AchooAllergy.com Blog

General Health


Posted by kevvyg on Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Late last week many of you likely came across a story about Enterovirus D68 and how it is affecting school children in states across the middle of the U.S. I have to admit, I am a bit behind on this topic, but not having children is the likely reason for me to have missed it (well that and the fact that I average less than eight hours of television per week). Latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates confirm a total of just over 100 cases spread across ten states, with that estimate likely being a bit low due to confirmation process. What struck me about this virus were two things. First, I haven't heard of this before, and secondly, it seems to affecting children with asthma at a greater rate and more severely than other children. What is an enterovirus, and how is it spread? More importantly, what can children and adults do to help lessen the spread of this virus?

An enterovirus is a single-stranded RNA virus that is part of a genus containing twelve different species of viruses. Within each species, though, there can be a wide variety of serotypes (variations), but all have high mutation rates. In this case, the name "enterovirus D68" represents the variant of this particular genus of viruses, the 68th. Overall, this genus of virus actually contains some of the worst offenders when it comes to humans, both in severity (polio to hepatitis A) and in breadth of contagion (common cold - the Rhinovirus).

The CDC estimates that 10 to 15 million people each year are infected with the enterovirus, but with majority of these being the rhinovirus (common cold), this statistic is generally one that does not raise concern. What is raising concern is the spread of enterovirus D68, and this is for two reasons.

First, while we first discovered this particular serotype decades ago, it has not been commonly occurring. More importantly, it appears to disproportionately affect those with asthma. Those with asthma or other respiratory conditions are generally more prone to suffer more severe effects from external factors, not only viruses but also pollen and smoke. Smoke makes me cough, but if you have asthma, smoke can cause wheezing or an asthma attack.

A similar situation is what parents are seeing with this virus. While many likely shrug it off as the common cold or flu, CDC Chart of States Reporting Enterovirus D68 Caseswith the child exhibiting symptoms that are most akin to a cold or allergies, children with asthma may experience trouble breathing or wheezing. This is when parents are suggested to act. And recently, they have been.

Overall the scope of the virus is likely underestimated since many will see less severe symptoms, not enough to seek medical treatment. Hospitals and labs aren't likely reporting the full scope since the virus isn't one that is required to be tested for by the CDC. However, the image to the right shows the states reporting infections as of Monday with the lower image showing states reporting as of today. Yes, it is spreading, much like the common cold and flu does each year, and currently health officials are expecting this trend to increase before it finally tapers off with the onset of winter.

What do you do? The main concern right now seems to be with children with asthma. Touch base with your primary care provider and keep in mind what to do if your child is experiencing labored or troubled breathing or wheezing. Milder symptoms are going to be most common amongst children in general and like the cold, with plenty of fluids and rest, they will run their course with little worry. For more severe cases, supportive care is really the most that can be done. Medications to relax airways and supplemental oxygen are most common with the most critical needing ventilators.

In general, there are a couple things to keep in mind. First, enterovirus D68 is making a lot of headlines, but it is generally a mild virus that acts much like the common cold. While all parents will want to be watchful of their children and symptoms, asthmatics are most at risk. Lastly, like the common cold, there is no vaccine or treatment beyond supportive care, so prevention techniques, like frequent hand washing and sanitizing surfaces are important things to keep in mind.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Tags: Asthma
Posted by kevvyg on Friday, September 12, 2014

Is It Allergies or A Cold?

Every year a question most people struggle with at some point is, "Do I have a cold or is it allergies?". For most people, it's not a terribly difficult question to answer. People who cope with allergies are familiar with the symptoms and can usually tell the difference between the two. But what if you've never been diagnosed with allergies before? Ever Feel Like a Walking Sneeze Factory?I'm fall into this category, and recently had the same allergies vs. cold debate in my head.

Personally, I don't often get sick. Generally once a year or less I'll have the flu, but I've not had the joy of a head cold in quite some time... until last week. I woke up with a sore throat, and while I know for a fact that I was NOT sleeping on a sand dune that night, my throat was telling me otherwise. Congestion was hot on the heels of the sore throat, and later in the day I was a walking sneeze factory. These are three common symptoms for both allergies and the common cold, so how do you tell the difference between the two?

Let's start with the sore throat first. We've all had a sore throat, and the really the only way to describe this is, it hurts! Not slam-your-hand-in-the-car-door hurt, but you know what I mean. With allergies, your throat won't hurt so much as it may itch.

Allergies vs. Cold - Official Scorecard Round 1

One really wonderful thing I got to look forward to was a night of log roll sleeping. This is where I go to sleep on my right side and shortly after not being able to breathe through that side of my nose, I roll over to the left side and the same thing happens. You know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. This was, as it always is, due to congestion. Tissues, toilet paper, even paper towels weren't safe from being filled with nose-goo. It was a never ending faucet of congestion. Congestion and runny nose are common symptoms of both allergies and colds, so how does this help? Ask yourself this. Did whatever symptoms you are experiencing show up together or was their arrival staggered? Symptoms almost all showing up at once is more likely to be allergies while staggered symptoms is often indicative of a cold.

Allergies vs. Cold - Official Scorecard Round 2

Nearly every morning I go through a small fit of sneezing. I'm guessing dust mites, but I do not know for sure. As someone who is classically trained in the art of "do as I say, not as I do," I feel completely right in recommending that if you experience this, make an appointment with your local board certified allergist. Over the first few days of my symptoms, my morning sneezing went on as usual, but randomly throughout the day, I would sneeze, 7, 8, 9, up to 10 times in a row. Sneezing isn't exclusive to colds or allergies. People with either will exhibit this symptom.

Allergies vs. Cold - We Have a Winner!

So that solves it! Cold it was. (Hooray?) It started with one symptom, and like an evil cake recipe kept adding more layers of moist misery - congestion then sneezing. While my situation was solved, there are a few other things to keep in mind. Colds start, then get worse, and ultimately clear up, even with no intervention. Allergies are much more likely to remain consistent as long as exposure remains. So if the ragweed pollen count is high for weeks on end, you're likely to see no improvement in your condition without treatment. An allergy symptom won't just "run its course". Lastly, the symptoms I had aren't the only ones you'll see. Itchy or watery eyes - allergies. Sinus Pressure - Allergies or a cold. Fever - cold (more often the flu). Coughing - a cold and more rarely, allergies.

Super Jumbo Tub of Antihista-Wow!  Not Available Anywhere!So if it's a cold, how do you get over it? The age old methods of chicken noodle soup, a mega-carton of tissues, and a Costco-sized tub of decongestant helps. Much like a fair barker, do nothing and eventually it will go away.

With allergies, the story is different. Unless you're willing to wait weeks or months, they won't just go away. From avoidance to treating the symptoms, there are a variety of things you can do to speed symptoms away and some that can prevent them from occurring (or at least lessen them). Medication is the easiest. Antihistamines, decongestants and other over-the-counter remedies will help, but many carry side effects. More long term solutions are allergy shots and treatments. Over the course of months or years these can help desensitize your system, causing it to react less to harmless allergens.

Avoidance is another way to help yourself, but avoidance requires a little more effort. Avoidance means making your home more hospitable for you and less so for allergens. Cleaning, using a HEPA air purifier, and things a simple as taking your shoes off at the door and regularly replacing your HVAC filter are all good places to start when it comes to avoidance and environmental control. Remedies to help symptoms can be as simple as rinsing your sinuses.

Ever since I was introduced to sinus rinsing, I've been a big fan. I do not have allergies, but I do get the occasional stuffy nose, and as a runner, I will feel "gunky" afterwards from time to time. Rinsing takes about as long as it does to brush your teeth and generally keeps your nasal passages feeling better and you breathing easier for hours.

Generally, maintaining an indoor environment that's more hospitable to you is something that can help year round, particularly since most people will deal with allergies multiple times throughout the year. For more tips on controlling your indoor environment, visit... just about any page on our site!

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Shop Miele Vacuums - Free HEPA Filter!Free Miele HEPA Filter with Miele Vacuum PurchaseTo usher in September, we have a couple deals to help you save money on some of our most popular home cleaning appliances. From now until September 30th, purchase any Miele vacuum cleaner and get a FREE HEPA filter!

Miele vacuum cleaners have long been the standard of excellence when it comes to cleaning your floors while keeping the air in your home free of allergens and irritating particles that traditional vacuums spew out as they "clean". Conforming to strict H13 HEPA standards, the new Miele HEPA filter traps 99.95% of particles as small as 0.1 microns. This includes all of the common allergens like dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold spores. Most Miele vacuums feature a sealed system in addition to the 9-ply filterbag, and it all three of these components that make a Miele the best allergy vacuum available.

For this limited time each Miele vacuum you purchase will include a free HEPA filter. If the Miele you choose already has one, then the addition of this free filter means you have all the HEPA filters you need for the next two years of use. And, if the model you select doesn't come with a HEPA filter standard, then you've received a free HEPA filter upgrade! Either way, you get a free filter, valued at $49.95. So whether you're looking for a top-of-the-line, premium Miele canister vacuum, a powerful Miele upright or something in between, shop now and save.

Reliable Enviromate Steam Cleaner $100 Discount Extended!

We also have good news for those of you looking for a steam cleaner. Reliable has extended their $100 savings on their premium home steam cleaners. In addition to free shipping, you can now take $100 off the top three Reliable steam cleaners. This includes the dual use Tandem EV1, a canister-style steam cleaner and HEPA vacuum cleaner, all-in-one, as well as the versatile E40 VIVA, and the durable E20 GO. Deep clean and sanitize throughout your home with any of these three models. Each offers a wide variety of accessories and attachments specifically suited to kills germs, remove stuck-on grime, and give you a healthier home, all without the harsh chemicals and fragrances that accompany other home cleaning products. Italian-made, these steam cleaners have a lifetime warranty on the boiler and durable ABS shell for years of consistent cleaning inside and outside your home.

For either of these great deals, there's no need for a coupon code. Simply drop them in your cart and your free filter or $100 discount will automatically be included. Take advantage of either or both of these deals before they expire, and if you have any questions or need some expert advice on which Miele or steam cleaner would best meet your needs, call, email, chat or submit an FAQ to us anytime.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by R. Power on Tuesday, August 05, 2014
PURE RoomAs the travel and hospitality industries grow to meet the needs of a more and more diverse clientele, you might notice how they are becoming more accommodating to travelers with allergies and chemical sensitivities. Earlier I wrote a blog about Swiss Airlines creating a plane just for individuals with allergies and MCS. Now allergy relief can be found at a variety of hotels, most recently Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, who have teamed up with PURE to create allergy friendly hotel rooms, in the hopes of making travel easier for everyone.

Using a seven step purification process called the Pure Process, PURE Rooms are cleaned, sanitized and freed from the common pollutants that may irritate individuals. This process includes:
  • Deep Clean Air-Handling Unit - This heat and a/c unit includes air filters and an enzyme based drip pan tablet to eliminate allergens.
  • PURE Tea Tree Oil Cartridge - Installed in the air handling unit to maintain sanitized conditions with its antimicrobial properties.
  • Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning - Patented PURE clean solution is used to remove debris and allergens from carpets and upholstery.
  • One Time Shock Treatment - This consists of a four hour ozone shock treatment which destroys nearly all of the mold and bacteria, as well as odors, in every nook and cranny of the room, leaving the room fresh.
  • PURE Shield - A bacteriostatic barrier is applied to all room surfaces to deter bacterial growth and pathogens from inhabiting the room.
  • Air Purification System - a 24-hour defense against allergens. Proven by the FDA to kill 98%-100% of bacteria and viruses.
  • Allergy Friendly Bedding- PURE uses only micro-fiber, monofilament mattress and pillow encasements for allergy barrier bedding.
PURE Rooms Can Be Found at Many of the Hilton Worldwide HotelsPURE Rooms Can Also Be Found at Many of the Hyatt Hotels There are over 250 Pure Rooms in U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, so to many places you travel, you can enjoy a vacation without worrying about sleeping with allergens, chemicals, mold, or who knows what else the last occupant brought along with them! PURE Rooms can be found in Doubletrees, Hiltons, Hyatts, and Mariotts across the U.S. I easily found four hotels with PURE Rooms in Buckhead, Midtown and even at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport here in Atlanta. Even if you don't have allergies or chemical sensitivities to cater to, you can relax and enjoy a room that is clean and irritant free.

As a couple final notes, if those hotels are in your budget, then chances are a PURE Room will be too. After checking a few, I found the nightly rate wasn't that much higher than a standard room. The ozone shock treatment is going to be particularly off-putting for many people. Ozone is a powerful lung irritant, particularly for those dealing with asthma, chronic bronchitis or COPD. While it is recommended by no one (except those who sell or produce ozone generators) to use ozone generating devices in occupied rooms, there is considerable debate over their use in unoccupied rooms, as in the instance with PURE Rooms.

Ozone is billed as a way to remove odors, mold and pathogens, but the efficacy of this type of treatment for mold and pathogens is still a source of contention. Ozone shock treatments are used in everything from remediation jobs of homes that Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizer - Never a Bad Ideahave been damaged by flood or fire and even in vehicles. As a space is properly aired out, the level of ozone dissipates over a number of hours. I would venture to say that risk of ozone exposure is going to be low in PURE Rooms, but it never hurts to ask before you book. It is also worth noting that the ozone shock treatment isn't mentioned directly on the list of the seven steps of the PURE Room website, but is listed on a couple of the hotel's sites in their descriptions of the process. Lastly, if a PURE Room is perhaps a bit of overkill for you, bringing along a couple pillow covers and keeping an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your pocket never hurts.

For more information on PURE Rooms or the PURE Room process, visit pureroom.com.

Author: R. Power

Tags: MCS, Allergies
Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, July 31, 2014
Since my last blog on the topic of e-cigarettes, a lot has happened with developing research and regulations (state and federal), as well as the addition of U.S. tobacco companies into this rapidly expanding market. As the sales of vaporizers and flavored nicotine rapidly spread, research regarding health effects and regulation of this product are struggling to keep up. So where do we stand now, and how are regulation and research efforts changing the growth of this product? Before we delve into that, let's recap what we covered last time.

E-Cigarettes Look Like They're Here to StayAround 2007, e-cigarettes hit the US market as a smoking trend that was quickly billed as an alternative method for traditional cigarette smokers to wean themselves off of cigarettes, in an effort to quit altogether. With this stated purpose, they were even favored by former American Lung Association CEO Charles D. Connor as a smoking-cessation tool, as well as pathologist and Editor at Large of Medscape Medical News, who stated, "But many tightly hooked addicts need replacement drugs. E-cigarettes provide that replacement nicotine on the way to tobacco abstinence, or at least to far fewer inhalations of burned tobacco. That is undeniably a good thing."

Fairly quickly though, non-smokers began taking to this new, safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, but with no federal or state regulations, minors also had easy access to them through gas stations and e-cig salons that beganpopping up all over major cities in the US.

Research on electronic cigarettes is giving us more clarity on potential risks and will help answer some of the questions regarding their health effects of benefits, relative to regular cigarettes. As of now, there are a few factors that highlight potential risks. We know these products are predominantly shipped from China, where regulation and quality can be uncertain. We also know there are potential risks with inhaling nicotine, battery and propylene glycol vapors in liquid nicotine, aka "e-juice". There have been numerous instances of tobacco poisoning that have occurred from absorbing or ingesting e juice. The American Association of Poison Control has reported a 219% increase in nicotine poisoning cases, from e-cigarette devices and liquid nicotine, between 2012 and 2013. Sadly, more than half of Some of the More Standard E-Cig Flavorsthese incidents have involved children under six years old, theoretically because of the sweet flavors and vibrant colors of e-juice. Kids either, open the bottle and eat it, or the cap comes off and leaks, or the holding chamber leaks the liquid nicotine. When absorbed through the skin it can cause nausea, vomiting and headaches.

Since June of 2014, the FDA has been hustling to create regulations for "electronic cigarettes and other non-combustible tobacco products, pathways to market for proposed deemed tobacco products and compliance dates for certain provisions". They are encouraging public participation and allowing the public to submit comments and regulating suggestions on http://www.regulations.gov (Federal Register Number 2014-14562/ RIN: 0910-AG38) , until August 8th 2014.

While FDA regulations are underway, U.S. tobacco companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of this predicted $1.7 billion annual market. In the same month the FDA began framing out e-cig regulations, R.J. Reynolds started its campaign as the first U.S. made e-cigarette manufacturer. Although stability and quality control are benefits to having the products made here in the U.S., there is still concern over the marketing of these products. From what we already know about traditional tobacco marketing strategies, they tend to focus on the youth (candy cigarettes, now banned flavored cigarettes, cartoonish characters, sweet/candy-like flavors of smokeless tobacco etc.), the plethora of liquid nicotine flavors now available would seem to make it much easier to attract younger customers. It's worth noting that smoking trends in the U.S. have been consistently falling for years, and the primary driver of growth for tobacco companies has been through market consolidation and overseas markets.

While research and regulation continue to evolve, this new market expands. Where do we go from here? Regulation is almost certainly coming down the pipe, but solid research on the efficacy of e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to smoking may be years away, as are long term studies on health effects. Dubious marketing practices, a relatively unknown product and uncertain long term health consequences complicate an already thorny issue.

Author: R. Power

Posted by kevvyg on Wednesday, July 16, 2014
A recently published case report in the journal Pediatrics takes aim at some of our most commonly used devices as a potential source for skin problems. While it can be argued that a lot of us spend too much time with our faces and hands firmly affixed to laptops, tablet and smart devices, the case of an 11-year-old San Diego boy highlights the potential for allergic reactions to these same devices. How can my iPad make me itch? One word, nickel.

Nickel allergies are not entirely uncommon, and for those who deal with them, jewelry, belts, and even piercings can cause allergic reactions. This latest case means you can now add electronic devices to that list. Electronics, like the iPad contain some amount of nickel in the metal case the encloses the back of the device, and exposure, as was the case with the boy in San Diego, can cause problems that are easily misidentified.

For nearly six months, the child struggled with a persistent, generalized rash (contact dermatitis). Despite using the same allergy creams he had in the past, there was no positive results. After being admitted to UC San Diego's Rady Children's Hospital, a skin patch test showed a nickel allergy, and further sleuth work by the attending physicians discovered the link to a 2010 model iPad the child was using at home.

What does this all mean? Well, if you don't have a nickel allergy, not much. If you do have a nickel allergy, you shouldn't toss your favorite electronics. There is one really easy way avoid exposure while still using nickel containing electronics - cover them. With the iPad, a protective cover that encloses the back of the device not only shields you from the nickel in the metal housing, but it also protects the device from drops and spills. The same is true for smart phones that may contain nickel. There are a variety of protective covers that can not only prevent you from having to deal with problems related to nickel exposure but also protect what is often no small investment. So much like any item containing nickel, avoidance is key, but that doesn't mean you have to give them up.

For more information of nickel allergies.

Author: K. Gilmore

Tags: Allergies
Posted by R. Power on Wednesday, July 02, 2014
With the 4th of July upon us, for many people, it's time to get out and enjoy some fresh air. From time with family to extended vacations, millions of us will be heading outside and enjoying the local park, greenway and hiking trails. Spending time out and about isn't without some risk though. Aside keeping your pets free of ticks and you free of mosquitoes, one of the most common things you will come across outdoors is poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. Here are some tips on how to spot these rash-inducing plants and avoid itching, swelling and annoyances they can cause.

These plants are all in the genus Toxicodendron (Greek for "poison tree") and contain a resin called urushiol. Urushiol is found in the resin canals of leaves, stems, vines, berries and roots of the plants. When parts of these plants are damaged (stepped on, torn, bruised, etc.) the resin is released. Poison Ivy - The Most Common of the Three It is this resin that causes varying degrees of contact dermatitis for many of us.

Although the resin in these plants is consistent all year round, the probability of coming into contact with your skin is higher in the summer. Why? Summer weather is when we tend to spend more time outdoors in shorts and t-shirts. Plus, it's more difficult to damage a plant when it's buried under a foot of snow.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

"Leaves of three, let it be."
  • Groups of three green leaves that change to yellow and red in the fall.
  • As a deciduous woody perennial (can have woody stems and grow back annually) it can grow in the form of low lying plants, shrubs or as a vine. So no tree hugging!
  • Poison Oak - Looks Like White Oak Leaves, Only MUCH ItchierThey can grow anywhere, and are found in woodlands, wetlands, on road sides, and seemingly just about anywhere.
Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)
  • Basically the same as poison ivy, but with a set of three leaves that look like the round, white oak leaves.
  • The urushiol causes a delayed allergic reaction with the body's immune system, so the worst symptoms won't appear until days or weeks later. Unfortunately this gives more time for the skin to absorb the resin.
Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron Toxicodendron vernix)
  • Can grow as a shrub to a small tree (small being approximately 30 feet high).
  • Leaves have 7-13 leaflets, and are two to four inches long, with a similar shape as the poison ivy.
  • Tend to grow in very wet soils, such as swamps and peat bogs along the east coast and into Canada.
  • Poison Sumac - Least Common But Most HarmfulAlthough not as widely distributed as poison ivy and poison oak, it's much more potent than the other two.
For preventative measures, wear high wool socks and pants (if the weather isn't too unbearable), long sleeves and disposable gloves while outdoors to avoid any low lying toxicodendron species. Learn how to identify these plants so when you're trailblazing you won't have your outdoor adventures hampered by these itchy plants. If you notice that you've come in contact with these, try to wash the affected area with cool water and a mild soap as quickly as possible. The oil can sit on your skin and continue to create problems over larger areas for up to two days. In general, if you've been outdoors, it never hurts to wash your hands, arms and legs when you come in (besides it literally only takes a few minutes).

If you already find yourself itching or blistering, take comfort in calamine lotions or hydrocortisone creams. Take a few minutes to clean your nail beds in case you've gotten any of the resin underneath your nails. Some people will develop large, sensitive blisters. While the fluid in the blisters cannot spread the itch, popping them can lead to more severe problems, like infection or even blood poisoning. Blisters are the body’s natural way of healing certain types of wounds, so let your body's natural healing mechanism do its job. If you experience severe reactions or massively large rashes, you should take a trip to a doctor.

Just remember, "leaves of three, let it be", wear the right clothing when outdoors, and wash exposed areas when you can. If you want to completely avoid any of these pesky plants just stay by the pool side, on the golf/tennis courts, or at Six Flags. Enjoy your summer eveyone!

Author: R. Power

Posted by kevvyg on Monday, June 30, 2014
Arsenic In Our FoodSo we've touched the issue from a few years ago, of arsenic in apple juice, but what has taken its place in the limelight is rice. Rice is a staple in the diet of people around the world. Towards the end of 2012, Consumer Reports did a large study of arsenic levels in a variety of rice and rice products commonly sold here in the U.S.[5]

Like the testing of apple juice, nearly every form of rice tested had measurable amounts of arsenic, both the organic and more toxic inorganic forms. On the heels of this research, the FDA did a separate evaluation of many of the same products and again, like with apple juice, found lower levels of arsenic than published in previous research. With the finding of levels (of both organic and inorganic arsenic) averaging below the 10 ppb threshold that is now in place for drinking water and juice, the FDA essentially recommends nothing other than eating a balanced diet and thoroughly rinsing white rice.[6]

USDA Food Pyramid Gets a MakeoverIt's interesting to note that both studies found higher levels of arsenic in brown rice. Yes, the same brown rice that many choose as the healthier alternative over more refined white rice, and with regard to white rice, the more it is rinsed prior to being prepared and consumed, the more nutrient value is stripped away. Though the FDA recommendation to "diversify the diet" and to eat a greater variety of foods sounds like a great idea, if you're eating rice, breakfast cereal, rice 'milk', apple juice, snack bars, foods that contain brown rice syrup, grapes, baby formula, pear juice, or any number of things, you will still likely be consuming measurable amounts of arsenic. Talk about a catch-22!

Arsenic in Rice - Why?At this point, you might think that we would finally have stopped using arsenic in food production, but when you considering how relatively recent it was that some of the last arsenicals were banned for agricultural use, you would be wrong. More troubling, even as recently as last year, the FDA still trying to limit the reintroduction of arsenic into the food supply via arsenic-containing poultry feed components by drug makers Pfizer and Alpharma.[7] This was not even a year ago, and by the time the agency did take action, the producers had seen the writing on the wall and ceased production in the U.S. (it was and is still produced for sale and use overseas).

One of these three drugs, Roxarsone, was re-approved for use as recently as 2009, but has been in use since it was first approved in 1944. Though the drug uses the less toxic organic form of arsenic, arsenic can and does change form. An examination of chicken litter from poultry that had been administered this drug showed higher concentrations of organic arsenic as well as levels of inorganic arsenic. As a result, four rice farmers in Arkansas filed a lawsuit against large poultry producers. Chicken litter from poultry producers is sold as fertilizer, and in Arkansas where much of this country's chicken and most of its rice comes from, this fertilizer often ends up in rice fields.

Fertilizers & Pesticides - Continuing Links to the ProblemSo to simplify this, the theory is,
  • Poultry administered arsenic based drugs to increase weight and fight a digestive tract disease.
  • Some of the arsenic changes form to the more toxic inorganic form.
  • Concentrated organic and now the more toxic inorganic arsenic comes out in chicken excrement.
  • Chicken excrement/litter is sold as fertilizer and spread on American rice fields.
Ultimately the lawsuit was dismissed, with the National Chicken Council noting that the findings of the research reflected “very low levels of arsenic,” and were not worrisome. This would likely not be as troubling to consumers if the link, between chickens being purposefully fed arsenic-based drugs and higher concentrations of arsenic being found in rice, didn't appear to be so linear. Still, some damage had already been done to the rice industry. As a result of the FDA and Consumer Reports study done on arsenic in rice, S. Korea suspended bids for U.S. Ironically, though S. Korea imports nearly all of its U.S. rice from California (not Arkansas), they were still concerned enough to suspend bids.[8]

This case highlights one of the big issues facing the food supply and potential problems. The food supply chain is an global one. This is why here in the U.S. we can get blueberries or bananas or mangoes year round. On some Traditional Rice Farming level all countries are dealing with these types of issues. Less than two weeks ago, Iran, the largest importer of basmati rice from India, cut imports due to concerns over arsenic levels.[9] In the Philippines last year, authorities have asked import surveyors to screen for excessive amounts of cadmium in rice imported from China. Last week, WalMart announced it was tripling its food safety budget in that country to nearly $50 million dollars over two years.[10]

That is just a brief sampling, but you could literally spend days online reading similar articles for other countries and food supply issues around the globe. As the food supply chain becomes more closely linked to other countries and more imported food finds its way onto American tables, the issue of food inspections becomes even more important. So it is extremely troubling to find that the Agriculture Department has seen nearly a 20% drop in its budget, and currently less then 3% of imported food into the United States is ever inspected.[11] Take heart though. If you think we're doing a poor job here in the U.S., just remember that just a few short years ago, 1 of every 2 food inspections in China, failed.[12]

With the global nature of the food supply chain, the issue of inspections is one that affects other countries as well. From the EU, with strict standards of government inspection, to Australia, which relies on producers to inspect their own product, countries are grappling with serious issues of free trade and safe food.

Changing Role of the USDAThough few recognize it, the change in U.S. policy is being done with no input whatsoever from the U.S. consumer. Some would argue that the USDA inspection process is inefficient and use this as a reason to push for the privatization of the process. On the surface, it's a valid argument but fails to show how inspections could be far better and more thorough if more of the USDA budget was actually spent on inspections, as opposed to crop insurance, farm subsidies and S.N.A.P. (food stamps). Regardless of all of this, change is coming. Food safety, much like the increased reports of food recalls and foodborne illness in the news, will undoubtedly be an issue that comes up with greater frequency in the future.

All of this makes me particularly thankful for next weekend. I'll be traveling back to Ohio to visit the family and, as usual, taking my cooler with me. Of the two dozen or so cattle that roam around on the family farm, there's a steer that has recently joined the freezer up there and needs to be "liberated." No shots, no hormones, no antibiotics, and a grass/hay diet - I think I have room in the cooler for that.

Finally, I did want to mention this. As I was finishing this article I happened to come across a piece from the satirical site, The Onion. The coincidental timing of this article is truly uncanny. FDA Recalls Food.

5 Consumer Reports Arsenic in Food
6 FDA - Arsenic in Food
7 New York Times - Arsenic Based Drugs
8 Jakarta Post - Korean Rice Imports
9 Time of India - Iranian Rice Imports
10 Washington Post - WalMart Food Safety in China
11 New York Times - Food Inspections & Illness
12 AsianInspection.com - Chinese Food Inspections

To read the first part of this food safety blog.

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, June 27, 2014
The other morning, as happens many mornings, I spent some time on the back patio, enjoying the relative silence and cooler temperature over coffee and a reading through of some morning news stories. There was an article that I came across that caught my attention, and it dealt with the use of the term "all natural" on food labeling. I have always lumped "all natural" into Arsenic in my rice you say? the same category as "hypoallergenic" - essentially throwaway terms with very little meaning (this is the reason why you don't see that term used too often on the AchooAllergy site - I try to severely limit the use of it here).

As I am often prone to do when I read, one article lead to another, then another and another, and before I knew it, I had to rush to get out the door before Atlanta traffic turned the roads into parking lots. While looking at the use of the term "all natural" I came across another article that mentioned some of the common pollutants found in our everyday foods, and while there are literally tens of things to write about in this regard, the curious case of arsenic in rice was one that stuck out.

Few of us would ever associate eating rice with ingesting arsenic, cadmium, or other heavy metals, but just as eyebrows were raised over research showing elevated levels of arsenic in apple and pear juice a few years ago, there has been growing concern over arsenic and other heavy metals in rice. This poses a variety of problems but is severely complicated by the fact that rice is the grain of choice for much of the world. I admit, it has been difficult to clearly define and limit this topic since it touches on so many things that affect our daily lives, from the foods we eat to the growing holes in the food inspection system, politics, and international trade. That's a lot of ground to cover for a topic that could literally start with a morning bowl of Rice Krispies!

This is going to be a two part post with the first touching on arsenic as a compound, sources of exposure and past problems with arsenic in food and the second dealing with arsenic in rice, the growing holes in food inspection and the international nature of this problem.

Arsenic is an element but, as a compound, can be divided into two types, organic and inorganic. When most of us hear the word "arsenic" we're likely thinking of the inorganic type. Inorganic arsenic is what is most toxic to humans. Exposure to high levels of arsenic can cause a variety of health issues and in the most extreme cases, death.

Arsenic is still in wide use today. From semiconductors and use in metals to pesticides and food additives (yes, food additives) arsenic, in its many forms has a wide range of uses.

In the United States, arsenic compounds (arsenicals) were used extensively to spray orchards (as an insecticide) or to treat wood (as a preservative). Even though its use in orchards waned decades ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still mentions "runoff from orchards" as a source of arsenic contamination of drinking water.[1] It's no small wonder FDA though. Since the early 1900's, arsenic-based insecticides/pesticides have been used across the country to a tune of over one million tons. Over the years, studies have linked brain damage, and other health problems, to the use of these compounds and have lead to bans or conversions to using the organic (less harmful) form of arsenic. It's always worth noting that while we would like to think that using arsenic to spray crops is long a thing of the past, it wasn't until just last year, December 31st, of 2013 that the use of arsenicals was officially banned for agricultural use, EXCEPT for use in cotton production. [2]

Arsenic is naturally occurring, particularly in ground water, but it's elevated levels of arsenic that can cause severe health problems. Exposure, either in intermittent but concentrated levels or consistent but only slightly elevated levels have been linked to diabetes, several types of cancers, compromised immune response, organ failure, and death. There's good reason why it has historically been used as a poison, but it’s important to remember that like other carcinogens, the effects of arsenic on the human body are not just short term and often take years of decades to show themselves.

Apple Juice and Arsenic The EPA sets the permissible level of arsenic at 10 ppb (part per billion) though some countries and even some municipalities here in the U.S. have lowered the permissible level further. With arsenic being so pervasive in everything from soil to drinking and seawater, it is not difficult to see how some amount is getting into the food we eat, but what about elevated levels of arsenic in foods? Which foods and how is this happening?

Many of you may remember the Dr. Oz episode where they tested several brands of apple juice and found alarmingly high levels of arsenic. Shortly afterward, Consumer Reports performed a similar study that showed similar results.[3] At the time, there were no FDA limits on the amount of arsenic in apple juice, but thanks to the exposure of this issue there is now a standard in place, the same 10 ppb limit as is allowed in drinking water.

There are two main takeaways from this. First, while the testing used could, and was, criticized, subsequent testing by Consumer Reports and the FDA did show elevated levels of arsenic in the juice, just not as high was what was presented on the show. Second, if nothing else, it raised awareness of not just the issue of arsenic in this particular type of food but started a conversation about food supply safety as a larger topic.

Though I will touch on this more in the second half, but as it relates to apple juice, it's key to remember where this product is made but more importantly where the ingredients of product originate. Ever notice the language "made from concentrate" on your bottle of juice? Unlike fresh squeezed orange juice, this language means that somewhere, apples were pressed and squeezed, then likely treated with enzymes and clarified (filtered) then dehydrated, packaged and sold to juice producers. Most of us probably think that the countless bottles of apple juice (and other juices too since apple juice is actually the base of most juice cocktails and mixes) Orchard Runoff Is Still Primary Sources of Arsenic Exposure are made from freshly pulverized apples grown right here in the U.S. That would have been true a few decades ago, but not anymore.

Of the 70+ million tons of apples produced every year on this planet, only about 10% are sold as the raw fruit that you see sitting in the produce section of the grocery store. Currently, the largest producer of apples in the world is China, and one of their biggest clients? You guessed it, the United States.[4] The U.S. imports nearly 85% of the apple juice and concentrate it uses for apple juice, with the vast majority of that coming from China.

While apples can be stored commercially, in climate controlled environments for months at a time, it is a curious fact that China mainly exports things like apple concentrate at a far greater rate than whole apples. From Europe to the U.S. there have consistently been concerns over quality, but anyone who's worked in food production can tell you that the quality standards for a whole food vs. those of processed food are not equal.

Even here in the U.S. you see this distinction with milk. Grade A milk is what you see in the plastic jug at your grocery store. A lesser grade milk is produced, but it's not discarded. Where do you think cheese often comes from? Grade B milk. This is similar to what you see with apples. If the quality is high, it's more likely that it will be sold as a whole apple, but if the quality is lower it's not discarded. It is often turned into concentrate or juice.

This is just one example, but as the food supply chain becomes increasingly globalized, the case of arsenic in apple juice highlights not only the global nature of what we're putting on the dinner table but exposes the shortcomings of food inspections, research and the lack of standards from one country to the next. It's a topic I've mentioned before, and one that won't be going away anytime soon.

Check back in a few days for the second half of this post where I will go into the issue of arsenic in rice, problems surrounding food inspections on an international level and ultimately what's being done nationally to address this and future problems.

Footnotes

1 EPA Arsenic in Water
2 EPA Arsenical Registration
3 Consumer Reports
4 USDA Apple Export/Imports

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, June 24, 2014
It is definitely that time of year again. You know, the time of year when getting into your car feels like you've just stepped into a blast furnace; the time of year when, you know it's at least 105% relative humidity out because of the deep regret you have for not putting deodorant on every inch of your body; the time of year when sunscreen just seems to melt, along with all motivation to do anything outdoors. Though it is somewhat early, it certainly feels like THAT time of year again.

So as the mercury does less creeping and more racing to the top of the thermometer, this is also a good time to point out something else that has been popping up in recent days - air quality warnings. Summer has just officially arrived, and it seemed to coincide neatly with consecutive 90° days here in Atlanta as well as code orange Air Quality Index readings.

While much of the country has shrugged off the spring allergy season, it is now officially time to start keeping an eye on air quality. During the summer months, there is one key driver of poor air quality - ground level ozone. But what does ground level ozone do, who does it affect, and why do we only see much of it during the summer?

'Fun Times with Ground Level Ozone' - Said No One... Ever.As temperatures rise, heat combines with pollutants from emissions like nitrogen dioxide and VOCs (generally from vehicles, power plants, industrial pollutants and others) to create a powerful lung irritant, ground level ozone. For those with respiratory conditions, ozone can cause a range of reactions from shortness of breath and coughing, to wheezing and general discomfort. Those who are affected most by ozone are those with respiratory conditions, like severe asthma, COPD or lung disease, but children and the elderly often feels the effects more pointedly too. Even for those who are healthy, higher levels of ozone can cause problems, particularly when working or exercising outdoors. Decreased lung function and inflammation of the airways are two of the first symptoms that may be noticeable even in healthy adults.

Last year, many parts of the country were fortunate, with regard to ground level ozone. While heat is critical in the formation of ozone, wet conditions subdued the production of ozone. Precipitation and wind can lower levels by stunting the formation of ozone or dispersing and lowering concentrations, respectively. As also a bit of good news, the trend over the last three decades has been a slow but steady decline in ozone. This decline is welcomed but in coming years could be offset some by rising overall temperatures.

Your local weather station (particularly if you live in an urban area) will often mention air quality warnings on bad days. Masks to help filter some of the pollutants, and a dual media (carbon & particle filter) mask, when properly fitted, can reduce exposure. The best advice is to try to accomplish your outdoor activities in the morning or evening, when temperatures have cooled and air quality has improved.

Perhaps it's just Atlanta that is sweltering? I suppose it got the nickname, "Hotlanta" for a reason, right? With consecutive days in the 90's on what were the final days of "spring," it's hard not to think the rest of the country is dealing with the same sauna-like conditions that we affectionately call "weather." Unfortunately, a quick look at the national weather reveals that this isn't exactly the case, but to those of you who are still avoiding the Duo of Doom (heat and ground level ozone) I can definitively say, "It's coming..."

Maybe.

For more information on the effects of ground level ozone or to check the Air Quality Index for you location, visit AirNow.gov.

For a better explanation of the Air Quality Index Chart.

Author: K. Gilmore

Page: 1 of 46

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