Barry Commoner, 1917 – 2012. The New York Times Obituary, Partial Quote.

“Scientist, Candidate and Planet Earth’s Lifeguard”

“….In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, Time magazine put Dr. Commoner on its cover and called him the Paul Revere of Ecology. He was by no means the only one sounding alarms; the movement was well under way by then, building on the impact of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” in 1962 and the work of many others. But he was arguably the most peripatetic in his efforts to draw public attention to environmental dangers.

(The same issue of Time noted that President Richard M. Nixon had already signed on. In his State of the Union address that January, he said, “The great question of the ’70s is, shall we surrender to our surroundings, or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land and to our water?” And he followed through: Among other steps, the Environmental Protection Agency was established in December 1970.)

Dr. Commoner was an imposing professorial figure, with a strong face, heavy eyeglasses, black eyebrows and a thick head of hair that gradually turned pure white. He was much in demand as a speaker and a debater, especially on college campuses, where he helped supply a generation of activists with a framework that made the science of ecology accessible.

His four informal rules of ecology were catchy enough to print on a T-shirt and take to the street: Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Although the rules were plain enough, the thinking behind them required leaps of faith. Dr. Commoner’s overarching concern was not ecology as such but rather a radical ideal of social justice in which everything was indeed connected to everything else. Like some other left-leaning dissenters of his time, he believed that environmental pollution, war, and racial and sexual inequality needed to be addressed as related issues of a central problem.


Young Barry grew up at a time when it was possible to be both a tough street kid and a studious sort. He spent hours in Prospect Park collecting bits of nature, which he took home to inspect under a microscope that Uncle Avrahm had given him.

He was so shy at James Madison High School that he was referred to a speech correction class, and after graduation he set out on the track of a quiet academic career. With money earned from odd jobs, he put himself through Columbia, earning honors in his major, zoology; election to Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi; and a B.A. degree in 1937, at 20. He went on to do graduate work at Harvard, where he got a Ph.D. in cellular biology. He taught for two years at Queens College and served in the Naval Air Corps in World War II, rising to lieutenant. In 1947 he joined the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis.


Role in Nuclear Test Ban

Parallel to his life as a public figure, Dr. Commoner had a reputation as a brilliant teacher and a painstaking researcher into viruses, cell metabolism and the effects of radiation on living tissue. A research team he led was the first to show that abnormal free radicals — groups of molecules with unpaired electrons — might be the earliest indicator of cancer in laboratory rats.

He found his political voice when he encountered the indifference of government authorities to the high levels of strontium 90 in the atmosphere from atomic tests. Quite simply, he said in an interview with The Chicago Tribune in 1993, “The Atomic Energy Commission turned me into an environmentalist.”

He helped organize the St. Louis Committee for Nuclear Information in 1958, and was eventually its president. Dr. Commoner told Scientific American years later that the committee’s task “was to explain to the public — first in St. Louis and then nationally — how splitting a few pounds of atoms could turn something as mild as milk into a devastating global poison.”

“At about that time,” he continued, “several of us met with Linus Pauling in St. Louis and together drafted the petition, eventually signed by thousands of scientists worldwide.” The petition was part of the scientific underpinning for President John F. Kennedy’s proposal of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 — “the first of continuing international actions to fully cage the nuclear beast,” Dr. Commoner said.

As the founding director of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems in St. Louis, he led a staff drawn from many disciplines in investigating, among other things, lead poisoning in slums, the ecology of ghetto rats, the economics of conventional versus organic farming, and the pollution of rivers by fertilizer leaching.

Dr. Commoner moved the center from St. Louis to Queens College in 1981. He remained in the thick of things, helping to set up New York City’s trash recycling program and defending it against critics like Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had declared the recycling law irresponsible.

In 2000, at 82, Dr. Commoner gave up the center’s directorship to concentrate on new research projects, including work on the effects of genetically altering organisms.

Waning Influence

By then he was no longer getting anything like the attention he had enjoyed in earlier times. Some experts had begun to think that his view of the planet, as a place harmoniously balanced by the trial and error of long evolution, left out too much complexity and too much potential for the unexpected.

Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, reviewing Dr. Commoner’s book “Making Peace With the Planet” for The Times in 1990, said that it “suffers the commonest of unkind fates: to be so self-evidently true and just that we pass it by as a twice-told tale.”

“Although he has been branded by many as a maverick,” Dr. Gould added, “I regard him as right and compassionate on nearly every major issue.”

Dr. Commoner married Ms. Feiner in 1980. He is also survived by two children, Lucy Commoner and Frederic, by his first wife, the former Gloria Gordon; and one granddaughter.

Dr. Commoner practiced what he preached. In his personal habits he was as frugal as a Yankee farmer, and as common-sensical. He drove or took taxis if the route by public transit took him far out of his way. On the other hand, he saw no need to waste electricity by ironing his shirts.

And when a Times writer once asked his Queens College office to mail some material, it arrived in an old brown envelope with the crossed-out return address of the botany department at Washington University — where he had last worked 19 years earlier.” end quote.

Barry outlived Marshall Brucer by 14 years. Brucer believed many radium dial painters, those who had received the “Just Right” amount of radio poison, lived longer than they would have had they never been been radium dial painters. Brucer was never a radium dial painter.

Neither was Barry.
At the time Barry organised the St Louis Baby Tooth Project, and was attacked by the AEC for his findings, the AEC was conducting the secret “Project Sunshine” global project of collecting human bones by stealing them via hospital pathologists, who were paid in secret around the world.

Including Australia. Including the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Today, the Florida Baby Tooth Project continues in the same way as the 1950s St Louis baby tooth project, collecting shed baby teeth, adding them to the extensive State of Florida baby tooth bank, which dates also back to the era of atomic testing in the atmosphere.

The relationship between the St Louis project and the AEC in the 1950s is repeated by the US NRC claims today about the Florida baby tooth findings.

Apparently, still, the nuclear authorities are not happy with the results unless they themselves steal femurs from the bodies of still borns.

Even though they know the results of the teeth surveys were and remain accurate.

For we know Dr Libby of the AEC authorised a baby tooth survey in secret in the same year as the civil and open and voluntary and peer reviewed St Louis project.

One wonders how many more “Scientific Journals” the Department of Energy has to create and staff with hormesis cultists before it can convince the people of the United States and the world to return radiation exposure laws to the standards of 1924. So that nuclear industry, protected as it is from full disclosure to stock holders, voters and nuclear victims by the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, 1954, as amended,

And the the apparent consequent power to to continuing condemn those who challenge it with the truth.

So who is right? Brucer, or Commoner?

This is not about white hats or black hats, it is about what actually happened.

If Brucer was right in his claims about the his allegation which claimed the health benefits of elevated radiation exposure, then why, in the quiet comparison of a man who advocating this and who was exposed himself in occupation, should the one who sought to minimize his exposure live so much longer than the hormesis advocate.

Brucer did not die because he was hit by a bus at age 81.

Commoner is acknowledged as an expert in the field of the effects or ionizing radiation.

So was Brucer. He asks me to name his poison.

Commoner’s research gives the answer.

“Delving into the scientific unknown is not for the faint of heart, but it is how discoveries are made that lead to deeper understanding. The early pioneers of free radical biology, both thinkers and experimentalists such as Chance, Michaelis, Harman, Commoner and the team of Gerschman and Gilbert, made critical observations and bold postulates in the early 1950s that free radical processes were involved in biological processes [1]. The fundamental facts available were limited, but nonetheless it was clear to Gerschman and Gilbert that the toxic side effects of oxygen were similar to the damage caused by x-rays [2]. Harman early on postulated that free radicals had major consequences to fundamental biological processes, including aging [3] and cancer [4]…. Shortly thereafter I spent another important time period (1971-1974) doing research in Barry Commoner’s laboratory, who in 1954 had made the first observation of free radicals in biological systems using electron paramagnetic resonance methods [8]. The experience in Commoner’s laboratory, where we showed that free radicals of ascorbate were observed using electron paramagnetic resonance of tissues which were concurrently undergoing x-irradiation [9], fueled my increasing interest in the field of free radical processes in biomedical problems. After setting up my own laboratory at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in 1974, our research early on focused on the initiation phase of cancer, which led to several observations pertinent to free radicals in carcinogen metabolism [10-14]. The role of free radicals in cancer development and other age-related diseases became a major part of our research effort for the next 34 years, during which time advancements in the field of free radical biology and the surprising results of our experiments yielded ever-increasing interest in the role of reactive oxygen and nitric oxide species in biomedical problems. Serendipitous findings that arose in trying to understand oxidative damage in experimental brain ischemia-reperfusion caused us to have an increased focus on taking our basic science findings to practical applications in the commercial development of therapeutic treatment of stroke….”Free Radic Biol Med. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 April 15.
Published in final edited form as:
Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 April 15; 46(8): 1004–1013.
Published online 2009 February 12. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2009.02.003
PMCID: PMC2683184
Serendipitous Findings While Researching Oxygen Free Radicals Robert A. Floyd

Nature. 1954 Oct 9;174(4432):689-91.
Free radicals in biological materials.
PMID: 13213980 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


Free Radicals in Biological Materials


Henry Shaw School of Botany and the Department of Physics, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

Michealis, L. , in “The Enzymes”, edit. by Sumner, J. B., and Myrback, K., 2, Part 1, chapter 44 (Academic Press, New York, 1951).
Michealis, L. , and Schubert, M. P. , Chem. Revs., 22, 437 (1938). Haas, E. , Biochem. Z., 290, 291 (1937). Waters, W. A. , “Chemistry of Free Radicals” (Oxford, 1948).
Weiss, J. , Nature, 157, 584 (1946). Gray, L. H. , “Progress in Biophysics”, 2, 240 (1950). Rabinowitch, E. I. , “Photosynthesis and Related Processes”, 1 (Interscience Publishers, New York, 1945). Calvin, M. , Chem. and Eng. News, 31, 1735 (1953). Evenari, M. , and Stein, G. , Experientia, 9, 94 (1953). | ISI | ChemPort |
Kensler, C. J. , Dexter, S. O. , and Rhoads, C. P. , Cancer Res., 2, 1 (1942). Park, H. F. , J. Phys. and Coll. Chem., 54, 1383 (1950). Fitzhugh, A. F. , Science, 118, 783 (1953). | ChemPort |
Gordy, W. , Smith, W. V. , and Trambarulo, R. F. , “Microwave Spectroscopy” (Wiley, New York, 1953).
Smith, J. H. C. (personal communication).
Van Krevelen, D. W. , C.R. Troisième Cong. pour l’avancement des études de stratigraphie et de géologie du carbonifère, 1, 369 (Éditions Van Aelst, Maestricht, 1952).
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Paul, D. E. , thesis, Washington University, St. Louis (1953).
McIlwain, H. , Nature, 158, 898 (1946). | ISI | ChemPort |
Blum, H. F. , in “The Biology of Melanomas”, 4, 388 (New York Academy of Sciences, New York, 1948).
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Szent-Györgyi, A. , “Chemistry of Muscular Contraction” (Academic Press, New York, 1947). Leach, S. J. , “Adv. in Enzymology”, 15, 1 (1954).


Bats withstood a radiation dose of 15,000 roentgen – twice that required to kill many other species of mammal. This great resistance to the effects of ionizing radiation held true for bats in captivity without food. (Alexander, 1957)

The bats provided with and who consumed food in captivity died when subjected to ionising radiation of 700 roentgen.

Why should a relative abundance of nutrients halve the resistance of the fed bats to the effects ionizing radiation? Alexander points out that the metabolism of the bats without nourishment was lower than normal. It approached that of hibernation.

By late 1945 the bulk of the Japanese population was suffering from a lack of food. After the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb, Hiroshima doctors observed that those survivors who had been restingat the time the atomic bomb detonated were more likely to recover from radiation sickness. Those who were busy and exerting themselves at that time were less likely to survive.
(Hersey, “Hiroshima”, 1946.)

The effects of ionising radiation not only vary with the dose recieved. It seems the state of the cell, the processes going on within it and the rate at which those processes proceed are, apparently, also variables.

Can the extreme examples cited above yield a principle that applies at low and very low doses?

As well as beneficial substances needed by the cell, Metabolism normally produces toxins and other substances not needed by the cell. These are removed from the cell. If these substances are not removed, the cell may be damaged. Some reactive substances produced by metabolism are mutagens and carcinogens.

In the complex system of the cell, it is likely that some paradoxes will be observed. For instance, it is commonly held that radicals are harmful. Oxides too. Oxygen may be classed as a radical, it is an oxidiser and creates oxides and radicals.

The paradox is we require Oxygen to live. We have an oxygen based metabolism which normally produces some toxic substances. In the modern world, we commonly attempt to promote health by taking supplements called “anti-oxidants”. At the same time we have a strong awareness of the need to “get some fresh air”.”

But I would hold, it would be very bad practice for a doctor to advise a person about receive a radiation dose to hop onto an exercise bike and go their hardest during the exposure.

And this aspect of the radio chemistry is flatly ignored in public pronouncements by nuclear authorities in any honest fashion.

The two vectors of radiological harm.

A Radiation induced Abnormal cellular chemistry
Ionising radiation passes through cell > cell contents H20 > H radicals + O radicals > many processes, including production of carcinogens and mutagens. End state of the former cell H20 : H2O2 Hydrogen Peroxide.
Time from radiation insult to end of resultant chemical processes : Many hours.

Carcinogens and mutagens taken into cell nucleus. Cell Division. Genetic Damage.

Variable: Oxygen tension of cell.

B Direct insult to genetic material by direct radiation insult (Linear Energy Transfer).

Dose independent.
Damage may be instantaneous if energy of ionising radiation photon or track is above an energy threshold. If not, successive hits over time at the same location produces the same damage as energy deposition accrues.

Irreparable complex DNA double-strand breaks induce chromosome breakage in organotypic three-dimensional human lung epithelial cell culture.

Aroumougame Asaithamby, Burong Hu, Oliver Delgado, Liang-Hao Ding, Michael D Story, John D Minna, Jerry W Shay, David J Chen
Division of Molecular Radiation Biology, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Centre, Dallas, TX 75390, USA.
Nucleic Acids Research (impact factor: 8.03). 03/2011; 39(13):5474-88. DOI:10.1093/nar/gkr149


“Douglas Lea analysed the data existing up to the time of his death in 1947 and concluded that an ionizing particle can only break a chromosome if in the part of the track which crosses it 700 eV of energy are deposited (this is believed to be 20 ionisations). Along its track the ionization density is at least high enough for twenty ionizations to occur in the width of the chromosome. In other words a chromosome is only if the ionizing particle which crosses it loses 700 eV in the process.” ( that is an energy threshold, not a dose threshold.) ( Peter Alexander, Atomic Radiation and Life, Penguin Books. London, 1957. Alexander dedicates his book to his teacher, Prof. Z.M. Bacq.

The Work of Prof Z.M. Bacq:
Repository: University of Tennessee Libraries, Special Collections
Creator: Bacq, Z. M., (Zénon M.)
Title: Z. M. Bacq Reprints
Dates: 1932-1980
Quantity: 2.0 Linear feet
Abstract: This collection consists primarily of reprinted articles by radiation biologist Z. M. Bacq. It also includes reprints of several articles by Raymond Latarjet.
Collection Identification: MS.1389
Quote: “Zenon Marcel Bacq was born in La Louvière, Belgium on December 31, 1903. He earned his M.D. from the University of Brussels (1927) and went on to teach at the University of Leige. Bacq studied the effects of chemical warfare agents on animal organisms during World War II and later focused on chemical means of protection against radiation sickness. He also proposed tests to determine the effect of small doses of radiation on living tissue. Bacq died on July 12, 1983 in Fontenoy, Belgium.”

Substances which were considered as “radio protectives” are a different class to those which relied on the principle of “displacement”.

The aim of “radio-protectives” is to interrupt the processes of harm caused by radiation insult at the level of the cell.

There is no evidence to suggest that rank and file nuclear veterans of the British tests were ever issued with the substances identified in the 1950s which provided some degree of chemical protection.

It is known that William Penney lived in an aluminum caravan at Maralinga nuclear test site. The caravan was air conditioned and was steam cleaned externally on a daily basis.

The rank and file lived in tents.

What other improved safety techniques enjoyed over the rank, including the use radio-protective chemicals is unknown.

Prior to his role in the 1950s British nuclear weapons tests, Penney was “head of the British delegation working in the Manhattan Project….At Los Alamos Penney worked on the use of the atomic bomb, particularly the height at which it should be detonated…..Along with RAF Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, he accompanied the American Team to Tinian Island from which the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions were flown. On 9 August 1945 he witnessed the bombing of Nagasaki. The US authorities had controversially stopped them seeing the Hiroshima detonation, but at the last minute Penney and Cheshire were granted permission to fly in the B-29 Big Stink, one of the observation planes that accompanied the Nagasaki mission bomber Bockscar. Due to the belated permission, Big Stink missed its rendezvous with the bomber at Nagasaki. They saw the Nagasaki detonation from the air at a distance. As the leading expert on the effects of nuclear weapons, Penney was a member of the team of scientists and military analysts who entered Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945 to assess the effects of nuclear weapons.” (Penney mathematically predicted the blast effects and confirmed his predictions on the ground.) “In 1946, at the request of General Leslie Groves and the US Navy, Penney returned to the United States where he was put in charge of the blast effects studies for Operation Crossroads. In July, he was present at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands and wrote the after action reports on the effects of the two nuclear detonations. His reputation was further enhanced when, after the sophisticated test gauges failed, he was able to determine the blast power using observations from simple devices (empty oil drums)….Attlee’s government decided that Britain required the atomic bomb to maintain its position in world politics. In the words of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin – “We’ve got to have it and it’s got to have a bloody Union Jack on it.” Officially, the decision to proceed with the British atomic bomb project was made in January 1947 – however arrangements were already under way. The necessary plutonium was on order from Harwell and in the Armaments Research Department of the Ministry of Supply, an Atomic Weapons Section was being organised. The project was based at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich and was code-named High Explosive Research (or HER).
In May 1947, Penney was officially named to head the HER project.

In later years he admitted to qualms about his work but felt it was necessary. When aggressively questioned by the McClelland Royal Commission investigating the test programmes at Monte Bello and Maralinga in 1985, he acknowledged that at least one of the 12 tests probably had unsafe levels of fallout. However, he maintained that due care was taken and that the tests conformed to the internationally accepted safety standards of the time, a position which was confirmed from official records by Lorna Arnold.[6] McClelland broadly accepted Penney’s view but anecdotal evidence to the contrary received wide coverage in the press. By promoting a more Australian nationalist view, then current in the government of Bob Hawke, McClelland had also identified “villains” in the previous Australian and British administrations.[7] As a senior witness Penney bore the brunt of the allegations, and his health was badly affected by the experience. He died a few years later at his home in the village of East Hendred, aged 81.[3]”,_Baron_Penney

The record of events presented by Lorna Arnold has been shown to be inaccurate by a number of authorities.

It was shown in the 1980s that the British assurances that the nuclear test sites were clean and safe was false. This discovery delayed the return of the land to its owners until the 21st Century.

One Response to “Barry Commoner, 1917 – 2012. The New York Times Obituary, Partial Quote.”

  1. CaptD Says:

    Great article about a great man!

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