Monthly Archives: January 2009

LA Cardinal Mahony Target of Federal Probe

US Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien is looking into whether Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles can be charged with honest services fraud in connection with the priest sexual abuse cases in the Archdiocese. However, O’Brien has declined comment and has refused to acknowledge such an investigation exists.
The “honest services” fraud charge concerns parishioners and others who relied on such Catholic leaders as Mahony to keep their children safe from predatory priests who abused numerous children in the Archdiocese for many, many years.
Allegations of mishandling and covering-up sexual abuse matters have dogged Cardinal Mahony for years. A few years ago, Mahony and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles setted more than 500 claims by paying $660 million.

Los Alamos and Beryllium Exposure

Los Alamos National Laboratory has warned that as many as 2,000 employees and visitors to the lab may have been exposed to beryllium. According to OSHA, exposure to beryllium by inhalation of beryllium dust or fumes can cause serious damage to the lungs, lung cancer, and may be fatal.
Berylliums is a natural metal found in beryl and bertrandite rock. It is very lightweight and hard. It serves as a good conductor of electricity and heat.
According to OSHA, “Chronic beryllium disease (CBD) primarily affects the lungs. CBD may occur among people who are exposed to the dust or fumes from beryllium metal, metal oxides, alloys, ceramics or salts. It occurs when people inhale beryllium in these forms. CBD usually has a very slow onset, and even very small amounts of exposure to beryllium can cause the disease in some people. In some cases, CBD develops while workers are still on the job, but in others it may not develop until many years after a person has stopped working in the beryllium industry, or has been transferred to a job that does not involve beryllium exposure. The amount or length of exposure to beryllium necessary to cause a specific individual to develop CBD is not known, but recent information suggests that exposure below OSHA’s 2 micrograms/m3 TWA PEL over a very short time (weeks or months) can lead to CBD in some workers.”
Symptoms may include: unexplained cough, shortness of breath, especially with activity; fatigue, weight loss or loss of appetite, fever, or night sweats. The disease may develop slowly over a period of years and many of those affected may be carrying it without their knowledge.
The Los Alamos beryllium exposure concern first surfaced in November when a box containing beryllium was delivered to the Los Alamos plant. The box appeared damaged so officials at the lab tested the area for contamination. The area was found to have beryllium contamination but the source of the contamination was not the box. The lab had not been tested for beryllium exposure since 2001 so Los Alamos officials have sent warning letters to anyone who worked there since or visited the lab since 2001.

Consumer Product Safety

“We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Those words you very well may recognize as delivered by President Barack Obama on the day of his Inauguration. However, they are equally appropriate in response to an article in the Contra Costa Times this morning which bemoaned a federal law scheduled to take effect in a few weeks. The law is called Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The news article is entitled, “Product Safety Law Casts Gloom Over Businesses” hardly an unbiased title. The premise of the article is that businesses will be hurt by this overly restrictive law. Very little mention is made of those whom it is designed to protect-our children. The law is targeting lead in products used by those 12 years of age and under. Lead is a known as a potent neurotoxin. The law is also regulating and for the most part eliminating phthalates from children’s products and toys. Phthalates, used to make hard plastics, is particularly dangerous to reproductive systems.
Any bill designed to protect children, especially when the offending agents are known and proven to be dangerous, is a good consumer protection. I’m surprised the Contra Costa Times or any media outlet would side with big business over and above consumer product safety.

This Time It’s the Chinese and DryWall

The past year has not been very good for commercial US-China relations. We’ve witnessed the heparin contamination scandal, the tainted milk debacle, and counterfeit drugs manufactured in China. Now, it’s Chinese drywall. The problem stems from the building boom five years ago. Houses, especially in southwest Florida, were being constructed in record numbers. To cut costs, builders such as Lennar Homes and Aubuchon contracted with Chinese companies to purchase dirt cheap drywall. That’s when the old adage, “you get what you paid for” comes into play. The problem is the drywall was made with waste materials from scrubbers on coal-fired power plants. According to Dan Reid of Intuitive Environmental Solutions in Fort Myers, “Those materials leak into the air as gases and combine with the moisture on an air conditioning coil to create sulfuric acid, which appears to be dissolving solder joints and copper tubing — creating leaks, blackening the coils and even causing the system to fail.”
The problem doesn’t just involve private residences. Three Cape Coral Florida charter schools are being investigated to determine whether Chinese drywall was used in the construction of the schools. According to a News-Press article, “Cape Coral Mayor Jim Burch’s call for an investigation into the construction of all city buildings during years the drywall was imported to the U.S.”
“I have growing concern that the Chinese drywall problem could present serious economic and health challenges to Lee County,” Burch wrote in a Monday memo to City Manager Terry Stewart.
The health effects of exposure to the sulfur compound is unknown at this point.
According to the South Florida Business Journal, at least 80 Lennar Homes have been built with the controversial and potentially dangerous Chinese drywall. A spokesperson for Lennar Homes has said that the homes in question were built during the building boom in southwest Florida during 2005-06.
The drywall causes unpleasant, noxious odors, electrical problems, and potential health problems yet undetermined by health officials tasked with investigating the latest Chinese scandal.

Six States Join EPA in Ohio River Cleanup Study

Six states including Kentucky, Illinois,Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have joined forces with the Environmental Protection Agency to study bacteria and other pathogens that pollute the Ohio River.
While the task is enormous the symbolic effect of state involvement in the bacteria study is significant. A similar effort led to the restoration of healthy oxygen levels in the Middle Cuyahoga River.
The study which is scheduled to be completed next year will determine how much bacteria sewage treatment plants, factories, and other sources of pollutants can discharge into the river without exceeding the standards of safety. Presently, there are 49 cities and towns in the area which release untreated sewage directly into the river during heavy storms. An expensive upgrade is needed in order to stem the tide of bacterial flow into the river.
This is a good first step in identifying, treating, and restoring the Ohio River to its environmentally healthy place. It’s a good thing to have states cooperate with the federal government on an issue as important as environmental clean-up and restoration.

Godspeed Mr. President

As I write this, the country is marking an historic occasion tomorrow. The first African-American is to be sworn in as President of the United States of America. The first Senator in 44 years is to be elected president of the United States. Perhaps, the most important milestone revolves around the perilous times this young president embarks on leading this country in a time where we’re fighting two wars, an economic collapse the likes of which we’ve never seen, and the domestic turmoil evidenced by the chaos in the FDA. Yet, there is hope. This President is seemingly capable of rousing the American people to hope and resolve. In spite of our political differences, he has summoned our “best angels” to support him and pray for his success. At this moment in history, we need a leader, a courageous leader to show us the way. We wish him all the success. Our hopes and our fortunes ride with him.

Spine Consultant Receives $20 Million Plus in Compensation from Medtronic

A prominent University of Wisconsin spine researcher, surgeon, and perhaps most significantly, Medtronic consultant, was paid more than $20 million by Medtronic which just happens to be one of the world’s foremost manufacturers of spinal medical devices.
The revelation is creating a tsunami of conflict of interest in the industry as well as on Capitol Hill. Thomas Zdeblick, the Wisconsin surgeon, was receiving the Medtronic payments for his work in promoting and developing the spinal products. The massive payments spanning the four years from 2003-2007 went far beyond what had been initially reported to the University of Wisconsin. The school, like all other schools receiving federal funding for research, is required by law to monitor its researchers’ potential conflicts of interest.
One of the more troubling aspects of this case involves the doctor’s duplicity. In each of the last five years he has told the University of Wisconsin that Medtronic payments were approximately $20,000. That’s a far, far cry from $20,000,000!
US Senator Charles Grassley has stated that Wisconsin’s disclosure rules are insufficient and need to be reformed. Robert Golden, dean of the University of Wisconsin’s medical school, agrees with Grassley and has noted that most states have similar disclosure laws.
What is clear and transparent is that each instance that such conflictual relationship is revealed to the public, the erosion of public trust in the healthcare system grows. It needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.

Newer Antipsychotics Like Zyprexa Double Risk of Death from Heart Failure

The new, expensive drugs such as Risperdal, Zyprexa, and Seroquel were supposed to be more effective than the old treatments for schizophrenia, autism, and dementia. At least that’s how they were marketed to patients and doctors alike. Yet a new study finds these new “wonder drugs” double the risk of death due to heart failure. Furthermore, they haven’t been found to be as effective as the older anti-psychotic drugs.
The most susceptible populations to the risks of rapid weight gain and heart failure are the young and elderly. Professor Wayne Ray of Vanderbilt University authored the study and concluded that the significance of risk compelled prescribing doctors to perform thorough cardiac evaluations prior to giving the drugs to their patients.
Zyprexa, manufactured by Eli Lilly, has been the target of lawsuits ever since it was found that the drug led to rapid weight gain as well as the onset of diabetes in some cases. Besides the civil lawsuits, Eli Lilly has just agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle criminal and civil investigations into its marketing of the drug Zyprexa. Lilly will pay $615 million to settle the criminal probe and approximately $800 million for the civil investigation. The settlement comes in the midst of the cirminal probe targeting Lilly for promoting Zyprexa for uses for which it had not been approved.

FDA Found to Be Lax on Oversight During Trials

A new study has found that the FDA does very little when it comes to monitoring doctors who may have financial conflicts with companies whose drugs and medical devices they are supposed to be testing. Perhaps the most damning finding was the revelation that agency officials didn’t believe it was “worth the effort” to try to protect patients from such conflicts of interest.
This latest study is just the latest in a myriad of bad press, resignations, and reports of mismanagement at the federal agency. This is especially bad since the courts have virtually left consumer safety in the hands of the FDA regarding the safety of medical devices.
According to the NY Times article, “Fewer than 1 percent of the doctors who helped oversee clinical trials registered with the agency and who filed the required financial disclosure forms reported that they had a significant conflict of interest. By contrast, studies have found that one-fifth to one-third of all doctors have such conflicts.”

Another Case of Contaminated Peanut Butter

We’ve been here before with salmonella tainted peanut butter. This time it’s King Nut Companies whose spokesman said in a statement that it asked customers to stop distributing all peanut butter under its King Nut and Parnell’s Pride brands with a lot code that begins with the numeral “8.”
According to the AP report, “The peanut butter was distributed only through food service providers in Ohio, Michigan, North Dakota, Minnesota, Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Florida. It was not sold directly to consumers.
Preliminary laboratory testing found salmonella bacteria in a 5-pound container of King Nut brand creamy peanut butter, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday.”
The CDC said Friday that 399 cases had been confirmed nationally, with about one in five of victims hospitalized. California has reported the most cases, with 55, followed by Ohio with 53. All the illnesses began between Sept. 3 and Dec. 29, but most of the people grew sick after Oct. 1.