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Monday, April 11, 2011

Girls Puberty Hits Earlier Than Ever, Many Doctors, Science Ignore Environmental Chemicals

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Girls hit puberty earlier than ever, and doctors aren't sure why

By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY

About 15% of American girls now begin puberty by age 7, according to a study of 1,239 girls published last year in Pediatrics. One in 10 white girls begin developing breasts by that age — twice the rate seen in a 1997 study. Among black girls, such as Laila, 23% hit puberty by age 7.
"Over the last 30 years, we've shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half," says Sandra Steingraber, author of a 2007 report on early puberty for the Breast Cancer Fund, an advocacy group. "That's not good."
Girls are being catapulted into adolescence long before their brains are ready for the change — a phenomenon that poses serious risks to their health, says Marcia Herman-Giddens, an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
"This is an issue facing the new generation," says Laila's doctor, Pisit "Duke" Pitukcheewanont, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, who treats girls with early puberty. "Many parents don't know what is going on."
Researchers don't completely understand why the age of puberty is falling, Herman-Giddens says. Most agree that several forces are at work, from obesity to hormone-like environmental chemicals. There's no evidence that boys are maturing any earlier, says Paul Kaplowitz, author of Early Puberty in Girls.
But data clearly show that girls once matured much later, probably because poor diets and infectious diseases left them relatively thin, Steingraber says. Girls' lack of body fat may have sent a message to their bodies that they weren't yet ready to carry a pregnancy, she says.
In the 1840s, for example, girls in Scandinavia didn't begin menstruating until age 16 or 17, says Kaplowitz, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's National Medical Center in Washington. As nutrition and living conditions improved, the age at first menstruation occurred two to three months earlier each decade. By 1900, American girls were getting their periods at age 14.
Though the age at which girls get their first period has continued to fall slowly since then, the age at which girls begin developing breasts has declined much more dramatically.
Early puberty increases girls' odds of depression, drinking, drug use, eating disorders, behavioral problems and attempted suicide, according to the 2007 report. When these girls grow up, they face a higher risk of breast and uterine cancers, likely because they're exposed to estrogen for a longer period of time.
Early puberty isn't the only way that childhood is changing.
In only a generation, children have become less connected to nature and, in many ways, less free, says pediatrician Chris Feudtner of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Today's children rarely, if ever, are permitted to roam wild or play outdoors alone, out of sight of watchful, worried parents. Schools are eliminating recess, even as they install vending machines in school cafeterias.
No one should be surprised, Feudtner says, that this generation of children is heavier, less active and more prone to chronic disease and hormonal changes.
"It's very concerning that girls are continuing to develop earlier and earlier," Herman-Giddens says. "We need to look at our environment and our culture, and what we're doing to our kids."


While much about early puberty remains a mystery, researchers say that suspects include:
•Obesity. The clearest influence on the age of puberty seems to be obesity, Steingraber says. In general, obese girls are much more likely to develop early than thin ones. And the number of heavy girls is growing, with 30% of children overweight or obese, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Obesity raises the levels of key hormones, such as insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar, and leptin, a hormone made in fat cells that helps regulate appetite, Steingraber says. While leptin may not trigger puberty by itself, research suggests that puberty can't start without it.
Scientists aren't yet sure whether insulin — or the body's problems processing it — is a factor in early puberty, Steingraber says.
•Prematurity. Rising rates of prematurity — which have increased 18% since 1990 — may contribute to early puberty, as well.
Babies born early or very small for their gestational age tend to experience "catch-up growth" that can lead them to become overweight, Steingraber says. Children who undergo rapid weight gain tend to become less sensitive to the hormone insulin, putting them at greater risk for diabetes, Steingraber says.
•Genetics. Studies consistently show that black girls in the USA go into puberty earlier than whites, suggesting a possible genetic difference. Yet Steingraber notes that, 100 years ago, black girls actually matured later than whites. And she notes that black girls in Africa enter puberty much later than those in the USA, even when their nutrition and family incomes are comparable.
Kaplowitz notes that black girls in the USA tend to have higher levels of insulin and leptin. He notes that researchers are trying to figure out how problems in the body's response to insulin, which are more common among American blacks, might also affect the start of puberty.
•Environmental chemicals. A variety of chemicals — found in everything from pesticides to flame retardants and perfume — can interfere with the hormone system, Herman-Giddens says. For example, chemicals used to soften plastic, called phthalates, can act like hormones. In a small study of 76 girls in Puerto Rico, researchers found that 68% of girls who went through early puberty had been highly exposed to phthalates, compared with only 3% of girls developing normally.
Steingraber is also concerned about an estrogen-like chemical, called BPA, or bisphenol A, that is found in hard plastics, the linings of metal cans and many other consumer products. Although BPA can cause early puberty in animals, its role in humans isn't as clear. But studies by the CDC show that more than 90% of Americans have BPA in their bodies.
The National Institutes of Health is funding research to answer questions about environmental causes of early puberty and hormonal changes, says Frank Biro, director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Biro and colleagues are testing more than 1,200 girls for their exposure to chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, pesticides and chemical flame retardants. The National Children's Study, also funded by the federal government, will study 100,000 children, from before birth through age 21, looking at a variety of environmental exposures.
•Screen time. There's no evidence that watching sexy TV images can trigger puberty, but spending too much time in front of the screen can harm kids in other ways, such as causing them to gain weight, Steingraber says.
Preliminary research also suggests that screen time may hasten puberty by lowering levels of a critical hormone called melatonin, whose production is regulated by the daily cycles of light and dark, and which appears to keep puberty at bay, Steingraber says.
•Family stress. Family relationships also may play a role in the start of puberty. Preliminary research suggests that girls may be more likely to develop early if they experience more family stress, or if they don't live with their biological fathers, says Julianna Deardorff, a clinical psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley's school of public health.


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Five U.S. Nuclear Reactors in Earthquake Zones INTERACTIVE USA MAP

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Five U.S. nuclear reactors in earthquake zones


By Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY


At least five U.S. nuclear reactors are in earthquake-prone seismic zones, potentially exposing them to the forces that damaged the Fukushima plant in Japan, a new analysis shows.

The at-risk reactors are the Diablo Canyon Power Plant and San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in California; the South Texas Project near the Gulf Coast; the Waterford Steam Electric Station in Louisiana; and the Brunswick Steam Electric Plant in North Carolina.
They appear in an analysis by the mapping and geographic data firm ESRI Inc., based in Redlands, Calif. The online map, the first of its kind to let the public search potential danger zones by address, includes U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) seismic information and earthquake history for every nuclear plant in the USA.
After the Fukushima disaster, President Obama ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to evaluate the earthquake risk of every nuclear plant in the nation, said Victor Dricks, an NRC spokesman. Dricks said NRC regulations require companies that build nuclear plants to take into account local seismic history and fortify the plants against the largest quake that is likely to occur.
Dricks said the U.S. has taken proper precautions to ensure the safety of its plants. San Onofre, for instance, is built to withstand a magnitude-7.0 earthquake within 5 miles of the site, he said. In addition, the plant is 30 feet above sea level and has a reinforced concrete sea wall that is 30 feet tall and could withstand a 27-foot tsunami.
Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant suffered major damage from a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and 46-foot tsunami that hit March 11. The disaster triggered nuclear radiation leaks and an extensive evacuation in the region around the plant, which was built to withstand a 19-foot tsunami.
The ESRI map aims to help Americans determine their risk. It allows users to plug in their location and find the five nearest nuclear plants.
Users can also determine whether they live within 10-mile or 50-mile U.S. evacuation zones of any nuclear plants and whether the region around the plant has been jolted by any major earthquakes, measuring magnitude-7.2 or higher, in the past 30 years.
"All of the earthquakes on this map are significant," said ESRI analyst Bronwyn Agrios, noting that the analysis was eye-opening for those on ESRI's staff. "We found that we're just on the cusp of the evacuation zone of the San Onofre plant, just down the coast on the ocean side. Right around our area there have been three earthquakes. We're in a highly dense area for faults. We can feel that. We can feel tremors every week."
William Leith, acting associate director for natural hazards at the USGS, said it's impossible to predict the precise timing, location and magnitude of an earthquake, in part because quakes have been measured in the USA only for a century.
Although most nuclear plants are in the central and eastern USA, where earthquakes are rare, the USGS ranks 39 states as having a high or moderate earthquake risk, Leith said. New studies have shown that at least 20 magnitude-9.0 earthquakes have struck off the coast of Northern California, Oregon and Washington in the past 20,000 years, most recently in 1700, he said.
"We don't want to alarm anybody," he said, "but it can happen here."


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Tons of Radioactive Waste at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants, Sometimes Stored for Decades

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INTERACTIVE MAP: Find out how close you are to a nuclear plant



Spent fuel rods have been stored in pools for years at Browns Ferry in Athens, Alabama.
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Spent rods fill U.S. nuke pools, NRC says

By Anne Paine The (Nashville) Tennessean

 www.usatoday.com
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ATHENS, Ala. — Tons of radioactive waste is piling up at U.S. nuclear power plants in water-filled pools, and some experts say dry-cask storage is safer.


At the Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry plant here, some of the used fuel rods have been steeping in water for decades.
Steve Kerekes a spokesman with the Nuclear Energy Institute, says the pools are safe and that operations in the U.S. have extra safeguards. But the Tokyo Electric Power Co. reports similar pools of spent fuel have released radioactive materials to the air since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan,while the radioactive waste stored in dry casks at the Japanese plant has remained secure.
In the U.S, more than 75% of the radioactive waste at the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors sits in pools, according to the. The rest is in dry storage casks
The pools were intended as temporary rest stops before transport to a central location for reprocessing or disposal. With no such sites available, the used rods, have been placed closer together than planned andlargely left in the pools.
While the NRC permits such packing, the TVA is considering a change.
"We're likely to do more dry-cask storage now," TVA spokesman Ray Golden said. Critics, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, say the pools are vulnerableand that the NRC should require the transfer to dry storage casks made of concrete and steel when the waste rods are cool enough, not when pools are nearly full.
The nuclear industry has hoped the federal government would build a long-term repository inside Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where nuclear waste from around the country could be held for hundreds of thousands of years. But the plan has encountered strong opposition.
NRC Commissioner Gregory Jaczko, who told Congress last month that U.S. nuclear plants and pools are safe, sees advantages in casks.
During a Nuclear Energy Institute Dry StorageForum in 2008, he said safety margins can be gained with "additional efforts to move spent nuclear fuel from pools to dry-cask storage."
That has not happened, yet, but the situation in Japan may spur it. Joy Russell with Holtec International, one of the country's few cask manufacturers, said her firm has received new inquires since the crisis in Japan. Tara Neider, former head of Transnuclear Inc. and now with Areva Federal Services, said demand already was good.



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Social Media's Muscle, Played Critical Role in Japan Disaster

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Japan crisis showcases social media's muscle

 

By Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY

April 11, 2011

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Nine days after Japan's catastrophic earthquake, two urgent pleas for help appeared on the Twitter stream of U.S. Ambassador John Roos:

"Kameda hospital in Chiba needs to transfer 80 patients from Kyoritsu hospital in Iwaki city, just outside of 30km(sic) range."
"Some of them are seriously ill and they need air transport. If US military can help, pls contact (name withheld) at Kameda."
The back-to-back tweets lit up Roos' mobile phone at 4 p.m. local time. Each was tagged with @AmbassadorRoos, his Twitter address, instantly sending a digital SOS to the top U.S. diplomat in Japan. A year ago, before Roos opened his Twitter account, getting his attention in such a direct, immediate way would not have been possible.
"The thing about Twitter is that it's so public," says Matt Fuller, the ambassador's chief aide. "You can see all the feeds directed at the ambassador. If he doesn't see them, I'm next to him pointing them out, saying, 'Here's some actionable information.' "
Japan's disaster has spotlighted the critical role that social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube and Skype increasingly are playing in responses to crises around the world. They may have been designed largely for online socializing and fun, but such sites and others have empowered people caught up in crises and others wanting to help to share vivid, unfiltered images, audio and text reports before governments or more traditional media can do so.
"Often, it's not the experts who know something, it's someone in the crowd," says Sree Sreenivasan, a social media specialist at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
As the Japanese continue the struggle to cool their nuclear reactors' molten cores and take stock of the devastation, the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, the San Diego State University Immersive Visualization Center and officials from more than a dozen other countries — including Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Greece and Israel — recently carried out a global social-media exercise called X-24 Europe.
The exercise was designed to harness the power of social media in a crisis scenario much like Japan's disaster. During the X-24 exercise, a simulated earthquake struck in the Adriatic Sea and propelled a tsunami ashore in Montenegro.
Japan's plight has highlighted the urgent need to prepare for such events, says Chris Maxin, a geologist and X-24's coordinator.
"The videos coming out of Japan really drive home the dangers we're facing," he says.
The emergency managers and military officers who planned X-24 say the idea was to tap the potential of social media to create video and text channels of communication that offer more immediacy and flexibility than the standard command-and-control operation anchored in a government war room. This new model for emergency response relies on "volunteer technical communities" of software developers, social media monitors and field volunteers, says Heather Blanchard, a founder of CrisisCommons, a group established to cultivate such efforts and support emergency agencies worldwide.
Working online from locations around the globe they meet via video, audio and text on Skype, in what they call "virtual emergency operations centers" and carry out countless tasks critical to the rescue and response effort. They hone their programming skills at computer "hackathons" — digital retreats designed to produce solutions to crisis communications and data management challenges — held by such dissimilar groups as "Random Hacks of Kindness," sponsored by social media players including Microsoft and Google, and the Naval Postgraduate School.
"We're trying to reconceptualize emergency response around resources that didn't exist five years ago," says Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), a leading proponent of social media. "Nobody invented Twitter to be an emergency messaging or disaster tool. It was developed for an entirely different purpose."
It's Leysia Palen's job to explore the impact of social media during mass emergencies. Palen, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, is the director of Project EPIC, a program begun two years ago with $2.8 million from the National Science Foundation to analyze how social media are used, and by whom, in global crises.
During just the last year or so, Palen says, volunteers using social media sites have played pivotal roles in responses to various types of global crises, from the BP Horizon oil spill to the unrest in the Middle East to the earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, New Zealand and Japan.
In Japan, it took just two brief messages of about 100 letters each, to alert Roos to the plight of 80 patients at Kyoritsu Hospital, 27 miles from the near meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
When the earthquake struck, Kyoritsu had 650 patients in its beds. All but the sickest had been released or transferred. Kameda Medical Center in Chibu, a 950-bed, resort-style hospital that courts wealthy medical tourists, had agreed to take the rest. But with the Fukushima reactors leaking radiation, no trucker or ambulance driver would get close. The hospital was running out of food and medical supplies.
Overwhelmed local authorities took no apparent notice. Hospital director Nobuo Hiwatashi issued an appeal through the Mainichi Japan newspaper. Still no response.
Officials at Kameda turned to Roos. The ambassador alerted the U.S. Embassy's defense attache, who passed it down through the U.S. military chain of command, says Fuller, Roos' aide. An hour or so later, Fuller says, "we got a note back," saying the patients would be evacuated by Japan's Ground Self-Defense Forces.
Two tweets had mobilized troops.

Volunteers are breaking stereotypes

Christine Thompson was asleep in her home in Boydton, Va., when her phone rang at 2:14 a.m. on March 11. The caller told Thompson, a founder of a social media crisis-response team called Humanity Road, that an earthquake had struck off the coast of Japan. Widely scattered volunteers were gathering on Skype to set up an "virtual emergency operations center." Thompson logged in.
A longtime employee of Verizon who plans to retire soon, Thompson — who also volunteers for the American Red Cross— understands communications. She helped her sister, Cat Graham, also a Red Cross volunteer, establish an Internet cafe in Lawrenceville, Ga., after Hurricane Katrina. Thompson also helped set up an emergency operations center in the Haitian embassy in Washington after a third founder, lawyer Cary Mitchell who was at the embassy, found Thompson tweeting as "RedCrossMom" and recruited her to help.
Within two hours of the Japan earthquake alert, Thompson's team seized on a Tweet from a housewife in Japan who reported that the roof of a school gym in Kokubunzi had collapsed, with students trapped inside.
The Tweet came so soon after the disaster that Humanity Road volunteers were unable to raise any first responders in Japan near enough to the scene to help. But a subsequent search revealed that helicopters were hovering overhead soon after the roof collapse. Newspaper coverage revealed that 16 people had been injured, none seriously. All were rescued.
"Most of the time we never get any feedback on whether our efforts helped or hindered," Thompson says. That doesn't deter Humanity Road volunteers, who work round-the-clock shifts because few people severely injured in a major disaster last longer than 48 hours, she says.
Palen of the University of Colorado says Humanity Road reflects an unexpected dimension of social media. She unearthed their network during a study of more than 70 million Haiti earthquake tweets. She tracked down the members, interviewed many of them and found that 75% are women with an average age of 40, far from the stereotype of highly connected Twitterati.
"The stereotypes are changing," Palen says. "They're going to be changing fast."
Other social media groups formed in equally unexpected ways. One whose approach has played a pivotal role in Japan is Ushahidi, Swahili for witness, formed to track political violence during the 2007 elections. The group's founders, Kenyan bloggers and a software developer, created an "open-street map" platform that enables digital volunteers to create maps for first responders in disaster zones.
Ushahidi got its first big test after the Haiti earthquake. Patrick Meier, then a Tufts University foreign affairs grad student who helped Ushahidi get seed money, decided he couldn't sit by and watch the tragedy unfold. "I couldn't keep watching," he says. "I had to do something."
Meier put out a call for volunteers. They began creating a crisis map in his Boston apartment.
"We were all crammed into my living room," he says. "It was snowing outside. Here we were on a live Skype call with search-and-rescue teams in Port-au-Prince."
Soon the Marine Corps and Coast Guard were using the program to stage relief efforts. The World Food Program sent Meier's team a list of displaced-person camps along with a request for GPS coordinates so volunteers could locate them.
In Japan, Meier says, colleagues familiar with the Ushahidi approach launched their own crisis map "within a couple of hours." It may be the largest crisis map ever created, containing more than 8,000 reports from social media detailing such items as shelters, food stores, open gas stations, road closures, building damage assessments and cellphone charging centers, he says. "They had it all down, and organized. They knew how to use the software and the links. That was not the case in Haiti."

Companies step up to help

Volunteer first responders aren't the only ones who use social media during emergencies. The rest of us do too, according to a poll released in March by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Within days of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, 64% of blog links, 32% of Twitter news links and the top 20 YouTube videos carried news and information about the crisis in Japan, the center says.
As many as 4 billion people worldwide — and 84% of Americans — now use mobile phones worldwide, according to a United Nations report released in March and the Pew survey. Social media companies have transformed themselves not only to accommodate this traffic, but to help out.
Within an hour of the Japanese earthquake, Google's crisis response team — launched after the disaster in Haiti — had posted a "Person Finder" website that quickly grew to include 450,000 records, says Jamie Yood, of Google. "If you're looking for someone, you can post, 'Hey, my cousin is a teacher in Sendai, we're looking for him. Someone else will post, "I've seen him in a shelter; he's fine."
Google engineers also developed a software program that enables people to take snapshots of the lists of names posted on the walls of Japanese homeless shelters and scan them into Person Finder, thus entering thousands of survivors' names into a searchable database, Yood says. Person Finder also incorporates names that were once scattered through many other missing-persons databases.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, created its own video person finder. More people than ever access the videos on mobile phones, says spokeswoman Annie Baxter. Now about 200 million people a day watch videos on their mobile phones, triple the number of a year ago, she says.
"In Japan, we've had the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) take to YouTube to get their messages out," Baxter says. "It's going where your audience is. In the week following the earthquake and tsunami, people viewed more than 40 million (disaster-related) items."
Twitter's traffic is just as eye-popping, says spokesman Matt Graves. "Right now, on any given day, people are sending 140 million messages," he says, "a billion tweets every eight days."
After the earthquake, Twitter proved more reliable than e-mail or phones, says Daisuke Kitagawa, 35, a Tokyo-based software engineer, who lived in New York during 9/11 and wasn't surprised when his cellphone and e-mail service stopped.
"Twitter helped me the best," Kitagawa said via e-mail. "I'm attached to a tight community of specialists in Japan. We shared important information. Facebook did not work during the disaster," because digital networks were down or overloaded.

Adding speed and volume

Already, the volume of information unleashed by people using social media has begun to overtake traditional emergency managers, who are used to running their disaster-response efforts from centralized war rooms and drawing from reports updated every few hours.
As workers raced to contain the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, more than 100 U.S. emergency managers gathered in Washington, D.C., at a brainstorming session they organized to look for new ways to use social media to save lives.
Compared with social media, information moves at a relative snail's pace even in today's post-9/11 war rooms, with their vast Internet bandwidth and huge TV screens, says Blanchard, a former deputy director of the U.S. government's preparedness website, www.ready.gov.
"Currently, situation reports aren't real-time," she says. "They can be up to six to eight hours old."
Social media can bridge that gap, she says, but first emergency managers must overcome longstanding hurdles, such as policies that restrict them from acting on information that doesn't flow from official sources.
FEMA administrator Fugate says this has to change. "We've got to stop looking at the public as a liability and start looking at them as a resource," Fugate says. What makes social media so different than other emergency response tools, he says, is that it "allows a two-way conversation in the impact zone, so that we can link people with information, resources and ideas."
In some cases, intelligence gleaned from social media also can be used to avert tragedies remotely related to a catastrophic event.
For example, news that the Fukushima reactors were leaking radiation triggered a scare throughout Southeast Asia, says Sari Setiogi, of the World Health Organization. By monitoring Twitter, she says, "we learned that people were drinking liquid iodine, the wound cleaner, because they were panicked about radiation."
Setiogi says they were making the potentially deadly error of substituting tincture of iodine for potassium iodide tablets, which do protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine. To make matters worse, radiation at the time posed no real threat to the Tweeters.
"We posted on Facebook, 'Do not drink wound cleaner iodine, because it won't protect you from radiation and it can poison you." Soon, she said, the number of tweets advising people to drink iodine began to drop off.
"Then people began tweeting: 'You're kidding. You're really drinking liquid iodine?' "


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BABY FOOD: Alarming Levels Arsenic, Toxic Metals Found, Makers Claim Within Safety Limits


Researchers found feeding infants twice a day on the shop-bought baby foods such as rice porridge can increase their exposure to arsenic by up to fifty times when compared to breast feeding alone
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Arsenic and toxic metals found in baby foods

Baby foods used to wean infants off milk have been found to contain "alarming" levels of toxic contaminants including arsenic, lead and cadmium.

 
www.telegraph.co.uk
09 Apr 2011
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Last night there were calls for urgent new safety rules to control the presence of the poisons in foods intended for young children.
The findings come as officials at the Food Standards Agency and the European Commission are conducting an urgent review to establish new limits for the long term exposure of these contaminants in food.
The products tested by the researchers were made by major baby food manufacturers including Organix, Hipp, Nestle and Holle - some of which are available in British supermarkets.
Researchers found feeding infants twice a day on the shop-bought baby foods such as rice porridge can increase their exposure to arsenic by up to fifty times when compared to breast feeding alone.
Exposure to other toxic metals such as cadmium, which is known to cause neurological and kidney damage, increased by up to 150 times in some of the foods tested by Swedish scientists, while lead increased by up to eight times.
Although none of the levels of the toxic elements found in the foods exceeded official safety limits, scientists believe they are still of concern if fed to very young children and have demanded new guidelines to restrict their presence in food.
Young infants are thought to be particularly vulnerable to these substances because they are going through rapid development.
Writing in the journal of Food Chemistry, the scientists from the Unit of Metals and Health at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, where the research was carried out, said: "Alarmingly, these complementary foods may also introduce high amounts of toxic elements such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and uranium, mainly from their raw materials.
"These elements have to be kept at an absolute minimum in food products intended for infant consumption.
"In infant foods, the high concentrations of arsenic in the rice-based foods are of particular concern."
Experts now believe there are no safe limits for arsenic and manufacturers should be making more efforts to remove it from their food.
Professor Andrew Meharg, a biogeochemist at Aberdeen University who has studied the presence of arsenic in rice, said the latest research highlighted the urgent need for new restrictions on arsenic and other toxic elements in food.
He said: "For an adult with an average consumption of rice every day, it makes little difference, but for young babies who are the most vulnerable receptors we should be doing everything we can to reduce that risk. You don't want DNA damage during infant development.
"There are ways to decrease the toxic load in food. It is only recently that we have started using rice in baby foods and formulas. You can reduce the arsenic in infant foods very rapidly by sourcing the rice from different parts of the world. You can reduce it by four or five fold by carefully selecting the right rice."
The researchers tested nine different brands of baby food, which were intended to be fed to children from the age of four months old, and nine baby milk formulas.
They found that when compared to breast milk, the baby foods had elevated levels of toxic contaminants measured in micrograms - a millionth of a gram, or 35 billionths of an ounce.
The daily safe intake limit for arsenic was set by the World Health Organisation as two micrograms for every kilogram of body weight, but this was suspended earlier this year amid growing evidence that arsenic can cause cancer even at low levels.
The limits for lead have also been suspended while those for cadmium are one microgram for every kilogram of body weight.
Arsenic and the other heavy metals found in the study are often found in food as they are absorbed from the soil by plants such as rice, wheat and oats.
Among the baby foods found to contain elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead in the tests by the researchers was Organix First Organic Whole Grain Baby Rice, which they found contained two micrograms of arsenic per portion, along with 0.03 micrograms of cadmium and 0.09 micrograms of lead. This product is sold by Boots in the UK.
HiPP Organic Peach and Banana Breakfast porridge, which is sold by supermarkets in the UK including Tesco, contained 1.7 micrograms of arsenic, 0.13 micrograms of cadmium and 0.33 micrograms of lead.
Holle Organic Rice Porridge, which is sold by specialist retailers, was found to contain 7.3 micrograms of arsenic per portion - the highest found in the study - along with 0.38 micrograms of cadmium and 0.26 micrograms of lead.
The Swedish National Food Administration is now conducting its own review of toxic elements and metals in baby food and food for older children as a result of the research. The results will be reported to the European Food Safety Authority and the European Commission, which is responsible for setting food safety limits.
The Sunday Telegraph contacted each of the major manufacturers of leading brands of baby food sold in the UK but most refused to reveal the levels of toxic contaminants found in their products. Heinz, Cow & Gate, Nestle, and HiPP all insisted their foods contained levels that were within safety limits.
Dr Karin Ljung, who led the Swedish research, said: "The producers will say they are not above any guideline values and it is true – they are following all the rules.
"The trouble is that the guidelines are not based on infant exposure. As we are getting more information coming out, it is may be time to reconsider what these safety limits are."
She added that breast feeding until babies were six months old appeared to be the best way to keep infants' exposure to these toxic contaminants as low as possible as they seemed to be filtered out by the mothers' body.
There are currently no EU-wide regulations for arsenic levels in food after the European Food Safety Authority ruled that previous safety limits were inadequate.
Jackie Schneider, from the Children's Food Campaign, said: "We expect full transparency from baby food manufacturers and are disappointed that they are choosing to not share the relevant data.
"Parents aren't stupid and they deserve to be given the facts so they can make an informed choice"
A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency said previous reviews of the levels of toxic elements in baby food found them to be present at low levels.
He added: "The Agency is actively engaging with the European Commission to review and establish long term limits for these environmental contaminants in food."
A spokesman for the British Specialist Nutrition Association, the trade body for baby food producers in the UK, said: "BSNA members carefully select and control their ingredients as well as the baby food, to ensure they are safe for infants.
"That selection of suitable ingredients ensures the lowest possible occurrence of certain naturally-occurring substances. Ingredients that do not meet stringent specifications are not used in baby foods."
A spokesman for HiPP insisted the levels of arsenic and cadmium in their Organic Peach and Banana Breakfast porridge were under the official daily intake limits and so were safe as part of a daily diet.
She said: “The levels of cadmium and arsenic in HiPP products are safe and all raw materials are routinely tested following the strictest quality criteria.”
A spokesman for Organix said: “Organix operates rigorous finished food testing to ensure food safety is monitored regularly. This includes testing for elements, microbiological, allergen and pesticide residues.
“Our further testing of finished foods and raw materials show ALL results conform to the current UK food standard. We continue to monitor both our own internal results together with those of our suppliers.
“Please rest assured that we fully assess both the Food Standards Agency’s guidelines and any new research and will continue to do so.”
A spokesman for Plum added: “Sampling of our recipe shows levels for arsenic are well below those in this latest study, and again these are well within the generally regarded safe and acceptable limits.”
Nestle said it did not recommend the use of it infant cereals before six months of age, but they carefully selected their raw materials to ensure substances absorbed from the soil were as low as possible.

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Walmart 'It's Back' Flag, 8,500 Products Added, Try to Lure Customers Back

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Walmart adding 8,500 products to try to lure customers back

BY KAVITA KUMAR
post-dispatch.com
April 11, 2011
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In an effort to reverse two years of same-store sales declines, Walmart is adding up to 8,500 products to the shelves -- a mix of new products as well as many items that had been taken out of U.S. stores in a strategy that did not pay off for the world's largest retailer.
The added products, amount to about an 11 percent increase in an average store, include a wide cross-section of items such as pasta, beverages, and snacks, which have mostly already been re-introduced into stores.
In the next few months, it plans to bring back more fresh grocery and consumables such as more choices in paper towels and laundry detergent. Increased selections in electronics, sporting goods, apparel, fabrics and crafts as well as outdoor living products will hit stores later this year. The roll-out will be completed by the end of the year.
These returning items will be identified by a "It's Back" flag on the store shelves.
Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart's chief merchandising officer, said in a conference call with reporters this morning that the company hopes to re-establish and reinforce its position as a one-stop shopping destination.
"This campaign is really about having the broadest assortment in the market," he said.
To make room for the products, the company will be adding higher shelves and narrowing some of the aisles that the store had previously widened, he said.
The retailer is kicking off a new advertising campaign today to highlight the increased product assortment as well as to get the word out about a simplified price-match guarantee policy in which customers do not have to bring in a competitor's advertisement, but can just mention it at the register. The company said it is training employees to help ensure the policy is applied consistently at all of its stores.
As part of this new initiative, Walmart said it would also work more closely with suppliers to lower the cost on items and would also check the competition more closely to make sure Walmart is offering the lowest prices.
Walmart has struggled with its sales numbers recently with seven straight quarters of sales declines in U.S. stores open at least a year.

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Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster: Health care mandate should be struck down

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Mo. AG: Health care mandate should be struck down

BY JAKE WAGMAN
post-dispatch.com
April 11, 2011
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ST. LOUIS -- Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has entered the fray over the federal health care law, filing a brief that argues the bill's individual mandate exceeds Congressional authority.
After months of remaining publicly neutral on the issue, Koster, a Democrat, filed a friend of the court brief Monday in a federal case in Florida where several states have joined together to combat President Barack Obama's health care plan.
The attorney general's move against the health care mandate is sure to raise eyebrows among progressives, some who have been wary of Koster's party credentials since he defected from the GOP a year before running statewide.
In a letter to state House and Senate leaders, Koster said his position is "not based on any opposition to the expansion of health coverage for uninsured Americans."
"To the contrary, I favor the expansion of health coverage," Koster wrote.
However, Koster cited Proposition C -- the successful August ballot measure that sought to exclude Missouri from the health care mandate -- to conclude that federal and state law are "in conflict."
He also argued that the healthcare mandate goes beyond Congress' ability to regulate commerce between states.
"Therefore, it follows that the federal courts, in reviewing this aspect of the law, must either expand Congress’ Commerce Clause authority, justify the provision on alternate constitutional grounds, or strike down the individual mandate," Koster wrote in his letter to the General Assembly.
The actual 35-page brief itself veers into the ethereal, comparing the argument against a health care mandate to Henry Thoreau's self-imposed sojourn from civilization in 1845.
In essence, the brief argues that Congress does not have the ability to penalize citizens for inactivity, whether its not obtaining healthcare insurance or not fishing on Walden Pond.
Koster does offer some consolation to supporters of the health care law, arguing that even if the mandate provision is struck down, it should not invalidate the entire law.
Republicans have been pressing Koster for months to weigh-in on a similiar federal case in Missouri launched by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. The Florida case, though, is much further along in the judicial process.
Koster, who took office in 2009, is up for re-election next year. It will be interesting to watch the political reaction Koster's brief elicits from members of his current party -- who have defended and fought for the president's health care bill -- and his old party, whose plaudits for Koster may make it harder to unseat him in 2012.

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Marine Corporal Todd Nicely Benefit Concert, Missouri Wounded Veteran Honored By Actor Gary Sinise - VIDEO ANNOUNCEMENT

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Gary Sinise announces benefit concert for local wounded veteran

David Carson
www.stltoday.com
April 11, 2011
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Actor Gary Sinise announces a Memorial Day Weekend concert to benefit wounded Marine Corporal Todd Nicely of St. Louis. Sinise's "Lt. Dan Band" will play at the Family Arena in St. Charles on May 27th. Nicely is one of only three surviving quadruple amputees of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lost both his arms and legs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan on March 26, 2010.

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Silver Surges Gold Slips Below Record High

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Gold falls from record high, but silver surges

The yellow metal slips as the dollar strengthens, while silver extends its explosive rally.

By TheStreet Staff
Apr 11, 2011

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By Alix Steel, TheStreet


Gold prices were falling Monday as investors traded in their gold for cash at record high prices and as the U.S. dollar rallied.

Gold for June delivery was down $6 to $1,468.10 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold has traded as high as $1,478 and as low as $1,465.40, while the spot gold price was shedding more than $7, according to Kitco's gold index.

Investors were cashing in on gold's record rally Friday, when the metal popped 1%. Record prices might also be scaring off traders worried about buying at the top. Silver prices seemed immune and were still rallying 12 cents to $40.73 an ounce despite jumping 7% last week.

The U.S. dollar index was adding 0.3% to $75.05 in a relief rally after the U.S. government avoided a shutdown and nailed down a budget for 2011. The currency had been selling off in anticipation of a government shutdown, which helped push gold higher Friday.
Oil prices were also reversing their Friday rally as rumors circulated of a possible cease fire in Libya orchestrated by the African Union. Saudi Arabia said it would be able to produce 12.5 million barrels of oil a day if need be, further offsetting supply concerns.

Silver, despite being affected by the same fundamentals as gold, is continuing its surge past $40 an ounce. The latest bank participation report from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed contracts betting against silver on the Comex grew 23% since the beginning of the year, which could signal a deeper correction to come -- or the possibility of higher prices if traders buy back those positions after silver's explosive rally.

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Blame Obama High Oil Prices "this country can never, ever recover" if oil prices continue to go up. TRUMP

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Trump: Obama Is to Blame For High Oil Prices

 Monday, 11 Apr 2011
By: Margo D. Beller
Special to CNBC.com

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Real estate developer Donald Trump blames President Obama for the rising price of oil, warning, "this country can never, ever recover" if oil prices continue to go up.
"That's really the life's blood of the country," Trump told CNBC in a phone interview on Monday. The Trump Organization chairman, who says he's considering running for president, plans to decide "before June" on the matter.
He contended that Obama is not a leader and is "in bed with these (OPEC) people. He doesn't speak the way you have to speak to them."
Although he blames China for "ripping off our country," Trump gives them credit for using US funds to rebuild airports, bridges and other infrastructure.
"When was the last time you saw a bridge being built in the United States? You see them falling down all the time. When was the last time you saw an airport being built? We're like a third-world country."


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NEW FREEDOM IN EGYPT: Blogger Gets 3 years Jail For Criticizing Military

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Egypt blogger gets 3 years for criticising military: lawyer


www.breitbart.com
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A military court has jailed a blogger for three years for criticising the armed forces that have ruled Egypt since president Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February, in a decision slammed by rights groups on Monday.
"Regrettably, the Nasr City military court sentenced Maikel Nabil to three years in prison," the blogger's lawyer Gamal Eid told AFP.
"The lawyers were not present, the verdict was handed out almost in secret."
The decision had initially been set for Wednesday and was postponed to Sunday. The lawyers went on Sunday but were told to leave because there would be no verdict, Eid said.
"We were then very surprised to hear that he (Nabil) was sentenced to three years," said Eid, who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
The verdict is likely to cause concern among Egypt's large network of bloggers who had hoped Mubarak's overthrow in a popular uprising would usher in a new era of freedom of expression.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the ruling, saying Nabil had become "the new government's first prisoner of conscience."
"The methods used by the Egyptian military do not seem to have evolved since Hosni Mubarak's fall," the group's secretary general Jean-Francois Julliard said.
"They show the degree to which the military still cannot be criticised and are still a taboo subject. A civilian should not be tried by a military court," he said.
"Egypt has begun a process of democratisation and it should now be possible to criticise the armed forces like any other component of the state," Julliard said.
Last week, Human Rights Watch called for the charges to be dropped.
It said Egypt's armed forces "should drop all charges against (Nabil) for his Internet posts critical of the military."
"This trial sets a dangerous precedent at a time when Egypt is trying to transition away from the abuses of the Mubarak era," said HRW's Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson.
It was the first trial of a blogger by a military court since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces assumed control after Mubarak resigned on February 11 following 18 straight days of anti-regime protests.
Military police arrested Nabil, a campaigner against conscription, on March 28 after he wrote blogs criticising the military, HRW said.
His posts and comments on social networking website Facebook were used as evidence against him in the trial, HRW quoted his lawyers as saying.
Last year, a military court sentenced another blogger to six months in prison for publishing "military secrets" after he posted instructions on Facebook on how to enlist in the armed forces, his lawyers said at the time.
Another blogger was acquitted after publishing a post on alleged patronage in a military academy.
The military, which has pledged to hand power to a civilian government once parliamentary and presidential elections are held, has tried and sentenced dozens of people in recent weeks for crimes such as robbery and assault.
The trials are speedy and can result in harsh sentences, rights groups say. 



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