Emily Monosson

Emily Monosson

Emily Monosson is an environmental toxicologist, writer, and consultant. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, author of Evolution in a Toxic World: How Life Responds to Chemical Threats, and editor of Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory.
A diversity of past research experience on the health and environmental impacts of contaminants, from nanoparticles to organochlorines and personal health care products, has laid the groundwork for Monosson's current academic interest--investigating the evolutionary history of the toxic response.
Monosson is Associate Editor of The Encyclopedia of Earth. She publishes in academic journals and has contributed to publications including The Los Angeles Times and American Scientist.
Her interest in increasing public awareness about the role of toxics in the environment and the importance of science education has led to her service on the Gill-Montague School Committee and on the board of the Montague Reporter, where she occasionally contributes as a writer.
 

Raisin Hell (And Dogs)

We were closing in on the end of a glorious spring weekend when my husband discovered the bag.

This post originally appeared on Emily Monosson's blog Evolution in a Toxic World and is reposted here with her permission.

We were closing in on the end of a glorious spring weekend when my husband discovered the bag. “Any chance you left this lying around — empty?” he’d asked holding the remnants of a one pound bag of Trader Joe’s raisins I’d purchased just the day before with images of molasses filled hermit cookies in mind. I hadn’t, nor had I made the hermits, or chewed away the corners of the bag. Apparently Ella (pictured below) had consumed every last raisin, save the two handfuls my husband snacked on before leaving the bag on the living room floor.

“I bet she won’t be feeling too good later,” he’d said, eyeing the ever expectant dog sitting at our feet, tail wagging, hoping for a few more of the sweet treats. He had no idea. Nor had I. Not really. I’d had some inkling of a rumor that raisins and grapes were bad for dogs, but never paid too much attention. It’s one of those things you hear at the same time you hear of people treating their dogs to grapes. So, to be safe (and feeling a bit sheepish that, as a toxicologist I ought to have an answer to the raisin question) I suggested he call the vet. And that is when we fell into the raisin hell rabbit hole. Five minutes later dog and husband were on their way to the doggie ER, pushed ahead of the mixed breeds and the Golden and the sad-sack blood hound and their people waiting for service.


Ella the dog. Photo Credit: Emily Monosson

Meanwhile I took to Google. Was this really a life or death dog emergency? If so, why weren’t we more aware? I get it, that one species’ treat can be another’s poison. Differences in uptake, metabolism, excretion. Feeding Tylenol to cats is a very bad idea (as if you could feed a cat a Tylenol tablet). And pyrethrin-based pesticides in canine flea and tick preventions are verboten in felines. The inability to fully metabolize and detoxify these chemicals can kill a particularly curious cat. But raisins in dogs? Not so clear. Googling will either send you racing off to the vet or to bed. You may even toss your best friend a few grapes for a late night treat, smug in the knowledge that those who have bought into the hysteria are hemorrhaging dollars while paying off the vet school debt of a veterinarian who is gleefully inducing their dog to vomit, while you snooze.

Even Snopes the online mythbuster was confused (though they suggest erring on the side of caution.)

By the time I arrived at the clinic, uncertain enough to follow up on husband and dog, Ella’s raisin packed gut under the influence of an apomorphine injection (a morphine derivative which induces vomiting in seconds) had done its thing.  While Ben and I waited for Ella’s return in the treatment room, somewhat relieved, we played, “Guess how much?”  Treatment with a drug, time with the vet, multiplied by the “after hours factor” this being a Sunday evening after all, we’d settled on something in the $300-400 range.

“Ella did great,” said the vet tech who’d taken her from Ben and hour or so earlier.  “A pile of raisins came up. Some were even still wrinkled!” Phew. Potential disaster averted.  We’d accepted that it’d likely cost a few hundred – but we’d soon be heading home with Ella in the back seat. We had a good laugh about the revisit of the raisins. But the vet tech wasn’t finished. That was just the first step. “So now we’ll give her some activated charcoal,” she continued “and you can pick her up on Tuesday.” Total estimated low-end estimate? A bit over $1000. Paid up front (I have wondered what would have happened if we couldn’t pay – but that is a whole other issue). Apparently we had underestimated the price of a good vomit.

Continue reading the full post on Evolution in a Toxic World.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Anti-Vaxxed?

In light of the fuss over Robert Di Niro and the movie Vaxxed; if anyone needs reminding of the value of vaccines, take a look at this ...

This post was originally published on Emily Monosson's blog and is reposted with permission.  

In light of the fuss over Robert Di Niro and the movie Vaxxed; if anyone needs reminding of the value of vaccines, take a look at this diagram of 20th Century Death. These are estimates as they say but even so the numbers are humbling. I won’t go into the story behind the movie and its writer, director and one-time (now unlicensed) doc, that has been covered plenty (instead here is an interesting NYT article about the developer of the measles vaccine, Dr. Maurice Hilleman.)

Though measles occupies one of the smaller circles, it is credited with killing approximately 97 million worldwide. The Disneyland outbreak also reminds us of days gone by (at least here in the U.S.) when viruses from measles to smallpox spread like wildfire. It is easy to forget when we don’t have to care.


"Vaccines aren’t perfect. But the number of lives saved and birth defects prevented is undeniable." Photo Credit: Steven Depolo via Flickr

Viruses don’t just kill. And while many of us weather the storm just fine, viruses that cross the placenta can also cause birth defects and death. That is something else we’ve forgotten, although with Zika, Nature is reminding of our place in the world of pathogens. Zika has recently been linked to microcephaly, birth defects and other neurological problems. 

Years ago there was Rubella, a virus notorious for causing miscarriage, postnatal death, organ damage and intellectual disability. I am sure my daughter has never heard of it and likely won’t worry about it should she ever become pregnant. She was protected from an early age with the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine. Unlike diseases spread from one human to another, there are other ways to try to control the spread of Zika, but mosquito control is a whole other kind of challenge (and, Zika can be spread sexually – the CDC has just issued a warning). If I were of childbearing age, and lived in a high-risk region I would be hoping for a Zika vaccine soon.

Vaccines aren’t perfect. But the number of lives saved and birth defects prevented is undeniable.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

#ForewordFriday: Unnatural Selection Edition

Gonorrhea. Bed bugs. Weeds. Salamanders. People. All are evolving, some surprisingly rapidly, in response to our chemical age. In Unnatural Selection, newly available...

Gonorrhea. Bed bugs. Weeds. Salamanders. People. All are evolving, some surprisingly rapidly, in response to our chemical age. In Unnatural Selection, newly available in paperback, Emily Monosson shows how our drugs, pesticides, and pollution are exerting intense selection pressure on all manner of species. And we humans might not like the result. Monosson reveals that the very code of life is more fluid than once imagined. When our powerful chemicals put the pressure on to evolve or die, beneficial traits can sweep rapidly through a population. Species with explosive population growth—the bugs, bacteria, and weeds—tend to thrive, while bigger, slower-to-reproduce creatures, like ourselves, are more likely to succumb.

Unnatural Selection is eye-opening and more than a little disquieting. But it also suggests how we might lessen our impact: manage pests without creating super bugs; protect individuals from disease without inviting epidemics; and benefit from technology without threatening the health of our children. Check out an excerpt below. 

 

Download the pdf here.