The art of scaring you over nothing: aquifers cause cancer

There are some ideas that are so silly that one REALLY wishes they didn’t have to be addressed at all.

An article appearing here was my introduction to a new, very confused and counterintutive concept: aquifers cause cancer and health problems for humans. Mr. David Reecher, who runs the website Aquifers and Health Institute, has undertaken a public campaign to warn of the hazards of aquifers. When I read the news article, I laughed, thinking it was from The Onion. The statements displayed such ignorant of how nature works that it HAD to be satire. I underestimated human imagination; it was real. I was compelled to investigate this one further.


I am more than a little familiar with how aquifers work here in the northeast United States. However, I wish to approach this issue from a layman’s perspective, not one of an authority. (If you wish to inquire about my qualifications, please ask. I’ll be glad to provide them.)

Mr. Reecher makes a number of claims on the website which contains a good bit of information designed to convince you of his hypothesis about aquifers and cancer. It’s a lot to slog through and pick apart, but I will try to do it in a broad brush way. To deconstruct every detail would take considerable time and resemble untangling a giant knot of slippery threads. By using a little critical thinking, I hope to provide an alternate view of the topic.

Examining the claims

Let’s examine the “facts” stated on the A&H Institute website page.

“When water is forced under hydrostatic pressure through tiny micro channels, science has discovered that electric current is generated due to the friction, pressure and ion content of the water. And because of this, there is a release of adverse energy that rises into homes or offices sitting directly above the aquifer.”

Several concepts are shoved into these two sentences. In order to make any sense of it, you would need to understand something about hydrostatic pressure, how water moves through rock, what happens when it does, and some principles of chemistry and physics. Then, you must accept the statements proposed about generation of electric current, the release of “adverse energy” and propagation of such “energy”.

In this first claim alone, we have a number of red flags indicative of pseudoscience: overuse of the word “energy” (with a vague meaning), sciencey-sounding words, potentially confusing terms, and the suggestion that there is something to fear.

Typical of claims that propose an alternative to what conventional scientific knowledge tells us about nature, some true things are warped into a mix that ends up “not even wrong”. It becomes difficult to hone in on errors because one has to backtrack and establish what is true and how much you can logically follow from that. I’ll try…

Hydrostatic pressure is a natural process based on physical laws that does cause water to move. Water does move through pore spaces or fractures in rock but typically very slowly – like inches per day.

Friction and electric current are oversimplified in this context in such a way that I would not agree that the statement made is accurate.* The actual physics of fluid flow is far more complicated than this. But, to remain in a simple context, essentially, these factors are negligible to us humans up above. The water moves too slow under natural conditions to create appreciable friction or significant electricity. The concept of adverse energy is not established anywhere in the scientific literature and is simply not recognized by science.

Looking into this more, I discovered concepts to which the author seems to be referring (but not using the same words) – electrokinetic potential and geopathic stress. At least, they appear to be close. Not everyone can or would do this, but I did seek out both concepts in scientific literature. Electrokinetic potential is real but “electricity” as used by the Aquifers and Health Institute may be deemed “pushing the envelope”. It can not be used validate the premises that follow. There are certain conditions by which this potential can be measured via sensitive instruments (not people). The conflation of meaning reminds me of the use of quantum mechanics to explain UFO and ghost experiences – you’ve gone beyond the concept. This improper use of a scientific theory is a hallmark of pseudoscience.

When I looked up “geopathic stress” I was not directed to any scientifically credible information. It is connected to highly dubious ideas such as ley lines, sick building syndrome, dowsing, negative vortexes, even hauntings! Interestingly, it’s an idea pushed by alternative medicine practitioners yet they admit that there is no science behind it! Not good for credibilty. Therefore, it’s absurd to say the causes of such a questionable thing are established. So, we have misapplied concepts to help explain an unestablished condition.

“Electrical fields of different force and wavelengths are generated.”

“It causes a change in the earth’s natural magnetic field in the locations where the electricity is being generated.”

Whoa! This is serious. Movement of the water in certain places in certain aquifers generates electrical fields that can change the earth’s natural magnetic fields*.

The electric potential generated is extremely small and far underground (perhaps the rock unit acting as an aquifer is 100 feet or more below the surface). Our own bodies generate electrical signals. Does a crowd of people standing around warp the earth’s magnetic field? Because our modern environment is full of electrical devices (that generate electromagnetic fields), EMFs are EVERYWHERE. With sensitive instruments, we can detect these anomalies apart from the broad natural patterns but they are too small to interfere with the overall magnetic field that envelops the earth. (Again, I am simplifying here because there are some local variations caused by bigger things, like mountains. Maybe next they’ll say mountains cause cancer…)

But, back to the stated claim. How has this been verified? I searched the site. No satisfactory answer is provided. The sidebar on the site references studies so I click it. It takes me to a page that states “Käthe Bachler, Famous Austrian Researcher” has completed “11,000 case studies from 14 countries”. Following through, you find out that this one person apparently examined 3000 apartments and houses that have a total of 11,000 people in them – a sneaky way of representing 11,000 case studies and another point to which I’d call foul. Plus, I see no evidence that these studies were worthwhile since they were published in a book (anyone can published a book), not a technical journal.We are given no idea how it was done, what was examined, what the standards were and any problems with methods. This is very shaky evidence indeed. It looks to me that use of the large numbers in a so-called study is done to suggest that these concepts are legitimate. It can easily fool those who don’t dig in and question. This is not how good, solid science is presented.

It’s not difficult to design a better, straightforward test of this hypothesis. In an area without man-made EMF influences, a map of EMF field measurements can be compared to measured data regarding groundwater movement. With careful controls in a large data set, we can more fairly judge if this hypothesis is supported. A simple solid test has not been done. There remains, also, this so-called “adverse energy”…

“[I]f you’re exposed to this adverse energy, your body will create a negative stress reaction as a way to defend itself. However, if the problem is not corrected, and you are exposed for long periods of time, your defense and immune system will weaken, and this can eventually lead to chronic stress and chronic disease.”

“When the human body is exposed to this adverse energy rising from an aquifer, a negative stress reaction occurs in the body in just 15-20 minutes.”

Measuring “adverse energy” is mixed with the concept of human stress response. We must separate them to understand what is being alleged here. Humans have stress responses to all sorts of things in the environment. How can we narrow it to the effect of one thing without careful controls over all the other things (variables)? Remember, there is no evidence to show that this “adverse energy” even exists. How can the claim be made that it affects the body within minutes if we can’t even measure it properly Basic questions are left unanswered. What is it? How can you measure it? How do we know it does the things you say? How has this been tested? If it’s so ubiquitous and terrible, why isn’t it obvious to health professionals?

Stress is caused by life in general. Some people have too much or can’t manage it. Chronic stress affects many people. Stress suppresses your immune response and can make you less healthy. The A&H Institute is saying I should worry about a new stressor that can apparently lead to cancer. Don’t we have enough stressors that can make us sick? Go on, add another mysterious miasma coming from underground

“Millions of Americans live or work directly above this problem – that is, this adverse energy.”

“There are many unsolved cancer cluster investigations in the U.S. And each one of these unsolved cancer clusters have multiple aquifers flowing directly below the actual disease area – and this is NO coincidence.”

Millions!

Mr. Reecher and the A&H Institute want to make this hazard from aquifers widely known. So, here’s a good place to examine a core definition in this argument, “what is an aquifer?” The A&H Institute site tells you on the FAQ page but that version is a bit off. A more general and common version is a rock unit (like a sandstone or limestone formation) that readily transmits water to wells and springs. There are good aquifers, that yield a lot of water really easily or poor ones that do not. There are also layers that essentially prevent water from flowing through them. However, it’s important to recognize that most rock layers permit some water flow. Even poor aquifers still support water wells. If you can drill a well that produces water, you live over an aquifer. Let me put that another way – essentially everyone, everywhere has an aquifer underneath their feet. Aquifers are a component of how the earth circulates water. So, yes, millions do live above aquifers. More than the Institute suggests. And, they live above them with no adverse issues.

“If you live above aquifers and are subjected to this adverse energy for extended periods of time, this can lead to chronic stress and chronic disease. Many people with chronic illness and disease will be found living above aquifers.”

My brain just crashed and rebooted. Now, we are beyond cancer and onto all kinds of “chronic illness and disease”. We might also say, “Many people with chronic illness and disease will be found living in area with a television,” but couldn’t fairly conclude the televisions caused illness and disease.

“The ways in which this adverse energy can scientifically be measured follows: The human body is the most accurate testing device.”

The claim about humans as the most accurate testing devices is a key to how completely unscientific this approach is. Humans are TERRIBLE as testing devices. We are prone to imagining that we feel funny or uncomfortable just through suggestion from others. We have biases that can make us think a particular way. We can easily be fooled. We are not very sensitive to subtle environmental changes. That’s why science relies on precise instruments to measure small changes in the environment. It’s called “objectivity” when the “object” is doing the measuring, not the subject. I’m afraid, in this case, the objectivity is long gone.

If these claims had merit, their validity would have been apparent long ago. Instead, there is no quality evidence that flow properties of certain aquifers can result in a health hazard.

Appeal to Celebrity

At the bottom of the main web page, the author includes a reference to Suzanne Somers’ book on cancer called “Knockout”. I could go into a tirade about into celebrity authors who promote completely baseless ideas about health and well-being but I won’t. I’ll just ask two questions — would you trust evidence-based conclusions agreed upon by thousands of trained, independent, professional specialists or would you discard that for what an actor (or any layperson) puts in a book based on a few specially selected fringe sources? Which one of those sources pushes their views and products on TV talk shows?

The scientific studies page off the A&H main page provides extremely weak support. The way it is presented may cause those who are unfamiliar with scientific studies to be misled about the hypothesis proposed. The links are to studies that are not necessarily peer reviewed (critiqued by fellow experts) or are in areas that are not scientifically established (alternative medicine). The first study listed used dowsing to determine the zones of “energy.” No matter how many people tell you dowsing works, it is a completely discredited technique. It is pathetic that any journal would have accepted this article for publication (it is not a U.S. journal nor one which would be considered “prestigious” as suggested). This information is worthless.

Questioning the “expert”

I emailed the Institute (i.e., Mr. Reecher) to inquire with some basic questions rasied by claims on the website. His extra answers attempted to bolster his claim that electricity generated from very specific aquifers where the pressure and friction are strong enough produces electromagnetic waves. These areas, he says, create a secondary eletromagnetic field that “changes/modifies/disrupts” the earth’s natural magnetic field. This modification “no longer supports the human body” and the body produces a stress reaction. He suggests the problem is worse “where two or more aquifers are crossing (at different depths)”. But, he stresses only specific aquifers, ones which have “violent movement of the ground water,” cause this problem.

In his responses, more questions are raised than answers given. Isn’t groundwater movement natural? How about electricity and EMFs created by natural substances – aren’t they natural too? How can a natural field disrupt a natural field? What’s not natural, here? What about the falling water or water flowing in pipes? Doesn’t that create electricity and, subsequently EMFs? How can such little electricity produced in such a tiny bit of the earth’s crust mess up the earth’s giant magnetic field? What the hell is “violent” movement of groundwater? That’s an odd word choice. Can’t say I’ve ever seen groundwater move violently. His answers to my questions were just as vague and silly as the information on the website.

I hesitate to state a number of things in this exposé. First, if I was so inclined (that is, unethically so), I could think of better ways to sell this idea that sound more credible. I could make a scared person WAY more scared of something for which they have no reason to be just by stating facts that can be taken out of context. Second, I won’t speculate on the motives of the people involved. I assume that they truly believe what they say is valid. And, they may very well have altruistic motives. However, they don’t have a coherent case.

I do not hesitate, however, to say that their claims as presented are scientifically nonsensical. Come back with real studies, logic and mechanisms to support your claims and maybe you can change my mind. If you wish to get attention for something that does not fit within the current body of knowledge about nature, you have to have put together a better platform than this.

While one can normally laugh off such ideas, this one is concerning. This Institute is spreading what I’ve pointed out is misleading, unsubstantiated and incorrect information that can cause people to become unduly concerned about their health or living conditions. If the cause of a health issue is attributed to the entirely wrong factor, improper attention or treatment may result. From what is mentioned in the news article and from Mr. Reecher’s reply direct reply to me, the researchers from the institute propose fixes to the problem that would cost money. A Geowave device was tested that supposedly “reinforces the human energy field (HEF) and seems to make it much less sensitive to stress, thereby improving the well being of humans and animals”. There’s a whole lot of silly in that sentence.

This entire Aquifers and Health Institute website is muddled top to bottom. Why does anyone buy into it?

Science is a realm of big, fancy words and professional activities with which most people have no familiarity. Understanding concepts in physics and geology require specialized training that most people don’t have and can’t get. It’s similar to medicine, dentistry, even a car mechanic or computer tech person. We often must rely on specialists to tell us if something is wrong and how to fix it knowing they might take advantage of our ignorance about the subject.

Not everyone who says they are experts really are. Not everyone with letters after their name or citations on their resume know what the heck they are talking about. They can be very far out in left field from the rest of the scientific world. Few mavericks uncover breakthrough results. Progress is made by building upon what we already know to be true.

For the average person reading about how aquifers can cause cancer or any other concerning claim, it is easy to be misled, especially when proponents appeal to fear and authority to sell it. Look for the red flags and be skeptical.

————–

*A well done scientific paper that I found detailing this phenomena made the more accurate statement: “A measurable electric potential is developed due to fluid flow.” Yes, that is more difficult to understand. It also involves equations and carefully controlled lab experiments which makes it repeatble and much more valuable. (Brown & Haupt, 1997, Study of Electrokinetic Effects to Quantify Groundwater Flow, Sandia National Labs)

UPDATE: I have found this video of Mr. Reecher promoting a venture called “Live in Happy Homes“. I must say, I was appalled. In it, he does specifically cite “geopathic stress”, ley lines, negative vortexes and makes a strong suggestion of home organization in terms of feng shui without mentioning this word explicitly. In addition, he says that skeptics should look at the testimonials of people that have been helped. When you appeal to testimonials, and NOT any scientific or even remotely logical reasons for this stated phenomena, you are appealing to the lowest common denominator – emotion. He says don’t use skepticism to create doubt. I’d like to say that if your skeptical senses are tingling, you are right to doubt. This has a high degree of woo.

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idoubtit

Http://SharonAHill.com

17 thoughts on “The art of scaring you over nothing: aquifers cause cancer”

  1. The slow trickling of water through an aquifer is a good sign that nature is working. It has certainly nothing to do with neither electricity nor an imbalance in nature. But you’ve pointed that out already ;). Plus the water is of good quality. People has been drinking aquifer water for ages, but then these days everything causes cancer, from popsicles to well, water.
    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Great post and an excellent application of critical thinking. I had not heard of this silly concept before and I continue to be amazed by the stuff people will come up with to scare themselves and each other.

    I am no geologist, but I imagine aquifers have existed for most of the history of the the earth, and certainly all of human history. One would think that if they caused cancer, that humans would have been killed off before we even got going as a species. OR, that evolution would have selected for individuals that that had some protection (in which case we wouldn’t have to worry about the problem in the first place). But of course it’s it more likely that neither of these is true, because the simplest explanation is that aquifers do not cause cancer.

    Anyway, great job dealing with yet another manufactured woo (it seems the woo factory is working overtime these days!). I look forward to reading future posts.

  3. Great Article!

    I applaud your systematic disassembling of this obvious and blatant attempt to make money and sell books through fear.

    p.s. Strong Feng Shui here….

  4. I liked your analysis. The issue still remains. I do not find it either silly or scary. It is simply a premise. If a scientist with reputable instrumentation performed a scientifically approved study, what would he find? My question is this: Is there enough interest in this issue to warrant an effective study? Mr. Reecher openly recognizes his own scientific shortcomings. He also believes that in other countries this issue has become of significant interest. Do you have any idea how the scientific community in European countries view this particular “electromagnetic” phenomenon related to aquifers? If there is significant interest in other countries, we may be short sighted to ignore his premise.

    1. Hi George, thanks for visiting and commenting. I don’t agree that “Is there enough interest..” is the right question. We know quite a bit about subsurface flow and can already measure electromagnetic fields above ground. There is interest in intelligent design but that doesn’t make it worth spending research money on. The problem is that Reecher and his sources for this premise are mostly nonscientific. Not only is there no evidence for such a premise to be true, it is not plausible considering what we already know about nature. I have looked and see no corresponding interest from scientists here in the U.S. or abroad based on the scientific literature. Support for this premise is extremely weak all over the world (of professionals), unless you want to go a level below into non-science areas. Then, you’ll find not consensus but inconsistency (such as the premise that water streams crossing underground promote healing, not adverse energy).

  5. Before you criticize someone you don’t know or a topic you have never visited please do your research first so that when people hear your opinion they will respect it because its thought out and not just ranting and attacking.

    You are wrong to say there is no evidence for such a premise and that you have looked and found nothing. This paper is a very irresponsible piece of work.

    1. Tammy: I consider the information gathering I did for this post as research. I looked at genuine scientific sources – ones that have the backing of our existing knowledge and are plausible explanations for how nature works. If someone is going to make a very deviant claim that would require hydrogeologists and everyone else to change the way they view nature, then you must present GOOD, verifiable evidence. That is totally lacking in this case. I’m sorry that you don’t feel satisfied with my conclusions. Please feel free to point out exactly what you think is wrong, or ranting. If you have information to the contrary, to show me where I was irresponsible, I’m very willing to consider it. However, you didn’t mention anything specific so I am unclear to what exactly you were referring.

      Since I am a licensed practicing geologist, and have worked in hydrogeologic investigation for the past 18 years, I would dispute your claim that I don’t know this topic. Perhaps you should refrain from attacking me until you do some research.

      1. You write: I consider the information gathering I did for this post as research. I looked at genuine scientific sources – ones that have the backing of our existing knowledge and are plausible explanations for how nature works.

        This is is were I am confused….. I don’t see any information gathering on your part…. and what exactly does “plausible explanations for how nature works” mean. Are you referring to your explanation on hydrostatic pressure and how water moves too slow to create significant electricity? It is my belief that it has everything to do with the pressure, not how fast it moves. Check out the study you quoted at the bottom of your blog. That will give you the answer.

        You provide no evidence of your so called “information gathering”. It seems that all you are doing here is bashing the contents of Aquifers and Health. You go on to talk about Käthe Bachler, Famous Austrian Researcher like you know who she is and what her book is all about. You even say:

        “It’s not difficult to design a better, straightforward test of this hypothesis. In an area without man-made EMF influences, a map of EMF field measurements can be compared to measured data regarding groundwater movement. With careful controls in a large data set, we can more fairly judge if this hypothesis is supported. A simple solid test has not been done.”

        A study such as this does indeed exist and is provided in the Aquifers and Health website. It is peer reviewed double blind study which should fit it with your need of science. That’s where the quote below came from.

        “When the human body is exposed to this adverse energy rising from an aquifer, a negative stress reaction occurs in the body in just 15-20 minutes.”
        But you didn’t do your research so your comment is this:

        “Measuring “adverse energy” is mixed with the concept of human stress response. We must separate them to understand what is being alleged here. Humans have stress responses to all sorts of things in the environment. How can we narrow it to the effect of one thing without careful controls over all the other things (variables)? Remember, there is no evidence to show that this “adverse energy” even exists. ”

        The study mentioned above did indeed narrow it to the effect of one thing.

        Then you say:

        “essentially everyone, everywhere has an aquifer underneath their feet. Aquifers are a component of how the earth circulates water. So, yes, millions do live above aquifers. More than the Institute suggests. And, they live above them with no adverse issues.

        Your a geologist, you tell me…. Is an aquifer the same everywhere? … is the pressure the same at every point in every aquifer? … do all aquifers flow?…. do all aquifers have the same ionic content?

        There is one thing you say that I do agree with and that is:

        “Not everyone who says they are experts really are. Not everyone with letters after their name or citations on their resume know what the heck they are talking about. They can be very far out in left field from the rest of the scientific world. Few mavericks uncover breakthrough results. Progress is made by building upon what we already know to be true.”

        Especially the part where you say “progress is made by building upon what we already know to be true” …. you didn’t say “let’s bash all these people that have uncovered this subject for the past 100 plus years because I am a geologist and I know more than they do.”

  6. Tammy: I find it difficult to discuss points with you. I see you make visits to various blogs raising baseless issues and providing no arguments or substance. Most people would say a lot of research went into this rather long and involved post. I didn’t just pull that stuff out of the air.

    Criticism is a vital part of the scientific process. However, it has to be constructive, not just whining about why you don’t like the conclusions. I provided references for my claims. I obviously looked at the studies that were listed on the website AND MORE on this topic that was not listed. I queried major research databases to see if there was any worthwhile study into this phenomena. You fail to realize that not all studies are equal. And, you do not seem to comprehend why that is. I pointed out why the studies listed on the A&H website were worthless. This leads me to conclude that you are not versed in how science as a process works. Is this true? Or, have you studied science as a human endeavor? If so, let’s hear how.

    A few studies with a high risk for confounding factors and bias are not impressive. It certainly isn’t enough to convince the scientific community that some mystical energy force is causing humans to get sick. Sorry if it’s a pet theory that you want to be true. Just badly wanting something to be true doesn’t mean that is becomes so. At least in others minds…You’ll need to do more to be convincing.

    You pose questions about aquifers – some of which I actually discuss in the post. If you are interested in these topics, you should try looking at the dozens of fine textbooks on hydrogeology that have been produced in the past decades. It’s not about “belief” in how things work, it’s about demonstration and evidence. If you have an issue with what hydrogeologists know, point it out or take it up with the US Geological Survey.

    I don’t know whom you represent but I’ll tell you this. You sound like an advocate who is not going to engage in rational discussion. It does NO GOOD to whine about me on my blog site (and in other places that you do). If you want respect for a new idea, go through the proper channels – publish in reputable places and defend it. I’d be interested in that. If you just want to post more vacuous gripes, I’ll not engage.

  7. Tammy, why don’t you identify yourself as one of Reecher’s cohorts in this scheme? One must only know Reecher and his past business dealings to recognize this stratagem for what it is.

    1. I was able to identify Tammy’s name and probable address. I sent her an email explaining she needed to argue fairly or be blocked. She re-sent the same lame comments and they were subsequently rejected.

      1. For pete’s sake, some people can’t just relent their own view of the universe. Nor can they change their mind or discuss events with themselves.
        Some pseudo-scientific is just too weird to believe, especially if you go outside the realm of your own knowledge.

  8. Dear idoubtit,

    I couldn’t agree more with your article.
    Thank you for demystifying Mr. David Reecher’s delusions.

    Cheers,

  9. Nicely done, very thorough and helpful because the approach is well explained so Joe Public (i.e. people like me) can appreciate the thinking behind it (and use it). The only point I disagree with is the line “if these claims had merit their validity would have been apparent long ago” isn’t really a good test, some things are only recently established. The whole concept is absurd and you have been very patient both with the article and with Tammy, I have found that you will never dissuade a believer but this is useful for waverers.
    I think the idea of aquifers crossing being dangerous may have come from the documentary Ghostbusters where they memorably warn “don’t cross the streams”.

  10. I don’t usually randomly leave comments on blog posts, but I am so pleased to see somebody challenge these geopathical stress “phenomena” that I have read about, and especially somebody who is knowledgeable about science and has looked into the scientific evidence (or lack of) in relation to this. I am not a scientist so I had no way of doing so, further than using my own common sense, and vaguely wondering how on earth this can be true. Searching the Internet I only came across information from people who back this cause, and almost no coherent argument questioning its claims. Thank you for so clearly explaining the reasons why you consider this question holds so little credibility, it is much clearer than any information I have found so far regarding its existence.

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