Category Archives: Poisoning & Environmental Health

Smoke from wildfires pose health threat, officials warn

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From the Washington Department of Health

fire-moves-through-forestSixteen large wildfires and many smaller ones now span about 400,000 acres of Eastern Washington.

State health officials warn that smoke from the fires raise health concerns for people in the 11 affected counties.

This is especially true for children and those with health conditions.

People in areas affected by wildfire smoke are encouraged to monitor air quality using current information found on the Department of Ecology’s website.

Breathing smoky air can cause shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain in healthy people. However, people with asthma or other lung diseases may experience more serious symptoms. Continue reading

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Lessons for the Puget Sound from Chicago’s deadly Heat Wave

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heat-wave1-e1438208691939By Ashley Kelmore
Public Health – Seattle & King County

Our hotter-than-usual summer in the Pacific Northwest likely won’t reach the extremes of the 1995 Chicago summer heat wave, which killed 733 people.

But some of the issues from that catastrophe are relevant to us here and now, and Dr. Eric Klinenberg describes them in his fascinating book Heat Wave.

Klinenberg proposes that the temperature and humidity are not solely to blame for illness and death from heat.

Instead, it is the heat combined with the systems society has set up (or not set up) that failed people in a complicated way.

Similar neighborhoods, deadly differences

Klinenberg focuses on comparing two neighborhoods that are similar in basic demographics, and even have the same microclimate, but had VERY different death rates.

To explain this disparity, he looks at how the different neighborhoods function. Are people too scared to leave their buildings to seek cooler locations (such as libraries or movie theaters)?

Are they too worried about their finances to turn on the life-saving window AC unit to cool themselves down?

Are they isolated from support systems that could have intervened to make sure they were doing okay? In many cases, the answers are “yes,” “yes,” and “yes.”

Chicago’s government and how they responded (or failed to respond) was also a factor, according to Klinenberg.

Front-line police officers were tasked with community policing but didn’t check in on the community.

Fire chiefs ignored warnings from their staff that they should have more ambulances available.

And sadly, the health commissioner didn’t really ‘get’ that something was amiss. Klinenberg also explores the role the media played in not treating the story with the gravity it deserved until late into the heat wave. Continue reading

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Quartermaster Harbor beaches closed for shellfish harvesting

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Paralytic shellfish poison found at unsafe levels

From Washington State Department of Health

Vashon island mapParalytic Shellfish Poison (PSP) has been detected at unsafe levels in Quartermaster Harbor shellfish on Vashon-Maury Island.  As a result, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has closed Quartermaster Harbor beaches to recreational shellfish harvest.

The closure includes all species of shellfish including clams, geoduck, scallops, mussels, oysters, snails and other invertebrates; the closure does not include crab or shrimp. Crabmeat is not known to contain the PSP toxin, but the guts can contain unsafe levels. Continue reading

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Most states list deadly methadone as a ‘preferred drug’

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465px-Methadone.svgBy Christine Vestal
Stateline

The federal government has been issuing warnings about the dangers of methadone for nearly a decade.

Two years ago, states started removing it from their Medicaid “preferred drug lists.” (Joe Amon/Getty Images)

As prescription drug overdose deaths soar nationwide, most states have failed to take a simple step that would make it harder for doctors to prescribe the deadliest of all narcotics.

Methadone is four times as likely to cause an overdose death as oxycodone, and more than twice as likely as morphine, yet as many as 33 states make it easy for doctors to prescribe. 

Methadone overdoses kill about 5,000 people every year, six times as many as in the late 1990s, when it was prescribed almost exclusively for use in hospitals and addiction clinics where it is tightly controlled.

It is four times as likely to cause an overdose death as oxycodone, and more than twice as likely as morphine. In addition, experts say it is the most addictive of all opiates.

Yet as many as 33 states make it easy for doctors to prescribe the pain medicine to Medicaid patients, no questions asked. Continue reading

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Avoid powdered pure caffeine, FDA warns.

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From the US Food and Drug Administration

The FDA is warning about powdered pure caffeine being marketed directly to consumers, and recommends avoiding these products.

In particular, FDA is concerned about powdered pure caffeine sold in bulk bags over the internet.

The FDA is aware of at least one death of a teenager who used these products.

1000px-Main_symptoms_of_Caffeine_overdose

These products are essentially 100 percent caffeine. A single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee.

Continue reading

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Naloxone kits for overdoses now available in Snohomish County

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Snohomish CountyNaloxone kits for treating opioid overdoses are now available at a number of pharmacies in Snohomish County.

These kits are available just by asking the pharmacists, there is no need to see a doctor to obtain a prescription.The cost of the kits is around $125.

Pharmacists will provide education to those being given a Naloxone kit on how to use it and when to use it.

In 2013 there were 86 opioid drug overdoses in Snohomish County, and 580 within Washington State.

The availability of naloxone (sold under the brand name Narcan) could potentially cut down on deaths due to heroin and prescription opioid drugs (morphine, oxycodone/OxyContin, methadone, hydrocodone/Vicodin, and codeine).  Continue reading

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States Seek to Protect Student Athletes from Concussions, Heat Stroke

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SLN_Sept12_2_WGBT calculator

A Wet Bulb Globe Temperature calculator in use last week during a football practice of the Oconee County High School in Watkinsville, Georgia. The device, which measures temperature, humidity and radiant temperature is used to govern sports activities at all Georgia high schools. Photo © Stateline

By Michael Ollove
Stateline

Athens, Georgia—When Georgia public high schools were asked several years ago to devise a policy to govern sports activities during periods of high heat and humidity, one school’s proposal stood out: It pledged to scale back workouts when the heat index reached 140.

Those who understood the heat index, the combined effects of air temperature and humidity, weren’t sure whether to be appalled or amused. “If you hit a heat index of 140,” said Bud Cooper, a sports medicine researcher at the University of Georgia who examined all the proposed policies, “you’d basically be sitting in the Sahara Desert.”

The policy reflected an old-school, “no pain, no gain” philosophy, a view that athletes need to be pushed to their physical limits—or beyond them—if they and their teams are to realize their full potential.

In some places, state, school and sports officials are recognizing that the zeal of coaches, players, and parents for athletic accomplishment must be subordinated to safety. Increasingly, they are adopting measures to protect student athletes from serious, even catastrophic injuries or illnesses that can be the consequence of a blinkered focus on competitiveness. Continue reading

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Keep your cool in hot weather – CDC

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Sun Orange Orb by Cris DeRaudGetting too hot can make you sick. You can become ill from the heat if your body can’t compensate for it and properly cool you off.

Heat exposure can even kill you: it caused 7,233 heat-related deaths in the United States from 1999 to 2009.

Learn about heat-related illness and how to stay cool and safe in hot weather

.Main things affecting your body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather:

  • High humidity. When the humidity is high, sweat won’t evaporate as quickly, which keeps your body from releasing heat as fast as it may need to.
  • Personal factors. Age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use can play a role in whether a person can cool off enough in very hot weather.

Continue reading

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Health system needs to prepare for global warming

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Climate change is happening, and with that will come more deaths from heat-related illness and disease, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report, spearheaded and funded by investor and philanthropist Thomas Steyer, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, examines many of the effects of climate change for business and individuals.

“One of the most striking findings in our analysis is that increasing heat and humidity in some parts of the country could lead to outside conditions that are literally unbearable to humans, who must maintain a skin temperature below 95°F in order to effectively cool down and avoid fatal heat stroke,” the report’s authors wrote.

The average will be miserable. When your sweat can’t evaporate, you have no way to moderate core body temperature, and some people will die.

They use a “Humid Heat Stroke Index” that combines heat and humidity levels to measure how close they come to the point where the body is unable to cool its core temperature. So far the nation has never reached that level, “but if we continue on our current climate path, this will change, with residents in the eastern half of the U.S. experiencing 1 such day a year on average by century’s end and nearly 13 such days per year into the next century.”

al sommer300

Dr. Al Sommer (Photo:Francis Ying/KHN

Dr. Al Sommer, the dean emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, was on the committee that oversaw the development of the report.

He says that often overlooked in the current debate about greenhouse gases and climate change is the effect of global warming on individuals and hospitals. Continue reading

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Pollution halts Vaughn Bay shellfish harvest: 14 other areas threatened

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Pollution to close shellfish harvest in one area; 14 others listed as threatened
Fecal bacteria levels force new restrictions to protect shellfish consumers

From the Washington State Department of health:

Alert Icon with Exclamation Point!OLYMPIA — The state Department of Health has closed harvesting in part of Vaughn Bay in Pierce County due to high levels of fecal bacteria. Health officials also identified 14 more of Washington’s 101 commercial shellfish growing areas that could be closed in the future if fecal pollution continues to get worse.

“The good news is that the pollution problems in almost all these areas can be found and fixed,” said Bob Woolrich, Growing Area section manager. “There have been many successful pollution correction projects using partnerships with local and state agencies, Tribes, and others.”

The agency shellfish program evaluates the state’s shellfish growing areas every year to see if water quality is approaching unsafe limits. If so, areas are listed as “threatened” with closure.

Shellfish harvesting areas threatened with closure include:

Continue reading

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App lets you determine your neighborhood’s radon risk

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Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 11.28.29From the Washington State Department of Health

Olympia, January 21, 2014 — Washington residents now have a new online map to check and see if their neighborhood has a geological risk for the cancer-causing gas, radon, using a new state app. The new app is offered by the state Department of Health’s Washington Tracking Network.

Some areas of the state, such as Spokane and Clark counties, are well-known for having higher levels of radon, but the new online map shows that there are some areas around the Puget Sound such as Pierce and King counties that might come as a surprise.  Continue reading

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Over-the-counter pills left out of FDA acetaminophen limits

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red-and-white-capsules

By Jeff Gerth and T. Christian Miller
ProPublica

January 16, 2014 — Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urged health care providers to stop writing prescriptions for pain relievers containing more than 325 milligrams of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.

The agency’s announcement was aimed primarily at popular prescription medicines that combine acetaminophen with a more powerful opioid such as hydrocodone.

Agency officials said they had determined that “there are no available data” to show that the benefits of having more than 325 milligrams of acetaminophen in a single pill outweighed the risks from taking too much of the drug. Continue reading

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Don’t use grills or gas generators in enclosed areas – Department of Health warns

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From the Washington State Department of Health

Power outages may raise risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

Charcoal grillDon’t use grills or gas generators in enclosed areas

January 10, 2014 — Barbecue grills and gas generators may seem like they could double as an indoor furnace during a power outage, but that can be downright dangerous.

Neither should be used inside to heat homes, as families could get sick and even die from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a poisonous gas that can’t be seen or smelled and can kill a person in minutes. Carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. It can quickly build up to unsafe levels in enclosed or semi-enclosed areas.  Continue reading

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