"Published Occasionally at Irregular Intervals"

Vol. 18 No. 1, MAY 1998

In This Issue

Introduction -

During the last few months there has been considerable activity in the extension toxicology area which has led to a delay in the publication of the first newsletter of this year. One of the activities which will be of particular interest to readers is related to an Ag Telecommunications Grant to the EXTOXNET (EXtension TOXicology NETwork) universities (coordinated and administered by Dr. Bernadene Magnuson, the Extension Toxicologist for the University of Idaho). The objective of the grant was to expand the offerings and extend the distribution of EXTOXNET materials through the development of a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). EXTOXNET cooperators at UC Davis, Oregon State University, the University of Idaho, and Michigan State University, developed materials which were formatted for inclusion with the EXTOXNET website offerings. These FAQs are currently undergoing a final review by USDA state contacts and will be made available to the public beginning in June. The topics of these FAQs include: water quality, indoor air quality, natural toxins, food irradiation, pesticides, laws and regulations, cancer, and sensitive populations. The EXTOXNET website currently gets more than 60,000 hits per month, and we hope that these offerings will further expand its use.

In addition to these activities to develop new materials, we have also been involved with the transformation of the Pesticide Information Profiles (PIPs) in EXTOXNET into a database format. This will ultimately allow users to select the elements they wish to see from each PIP, and to do more selective searching for information. This process was primarily the result of the hard work of two people from UCD, Nicole Colette and Travis Johnson. The latest updated and newly formatted PIPs are now available at the EXTOXNET website:

In the area of veterinary toxicology, under the direction of our laboratory director Scott Wetzlich and Administrative Assistant Sandy Ogletree, we have completed several studies on residues of drugs in minor animal species (bison, goats, etc.) and have submitted reports to the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine which should ultimately lead to the approval of these drugs. In addition, the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD) continues to operate at a reduced capacity while awaiting substantially increased funding, which appears imminent now that FARAD has been included in congressional legislation which was recently passed by the Senate. Personnel changes in FARAD have led to the hiring of Dr. Mike Payne (who worked in Veterinary Medicine Extension as the Extension Dairy Veterinarian for two years before completing his Ph.D. last year) as the Assistant Director of the California FARAD Division.

As readers of this newsletter know, it is indeed published "occasionally and at irregular intervals." After considerable thought and discussion, we have decided that beginning in January 1999, we will end printed publication of the newsletter and move it entirely to an electronic format which will also include a listserver utility for more rapid dissemination of time-sensitive information. We plan to offer the newsletter in both PDF file format, and as web pages which can be viewed/printed and which will be linked to other sites at which more in-depth information can be found. Therefore, we will not be accepting any more subscriptions for the Environmental Toxicology Newsletter. All past and future issues will ultimately be archived on the EXTOXNET server (where they can be searched for keywords). We hope that this will make the newsletter more widely available at no additional cost.

Art Craigmill


Benzene is a ubiquitous chemical present in automobile emissions, cigarette smoke, and industrial solvents. Exposure of humans to high concentrations of benzene results in damage to blood-forming cells that can ultimately progress to leukemia. Metabolic transformation of benzene may be a key step in the development of toxicity following exposure. Studies with liver cells of rats and rabbits have suggested that a specific enzyme, CYP2E1, is responsible for the metabolism of benzene. This enzyme is found in many tissues of the body.

Recently, a transgenic mouse that does not have the functional gene to express the enzyme CYP2E1 was developed by Dr. Frank Gonzalez and coinvestigators at the National Cancer Institute. CIIT (Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology) scientists hypothesized that the metabolism and toxicity of benzene could be substantially decreased in these transgenic mice. In collaboration with Dr. Gonzalez, CIIT researchers tested this hypothesis by exposing the transgenic mice to benzene and measuring both metabolism and toxicity. Mice with the functional gene for CYP2E1 were also exposed to benzene as positive controls.

The results of these experiments conclusively demonstrated that CYP2E1 is the primary enzyme responsible for benzene metabolism in animals. The transgenic mice lacked the ability to metabolize benzene and were protected from toxic effects due to benzene exposure. Demonstration of this protective effect proves that metabolic activation of benzene is required for toxicity. These observations are important because humans vary in their expression of CYP2E1 and, as demonstrated at CIIT, in their ability to metabolically activate benzene. Human risk from benzene is likely to be a function of CYP2E1 expression.

In this case of reduced gene expression, a protective effect was noted. For other genes, however, reduced expression could result in increased toxicity.

REF: CIIT Impact, Sept 1997.


In 1991, approximately 13.8 million adults in the United States met diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, or both. In addition, at least 80% of persons in this group were likely to be daily tobacco smokers and, therefore, at increased risk for oral and pharyngeal cancers. In Minnesota, among adult smokers with a history of alcohol abuse during 1972-1983, the number of tobacco- related deaths was higher than the number of alcohol-related deaths. To assess rates of smoking cessation among adults with a history of alcohol problems, the University of Nebraska Medical Center conducted an intervention study with 1 year of follow-up during 1995-1996 in 12 residential alcohol-treatment centers in Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. The findings suggest that a substantial proportion of adults recently treated for alcoholism attempted to quit smoking, even though actual quit rates were low.

REF: MMWR, Vol 46(48), Dec 5, 1997.


During 1988-1994, an unvented combustion space heater was used by an estimated 13.7 million adults, and electric space heaters were used by 23.1 million adults; space heaters were not used by 150.4 million adults. Unvented combustion space heaters were used more commonly by adults living in rural areas than by those living in urban areas (10.0 million [10.6%] compared with 3.7 million [4.0%]), by adults with an annual household income <$20,000 (low income) than by adults with an annual household income >$20,000 (high income) (9.3% compared with 6.3%), and by black adults (11.0%) than by white adults (7.0%) or by adults of all other races (3.7%). In each income group, household use of these devices was reported more commonly by blacks than whites (low income: 12.2% compared with 9.1%; and high income: 9.6% compared with 6.1%).

Of the estimated 83.1 million adults who used a gas stove or oven for cooking, approximately 7.7 million (9.3%) had used the stove or oven for heat at least once during the previous year. Improper use of the stove or oven as a heating device was more common among rural than among urban residents (12.2% compared with 7.4%). Stoves or ovens were used for heating in approximately 14.5% of low-income households compared with 6.1% of high-income households. Use of gas stoves and ovens as heating devices was reported more commonly by black adults (15.6%) than by white adults (8.1%) or by adults of other races (9.2%).

REF: MMWR, Vol 46(51), Dec 26, 1997.


Carbon monoxide (CO) intoxication is a common cause of reported unintentional fatal poisonings in the United States. From 1979 through 1988, an average of 1140 deaths per year were attributed to unintentional CO poisoning. Most of these deaths resulted from exposures in enclosed spaces; CO poisoning associated with outdoor activities occurs rarely. This report describes the investigation of CO poisoning in a farmer in Kentucky resulting from exposure to exhaust from a tractor in an open field and provides recommendations for preventing similar exposures.

In June 1997, a 37-year-old female farmer who had been working in a field for 5 hours was admitted to a Kentucky hospital emergency department (ED) because of CO inhalation, dehydration, and heat exhaustion.

At 1 p.m. on June 20, the woman and two family members who were co-workers on a family farm began planting tobacco in a 42-acre field. The outdoor ambient temperature exceeded 90 F (32 C), with humid conditions and minimal breeze. The woman and one co-worker (co-worker A) rode on a two-seat tobacco setter, a device on which workers sit side by side with their backs to the tractor and set tobacco plants into the ground as the tractor tows the setter at 2-3 mph. The tractor was driven by the other co-worker (co-worker B). The woman sat on the side nearest the tractor’s exhaust pipe, which was beneath the tractor and directed exhaust gases toward the setter riders.

By 4 p.m., both the woman and co-worker A had had onset of headaches, and the woman reported dizziness and fatigue. Co-worker A stopped work at 4:30 p.m., at which time another family member (co-worker C) replaced him on the setter. The woman continued to work despite an increasingly severe headache, drowsiness, and dizziness. Her co-workers noticed that she appeared drowsy and had begun to fail setting some of the plants, a task requiring good hand-eye coordination; however, the woman insisted on continuing the job. At 6:30 p.m., she collapsed while on the setter.

Co-worker B notified emergency medical services (EMS) at 7:30 p.m., reporting that he thought the woman had CO poisoning. Initial vital signs, obtained by EMS at 7:42 p.m., were blood pressure, 140/100 mm Hg; heart rate, 96 beats per minute; and respiratory rate, 20 breaths per minute. She was transported to the local ED, where she reported dizziness, light headedness, headache, nausea, "heart pounding," and wheezing. Diagnostic studies were initiated and treatment instituted, including 100% oxygen through a non-rebreathing mask and intravenous fluids; albuterol was administered because of a history of asthma. Her initial arterial carboxy-hemoglobin (COHb) level was 23.3% (normal COHb concentrations are <2% for nonsmokers and 5%-9% for smokers). All other laboratory and diagnostic tests were normal. Repeat COHb at 11:05 p.m. was 7.2%, and she was discharged from the ED at 12:10 a.m.

During the follow-up investigation, environmental CO sampling was performed. With the tractor stationary and its engine running, a monitor was placed where someone working on the setter would sit; CO levels of an average of 477 parts per million (ppm) were detected during a 15-minute sampling period.* Four other gasoline-powered tractors with comparable exhaust configurations, manufactured between 1947 and 1979 (the tractor used while the woman was working was manufactured in 1967), were similarly tested. Fifteen-minute CO levels were 38, 364, 507, and 706 ppm. Tests conducted on a diesel-powered tractor resulted in zero ppm CO for the 15-minute testing period. Finally, CO sampling performed using the woman’s equipment and simulating planting procedures detected levels of 384 ppm in 15 minutes.

* The NIOSH-recommended ceiling limit for CO exposure, which should not be exceeded at any time, is 200 ppm. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration permissible exposure limit for CO is 50 ppm as an 8-hour time-weighted average, and the NIOSH-recommended exposure limit for CO is 35 ppm as an 8-hour time-weighted average.

REF: MMWR, Vol 46(51), Dec 26, 1997.


(This article has been extracted from an excellent review article published in Risk in Perspective, 5(11), Nov 1997.)

In 1992 a paper published in the British Medical Journal concluded that human sperm counts had declined worldwide by about 50% between 1930 and 1990. Since 1992, this issue has been hotly debated and researched to determine if this is a real decline or an artifact of changes in measuring sperm count or unrecognized bias. This debate has also made its way into the popular press particularly in association with concerns about environmental endocrine "disruptors" (environmental hormones/estrogens).

Sperm counts are measured as the number of sperm per ml semen, and normal levels range from 40 to >100 million/ml. Changes in fertility are usually not seen until the counts drop below 20 million/ml. Some factors which affect sperm count include; age, duration of abstinence before donation, and time of year (production is greater in the winter). There is a great deal of variation in the counts taken from the same individual on different days, and even more between different men. Counting techniques have changed so that counts done today are not comparable to counts taken many years ago.

The original British Medical Journal study combined data from 61 different studies (a meta-analysis) and has many potential sources of unintentional error and bias. One of these problems has to do with the locations of the studies, and the more recent observation that sperm counts vary geographically. A more recent study in 1995 looked at the counts in a single region over time to see if it could detect any trends. These results have been "mixed", showing declines in counts of men in Paris, Sweden, Scotland, and Belgium, but no declines or slight increases in men from the rest of France, Finland, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Norway. This study is also subject to limitations because many of the data have the same problems related to sampling technique. "What is clear is that there is no consistent evidence of a worldwide effect on human male fertility over the decades."

In summary, "the question of whether human sperm counts are changing over time has no clear answer in the mixed body of evidence now available. If there is an effect, it is certainly less universal and inexorable than was first suggested. What may be causing any such phenomenon is much less clear, and the hypothesis of chemical exposure is at present mostly speculative."


On August 29, 1996, the Jackson County Health Department (JCHD) in southwestern Oklahoma notified the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) of a cluster of Campylobacter jejuni infections that occurred during August 16-20 among persons who had eaten lunch at a local restaurant on August 15. The C. jejuni infection was most likely acquired from eating lettuce cross-contaminated with raw chicken.

Inspection of the restaurant indicated that the countertop surface area was too small to separate raw poultry and other foods adequately during preparation. The cook reported cutting up raw chicken for the dinner meals before preparing salads, lasagna, and sandwiches as luncheon menu items. Lettuce for salads was shredded with a knife, and the cook wore a towel around her waist that she frequently used to dry her hands. Bleach solution at the appropriate temperature (>75 F [>24 C]) and concentration (>50 ppm) was present to sanitize table surfaces, but it was uncertain whether the cook had cleaned the countertop after cutting up the chicken. The lettuce or lasagna was probably contaminated with C. jejuni from raw chicken through unwashed or inadequately washed hands, cooking utensils, or the countertop.

Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of foodborne disease in the United States, causing approximately 2 million cases of gastroenteritis each year.

Most illnesses associated with Campylobacter infection are sporadic. Common source outbreaks occur, and most have been traced to unpasteurized milk and contaminated drinking water. In comparison, most sporadic cases, and those in this outbreak, are associated with improper handling and preparing of poultry. Campylobacter has been found in up to 88% of broiler chicken carcasses in the United States. The infectious dose of Campylobacter is low; ingestion of only 500 organisms, easily present in one drop of raw chicken juice, can result in human illness. Therefore, contamination of foods by raw chicken is an efficient mechanism for transmission of this organism.

REF: MMWR, 47(7), Feb 27, 1998.


The overall prevalences of lifetime, current, and frequent cigarette use were 70.2%, 36.4%, and 16.7%, respectively. The prevalence of lifetime cigarette smoking was higher among Hispanic male students (76.9%) than among white male students (70.4%). The prevalence of current cigarette smoking was higher among white students (39.7%) than Hispanic (34.0%) and black (22.7%) students, and Hispanic students (34.0%) were more likely to report current cigarette smoking than black students (22.7%). Among males, the prevalence of current cigarette smoking was higher among white students (39.6%) than black students (28.2%). Among females, the prevalence of current cigarette smoking was higher among white students (39.9%) than Hispanic (32.3%) and black (17.4%) students, and Hispanic female students (32.3%) were more likely to report current cigarette smoking than black female students (17.4%). Among black students, males (28.2%) were more likely than females (17.4%) to report current cigarette smoking.

The prevalence of frequent cigarette smoking was higher among white students (19.9%) than among Hispanic (10.9%) and black (7.2%) students. Among males, the prevalence of frequent cigarette smoking was higher among white students (19.8%) than black students (10.1%). Among females, the prevalence of frequent cigarette smoking was higher among white students (20.1%) than Hispanic (8.1%) and black (4.3%) students. Among black students, males (10.1%) were more likely than females (4.3%) to report frequent cigarette smoking.

Trend analyses of current cigarette smoking found significantly increasing trends overall and among all racial/ethnic subgroups (p<0.001). The overall prevalence of current cigarette smoking increased from 27.5% in 1991 to 36.4% in 1997. Among white students, current cigarette smoking increased from 30.9% in 1991 to 39.7% in 1997. Among black students, current cigarette smoking increased from 12.6% in 1991 to 22.7% in 1997. Among Hispanic students, current cigarette smoking increased from 25.3% in 1991 to 34.0% in 1997.

REF: MMWR, 47(12), April 3, 1998.


Silicosis is a potentially fatal and typically chronic fibrotic lung disease caused by occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. In the United States, most silicosis-associated deaths occur among persons aged $65 years, often following many years of silica dust exposure. However, the continuing occurrence of silicosis deaths in young adults reflects relatively recent overexposures, some of sufficient magnitude to cause severe disease and death after relatively short periods of exposure. This report describes deaths among two young adults with silicosis and underscores the risk for deaths from silicosis at relatively young ages.

Case Reports: Two sandblasters died from progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), an advanced form of silicosis, following intensive dust exposure during abrasive sandblasting of oil field pipes and tanks in western Texas. The first death occurred in a 36-year-old man who had worked as a sandblaster for 36 months from 1984 to 1988, when PMF was diagnosed. He died from respiratory failure in 1995, 11 years after his initial exposure. The second death occurred in a 30-year-old man who had worked as a sandblaster for 48 months during 1986-1990. He died from respiratory failure in 1996, 10 years after initial exposure.

At diagnosis, each worker had radiographic evidence of severe silicosis; one underwent a lung biopsy that revealed silicotic nodules and fibrosis. Autopsies for both revealed grey and hard upper and middle lobes of the lungs, with multiple small nodules palpable in the lower lobes. Microscopic examination revealed widespread interstitial inflammation and fibrosis, and mineralogic analysis revealed extremely high silica particle content.

During 1968-1994, a total of 14,824 silicosis-associated deaths were recorded; 11,250 (75.9%) occurred among persons aged $65 years, 3367 (22.7%) among persons aged 45-64 years, and 207 (1.4%) among persons aged 15-44 years. Overall, silicosis deaths declined substantially from 1157 in 1968 to <400 annually after 1980. Among young persons (i.e., aged 15-44 years), deaths from silicosis declined less during 1968-1994.

Among young silicosis decedents, 57.0% were white, and 90.8% were male. Among silicosis decedents aged $65 years, 90.0% were white, and 98.1% were male. The proportion of decedents of races other than white generally increased during 1968-1994 in both the 45-64 and $65 age groups, but remained relatively stable among young decedents. In all three age groups, the proportion of female decedents generally increased. Of the nine silicosis deaths that occurred among young women during 1985–1994, six were of races other than white.

Construction and manufacturing were coded most frequently as the usual industry (28.0% each); no deaths were attributed to mining. In comparison, among 897 silicosis decedents aged $65 years, manufacturing accounted for 46.2%, mining for 21.1%, and construction for 9.5% of deaths. Usual occupations for the 25 young silicosis decedents included operators of various machines used to crush, grind, mix, and blend materials (six [24.0%]); painters/paint spray operators (five [20.0%]); construction trades (four [16.0%]); and laborers, except construction (four [16.0%]).

Editorial Note: Primary pre-vention of silicosis through exposure control is important because no effective medical treatment exists for this disease, which continues to progress even after a worker is removed from further exposure. Despite the existence of legally enforceable limits on worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust, overexposures of sufficient magnitude to cause premature deaths continue to occur in the United States. Silicosis latency and rate of progression correlate with intensity of exposure; extremely high exposures are associated with much shorter latency and more rapid disease progression. Consequently, silicosis-associated deaths in young persons generally result from more recent and intense exposure to silica dust.

Extreme overexposures to respirable silica have been documented during sandblasting and in the construction industry. Abrasive blasting with silica sand, often used to prepare surfaces for painting, has been associated with exposures up to 200 times the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-recommended exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica dust (0.05 mg/m3). NIOSH has recommended that silica sand be prohibited as an abrasive blasting agent.

REF: MMWR, 47(16), May 1, 1998.


May has been designated National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). In 1998, approximately 1 million new cases of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas will be detected, and approximately 41,600 new cases of malignant melanoma will be diagnosed. In addition, in 1998, an estimated 9200 persons will die from skin cancer. This month is dedicated to increasing the awareness of the importance of skin cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment.

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most important behavioral risk factor for skin cancer. Measures to prevent skin cancer include 1) reducing direct exposure to the sun, especially during midday hours (i.e., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) when the sun’s rays are the strongest; 2) wearing protective clothing (e.g., broad-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and sun glasses); and 3) using sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 to protect against UV A and B rays. Persons should also avoid artificial sources of UV light, such as tanning beds and sun lamps.

Additional information about skin cancer is available from the National Cancer Institute, telephone (800) 422-6237, and from the American Cancer Society, telephone (800) 227-2345. Information about AAD’s program is available from the World-Wide Web Information about CDC’s program is available at http://

REF: MMWR, 47(16), May 1, 1998. T


The April 13 issue of the Food Chemical News reported on some of the results of the 1996 Pesticide Data Program (PDP) carried out by USDA. The data obtained from this report is used to help EPA do dietary assessments and as a measure of the effectiveness of regulation and enforcement of pesticide use.

In 1996, 4,382 fruit and vegetable samples were analyzed for pesticide residues. There were detectable concentrations of at least one pesticide residue in 71.8% of these samples, and 45% of them had more than one detectable residue. In 11% of the samples, DDE (a breakdown product of DDT) was found, and DDE was detectable in 43% of the carrot samples and 58% of the spinach samples. These residues were not the result of DDT application but secondary to DDE in the soil (these samples are not washed or processed before analysis). Of the 4,382 samples of fruit and vegetables, 198 samples were "presumptive violations", and in these 196 samples there were 243 residue violations, most of which were due to an unapproved pesticide (no tolerance for the pesticide had been established in that crop). Many of the detectable residues were from post-harvest application of fungicides.

There were 575 samples of whole milk included in the study and pesticide residues were detected in 18% of these samples. Editor Note: While I have not seen the report, I am sure that most if not all of these are also chlorinated hydrocarbon residues, like DDE, which are persistent soil contaminants, and which are concentrated in fat and milk, and can be detected in the very low ppb range.

Of 340 wheat samples, 91% had detectable pesticide residues, 90% of which were from chlorpyrifos, chlorpyrifos methyl and malathion pre- and post-harvest uses.

In total there were 9,217 detectable residues in the 4,382 samples, and only 9 of the 9,217 detectable residues were above tolerance (less than 1/1000, or 0.1%). These results are very much in keeping with the 1996 California results which found that less than 1/1000 samples had residues above established tolerances.

While some people will look at these data and be alarmed that so many samples had detectable residues, one must view these data with the understanding that the limits of detection for pesticides continues to become lower and lower. Thus, there will be an increasing number of detectable residues over time. I don’t view these data as alarming at all, in fact, they are quite reassuring that the regulatory programs are working well and producers are observing post-harvest intervals.

In conclusion, it is also good to keep in mind that even the 0.1% of samples that have residues above tolerance should not be considered "toxic" or even "dangerous", they are simply above the established tolerance. It would be virtually impossible to even come close to the consumption of enough of these violative samples to approach the Reference Dose (RfD) established by EPA. The RfD is the dose which, according to EPA, could be consumed daily over an entire lifetime without adverse effect. Also remember that these samples were not prepared for consumption, and food preparation and cooking would reduce the amounts of residues even further. These findings are not alarming, in fact, they are "old news".


Most people in the food safety area know that problems are usually due to improper food handling procedures, most often at home. In the April 13 issue of Food Chemical News, there was a short report on warning letters sent from the FDA to violators of various regulations. These violations of food handling procedures at a San Francisco catering facility can be extrapolated to the home to help us all do a better job in the kitchen.

1. Plastic cutting boards stored directly on top of the floor drain.

2. Raw fish stored directly above string beans.

3. The pot washer handled the dirty pans and utensils, and then proceeded to handle clean pans and utensils without washing hands first.

4. The filling for shrimp spring rolls was stored inside a large tub so that it would not cool down to 45E or less within 4 hours.


Consumers should stop buying and using certain dietary supplements labeled as containing plantain because they may contain Digitalis, a plant that contains powerful heart stimulants.

FDA issued this warning after finding Digitalis in samples of raw material labeled as plantain and used by various manufacturers in herbal laxatives, poultices, and tea. Some of the suspect plantain also was distributed to retailers who sell it in bulk for making tea. The labels of suspect products may list plantain as an ingredient.

Consumers who have herbal laxatives or tea labeled as containing plantain should contact the store where the products were bought to learn whether or not the product is from one of the manufacturers or distributors believed to have received the mislabeled raw material. Consumers also can get an updated list of manufacturers and distributors of suspect products from FDA's Consumer Hotline, (1-800) FDA-4010, or on FDA's World Wide Web site at

Consumers who experience adverse reactions associated with the consumption of plantain-labeled products should see a doctor. Consumers and health professionals can report adverse reactions associated with these products to FDA's MedWatch adverse event reporting line at (1-800) FDA-1088.

Digitalis is an active ingredient of some prescription heart medicines. It can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, confusion, low blood pressure, vision problems, and abnormal heart rate and rhythm, including cardiac arrest.

Plaintain is a perennial weed of the genus Plantago, which includes more than 200 widely distributed species. It is not the same as the tropical banana plant of the same name whose fruit is cooked and eaten as a vegetable.

REF: FDA Consumer, Sep-Oct 1997.



Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are the leading cause of disability in the United States, affecting 42.7 million persons and costing $65 billion in 1992. These numbers will increase by 2020 as the population ages.

REF: MMWR, 47(17), May 8, 1998.

Alcohol-Related Traffic Fatalities Involving Children - United States, 1985-1996

Motor-vehicle-related injuries are the leading cause of death for persons aged 1-24 years in the United States. Although the relation between alcohol use and motor-vehicle-related deaths involving teenagers is well established, understanding of the role of alcohol in such deaths among younger children is limited. To characterize the involvement of alcohol in motor-vehicle-related deaths of U.S. children aged <15 years during 1985-1996, the Centers for Disease Control analyzed data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The results of the analysis indicate that approximately one fourth of all traffic deaths among children aged <15 years involved alcohol and that in nearly two thirds of passenger deaths involving a legally drunk driver, the child was in the car driven by the legally drunk driver.

REF: MMWR, 46(48), Dec 5, 1997.

Lead-Based Paint Hazards

HUD has recently issued an update to Chapter 7 (Lead-Based Paint Inspection) of the HUD "Guidelines for the Evaluation and Control of Lead-Based Paint Hazards in Housing." This document is now available to download from HUD's Home Page at If you would like to order a hard copy of the revised chapter, you can request a copy that includes Performance Characteristic Sheets (PCSs) for $15.00 or a copy without PCSs for $10.00. Call toll-free at: 1-800-245-2691.

REF: U.S. EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics Newsbreak.


In Texarkana, Arkansas, teenaged boys removed some mercury from an abandoned factory and contaminated parts of town. Mercury was found at a Subway sandwich shop and a local junior high school. Officials said mercury has a way of captivating children and the EPA estimates it may cost as much as $1 million to test residents, decontaminate sites, and remove the remaining mercury from the old factory.

Ed. Note: Elemental mercury has a vapor pressure so that it will slowly evaporate. Wen it does and is in a gaseous form, it is well absorbed in the lungs and is distributed quickly to the brain. Elemental mercury from broken thermometers should not be allowed to remain in carpets or in cracks in floors, it should be cleaned up to prevent indoor exposure.

REF: U.S. EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics Newsbreak.

Frogs, Salamanders, and Deformities

Michael Gough, Director of Science and Risk Studies at the Cato Institute, disputes the validity of a study published by Andrew R. Balustein of Oregon State University and colleagues in the December 1997 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - that purported to show that "man-made" chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are the cause of deformed frogs, toads and salamanders." He concludes with mentioning conflicting research done by Stanley Sessions of Hatwick College that suggested that trematodes may be a cause. "He’s (Sessions) on solid ground. In their summary of a workshop on causes of amphibian deformities, a scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency and two from universities concluded that trematodes ‘are particularly plausible causes.’ They cite no other cause for which there is direct evidence from field studies."

REF: U.S. EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics Newsbreak.

Organic food Label

Genetically engineered food, irradiated food, and crops fertilized with sewage sludge will not be allowed to be labeled "organic" under USDA regulations which define organic food.

REF: U.S. EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics Newsbreak.

Adults, Not Children

Adults are more likely to be poisoned to death by household cleaners and medicines, according to a report from the Maryland Poison Center. While most poisoning prevention efforts focus on children, the center says only one out of 27 Marylanders who die in poison emergencies each year is a child. Most adult poisonings are the result of adverse drug reactions, accidental overdoses or suicide, it adds.

One-third of the victims of poisoning deaths from 1994 to 1996 in Maryland were over age 60. Only 50% were intentional, according to the center’s report. The center is part of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. (From: Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News, 26[21].)

REF: Kansas Pesticide Newsletter 21(5), May 13, 1998.

Safer Use of DEET is Goal of New Labeling

Safer use of insect repellents containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-metatoluamide) is the goal of new labeling requirements by EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. Effective in two years, manufacturers and distributors of DEET products will no longer be able to claim their products are "child safe," simply because they contain 15% or less of the active ingredient. The new labels direct parents to prohibit children from handling a DEET-containing product and include the following warnings: Do not use on hands or near eyes and mouth of young children. Do not use under clothing. Avoid over-application of this product. After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water and wash treated clothing. DEET is used to help prevent mosquito, tick and other disease-transmitting insect bites. (From Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News, 26[21].)

REF: Kansas Pesticide Newsletter 21(5), May 13, 1998.

Hyperthermia and Dehydration-Related Deaths Associated With Intentional Rapid Weight Loss in Three Collegiate Wrestlers

During November 7-December 9, 1997, three previously healthy collegiate wrestlers in different states died while each was engaged in a program of rapid weight loss to qualify for competition. In the hours preceding the official weigh-in, all three wrestlers engaged in a similar rapid weight-loss regimen that promoted dehydration through perspiration and resulted in hyperthermia. The wrestlers restricted food and fluid intake and attempted to maximize sweat losses by wearing vapor-impermeable suits under cotton warm-up suits and exercising vigorously in hot environments.

REF: MMWR, 47(6), Feb 20, 1998.

Art Craigmill
Extension Toxicologist
UC Davis