Health Highlights: April 20, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Artificial-Turf Playing Fields Under Scrutiny
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is looking into the possible health hazards of lead in some artificial-turf playing fields across the country.
Two New Jersey fields, one in a park, the other at a university, were closed last week after state health officials detected what they called unexpectedly high levels of lead in two nylon fields, both AstroTurf surfaces, and raised fears that athletes could swallow or inhale fibers or dust from the playing surface, the Associated Pressreported. There was no lead in 10 polyethylene-surface fields that were also examined.
Industry officials denied the products are dangerous. Jon Pritchett, chief executive of General Sports Venue, the licensee of AstroTurf products in the United States, said the company's tests have shown a low risk of exposure to lead. "Obviously, we take very seriously any concerns about the safety of our products, and this is no exception," Pritchett said.
But the CPSC is concerned about "any consumer product that could be used by children where children could potentially be in harm's way because of lead exposure," spokesman Scott Wolfson said.
The AP reported that the industry's Synthetic Turf Council estimates there are about 3,500 synthetic playing fields made of various materials, including nylon and polyethylene, and about 800 are installed each year at schools, colleges, parks and stadiums.
Pigment containing lead chromate is used in some surfaces to make the turf green and hold its color in sunlight. But it is not clear how widely the compound is used.
New Jersey's epidemiologist, Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, told the AP that fibers and dust created through wear and weathering might become airborne, where they could be inhaled or swallowed. He has ordered more test on how easily fibers and particles from artificial turf can be swallowed or inhaled .
But Rick Doyle, president of the Synthetic Turf Council, said the lead is fixed in place in the nylon and does not leach out, and therefore poses no health risk. "In the 40 years that synthetic sports turf has been in use in the United States and around the world, not one person has ever reported any ill effects related to the material composition of the fibers," he said.
Canada Warns About Chemical Used in Baby Bottles
Canadian health officials announced plans Friday to limit the use of the controversial chemical bisphenol A, a move that could lead to a ban on baby bottles containing the chemical.
A draft report from Health Canada found the chemical to be potentially dangerous to infants and the environment, CTV reported.
The widely used chemical is also found in hard plastic water bottles, dental sealants, DVDs, CDs and hundreds of other common items. Canadian Health Minister Tony Clement said the levels of bisphenol A (BPA) that most adults are exposed to is not harmful.
Health Canada's action could be the first step toward Canada banning the chemical altogether, the Associated Press reported.
Earlier this week, the U.S. National Toxicology Program said there was "some concern" about BPA from experiments on rats that linked the chemical to changes in behavior and the brain, early puberty and possibly precancerous changes in the prostate and breast. While animal studies only provide "limited evidence" of risk, the draft report said a possible effect on humans "cannot be dismissed," the AP said.
More than 6 million pounds of BPA are produced in the United States each year, the AP said.
World's Oldest Person Turns 115
Her name is Edna Parker, she lives in a nursing home in Shelbyville, Ind., and she's the world's oldest person. And on Sunday, she celebrates another birthday -- her 115th.
"We don't know why she's lived so long," Don Parker, her 59-year-old grandson, told the Associated Press. "But she's never been a worrier and she's always been a thin person, so maybe that has something to do with it."
Researchers from the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University took a blood sample from Parker in 2006 for the group's DNA database of so-called supercentenarians -- people who live to 110 and beyond. Her DNA is now preserved with samples of about 100 other people who made the 110-year milestone and whose genes are being analyzed, said Dr. Tom Perls, who directs the project. "They're really our best bet for finding the elusive Holy Grail of our field -- which are these longevity-enabling genes," Perls told the news service.
Perls said the key to a long life is now believed to be a mix of genetics and environmental factors such as health habits. He said his research on about 1,500 centenarians suggests another factor that may protect people from illnesses such as heart attacks and stroke -- they don't seem to dwell on stressful events.
Just 75 people -- 64 women and 11 men -- are 110 or older, according to the Gerontology Research Group of Inglewood, Calif., which verifies reports of very old ages, the AP said.
More Reports of Sickness Linked to Supplements With Selenium
U.S. health officials are investigating more than 180 reports of illness in people who took dietary supplements containing toxic levels of the mineral selenium, the Associated Press reported.
The manufacturer recalled the products March 27, but reports of 184 illnesses indicate people are still taking them, health officials said.
On March 27, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to purchase or use "Total Body Formula" in flavors Tropical Orange and Peach Nectar, and "Total Body Mega Formula" in the Orange/Tangerine flavor after receiving reports of adverse reactions in users in Florida and Tennessee. The reactions generally occurred after five to 10 days of daily ingestion of the product, and included significant hair loss, muscle cramps, diarrhea, joint pain, deformed fingernails, and fatigue, the FDA said.
Health officials are now looking into reports of illnesses in 10 states -- Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. No deaths have been reported. One person has been hospitalized, the AP said.
Selenium, a naturally occurring mineral, is needed only in very small amounts for good health. Selenium can boost the immune system. Generally, normal consumption of food and water provides adequate selenium to support good health, the FDA said.
Katrina's Legacy Still Haunts, Studies Find
From alcohol abuse to the loss of a home, new research continues to assess the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina and the toll it extracted from its victims.
In a study presented this week at the Population Association of America's annual meeting in New Orleans, University of Michigan researchers reported that Katrina survivors were more than three times likelier to exhibit alcohol abuse after a stress experience. And if the survivor experienced a trauma, they were five times more likely to become alcohol dependent.
The difference between a stress and a trauma is one of degree, said study co-author Sandro Galea, an associate professor at the university's School of Public Health. An example of stress might be dealing with insurance companies or contractors; a trauma is losing a loved one, he said.
Another paper found that New Orleans residents who lost their homes in the 2005 storm were more than five times more likely to experience serious psychological distress a year after the disaster than those who did not.
The study, by University of Michigan researcher Narayan Sastry and Tulane University's Mark VanLandingham, examined the mental health of pre-Katrina New Orleans residents in the fall of 2006 -- one year after the hurricane. In all, about 66 percent of the respondents reported that their homes were badly damaged or unlivable.
"Our findings suggest that severe damage to one's home is a particularly important factor behind socioeconomic disparities in psychological distress, and possibly behind the levels of psychological distress," Sastry said. "These effects may be partly economic, because, for most families who own their home, home equity is the largest element of household wealth.
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