Monthly Archives: January 2014

Bolstering a Link Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Lead Exposure

By Julia Calderone,

Researchers striving to understand the origins of dementia are building the case against a possible culprit: lead exposure early in life. A study spanning 23 years has now revealed that monkeys who drank a lead-rich formula as infants later developed tangles of a key brain protein, called tau, linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Though neuroscientists say more work is needed to confirm the connection, the research suggests that people exposed to lead as children—as many in America used to be before it was eliminated from paint, car emissions, water, and soil—could have an increased risk of the common, late-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Even in small doses, lead can wreak havoc on the heart, intestines, kidneys, and nervous system. Children are especially prone to its pernicious effects, as it curbs brain development. Many studies have linked early lead exposure with lower IQs. Researchers estimate that one in 38 children in the United States still have harmful levels of the metal in their systems, but evidence linking this exposure to dementia later in life has been tenuous.

A team led by toxicologist Nasser Zawia, however, has vigorously pursued the lead hypothesis. In one early study, from 2008, the group showed that plaques, insoluble globs of a protein called β-amyloid, marred the brains of five macaques that had consumed a lead-enriched formula as infants. The researchers had compared the preserved brain tissues from those macaques, sacrificed in 2003 at age 23 in a National Institutes of Health lab, with four similarly aged monkeys who had had lead-free formula. The amyloid plaques closely resembled those in the brains of adults with Alzheimer’s disease that are thought to contribute to the dementia.

“This is very strong evidence that early [lead] exposure can determine what happens in old age,” says Zawia, of the University of Rhode Island, Kingston. The team’s results appear in the December issue of NeuroToxicology.

Now, Zawia’s team has used brain samples from the same five macaques that received lead-enriched formula to find clear evidence of another structural change strongly linked to Alzheimer’s: tangles of tau protein. It’s not certain how, or even if, these tangles promote dementia, but when tau proteins decompose into crumpled strands inside a neuron, the cell’s vital transport system can become blocked. The researchers analyzed frontal cortex tissues to show that the lead-exposed monkeys had three times more irregular tau protein in their brain cells than the monkeys who drank normal formula as infants. Moreover, the genetic instructions that assemble the tau proteins were altered, suggesting that early lead exposure epigenetically reprogrammed the monkeys’ DNA.

The brain physiologies of macaques and humans are close enough that dementia researchers should pay attention to the findings, says neuroscientist Marc Weisskopf of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “This study adds another important piece to this link between early-life lead exposure and Alzheimer’s-like pathology.”

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Make your home healthy in the new year

By Tom Phelan, ReminderNews

We all worry at some time about our own health and that of our family members. Part of thinking about our health also means thinking about how healthy our home environment is. When we move into a new home, just getting everything stored and functional is the main concern. We might leave health concerns to a later date, and perhaps even overlook them completely.

The Centers for Disease Control has a checklist for healthy homes that is quite extensive and goes to something of an extreme. Many of the things listed there have been covered in this column at one time or another. Here’s a review of some of the things I think are most important – a “short list” of things you can check pretty quickly.

Keep the air inside of your home healthy by installing carbon monoxide detectors near the bedrooms. Prevent moisture from accumulating anywhere in the home that will foster mold growth. Mold can create respiratory problems, which can be severe to anyone with a sensitive respiratory system. Install fan-driven vents in bathrooms to take moisture outside the home. Safely vent your clothes dryer to the outside, and check it for lint accumulation at least annually.

Use a dehumidifier in the basement and any other areas that hold moisture, especially in the humid months of the year. Conversely, you might need to use a humidifier in living areas during the heating season, when the house is tightly sealed and humidity is low.

Test for radon in your home. The test kit is inexpensive and easy to use. Like carbon monoxide, radon is odorless and colorless. According to the National Cancer Institute, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

Test for the presence of lead in paint. If your home was constructed after 1978, this should not be a concern. If you find the oldest layers of paint contain lead, research ways to address this exposure and fix any peeling or chipped paint. Read More

The mold wins: Cedarbrook Middle School to close

By Jessica Parks, Inquirer Staff Writer

Cheltenham School District officials announced a plan Monday to close Cedarbrook Middle School as early as Jan. 27, splitting its 750 students among four other campuses in the township.

The school board will vote Tuesday night on a contract with Gratz College to house half of Cedarbrook’s students.

The school is split into six teams, each with about 125 students. Two eighth-grade teams and one seventh-grade team will go to Gratz. One seventh-grade team will go to Elkins Park Elementary, and another to Cheltenham Elementary. The third eighth-grade team will go to Cheltenham High School.

At all four sites, the district plans to keep the middle schoolers confined to their own areas, away from older or younger students.

The district hopes by the 2015-16 school year to bring all Cedarbrook students back together in modular or temporary units on a single site.

It will likely take about four years to design and build a new permanent middle school, Thomas said.

Cedarbrook has been dealing with mold problems for a decade, and they spun out of control this summer. The school opened two weeks late in September as crews swept the building, and since then 12 classrooms and the cafeteria have had mold recurrences and are now closed.

At a meeting with parents Monday night, Superintendent Natalie Thomas said there was no more time to delay.

“There’s no amount of money that will prevent this from happening again in the spring or sooner,” Thomas said, noting that the leaky roof is already loaded with snow. Read More

Asbestos fears follow in the wake of cyclone Christine

By Leanne Nicholson,

cyclone asbestosThe cyclonic winds and pelting rain may have passed by Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions, however, ex-tropical cyclone Christine has exposed a fresh yet familiar danger for residents to contend with.

Asbestos in buildings, fencing and other building products dislodged or damaged during the wild weather now pose an additional health risk to Pilbara residents if they are exposed to the cancer-causing material.

Slater and Gordon asbestos lawyer Laine McDonald issued the warning to residents of the risks of asbestos exposure during the cleaning up of properties, homes and businesses battered by Christine.

“Once asbestos is disturbed, it can pose a real danger to health,” Ms McDonald said.


“Residents who are returning to their homes and businesses could be at risk of exposure, especially if they start cleaning up without the right protection.

“While it’s difficult to tell if a structure contains asbestos, if it was built in the mid-1980s – the time when this common building product was phased out – you assume there’s a risk.”

It’s believe about 600 Australian are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.

Asbestos was commonly used as a construction material throughout the Pilbara.

It was mined in Wittenoom, 1100 kilometres north-east of Perth in the Pilbara, before the town was evacuated and essentially wiped off the map by authorities.

“Asbestos products damaged by severe storms like cyclone Christine can release a very dangerous dust which, once breathed in, can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and other serious illnesses,” Ms McDonald said.

“Each year around 250 Western Australians die from asbestos-related diseases, with a lag of about 30-40 years between exposure and diagnosis of an illness.

“Asbestos products are still in our homes, businesses and communities more than 40 years after the Wittenoom mine closed, so it’s a hazard that continues to confront us all.”

Despite the category three cyclone coming within about 100 kilometres of the Town of Port Hedland, mayor Kelly Howlett said the district had escaped with minor damage, mostly to the area’s natural landscape.

“We’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do but we were very fortunate,” Cr Howlett said.

“We’ve not seen any bad structural damage, just a few trees down, a lot of sand swept up from the beach and a bit of flooding.”

Cr Howlett said new and updated property development in the region had reduced the number of buildings containing asbestos. Read More

Manufacturers lose $1.1B lead paint suit

By Joel Rosenblatt and Jack Kaskey, BLOOMBERG NEWS

Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and ConAgra Grocery Products LLC were ordered by a judge to pay $1.1 billion to replace or contain lead paint in millions of homes after losing a public-nuisance lawsuit brought by 10 California cities and counties.

Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg in San Jose, California, yesterday tentatively ruled against the companies after a non-jury trial that lasted about five weeks. Two other defendants, Atlantic Richfield Co., a Los Angeles-based unit of BP Plc, and Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont Co., won dismissal of the claims against them.

The local governments that sued, including Los Angeles County and the cities of San Diego and San Francisco, broke the companies’ streak of victories in similar suits in seven other states. Los Angeles County will get $605 million for lead abatement in the ruling.

Kleinberg rejected the manufacturers’ arguments that paint was “not the whole problem,” and that alternate sources of lead contribute to poisoning.

“Consistent with their arguments throughout the trial the defendants rely on statistics and percentages,” Kleinberg wrote. “When translated into the lives of children that is not a persuasive position. The court is convinced there are thousands of California children in the jurisdictions whose lives can be improved, if not saved through a lead abatement plan.” Read More

Increase in miscarriages coincided with high levels of lead in D.C. water, study finds

By Carol D. Leonning, http://www.washingtonpost.comLead

Late-term miscarriages and spontaneous abortions occurred at an unusually high rate among Washington women from 2000 through 2003 — during the same time frame that lead levels were dangerously high in the city’s drinking water, a study has found.

The increase in fetal deaths was an anomalous spike for the District, and the rate of women losing advanced pregnancies returned to average levels in 2004. That is the year that a Washington Post story alerted the public to the widespread lead problem in tap water, and federal health officials began urging children and pregnant women to instead drink filtered or bottled water.

The study findings, which are scheduled to be published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, do not prove that the city’s lead crisis caused fetal deaths or miscarriages. But the results show a significant correlation between the two events.

Lead is an extremely toxic metal, and ingestion of lead paint dust and high doses of lead in water have been traced to brain damage, behavioral problems and developmental delays in children. Exposure to lead has also been linked to miscarriages. In the early 1900s, lead-laced pills were used to induce abortions.

The study, by Virginia Tech environmental engineer Marc Edwards, contrasts sharply with government-led health studies that were released amid an outcry after people learned of hazardous lead in the water in 2004. Those studies largely rejected the notion that the water had harmed public health.

The data seem “to confirm the expectation, based on prior research, that about 20 to 30 extra fetal deaths occurred each year that the lead in water was high,” Edwards said.

One rushed and disputed analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asserted in April 2004 that there was no indication of health trouble from the water problem, even among children in homes with the highest lead levels in the water. Under repeated criticism, the CDC published a corrected analysis in 2010, acknowledging that this overarching statement had been misleading and based on incomplete data.

Today, the city’s drinking water has historically low levels of lead. But Edwards’s study looks back at that period when the city had some of the highest lead spikes in water ever recorded in the United States. The study tracks the rate at which pregnant Washington women suffered miscarriages known as fetal deaths — losing a pregnancy after 20 weeks — and charted the data before, during and after the city’s experience with unusually high levels of lead in drinking water. Read More

Front-load washing machines may contain hidden mold

Electrolux washing machine

Electrolux washing machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


By Kara Kenney,


Mold could be growing inside your washing machine, and you may never even know it, according to attorneys representing consumers.


Lawyers accuse some top companies of making defective front-loading washing machines, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.


Attorneys have also accused some manufacturers of knowing about the mold and trying to cover it up.


Many people love front loaders because they use less water, they’re quieter and they look sleek.


But some consumers across the country claim the machines ruined their clothes and wasted their money.


Ruth Ogden, of Gas City, bought a Whirlpool Duet front loader around 2004 and said after a year or so, she started noticing an odor in her clothes.


“It smelled like an old, dirty dishrag,” said Ogden.


For years, Ogden blamed her son.


“My son was as typical teenage slob, and we all thought the odor from him was getting into our clothes,” said Ogden, adding that she threw out clothes worth hundreds of dollars.


Ogden said she pulled out the soap dispenser one day and discovered mold and mildew growing in the machine.


“I used bleach, I used vinegar, I used ammonia, I used baking soda. I bought the Affresh things they sell,” said Ogden.


Whirlpool’s Duet Washer, like the one Ogden purchased, is the focus of a class-action lawsuit.


Attorneys allege the washers, sold between 2001 and 2008 without a steam feature, have “serious design defects” that can cause mold and mildew.


“The bottom line is the washers don’t clean themselves properly, the way a properly designed washer should clean itself,” said Mark Chalos, an attorney representing consumers in the class-action suit. 


Chalos alleges Whirlpool failed to properly warn consumers.


“They knew they had a problem with these machines going back years,” said Chalos.

The Call 6 Investigators found similar lawsuits against other top companies, such as LG, Bosch, GE, Sears and Kenmore.


Most of the machines named in lawsuits were sold between 2001 and 2008.


A lawsuit filed last month against Electrolux, the parent company of Frigidaire, alleges the company concealed material facts regarding some of its Frigidaire front loaders, including “defects in the stainless steel drums.”


“We filed suit against Electrolux to get compensation for persons like Ms. Fleming who own front load washers that suffer from the same mold defect,” said attorney Paul Weiss, who represents consumers, in an email to RTV6. “This is a problem that manufacturers like Electrolux have long known about, but have failed to fix or remedy.”


“We are vigorously defending ourselves in this matter,” said Eloise Hale, spokeswoman for Frigidaire, in an email to Kenney.


Attorneys told the Call 6 Investigators millions of consumers could be affected by mold problems in their washers and not even realize it.


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‘Ray of hope’ for sufferers of asbestos disease mesothelioma

By Nonee Walsh,

A new treatment for the asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma, is offering a ray of hope to victims of the deadly cancer, researchers say.

The Asbestos Diseases Research Institute in Sydney has published the results of laboratory testing of a novel genetic treatment in the international Journal Oncology.

The treatment uses bacterial mini cells which have no genetic information to carry messenger cells, or micro RNA, into mesothelioma tumours.

The mini cells are protected with a coating of anti-bodies that protect them on the way to the target.

Scientists say it appears to be halting the growth of cancer in animals.

“Over the course of the experiment, which was about a month in duration, we found that the tumours didn’t increase in size at all,” said senior researcher Doctor Glen Reid.

Dr Reid says low levels of micro RNAs in mesothelioma cells could be contributing to the rapid growth of the cancer.

“We find that the growth of the tumours is strongly repressed,” he said.

“So this is quite an exciting discovery, that micro RNA’s themselves can inhibit the growth of a tumour in an animal.” Read More