Archive for the ‘health’ Category
Health, healthcare, science of food, and related topics
And the slow, sad decline of the Wall Street Journal continues under Rupert Murchoch’s helm. Today’s edition of Punditry Gone Wrong is via an OpEd from noted policy expert Suzanne Somers.
Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine writes:
Reminder: This appeared in The Wall Street Journal.
In addition to offering her “down and dirty” advice for retirees, Somers has strong views on socialism:
And then there is another consideration: It’s the dark underbelly of the Affordable Care Act reminiscent of what Lenin and Churchill both said. Lenin: “Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state.” Churchill: “Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens.”
Unsurprisingly, Lenin never said that line — it’s a decades-old right-wing fabrication. The more curious line is the Churchill quote. It’s almost certainly fake, too; it does not appear in the LexisNexis database or in Google. Unless Somers has done original archival work on Churchill, she seems to have fabricated that quote on her own, or possibly received it via chain e-mail.
But the more interesting question is what does Somers think it means? Does she believe Churchill was warning the world of the dangers of a national health-care system? If so, that’s weird, because he strongly favored such a system. Given the latter, is she holding up Churchill as another European despot who, like Lenin, sought to impose universal health care on his citizens? Somers’s side-by-side listing of Churchill with Lenin, along with Churchill’s actual support for nationalized health care, makes the latter more plausible.
(click here to continue reading Suzanne Somers’s Strong WSJ Obamacare Critique — Daily Intelligencer.)
News You Can’t Use
Philip Bump of the Atlantic adds:
Her argument bounces around a bit, but centers on three things. First: Canadian health care doesn’t work and Canadian doctors want to come to the United States because “they want to reap financial rewards.” Second: Pre-existing condition coverage is good for seniors, but nothing else is. And, third: Lenin and Churchill saw health care as a tool to control the public.
The Canadian stuff is based mostly on an anecdote. That her sister-in-law had to wait to see a doctor is sad! But an old Maclean’s article isn’t terribly compelling, nor would be the idea that Canadian doctors want to come to America to make money. That’s the whole point! Doctors here have far fewer limitations on their ability to make money, which is one factor in increasing health care costs. If you were told you could make way more money doing the same thing somewhere else, you might move, too. That doesn’t mean you’re doing bad work where you are. Regardless, Somers’ claim is not true.
As for the elderly, Somers is very concerned about their health coverage, though in generally vague ways. She acknowledges the value of covering preexisting conditions, but then segues into “let’s get down and dirty; the word ‘affordable’ is a misnomer.” Why? Because premiums are “doubling and tripling” as you “hear on the news” and “most frightening of all, your most intimate and personal information is now up for grabs.” In this case, “the news” probably means Hannity, and “personal information” means … no idea. No idea what that means. She of course misses the whole point about pre-existing conditions: yes, premiums for some people with pre-existing conditions will go up — since many pay no premiums, since they can’t get coverage. And that’s good for kids with cancer just as it is for the elderly.
(click here to continue reading Having Conquered Cellulite, Suzanne Somers Takes On Obamacare – Philip Bump – The Atlantic Wire.)
update: apparently, Mr. Murdoch’s fact checker army had been furloughed, but are now back in the office. The WSJ appended this to the bottom of the story later on today:
CORRECTIONS AND AMPLIFICATIONS:
An earlier version of this post contained a quotation attributed to Lenin (“Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state”) that has been widely disputed. And it included a quotation attributed to Churchill (“Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens“) that the Journal has been unable to confirm.
Also, the cover of a Maclean’s magazine issue in 2008 showed a picture of a dog on an examining table with the headline “Your Dog Can Get Better Health Care Than You.” An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the photo showed and headline referred to a horse.
(click here to continue reading Suzanne Somers: The Affordable Care Act Is a Socialist Ponzi Scheme – The Experts – WSJ.)
News that won’t make Big Pharma happy…
Exercise is as effective as drugs at preventing diabetes and repeat heart attacks, and it is potentially better than medication for averting additional strokes, according to an analysis published Tuesday.
“Exercise is a potent strategy to save and extend life in coronary heart disease and other conditions,” said Mr. Naci, who also is a graduate student at the London School of Economics. “We think exercise can be considered or should be considered as a viable alternative or in combination with drug therapy.”
The study, published Tuesday in the British medical journal BMJ, analyzed data from published reviews of randomized clinical trials related to four health conditions—Type 2 diabetes, repeat heart attacks, repeat strokes and heart failure. About 14,700 participants were put on exercise programs and 324,000 were given medications across 305 trials after they had already suffered an event like a heart attack or stroke, or had some signs of heart failure or of developing a condition like diabetes.
The results showed that in three of the four conditions studied, exercise was as effective as, or possibly more effective than, drug treatments. This wasn’t the case for heart failure, a progressive weakening of the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of body. For this condition, some drugs like angiotensin converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitors appeared to be more effective than exercise in preventing death.
(click here to continue reading Exercise as Good as Drugs at Preventing Repeat Heart Attack – WSJ.com.)
Selling America pills is a lot more lucrative than educating Americans about healthy living. If we really wanted to make a difference, we’d ban the use of automobiles in urban centers with large populations – force people to walk more, or bike, whatever. Never gonna happen…
Jon Hilkevitch of the Chicago Tribune reports:
The Divvy bike-share service, less than two months old, surpassed the 150,000-trip mark Friday, according to CDOT. About 5,000 annual Divvy members are enrolled, at $75 each, and more than 37,000 24-hour passes have been sold, at $7 each.
More than 458,000 total miles have been logged on individual trips since the service was introduced June 28, and the trips have averaged roughly 18 minutes each in recent days as more docking stations have opened, according to city transportation data.
Also, the three-speed bikes painted “Chicago blue” have logged more than 11,000 miles a day in recent days this month, with some weekend days exceeding 25,000 miles, the data show, based on the start and end points for each trip.
The service, dubbed Divvy to reflect the divide-and-share nature of bike-sharing, is not designed or priced for users to hog the bikes on leisurely, hourslong trips. Customers are supposed to use the bikes for 30 minutes or less on each ride. Riders get unlimited trips lasting up to a half-hour; after that, overtime fees are charged.
While on the one hand calling the public response to the Divvy program “beyond expectations,” city officials have set a high bar for ultimate success.
(click here to continue reading Divvy bike-sharing program, almost 2 months old, getting in gear, data show – chicagotribune.com.)
I signed my company up for Divvy Bike membership about two weeks ago, wanting to wait until the opening night jitters were worked out, and have been using the bikes for short trips around my office. I’ve taken more than ten rides so far, experiencing only one incident of faulty station – but a Divvy Bikes employee was on hand and took my bike to a different location for me. Also once the station I was planning to use didn’t have any bikes in it, but the next station was less than 2 blocks away. One other minor issue I encountered was that the amount of force you have to use when docking a bike surprised me, and at first I couldn’t get the bike to dock, but eventually a fellow Divvy-rider did it for me. I returned to favor to another rider the next day.
I own a bike of my own, but having a Divvy bike membership encourages brief bike rides; times where I might have taken a cab, or walked, instead I’ll jump on a Divvy bike. Of course, it’s summer right now, and Chicago has been having a beautifully mild season, the real test will be in mid-January. I’d also like to be able to travel farther, this will be possible when more stations are installed. Currently only 160 out of a planned 400 are active, less than half.
Regardless, I’m happy to support the idea of more bikes in Chicago. More bikes on the road means less cars, in general, and also encourages the government to install more bike lanes, which encourages more bikers, and so on.
Welcome to the 21st century, Illinois…
Though Illinois is drastically restricting what medical conditions and under what conditions a patient can legally have the herb, nonetheless, this is progress from the Bad Old Days when Mayor Richard J. Daley’s thugs beat people with billy clubs for smoking a joint.
But unlike Colorado, which has come under fire for lax marijuana regulations even as the state gets ready to legalize recreational pot use next year, drafters of Illinois’ law say it will be among the toughest in the nation.
Patients here can’t grow their own pot and must have an existing relationship with a prescribing doctor. To qualify, patients must be diagnosed with a serious to chronic illness laid out in the law, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma or HIV. It’s likely that patients would have to pay out of pocket for marijuana, as it is not typically covered by insurance companies.
The Illinois Department of Public Health will be in charge of issuing medical marijuana cards to patients and their caregivers, who could purchase and administer pot on behalf of those who are ill. Patients and caregivers would be fingerprinted, undergo background checks and must promise not to sell or give away marijuana. Workers at grow centers and dispensaries will undergo the same vetting.
The state will license 22 growers, one for each State Police district, as well as up to 60 dispensing centers to be spread across the state. Exactly where those growers and sellers could locate will be up to state regulators. Local communities could enforce strict zoning laws, but they could not prevent a grower or dispensary from setting up shop in town.
Growers and dispensaries will be charged a 7 percent “privilege tax,” which will be used to enforce the medical marijuana law. Patients will be charged a 1 percent tax for purchasing pot, the same rate that applies to pharmaceuticals. Additionally, growers and dispensaries would be banned from donating to political campaigns.
Marijuana use would be banned in public, in vehicles, around minors and near school grounds. Property owners would have the ability to ban marijuana use on their grounds. Employers would maintain their rights to a drug-free work place, meaning someone with a valid medical marijuana card could be fired for using the drug if their employer prohibits it.
Advocates argue that Illinois’ law is drafted tightly enough to prevent intervention from the federal government, which classifies all marijuana use as illegal. But the discrepancy between state and national law is already causing concerns for some military veterans, as federally run veterans hospitals say their doctors won’t issue prescriptions for illegal drugs.
(click here to continue reading Illinois governor to sign medical marijuana bill today – chicagotribune.com.)
and the qualifying medical conditions are currently listed as:
“Debilitating medical condition” means one or more of the following:
- (1) cancer,
- positive status for human
- immunodeficiency virus,
- acquired immune deficiency syndrome,
- hepatitis C,
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,
- Crohn’s disease,
- agitation of Alzheimer’s disease,
- cachexia/wasting syndrome,
- muscular dystrophy,
- severe fibromyalgia,
- spinal cord disease, including but not limited to arachnoiditis,
- Tarlov cysts,
- Rheumatoid arthritis,
- fibrous dysplasia,
- spinal cord injury,
- traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome,
- Multiple Sclerosis,
- Arnold-Chiari malformation and Syringomyelia,
- Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA),
- Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy,
- RSD (Complex Regional Pain Syndromes Type I),
- CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndromes Type II),
- Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy,
- Sjogren’s syndrome,
- Interstitial Cystitis,
- Myasthenia Gravis,
- nail-patella syndrome,
- or the treatment of these conditions; or
(2) any other debilitating medical condition or its treatment that is added by the Department of Public Health
by rule as provided in Section 45.
(click here to continue reading HB0001ham001 98TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY.)
Welcome to the 21st century, Illinois! Of course, there won’t be a place like Venice Beach anywhere in Chicago, at least for a few years…
Illinois has come within a signature of becoming the 19th state to allow marijuana use for medical purposes.
On Friday, the state Senate voted 35-21 to approve a medical marijuana measure, which now will head for Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have decriminalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes. California did so in 1996, when the state’s voters approved Proposition 215.
(click here to continue reading Illinois Senate approves bill to legalize medical marijuana – chicagotribune.com.)
Keith Richards – Drug Free America
And the details:
Under the proposal, a four-year trial program would be created to allow doctors to prescribe patients no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. To qualify, patients must have one of 42 serious or chronic conditions listed in the bill — including cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and HIV — and an established relationship with a doctor.
They would undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check and would be issued a registration ID card. Marijuana use would be banned in public, in vehicles, around minors and near school grounds. Property owners would have the ability to ban marijuana use on their grounds.
Patients could not legally grow marijuana, and would have to buy it from one of 60 dispensing centers across Illinois. The state would license 22 growers, one for every state police district.
If Pat Quinn wants to be re-elected, he should sign this bill quickly.
This seems like a logical point: cooking food you select from a grocery store or farmers’ market is better for you than purchasing pre-cooked food, for a myriad of reasons. Luckily for me, I like to cook; I enjoy the creativity of the act of melding carrots, peppers and lentils, and so on. I’m also lucky that I have a kitchen in my office, as I am able to prepare lunch too.
[Michael Pollan] says: “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”
When you cook, you choose the ingredients: “And you’re going to use higher-quality ingredients than whoever’s making your home-meal replacement would ever use. You’re not going to use additives. So the quality of the food will automatically be better.
“You’re also not going to cook much junk. I love French fries, but how often are you going to cook them? It’s too hard and messy. But when they’re made at the industrial scale, you can have French fries three times a day. So there’s something in the very nature of home cooking that keeps us from getting into trouble.”
“We do find time for activities we value, like surfing the Internet or exercising,” says Pollan. “The problem is we’re not valuing cooking enough. Who do you want cooking your food, a corporation or a human being? Cooking isn’t like fixing your car or other things it makes sense to outsource. Cooking links us to nature, it links us to our bodies. It’s too important to our well-being to outsource.”
And yet Big Food has convinced most of us: “No one has to cook! We’ve got it covered.” This began 100 years ago, but it picked up steam in the ’70s, when Big Food made it seem progressive, even “feminist,” not to cook. Pollan reminded me of KFC’s brilliant ad campaign, which sold a bucket of fried chicken with the slogan “Women’s Liberation.”
(click here to continue reading Michael Pollan Cooks! – NYTimes.com.)
Tangentially related, based on the amount of national news based in Boston, I wanted to make a cocktail called Ward 8, supposedly of Boston origin. However, most recipes called for grenadine. Ewww. As Wikipedia so primly puts it:
As grenadine is subject to minimal regulation, its basic flavor profile can alternatively be obtained from a mixture of blackcurrant juice and other fruit juices with the blackcurrant flavor dominating. To reduce production costs however, the food industry has widely replaced fruit bases with artificial ingredients. The Mott’s brand “Rose’s”, by far the most common grenadine brand in the United States, is presently formulated using (in order of concentration): high fructose corn syrup, water, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, FD&C Red #40, natural and artificial flavors, and FD&C Blue #1.
(click here to continue reading Grenadine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
That doesn’t sound like a real ingredient to me. I’ll have to look for some actual pomegranate syrup to use in the future. I went instead with Rye, lemon juice and a splash of Cointreau. Not a Ward 8, but whatcha gonna do?
Lion’s Pride Organic Rye Whiskey
Yummy, arsenic and lead! Gotta love our toxic society.
Analysis of commercially available rice imported into the US has revealed it contains levels of lead far higher than regulations suggest are safe.
Some samples exceeded the “provisional total tolerable intake” (PTTI) set by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by a factor of 120.
The report at the American Chemical Society Meeting adds to the already well-known issue of arsenic in rice.
The FDA told the BBC it would review the research (eventually).
Dr Tsanangurayi Tongesayi of Monmouth University in New Jersey, US, and his team have tested a number of imported brands of rice bought from local shops.
The US imports about 7% of its rice, and the team sampled packaged rice from Bhutan, Italy, China, Taiwan, India, Israel, the Czech Republic and Thailand – which accounts for 65% of US imports.
The team measured the lead levels in each country-category and calculated the lead intake on the basis of daily consumption. The results will be published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health (Part B).
“When we compared them, we realised that the daily exposure levels are much higher than those PTTIs,” said Dr Tongesayi.
“According to the FDA, they have to be more than 10 times the PTTI levels (to cause a health concern), and our values were two to 12 times higher than those 10 times,” he told BBC News.
“If you look through the scientific literature, especially on India and China, they irrigate their crops with raw sewage effluent and untreated industrial effluent,” he explained.
(click here to continue reading BBC News – US rice imports ‘contain harmful levels of lead’.)
So, when the FDA gets around to testing this, and confirming it, will the news make US headlines? Will the Agribusinesses that control our food supplies allow the FDA to do anything about it? Or will it fade into the background like the news that there is large amounts of arsenic in rice, and perchlorate in our lettuce, and yadda yadda. The Rapture is coming, yo.1
Two people died in China of the so-called bird flu, now that is a sensationalistic headline the US media can promote. Toxic food? Not so much.Footnotes:
- Not it isn’t, I’m being sarcastic! [↩]
A frequently repeated assertion by Social Security opponents is that Social Security was not designed for a population such as ours, with advances in medicine, yadda yadda.
Or as Dr. Krugman calls it, the Life Expectancy Zombie…
If we look at life expectancy statistics from the 1930s we might come to the conclusion that the Social Security program was designed in such a way that people would work for many years paying in taxes, but would not live long enough to collect benefits. Life expectancy at birth in 1930 was indeed only 58 for men and 62 for women, and the retirement age was 65. But life expectancy at birth in the early decades of the 20th century was low due mainly to high infant mortality, and someone who died as a child would never have worked and paid into Social Security. A more appropriate measure is probably life expectancy after attainment of adulthood.
As Table 1 shows, the majority of Americans who made it to adulthood could expect to live to 65, and those who did live to 65 could look forward to collecting benefits for many years into the future. So we can observe that for men, for example, almost 54% of the them could expect to live to age 65 if they survived to age 21, and men who attained age 65 could expect to collect Social Security benefits for almost 13 years (and the numbers are even higher for women).
Also, it should be noted that there were already 7.8 million Americans age 65 or older in 1935 (cf. Table 2), so there was a large and growing population of people who could receive Social Security. Indeed, the actuarial estimates used by the Committee on Economic Security (CES) in designing the Social Security program projected that there would be 8.3 million Americans age 65 or older by 1940 (when monthly benefits started). So Social Security was not designed in such a way that few people would collect the benefits.
(click here to continue reading Social Security History.)
The Ethicist, Chuck Klosterman, was asked
It was recently demonstrated by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs during the seven years when he won the Tour de France. During the same period, Armstrong started Livestrong, a cancer-support organization known for its ubiquitous yellow bracelets. Is the unethical nature of Lance’s doping offset by the fact that his Livestrong organization has touched many lives in a positive way? Is it even right to consider Livestrong in our ethical analysis of Armstrong’s doping? MYRIAH JAWORSKI, WASHINGTON
The specific ethical problem with Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs is debatable. What’s less debatable are the unethical extensions of that behavior, the treatment of his teammates and his willingness to perpetuate a conspiracy that willfully deceived his supporters. But that’s not really your inquiry. What you’re asking is how we’re supposed to weigh the many bad things Armstrong did against the very good charity he created.
This is ultimately a question about motive. A cynic might argue that even Armstrong’s involvement with Livestrong was self-serving, since its beneficence made people want to believe he was not lying about his own impropriety. Yet this is mere speculation. We don’t know Armstrong’s true motives, and we clearly can’t believe whatever he claims those motives were. All we can do is work with the accepted reality: Armstrong helped the lives of many cancer victims by being the most talented cheater within a sport where cheating is rampant. Now, does that positive conclusion “offset” the unethical exploits that allowed it to occur? I would say it does not. And I say this because they are too interdependent to isolate and judge. There is no right or wrong way to feel about Armstrong, but however you feel should be based on the totality of his career. Everything has to matter.
(click here to continue reading The Lance Armstrong Conundrum – NYTimes.com.)
Hmmm, Livestrong wouldn’t even exist without Lance Armstrong cheating and lying his way to multiple Tour de France titles, and yet…
What do you think? It isn’t a clear cut question as, for instance, continuing to support Susan G Komen For the Cure of Right Wing Women despite their clear political stance, or even for that matter, enjoying Alfred Hitchcock movies despite knowing he was probably an abusive, predatory man.
Full disclosure, I have never signed up for Livestrong, but I do use their online nutritional database periodically to look up information about food I am eating – it is a good resource.
I haven’t played Wii in a long time, in fact, our Wii isn’t even hooked up to a television at the moment. I want to play now, after reading this:
In the world of health care, Nintendo Wii golf is more than a high-tech toy. The video game has become a tool in physical, occupational and neurological rehabilitation.
“It really is helpful as an adjunct to what we do in physical therapy,” said Dean Beasley, the director of inpatient rehabilitation at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga. “It allows the patient to put into practical application what they’ve done in therapy and, in some cases, it helps them know if they could still play golf.”
Balance and movement are common concerns for those recovering from brain injuries or strokes. Others may be working to improve range of motion or gross motor coordination, like walking and lifting.
Although the treatment for each patient is different, Wii golf brings an element of pleasure into physical therapy, which is often abbreviated as P.T. and sometimes referred to by patients as “pain and torture.”
“If it’s something like golf that they previously enjoyed, the patients are more motivated to do it,” said Michaela St. Onge, an occupational therapist at Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle, Me. “They like it because it’s a change of pace from the normal exercises we give them in therapy.”
To play the game, a patient swings the Wii’s wireless hand-held motion-sensitive wand in front of animated screens that simulate holes on a course. Physical therapists have marveled at the ease in coaxing patients into movements that could have taken more time to achieve in the traditional manner. Patients may gain the ability to coordinate by pressing buttons on the wand and maintain balance while looking at the screen.
Two years ago, Aroostook’s inpatient and outpatient units added Wii Sports, which includes golf, baseball, bowling, boxing and tennis games.
(click here to continue reading Physical Therapists Use Wii Golf to Treat Patients – NYTimes.com.)
Yes, your couch, and chairs, and bed, and so on, is probably contributing to your mortality, and the ill health of your family and friends as well. The sad part is that the EPA is so toothless it cannot stop this travesty from happening. Occasionally, the EPA can regulate some toxic chemical, after enough people die from it, but never before.
Kudos to Dr. Arlene Blum for her diligence bringing the topic to our attention. Now the question is, what are we going to do about it?
Heather Stapleton, a Duke University chemist who conducted many of the best-known studies of flame retardants, notes that foam is full of air. “So every time somebody sits on it,” she says, “all the air that’s in the foam gets expelled into the environment.” Studies have found that young children, who often play on the floor and put toys in their mouths, can have three times the levels of flame retardants in their blood as their parents. Flame retardants can also pass from mother to child through the placenta and through breast milk.
The effects of that exposure may be hard to detect in individual children, but scientists can see them when they look across the population. Researchers from the Center for Children’s Environmental Health, at Columbia University, measured a class of flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, in the umbilical-cord blood of 210 New York women and then followed their children’s neurological development over time. They found that those with the highest levels of prenatal exposure to flame retardants scored an average of five points lower on I.Q. tests than the children with lower exposures, an impact similar to the effect of lead exposure in early life. “If you’re a kid who is at the low end of the I.Q. spectrum, five points can make the difference between being in a special-ed class or being able to graduate from high school,” says Julie Herbstman, the study’s author.
There are many flame retardants in use, the components of which are often closely held trade secrets. Some of the older ones, like the PBDEs, have been the subject of thousands of studies and have since been taken off the market (although many of us still have them in our furniture). Newer ones like Chemtura’s Firemaster 550 are just starting to be analyzed, even though it is now one of the most commonly used flame retardants in furniture.
Logic would suggest that any new chemical used in consumer products be demonstrably safer than a compound it replaces, particularly one taken off the market for reasons related to human health. But of the 84,000 industrial chemicals registered for use in the United States, only about 200 have been evaluated for human safety by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s because industrial chemicals are presumed safe unless proved otherwise, under the 1976 federal Toxic Substances Control Act.
When evidence begins to mount that a chemical endangers human health, manufacturers tend to withdraw it from the market and replace it with something whose effects — and often its ingredients — are unknown. The makeup of the flame retardant Firemaster 550, for instance, is considered a proprietary trade secret. At a recent conference, Stapleton discussed a small, unpublished study in which she fed female rats low doses of Firemaster 550. The exposed mothers’ offspring gained more weight, demonstrated more anxiety, hit puberty earlier and had abnormal reproductive cycles when compared with unexposed offspring — all signs that the chemical disrupts the endocrine system.
(click here to continue reading Arlene Blum’s Crusade Against Toxic Couches – NYTimes.com.)
the sad thing is: the fire retardant doesn’t even really help in a real-world fire:
That, after all, is the reason TB 117 exists — to keep people from dying when their couch catches on fire. “Deaths caused by furniture fires dropped from 1,400 in 1980 to 600 in 2004; a 57 percent reduction,” Chemtura wrote in response to my questions.
Three years ago, Blum contacted Babrauskas1 and invited him to attend a keynote address she was giving at a scientific meeting in Seattle. Afterward, they went on a hike. By the time the day was over, he had become her most potent ally in the battle against TB 117. It turned out that Babrauskas felt his study results had been distorted. He used a lot of flame retardants, he says, far more than anyone would ever put in a piece of furniture sold to consumers. “What I did not realize would happen is that the industry would take that data and try to misapply it to fire retardants in general,” he says.
In Babrauskas’s view, TB 117 is ineffective in preventing fires. The problem, he argues, is that the standard is based on applying a small flame to a bare piece of foam — a situation unlikely to happen in real life. “If you take a cigarette lighter and put it on a chair,” he says, “there’s no naked foam visible on that chair unless you live in a horrendous pigsty where people have torn apart their furniture.” In real life, before the flame gets to the foam, it has to ignite the fabric. Once the fabric catches fire, it becomes a sheet of flame that can easily overwhelm the fire-suppression properties of treated foam. In tests, TB 117 compliant chairs catch fire just as easily as ones that aren’t compliant — and they burn just as hot. “This is not speculation,” he says. “There were two series of tests that prove what I’m saying is correct.”
Before Blum met Babrauskas, the conventional wisdom was that the clash over flame retardants was a conflict between two competing public interests — the need to protect people from furniture fires and the need to protect them from toxic chemicals. But the more Blum studied the safety benefits of flame retardants, the more elusive their benefits seemed to be.
and the lobbyists for the chemical industries took a page from the tobacco companies, and dug in for a long battle against consumers, and health in the name of profits:
California Senate Bill 147, which would have directed the Bureau of Home Furnishings to develop fire-safety standards for furniture that does not require flame retardants, something along the lines of a yet-to-be-adopted federal standard developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that tests whether furniture ignites when exposed to a smoldering cigarette. (Focusing on the entire piece of furniture, rather than the foam, allows manufacturers to use nonchemical solutions like barriers and less-flammable fabrics.) The bill had what seemed like a bulletproof array of supporters — dozens of organizations representing health officers, firefighters, furniture makers and environmental groups. Only three people spoke against it; all three had been compensated by Citizens for Fire Safety. One witness was David Heimbach, a burn doctor at the University of Washington who told a moving story about a 7-week-old baby girl he treated the year before. The baby’s mother had placed a candle in her crib, he said, and the candle fell over, igniting a pillow.
“She ultimately died after about three weeks of pain and misery in the hospital,” he told the senators. He asked them to do “anything to stop little children from being burned.”
But it seems there was no such baby, no such candle and no such pillow. Reporters working for The Chicago Tribune, which published a four-part investigation of the flame-retardant industry in May, could find no record of any infant who matched Heimbach’s description. Heimbach’s lawyer, Deborah Drooz, says that he changed the details of the story to protect patient identity. (The Tribune reporters did find a baby that died in a fire caused by an overloaded electrical outlet — circumstances that have little to do with flame retardants.) In the end, eight of the nine committee members voted against the bill. Those eight had received a total of $105,500 from chemical companies since 2007.
(click here to continue reading Arlene Blum’s Crusade Against Toxic Couches – NYTimes.com.)
Michael Hawthorne of the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this summer:
The world’s leading manufacturers of flame retardants faced scathing criticism Tuesday from U.S. senators angered by what they called the industry’s misuse of science, misleading testimony and creation of a phony consumer group that stoked the public’s fear of house fires.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, pointedly asked one chemical company official: “Don’t you owe people an apology?”
The Tribune series, published in May, revealed how the tobacco and chemical industries engaged in a deceptive, decades-long campaign to promote the use of flame-retardant chemicals in household furniture, electronics, baby products and other goods.
Those efforts have helped load American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility. A typical American baby is born with the highest recorded concentrations of flame retardants among infants in the world.
(click here to continue reading Flame retardants: Chemical companies face Senate criticism over flame retardants – Chicago Tribune.)
scathing criticism, and yet nothing substantive has happened yet.
“Generations of Americans have been asked to tolerate exposure to potentially toxic chemicals in their furniture in the name of fire safety,” Senator Dick Durbin said when he led a hearing on the chemicals in July. At the same hearing, James J. Jones, an administrator with the E.P.A., cited flame retardants as “a clear illustration” of all that is wrong with the Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal law that governs the use of chemicals. Several states, including New York, have proposed bans on chlorinated Tris. (So far unsuccessfully, for the most part.)
Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe reported even earlier:
Dr. Heimbach’s passionate testimony about the baby’s death made the long-term health concerns about flame retardants voiced by doctors, environmentalists and even firefighters sound abstract and petty.
But there was a problem with his testimony: It wasn’t true.
Records show there was no dangerous pillow or candle fire. The baby he described didn’t exist.
Neither did the 9-week-old patient who Heimbach told California legislators died in a candle fire in 2009. Nor did the 6-week-old patient who he told Alaska lawmakers was fatally burned in her crib in 2010.
Heimbach is not just a prominent burn doctor. He is a star witness for the manufacturers of flame retardants.
His testimony, the Tribune found, is part of a decades-long campaign of deception that has loaded the furniture and electronics in American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.
The tactics started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products, according to a Tribune review of thousands of government, scientific and internal industry documents.
(click here to continue reading Chemical manufacturers rely on fear to push flame retardant furniture standards – chicagotribune.com.)Footnotes:
A new thing for the media to fixate on…
The nation is heading toward the worst outbreak of West Nile disease in the 13 years that the virus has been on this continent, federal health authorities said Wednesday.
But it is still unclear where and how far cases will spread. Dallas declared an emergency last week, and West Nile deaths have been concentrated in Texas and a few nearby states, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma, as well as South Dakota.
So far this year, there have been 1,118 cases and 41 deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, director of the agency’s division of vector-borne diseases, said Wednesday in a telephone news conference.
“That’s the highest number of cases ever reported to the C.D.C. by the third week of August,” he added. “And cases are trending upward.”
Only about one infection in 150 becomes serious enough for the patient to need hospitalization — usually when the virus gets into the brain and spinal cord. But 10 percent of those hospitalized die, and other patients are left paralyzed, comatose or with serious mental problems. A recent study by doctors in Houston found kidney disease high among survivors.
There is no vaccine, and no drug that specifically targets the virus, so health authorities advise people to avoid getting bitten.
(click here to continue reading West Nile Outbreak Shaping Up as Worst Ever in U.S., Authorities Say – NYTimes.com.)
The numbers may be small, but death is pretty serious, especially since there is no vaccine for West Nile. Illinois is gearing up as well:
The mosquito responsible for the West Nile virus flourished during the summer’s record heat and drought. Now, officials are concerned about emerging signs that a widespread outbreak may be on the horizon in Illinois.
Updated figures from the state Department of Public Health show extremely high numbers of the Culex pipiens species have tested positive for the disease — 71 percent in DuPage County and nearly 60 percent in Cook, the health department reported.
Although the 27 cases of West Nile virus in Illinois don’t represent a particularly high number, experts start to get anxious when just 10 percent of samples of virus-carrying mosquitoes test positive.
The reason, said Linn Haramis, program manager of vector control for the health department, is that history suggests that the 10 percent infection rate is a strong indicator the percentage is going to accelerate rapidly over the summer.
The rate of Culex pipiens mosquitoes statewide that had the West Nile virus stood at 25 percent Tuesday, Haramis said. Last year, that percentage was 8 percent, he added.
(click here to continue reading West Nile: Banner year for West Nile – chicagotribune.com.)
and it appears to be a mostly unremarked side effect of global planet change:
Mosquito activity is highly weather-sensitive. Cooler temperatures and heavy rain reduce the number of Culex pipiens, experts said. Downpours can wash away larvae growing in places such as catch basins and gutters. That didn’t happen this summer.
But high temperatures allowed the virus to replicate quicker, building to dangerous levels inside the mosquito, which infect people through its saliva, experts said.
Even the warmer winter may have helped. The mild weather then and in the early spring, combined with the hot summer, might have fostered conditions favorable to spread the virus, according to CDC officials.
“It’s a banner year for West Nile,” said Richard Pollack, a public health entomologist with the Harvard School of Public Health. “Not such a good year for people.”
Cases usually flare in the summer because the illness is most often transmitted from infected birds to people by mosquitoes.
Wear long sleeve clothing when walking in dusk and evening, avoid pools of standing water, and make sure your last will and testament is current. What more can you do?
More on the global change aspect from Scientific American:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been over 1100 reported cases of West Nile virus disease in the US this year, including 42 deaths. If these numbers seem high, they are – in fact, it’s the highest number of reported cases since West Nile was first detected in the US in 1999, and West Nile season has just begun. Given that the peak of West Nile epidemics generally occurs in mid August, and it takes a few weeks for people to fall ill, the CDC expects that number to rise dramatically. But why now?
Though the CDC doesn’t have an official response to that question, the director of the CDC’s Vector-Borne Infectious Disease Division said that ‘unusually warm weather’ may be to blame. So far, 2012 is the hottest year on record in the United States according to the National Climatic Data Center, with record-breaking temperatures and drought a national norm. It’s likely no coincidence that some of the states hit hardest by West Nile are also feeling the brunt of the heat. More than half of cases have been reported from Texas alone, where the scorching heat has left only 12% of the state drought-free. Fifteen heat records were broken in Texas just last week on August 13th.
The heat waves, droughts and other weather events are the direct effects of climate change say leading scientists. As NASA researcher James Hansen explained in a recent Washington Post editorial, “our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.” He says that the European heat wave of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year are all the repercussions of climate change. Confidently, he adds that “once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.”
The fact that the worst US West Nile epidemic in history happens to be occurring during what will likely prove to be the hottest summer on record doesn’t surprise epidemiologists. They have been predicting the effects of climate change on West Nile for over a decade. If they’re right, the US is only headed for worse epidemics.
While the CDC is hesitant to blame this year’s West Nile outbreak on climate change directly, the science is clear. Record-breaking incidences of West Nile are strongly linked to global climate patterns and the direct effects of carbon dioxide emissions. Climate change isn’t just going to screw with the environment, it will continue to have devastating public health implications. In addition to better mosquito control and virus surveillance, we need to focus our efforts on reducing and reversing climate change if we want to protect our health and our well-being.
(click here to continue reading Is Climate Change To Blame For This Year’s West Nile Outbreak? | Science Sushi, Scientific American Blog Network.)
Amazingly, a public health initiative is based on shaky research. Shocking, I know…
And yet, this eat-less-salt argument has been surprisingly controversial — and difficult to defend. Not because the food industry opposes it, but because the actual evidence to support it has always been so weak.
When I spent the better part of a year researching the state of the salt science back in 1998 — already a quarter century into the eat-less-salt recommendations — journal editors and public health administrators were still remarkably candid in their assessment of how flimsy the evidence was implicating salt as the cause of hypertension.
“You can say without any shadow of a doubt,” as I was told then by Drummond Rennie, an editor for The Journal of the American Medical Association, that the authorities pushing the eat-less-salt message had “made a commitment to salt education that goes way beyond the scientific facts.”
While, back then, the evidence merely failed to demonstrate that salt was harmful, the evidence from studies published over the past two years actually suggests that restricting how much salt we eat can increase our likelihood of dying prematurely. Put simply, the possibility has been raised that if we were to eat as little salt as the U.S.D.A. and the C.D.C. recommend, we’d be harming rather than helping ourselves.
WHY have we been told that salt is so deadly? Well, the advice has always sounded reasonable. It has what nutritionists like to call “biological plausibility.” Eat more salt and your body retains water to maintain a stable concentration of sodium in your blood. This is why eating salty food tends to make us thirsty: we drink more; we retain water. The result can be a temporary increase in blood pressure, which will persist until our kidneys eliminate both salt and water.
The scientific question is whether this temporary phenomenon translates to chronic problems: if we eat too much salt for years, does it raise our blood pressure, cause hypertension, then strokes, and then kill us prematurely? It makes sense, but it’s only a hypothesis. The reason scientists do experiments is to find out if hypotheses are true.
In 1972, when the National Institutes of Health introduced the National High Blood Pressure Education Program to help prevent hypertension, no meaningful experiments had yet been done. The best evidence on the connection between salt and hypertension came from two pieces of research. One was the observation that populations that ate little salt had virtually no hypertension. But those populations didn’t eat a lot of things — sugar, for instance — and any one of those could have been the causal factor. The second was a strain of “salt-sensitive” rats that reliably developed hypertension on a high-salt diet. The catch was that “high salt” to these rats was 60 times more than what the average American consumes.
Still, the program was founded to help prevent hypertension, and prevention programs require preventive measures to recommend. Eating less salt seemed to be the only available option at the time, short of losing weight. Although researchers quietly acknowledged that the data were “inconclusive and contradictory” or “inconsistent and contradictory” — two quotes from the cardiologist Jeremiah Stamler, a leading proponent of the eat-less-salt campaign, in 1967 and 1981 — publicly, the link between salt and blood pressure was upgraded from hypothesis to fact.
In the years since, the N.I.H. has spent enormous sums of money on studies to test the hypothesis, and those studies have singularly failed to make the evidence any more conclusive. Instead, the organizations advocating salt restriction today — the U.S.D.A., the Institute of Medicine, the C.D.C. and the N.I.H. — all essentially rely on the results from a 30-day trial of salt, the 2001 DASH-Sodium study. It suggested that eating significantly less salt would modestly lower blood pressure; it said nothing about whether this would reduce hypertension, prevent heart disease or lengthen life.
(click here to continue reading We Only Think We Know the Truth About Salt – NYTimes.com.)
As a personal note, probably based on my mother’s attitude, I’ve always been skeptical about removing salt, and butter, and eggs, and whatever else the demon food of the moment is, from my diet. I cannot say I am in optimal health, but my preference is to eat fresh foods, and eat a variety of them. I try to stay away from deep fried foods, especially from crappy chain restaurants, and I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and so I don’t consume much sugar, but otherwise, I don’t really have restrictions, besides personal taste preferences. Which is why Mayor Bloomberg’s anti-soda crusade seems a bit ridiculous…
Full page ad in Saturday’s NYT (not all shown)
QR code at the bottom led here:
((Shot with my Hipstamatic for iPhone / Lens: Watts / Film: Kodot XGrizzled))
Seems like a smart strategy, actually. A lot of older people have only heard anti-marijuana propaganda, so are fearful of the reefer madness. Once they are educated as to the realities of cannabis consumption, they would be much less vehemently opposed to decriminalization.
LAKE WORTH, Fla.—Selma Yeshion, an 83-year-old retiree here, says she long considered marijuana a menace. “I thought it was something that was addictive” and “would lead to harder drugs,” she says.
Then she attended a presentation at the local L’Dor Va-Dor synagogue in April put on by a group called the Silver Tour. The group aims to persuade seniors to support legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in Florida. A series of speakers, including a doctor, a patient and several advocates, argued that pot was just what the silver-haired set needed to combat conditions like chronic pain and insomnia.
Ms. Yeshion was sold. “I want to get some cannabis,” she said afterward, with a big smile. “I have pain in my back, so it would be nice. Damn it to hell, I want to try it once in my lifetime.”
Count one more convert for the Silver Tour, which has been delivering its pot pitch at retirement communities and places of worship around the state.
Robert Platshorn, 69 years old, decided to focus on his fellow seniors—a group that isn’t exactly high on the idea of medical marijuana. People who are 65 and older helped sink a 2010 ballot initiative to legalize pot in California, voting 66% against it, more than any other age group, according to exit polls.
“Nobody in the marijuana movement is talking to seniors,” Mr. Platshorn says. Yet “seniors are the only damn people that go to the polls.” In Florida, people 65 and older represent 24% of eligible voters compared with 18% nationally, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an advocacy group. Six more states debated legalization bills in legislative sessions this year, he says.
According to a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine commissioned by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, cannabis can potentially help with pain relief, nausea reduction and appetite stimulation, among other things. The study also noted that possible adverse effects include diminished motor skills and dysphoria, or unpleasant feelings.
(click here to continue reading Joint Effort: Reefer Roadshow Asks Seniors to Support Medical Pot – WSJ.com.)
and this made me giggle:
Barry Silver, the congregation’s wisecracking rabbi, told the audience that his board was a little nervous about having a group promote medical marijuana at the synagogue. “Don’t worry about it,” he says he replied. “Why do you think the holiest day of the year is the High Holy Day?”
Good job by the Trib: doing actual journalism, getting results.
Since the Tribune published its “Playing With Fire” series, momentum has been building for stricter oversight of flame retardants and other toxic chemicals.
The newspaper’s investigation documented a deceptive campaign by industry that distorted science, created a phony consumer watchdog group to stoke the fear of fire and organized an association of top fire officials to advocate for greater use of flame retardants in furniture and electronics.
Promoted as lifesavers, flame retardants added to furniture cushions actually provide no meaningful protection from fires, according to federal researchers and independent scientists. Some of the most widely used chemicals are linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.
“Your series was an eye-opener,” said Joseph Erdman, legislative director for the New York Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation. “We hope other people around the state and nation read it.”
The committee has revived legislation targeting a chemical known as chlorinated tris, or TDCPP, that was voluntarily taken out of children’s pajamas more than three decades ago after studies found it could cause cancer. Recent tests have found that chlorinated tris now is commonly added to strollers, highchairs, rockers, diaper-changing pads and other baby products.
(click here to continue reading Momentum builds for stronger oversight of flame retardants – chicagotribune.com.)
Kudos to Tribune reporters Michael Hawthorne, Sam Roe, Patricia Callahan; keep up the pressure, and perhaps something good will come of this…