Health Highlights: Sept. 22, 2008

HealthDay SHARE
  • Critics Assail White House Over Perchlorate in Drinking Water
  • Nearly 53,000 Chinese Infants Affected by Tainted Formula
  • Gut Bacteria May Increase Colon Cancer Risk
  • British Plastic Surgeons Protest Ads That Promise Too Much

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Critics Assail White House Over Perchlorate in Drinking Water

Under pressure from the Bush administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency appears poised to abandon a drinking water safety standard for the rocket fuel chemical perchlorate, which has been linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women, newborns and young children, the Washington Post reported.

A near-final document obtained by the newspaper showed that the EPA's "preliminary regulatory determination" was heavily edited by White House officials. They eliminated important scientific sections and told the EPA to use a new computer modeling method to calculate health risks associated with perchlorate, the newspaper said.

"They have distorted the science to such an extent that they can justify not regulating" the chemical, University of Massachusetts Professor Robert Zoeller told the Post. "Infants and children will continue to be damaged and that damage is significant," said Zoeller, a specialist in thyroid hormone and brain development.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has endorsed legislation requiring the EPA to set a federal standard for perchlorate and to monitor levels of the chemical in tap water. Committee chair Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was outraged that the EPA may not establish a standard for the chemical.

"Perchlorate has been a serious, persistent and widespread problem which threatens the health of our families, especially our children," Boxer told the Post. "For the Bush EPA to walk away from this problem and shrug off this danger is, in my view, unforgivable and immoral."

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Nearly 53,000 Chinese Infants Affected by Tainted Formula

The official number of Chinese infants sickened by tainted baby formula jumped late Sunday from 6,200 to nearly 53,000, and the head of the country's product quality watchdog resigned Monday as a result of the scandal, the Associated Press reported.

The industrial chemical melamine has been found in infant formula and milk products from 22 of China's dairy companies and is blamed for causing kidney stones and kidney failure in infants. So far, four infants have died.

The Health Ministry said than 12,892 of the children hospitalized in recent weeks are 2 years old or younger. Of the infants in a hospital, 104 are in serious condition. Officials said another 39,965 children received outpatient treatment at hospitals and were now considered "basically recovered," the AP reported.

The scandal has prompted the recall of infant formula and other milk products from stores across China, and dairy-related products made in China have been banned across Asia.

As a result of the crisis, Li Changjiang resigned as director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of China's food supply chain.

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Gut Bacteria May Increase Colon Cancer Risk

Bacteria called Enterococcus faecalis that live in human intestines may produce harmful chemicals that damage DNA and trigger gene activity linked to colon cancer, a U.S. study says.

E. Faecalis, also known as Group D Streptococcus, is one of many normally harmless or beneficial kinds of bacteria that live in the human gut. But in some people, E. faecalis may pose a threat, say researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Oklahoma City, BBC News reported.

They examined how colon cells in the laboratory reacted to the presence of E faecalis when it's in a "fermentation" state and produces a kind of oxygen molecule called "superoxide," which can damage DNA in surrounding cells.

The researchers discovered that superoxide has other harmful effects.

"We found that superoxide led to strong signaling in immune cells called macrophages. It also altered the way some cells in the gut grew and divided, and even increased the productivity of genes which are associated with cancer," said research leader Professor Mark Huycke, BBC News reported.