Iraq and in other parts of the world and more than 1000 cases had been ascribed to exposure to the ethylmercury homolog (la, 2). In the 1960 outbreak, an estimated 1000 patients were affected by methyl- mercury poisoning and 370 were admitted to hospital."
  • Damluji, whose ref had become disattached (corrected) supports the second sentence almost exactly. I've therefore removed one short passage to avoid the conflict. I think the "m" I've bolded is a typo, considering Damluji; this is the front page of an authorititave report, however, so I'm surprised such an error (may have) slipped through.
  • I am totally lost now. Explain again? Renata (talk) 04:23, 17 July 2010 (UTC)
  • Green tickY provinces of Ninevah, Kirkuk, and Arbil -> links point to cities, not provinces
  • I've changed them over to the terminology used on WP for the "governorate"s; although the sources use the language I had previously, it is clear they amount to the same thing. I wonder about perhaps using both.
  • Red XN several harvests in Iraq had been unsuccessful -> why? and how importing the tainted seed would help that? In other words, I am still extremely unclear on a vital point -- why someone decided it was a good idea to import the grain and what problem they were trying to fix.
  • From what I can assess, they were running out of "seed grain", i.e. unused grain from a previous harvest to plant the next. However, no reference actually says this directly; in fact, one might need more of a farming look at the whole subject, which doesn't exist.
  • I feel very strongly that this essential background piece is missing & should be added. Renata (talk) 04:23, 17 July 2010 (UTC)
  • Green tickYThe decision to coat it in mercury fertiliser has been reported as made by the Iraqi government, rather than the grain supplier, Cargill. -> needs ref
  • Moved ref to what is clearly the most controversial statement.
  • Green tickY included the black-and-white skull and crossbones design, which meant nothing to Iraqis -> why? I would assume cultural differences, but seriously, that's like an atomic bomb mushroom = international symbol of something bad
  • Apparently not. Hightower (2008) states the fact, and it's not that hard to believe. Might be worth asking about if I get the chance, though. Added this ref.
  • Green tickY widespread food shortage hit Iraq -> why?
  • Not in the references covering the outbreak; do you think it is within the scope of the article?
  • From the way it was written, it seems like it was a sudden event (in addition to whatever necessitated the purchase of grain in the first place). If so, then, yes, it is very important. If not, and this refers just to general grain shortage, then reword. Renata (talk) 04:23, 17 July 2010 (UTC)
  • Green tickY distribution had been slow -> contradicts below info about hasty distribution and bypassing red tape
  • Clarified; it was slow to start, then they tried to make up time.
  • Green tickY under such a time threat -> what time threat? unclear
  • It was intended to tie it to the late arrival, but it's not necessary, and confusing.
  • Green tickY According to some sources, distributors "dispensed with this red tape" -> what does that mean? No thumbprints to save time? If yes, reword in a less poetic manner.
  • I was erring to directly quoting the source for such a controversial statement, but rereading it, I think one can safely say the intention of the reference's quoted author was that the fingerprinting was dispensed with.
  • Green tickY when was the first case reported?
  • I stumbled upon this today in one of the references. Added.
  • Green tickY government had started to strongly warn the populace -> contradicts info two sentences down re news blackout
  • Slightly different issues. The government warned the people about the grain, but did not widely report the illness and death. Should this difference be made clearer?
  • Yes, please do. Renata (talk) 04:23, 17 July 2010 (UTC)
  • Green tickY eventually resorted to execution -> huh? execution of what?
  • Clarified.
  • Seriously?!?! They would actually kill farmers that sold seed? Without trial? With trial? I could understand fines & jail, but executions? O_o Renata (talk) 04:23, 17 July 2010 (UTC)
  • Apparently so. Martial law of this kind is not that rare in disaster cases, compare with the martial law-esque decree after Hurricane Katrina.
  • Checked the source. "Declaring death penalty" and actually shooting someone are two very different things. Renata (talk) 00:22, 24 July 2010 (UTC)
  • Green tickY Dimercaprol was administered to several patients, who saw rapid deterioration in their condition. -> did the patients saw deterioration before dimercapol (and thus were given the drug as a desperate gamble to save them) or after the drug?
  • Clarified. The ref (Skerfving) after the next sentence covers this.
  • Green tickY Dialysis was effective, but limited in scope. -> explain "limited in scope"
  • I'm not sure how to word this. The reference says "The method was used in a few patients late in the outbreak. It was found possible to remove considerable amounts of mercury but no clinical improvement was noted in the patients, possibly because cellular damage was already too extensive." and does not elaborate.
  • maybe: Dialysis was tested on a few late patients, but they showed no clinical improvement? Renata (talk) 04:23, 17 July 2010 (UTC)
  • Green tickY This number is "certainly an underestimate", -> ref needed if quoting somebody
  • Ref added.
  • Green tickY "quiet baby syndrome" is now a recognised symptom -> what is that symptom? describe
  • Clarified.
  • Green tickY additive creating a strong bitter taste was studied -> ref please
  • It's in Skerfving at the end of the paragraph. Is a repetition of it preferable?
  • Yes, an extra ref never hurt anyone (while a missing one did). Renata (talk) 04:23, 17 July 2010 (UTC)

Renata (talk) 01:34, 15 July 2010 (UTC)

Thanks for the work you've put in, and your changes. As you can see, there remain one or two points for further discussion. - Jarry1250 [Humorous? Discuss.] 18:12, 15 July 2010 (UTC)
I will look in detail tomorrow when I have more time, but yes, getting the bacground story (who and why caused this) is very important, including any harvest problems. At this time it is the biggest weakness of the article. I understand that most sources focus on medical impact. Did you try Google books? Just a quick search brought up some interesting results. This alleges there was a crucial typo between methylmercury and ethylmercury (also has some other interesting facts). There is a whole chapter here that might give insight into political bacground (did not read it though). This has info on impact of future medical study. Renata (talk) 01:09, 16 July 2010 (UTC)
Ok, so I went thru point-by-point, marking whether items were resolved or not.
Additional question: "meat and other animal products obtained from livestock given treated barley, vegetation grown from soil contaminated with mercury, game birds that had fed on the grain and fish caught in rivers, canals, and lakes into which treated grain had been dumped by the farmers. Ground seed dust inhalation was a contributing factor in farmers during sowing and grinding" --> these seem as very long-term effects that could not have immediately contributed to the illness. Maybe move to "effect" section as environmental impact (leaving just bread as the cause)? Renata (talk) 04:23, 17 July 2010 (UTC)
OK, so I've started to cover your remaining points. I'm rather skeptical about the political analysis in Diagnosis, since it does rather lean towards a conspiracy theory. (It has been used as a purely factual reference in the article for a while). Concerning the first of your suggestions - which I read a while back - I cannot support its accuracy. I have no idea where its 178,000 tonnes figure comes from, which suggests the accuracy of it may not be 100%. Its suggestion of a typo during ordering seems like guesswork. On the only outstanding of your original points, I can elaborate. Bakir's report, which formed part of the WHO study, says this "Prior to the present outbreak in Iraq, between 200 and 300 cases of methylmercury poisoning had been reported in Iraq and in other parts of the world and more than 1000 cases had been ascribed to exposure to the ethylmercury homolog (la, 2). In the 1960 outbreak, an estimated 1000 patients were affected by methyl- mercury poisoning and 370 were admitted to hospital.". This is where the conflict in the previous versions of our article came from. If 1,000 people were affected in 1960 by methymercury, clearly the total up to 1971 cannot be 200-300. As it ascribes 1,000 cases up to 1971 as ethylmercury, it is entirely possible that this is around the same figure for 1960. This leads me to conclude that Bakir means that the cases in 1960 were not methylmercury, as he writes, but ethylmercury. This claim is supported by Damluji, who ascribed the 1960 outbreak to ethylmercury. I have worded the article accordingly, and feel it is now correct. - Jarry1250 [Humorous? Discuss.] 14:34, 18 July 2010 (UTC)
Again, sorry for the delay... Ah, those real life crises...
This suggests that there was a coordinated effort to introduce high-yield, drought- and disease-resistant wheat (all part of the Green Revolution). Several sources support that Mexipak variety was bought in 1971. I think that should be added to the article and that would solve the issue with deficient political background, which is the only issue remaining.
Also, ref #7 needs page numbers. Renata (talk) 00:22, 24 July 2010 (UTC)
Well, between you and me I think we've got those points covered now, have we not? - Jarry1250 [Humorous? Discuss.] 15:43, 5 August 2010 (UTC)
I am sorry for the delay. I have to confess I forgot all about this GA review... Woops :) I am going to pass this, though I still have reservations on the political background info. But I think the article is good enough, and comprehensiveness is more a FA requirement, not GA. Good job and thank you for your patience. Renata (talk) 21:17, 7 August 2010 (UTC)