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View Full Version : What's the straight dope on Norma Levitt?


Emilio Lizardo
01-19-2005, 12:21 PM
A co worker recently presented me with a screed he had found about the dangers of microwave ovens. The centerpiece of the authors argument was the case of Norma Levitt, a woman in Oklahoma who supposedly died after receiving a transfusion of blood warmed in a microwave oven. The logic is, microwaved blood killed Norma Levitt, therefore microwaving things is deadly. A quick google search reveals only more anti-microwave pieces, using the same logic.

So what's the staright dope on this? I don't think microwaves ovens are bad for you, but I'd love to know what the actual medical circumstances are surrounding Ms Levitt's death, if she even existed at all.

Crafter_Man
01-19-2005, 01:18 PM
A recent university study concluded that 50% of all 30-year-old men who regularly used microwave ovens would die before the age of 75. So yes, microwave ovens are deadly.

SavageNarce
01-19-2005, 01:19 PM
I am skeptical. :dubious:

As you said, the websites that mention this case all seem to be "microwaves are dangerous", "microwaved food will kill you" sites. Some appear to report it as news, but typically "as reported in the Hawg Stomp Gazette" sort of references.

Many of these web sites also refer to the "Blanc and Hertel study" that was "suppressed by the Swiss microwave industry". The only facts I could find were that the study took place on only eight people, was not "double blind", and was subsequently recanted by Blanc. From what I know about scientific research, this study isn't going to make it to JAMA or the New England Journal. :rolleyes:

The reports often quote each other, as evidenced by the popularity of this phrase:
The violent change that microwaving causes to the food molecules forms new life forms called radiolytic compounds. These are mutations that are unknown in the natural world.
I am not a biochemist, but I can find no scientific evidence that radiolytic compounds (which do exist) are a "new life form" or that they "are unknown in the natural world." :rolleyes:

mks57
01-19-2005, 01:50 PM
I found a reference to the case in a court decision regarding sanctions against the attorneys that filed the case.

http://wyomcases.courts.state.wy.us/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?citeID=4387

Heating blood in this manner destroys the red blood cells, resulting in "gross hemolysis" of the blood, releasing large amounts of potassium. Excessive potassium, when introduced into the body, is often fatal. The practice of warming Intravenous (IV) fluids, other than blood, in the microwave was an accepted practice at Hillcrest Medical Center, as reflected in its written procedures.

So this particular practice, heating blood intended for transfusion in a microwave, is a very bad idea.

SavageNarce
01-19-2005, 02:51 PM
So a particular case of medical malpractice, which involved heating pre-transfusion blood in a microwave oven, turns into a whole litany of reasons why you shouldn't use your microwave to warm up yesterday's Mac and Cheese casserole.

Although it is entirely possible that several of the items lurking in the remote corners of my refrigerator have given rise to new life forms "unknown in the natural world", I don't feel that there is any reason to suspect that my microwave oven was complicit in this.

Loonies: Can't live with them, can't browse the web without them. :D

CurtC
01-19-2005, 05:58 PM
Note to self: don't heat up yesterday's mac and cheese casserole, then inject that directly into my bloodstream. Got it.

Ca3799
01-19-2005, 06:28 PM
I never heard of Norma Levett, so I can't help there.

I do know it's against hospital policy to warm anything (other than food) in a microwave. I once worked at a hospital where a nurse warmed a bag if IV fluid to place on a semi-conscious patient who was too cool following surgery. The bag was too hot and left a perfect burned imprint of an IV bag on the patient's skin. There was a written policy against doing that sort of thing at the time and the nurse was let go because of her action. Hospitals have special warming cabinets to warm things such as blood and blankets. I can't imagine why that nurse thought that was a good idea except that perhaps they were out of warm blankets and she was trying to substitute something else for one. Likely that's what happened in the blood case (if it is real).

SavageNarce
01-20-2005, 07:27 AM
I do know it's against hospital policy to warm anything (other than food) in a microwave. ... Hospitals have special warming cabinets to warm things such as blood and blankets. I can't imagine why that nurse thought that was a good idea... Likely that's what happened in the blood case (if it is real).
Evidently (judging from the link provided by mks57, the case is real. The hospital did have alternative, approved and safe means of warming blood and IV fluids, but somebody had the idea that the microwave would be faster. Evidently this had been going on with non-blood fluids for some time, in violation of hospital rules. They seemed to forget that blood is a living thing - the red and white cells, antibodies, etc. are alive and functioning. So heating blood in the microwave is somewhat akin to the Urban Legends about warming up the hamster, drying off kitty, etc. and would (and did) have the same kind of disastrous effect.

What gets me is that so many websites have expanded on this to draw totally inappropriate conclusions, saying that the blood was made poisonous by microwaving, and therefore the same thing will happen if you defrost a frozen steak. While eating that steak isn't the best thing for the steer, it won't kill you as soon as it comes out of the defrost cycle.

CurtC
01-20-2005, 10:47 AM
And if the nurse had put the blood in a pan and heated it on the stove in the employee kitchen, the same thing would have happened. Does that make eating food cooked on stoves unhealthy or downright dangerous? By their logic, yes.

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
01-20-2005, 04:04 PM
Without debating the risk of heating blood in a microwave, the link indicates that the woman died of a blood clot, not an OD on potassium. What was her original problem?

Loach
01-20-2005, 04:25 PM
I am skeptical. :dubious:

As you said, the websites that mention this case all seem to be "microwaves are dangerous", "microwaved food will kill you" sites. Some appear to report it as news, but typically "as reported in the Hawg Stomp Gazette" sort of references.

Many of these web sites also refer to the "Blanc and Hertel study" that was "suppressed by the Swiss microwave industry". The only facts I could find were that the study took place on only eight people, was not "double blind", and was subsequently recanted by Blanc. From what I know about scientific research, this study isn't going to make it to JAMA or the New England Journal. :rolleyes:

The reports often quote each other, as evidenced by the popularity of this phrase:

I am not a biochemist, but I can find no scientific evidence that radiolytic compounds (which do exist) are a "new life form" or that they "are unknown in the natural world." :rolleyes:


I'm shocked. Shocked I tell you.

There's a Swiss microwave industry?

engineer_comp_geek
01-20-2005, 05:52 PM
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation covers a very wide range of stuff. At the lower frequencies, you have long waves, then radio waves (which includes microwaves), infra-red light, visible light, ultraviolet light, x-rays, and gamma rays. The lower frequency electromagnetic radiation is basically harmless. However, once you get up into the ultraviolet range of frequencies, the radiation starts to become "ionizing" (meaning that it can strip electrons off of atoms and create ions). Ionizing radiation is known to cause cell damage and cancer. Ultraviolet light, x-rays, and gamma rays are therefore all known to be dangerous.

Below those frequencies, the radiation itself is not known to be dangerous. Microwaves are no more dangerous than the visible light you can see. You don't see people going nuts over infra-red remote controls (my god, it's spitting out infra-red radiation ALL OVER THE ROOM!) and it is much higher in frequency than microwaves.

Electromagnetic radiation gets absorbed by things and converted into heat, so if you get enough radiation absorbed by something you can cook it. This is true of microwaves (in fact its the whole idea behind a microwave oven) and it is true of visible light too. Just ask anyone who has ever fried an ant with a magnifying glass.

So, keep in mind that the next time you see someone in a panic over microwaves that it's about as silly as being in a panic over a light bulb.

Other things that work using microwaves:
cell phones
cordless phones
police radar
automatic door openers (look up at the little box above the door at your grocery store, it just blasted you dead in the face with a whole bunch of microwaves)
pagers
computers (a 2.4 gHz pentium is operating at the same frequency as your 2.4 GHz microwave oven)
RF tags (used in ID badges, store inventory tags, pet ID systems, container tracking, and a bizillion other places)
EZ-pass toll tags (a type of RF tag)
Wireless computer networks
wireless headphones
garage door openers
automobile keychain remote controls

If this stuff is so deadly, how come we put it in so many different things and why aren't we all dropping like flies?

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