Saturday, September 20, 2008

DNA test exonerates Dallas man jailed for 25 years

DNA test exonerates Dallas man jailed for 25 years

By JEFF CARLTON, Associated Press Writer Fri Sep 19, 5:57 PM ET

DALLAS - A 56-year-old man who spent 25 years behind bars for a rape he says he didn't commit walked out of court a free man on Friday after a judge recommended his aggravated rape conviction be overturned.

Johnnie Earl Lindsey said he wrote six letters to a Dallas County court seeking post-conviction DNA testing that could prove his innocence. All six were ignored, he said.

"I couldn't get nobody to hear my case," said Lindsey, 56. "Once I could get someone to pay attention to what's going on, there was no doubt in my mind I would be exonerated."

That day came Friday, about a week after testing on DNA evidence from a rape kit taken after a 1981 sexual assault of a Dallas woman excluded Lindsey as the source.

He becomes the 20th man in Dallas County proven innocent by DNA testing since 2001, although one of those men will be retried by prosecutors. Those 20 cases are a national high for one county, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center specializing in wrongful conviction cases.

State District Judge Larry Mitchell released Lindsey on a personal recognizance bond and recommended the state Court of Criminal Appeals overturn the rape conviction. Lindsey will be considered officially exonerated once the higher court accepts the recommendation or if Gov. Rick Perry grants a pardon.

Mitchell, who was credited by Lindsey for being the first court official to take an interest in his case, delivered an impassioned apology from the bench.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am this happened to you. Your freedom was taken away from you for all these years," Mitchell said. "There's a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. Justice was delayed for too long in your case."

Christian magazine sold under the counter like porn

Christian magazine sold under the counter like porn
Retailers remove Gospel Today after women on cover stirs controversy

Posted: September 19, 2008
1:06 pm Eastern

© 2008 WorldNetDaily

Gospel Today's controversial cover

In some bookstores pornographic magazines are stored under the front counter to shield customers from their provocative covers, but in the more than 100 Lifeway Christian Bookstores across the country, the current issue of Gospel Today has been pulled from shelves and likewise tucked away because of the cover story.

The five ladies on the front of the magazine are all dressed in black, not because they are models, however, but because they are clergy.

Lifeway Christian Bookstores has pulled the magazine from its shelves because the chain's owner, the Southern Baptist Convention, reserves the role of pastor for men.

Chris Turner, a spokesman for Lifeway Resources, which runs the stores for the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the September/October issue of Gospel Today was pulled because "it is contrary to what we believe."

While individual churches within the denomination are independent and may hire female pastors if they choose, Southern Baptist national polity discourages women from serving as senior pastors, based on the application of various New Testament Scriptures.

Teresa Hairston, owner of Gospel Today, which describes itself as a magazine for the urban Christian community, told the Journal-Constitution she was shocked by the bookstore's decision.

"We weren't trying to pick a fight," Hairston said. "We just did a story on an emerging trend in a lot of churches."

Pastor Tamara Bennett, one of the featured pastors on the magazine cover, talks in the feature article about her perspective on women in ministry.

"God's assignment is that no souls are lost and all are saved," Bennett said. "Gender is not how God sees it. We are about winning souls, period

Friday, September 19, 2008

World's oldest man has 113th birthday in Japan

Tomoji Tanabe, left, the world's oldest man is congratulated by Miyakonojo Mayor Makoto Nagamine on his 113th birthday Thursday at his home in Miyakonojo on Japan's southern island of Kyushu Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
AP Photo: Tomoji Tanabe, left, the world's oldest man is congratulated by Miyakonojo Mayor Makoto Nagamine on...

By JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press Writer Fri Sep 19, 2:58 AM ET

TOKYO - The world's oldest man celebrated his 113th birthday Thursday in southern Japan, telling reporters he wants to live another five years. Tomoji Tanabe, who was born Sept. 18, 1895, received birthday gifts, flowers and $1,000 cash from the mayor of his hometown of Miyakonojo, on Japan's southern island of Kyushu.

Tanabe told reporters he wants to live "another five years or so," according to city spokesman Akihide Yokoyama. That was a slight downgrade from last year, when he said he wanted to live "for infinity."

The former city land surveyor, who lives with his son and daughter-in-law, is in good health and sticks to the habits that have gotten him this far. He rises early and reads the newspaper each day, drinks milk every afternoon and eats regular meals. He also avoids alcohol and does not smoke.

On Tuesday he woke up early in the morning to eat breakfast before walking out to meet the mayor and members of the press at his home, Yokoyama said. The cash gift he received is given annually to the city's oldest resident.

Japan has one of the world's longest life expectancies, nearly 86 years for women and 79 years for men, which is often attributed to the country's healthy diet rich in fish and rice.

The number of Japanese living past 100 has more than doubled in the last six years, reaching a record high of 36,000 people this year. The country's centenarian ranks are dominated by women, who make up 86 percent of the total.

Japan's centenarian population is expected to reach nearly 1 million — the world's largest — by 2050, according to U.N. projections.

The world's oldest person is 115-year-old Edna Parker, who was born on April 20, 1893, and lives in a nursing home in Indiana.

New York's top restaurants plagued by tip trouble

New York's top restaurants plagued by tip trouble

By Christine Kearney Thu Sep 18, 10:05 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Seasoned travelers know that waiters in the United States expect tips of 15 to 20 percent -- $60 on a $300 dinner for two at one of New York's top restaurants.

What is less well known is that the money doesn't all go to the waiters and more lowly staff.

In lawsuits filed in the last three years, staff have accused dozens of New York restaurants, including many well-known ones, of stealing tips and cheating them out of wages.

Among those named in the suits are celebrity haunt Pastis; three New York restaurants co-owned by actor Robert De Niro in the global Nobu chain; Jean Georges -- which has three Michelin stars -- and other restaurants owned by French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten; and hip hop star Jay Z's 40/40 Club.

Peruvian Ivan Arias said he was happy just to have a job when he came to New York and found himself working as a busboy at the Redeye Grill, an eatery in midtown Manhattan where eight of its signature "dancing shrimp" cost $39.

But Arias, 36, said he soon realized he was being cheated out of overtime, breaks and promotions, and denied a fair share of tips.

"The conditions were not OK. They did not pay me tips. They did not pay me overtime," Arias told Reuters.

In June, a New York judge approved the first payment in a settlement totaling $3.9 million for workers at the Redeye Grill and five other restaurants owned by the Fireman Hospitality Group.

As part of the settlement, Fireman agreed not to let managers share in tips.

A spokesperson for the company did not return a call seeking comment. A spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association was not available for comment.

Carolyn Richmond, an attorney representing several restaurants, blamed decades-old workplace labor laws, as well as state and federal laws that do not clearly state who can share in tips and how they should be divided.

"It is a result of these antiquated laws and regulations that plaintiff class action lawyers have been able to swoop in and take advantage," she said.


Indeed, the suits, filed mainly by low-paid immigrants who work as dishwashers and busboys, has emboldened usually white front-of-house staff to file their own suits.

The restaurants have also accused a nonprofit group called the Restaurant Opportunities Center, which organized protests outside the Redeye Grill, of orchestrating a campaign based on unfounded accusations.

But an attorney for the center, Rekha Eanni, said the lawsuits show that poorly paid immigrants were losing their fear of speaking up.

"It's really significant that this is the first time -- this meaning in the past six or so years -- when workers are really coming forward," said Eanni.

Since the suit was filed against Fireman, dozens of similar ones followed. Some are still pending while others have settled.

Vongerichten has agreed to pay $1.75 million to eight waiters who filed suit on behalf of all staff at Jean Georges and four of his other New York restaurants, pending final approval by a judge.

And last year celebrated chef Daniel Boulud agreed to settle for an undisclosed amount with immigrant workers at his restaurant, Daniel. They accused the restaurant of promoting white French workers ahead of nonwhites.

Arias, married with a young daughter, now works as a busboy at Craftbar, an offshoot of one of the city's top restaurants, Craft. Whereas at the Redeye Grill he earned $400 for up to 60 hours a week, he now earns around $600 for 35 to 40 hours, he said.

"Now I am happy, with my tips, with my check, every time," he said.

Julio Anzures, who received a payout of $20,000 in a settlement with a restaurant owned by Smith and Wollensky in 2003, said conditions have improved since the lawsuits started.

"I feel good not about the money but about the change of conditions," said Anzures, who has since moved up from dish washer to line cook and who sends most of his money home to his family in Mexico. "After these campaigns there are now breaks and overtime."

But he and others say there is still abuse.

"The people that make the laws, they know what is happening in the industry," Anzures said. "They need to make more changes."

(Reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eddie Evans)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dog calls 911, saves owner's life

Dog calls 911, saves owner's life

Joe Stalnaker is shown with his German shepherd, Buddy. Police say Buddy saved Stalnaker's life by dialing 911 when he began having a seizure on Wednesday.
Enlarge image Enlarge Scottsdale Police Department via AP
Joe Stalnaker is shown with his German shepherd, Buddy. Police say Buddy saved Stalnaker's life by dialing 911 when he began having a seizure on Wednesday.

PHOENIX (AP) — "Man's best friend" doesn't go far enough for Buddy — a German shepherd who remembered his training and saved his owner's life by calling 911 when the man had a seizure.

And it's not the first time Buddy has been there for owner Joe Stalnaker, a police officer said Sunday.

On a recording of the 911 call Wednesday, Buddy is heard whimpering and barking after the dispatcher answers and repeatedly asks if the caller needs help.

"Hello, this is 911. Hello ... Can you hear me? Is there somebody there you can give the phone to," says the dispatcher, Chris Scott.

Police were sent to Stalnaker's home, and after about three minutes Buddy is heard barking loudly when the officers arrived.

Scottsdale police Sgt. Mark Clark said Stalnaker spent two days in a hospital and recovered from the seizure.

"It's pretty incredible," Clark said. "Even the veteran dispatchers — they haven't heard of anything like this."

Clark said police are dispatched whenever 911 is called, but that Stalnaker's address was flagged in Scottsdale's system with a notification that a trained assistance dog could call 911 when the owner was incapacitated.

Clark said Stalnaker adopted Buddy at the age of 8 weeks from Michigan-based Paws with a Cause, which trains assistance dogs, and trained him to get the phone if he began to have seizure symptoms. Buddy, now 18 months old, is able to press programmed buttons until a 911 operator is on the line, Clark said.

Clark said Buddy has made two other 911 calls when Stalnaker was having seizures.

He said Stalnaker's seizures are the result of a head injury he suffered about 10 years ago during a military training exercise.

Stalnaker was not listed in the phone book, and he did not immediately respond to a request through police for an interview.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Millions Of Nickels Spill On I-95 In Fatal Semi Crash

Millions of nickels shut down part of I-95 in Brevard County most of Wednesday morning when two big rigs crashed. One of them was carrying fresh nickels from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia headed for the Federal Reserve in Miami.
RAW VIDEO: Ground View Of Scene | Aerial View Of Crash
IMAGES: Semi Accident Spills Millions Of Nickels On I-95
RAW INTERVIEW: Driver Describes Crash That Killed Other Driver, Spilled Nickels
TRAFFIC UPDATES: Latest Traffic Incident, Live Maps
The crash forced the closure of southbound lanes of I-95 near Mims to be closed for several hours, but at least one lane was open by 11:15am.The driver of the other semi said he didn't even know what was on the ground when he hopped out of his truck. He just rushed to help the two armed guards.The money that poured out of the truck added up to $182,000, over 3.5 million nickels."It was very shocking, very shocking. Like bam!" explained driver Ferlandis Green (full interview).
Images | Ground Video | Aerial Video
Green didn't know what hit him as he was driving south on I-95 near Mims. A truck carrying more than three million nickels rammed the back of his green big rig. The nickel-carrying truck flipped over and broke into pieces in the median and Green's truck jackknifed."Had to be going at least 70 miles an hour at least [to] cause that much damage," Green said.Green said he had no idea $182,000 worth of nickels had spilled into the road. His concern was helping the two armed guards inside of the other truck."I seen two guys in the truck. One in the front, one in the back, pinned in. I tried to help them, but I couldn't help them. Nothing I could do," he said.The impact of the crash killed the guard who was driving. His co-worker in the back of the truck was rushed to Orlando Regional Medical Center.State troopers and deputies made sure no one got close to the money until the Secret Service arrived. They secured the guns the guards were carrying."It's shiny across the roadway," said Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Kim Miller. "There are nickels in the grass, across the interstate."Cleanup crews used blowers and shovels to secure as many of the coins as they could. The money came from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and was supposed to go to the Federal Reserve in Miami. A spokesperson with the U.S. Treasury told Eyewitness News that the coins were picked up by the guards Tuesday. They work for a private company in Trenton, New Jersey called IBI, who refused to answer any questions.

Vets Cure Elephant of Drug Addiction

Vets Cure Elephant of Drug Addiction

bigbrother Vets Cure Elephant of Drug Addiction pictureAn Asian elephant that was fed bananas laced with heroin by cruel smugglers to keep him under control has been put through a detox program by Chinese vets in Beijing.

Big Brother is four years old and has suffered much in his young lifetime. He was illegally captured in 2005 in southwest China and when police arrested the smugglers some months later and freed the elephant, authorities noticed that the poor creature was displaying repeated signs of distress.

The elephant was suffering from drug withdrawal symptoms and was sent to a wild animal protection center, which provided a three-year detox program.

big-brother Vets Cure Elephant of Drug Addiction picture

Big Brother is fine today. He received a year of treatment that consisted of methadone injections at five times the maximum human dosage.

The dose was gradually reduced and he rallied and recovered. He and three other elephants that had been held by smugglers will soon arrive at a wildlife park in Kunming, the capital of southwest China’s Yunnan province to live their lives drug-free and as happy as can be expected.

Here’s to you, Big Brother.

Have a long and happy life!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Rotating Electrical Outlet

The Rotating Electrical Outlet

Posted: 16 Sep 2008 12:00 PM CDT

From time to time I have a strong appreciation for the small and simple gadgets. Yes, I love my overly complex iPod Touch, but it’s some of the smaller gadgets that make life just a little easier. Lately, power strips are starting to see a smarter design where the outlets can twist and turn to accommodate different size plugs. Well, there are other places besides the power strip for your computer that could use the same perks. For one, the bathroom, with all of our smaller gadgets for torturing our hair or shaving off beards in the morning.

Those gadgets tend to have plugs that don’t always want to work well together. Well with this cheap little gadget you won’t have to get nearly as frustrated over it. The simple little outlet just allows for the individual head in the outlet to rotate independently. This means that those bulky plugs should become a bit easier to use. Luckily these little guys are cheap, you can pick them up in beige, white or black for $10 a piece.

Mickey Mouse must die, says Saudi Arabian cleric

Mickey Mouse must die, says Saudi Arabian cleric

Mickey Mouse is a corrupting influence and must die, a Muslim cleric has declared.

Mickey Mouse must die, says Saudi Arabian cleric
Sheikh Muhammad Munajid warned that depictions of the creature in cartoons such as Disney's Mickey Mouse, had taught children that it was in fact loveable Photo: Reuters

Sheikh Muhammad Munajid claimed the mouse is "one of Satan's soldiers" and makes everything it touches impure.

But he warned that depictions of the creature in cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, and Disney's Mickey Mouse, had taught children that it was in fact loveable.

The cleric, a former diplomat at the Saudi embassy in Washington DC, said that under Sharia, both household mice and their cartoon counterparts must be killed.

Mr Munajid was asked to give Islam's teaching on mice during a religious affairs programme broadcast on al-Majd TV, an Arab television network.

According to a translation prepared by the Middle East Media Research Institute, an American press monitoring service, he said: "The mouse is one of Satan's soldiers and is steered by him.

"If a mouse falls into a pot of food – if the food is solid, you should chuck out the mouse and the food touching it, and if it is liquid – you should chuck out the whole thing, because the mouse is impure.

"According to Islamic law, the mouse is a repulsive, corrupting creature. How do you think children view mice today – after Tom and Jerry?

"Even creatures that are repulsive by nature, by logic, and according to Islamic law have become wonderful and are loved by children. Even mice.

"Mickey Mouse has become an awesome character, even though according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases."

Last month Mr Munajid condemned the Beijing Olympics as the "bikini Olympics", claiming that nothing made Satan happier than seeing females athletes dressed in skimpy outfits.

Officer Loses Badge Over Stolen Breakfast

Sgt. Christopher Stahl More

A Rockaway Township police sergeant's hunger for some breakfast sandwiches has cost him his job.Sgt. Christopher Stahl pleaded guilty Monday to theft for walking out of a Quick Chek store on West Main Street in Rockaway Borough on Dec. 15, 2007 with eight breakfast sandwiches worth $29.45.Under his sentence in state Superior Court, the 39-year-old Stahl will have to pay $100, and he loses his job.

Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said the plea "represents the fact that no one is above the law."The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office said it is committed to purging, from all levels of public service, those who abuse the public trust or the taxpayers’ money.Defense attorney Edward Bilinkas said Stahl "made a mistake and has taken responsibility.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tons of Drugs Dumped Into Wastewater

Tons of Drugs Dumped Into Wastewater

by Jeff Donn Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard

U.S. hospitals and long-term care facilities annually flush millions of pounds of unused pharmaceuticals down the drain, pumping contaminants into America's drinking water, according to an ongoing Associated Press investigation.

[Bryant Sears, working in a Teflon suit and wearing goggles and rubber gloves, sorts leftover medicines and contaminated packing one-by-one at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, May 13, 2008 in Minneapolis. Items are put into separate barrels and bins, depending on their differing disposal standards and methods. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)]Bryant Sears, working in a Teflon suit and wearing goggles and rubber gloves, sorts leftover medicines and contaminated packing one-by-one at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, May 13, 2008 in Minneapolis. Items are put into separate barrels and bins, depending on their differing disposal standards and methods. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
These discarded medications are expired, spoiled, over-prescribed or unneeded. Some are simply unused because patients refuse to take them, can't tolerate them or die with nearly full 90-day supplies of multiple prescriptions on their nightstands.

Few of the country's 5,700 hospitals and 45,000 long-term care homes keep data on the pharmaceutical waste they generate. Based on a small sample, though, the AP was able to project an annual national estimate of at least 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging, with no way to separate out the drug volume.

One thing is clear: The massive amount of pharmaceuticals being flushed by the health services industry is aggravating an emerging problem documented by a series of AP investigative stories - the commonplace presence of minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the nation's drinking water supplies, affecting at least 46 million Americans.

Researchers are finding evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild. Also, researchers report that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs.

The original AP series in March prompted federal and local legislative hearings, brought about calls for mandatory testing and disclosure, and led officials in more than two dozen additional metropolitan areas to analyze their drinking water.

And while most pharmaceutical waste is unmetabolized medicine that is flushed into sewers and waterways through human excretion, the AP examined institutional drug disposal and its dangers because unused drugs add another substantial dimension to the problem.

"Obviously, we're flushing them - which is not ideal," acknowledges Mary Ludlow at White Oak Pharmacy, a Spartanburg, S.C., firm that serves 15 nursing homes and assisted-living residences in the Carolinas.

Such facilities, along with hospitals and hospices, pose distinct challenges because they handle large quantities of powerful and toxic drugs - often more powerful and more toxic than the medications people use at home. Tests of sewage from several hospitals in Paris and Oslo uncovered hormones, antibiotics, heart and skin medicines and pain relievers.

Hospital waste is particularly laden with both germs and antibiotics, says microbiologist Thomas Schwartz at Karlsruhe Research Center in Germany.

The mix is a scary one.

In tests of wastewater retrieved near other European hospitals and one in Davis County, Utah, scientists were able to link drug dumping to virulent antibiotic-resistant germs and genetic mutations that may promote cancers, according to scientific studies reviewed by the AP.

Researchers have focused on cell-poisoning anticancer drugs and fluoroquinolone class antibiotics, like anthrax fighter ciprofloxacin.

At the University of Rouen Medical Center in France, 31 of 38 wastewater samples showed the ability to mutate genes. A Swiss study of hospital wastewater suggested that fluoroquinolone antibiotics also can disfigure bacterial DNA, raising the question of whether such drug concoctions can heighten the risk of cancer in humans.

Pharmacist Boris Jolibois, one of the French researchers at Compiegne Medical Center, believes hospitals should act quickly, even before the effects are well understood. "Something should be done now," he said. "It's just common sense."


Some contaminated packaging and drug waste are incinerated; more is sent to landfills. But it is believed that most unused pharmaceuticals from health care facilities are dumped down sinks or toilets, usually without violating state or federal regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency told assembled water experts last year that it believes nursing homes and other long-term care facilities use sewer systems to dispose of most of their unused drugs. A water utility surveyed 45 long-term care facilities in 2006 and calculated that two-thirds of their unused drugs were scrapped this way, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.

An internal EPA memo last year included pharmaceuticals on a list of "major pollutants of concern" at health care businesses. Still, few medical centers keep comprehensive records of drugs they cast down toilets or into landfills. When data are kept, drugs and tainted packaging are combined in the same totals.

In an attempt to quantify the problem, the AP examined records in Minnesota, where state regulators have pushed hospital administrators to keep closer track than elsewhere. Fourteen facilities were surveyed, in a range of settings from rural to urban. The AP projected those annual totals onto the national patient population for hospitals and adjusted for the relatively lower pharmaceutical use of Minnesotans. Since long-term care facilities generate more drug waste than hospitals, the AP conservatively doubled the number.

That calculation produced an estimate of at least 250 million pounds of annual drug waste from hospitals and long-term care centers, further complicated by the fact experts say drugs might account for only up to half of pharmaceutical waste, while the rest is packaging.

The AP estimate excludes many other sources of health industry drug waste, from doctors' to veterinary offices. Smaller medical offices typically dispose of expired samples and unwanted drugs like ordinary consumers - with little forethought.

Alan Davidner, president of Vestara of Irvine, Calif., which sells systems to manage drug waste, says his limited sampling suggests the health care industry's contribution could even be higher.

Plus, untold amounts of pills and tablets are being thrown away each year at federal and state correctional institutions.

At a state prison in Oak Park Heights, Minn., nurse Linda Peterson says the hospital unit serving inmates statewide has been throwing away up to 12,000 pills a year. She says some heart medicines and antibiotics are simply chucked into the trash. Tightly regulated narcotics susceptible to abuse go down the toilet.

"We flush it and flush it and flush it - until we can't see any more pills," she says.

She notes the presence of nursing homes, a hospital and another prison in the same area. "So what are all these facilities doing, if we're throwing away about 700 to 1,000 pills a month?"


The EPA is considering whether to impose the first national standard for how much drug waste may be released into waterways by the medical services industry, but Ben Grumbles, the EPA's top water administrator, says a decision won't be made until next year, at the earliest.

So far, regulators have done little more than politely ask the medical care industry to stop pouring drugs into the wastewater system. "Treating the toilet as a trash can isn't a good option," says Grumbles.

Some think it's time to do more than ask. "It's strange that we have rules about the oil from your car; you're not allowed to simply flush it down the sewer," says U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. "So why do we let these drugs, without any kind of regulation, continue to be flushed away in the water supply?"

Landfills are one alternative. At least they don't empty directly, and immediately, into waterways like some sewage.

Marjorie E. Powell, a lawyer for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, says landfills are "more environmentally friendly," while EPA spokeswoman Roxanne Smith contends that landfilling of hazardous pharmaceutical waste "poses little threat to the public."

Still, Grumbles acknowledges that landfills, while safer, are not a permanent solution. That's because pharmaceuticals can eventually reach waterways from landfills through leaks or intentional releases of treated seepage known as leachate.

An agency staffer wrote in a memo last year: "EPA recognizes that residuals in the leachate could contaminate groundwater supplies and ultimately reach water treatment plants, but disposal into the trash is currently considered a BMP" - or best management practice.

Already, researchers have detected trace concentrations of drugs - including the pain reliever ibuprofen and seizure medicine carbamazepine - in seepage or groundwater near landfills.

Environmental professionals outside government are reaching a consensus that incinerators are the best disposal method.

"That's the best practice for today because we don't really know what the hell to do with the stuff," says industrial engineer Laura Brannen, an executive at Waste Management Healthcare Solutions, of Houston. She says burning destroys more drug waste than all other methods, though some contaminants may escape in smoke and ash.

On a recent day at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Mary Kuch was getting ready to squirt leftovers from a syringe of hydromorphone, a powerful morphine derivative, into a sink. When she started out in nursing 18 years ago, "I took it for granted, because I was a young nurse, and that's what other nurses did," she says. "But I did find it strange."

These days, only four gallons - drugs with high potential for abuse - go down the hospital's drains each year. Nearly all leftover medicine and contaminated packaging are instead tossed into black bins and rolled to a hospital storage room crammed with scores of 55-gallon drums.

There, waste-company employee Bryant Sears - dressed in a Teflon suit, rubber gloves and goggles - conducts a sorting operation. Pills, blister packs and liquid medicines collected in vials, along with syringes and IV bags, are separated out according to differing disposal standards and methods. Occasionally, he glances at a wall-sized placard with details on which drug goes where - hazardous waste in one barrel, nonhazardous in another. A roll of "hazardous waste" stickers hangs from a pole on the wall.

Sears points to some epinephrine, a heart drug, saying, "Now that it's past its expiration date, it's waste."

These leftovers and discards ultimately will be incinerated.

EPA's Smith says even municipal burners unapproved for hazardous waste "will destroy all but a minute fraction" of organic compounds - the kind found in pharmaceuticals.

But Stephen DiZio, a manager with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, says not so fast. "I don't think we're encouraging incineration of anything. The public outcry would be so great."

The push for incineration hides an irony. Several decades ago, drug waste was routinely chucked into the trash and burned in hospital or city incinerators.

Then came a national campaign against air pollution. Most hospitals shut down their burners, and city incinerator managers became pickier about what they'd accept. With options restricted, hospitals began shipping more drug waste to landfills - and dumping more into toilets and sinks.


A few choices are expanding. Some states have passed laws to make it easier to contribute unused drugs to charity pharmacies that supply low-income patients.

Also, a small share of unused drugs is shipped back to manufacturers for credit - and incineration, waste consultants say. But the drugs are supposed to be sent back in original packaging - sometimes impractical because the packaging is discarded or damaged.

Several long-term care residences want to deploy automatic drug-dispensing machines that suppliers would refill often to reduce waste.

While not yet practical, there are several experimental technologies, such as destroying trace drugs with an electrical arc, microwaves, or caustic chemicals.

Increasingly, some bureaucrats and health professionals are suggesting that drug makers help pay costs of managing drug waste. But the pharmaceutical industry says there's insufficient evidence of environmental harm to warrant the expense.

But impatience is mounting. Even the EPA has begun to take such suggestions seriously. Grumbles says drug makers "should do more for product stewardship and meds retrieval now." He says it would be unwise to wait for all the proof.

For now, many health facilities, especially small ones, are put off by the cost of proper handling. Drugs deemed hazardous by the EPA - about 5 percent of the market - might cost up to $2 a pound to incinerate in a certified hazardous waste incinerator, says Vestara's Davidner. A pound might cost 35 cents to burn in a regular trash incinerator.

Tom Clark, an executive at the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, wonders: "When you can flush it down the toilet for free, why would you want to pay - unless there's some significant penalties?"

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Broccoli 'may help protect lungs'

Broccoli 'may help protect lungs'

Sulforapane is found in broccoli and brussel sprouts

A substance found in broccoli may limit the damage which leads to serious lung disease, research suggests.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is often caused by smoking and kills about 30,000 UK residents a year.

US scientists found that sulforapane increases the activity of the NRF2 gene in human lung cells which protects cells from damage caused by toxins.

The same broccoli compound was recently found to be protective against damage to blood vessels caused by diabetes.

Brassica vegetables such as broccoli have also been linked to a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Cell pollutants

In the latest study, a team from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found significantly lower activity of the NRF2 gene in smokers with advanced COPD.

Writing in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, they said the gene is responsible for turning on several mechanisms for removing toxins and pollutants which can damage cells.

We know broccoli naturally contains important compounds but studies so far have taken place in the test tube and further research is needed to find if you can produce the same effect in humans
Spokeswoman, British Lung Foundation

Previous studies in mice had shown that disrupting the NRF2 gene caused early onset severe emphysema - one of the conditions suffered by COPD patients.

Increasing the activity of NRF2 may lead to useful treatments for preventing the progression of COPD, the researchers said.

In the study, they showed that sulforapane was able to restore reduced levels of NRF2 in cells exposed to cigarette smoke.

"Future studies should target NRF2 as a novel strategy to increase antioxidant protection in the lungs and test its ability to improve lung function in people with COPD," said study leader Dr Shyam Biswal.

A spokeswoman for the British Lung Foundation said: "This is an important study for the 3 million people in the UK with COPD because of its findings about the imbalance of oxidants and antioxidants in the lungs.

"We know broccoli naturally contains important compounds but studies so far have taken place in the test tube and further research is needed to find if you can produce the same effect in humans."

Taxi drivers 'have brain sat-nav'

Taxi drivers 'have brain sat-nav'

By Elizabeth Mitchell
Science reporter, BBC News

Sid James in a London cab (BBC)
The knowledge: London cabbies are famous for knowing their way around

Scientists have uncovered evidence for an inbuilt "sat-nav" system in the brains of London taxi drivers.

They used magnetic scanners to explore the brain activity of taxi drivers as they navigated their way through a virtual simulation of London's streets.

Different brain regions were activated as they considered route options, spotted familiar landmarks or thought about their customers.

The research was presented at this week's BA Science Festival.

Earlier studies had shown that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus - a region of the brain that plays an important role in navigation.

Their brains even "grow on the job" as they build up detailed information needed to find their way around London's labyrinth of streets - information famously referred to as "The Knowledge".

"We were keen to go beyond brain structure - and see what activity is going on inside the brains of taxi drivers while they are doing their job," said Dr Hugo Spiers from University College London.

Taxi driver's brain

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to obtain "minute by minute" brain images from 20 taxi drivers as they delivered customers to destinations on "virtual jobs".

The scientists adapted the Playstation2 game "Getaway" to bring the streets of London into the scanner.

After the scan - and without prior warning - the drivers watched a replay of their performance and reported what they had been thinking at each stage.

"We tried to peel out the common thoughts that taxi drivers tend to have as they drive through the city, and then tie them down to a particular time and place," said Dr Spiers.

The series of scans revealed a complex choreography of brain activity as the taxi drivers responded to different scenarios.

The hippocampus was only active when the taxi drivers initially planned their route, or if they had to completely change their destination during the course of the journey.

The scientists saw activity in a different brain region when the drivers came across an unexpected situation - for example, a blocked-off junction.

Another part of the brain helped taxi drivers to track how close they were to the endpoint of their journey; like a metal detector, its activity increased when they were closer to their goal.

Changes also occurred in brain regions that are important in social behaviour.

Taxi driving is not just about navigation: "Drivers do obsess occasionally about what their customers are thinking," said Dr Spiers.

Animals use a number of different mechanisms to navigate - the Sun's polarized light rays, the Earth's magnetic fields and the position of the stars.

This research provides new information about the specific roles of areas within the brains of expert human navigators.

Animal lover dies six days after being scratched by a trapped rat she was trying to free

Animal lover dies six days after being scratched by a trapped rat she was trying to free

By Beth Hale

Carol Colburn

Tragic: Carol Colburn died six days after she was scratched by a rat

A mother-of-three paid with her life for her love of animals.

Carol Colburn, 56, rushed to help a rat trapped in her garden bird feeder.

But she scratched her hands and contracted a rare and deadly infection from the animal. She died in hospital less than a week later.

An inquest heard that Mrs Colburn had ignored her husband Peter's pleas to wear gloves. He had even tried to pull her away from the wire feeder.

It was only after she cut her hands that she left the rescue to her son Ross, 24, who used gloves.

But Mrs Colburn, of Brighton, had already contracted Weil's disease, which is caused by bacteria found in rats' urine.

The disease can be treated if caught in time, but neither Mrs Colburn nor her family realised she had been infected.

It was not until four days later, on May 6, that she developed flu-like symptoms.

Two days after that, she was taken to the A&E department at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

But her condition deteriorated rapidly and she died of a heart attack within hours.

Consultant Dr Steven Barden said: 'When she was admitted she was suffering from severe jaundice and flu-like symptoms but was able to hold a conversation.

'When she told me she lived near a railway line and often came into contact with wild animals, I was reminded that my father lives near the same line and often comes into contact with rats. That's when I began to consider she was suffering from leptospirosis, also known as Weil's disease.'

Tests on post-mortem samples confirmed his suspicions.

In a second shattering blow to the family, Mr Colburn, also 56, became desperately ill with lung cancer and died two months later.

Carol and Peter Colburn

Peter Colburn died of cancer two months after his wife succumbed to Weil's disease

The deputy coroner for Brighton and Hove, Arthur Hooper, recorded a narrative verdict, saying: 'She was one of those rare cases that succumbed to the severe end of Weil's disease.'

After the hearing, Mrs Colburn's children said their mother had devoted part of her garden to wildlife, including foxes and badgers.

Her daughter Katrina, 27, said: 'My mum spent hours feeding wild animals and wouldn't have given it a second thought.'

Her sister Zoe, 30, said: 'We didn't even know dad had cancer. But when mum died the shock meant the disease really set in. It was like he was dying from a broken heart.'

Microbiologist Marc Cubbon said the leptospirosis bacteria infects small mammals and rodents. It gets onto their skin via their urine and people with open wounds can easily be infected.