Turn the Lights Off When You Stay

Two outbreaks of eye injury were recently reported by the CDC. The outbreaks shared one key thing in common – broken lights.

Passing the Buck

I recently attended a lecture on the topic of the history of paper money and public fears connected to it. Not currency as the root of all evil, but rather as a source of disease.

No Man is an Island

When a close friend contracted a serious West Nile virus infection, it caused me to expand my own considerations of what constitutes a household hazard.

Leaf Blowers and Rabbit Fever

The recent outbreak of Legionnaire’s pneumonia in Flint Michigan linked to contamination of the public water supply teaches us that we live in an interconnected environment.

There’s Gold in Them Thar Kitchens

This past week, the CDC released a report on a 59-year-old Iowa man who got sick trying to extract precious metals from scrap computer parts, by cooking mercury on a kitchen stove.

Countertop Contretemps

When a letter to the editor appeared in a prestigious medical journal reporting the death of a patient linked to a common countertop material, the manufacturer’s response was not just immediate, it was published simultaneously. DuPont challenged the report that impugned Corian, a product it argued was perfectly safe, if used as directed.

Meet the Methyl Toxic Chemical Family

Earlier this summer, the CDC released a report on a family vacation gone terribly wrong. Back in March, two adults and two teenagers vacationed at a condominium resort in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Unbeknownst to them, a pest control company was fumigating the condo below with the highly toxic chemical methyl bromide.

Dog Days of Summer

An 11-year old with severe injury to the liver was reported in June, linked to the use of a commercially-available blue-green algae dietary supplement. The victim’s liver dysfunction was severe enough to adversely affect her blood clotting ability and it required hospitalization. To the relief of her owners, the 11 year-old, twenty pound Pug dog made a full recovery.

Disease by Any Other Name

The World Health Organization, aka the W.H.O, recently decreed to great fanfare that new diseases no longer should be given a name linked to any person, place, or human activity. The stated rationale was the need to avoid stigma, but sub rosa, this was as much about financial sensitivity as it was consideration of potential victims.

The Sky Isn’t Falling

This spring, our national public health authorities announced that nearly 400 cases of salmonella bacterial intestinal infection had been identified. They were due to a single, shared cause.

Live Long and Prosper

The recent death of Leonard Nimoy led me to ponder what we might glean from science fiction about the everyday hazards of the sort that are the focus of this blog. It seems that in the future, everyone will live in a world (more correctly, on worlds) where every household will be safe and all products on the market will be risk-free...

Lychee Hazard

This week the Centers for Disease Control (CCD) came out with a warning about lychee fruit. A mysterious, cyclically recurrent epidemic of life-threatening seizures in children in India was finally linked to a cause. And that cause turned out to be consumption of unripe lychee fruit.

Caution When Opening the Complementary Medicine Cabinet

A while back, a patient was transferred to our hospital for specialized treatment for what was presumed to be a rare metabolic disorder. It turned out that the young woman actually suffered from lead poisoning linked to self-treatment with traditional medications containing toxic levels of that metal.

Of Vultures and Pain Killers

A colleague who is visiting our Poison Control Center from Europe recently asked me if I knew anything about vultures and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, specifically diclofenac. The near extinction of the dominant species of vulture in the Indian subcontinent is linked to this pharmaceutical...

Silicon-Based Life [-threatening]

Science fiction speculates as to what it would be like if long chains of elemental silicon were the starting point for the chemistry of life, the doctor as stonemason gambit. A recent mass outbreak of lung injury, tied to a stain-proofing spray, underscores that for those of us who evolved on this planet, long chains of silicon may not be so good.

War Gas at Home

I recently attended a comprehensive review course on medical toxicology, including a session on chemical warfare agents. What I didn't expect was something on no-stick pans.

The Buzz on Antibacterial Soap and Toothpaste

With all the concern over Ebola virus, there has been heightened awareness of risks that can be faced by health care workers who are just doing their best to care for patients.

The High Life

Somewhere between the extremes of a mythicly elegant allure of high-rise living and the angst of multistory residence in the face of conflagration, may lay a middle-ground of more mundane pluses and minuses. I began to ponder this topic after stumbling across a medical study that seemed to have filled- in a score card of just such wins and losses.

Not So Good Things from the Valley

Human Rights Watch, whose reports cover topics such as the genocide in Rwanda, police abuses and accountability in Malaysia, and the mistreatment of Tibetans in Nepal, has come a bit closer to home. It issued a new report on child labor in the U.S. tobacco fields and the illness resulting from such work. The key problem is from exposure to a natural pesticide: nicotine.

Hookah Hazard

In yet another version of what’s old is new again, water pipe (hookah) tobacco smoking is nouveau-retro-trendy, at least in certain circles. As researchers in Israel have recently shown, not only does smoking tobacco in a hookah provide for efficient nicotine delivery, this practice also leads to alarmingly high levels of carbon monoxide levels.

Learning about Labels

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported on cases of illness it has been tracking, not caused by some new super-bug, but rather from a common-enough household product called “pest strips.” These are dichlorvos (DDVP) pesticide-laced (the CDC prefers to say “impregnated”) objects that are intended to leach out vapors wherever they hang.

The Fog of War (On Pests)

In South Korea they have been struggling with a stealth enemy that has penetrated home defenses and lethally attacked innocent civilians. This is not the result of an evil plot emanating from the other side of the demilitarized zone. Rather, it seems to have been the result of untested chemical agents widely sold and commonly used to kill germs in home humidifiers.

After the Bloom Fades

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) underscores yet another potential emerging hazard: harmful “algal” blooms. The freshwater overgrowths the CDC detailed represent more than just repulsive surface scum. The accumulated microscopic organisms that are blooming can release biotoxins, naturally occurring, but nonetheless hazardous substances.

False Identity: Generally Recognized As Safe

In an important step, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to take a second look as a “laundry list” of chemical additives the up until now have gotten a free pass. The FDA is revisiting the status of a large group of chemicals that are added to everyday consumer products as “anti-microbial agents”

Liver Crisis

A friend at my Thanksgiving table told me this was going to be his first real meal in 48 hours. Having just returned from a holiday in France, I kidded him that he must have been cleansing his liver after a prolonged rich food challenge. He responded that the French have a word for that: la crise de foie – liver crisis. Hawaii may want to adapt this term, literally.

Let’s Foam Party! Not

Those old public service messages about the brain on drugs and the visual of the egg sunny side up in the frying pan came to mind when I saw a CDC report about eye injury hazards from “foam parties.”

Having a Ball

The same day this week two different two companies announced recalls for similar toys: Be Amazing!’s Monster Science Growing Spider and Eco-Novelty’s Cosmo Beads (in the jumbo size). One thing they had in common was being made of a superabsorbent synthetic material that swells dramatically when exposed to water.

Blow-Up the Down Staircase

Even against a backdrop of heightened vigilance over potential domestic terrorism, sounding an alarm over school-age “pranks,” even if they get out of hand, may seem to be overdoing a bit. But it is exactly the scenario of explosive adolescence that is raising concern at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the federal CDC.

Is Black the True Color of Your Love’s Hair?

There is a general perception (or misperception) that gratuitously toxic products are more or less kept in check. Here is a cautionary tale of a toxic hair product countering that Panglossian view: not a parable of a pricey Brazilian blow-out, but rather a humbler narrative about a basic black dye called paraphenylenediamine.

Fungus Among Us

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has been closely tracking the new variant of avian flu emerging in the bird markets of China. But the CDC has more than that on its plate of course. One of the other emergent problems it is concerned with is a homegrown epidemic of “Valley Fever.”