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General Health


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

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, June 13, 2014
New Addition to the FamilyWith Father's Day just a few days away, this is going to be a very fitting post. Yesterday evening my two good friends welcomed the birth of their second child (first daughter). Luckily for everyone, labor went very quickly, and everything turned out fine, and in a couple days, they will all be heading home. And, I will be a godfather for the second time! Part of my duties in that role include, spoiling the godchild and teaching him/her bad habits like taking off shoes and socks or putting Playdoh in the dishwasher. Obviously, I get to cherry pick a bit, but I do try to help mom and dad, and just a couple weeks ago, my friends had me a get a couple of the things we offer here to help get their home ready for the new arrival.

Since the birth of their first child, they have had an air purifier. Not only does it filter out dust, but it also removes allergens. This is important since their son has had asthma-like symptoms off and on during his toddler years. The Honeywell they use has also been great for white noise, which has helped him sleep more soundly over the years. It had been a while since the filters were replaced, so the carbon prefilters were due to be changed.

The Last of the New Flooring in the Bedroom - Out With the CarpetThe next thing I picked up for them was one of the lightweight Reliable T3 steam mops. In the past they had used a cheaper Black & Decker, which worked fine on their laminate. After two years though, it died on them. Wanting something that was a little better built, they went with the T3. This model is a decided step up on cheaper steam mops if for no other reason than the integrated scrub brush, which works great on bathroom tile and grout. Just a few short weeks ago, I had helped him finish removing the last of the carpet on first floor of their home and replaced it with laminate, so the T3 will certainly get a work out! As a matter of personal preference, if you're considering a steam mop like the T3, pick up some of the microfiber drawstring cloths. These were originally designed for the T1 Steamboy, but they fit the T3 as well, and in my opinion, they clean and absorb moisture and mess much better than the microfiber pads that comes Reliable T3 Steam Mop - Great for Smooth Floors standard with the T3. I've never understood why so many of the steam cleaner manufacturers have been switching to the microfiber pads recently (unless it's purely a cost-based decision) since it has always been my experience that the clothes absorb much better.

Relieve Congestion with a Crane Duck Humidifier Lastly, I picked up a Crane child humidifier. Yeah, I know, it sounds counterintuitive considering it feels like we're living in the tropics here in Atlanta. Likely, it won't get much use early on, but as the air dries and humidity drops, it can cause problems for infants and newborns. Air with little moisture can cause mucus to thicken, which means it can also become more difficult for the baby's airways to expel. This can lead to a higher risk of infection as one of the body's most basic defense mechanism is the use of mucus to expel trapping germs and particles. Secondly, if infants and newborns become congested, there is little you can do for them. Medication is almost always out unless the situation becomes severe, but a humidifier can help to loosen congestion just by increasing the moisture content in the air they breathe.

These things may seem not quite as usual as what you'd see on a typical baby shower registry, but they can be just as important and are often useful for more than just your newborn. With that, I'd like to welcome the new addition to their family, and issue a reminder to my friends that they'll have to brush up on their burrito-baby-wrapping skills. To my friend, all the dads in my family, and all the dads out there, I wish you a Happy Father's Day!

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, May 22, 2014
I cannot deny, that the older I get, the more I become a bit of a germaphobe. It is not something I’ve consciously done, but it is something I am fully aware of, and with a trip to visit friends and a couple flights on this holiday weekend’s agenda, for the first time ever I am going to be wearing a mask.

MERS Virus Under Electron MicrographYes, I am fully aware that I’ll likely not have to worry about catching tuberculosis, H1N1, or even the most recent virus to scare us back into our homes, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)… and just in time for summer! All kidding aside, MERS is a very nasty bug that first made its presence known nearly two years ago. New viruses do often make headlines. Typically, the mortality rate for novel strains, like this coronavirus, is initially high. Often, not all of those who are infected with new viruses report it. Information is often scant, and with so much unknown, the stories that tend to make headlines are those cases which are ultimately fatal. Initial mortality rates followed a curve that was also found with SARS and other new viruses. From 2012 into 2013, mortality rates for this virus were stated to be as high as 50%, an impressively terrible number. Since that time, the mortality rate has fallen, and latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) projections estimate it to be 30%, still a shockingly high number. Just earlier this month, the first case of MERS sprung up in the U.S. On May 2nd and then again on May 11th, there were two confirmed cases in the U.S., both travelers to Saudi Arabia. Then on May 16th of this month, the first confirmed case by an individual who had NOT traveled to the Middle East made headlines. This was in Illinois, and with me traveling to that area of the country this weekend, well….

MERS Infected Vero CellsHaving assessed the risk of infection very low for the average American, the CDC currently has few recommendations other than avoiding close contact with those who are ill, frequent hand washing, and to avoid touching your face, pretty standard fare for reducing the spread of any viruses. If you dig a little deeper into published information on the CDC website, there are additional guidelines for healthcare providers that stress testing, reporting and quarantining patients who are diagnosed. There is mention of the use of a mask, but with so little known about the virus, it is yet unclear how effective this would be in preventing the spread of MERS.

CDC recommendations for past viruses, such as H1N1, SARS, and the Avian flu have included the use of an N95 rated mask. N95 masks filter 95% of particles, including pathogens, that are 0.3 microns or larger. Though, it is not yet known how effective an N95 mask would be for MERS, previous experience would suggest that it can only help.

Like SARS, MERS is a coronavirus similar to those more commonly found in bats. As of now, the exact origin of this particular pathogen is not yet known, but there have been instances of the virus and/or antibodies to the virus show up in both camels and bats. There are a few things, however, that are known about MERS. First, it can be transmitted by close personal contact with someone who is infected. People who are caring for someone who is infected with MERS but exhibiting traditional flu-like symptoms are susceptible. This is partly why cases of MERS have cropped up in small clusters. Infection is punctuated by the development of "severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath." As of now, there is no vaccine for the virus.

With all that being said, my growing paranoia has firmly taken grip of me. So in addition to my pillow, pillow cover, camera, and toothbrush, I'll be toting a mask. For now, I'm leaning toward one of the Vogmasks (probably the Parallax). Polks Dots Are IN This Year!  And Yes, I DO Look Like I Have LEGO HairIt's small enough to put in my pocket, and doesn't make me look like I escaped from a containment lab.

I have to admit though, a small part of me wants to wear this simply to do a very small part in normalizing mask wearing. While it's fairly common in places where air quality is extremely poor (think Beijing), in the U.S. people wear masks for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, wearing a mask can also bring along questioning looks, but ultimately people wear masks for health reasons. Whether it's to reduce exposure to air pollution, heavy perfume, smoke or microbes, it all boils down to trying to add a small but not insignificant layer of protection. And that, shouldn't carry a stigma or unwanted looks.

In any event, I hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend!

Author: Kevin Gilmore

UPDATE: A coworker just passed this along to me.
http://www.ajc.com/news/business/auburn-university-researchers-study-airplane-cabin/nf4Nt/
Ah-ha! Justified!



Posted by kevvyg on Friday, April 18, 2014
Vornado AC500 HEPA Air PurifierI wanted to take a minute to wish everyone safe travels this holiday weekend. The roads can be extra busy during holiday weekends, so take your time and slow down! Now if I could only follow my own advice..... Then again, Atlanta traffic does a pretty good job of keeping me moving so slowly that both the tortoise AND the hare typically pass me on the way to work.

I also wanted to throw out a quick reminder, there is LESS than a day remaining to get entered to win a FREE Vornado AC500 HEPA Air Purifier! Start the weekend off right and get entered to win. Best of all, it's free to enter, and you can quickly submit multiple entries in a matter of seconds! Check out this blog post for some helpful tips on controlling pollen and spring allergies and learn how you can enter to win!

Author: K. Gilmore

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