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End era of mercury fillings

From The Times, Trenton:

The biggest change in the history of American dentistry is about to occur. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the verge of limiting the use of dentistry's 19th-century foundation-stone, amalgam fillings. Though promoted as "silver fillings," this material is 50 percent mercury and only 25 percent silver.

Mercury is, of course, highly toxic; it can cause permanent harm to a fetus, to a child's developing brain or an adult's kidneys. The World Health Organization says no safe level of mercury exists. Unlike lead, whose risk becomes acute when the child licks it, mercury is notoriously volatile (it is the only metal in liquid form at room temperature), so its vapors alone can cause neurological or fetal damage. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control warns that mercury from amalgam is "a major source" of mercury exposure to our bodies.

In dentistry's early days, no alternative existed, except expensive gold. That excuse is over. Composite, a white resin-like material, is interchangeable with mercury amalgam, albeit it takes a few moments longer to implant.

Dental mercury is an environmental hazard. A report by the Mercury Policy Project shows that dental offices are the largest source of mercury in the nation's wastewater.

Mercury-free dentistry is more than a health and environment issue -- it is a workplace safety issue. Largely female and of childbearing age, dental workers are the very persons who should be the most vigilant to avoid exposure to mercury vapors -- which happens...each time a dental worker opens the amalgam capsule.

Posted: 12/31/2008 9:35:00 AM

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F.D.A. to Reconsider Plastic Bottle Risk

From The New York Times:

WEEKS after its own advisory board accused the Food and Drug Administration of failing to adequately consider research about the dangers of bisphenol-A, found in many plastic baby bottles, plastic food containers and metal can linings, the agency has agreed to reconsider the issue.

The F.D.A.’s draft risk assessment in August, finding the chemical safe as it is now used, stood out against a tide of recent scientific opinion. The National Toxicology Program, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has said there was reason to be concerned that BPA, as the chemical is called, could harm the brain, behavior and the prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children. Canada added the chemical to its list of toxic substances this year and has said it will ban BPA from polycarbonate baby bottles.

In September, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that adults with high levels of BPA in their urine were more prone to heart and liver disease and diabetes.

More than 200 animal studies have linked ingesting minute amounts of the substance to a range of reproductive problems, brain damage, immune deficiencies, metabolic abnormalities, and behavioral oddities like hyperactivity, learning deficits and reduced maternal willingness to nurse offspring.

The F.D.A.’s position that current human exposure to BPA in food-packaging materials provides an adequate margin of safety appeared to be based on two large multigenerational studies by research groups that received funding from the American Plastics Council, according to a letter sent to the F.D.A. by Representatives John D. Dingell and Bart Stupak, Democrats of Michigan.

Although the F.D.A. had reviewed other studies, only the two multigenerational ones met its guidelines for determining safety for human consumption, said Dr. Mitchell Cheeseman, deputy director of the agency’s Office of Food Additive Safety.

“I don’t want to suggest that published studies are not valuable to F.D.A.’s safety assessment — they are,” Dr. Cheeseman said. “But they lacked details about how the study was done, they don’t include all the raw data, so independent auditing can’t be done by agency scientists, and they have a variety of protocol limitations.”

The F.D.A.’s science board subcommittee on BPA, however, after receiving comments from an independent advisory panel, determined that the F.D.A. was wrong to disregard the large body of research showing health effects even at extremely low doses. The agency’s decision to reconsider was made public earlier this month.

Makers of BPA say that the chemical poses no known risk to human health.

Exposure to BPA is widespread. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found it in the urine of nearly 93 percent of a sample population.

Posted: 12/31/2008 9:31:00 AM

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Drug abuse rises as economy falls

From UPI.com:

Prescription-drug abuse is rising in parts of the United States as the economy falls, drug-rehabilitation and law-enforcement officials said.

"We're seeing an extreme uptick in the abuse of pharmacological drugs," said Jeff Benz, a founder of Mainstream Kansas City Inc., an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Bonner Springs, Kan.

"We have noticed it for several years, but it really became more pronounced in the last few months," he said.

The use of addictive pain relievers and mood enhancers is increasing nationwide at an "alarming rate," the Drug Enforcement Administration told Congress.

More than 7 million people in the United States abuse prescription drugs, up 80 percent since 2002, the DEA said.

Figures for Missouri and Kansas suggest abuse may be especially pronounced in those states, the Kansas City (Mo.) Star reported.

Federal figures show shipments into Kansas of hydrocodone, the active ingredient in the narcotic painkiller Vicodin, jumped more than 300 percent since 2000, much of the increase in the past year, the Star said.

Oxycodone, another commonly abused synthetic drug that has a morphine-like action in the body, is up more than 260 percent.

"Without a doubt, there is an increase in use of scheduled drugs in Kansas," Jeff Brandau, a special agent at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, told the Star.

Either Kansans are in a lot of pain "or something else is going on," he said.

Posted: 12/31/2008 9:26:00 AM

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DNA now solving property crimes

From The Columbus Dispatch:

A thief broke into a West Side lumber company and paused for a snack.

He walked off with more than $18,000 in tools, but he left behind a soda can and a fork. Those items contained all the evidence investigators needed to link him to the crime.

Police collected DNA from a Diet Mountain Dew can and the fork, which the burglar apparently used to eat Jell-O while lingering at Jones Lumber & Millwork on N. Sylvan Avenue during a June break-in. A statewide database matched the DNA to James W. Cheadle Jr., 42, a West Side resident with previous convictions for breaking and entering, receiving stolen property and drug possession.

Cheadle is in the Franklin County jail awaiting a February trial on more than 30 counts related to multiple business break-ins this year in central Ohio. In three of the burglaries, investigators say they found his DNA at the scene.

"That's what broke the case," Columbus police burglary detective Kevin Morris said. "It's pretty cool."

The DNA database, known as CODIS, searches DNA profiles collected from crime scenes for matches with DNA profiles collected from convicts.

DNA gets most of its attention for helping to convict or exonerate suspects in violent crimes such as murder and rape. But investigators increasingly are using the technology in property-crime cases. Burglars who break windows sometimes leave blood. Those who leave behind a soda can or a cigarette butt are inadvertently providing investigators with saliva samples.

The number of property-crime DNA samples that law-enforcement agencies submitted for analysis to the state Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation more than doubled between 2005 and 2007 -- from 444 to 1,088. More than 900 samples were submitted in the first 11 months of this year.

Investigators usually want additional evidence to support the DNA hits. In the Cheadle case, police say they also have fingerprints and surveillance video from some of the crime scenes.

A study released this year by the National Institute of Justice found that when DNA testing was added to traditional property-crime investigations, "more than twice as many suspects were identified … and more than twice as many cases were accepted for prosecution."

But Nancy Ritter, editor of the NIJ Journal, cautioned in an article last month that "the demands to use this highly effective tool could overwhelm our criminal justice system."

Crime labs across the country already face backlogs in processing DNA from violent crimes, she wrote.

Officials at the state and Columbus crime labs concede that they give priority to violent-crime DNA but said they also find time to process DNA from property crimes.

In the first 11 months of this year, the state crime lab took an average of 87 days to process a violent-crime DNA sample and 151 days to process a property-crime DNA sample, said Steve Greene, deputy superintendent of laboratory operations.

"There is no such thing as a 'lesser crime,' " he said. "Unfortunately, we have to prioritize these cases."

Posted: 12/30/2008 9:48:00 AM

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Cribs Recalled after Child Is Poisoned by Lead Paint

From the washingtonpost.com's The Checkout:

(There) is a recall of 3,000 "Newport" cribs and 6,000 matching furniture pieces made by Munire Furniture of Piscataway, N.J. for having lead paint in excess of federal limits.

The paint in question was a red paint underneath a darker top coating--still accessible of course, especially by teething babes and toddlers who like to gnaw on the rails.

The cribs cost about $600 a pop and the matching furniture had price tags between $700 to $1000. They were sold between April 2006 and November 2008 in specialty children's furniture stores.

The company says it has received one report of a child having ingested lead and being diagnosed with lead poisoning.

What I found interesting is that the Munire site contains the following statement:

You can have peace of mind that all Muniré products are coated with finishes that are in compliance with Federal Regulation 16CFR1303 for lead content and have been certified as such by Intertek, a testing laboratory recognized by both the American Society for Testing and Materials and the Consumer Products Safety Commission. In addition, we meet or exceed every federal safety standard and are approved by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA).
 
So how did they all miss the lead paint, then? I'd be curious to know how many samples were tested, how those samples were chosen, and more about who wielded the lead paint brush. 

Posted: 12/24/2008 11:44:00 AM

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Vitamin D deficiency associated with greater rates of Cesarean sections

From EurekaAlert!:

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC) found that pregnant women who are vitamin D deficient are also at an increased risk for delivering a baby by caesarean section as compared to pregnant women who are not vitamin D deficient. These findings currently appear on-line in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

At the turn of the 20th century, women commonly died in childbirth due to "rachitic pelvis" rickets of the pelvis. While rickets virtually disappeared with the discovery of vitamin D, recent reports suggest that vitamin D deficiency is widespread in industrialized nations.

Over a two-year period, the researchers analyzed the relationship between maternal serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] and the prevalence of primary caesarean section. In total, 253 women were enrolled in this study, of whom 43 (17 percent) had a caesarean section. The researchers found that 28 percent of women with serum 25(OH)D less than 37.5 nmol/L had a caesarean section, compared to only 14 percent of women with 25(OH)D greater than 37.5 nmol/L.

"In our analysis, pregnant women who were vitamin D deficient at the time of delivery had almost four times the odds of caesarean birth than women who were not deficient," said senior author Michael Holick, MD, PhD, director of the General Clinical Research Center and professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at BUSM and Anne Merewood assistant professor of pediatrics at BUSM and lead author of the study.

According to Holick, one explanation for the findings is that vitamin D deficiency has been associated with proximal muscle weakness as well as suboptimal muscle performance and strength.

Posted: 12/24/2008 11:40:00 AM

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Broadway Actor's Mercury Poisoning Prevalent Throughout US, New Study Shows

From MarketWatch:

Recent publicity of mercury poisoning in Broadway Actor Jeremy Piven from his regular consumption of sushi highlights the prevalence and magnitude of exposure risk associated with eating certain seafood, say advocates. In a report released earlier this week by Mercury Policy Project, reported case studies document a number of similar mercury poisonings experienced by people throughout the US.

"Unfortunately, Piven's case is not that unusual," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "Our report shares stories of people who each ate enough tuna or other store-bought fish to suffer mercury's effects, according to their physicians. From New Jersey to Wisconsin to California, these stories show that seafood contamination is a very real problem that should not be ignored."

Yet late last week it was learned that FDA is currently contemplating removing mercury consumption warnings for all seafood -- including swordfish, shark and tuna -- stating benefits from eating seafood far outweigh the risks of mercury poisoning.

In 2004, the FDA joined EPA in releasing advice to restrict the species and amounts of fish eaten by women of childbearing age and children due to exposure risks to mercury. Last Friday, in a draft report submitted to the Bush White House, the FDA indicated plans to not only rescind that advice, but recommend that sensitive populations eat more mercury-contaminated fish.

"We've known for years that mercury is toxic to the brain and other organs in varying amounts depending on the individual's status. For FDA to suddenly change the equation to say that benefits outweigh risks is like once-again declaring the earth is flat after discovering it was round," concluded Dr. Jane Hightower.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning can include the following: impairment of the peripheral vision; disturbances in sensations ("pins and needles" feelings, numbness) usually in the hands feet and sometimes around the mouth; lack of coordination of movements, such as writing; impairment of speech, hearing, walking; muscle weakness; skin rashes; mood swings; memory loss; and mental disturbance.

Exposure and toxic effects in adults and children are well-documented. Dr. Hightower's new book, Diagnosis: Mercury: Money, Politics and Poison, catalogues her patients' mercury poisoning case histories.

Posted: 12/19/2008 11:13:00 AM

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NASCAR testing drivers for doping next month

From The Associated Press:

NASCAR will test drivers for performance-enhancing drugs next month under a tougher policy that also bans using illegal drugs and abusing prescription medications.

NASCAR likely will test drivers the third week of January, and crew members must submit results from an approved lab by Jan. 16, according to documents obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

A NASCAR memo sent to teams lists specific banned substances for which crew members must be screened. No similar guidelines were issued for drivers, as NASCAR reserves the right to test competitors for anything.

Under the old policy, NASCAR had the right to randomly test based on suspicion of abuse. Under the tougher guidelines first announced in September, everyone will be tested before the season begins, and random testing will continue throughout the year. NASCAR expects to randomly test 12 to 14 individuals per series each weekend in 2009.

The guidelines were strengthened in part because of former Truck Series driver Aaron Fike's admission that he had used heroin — even on days he raced. That led Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and other veteran drivers to call on NASCAR to add random drug testing to its policy.

The memo, dated Dec. 8, is the first time the new policy has been laid out in writing and specifies who falls under the guidelines. Those who must be tested before Jan. 16 include: pit crew members, including "over-the-wall" crew members, the crew chief, car chief, team members responsible for tires, fuel and pit crew operation, spotters and race-day support personnel that includes engineers, engine tuners, shock specialists, chassis specialists and tire specialists.

Among the substances those participants must be tested for are:

-Seven different amphetamines, including methamphetamine and PMA, a synthetic psychostimulant and hallucinogen.

-Three drugs classified under ephedrine.

-13 different narcotics, including codeine and morphine.

- Ten different benzodiazepines and barbituates.

- Marijuana, cocaine, zolpidem, nitrites, chromates and drugs that can increase specific gravity.

No such list exists for the drivers, but spokesman Ramsey Poston confirmed NASCAR will test for performance-enhancing drugs.

The driver testing, which will be administered by NASCAR, had been scheduled for preseason testing at Daytona next month. But because testing has been suspended for 2009, NASCAR likely will screen drivers when most are in Charlotte next month for the annual media tour of race shops.

The gap in the drug policy was exposed last September when Truck Series driver Ron Hornaday Jr. admitted he used a testosterone cream during 2004 and 2005 to treat a medical issue.

Hornaday has Grave's disease, a condition he's treating with Synthroid, which replaces a hormone normally produced by the thyroid gland to regulate the body's energy and metabolism.

NASCAR did not punish him for the testosterone admission, saying the cream did not enhance his performance or impair his judgment.

Posted: 12/19/2008 11:08:00 AM

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Lack Of Vitamin D Causes Weight Gain And Stunts Growth In Girls

From Science Daily:

Insufficient vitamin D can stunt growth and foster weight gain during puberty, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Even in sun-drenched California, where scientists from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the University of Southern California conducted their study, vitamin D deficiency was found to cause higher body mass and shorter stature in girls at the peak of their growing spurt.

While lack of vitamin D is common in adults and has been linked to diseases such as osteoporosis, cancer and obesity, until this study, little was known about the consequences of insufficient vitamin D in young people. The research team measured vitamin D in girls aged 16 to 22 using a simple blood test (25-hydroxy vitamin D). They also assessed body fat and height to determine how vitamin D deficiency could affect young women's health.

"The high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in young people living in a sun-rich area was surprising," says study lead author, Richard Kremer, co-director of the Musculoskeletal Axis of the MUHC. "We found young women with vitamin D insufficiency were significantly heavier, with a higher body mass index and increased abdominal fat, than young women with normal levels."

The researchers examined 90 Caucasian and Hispanic girls and discovered that young women with normal vitamin D levels were on average taller than peers deficient in vitamin D. Yet in contrast to what's been previously reported in older women, their investigation found no association between lack of vitamin D and bone strength.

"Although vitamin D is now frequently measured in older adults, due to a higher level of awareness in this population, it is rarely measured in young people – especially healthy adolescents," says Dr. Kremer.

"Clinicians need to identify vitamin D levels in younger adults who are at risk by using a simple and useful blood test," says the co-author, Dr. Vicente Gilsanz, head of musculoskeletal imaging at the Children's Hospital Los Angeles of the University of Southern California.

"Because lack of vitamin D can cause fat accumulation and increased risk for chronic disorders later in life, further investigation is needed to determine whether vitamin D supplements could have potential benefits in the healthy development of young people," added Dr. Gilsanz.

Posted: 12/18/2008 2:02:00 PM

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Small Doses of Carbon Monoxide Might Help Stroke Victims

From The Washington Post:

It's a potentially lethal gas, but small amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) may help prevent brain damage after a stroke, Johns Hopkins researchers report.

CO, a colorless, odorless gas that can cause organ damage and death, is found in combustion fumes, such as those made by heating systems, vehicles and gas ranges. In enclosed or semi-enclosed places with poor ventilation, CO can build up and pose a serious threat.

The Hopkins team found that low amounts of inhaled carbon monoxide reduced brain damage by as much as 62.2 percent in mice with strokes induced by briefly blocking an artery to one side of the brain. The researchers believe that CO can protect nerve cells from damage.

After strokes were induced in the mice, they were exposed to either 125 parts per million (ppm), 250 ppm of CO, or air. Each group of mice was tested for post-stroke brain damage and function, mainly by observing their running patterns and reactions to certain stimuli.

Brain damage in the side of the brain where blood supply was cut off was 49.9 percent in mice exposed only to air, 33.9 percent in mice exposed to 125 ppm of CO, and 18.8 percent in mice exposed to 250 ppm of CO. Compared to those exposed only to air, the mice exposed to CO had significantly better neurological function test scores.

The protective effect was evident in mice treated at both one and three hours after stroke. This is an important point, because "many stroke victims will not receive immediate treatment," Dor said.

The researchers said CO's protective effect may be due to:

Its ability to dilate blood vessels, which increases blood flow.Its anti-inflammatory properties, which prevent cell death by inflammation.Its capacity to reduce water in the brain. Excessive water in the brain increases intracranial pressure, which kills brain cells.

The study was published in the Dec. 15 online issue of Neurotoxicity Research.

Posted: 12/17/2008 2:21:00 PM

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