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. The topics covered went from soup to nuts, assuming that the soup was made from hemlock and the nuts were actually pellets of rat poison. Among other things, the meeting included 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.”

An (e)xtreme proposal

A major story “broke” in the New York Times this weekend. It reported on a group of North Carolina workers with serious neurological injury from a widely used industrial chemical called n-propyl bromide. The article correctly emphasizes the broad nature of this occupational problem. But a word or two about the consumer market might also have been warranted.

File Under: Chocolate, Blender, Valentine's Day

For those of you planning a home-cooked Valentine’s menu of delights – if this includes a pureed soup or a velvety chocolate pudding – your hand may be more likely to be pierced by a blender blade than your lover’s heart by Cupid’s arrow.

Kitchen Coal Mine Warning

A New Year’s Day story eclipsed by the budgetary brinksmanship in Washington DC highlights a different sort of precipice. 1300 miles from the Capitol, in Gun Barrel City Texas, Linda and John Rigo decided to operate their new Telfon-coated self-cleaning oven. Not long after, their two pet macaws stopped breathing. One simply fell dead off his perch.

Invasion of the Pods

Two days before Thanksgiving the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released a Safety Alert pithily titled “Single-Load Liquid Laundry Packets: Harmful to Children." Well, maybe not so pithy. This relatively new-on-the-U.S.- market product is better known as “detergent pods.”

What Constitutes a Household Hazard?

A recent disastrous factory fire in a Pakistan poses the difficult moral question of what our own personal responsibilities are as consumers in a globalized economic marketplace. Asked another way, is it a household hazard if the danger was borne by others far away rather than by the purchaser who brings a product home?

Slip an Extra Wire Bristle on the Barbie

The CDC welcomed the summer season with a sobering warning about the potential hazards of grill-cleaning brushes. All-in-all they tolled 6 cases of adults who went to emergency departments either because of severe pain swallowing or terrible abdominal pain.

A Thorny Problem

This past week I was asked to consult on a patient regarding a possible snake envenomation because of severe inflammation of the forearm after working in the garden. The problem was infection, not snakebite. The suspected source was a rose thorn prick.

Home Slaughter

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control highlighted an arcane household hazard. It’s a virus-caused infection which typically affects a finger or the palm and looks quite a bit nastier than it actually is. The name this infection goes by is “Orf.”

That Golden Touch

This past week, a major environmental victory went by barely noticed. A Japan-based pesticide giant, Arysta LifeScience announced withdrawing from the U.S. all of its methyl iodide-containing fumigant formulations. What this means is that this toxic-chemical golden-touch will never be reaching out to grab hold of California’s strawberry fields or any other U.S. crop.

Strip Show and Tell

California recently issued a “hazard alert” following an occupationally-related death from methylene chloride poisoning. Though it's restricted in Europe, this chemical is still widely used industrially in the U.S. Methylene chloride is also commonplace in a number of consumer products available for use in the home.

The Biggest Source of Contemporary Mercury Poisoning

In his State of the Union address, President Obama stated “I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning.” Why?