Saturday, January 3, 2009
Article on cnn.com -- Tennessee sludge contains elevated levels of arsenic, by Jim Kavanagh. Here's an excerpt:
The drinking water in the area of last month's coal-sludge spill in eastern Tennessee is safe, but elevated levels of arsenic have been found in the sludge, authorities said.
A billion gallons of the sludge, made up of water and fly ash from a coal-burning Tennessee Valley Authority steam plant in Kingston, Tennessee, swamped 300 acres of mostly private property when a dike on a retention pond collapsed December 22.
All residents in the area were evacuated, and three homes were deemed uninhabitable, according to the TVA. About a dozen other homes were damaged.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
The New York Times reports this morning that Tian Wenhua, the former chairwoman of one of China's largest dairy producers, pleaded guilty to selling baby formula tainted with melamine and to knowing about the problem months before reporting it. Here's an excerpt:
Since September, when the scandal became public, investigations have shown how widespread the problem of tainted milk is in China, with watered-down milk being doctored with a chemical used in plastics and fertilizer to falsely raise its protein count. The chemical, melamine, can cause kidney stones and other ailments, and the tainted formula sickened nearly 300,000 children and killed 6.
The government has accused Sanlu and other big Chinese companies of failing to monitor the quality of their powdered baby formula, and in some cases covering up knowledge that their products contained high levels of melamine. The scandal, which follows others in China’s food and drug industries, has devastated the country’s dairy industry, prompted global recalls of suspect food products, and forced the Chinese authorities to try to demonstrate a new seriousness in enforcement.
Ms. Tian’s plea came on the first day of a trial that involves three other Sanlu executives. The court said that consumer complaints about Sanlu’s milk came in as early as December 2007. Ms. Tian said she knew the company was selling contaminated formula by May 2008, but did not report the problem to local government officials until August. Between May and September, when Sanlu stopped production, prosecutors said the company made more than 900 tons of melamine-contaminated powdered formula.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Judge Engelhardt denied class certification for litigants claiming that FEMA trailers exposed them to toxic fumes. Plaintiffs sued the federal government and several trailer manufacturers over elevated formaldehyde levels in the trailers housing hurricane victims. Individual issues included different trailer models, individual medical histories, and varying symptoms. The Associated Press story is available here and the Washington Post story is available here.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Article in on cnn.com -- EPA: Rivers high in arsenic, heavy metals after sludge spill. Here's an excerpt:
The Environmental Protection Agency has found high levels of arsenic and heavy metals in two rivers in central Tennessee that are near the site of a spill that unleashed more than a billion gallons of coal waste.
The agency said it found "several heavy metals" in the water in levels that are slightly above safe drinking-water standards but "below concentrations" known to be harmful to humans.
"The one exception may be arsenic," the agency said in a letter to an affected community. "One sample of river water out of many taken indicated concentrations that are very high and further investigations are in progress."
The latest New York Review of Books (Jan. 15, 2009 issue) contains an interesting article by Marcia Angell, former Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and author of "The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It." The article reviews three books critical of the pharmaceutical industry and its relationship with doctors and clinicians: Side Effects by Alison Bass, Our Daily Meds by Melody Petersen and Shyness by Christopher Lane. The review details the conflicts of interest and baises in medicine that are the result of the relationship between multi-billion dollar drug companies and doctors. Angell writes on page 12:
It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor in of The New England Journal of Medicine.
Two trends she points to are particularly disturbing. One is the increasing prevalence of "off label uses" and the second is the off label use of drugs for children. She particularly focuses on drugs to treat psychiatric conditions. Her observations raise questions about how the law should treat these developments.