Cadmium In The Trash
Jan19

Cadmium In The Trash

Parents across America are throwing out their kids’ inexpensive costume jewelry because they fear it might contain cadmium. When the Consumer Product Safety Commission set lower limits on the amount of lead allowed in U.S. toys, some Chinese manufacturers apparently began using cadmium instead. Cadmium is cheap, but it’s also toxic. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, cadmium is “a soft, blue-white malleable, lustrous metal or a grayish-white powder that is insoluble in water and reacts readily with dilute nitric acid.” Cadmium metal is primarily used because of its anticorrosive properties. It is found in alkaline batteries, pigments, metal coatings, plastics, and now some children’s toys imported from China. Cadmium is considered a known human carcinogen by the Department of Health & Human Services. Long-term exposure to the metal can lead to kidney disease, lung damage, and fragile bones, depending on the route of exposure. The question is whether a child is likely to be exposed to cadmium in toys. Wearing a necklace or bracelet is unlikely to cause harm, but sucking on a necklace, or swallowing a piece of it, would certainly be a different story. In October, bright orange pumpkin erasers with extremely high levels (1800 ppm) of cadmium were in the news. I happened to have a few of them around my house from birthday party goody bags my kids brought home. Out of concern that my kids would chew on them, I threw the erasers out in the trash. Someone ought to calculate how much cadmium is likely to enter landfills because of the recent cadmium jewelry scare, and what impact that could have on ground and surface...

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My Own Genome
Jun11

My Own Genome

As I left the National Press Club yesterday afternoon, I thought, wow, maybe now’s the time. For only $1,000, I could buy my personal genome. I had just attended a briefing sponsored by the Genetics & Public Policy Center and was lucky enough to have been invited to lunch with the speakers beforehand. I went into the discussion with basically no knowledge of the issues. I had no idea so many companies were selling personal genomes. Where have I been? Blame it on the kids, the long commute, the fact that I focused only on environmental issues for the past two years. I’m familiar with the technology used to sequence the human genome from my days working as a reporter for the news section of Analytical Chemistry, so it wasn’t completely uncharted territory. I even know what SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms, pronounced snips) are. As I sat there listening to the panelists talk candidly around the lunch table, I just couldn’t believe how fast the world is changing. I’ve always thought of myself as one of the younger ones, but when I hear things like 20 year olds are sharing their personal genomes with each other on social networking sites, I start feeling old. I’ve never even used a social networking site. The lunch conversation started with a discussion about genealogy. My father was adopted and knows basically nothing about his biological parents. I started to wonder, could I learn something about my grandparents and their ancestors by getting my personal genome? When I asked Hank Greely, bioethics law professor at Stanford University, he said yes, but the information would be limited. Much more information can be gleaned about direct parents, but even paternity tests can be false, he said. The quality of the genetic testing out there varies. The problem is, there is very little government oversight. Genetic-testing labs that sell personal genomes do not have to be accredited or undergo proficiency testing. There are no standards. Consumers are left to fend for themselves. Greely is concerned that these companies are not sufficiently warning their customers about the risks of receiving personal genetic information. What if you receive family information you wish you didn’t have? What if you are not related to the people you think you are related to? People should be warned, but they are not, Greely said. Then there are the privacy issues. Sharing your genome with friends on Facebook? Once it’s out there, there is no going back, folks. No one can guarantee your privacy. What if the genetic-testing lab is sold, merged, or goes belly up? What if the data are subpoenaed? Right...

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