at the end of the world

„I am a data analyst at a large German chemical company“, this is how every small talk about my professional activity ends. The only question I’ve ever heard – „And what exactly are you analyzing?“ – I didn’t spontaneously know an answer that would fit into a short, yet understandable sentence.
„I find arguments for the management’s plans and also create independent analyses and research concepts, which are usually ignored,“ would probably be an accurate, rough summary of my professional tasks. That sounds depressed and burnt out, but there is another truth: I have access to the largest databases in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and there is hardly anything more fascinating for me than to slide down into this dark sea of data like an apnea diver and soak up the weightless flood of data until I perceive nothing else. As if under the influence of lack of oxygen or drugs, my algorithms help me to recognize interrelationships that others cannot perceive. So I can sit in front of the computer for hours and hide everything else until a call from the depths causes me to slowly exhale and reappear.
Some time ago, on one of my dives, I made a discovery that deeply frightened me and fascinated me at the same time. I have been diving deeper and deeper into this region of the deep sea and have found more and more hints that there is a terrible secret lurking at the bottom of my data sea, which was created about 20 years ago and is now slowly emerging. I am the first one to see it, but it comes to the surface inevitably and faster and it will change the world.

Pyrrovidone is a cross-linked, insoluble polyvinylpolypyrrolidone, produced by a subsidiary of my employer. It is contained as an excipient in 187 different preparations in Germany alone, from laxatives to zinc ointments, and is produced by a multi-stage chemical reaction. Ultimately, it is a plastic whose absorption is considered harmless to human health. For this reason, for example, the legislator has not determined an ADI value. ADI (=Acceptable Daily Intake) is a toxicological limit value of drugs or food additives. This value determines how much of a substance is considered medically safe if taken daily for life. This value is often determined by animal experiments, for example on rats or mice. Although similar compounds with polyvinylpolypyrrolidone have been in use for years, animal experiments with pyrrovidone were also carried out at the end of the 1980s. The mice lived happily ever after. A few months later there was a test group of 30 students who took pyrrovidone. Here, too, no intolerances or adverse health effects were found. But there is a problem that is not sufficiently considered in many studies of this kind. The time. Therefore, there was no concern at the time to allow this substance as a food additive and pharmaceutical excipient.

Actually, it was a declared goal of the World Health Organization to eradicate leprosy by the year 2005, similar to what was achieved with smallpox. And although leprosy is actually only weakly contagious, this has not yet been achieved. The reason for this lies in the long incubation period: from the infection with mycobacteria, which trigger the disease, to the appearance of the first symptoms, an average of five years elapse; depending on the state of the infected person’s immune system, it can also take up to 20 years before the disease becomes noticeable.

If it is not an infection with a pathogen, but generally a burden on the body with harmful substances (in medicine also called „noxae“, e.g. poisons, medicines, drugs or radiation effects), one does not speak of incubation but of latency. The latency period describes the symptom-free time between the action of a noxious agent and the appearance of the first symptoms. And while the tests with pyrrovidone have long since been forgotten, I have discovered the latency period of pyrrovidone in my data sea: it is about 28 years, the mortality rate is estimated at 82 percent. Of the 30 volunteers who took pyrrovidone for several months in 1989, four are still alive today. Of the 28 remaining test candidates, 24 showed symptoms of a rigid condition about three decades after taking Pyrrovidone, which was independently diagnosed as a „stupor“ with unknown cause in all patients and led to death in 23.

Of course, my data base is not representative, actually further experiments should be carried out now. But the additive was approved in Germany at the beginning of the 1990s and a short time later also on many international markets. According to my data, more than 85 percent of people in the northern hemisphere must have taken similar or larger amounts of the additive than the test candidates.

If my analyses are correct, it is likely that in a few years a large part of the world’s population will become rigid and die. The most important thing, however, is not what my data says: names. I have no idea who is affected, I am not even sure if I myself am affected. Who knows for sure whether or not, let alone when, in the past almost 30 years, one has ingested this additive, which is contained in a wide variety of products, including even food.

After this realization came panic. We will all die. But when and how? Do I have to warn humanity or can the whole thing be averted? I made my research public, but of course hardly anyone took the analysis of the data seriously. I talked to scientists, doctors and chemists, but nobody could confirm or refute what I found out. It would take decades to investigate this „phenomenon“, find causes and perhaps an antidote. Time we don’t have. I assume that at least three-quarters of the world’s population is affected and that the first symptoms will appear on a massive scale within the next year.

The remaining quarter of the population will also feel the effects. For all the reports about what a world without people would look like are nothing more than romantic end-time fantasies that have little to do with the reality that is approaching us. There will be no roses overgrowing the castle and nature reclaiming the habitat or animals roaming abandoned cities, as we have read in fairy tales or seen in films. Too much we humans have left our traces and changed the world in a way that will affect the next millennia.

There are about 440 nuclear reactors in over 30 different countries worldwide. Each reactor core must be constantly monitored and cooled. Shutting down and dismantling these facilities is a process that takes decades of work and planning. A quarter of humanity cannot do this. I am sure that all these reactor cores will melt if there are no more people to take care of them.

My computer simulation has calculated where the best chances of survival are in a frozen and radioactively contaminated world. There are very few active nuclear reactors in the southern hemisphere, and in Australia, for example, there are no large plants at all to produce energy. A research reactor built there in the 1950s was taken out of service in 1987 and is to be completely dismantled by 2025, and there are two other relatively small research facilities. The majority of the survivors will therefore target Australia or New Zealand as their first port of call before the radioactivity has completely contaminated Europe and America. I am afraid that civil war-like conditions could break out there if, within a few years, a large proportion of the two billion or so survivors were to be found in places where only around 30 million people now live. For this reason, I have chosen a different goal for my perhaps brief retirement.



NASA Terra ASTER image of Tristan da Cunha Island, South Atlantic Ocean
NASA ASTER volcano archive