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"?