Category Archives: Poisoning & Environmental Health

As water infrastructure crumbles, many cities seek private help

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Drinking Water WarningBy Mindy Fetterman
Stateline

WOODBURY, N.J. — As city councilors here discussed the local water system recently, Summer Smith, a homeowner, rose to ask a question: “Can you explain in plain English what ‘emergent water conditions’ means? It sounds kind of alarming.”

David Trovato, the council president, acknowledged that any hint of a water quality emergency “would scare the hell out of me, too.” But there is no emergency in Woodbury.

New Jersey has designated Woodbury’s water system as “emergent” because it can’t meet the need for water at peak demand times. So this town of 10,000 across the Delaware River from Philadelphia is considering selling its water system to a private company.

Woodbury isn’t alone.

More than 2,000 municipalities have entered public-private partnerships for all or part of their water supply systems, according to the National Association of Water Companies, which represents private water companies like Veolia North America and American Water.

Partner municipalities include San Antonio; Akron, Ohio; and Washington, D.C. Miami-Dade County is considering partnerships for three water facilities, including one built in 1924. And Wichita, Kansas, is starting to study the issue.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where old pipes leached out lead into water supplies, has raised new worries that cities aren’t keeping up with maintenance and improvements. Continue reading

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Researchers call for more study on Agent Orange effects on vets and their kids.

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'Ranch_Hand'_run agent orange By Mike Hixenbaugh, The Virginian-Pilot, and Charles Ornstein, ProPublica

More than two decades of studying Agent Orange exposure hasn’t produced a solid understanding of how the toxic herbicide has harmed Vietnam War veterans and possibly their children, according to a report released Thursday.

Additional research is long overdue, the report said, but the federal government hasn’t done it.

Those are among the conclusions of a committee of researchers that, since 1991, has been charged by Congress with reviewing all available research into the effects of Agent Orange, which the U.S. military sprayed by the millions of gallons in Vietnam to kill forests and destroy enemy cover.

Over the years, the biennial reports produced by the committee have identified numerous illnesses linked to the herbicide, in some cases leading the Department of Veterans Affairs to extend disability compensation to thousands more veterans.

But in its tenth and final Agent Orange report 2014 with most Vietnam vets now well into their 60s or older 2014 the committee concluded there’s still much to learn and not enough research underway, especially related to potential health consequences for the children and grandchildren of veterans who were exposed.

“Although progress has been made in understanding the health effects of exposure to the chemicals,” the committee members wrote near the end of the 1,115-page report, there are still “significant gaps in our knowledge.” Continue reading

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Ailing Vietnam vets hunt through ships’ logs to prove they should get benefits

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'Ranch_Hand'_run (1)

by Charles Ornstein and Terry Parris Jr., ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh, The Virginian-Pilot

During the Vietnam War, hundreds of U.S. Navy ships crossed into Vietnam’s rivers or sent crew members ashore, possibly exposing their sailors to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange. But more than 40 years after the war’s end, the U.S. government doesn’t have a full accounting of which ships traveled where, adding hurdles and delays for sick Navy veterans seeking compensation.

The Navy could find out where each of its ships operated during the war, but it hasn’t. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs says it won’t either, instead choosing to research ship locations on a case-by-case basis, an extra step that veterans say can add months 2014 even years 2014 to an already cumbersome claims process. Bills that would have forced the Navy to create a comprehensive list have failed in Congress.

As a result, many ailing vets, in a frustrating race against time as they battle cancer or other life-threatening diseases, have taken it upon themselves to prove their ships served in areas where Agent Orange was sprayed. That often means locating and sifting through stacks of deck logs, finding former shipmates who can attest to their movements, or tracking down a ship’s command history from the Navy’s historical archive.

“It’s hell,” said Ed Marciniak, of Pensacola, Fla., who served aboard the USS Jamestown during the war. “The Navy should be going to the VA and telling them, 2018This is how people got aboard the ship, this is where they got off, this is how they operated.’ Instead, they put that burden on old, sick, dying veterans, or worse 2014 their widows.” Continue reading

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Learn about toxic chemicals released in your community

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Your Right to Know: Learn about toxic chemicals released in your community

From the Washington Department of Ecology

Each year, facilities in Washington and across the country report on the toxic chemicals they release into our air, land, water, or send off site for disposal.

Hanford cleanup accounted for 62% of Washington’s total land releases.

These reports are part of the national Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI, which requires over 20,000 facilities across the country to report on releases of 675 different toxic chemicals.

Those 675 chemicals were chosen because they cause cancer, harmful health effects, or harm our environment. The TRI list includes familiar chemicals like mercury, lead and zinc.

It also covers more obscure chemicals like pyridine, which is used to dissolve substances or to make pesticides, adhesives, food flavorings, dyes and other products.

TRI was created under federal Community Right-to-Know laws. It’s your right to know what chemicals you may be exposed to, so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology make the data available for you to search. This year marks the 30th anniversary of TRI.

EPA says that TRI data is intended to help communities: Continue reading

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Pesticides and Pot: What marijuana users should know

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Cannabis_leaf_marijuana_potBy Jeff Duchin, MD
Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County

The passage of I-502 in 2012 means that marijuana is now a legal crop in Washington State. Growers of most of the fruit and vegetables we eat routinely use pesticides and other chemicals to reduce or eliminate crop destruction.

Because marijuana is considered illegal by the federal government, the crop stands outside the federal pesticide evaluation and oversight system.

In Colorado and elsewhere, pesticides that were not approved for use on marijuana have been reported in product from recreational stores.

Could this happen in Washington?The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has tried to address this gap by providing growers with  a list of pesticides that may be used by marijuana growers, along with an explanation of the criteria used to select the pesticides.

These pesticides were selected because their use on marijuana plants would not be in direct conflict with federal law (they are allowed on other food products) and they are considered to pose minimal risk to health when used as directed.

Marijuana retailers are required to document all pesticides used on marijuana products that they sell and provide customers and regulators the information on pesticides used upon request.

The potential for pesticides to be present in marijuana is not new and was a concern before the legalization and regulation of medicinal and recreational marijuana products. Pesticides can pose a risk not only to marijuana users but also to workers who use the products and to the environment.

We don’t know that the problem is worse at this time than before regulation, and given the fact that there are now requirements for growers regarding acceptable pesticide use in  marijuana sold by regulated stores (and soon to include “medicinal marijuana” sold at regulated stores) the risk may be lower at this time than in the past. Continue reading

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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.

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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.”

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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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