Thursday, December 31, 2009

TYLENOL Recall Confirms Congress, FDA Must Regulate Wood Pallets to Prevent Threats to U.S. Food, Drug Supply

/PRNewswire/ -- The expanded recall of TYLENOL Arthritis pain reliever is fresh evidence of the need for Congress and the FDA to regulate wood pallets used to transport food and pharmaceuticals in the United States because of the dangers they pose to human health.

The move earlier this week by McNeil Consumer Healthcare and FDA to expand the voluntary recall to include all lots of TYLENOL Arthritis Pain Caplet 100 count bottles comes on the heels of independent scientific studies showing wood pallets harbor deadly food poisoning bacteria and pathogens.

"How much more evidence does Congress and the FDA need? The TYLENOL recall proves wooden pallet shipping platforms are a dangerous threat to the pharmaceuticals we depend on, while recent independent studies we've commissioned in four cities demonstrate the dangers they pose to our food supply," said Bob Moore, Chairman & CEO, Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS Company LLC).

"The one to two billion wood pallets in circulation in the United States are the common denominator in the supply chain - practically every product we ingest is shipped on a wood pallet. Congress and FDA cannot afford to overlook them any longer as they consider ways to strengthen our national food safety law."

Chemicals used to treat wood pallets were cited as causing a moldy, musty or mildew-like odor in the TYLENOL product that caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain in consumers. Wood pallets made with "engineered wood" components also contain urea formaldehyde - a known carcinogen - which may come into contact with food under a variety of scenarios when it is stored and shipped on wooden pallets. Formaldehyde is also released into the air when it off-gases from pallets in storage and transportation compartments, posing a risk to the health of workers and consumers.

Wood pallets pose other dangerous risks to food safety. Wood pallets are susceptible to insect infestation and require heat treatment or fumigation before they can be moved cross-border. Fumigation is often performed with methyl bromide, a highly toxic, ozone-depleting chemical. Rusty nails and wood shards that can penetrate food packaging are also a risk.

Recent tests commissioned by iGPS have found Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and extremely high bacteria counts on scores of wood pallets pulled at random from pallet depots in Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Portland, ME. Listeriosis is responsible for approximately 2,500 illnesses and 500 deaths in the United States annually and is the leading cause of death among food borne bacterial pathogens, with fatality rates exceeding even Salmonella and Clostridium Botulinum.

The iGPS test results are consistent with similar findings by USDA and FDA. A new USDA study found salmonella-causing bacteria can be harbored on wooden shelving carts used for transporting eggs into processing plants. The FDA has also drawn attention to the health risks that wood pallets present. According to the FDA's Guidance for Industry: Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Refrigerated or Frozen Ready-To-Eat Foods (February, 2008), "In areas where RF-RTE [refrigerated-ready to eat] foods are processed or exposed, we recommend that you use pallets that can be easily cleaned and keep them in good condition, and that you not use wood pallets in areas where RF-RTE foods are processed or exposed or in other areas for wet processing and storage."

A trip to virtually any wood pallet depot reveals thousands of wood pallets stacked outdoors, sitting in mud and water-logged (some even serving as nests for rodents) -- a clear violation of industry "best practices" calling for wood pallets to be stored in dry indoor locations.

"This is an industry that openly ignores its own safety rules and transports our food supply on deplorably unsanitary platforms," said Moore. "We call on Congress and the FDA to take a comprehensive look at the role wood pallets play in contaminating our food and drug supplies - and to take action."

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Is Obesity a Disease? Current Research, Facts, Figures, and the Pros and Cons at New ProCon.org Website

/PRNewswire/ -- ProCon.org, a nonpartisan 501(c)3 nonprofit public charity dedicated to promoting critical thinking, created the new website http://www.obesity.procon.org/ to explore the core question "Is obesity a disease?"

The debate over whether or not obesity is a disease grows as obesity rates and the cost of treating obesity-related conditions increase in the United States.

Proponents stress that obesity is a disease because it is a result of genetics and biological factors, citing scientific studies that have shown a link between obesity and heredity. Certain known illnesses can also cause weight gain or obesity, including hypothyroidism, Cushing's syndrome, and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Opponents argue that obesity is not a disease because it is the result of a person's environment (i.e. residential location, social circle, economic status, etc.), lifestyle, and eating habits, citing other studies that show obesity is a result of environment and social networks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an "epidemic" of 72 million obese people in the United States in 2006 with 34.3% of adults considered obese (vs. 13.4% in 1962) and 32.7% considered overweight (vs. 31.5% in 1962).

In 2005 obesity accounted for an estimated 216,000 deaths (1 in 10 deaths) among U.S. adults. It was the third-leading risk factor in U.S. adult deaths, after tobacco smoking (467,000 deaths) and high blood pressure (395,000 deaths). Obesity and obesity-related health conditions cost an estimated 10% of annual medical spending in the US, totaling $147 billion in 2008.

As of Dec. 15, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO), FDA, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have all stated that obesity is a disease. The CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have not taken a position on whether or not obesity is a disease. The U.S. House of Representatives in its Oct. 29, 2009 health care bill H.R. 3962 included obesity as a "behavioral risk factor" and not as a disease.

The latest ProCon.org website explores many pro and con arguments and includes sources, images, videos, reader comments, and a section of little known facts called "Did You Know?" The findings should help readers think critically, educate themselves, and make informed decisions about eating, exercise, and their own Body Mass Index (BMI).

Did You Know?

-- In 2008 Mississippi had the highest rate of obesity out of all the
U.S. states at 32.8% of its population. Colorado had the lowest rate
at 18.5%.
-- Out of dozens of countries studied, U.S. males ranked 5th and U.S.
females ranked 11th in obesity according to World Health Organization
data from 2000-2007.
-- In 2005 obesity accounted for an estimated 216,000 deaths (1 in 10
deaths) among U.S. adults. It was the third-leading risk factor in
U.S. adult deaths after tobacco smoking (467,000 deaths) and high
blood pressure (395,000 deaths).
-- 67% of the adult U.S. population was either overweight or obese
between 2005-2006.
-- Since 2002, Americans who are medically diagnosed as obese have been
allowed to claim federal tax deductions for doctor prescribed
treatments, "special food," and weight loss programs.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

$100.3 Million Judgment Sought Against BP, According to The Buzbee Law Firm

/PRNewswire/ -- A Texas federal court was asked late Tuesday to enter a $100.3 million judgment against BP (NYSE:BP) after a federal jury rejected the company's denials about a series of allegedly toxic emissions in 2007 at its Texas City refinery, according to The Buzbee Law Firm.

On Dec. 18, a jury in Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt's court in Galveston, Texas awarded $100 million in punitive damages to 10 contract workers who alleged that they were exposed in a series of toxic emissions in early 2007 at the BP Texas City refinery. The trial was for the first 10 of at least 160 plaintiffs with pending claims related to the emissions. The Buzbee Law Firm intends to ask the court to select 10 more plaintiffs for trial as soon as possible.

Trial evidence showed that more than 100 people, including the 10 trial plaintiffs, were sent by BP to hospitals for medical treatment after the emissions. Hospital records confirmed the toxic exposure.

At trial, BP repeatedly denied that a leak had occurred. The company then claimed that the leak came from another source. However, BP could not identify the source, or explain why no other energy facilities in the area experienced emissions problems. Also, the company "suggested to the press that the entire incident may be a hoax by 'disgruntled workers,'" according to the workers' complaint. Trial testimony from industry experts confirmed that a leak did occur.

Also, the jury heard evidence that:

-- In the five years before the trial, more than 500 releases, spills,
leaks, and odor events have occurred at the refinery.
-- More than 45 unlawful pollutant emissions occurred at the refinery
during this same time period.
-- According to BP's former Fire Chief, the refinery averages one fire
per week.
-- An average of 200 leaks occur each year in valves, pumps, and
connectors at the refinery.
-- About 70 percent of the "odor events" at the refinery are either not
investigated by or not sourced by BP.
-- In recent months, BP was cited for hundreds of "willful and egregious"
federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
violations related to process safety deficiencies at the refinery.



In trial, the judge presented the jury with a series of instructions and questions - including whether punitive damages should be awarded. The instructions stated that, if the jury found that "BP's conduct was so shocking and offensive as to justify an award of punitive damage," it should consider making such an award.

Tony Buzbee, the lead trial attorney for seven of the 10 trial plaintiffs, said, "After disparaging the claims of workers at the Texas City refinery, BP then rejected the verdict of a federal jury. This was a jury of sensible people with no ties to the workers or to BP. They were shocked and offended by BP's conduct. We hope the court's entry of this judgment will force BP to finally improve workplace safety at the Texas City refinery. Far too many workers have been killed or injured there through the years. BP employees and contractors deserve much better."

The judgment request includes $325,536 in actual damages, which the jury awarded the 10 trial plaintiffs, plus $14,184 in prejudgment interest and the $100 million in punitive damages.

The case is "Garner, et al., v. BP Products North America, Inc.," Civil Action No. G-07-221, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Galveston Division.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

FDA Warns Public of Continued Extortion Scam by FDA Impersonators

/PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning the public about criminals posing as FDA special agents and other law enforcement personnel as part of an international extortion scam.

The criminals call the victims -- who in most cases previously purchased drugs over the Internet or via "telepharmacies" -- and identify themselves as FDA special agents or other law enforcement officials. The criminals inform the victims that purchasing drugs over the Internet or the telephone is illegal, and that law enforcement action will be pursued unless a fine or fee ranging from $100 to $250,000 is paid. Victims often also have fraudulent transactions placed against their credit cards.

The criminals always request the money be sent by wire transfer to a designated location, usually in the Dominican Republic. If victims refuse to send money, they are often threatened with a search of their property, arrest, deportation, physical harm, or incarceration.

"Impersonating an FDA official is a violation of federal law," said Michael Chappell, the FDA's acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. "The public should note that no FDA official will ever contact a consumer by phone demanding money or any other form of payment."

FDA special agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect criminal fines. Only a court can take such action, with fines payable to the U.S. Treasury.

Anyone receiving a telephone call from a person purporting to be an FDA or other law enforcement official who is seeking money to settle a law enforcement action for the illegal purchase of drugs over the Internet should refuse the demand and call the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations Metro Washington Field Office at (800) 521-5783 to report the crime.

In addition to posing as FDA officials, criminals have posed as special agents of the DEA, FBI, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Customs Service as well as U.S. and Dominican prosecutors and judges. In response, the FDA, in conjunction with various federal, state, and local agencies, is actively pursing criminal charges.

The FDA also reminds consumers to use caution when purchasing prescription drugs over the telephone or the Internet. In addition to the increased risk of purchasing unsafe and ineffective drugs from Web sites operating outside the law, there is the danger that personal data can be compromised. For more on FDA's concerns about unlawful drug sales on the Internet, see http://www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline/faqs.html.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

ACLU's Attention to Rights Should Include Gun Rights, Says CCRKBA

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington has vowed to monitor legislative reaction to three different police shootings in Washington State to make sure the proposals do not ultimately violate people's rights if they become law.

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms today reminds the ACLU that the right to keep and bear arms is a constitutionally-protected right, and demands the same protection from legislative abuse as any other civil right.

"While our thoughts and prayers remain with the families of those officers who have been murdered in recent weeks," noted CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb, "we share the ACLU's concern that the legislature's reaction may be to clamp down on the rights of law-abiding citizens, as well as the rights of criminal suspects, without actually accomplishing anything."

Washington ACLU spokesman Doug Honig was quoted by the Associated Press observing, "Our concern would be measures that are proposals that sound tough, but in practice won't do much to make us safer, but will restrict people's rights."

"That's what gun owners have been saying for years about restrictive gun control measures that don't reduce crime," Gottlieb stated. "Already, some lawmakers are using these police shootings to advance their personal anti-gun agenda, calling for legislation to ban firearms that were not even used in any of the recent incidents. We also expect an attack on gun shows. It's flash-without-substance political exploitation, and nothing more.

"When the time comes to fight these insidious proposals," he concluded, "we will be delighted if the ACLU joins in that battle. A civil right is a civil right, and gun prohibitionists in the Legislature need to recognize that. Gun owners are through taking the rap for crimes committed by ex-cons and neighborhood thugs. We will no longer suffer for the misbehavior of people who should not be on the streets in the first place."

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Fewer Teens Smoking, But More Teens Chewing Tobacco

/PRNewswire/ -- New data announced in today's Monitoring the Future study shows that while teen smoking rates are continuing their slow decline, an old threat has once again emerged - the use of smokeless tobacco. The study found that among 8th, 10th and 12th graders - all groups surveyed each year by the study - teen smoking rates among 8th and 12th graders continued to trend downward, while daily smoking amongst 10th graders crept upwards (5.9% in 2008 to 6.3% in 2009). Perhaps more concerning is the slight increase in daily smokeless tobacco use amongst 10th graders (now up to 1.9% in 2009 from 1.4 in 2008) and 12th graders (now 2.9 in 2009 up from 2.7 in 2008). Public health experts had predicted this increase in response to the tobacco industry's wide-ranging and aggressively marketed smokeless products now widely available.

The report, now in its 35th year, is the most respected source for data about youth smoking. In light of the findings in today's report, more needs to be done to reduce tobacco consumption writ large among the nation's youth. Also reported in today's announcement:

-- The perceived risk of using smokeless tobacco products has decreased
in all grades as has disapproval of smokeless products amongst 8th and
10th graders - a troubling trend indicating teens are not aware of the
harm smokeless products can cause and that they are a viable
alternative to cigarette smoking.
-- Teens prefer to date peers who do not smoke - 81.3% in 8th grade,
79.9% in 10th grade and 74.9% in 12th grade. This indicates that
social norms surrounding smoking continue to shift.



Legacy, the national public health foundation devoted to keeping young people from smoking and helping all smokers quit, has been committed to finding new ways to reach and engage with the teen audience, with the ultimate goal of reducing youth smoking prevalence. This is especially important as the tobacco industry continues to successfully market its products and addict new smokers.

The public health community, doctors and parents must work together to foster a continued rate of decline. The Master Settlement Agreement reached in 1998 between attorneys general from 46 states, five US territories and the tobacco industry provided our country with a unique opportunity - and with focused funding -- to address youth smoking and help smokers who want to quit.

About eighty percent of all smokers have their first cigarette before age 18(1), and every day 1,500 youth become daily smokers(2). These daily smokers will continue down a path of tobacco-related diseases and will incur higher healthcare costs than nonsmoking Americans. Funding youth smoking-prevention efforts could prevent these ill effects.

On heels of today's study release, the "Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 11 Years Later" report released last week by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and other leading public health groups, found that despite two sources of revenue -- funding provided through the Master Settlement Agreement and funding from taxes placed on tobacco -- states are spending just 2.3 percent of revenue from tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

The Monitoring the Future study has concluded that mass media campaigns can reduce smoking, especially when combined with other tobacco control strategies. However, youth smoking prevention campaigns sponsored by the tobacco industry have been ineffective and may actually have increased youth smoking.

The foundation's truth(R) youth smoking prevention campaign is a national effort that delivers facts and messages to teens about tobacco, but avoids giving directive statements telling youths not to smoke. Research has indicated that in the first four years of the campaign, 18 percent of the overall decline in youth smoking was directly attributable to truth(R). As the only organization directing a national media campaign for youth smoking prevention - other than the tobacco industry - it is critical that funding continues to grow for efforts like the truth(R) campaign and state-specific smoking prevention campaigns.

Legacy(SM) is dedicated to building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Located in Washington, D.C., the national public health organization helps Americans live longer, healthier lives. Legacy develops programs that address the health effects of tobacco use, especially among vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by the toll of tobacco, through grants, technical assistance and training, partnerships, youth activism, and counter-marketing and grassroots marketing campaigns. The foundation's programs include truth(R), a national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as having contributed to significant declines in youth smoking; EX(R), an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. The American Legacy Foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. Visit www.legacyforhealth.org

(1) Mowery PD, Brick PD, Farrelly MC. Legacy First Look Report 3. Pathways to Established Smoking: Results from the 1999 National Youth Tobacco Survey. Washington DC: American Legacy Foundation. October 2000.

(2) MMWR. 1998. Decline Selected Cigarette Smoking Initiation and Quitting Behaviors Among High School Students. 47(19):386-389.

Toxic Chemical bisphenol A Still Not Banned By FDA; Schumer, Gillibrand Call for Ban; Govt Official Warns Public

/PRNewswire/ -- Environmental health advocates hope that U.S. FDA will make its promised announcement about health hazards of bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic sex hormone linked to cancer, behavioral changes, reproductive harm and other illnesses, in time for Christmas.

Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, staff scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council: "Just as you rely on your doctor for medical advice, FDA must rely on the advice of scientific experts. Dozens of independent scientists, including the Director of NIEHS, have recommended avoiding BPA exposure. FDA should heed their guidance and ban BPA in food packaging."

Janet Nudelman, Breast Cancer Fund: "Scientific evidence shows there's no safe level of BPA exposure. The FDA should immediately ban BPA in polycarbonate food containers and require labeling of cans containing BPA."

Urvashi Rangan, PhD, toxicologist with Consumers Union, whose recent study revealing BPA in canned foods was cited by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand: "Consumers can't know how much BPA is in any can of food. The current safety limit for BPA is outdated, using traditional toxicology that doesn't apply to BPA and other endocrine disruptors. BPA has demonstrated adverse effects at very low doses."

"Restrictions on BPA are in place in Connecticut, Minnesota, Chicago, three New York counties, and legislation has been introduced in 21 states," according to Sarah Uhl from Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut.

Bobbi Chase Wilding of Clean New York is pregnant: "Women of child bearing age and babies are put in danger because this toxic chemical is in products we use. Recent studies find BPA in the bodies of pregnant women and health care providers. FDA must protect us and not delay."

Mike Schade, Center for Health, Environment & Justice. says, "Some local and state governments have banned sales of BPA-contaminated products, and retailers are taking them off their shelves. The FDA needs to act now."

"As we celebrate the Christmas season, we are reminded of Jesus' commitment to those in poverty. We hope that the FDA will take measures to ensure that canned food is BPA-free through the use of safe alternatives in the future," says Chloe Schwabe from the National Council of Churches.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Buyers Steer Clear Of Cashed-In Clunkers

(NAPSI)-Nearly 700,000 used cars were traded in and sent to be scrapped under the federal Car Allowance Rebate System, or "Cash for Clunkers." But how many of those autos actually made it to the scrap yard? Experts say it could pay for used car buyers to ask just that.

Some now warn that although it is illegal to resell any car traded in under the Cash for Clunkers program, many of the used cars that were supposedly scrapped may in fact be resold around the country.

Protecting Yourself

Fortunately, there are ways for car buyers to protect themselves. For instance, working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Carfax recently added the vehicle identification number (VIN) of every car included in the Cash for Clunkers program to its database.

The information is available for free at www.carfax.com/clunkers. After plugging in the 17-digit VIN, the free check alerts buyers and sellers to any vehicle that was supposed to be scrapped as part of the initiative. The company's vehicle history reports also include the clunker information in addition to other important facts about a car's past--facts that a seller may be unaware of or choose not to reveal. Carfax Reports can indicate if a car was in a flood, fire or wreck or if its odometer may have been illegally rolled back.

It's also smart for shoppers to give a car a visual inspection and have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic before they buy. A few things to look for:

•Make sure the seller's name and the vehicle identification number matches on all documents and the car itself.

•Be aware of malfunctioning air bag indicator lights. The light should turn on briefly when you start the engine and then turn off.

•Cracked wires or interior rust; cars that were once under water will rot from the inside out. Wet wires become brittle and metal bolts and brackets will start rusting when they dry out.

Learn More

For more information on the Cash for Clunkers program and guidelines, visit www.cars.gov. For more information on vehicle history reports, visit www.carfax.com.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Dangerous Contraceptive Drug Yaz and Yasmine Raise Serious Health Risks

Some women may have sustained serious injury after taking contraceptives under the names "Yaz" "Yasmin" or "Ocella." Use of the drug may cause strokes, heart attacks, DVT (blood clots in legs), Pulmonary Embolism (blood clots in lungs, and dehydration, leading to kidney stones or gall bladder disease.

What is Yaz?
Yasmin and Yaz are contraceptive drugs produced by Bayer Healthcare. Yasmin and Yaz are known as "fourth generation" combination oral birth control drugs because they contain a combination of the hormones estrogen (ethinyl estradiol) and progestin (drospirenone). Yasmin was approved for use in the United States in 2001, while Yaz, a lower dose version, was approved for use in 2006. It is marketed under the name Ocella as a generic brand. The difference between Yaz and Yasmine is in the amount of the estrogen component, ethinyl estradiol. Yasmin contains 30 mcg ethinyl estradiol, while Yaz contains a lower dose of 20 mcg. This contraceptive is one of the most popular contraceptives and has been heavily marketed to women throughout the United States promoting its use in treating premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Why is Yaz dangerous?
There are several reasons.

Dehydration. This key ingredient Drospirenone may cause dehydration and then increase potassium levels in the blood, which, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), can be dangerous. Dehydration can lead to kidney stones and gallbladder disease.

Heart Problems. Potassium acts as a critical control in cardiac rhythm. Because of that, this imbalance can cause heart rhythm disturbances. This process can result in a stroke, heart attack, the formation of blood clots, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism, and even death.

Blood clot conditions including DVT and Pulmonary Embolism are serious Yaz side effect reported by women using this fourth-generation birth control pill. Many women with no family history of blood clots have suffered from life threatening injuries involving clots. The type of hormones in birth control pills can increase the risk of developing blood clots which can lead to serious problems especially if they are not diagnosed early.

After having a blood clot many women are then faced with life-changing side effects including being on blood thinners, pain in the area of the clot, and increased risk of developing another clot.

One of the more serious conditions reported by women who used Yaz or Yasmine are strokes. There are two main types of strokes: ischemic stroke (caused by blockage) and hemorrhagic stroke (caused by bleeding). Women who are otherwise healthy with no prior stroke problems have experienced a stroke where no other health issues exist. After having a stroke many women are then faced with life-changing side effects including permanent loss of movement, difficulty communicating and permanent loss of brain functions.

Quality Control. Recently, the FDA has taken action against Bayer to limit the drug's entry into the nation from Germany where it is manufactured citing serious quality control issues.

Has Bayer Properly Warned You About the Risks?
Bayer has also been cited by the FDA for overstating the benefits of Yaz and understating the risks in taking the contraceptive in its marketing of the drug. As part of an agreement with the FDA and more than two dozen state legal officials, Bayer was pressured into removing the ads, but is still marketing the drug with a new ad campaign which started early in 2009. "Those products were the company's top-selling pharmaceuticals last year, with global sales of $1.8 billion," according to The New York Times.

Article provided by Marcus & Mack

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Largest Environmental Bankruptcy in U.S. History Will Result in Payment of $1.79 Billion Towards Environmental Cleanup & Restoration

/PRNewswire/ -- As a result of the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history, $1.79 billion has been paid to fund environmental cleanup and restoration under a bankruptcy reorganization of American Smelting and Refining Company LLC (ASARCO), the Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture announced today.

ASARCO is a leading producer of copper and one of the largest nonferrous metal producers in the United States. It is based in Arizona and is responsible for sites around the country that are contaminated with hazardous waste.

The money from environmental settlements in the bankruptcy will be used to pay for past and future costs incurred by federal and state agencies at more than 80 sites contaminated by mining operations in 19 states. Those states are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

"The effort to recover this money was a collaborative and coordinated response by the states and federal government. Our combined efforts have resulted in the largest recovery of funds to pay for past and future clean up of hazardous materials in the nation's history. Today is a historic day for the environment and the people affected across the country," said Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli.

"Today's landmark enforcement settlement will provide almost one billion dollars to clean up polluted Superfund sites," said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This will mean cleaner land, water and air for communities across the country."

"This settlement exemplifies government at all levels working effectively for the American taxpayer to recover damages from polluters and restore and protect important national landscapes and significant wildlife resources that have been injured," said Interior Assistant Secretary Tom Strickland. "In consultation and collaboration with our state and tribal co-trustees, this money will be used exclusively to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of resources injured at more than a dozen sites where ASARCO operated and we have identified natural resource damage."

"I would like to thank the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA Office of General Counsel for their diligence in reaching this comprehensive settlement that will so benefit restoration of public lands," said Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief for the National Forest System, U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture. "This settlement provides significant resources to address land restoration from past mining activities on National Forest System lands in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington."

Under the terms of the plan, all allowed claims were paid in full along with interest. Funds were distributed as follows:

-- The United States received approximately $776 million which will be
distributed in accordance with the underlying settlements to address
over 35 different sites;
-- The Coeur d'Alene Work Trust was paid $436 million;
-- The three custodial trusts--which address the owned but not operating
properties of ASARCO and involve a total of 13 states and 24 sites -
were paid a cumulative total of approximately $261 million; and
-- Payments totaling in excess of $321 million were paid to 14 different
states to fund environmental settlement obligations at over 36
individual sites.


In total, the payment will address environmental cleanup and restoration at more than 80 sites around the country. Much of the money paid to the United States will be placed in special accounts in the Superfund to be used by EPA to pay for future cleanup work. It will also be placed into accounts at the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to pay for natural resource restoration.

ASARCO filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code on Aug. 9, 2005. American Smelting and Refining Company or ASARCO has operated for nearly 110 years--first as a holding company for diverse smelting, refining, and mining operations throughout the United States and now as the Arizona-based integrated copper-mining, smelting, and refining company.

By the time it filed for bankruptcy, ASARCO's core operating assets were limited to certain operations in the states of Arizona and Texas. However, it continued to own numerous non-operating properties that were highly contaminated and was subject to environmental claims at sites that were not owned by the company.

In August 2009, following lengthy litigation, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas held a two-week hearing on competing plans of reorganization for ASARCO that would allow the company to be purchased out of bankruptcy. During this hearing, two competing plans emerged that proposed to pay creditors in full with interest.

On Aug. 31, 2009, Judge Richard Schmidt of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi issued a recommendation to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to confirm the plan proposed by ASARCO's parent company--a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville accepted Judge Schmidt's recommendation and confirmed Grupo Mexico's plan on Nov. 13, 2009.

On Dec. 9, 2009, Grupo Mexico met its funding obligations and the plan was consummated. Additionally, the environmental payment and property transfer obligations outlined in the numerous settlement agreements, which had been approved by the Bankruptcy Court over the course of the litigation, were complied with.

The full payment of environmental claims, plus interest, will facilitate the cleanup of contamination and restoration of natural resources at numerous sites across the country. The reorganized company remains liable for environmental liabilities at the properties that it will continue to own and operate.

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Toxic Chemicals in Bodies Report From Centers for Disease Control: Environmental Health Advocates Respond

/PRNewswire/ -- The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) expected to be released today by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is on the right track with a focus on testing people's bodies for chemical contamination, say environmental health advocates working on chemical exposure issues.

According to Pamela K. Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, "While we are very relieved the CDC is stepping up its focus on chemical exposure with important monitoring of toxics in people's bodies, we'd like them to collect data to reflect geographic location in order to assess regional exposure patterns." In Alaska, Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) - chemicals that can take many years to break down - drift North on wind and water and impact Indigenous people. Alaska has one of the highest rates of birth defects in the nation. Some scientists believe that the gender imbalance of more girls being born than boys in the Arctic is due in part to exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals that drift North.

Sharyle Patton, program director at Commonweal, says, "CDC should make individual results available to those they have tested. As the European Union begins its pilot biomonitoring study, it will be making plans to do just this, given EU legal support for the right to know. In the interests of transparency and access, and as leaders in national biomonitoring programs, surely we can do the same."

Margaret Reeves, Ph.D., senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America, who works with farmworker and rural communities says, "It is necessary for CDC to link time of year of specimen collection and the occupations of those tested to see patterns with pesticide applications and other exposures."

Peter Orris, MD, MPH, Professor and Chief of Service, Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center welcomes the report as important: "I would hope that CDC will continue to collect information and will also look at intergenerational comparisons to help protect women of child bearing age from those chemicals that may damage the developing fetus."

"Biomonitoring studies provide direct evidence that people are exposed to harmful chemicals, and these studies should be linked with policy actions to reduce and prevent exposures," according to Davis Baltz, M.S., a Senior Associate working on chemical policy issues with Commonweal.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Federal Court Rules Massive Wind Energy Project in Violation of Endangered Species Act

/PRNewswire/ -- Federal district court Judge Roger Titus of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland has issued a comprehensive ruling that an industrial wind energy facility in Greenbrier County, West Virginia will kill and injure endangered Indiana bats, in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The court concluded that "the development of wind energy can and should be encouraged, but wind turbines must be good neighbors." This is the first federal court ruling in the country finding a wind power project in violation of federal environmental law, and it highlights the critical importance of balancing the creation of renewable energy and protection of endangered wildlife species under the ESA.

The court recognized that "the two vital federal policies at issue in this case are not necessarily in conflict" because defendants Invenergy and Beech Ridge Energy could have sought a permit under the ESA which would "allow their project to proceed in harmony with the goal of avoidance of harm to endangered species." The ESA provides for the issuance of permits that authorize projects in endangered species habitat, but only when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service attaches strict and enforceable conditions designed to minimize the impact on imperiled species.

In finding a violation of the ESA, the court held, based on extensive expert testimony and other evidence, "that, like death and taxes, there is a virtual certainty that Indiana bats will be harmed, wounded, or killed imminently by the Beech Ridge Project in violation of ... the ESA, during the spring, summer, and fall." Accordingly, the court held "that the only avenue available to Defendants to resolve the self-imposed plight in which they now find themselves is to do belatedly that which they should have done long ago: apply for a permit" under the ESA.

In holding that the project is "certain to imminently harm, kill, or wound Indiana bats," the court relied heavily on testimony by leading bat biologists Dr. Thomas Kunz of Boston University, Dr. Michael Gannon of Penn State, and Dr. Lynn Robbins of Missouri State University. Dr. Kunz - whom the court has described as the "leading expert in the field of bat ecology in the United States" - testified that the project will not only kill endangered Indiana bats, but may kill more than a quarter of a million bats overall, including species already being decimated by threats such as the devastating disease known as white-nose syndrome.

Plaintiffs in the case - the Animal Welfare Institute, Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, and caving enthusiast Dave Cowan - applauded the court's ruling.

"As this nation embraces renewable energy which all of the plaintiffs support, it is critical that such projects be undertaken consistent with federal law to ensure that our rush to develop a green energy future doesn't jeopardize imperiled species," said D.J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute. "In this decision, the court sends an unequivocal message that the 'green energy' label does not exempt wind power from compliance with federal laws protecting wildlife and the environment," added William Eubanks, an attorney with Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal which represented plaintiffs in this case. "Indeed, other wind power companies are complying with the ESA permitting process, the Congressionally mandated vehicle for minimizing harm to listed species."

The court enjoined the construction of any additional wind turbines and prohibited the operation of all existing turbines between April 1 and November 15 until an Incidental Take Permit is obtained. Operating the existing turbines between November 16 and March 31 is not likely to impact Indiana bats since they hibernate during the winter months. Per an earlier agreement between the parties and the court, 40 of the 122 planned wind turbines have been erected to date, and those are generally farthest from known winter populations of Indiana bats.

"We do not oppose responsible development of renewable energy projects be they wind farms, solar farms, or tidal energy projects but there must be independent federal regulation of these project to avoid unintentional consequences to protected species," said John Stroud, spokesperson for Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy. "This court has made clear to Beech Ridge and its parent company, Invenergy, that the ESA has teeth, that the Indiana bat will be harmed by this project, and that these companies don't get a free pass to violate the ESA," said Dave Cowan, an avid spelunker who has explored many of West Virginia's caves.

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New Report: States Cut Funding for Tobacco Prevention Programs Despite Receiving Record Amounts of Tobacco Revenue

Georgia ranks 50th in the nation on the amount of dollars spent on tobacco use prevention.

/PRNewswire/ -- The states are collecting record amounts of revenue from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but have cut funding for programs to reduce tobacco use by more than 15 percent in the past year, according to a report released today by a coalition of public health organizations.

With the nation's adult smoking rate stalled after decades of decline, the report warns that continued progress is at risk unless states significantly increase funding for programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. The report also calls on Congress to ensure that health care reform legislation includes adequate funding for disease prevention initiatives, including tobacco prevention and cessation, and mandates coverage in Medicaid and other health insurance programs for smoking cessation medication and counseling.

The report, titled "A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 11 Years Later," was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. These organizations have issued annual reports assessing whether the states have kept their promise to use funds from the state tobacco settlements - estimated to total $246 billion over the first 25 years - to fight tobacco use. The states also collect billions more each year from tobacco taxes.

Key findings of this year's report include:

-- The states this year (Fiscal Year 2010) will collect $25.1 billion in
revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but are
spending just 2.3 percent of it - $567.5 million - on tobacco
prevention and cessation programs (the states also receive $62 million
in federal grants for tobacco prevention, for total funding of $629.5
million). With more states expected to increase tobacco taxes in the
coming year, that revenue figure is certain to increase.
-- In the past year, states have cut funding for tobacco prevention by
$103.4 million, or 15.4 percent. Including cuts approved just last
week, New York made the largest cut - $25.2 million, or 31 percent -
despite having a successful program that has reduced smoking to well
below national rates. Other states with large cuts include Colorado,
Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington.
-- Only one state - North Dakota - currently funds a tobacco prevention
program at the level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC). Only nine other states fund tobacco
prevention at even half the CDC-recommended level, while 31 states and
DC provide less than a quarter of the recommended funding.
-- Tobacco companies spend $20 to market tobacco products for every one
dollar the states spend to fight tobacco use. According to the latest
data from the Federal Trade Commission, tobacco companies spend $12.8
billion a year on marketing.


The report comes as recent surveys have found that smoking declines in the United States have slowed and even stalled. The CDC in November reported that the adult smoking rate in 2008 was 20.6 percent - essentially unchanged since 2004 when 20.9 percent smoked. While smoking among high school students has declined by 45 percent from a high of 36.4 percent in 1997, 20 percent of high schoolers still smoke and declines have slowed in recent years.

"To continue reducing tobacco use, elected officials at all levels must resist complacency and redouble efforts to implement proven strategies," said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Despite their current budget challenges, the states lack excuses for failing to do more. They are collecting record amounts of tobacco money, more of which should be used to fight the tobacco problem. And there is overwhelming evidence that tobacco prevention programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, they also save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. Those states that make short-sighted decisions to cut tobacco prevention will pay a steep price in lives and dollars."

"The inadequate funding of tobacco prevention and cessation programs is a powerful example of misplaced priorities in our nation's health care system," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "We spend too much on treating people after they get sick and too little on keeping them healthy in the first place. Investing more in proven tobacco prevention programs and policies, like smoke-free restaurants and workplaces, will help people lead healthier lives and reduce health care costs."

"There is absolutely no question that the devastating toll and financial burden of tobacco use is a huge drain on our nation's economy and contributor to spiraling health care costs," said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. "It's a travesty that only a small fraction of tobacco settlement funds is actually being used to support tobacco prevention programs in states. If we allow this to continue, how can we expect to ever realize the true potential of settlement dollars to save lives and improve the physical and economic health of this country."

"Fully funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs stop addiction before it starts and improve the health of our nation's communities," said John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society. "States must do better at funding programs that help reduce tobacco use and protect the health of children, 3,500 of whom try their first cigarette every day."

"As more states are turning to tobacco taxes to help during these difficult economic times, states need to spend a portion of the revenue on tobacco prevention and control programs - especially those programs to help smokers quit," said Charles D. Connor, American Lung Association President and CEO. "Increasing tobacco taxes is a proven and effective way to reduce the number of adults and youth who smoke, but as they make tobacco products more expensive states also have a responsibility to ensure that the nearly 46 million smokers in this country have the help they need to quit."

The report cites conclusive evidence that tobacco prevention and cessation programs work to reduce smoking, save lives and save money. Maine, which has long had one of the best-funded programs, has reduced smoking by 71 percent among middle school students and by 64 percent among high school students since 1997. Washington state, before cutting its program by 42 percent this year, reduced adult smoking by 30 percent and youth smoking by 50. An August 2008 study found that California's tobacco control program, the nation's longest-running, saved $86 billion in health care costs in its first 15 years, compared to $1.8 billion spent on the program, for a return on investment of nearly 50:1.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 400,000 people and costing $96 billion in health care bills each year. Every day, another 1,000 kids become regular smokers - one-third of them will die prematurely as a result.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Aggravated...

Has anyone else noticed how the food industry is shorting us? I know times are tough and they're doing what they need to do to stay afloat in many cases, but grrrrrrrr....

What am I talking about?

My frozen egg muffin company has cut the piece of cheese (small though it already was) in half. The price of the package is still the same, I just get less cheese per sandwhich. I know because I eat them often enough and always break the frozen cheese in half and put it on each side of the egg before nuking. Now there's not enough for one side.

I grabbed a couple of the drinks I regularly buy out of the fridge the other day. I probably wouldn't have noticed for a while if I hadn't taken two out, but one was 16 oz (the latest batch I bought) and the other was 20 oz. Same look, same cost, smaller bottle. Now all of a sudden I'm only able to find the drinks in the 16 oz size. I checked my stash, bought over multiple visits to the store, to check to make sure I wasn't nuts. Nope, they've always been 20 oz drinks.

The frozen meatless sausage I always buy? Until the last package I purchased, it had six servings. Now there are five. They're shorting me two sausages. Again, if I didn't buy it regularly I wouldn't have noticed. The price has gone up on those, so now I'm only going to buy them when they're on sale. Course, that'll mean that pretty soon there will only be 4 servings in a package .

I think it's sneaky. I understand the reasoning behind the move, but it's still sneaky. Unless you're really watching, and buy the product often enough to be aware, your grocery costs are going up and yet the bill looks the same.

Anyone else noticing this new "trick"?

Monday, November 30, 2009

National Chicken Council Comment on Consumer Reports Article: 'Chicken Is Safe'

/PRNewswire/ -- The following is a comment from the National Chicken Council on the Consumer Reports article:

"Chicken is safe. Like all fresh foods, raw chicken may have some microorganisms present, but these are destroyed by the heat of normal cooking. Consumers are encouraged to follow the safe handling and cooking instructions printed on every package of fresh meat and poultry sold in this country.

"A much more comprehensive survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found Salmonella and Campylobacter on fewer raw chickens than Consumer Reports. More important is the fact that USDA found that the levels of microorganisms present are usually very low. Consumer Reports failed to perform this analysis. The USDA survey also showed that poultry processing greatly improves the microbiological profile of raw chickens. In fact, the industry does an excellent job in providing safe, wholesome food to American consumers."

The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FDA Seeks Permanent Injunction Against Sharkco Seafood International Inc.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking a permanent injunction against Sharkco Seafood International Inc., located in Venice, La. The injunction is intended to stop the seafood processing company from distributing scombrotoxin-forming fish in interstate commerce. Consumption of scombrotoxin-forming fish that are not properly preserved or refrigeratedcan result in scombroid food poisoning, a foodborne illness that results from eating spoiled or decayed fish. Scombrotoxin-forming fish most commonly include mackerel, sardines, tuna, bluefish, and mahi mahi.

The government’s complaint, filed today by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana charges Sharkco Seafood and its owners, Khai Q. Nguyen and Tuan Q. Nguyen, with violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by failing to establish and implement an adequate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan for their scombrotoxin-forming fish. FDA requires all seafood processors and distributors to have a HACCP plan that determines and monitors food safety hazards associated with their products.

“FDA repeatedly warned and tried to work with Sharkco Seafood,” said Michael Chappell, acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at FDA. “The company had ample time to take correction action, which it failed to do. An effective seafood HACCP plan is critical to safeguard the health of the American people. We will take prompt action against companies whose poor business practices could jeopardize the public health.”

According to the government’s complaint, FDA inspections showed that the defendants failed to have an adequate written HACCP plan for their scombrotoxin-forming fish operation, despite numerous warnings by FDA. The formation of scombrotoxin can be adequately controlled when fish are appropriately preserved or refrigerated. Once formed, however, scombrotoxin cannot be removed or destroyed by washing, freezing, or cooking the affected fish.

No illnesses have been associated with Sharkco Seafood’s scombrotoxin-forming fish products. The company produces other seafood products, which are not affected by this action.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Tamiflu Overdose? Consequences?

From time to time over the last few months, we seem to stumble across children who were given the wrong dosage of Tamiflu. Are there long lasting adverse side effects to this?

Read the heart wrenching story of this young child who was given an adult dose of Tamiflu--- and then see what you think.

If anyone else has a similar experience, please contact Olivia's mom directly....

Tamiflu Overdose

Olivia was given 2.5 times the children's dose of Tamiflu. Since that time, she has developed neurological problems. In addition, the patient information sheet with the Tamiflu has also been revised.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Study raises concerns about outdoor second-hand smoke

Indoor smoking bans have forced smokers at bars and restaurants onto outdoor patios, but a new University of Georgia study in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that these outdoor smoking areas might be creating a new health hazard.

The study, thought to be the first to assess levels of a nicotine byproduct known as cotinine in nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke outdoors, found levels up to 162 percent greater than in the control group. The results appear in the November issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

“Indoor smoking bans have helped to create more of these outdoor environments where people are exposed to secondhand smoke,” said study co-author Luke Naeher, associate professor in the UGA College of Public Health. “We know from our previous study that there are measurable airborne levels of secondhand smoke in these environments, and we know from this study that we can measure internal exposure.

“Secondhand smoke contains several known carcinogens and the current thinking is that there is no safe level of exposure,” he added. “So the levels that we are seeing are a potential public health issue.”

Athens-Clarke County, Ga., enacted an indoor smoking ban in 2005, providing Naeher and his colleagues and ideal environment for their study. The team recruited 20 non-smoking adults and placed them in one of three environments: outside bars, outside restaurants and, for the control group, outside the UGA main library. Immediately before and after the six-hour study period, the volunteers gave a saliva sample that was tested for levels of cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine and a commonly used marker of tobacco exposure.

The team found an average increase in cotinine of 162 percent for the volunteers stationed at outdoor seating and standing areas at bars, a 102 percent increase for those outside of restaurants and a 16 percent increase for the control group near the library.

Naeher acknowledges that an exposure of six-hours is greater than what an average patron would experience but said that employees can be exposed for even longer periods.

“Anyone who works in that environment—waitresses, waiters or bouncers—may be there for up to six hours or longer,” Naeher said. “Across the country, a large number of people are occupationally exposed to second-hand smoke in this way.”

Studies that measured health outcomes following indoor smoking bans have credited the bans with lowering rates of heart attacks and respiratory illness, but Naeher said that the health impacts of outdoor second-hand smoke are still unknown.

In Naeher’s study, cotinine levels in the volunteers at the bar setting saw their levels increase from an average pre-exposure level of 0.069 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter) to an average post-exposure level of 0.182 ng/ml. The maximum value observed, however, was 0.959 ng/ml. To put that number into context, a widely cited study has determined that an average cotinine level of 0.4 ng/ml increases lung cancer deaths by 1 for every 1,000 people and increases heart disease deaths by 1 for every 100 people.

Still, the researchers caution that it’s too early to draw policy conclusions from their findings. Cotinine is a marker of exposure to tobacco, Naeher said, but is not a carcinogen. The team is currently planning a study that would measure levels of a molecule known as NNAL, which is a marker of tobacco exposure and a known carcinogen, in people exposed to second-hand smoke outdoors.

“Our study suggests that there is reason to be concerned about second-hand smoke levels outdoors,” said study co-author Gideon St. Helen, who is pursuing his Ph.D. through the university’s Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program, “and our findings are an incentive for us to do further studies to see what the effects of those levels are.”

The study was funded by the Northeast (Georgia) Health District, the Athens (Georgia) Community Wellness Council and the Athens Tobacco Prevention Coalition.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Healthy Oceans Can Help Save Us From Climate Change

/PRNewswire/ -- A large international coalition today urged the United States to support marine conservation options that will help mitigate climate change.

The 'Blue Climate Coalition,' comprised of sixty-six conservation groups and interests and over 150 marine scientists and professionals, from 33 countries, issued communications today addressed to President Obama and the United States Senate.

Together, the coalition letters request the option for marine conservation solutions to climate change to be considered in national climate change legislation and international climate change treaties, and support for marine science research that further explores this concept.

Eminent oceanographer and conservationist, Dr. Sylvia Earle, endorsed the letters as the first scientist to sign-on. In her latest book, 'The World Is Blue,' Earle reveals how dangerous oceanic change threatens the very existence of life on Earth and argues for renewable strategies that safeguard the natural systems that sustain us.

News of the coalition's effort made its way to Hollywood, and to the notice of Gilles Marini, most recently of 'Sex and the City' and 'Dancing With the Stars.' Gilles signed the letters as a supporter of healthy oceans.

Philippe, Jr., and Alexandra Cousteau, grandchildren of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, signed-on, representing their respective conservation organizations EchoEarth International and Blue Legacy International.

A wide range of interests were represented in the coalition letters: environmental conservation, climate change education and advocacy, ecosystem restoration, the dive industry, ecotourism and sustainable travel, carbon offsetting, fishing, and scientific research.

Scientific Backing

The coalition's message is supported by reports released recently by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). UNEP's 'Blue Carbon' report highlights the carbon storage potential of coastal and marine ecosystems, such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, and saltwater marsh lands.

The UNEP report found that the restoration of coastal and marine ecosystems and a reduction in the clearcutting of tropical forests could mitigate anthropogenic carbon emissions by up to 25%.

The IUCN report, titled 'The Ocean and Climate Change,' finds that failure to recognize the ocean in climate change discussions will have profound consequences for humanity. The report also recommends for additional research to quantify the carbon value of ocean ecosystems. This recommendation is echoed in the coalition letters, to ensure full scientific backing any future natural ocean carbon policies.

"Utilizing the natural carbon functions of both the green and blue biospheres of our planet is an option that we simply cannot afford to ignore if we are serious about tackling climate change and making the transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy," said Mark J. Spalding, President of The Ocean Foundation and signatory to the coalition letters.

The Urgency of Action

"The United States will play a crucial role in next month's climate change discussions in Copenhagen," said Steven J. Lutz, Executive Director of Blue Climate Solutions, the group that organized the letters. "We are asking the United States to show global leadership by advancing solutions for climate change that involve coastal and marine conservation. Many U.S. federal and state agencies are already pursuing actions that could be considered climate mitigation, such as the restoration of coastal and estuarine habitats. These actions need to be continued and encouraged."

Recognizing the carbon value of healthy coastal and marine ecosystems may be significant for achieving consensus at the Copenhagen negotiations. The health of coastal ocean ecosystems is a critical issue for many developing countries, especially small island developing states. The need to restore the ocean's natural carbon function could help direct billions of dollars towards conservation efforts, while simultaneously supporting local economies and countering the threat of climate change throughout the globe.

Economic stimulus associated with restoring the ocean's natural carbon function include funding and investment for activities such as improving water quality, ecosystem restoration, coastal surveying, and the innovation of new environmental monitoring and restoration technologies.

"Restoring the ocean's natural ocean carbon function is proposed as an alternative to potentially harmful ocean geo-engineering schemes recently discussed in Congress," said Lutz. "Restoration activities that naturally fix carbon in to forms other than dissolved carbon will also not increase ocean acidification."

Environmental co-benefits associated with natural ocean carbon solutions include renewed and sustainable fisheries, the conservation of endangered marine species and birds, and the restoration of certain coastal ecosystems. Mangrove forests are considered essential habitat for many fish species, and healthy seagrass meadows are indispensable for endangered sea turtles and manatees.

"Sea turtle hatchlings need healthy coastal and marine ecosystems in order to survive," said Lutz. "It just so happens that we also need the same healthy ocean ecosystems to survive on this blue planet."

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Smoking Causes Blindness

/PRNewswire/ -- AMD Alliance International strongly urges all smokers to participate in the Great American Smokeout on November 19 to save their eyes and protect their vision from the debilitating effects of macular degeneration.

Research has demonstrated that age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a progressive disease that causes the loss of central vision, is two to three times as frequent among tobacco smokers, and the risk is dose dependent(1, 2). In other words, the more you smoke, the greater the risk and the faster the progression of the disease. For patients with certain genetic backgrounds, regular heavy smoking can increase the risk of AMD a stunning 144-fold(3).

AMD is the leading cause of blindness among those older than 50.

"We salute the American Cancer Society and its efforts on behalf of the Great American Smokeout," said David Herman, Chairman of the global AMD Alliance International. "And we add vision loss to the list of significant and debilitating health risks that are caused by smoking. If you quit today, you can immediately begin lowering your risk of losing your sight to macular degeneration."

In addition to quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, AMD Alliance International recommends regular visits to the eye doctor to check for onset of macular degeneration.

For more information about how to prevent, treat and manage AMD, please visit AMD Alliance International at www.amdalliance.org.

Notes:

1) Seddon JM et al. A prospective study of cigarette smoking and age-related macular degeneration in women. JAMA 1996 Oct 9 276 1141-1146.

2) Christen WG et al. A prospective study of cigarette smoking and risk of age-related macular degeneration in men. JAMA 1996 Oct 9 276 1147-1151.

3) DeAngelis, Margaret M. et al. Cigarette Smoking, CFH, APOE, ELOVL4, and Risk of Neovascular Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Archives of Ophthalmology January 2007 125 49-54.

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New Report Reveals Dramatic Rise in Pesticide Use on Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops Due to the Spread of Resistant Weeds

/PRNewswire/ -- Genetically engineered (GE) corn, soybeans and cotton have increased use of weed-killing herbicides -- a type of pesticide -- by 383 million pounds in the U.S. from 1996 to 2008, according to a new Organic Center report titled "Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years" announced today by The Organic Center (TOC), the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS). In addition, GE corn and cotton have reduced insecticide use by 64 million pounds, resulting in an overall increase of 318 million pounds of pesticides over the first 13 years of commercial use.

Based upon data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), report author Dr. Charles Benbrook presents compelling evidence linking the increase in pesticide use on GE, "herbicide-tolerant" (HT) crops to the emergence and spread of herbicide-resistant weeds. This report comes at a time when farmers are increasingly critical of GE crops because of drastically rising biotech seed prices and increasingly resistant weeds.

The agricultural biotechnology industry claims that the much higher costs of GE seeds are justified by multiple benefits to farmers, including decreased spending on pesticides. The price of GE seeds has risen precipitously in recent years, and the need to make additional herbicide applications in an effort to keep up with resistant weeds is also increasing cash production costs. As an example, corn farmers planting "SmartStax" hybrids in 2010 will spend around $124 per acre for seed, almost three times the cost of conventional corn seed. In addition, new-generation "Roundup Ready" (RR) 2 soybean seed, to be introduced on a widespread basis next year, will cost 42 percent more than the original RR seeds they are displacing.

"The drastic increase in pesticide use with genetically engineered crops is due primarily to the rapid emergence of weeds resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide," said Dr. Charles Benbrook, report author and chief scientist of The Organic Center. "With glyphosate-resistant weeds now infesting millions of acres, farmers face rising costs coupled with sometimes major yield losses, and the environmental impact of weed management systems will surely rise."

Today's report refutes industry's assertions that its crops have reduced pesticide use. Last April, UCS released a report that found engineered crops have largely failed to increase crop yields, despite the industry's consistent claims to the contrary. "Dr. Benbrook's work shows that the overall chemical footprint of today's engineered crops is massive and growing," said Dr. Margaret Mellon, food and environment program director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "That growth in pesticide use has important implications for farmers' bottom lines, public health and the health of the environment."

"This report confirms what we've been saying for years," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety. "The most common type of genetically engineered crops promotes increased use of pesticides, an epidemic of resistant weeds, and more chemical residues in our foods. This may be profitable for the biotech/pesticide companies, but it's bad news for farmers, human health and the environment."

Industry claims that GE crops are benefitting the environment ignore the impacts of the 300+ million additional pounds of pesticides required over the period covered by this study, as well as growing reliance by farmers on high-risk herbicides including 2,4-D and paraquat. In addition to the environmental harm, a report released earlier this year by TOC demonstrated that exposure to pesticides is linked to increased risk of reproductive abnormalities, birth defects and neurological problems.

The analytical work required to complete this report was funded by a coalition of non-governmental organizations including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Food Safety, the Cornerstone Campaign, Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, Greenpeace International and Rural Advancement Fund International USA.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Holiday plants best for looking pretty, not eating

University of Georgia horticulturalist Paul Thomas can’t think of any common gift plants that are necessarily poisonous -- most of the poisonous plants are those cut for Christmas decorations. He can, however, think of one that will light a child’s or pet’s mouth on fire.

Ornamental peppers sold around the holidays come in merry white and Christmas red. And these, he said, are usually bred from some of the hottest peppers on the market.

“They can be, and often are, flaming, wish-you-were-dead hot,” Thomas said.

Peppers can add interest to a table or garden area. But, anyone who has children should purchase them with caution.

“Keep in mind, if you decided to go with ornamental peppers, that they’re not going to kill a child, but you’re going to have a very unhappy baby or child if they eat them,” Thomas said. “They’re not going to understand they bit into a hot pepper. They’re just going to panic.”

The best solution, as with any plant, is to keep them out of the reach of children.

Poisonous plants

Parents and others who may have children over for the holidays should watch out for a few plants commonly used as decoration that are poisonous. These include amaryllis, calla lilies, English ivy, mistletoe, holly, juniper, lantana and yew, according to the UGA Extension publication “Poisonous Plants in the Landscape”.

Poisonous parts include:
• Amaryllis – the bulbs and seeds
• Calla lily – all parts
• English ivy – leaves, stem and fruit
• Holly – berries
• Juniper – berry-like seeds
• Lantana – fruit
• Mistletoe – berries
• Yew – berries and foliage

“The term poisonous does not imply that the plant is fatal,” said Gary Wade, a UGA Extension horticulturist. “Some plants may be only mildly toxic and may cause stomach ache or mild irritation of the mouth and throat when ingested.”

Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to poison, he said. Keep an eye on what children, especially babies, are chewing on, and keep them away from plants.

In case of a poison emergency or to get poison information, always keep the Georgia Poison Center number near your telephone. They can be contacted at (800) 222-1222 or (404) 616-9000. For general information, visit their Web site at www.georgiapoisoncenter.org.

If a poisoning occurs and the person is having trouble breathing, experiencing seizures or won’t wake up, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Pretty poinsettias

Poinsettias, despite their reputation, aren’t poisonous, Thomas said.

“They won’t even make a cat, dog or a child sick if they do eat a leaf or get sap on their skin,” Thomas said.

Some people will itch when they come in contact with poinsettias. This is because they’re having an allergic reaction to the latex found in the plants.

Poinsettia sap can be irritating if it gets in the eyes or on sensitive skin. If this happens, wash the affected area immediately with water.

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

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Friday, November 13, 2009

FDA Statement on Vibrio Vulnificus in Raw Oysters

/PRNewswire/ -- Several weeks ago, the FDA announced its intent to change, by summer 2011, its policy regarding the post-harvest processing of raw Gulf Coast oysters harvested in the warmer months. The intent of this change in policy, which would affect about 25% of the total annual harvest, would be to substantially reduce the number of Americans who suffer severe and painful illness and death from the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. The FDA's announced change in policy was modeled on a successful California initiative that was implemented in 2003.

As a public health agency, the FDA is committed to identifying reasonable and workable approaches to reduce unnecessary suffering and death from preventable causes. The FDA staff work every day with state and local counterparts around the country to stop outbreaks of all types of infectious disease. Illnesses from bacteria like Vibrio vulnificus are particularly important to prevent because they can cause loss of skin, kidney failure, amputations, excruciating pain, and death.

Since making its initial announcement, the FDA has heard from Gulf Coast oyster harvesters, state officials, and elected representatives from across the region about the feasibility of implementing post-harvest processing or other equivalent controls by the summer of 2011. These are legitimate concerns.

It is clear to the FDA from our discussions to date that there is a need to further examine both the process and timing for large and small oyster harvesters to gain access to processing facilities or equivalent controls in order to address this important public health goal. Therefore, before proceeding, we will conduct an independent study to assess how post-harvest processing or other equivalent controls can be feasibly implemented in the Gulf Coast in the fastest, safest and most economical way.

While this study is ongoing, the FDA will continue to reach out to state authorities and the Gulf Coast industry to discuss their concerns about the agency's policy and measures the industry is pursuing to make oysters safer. The FDA is committed to assisting local farmers in the implementation of post-harvest processing through all possible means.

The agency looks forward to working with Gulf Coast officials and industry to accomplish the goal of protecting consumers from Vibrio vulnificus in a manner that is feasible and minimizes impacts on the oyster industry.

Some actions that the FDA will undertake over the next weeks and months include:

#1. Continuing to discuss future collaboration with the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference to address Vibrio vulnificus in the region, including discussing the scope of needed studies, and meeting with the Board in March 2010.

#2. Working in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the FDA will offer technical assistance to facilitate implementation of post-harvest processing or equally effective alternatives, including:

1. Validation of processing parameters that can be applied to post-harvest
processes to achieve non-detectable levels of Vibrio vulnificus, while
also preserving acceptable taste and texture, and ensuring that this
information is in the public domain so that all processors can use it.
2. Studying alternatives to post-harvest processing, including off-shore
relaying in which oysters are harvested and moved to salty waters where
the high salinity kills Vibrio vulnificus.
3. Providing technical assistance to firms in development of their
post-harvest processing processes and HACCP plans.


#3. The FDA will work with other federal agencies, such as the USDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Department of Commerce to review what types of grants and other forms of economic assistance may be available to support establishment of processing cooperatives or other mechanisms to ensure widespread access to post-harvest processing facilities.

#4. As USTR and the oyster industry work to foster wider access to international markets that are now closed because of concerns about Vibrio vulnificus, FDA's new approach should provide public health and science data to support the safety of these products for human consumption in the U.S. and abroad.

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FDA To Look Into Safety of Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages

The Food and Drug Administration today notified nearly 30 manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages that it intends to look into the safety and legality of their products.

“The increasing popularity of consumption of caffeinated alcoholic beverages by college students and reports of potential health and safety issues necessitates that we look seriously at the scientific evidence as soon as possible,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs.

Of the combined use of caffeine and alcohol among U.S. college students in the few studies on this topic, the prevalence was as high as 26 percent.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, a substance added intentionally to food (such as caffeine in alcoholic beverages) is deemed “unsafe” and is unlawful unless its particular use has been approved by FDA regulation, the substance is subject to a prior sanction, or the substance is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). FDA has not approved the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages and thus such beverages can be lawfully marketed only if their use is subject to a prior sanction or is GRAS. For a substance to be GRAS, there must be evidence of its safety at the levels used and a basis to conclude that this evidence is generally known and accepted by qualified experts.

The FDA alerted manufacturers to the fact that the agency is considering whether caffeine can lawfully be added to alcoholic beverages. The FDA noted that it is unaware of the basis upon which manufacturers may have concluded that the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages is GRAS or prior sanctioned. To date, the FDA has only approved caffeine as an additive for use in soft drinks in concentrations of no greater than 200 parts per million. It has not approved caffeine for use at any level in alcoholic beverages.

The FDA requested that, within 30 days, the companies produce evidence of their rationale, with supporting data and information, for concluding that the use of caffeine in their product is GRAS or prior sanctioned. FDA's letter informed each company that if FDA determines that the use of caffeine in the firm's alcoholic beverages is not GRAS or prior sanctioned, FDA will take appropriate action to ensure that the products are removed from the marketplace.

In the past year, Anheuser-Busch and Miller agreed to discontinue their popular caffeinated alcoholic beverages, Tilt and Bud Extra and Sparks, and agreed to not produce any caffeinated alcoholic beverages in the future.

The federal agency with primary responsibility for regulating alcoholic beverages, the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, requires that alcoholic beverages contain only ingredients that satisfy FDA's requirements for use.

In late September, the FDA received a letter from 18 Attorneys General and one city attorney expressing concerns about caffeinated alcoholic beverages.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poll Finds Americans Very Concerned About Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

/PRNewswire/ -- A poll conducted in August by Lake Research Partners found Americans very concerned with how chemicals are regulated for consumer use in the U.S. The findings come as overhaul of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) will be introduced soon in both Houses of Congress.

Voters are concerned that, under TSCA, chemicals in existence prior to 1976 were grandfathered in to be used and produced in the U.S. without testing or regulation. (87 percent were somewhat or very concerned). Eighty percent of voters were concerned that the EPA was unsuccessful in banning asbestos under current law. Eighty-four percent were concerned that the EPA has mandated testing of barely 200 out of the over 80,000 on the market since 1976.

"Voters across almost all demographic and political groups said that regulations on chemicals were not strong enough," said pollster Celinda Lake. "People definitely are not confident about how chemicals are currently regulated, but they're ready to give the EPA authority to protect consumers."

Hundreds of recent scientific studies associate chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, which are used in baby bottles, pacifiers, canned foods and toys, with a variety of chronic diseases, including diabetes, asthma, increased risk of certain types of cancer and infertility.

"The public is aware of a growing body of science linking common chemicals to chronic diseases and they're waking up to the fact that the existing law isn't working," says Andy Igrejas, director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. "Americans are doing their best to shop smart, but we can't protect our families without help, and without strong reforms to put common sense limits on toxic chemicals."

Majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans say they would support legislation that would take toxic chemicals off the market if they have been detected in babies at birth or in infants, and exposure to other known toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, that have been extensively studied, will be reduced to the maximum extent possible.

The poll was commissioned by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. The poll was conducted among 1,000 registered voters nationwide Aug. 25 to 31, 2009. More detailed poll results available at www.saferchemicals.org.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

FDA Warns Consumers on Sexual Enhancement Products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers that Stiff Nights, a product marketed as a dietary supplement for sexual enhancement, contains an ingredient that can dangerously lower blood pressure and is illegal.

Over the past several years, the FDA has found many products marketed as "dietary supplements" for sexual enhancement that contain undeclared active ingredients of FDA-approved drugs, analogs of approved drugs and other compounds that do not qualify as “dietary ingredients.” The FDA has issued multiple alerts about these contaminated dietary supplements.

Consumers and health care professionals should be aware of this problem and the health hazard it presents. Sexual enhancement products that claim to work as well as prescription products are likely to contain a contaminant. Use of such products exposes consumers to unpredictable risk and the potential for injury or even death.

In the case of Stiff Nights, following a consumer complaint, the FDA determined that the product contains sulfoaildenafil. This is a chemical similar to sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. Sulfoaildenafil may interact with prescription drugs known as nitrates, including nitroglycerin, and cause dangerously low blood pressure.

The product is distributed on Internet sites and at retail stores by Impulsaria LLC of Grand Rapids, Mich. It is sold in bottles containing 6, 12, or 30 red capsules or in blister packs containing one or two capsules.

"Because this product is labeled as an ‘all natural dietary supplement,’ consumers may assume it is harmless and poses no health risk," said Deborah M. Autor, director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Office of Compliance. "In fact, this product is illegally marketed and can cause serious complications.”

The FDA advises consumers who have experienced any adverse events from sexual enhancement products to consult a health care professional. Consumers and health care professionals should report adverse events to the FDA's MedWatch program at 800-FDA-1088 or online at www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm

The FDA remains committed to stopping the illegal marketing of unapproved drugs and will continue to protect the public with vigorous law enforcement and criminal prosecution of violators.

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Public Weighs in With Nearly 100,000 Comments for Grand Canyon Protection

/PRNewswire/ -- After nearly 100,000 members of the public called for protecting the Grand Canyon from mining, a Pew Environment Group ad (http://www.pewminingreform.org/pdf/WishAd.pdf) today urged Congress to support legislation that would permanently ban new mining claims on public lands surrounding the park. Under the antiquated mining law of 1872, more than one thousand uranium mining claims have been staked just outside park boundaries.

H.R. 644, authored by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), chair of the House National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, would protect approximately one million acres of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims. The bill would make permanent a moratorium on claim staking called for in July by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

As the initial public comment period for the Department of Interior's environmental review of the withdrawal proposal ended October 30, 98,355 messages had been received in support. Called for by Grijalva and Representative Nick Rahall (D-WVA), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, along with Pew and other conservation groups, the withdrawal is a response to federal data that show thousands of mining claims within five miles of Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Arches and other national parks.

"Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have recognized that the Grand Canyon, America's national icon, must be preserved for future generations to enjoy," said Jane Danowitz, director of Pew Environment Group's public lands program. "Now it's time for Congress to safeguard the Grand Canyon from threats posed by the 1872 mining law and permanently protect this natural wonder."

Roughly five million people from around the world visit the Grand Canyon each year. The Colorado River, which has shaped the canyon's dramatic twists and turns, is an important source of water for more than 25 million people downstream. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Southern Nevada Water Authority have both raised concerns about uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

Hardrock mining is responsible for the largest toxic releases in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The 1872 law allows corporations and individuals "free and open access" to more than 350 million acres of public lands across the West, resulting in $1 billion annually of gold, uranium and other metals mined from public lands without payment of a royalty, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Toxic BPA Contamination - Groups Support Consumers Union Call for FDA Protection From BPA in Canned Food

/PRNewswire/ -- In response to Consumer Reports' new report on contamination of canned food products with the synthetic sex hormone bisphenol A (BPA), the Breast Cancer Fund, Clean Water Action, Clean New York, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oregon Toxics Alliance and other environmental health advocates support Consumers Union's call for FDA to immediately act to protect consumers from BPA.

BPA is linked to neurological, endocrine and reproductive health effects, breast cancer and other serious health problems.

"Consumer Reports' results are sobering, and confirm what we already know: Americans are exposed to toxic BPA every day through canned food," said Janet Nudelman at the Breast Cancer Fund. "A synthetic estrogen linked to breast cancer should not be in our food, period. It's well past time to ban BPA from food and beverage containers."

Bobbi Chase Wilding of Clean New York says, "Consumers should not have to read scientific journals to determine what is safe when shopping for their families. FDA needs to step up and step in."

Mike Schade from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice adds, "We know there are companies that want to do the right thing. Wal-Mart, Target, Babies R Us, Nalgene, CamelBak and others have been working provide their customers with safer, BPA-free products -- the products consumers want. The time has come for the food industry to follow suit."

The product testing found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contain measurable levels of bisphenol A (BPA). Results are in the December 2009 issue and are available free online at www.ConsumerReports.org

Consumers Union sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg requesting that it move this year to ban the use of BPA in food- and beverage-contact materials.

Congress is currently considering legislation that would ban the use of BPA in all food and beverage containers.

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Community Pharmacists Report Supply Shortages, Insurance Red Tape in Growing Fight against H1N1 Flu

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Community pharmacists have stepped up to meet the shortage of Tamiflu by compounding doses for children suffering from the H1N1 flu virus, but they are struggling with supply problems and insurance plans, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association.

Tamiflu’s manufacturer, Roche, asked pharmacists to compound the medicine until supplies improve. The time-intensive process involves extracting powder from capsules, calculating the quantity of medicine, and mixing the right amount with liquid, such as cherry syrup, to produce a suspension with the appropriate prescribed strength for young children.

Over a recent 48-hour period, 80 community pharmacists from around the country told NCPA about their experiences compounding Tamiflu. Nearly half (48%) reported preparing 25 or more suspension compounds since Sept. 1. Virtually all (97%) experienced difficulty in obtaining commercial Tamiflu suspension and many (48%) said the same about Tamiflu capsules, consistent with a front-page story in The Washington Post.

Most prescription coverage is administered by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and 61% of pharmacists surveyed had difficulty adjudicating claims with them for compounded Tamiflu. Most commonly mentioned were the big three – CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, Inc. and Medco Health Solutions, Inc. – but nearly every PBM was identified as a source of difficulty.

Experts advise starting antiviral treatment as quickly as possible. But one pharmacist said, “We had several children that are ‘covered’ by the federal employee [health benefits] program [administered by CVS Caremark] and were told that this compound requires prior authorization which can take from 24 to 72 hours to obtain.”

“Compounding has long been a specialty of independent community pharmacists, and they’re working overtime against H1N1,” said NCPA Executive Vice President and CEO Bruce T. Roberts, RPh. “They’ve helped countless children and won the gratitude of just as many parents.”

“Unfortunately, this is harder than it should be,” Roberts added. “We hope insurance plans and PBMs will reexamine their claims processes to ensure kids get relief as quickly as possible.”

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