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New Jersey Toenail Clippings to Be Collected for Toxic Testing

From ABC News:

Toenail clippings could be the key to discovering if thousands of residents of Garfield, N.J., have been exposed to a toxin spill 30 years ago that could cause cancer.

"Toenails grow slower than fingernails or than hair so you can track or detect chronic exposure in toenails," Judith Zelikoff a professor and research scientist at New York University's School of Medicine, told ABCNews.com.

One millimeter of toenail can reveal information up to 18 months of exposure.

The risk of contamination comes from a 1983 leak where thousands of pounds of hexavalent chromium seeped out of a tank at a factory surrounded by houses and apartment buildings.

Scientists say only 30 percent of the leak was cleaned up, and 10 years later chromium was found in area basements and a firehouse.

The underground plume is about three-quarters of a mile wide and a little less than a mile long, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The "area of concern" covers more than 600 homes and businesses with the potential of more than 3,700 people being possibly effected, Zelikoff said.

Residents of the area are being given kits that include a stainless steel nail clipper (cheap nail clippers may contain traces of chromium), a plastic bag for the clippings, nail polish remover, alcohol swabs, instructions and an envelope for the clippings. The results will take about five weeks.

Posted: 3/26/2013 3:39:00 PM

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Straight-A teen dies after inhaling computer cleaner amid 'huffing' trend

From NBC News:

A 14-year-old honor student from Northridge, Los Angeles, died this week after inhaling computer keyboard cleaner, a growing trend among students as young as eighth grade.

Aria Doherty, a straight-A student at Nobel Middle School, died Monday. She’d been home alone for a couple of hours when she inhaled the duster.

Her older sister found Aria in bed with a can of compressed air still attached to her mouth, her nostrils taped shut. A plastic bag was found nearby.

Her parents believe it was her first time huffing -- also known as bagging or dusting.

"Death can happen very quickly. It can happen the first time," said Kezia Miller, a counselor with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Long-term effects of inhalants include damage to the kidneys, liver and brain. Short-term dangers include heart problems.

It’s possible the computer cleaner caused cardiac arrest or the teen asphyxiated. An autopsy is pending.

Posted: 3/21/2013 4:20:00 PM

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Fine-tuning techniques for detecting 'drugged' driving

From newsworks.org:

A Montgomery County company is urging lawmakers to give police officers more tools to spot "drugged" driving.

Bill Anderson, a forensic toxicologist with NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pa., says the legalization of marijuana in some states -- and expanded use of pain medicines nationwide -- has drawn more attention to the hazards of driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol.

"I think the biggest change is the awareness of this, not only in drugs of abuse but in prescription items as well," Anderson said.

Many states have trained troopers to recognize signs of drug intoxication. Anderson said police could identify more problem drivers if they used readily available roadside saliva drug tests.

"It corroborates that observation that a stimulant might be involved," Anderson said. "You can see immediately that you have a drug that is most likely present as opposed to a medical condition, for example."

In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a representative survey of weekend and nighttime drivers across the nation. About 16 percent of those drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medications; 11 percent tested positive for illicit drugs.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania visited NMS Labs to tour the facility and discuss ways to prevent drugged driving.

Posted: 3/19/2013 9:16:00 AM

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Evaluating Marijuana Behind the Wheel

From The Epoch Times:

As states ease up on marijuana possession laws, police, legislators, and a skittish driving public worry how this trend will impact road safety. Cannabis clearly has an influence on driver performance, but there is a wide range of opinions about how long to wait after the last toke before getting behind the wheel.

With more states allowing medical and even recreational cannabis, the federal government has been encouraging safety precautions with tougher restrictions for DUI. To date 14 states have traded their effects-based standard to one that establishes a conviction based on blood test results. A driver impairment law that relies on the presence of a substance is called a per se law.

These per se laws essentially treat cannabis like alcohol, where a blood concentration threshold for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—marijuana’s psychoactive chemical—legally determines inebriation. Most states have a .08 blood alcohol per se law to determine if a person is drunk, and a zero tolerance policy for THC, where any amount is justification enough for a DUI conviction and a suspended license.

Just like with alcohol, drivers who test at or above this per se threshold are considered unfit to drive. The recent measure passed in Washington state sets the bar at the high end of the spectrum—five nanograms of THC per ml of blood.

At first glance the notion seems to make good sense—especially given the last 25 years of success with alcohol per se law enforcement in lessening traffic fatalities. However, experts say a THC blood test will never produce a similar result because of a fundamental difference in pharmacokinetics.

First, a cop with a Breathalyzer can accurately measure blood alcohol, but not THC. While authorities talk of an oral swab test in the works, right now THC requires a blood test, which by law must be administered by a licensed medical professional, who may not be available for several hours after the initial arrest.

The most important difference with alcohol is that blood THC has proven to be an unreliable measure for intoxication. Unlike alcohol, THC levels are highest upon first ingesting the drug, yet the greatest impairment does not come until about 20 minutes later after blood THC levels have plummeted. While marijuana smoke can leave a few nanograms of THC lingering in the system for 24 hours or more, research has shown that driving ability usually returns to normal in just a few hours.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that time rather than THC level is a more accurate gauge for evaluating a safe or unsafe driver. Results from NHTSA’s comprehensive 1993 study (a government trial that put cannabis smokers behind the wheel in both a closed course and in heavy urban traffic) found that driver performance noticeably diminished the first two hours after smoking. Driving skills returned to baseline sobriety about three hours after inhalation, and sometimes even improved.

For those familiar with the prevailing science, strict THC per se laws have been a hard sell, but supporters argue that the science is changing. A study released in this month’s American Association of Clinical Chemistry looks at chronic marijuana users at a deeper level than before.

Lead author Marilyn Huestis, chief of chemistry and drug metabolism at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is at the forefront of this new look at THC blood levels. Dr. Huestis has been studying the effects of marijuana for decades, and her latest report observes a trend demonstrated over three published papers.

While the majority of scientists say the effects of marijuana dissipate relatively quickly, Huestis reports that both THC and impaired performance linger in the brains of daily users for weeks after their last puff. The chronic users Huestis observed were still excreting THC from their tissues even after a month of abstinence, and did not respond as well as the control group in psychomotor and divided attention tasks.

According to Heustis’s conclusions, all regular cannabis consumers—including patients who have demonstrated a medical necessity—would automatically become a traffic risk in the eyes of the law even after weeks of abstinence.

Posted: 3/13/2013 3:26:00 PM

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