U.N. to Debate How Best to Curb Mercury

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Los Angeles Times - The World
February 22, 2005
By Marla Cone, Times Staff Writer


At a meeting in Kenya, European ministers will seek deadlines and bans on the global pollutant, but the U.S. opposes a binding treaty.

Environmental ministers meeting in Nairobi this week to tackle one of the most widespread pollutants will be asked to choose between strict curbs on mercury proposed by the European Union and a voluntary approach advocated by the United States.

The EU is calling for deadlines, bans and detailed promises, whereas the U.S. prefers partnerships between industries and governments with no specific goals or deadlines for reducing either the global supply or demand of mercury.

In 2001, the United Nations Environment Program, or UNEP, declared that "national, regional and global actions, both immediate and long-term, should be initiated as soon as possible" to reduce emissions of mercury, a potent neurotoxin that has contaminated fish and other food sources around the world.

Meeting at UNEP's world headquarters in the Kenyan capital through Friday, more than 100 environmental ministers from six continents will decide whether to begin drafting a binding international treaty to restrict the buying, selling and use of mercury.

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New York Times Health
By GINA KOLATA
Published: February 21, 2005

An influential federal advisory group plans to recommend in the next few weeks that all newborns be screened for 29 rare medical conditions, from the well known, like sickle cell anemia, to diseases so obscure that they are known to just a handful of medical specialists and a few dozen devastated families.

But while no one argues with the idea of saving babies, the proposed screening is generating fierce debate.

The dispute centers on how useful the test findings would be. Would going ahead with the full list of tests result in more good than harm, physically and emotionally? Or would it be better to forgo most of them?

Proponents say that the diseases are terrible and that an early diagnosis can be lifesaving. When testing is not done, parents often end up in a medical odyssey to find out what is wrong with their child. By the time the answer is in, it may be too late for treatment to do much good.

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GlaxoSmithKline aims to stop Aids profiteers

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BBC News
Published: 2005/02/21 21:09:16 GMT
by Dan Isaacs

One of the world's largest manufacturers of HIV/Aids drugs has launched an initiative to combat the smuggling of cheaper pills - supplied to poorer African countries - back into Europe for resale at far higher price.

The company, GlaxoSmithKline, is to alter the packaging and change the colour of the pills, currently provided to developing nations under a humanitarian agreement.

It is estimated that drugs companies are losing hundreds of millions of dollars each year as a result of the diversion of their products in this way.

This is a very sensitive area for the big drugs companies.

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Great Salt Lake Mercury Worries Scientists

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AP News
Feb 21, 11:24 AM (ET)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Federal scientists studying the Great Salt Lake have found some of the highest levels of mercury ever measured anywhere - prompting concern about some of the migratory birds that feed on the lake's brine shrimp.

U.S. Geological Survey and Fish and Wildlife Service researchers were initially gathering information on selenium in the lake, but decided also to test the samples for mercury.

Concentrations of methylmercury - the element's most poisonous form - exceeded 25 nanograms per liter of water. Fish consumption warnings have been issued when there was just 1 nanogram per liter.

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Consumers around Europe have a new chance to "Save Our Supplements" thanks to a new political initiative in the European Parliament launched by CHC, the leading pan-EU consumer pressure group.

Although we all hope that the current Legal Challenge put forward by ANH, HFMA and NAHS will succeed, we must accept that it may not. If we wait for the outcome, we will have lost valuable time. That is why CHC continues to try other options to keep supplements available.

The Food Supplements Directive (FSD) has already been passed and threatens to ban from July this year over 250 nutrients and nutrient sources that are key to the effectiveness of specialist vitamin and mineral supplements. It also proposes to ban in subsequent years all supplements above certain potencies that have yet be to specified. The ban is expected to wipe out all higher potency products other than a few available on prescription by medical practitioners.

But now there is hope that this can be averted!

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), led by John Bowis MEP, have put down a new amendment to legislation being considered by the Environment Committee of the European Parliament. The amendment is technically being proposed to a new Regulation on nutrition and health claims made on food. The amendment would allow Member States to permit onto their own domestic markets products that are food supplements even if they would be banned by the separate Food Supplements Directive, so long as they are safe and only approved claims are made about their effects.

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Lead in Environment Causing Violent Crime

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REUTERS
Friday February 18, 2005 2:09 PM ET


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lead left in paint, water, soil and elsewhere may not only be affecting children's intelligence but may cause a significant proportion of violent crime, a U.S. researcher argued Friday.

He said the U.S. government needs to do more to lower lead levels in the environment and parents need to think more about where their children may be getting exposed to lead.

"When environmental lead finds its way into the developing brain, it disturbs neural mechanisms responsible for regulation of impulse. That can lead to antisocial and criminal behavior," said Dr. Herbert Needleman, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

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Germany to Restrict Use of Cox-2 Inhibitors

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REUTERS
Mon Feb 21, 2005 7:45 AM ET

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany will issue guidelines in the next few days to significantly restrict the use of so-called COX-2 inhibitors to ease pain, the country's drug regulator said on Monday.

Patients who either have had a heart attack or stroke, suffer from circulatory disorders of the heart or are at a high risk of developing such conditions should no longer use the medications, the regulator said in a statement.

The regulator's remarks come close on the heels of comments by a U.S. advisory panel on Friday that Merck & Co Inc.'s withdrawn COX-2 inhibitor arthritis drug, Vioxx, was safe enough to rejoin Pfizer's rival pain relievers, Celebrex and Bextra, on the U.S. market.

The German regulator said patients with high blood pressure that can not be stabilized also should not use etoricoxib, another name for Merck & Co's Arcoxia.

The German regulator said that COX-2 inhibitors-- the general category to which Arcoxia, Vioxx, Celebrex and Bextra belong -- should be taken only in the smallest possible effective dose and only as long as absolutely needed.

It said that a risk evaluation process in the European Union for the class of COX-2 inhibitors was continuing and that a report was expected in April.

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Reuters
Friday Feb 18, 2005 08:36 AM ET

HELSINKI (Reuters) - A Finnish survey of some of the world's most popular mobile phones found the amount of radiation they emit is well below agreed limits and largely in line with data published by manufacturers.

The annual survey by Finland's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) covered 16 new models made by top handset makers including Finland's Nokia, Motorola of the United States and South Korea's Samsung Electronics.

It follows the first study of 12 models done in 2003.

Mobile phones are essentially tiny radios that send and receive signals over airwaves.

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The Experts' Verdict on Painkillers

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The New York Times
February 19, 2005
EDITORIAL

Yesterday's action by a panel of experts advising the Food and Drug Administration made it abundantly clear that the value of a widely used class of painkillers remains mired in confusion. Even after months of controversy, experts are sharply divided over the safety of some of the cox-2 inhibitors and uncertain about how these newer drugs compare in effectiveness and safety with many older painkillers.

The panel of 32 experts agreed unanimously that the two cox-2 drugs still being sold in the United States - Celebrex and Bextra, both made by Pfizer - and Vioxx, a cox-2 drug that was recently pulled from the market by Merck, all raise the risk of heart attack or stroke in some patients. That puts the lie to assertions that Vioxx was uniquely dangerous and makes it clear that all drugs in the class pose at least some cardiovascular risk.

But the panelists apparently considered the risks relatively small or at least tolerable. By an overwhelming vote of 31 to 1, the panel recommended that Celebrex, the most widely sold drug in the class, remain on the market. The only disagreement was over how strong the warning label should be, and whether Pfizer should be forced to continue its voluntary cessation of advertising directed at consumers.

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Painkillers Stay on the Market

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The New York Times
February 19, 2005
By GARDINER HARRIS

GAITHERSBURG, Md., Feb. 18 - A panel of experts voted unanimously on Friday to advise the Food and Drug Administration that three leading painkillers - Celebrex, Bextra and Vioxx - can cause worrisome heart problems. But it also advised against banning the drugs, though by narrow margins in the cases of Bextra and Vioxx.

Most of the advisory panel's members said that the agency should do the following: place warnings on the drugs' labels detailing their heart risks; ban consumer advertising for the drugs; and require each prescription to include a guide outlining the risks.

"I think physicians need to be more thoughtful about how they use these drugs in the future," the panel's chairman, Dr. Alastair Wood, said after the meeting. "It would be a brave man or woman who started a patient with a clear history of heart disease on these drugs."

Dr. John Jenkins, director of the Office of New Drugs at the F.D.A., agreed, saying the panel had made clear "that they felt that these agents should maybe not be as widely used."

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