Archive for October 7th, 2008

Ocean Dead Zones

October 7th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Wired Science

Oxygen depleted dead zones along ocean coastlines are probably more extensive than previously imagined.

This is the conclusion of a meta-analysis published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It found that marine species including crustaceans, bivalves, fishes and gastropods die off at oxygen levels nearly twice as high as the 1983 benchmark for lethal hypoxia, which is 2mg dissolved oxygen per liter of seawater.

Ocean dead zones are caused by fertilizer pollution, usually in river run-off. The nitrogen-rich fertilizer causes algae blooms in coastal ocean waters. When these algae die and decompose, it creates a fiesta of nutrients for oxygen consuming bacteria. The ensuing massive bacterial overgrowth deprives sea creatures of oxygen.

More than 400 ocean dead zones have been discovered in the past 50 years. The total affected area is the size of Oregon. This is tiny compared with the total surface area of Earth’s oceans, but the zones are in areas critical to commercial fishing, and their number has doubled every decade since 1980.

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Top Gun Plans Assault on Medicare

October 7th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: NY Times, Wall Street Journal

Those who toughed out Sarah Palin’s debate performance to the end last week saw her close by mangling a line from Ronald Reagan. If we don’t stay on guard she admonished, we’ll be “telling our children and our children’s children” about a time when America was free

Palin was trying to stoke fears of terrorism, the only remaining issue where her ticket still has an edge over the Dems. Never mind that the Gipper was talking not about national security but legislation to guarantee health care for older Americans, the program we now know as Medicare.

So there was plenty of irony in yesterday’s story that Palin’s boss would gut Medicare after all. Top Gun’s senior policy advisor Douglas Holtz-Eaken let it be known over the weekend that Medicare and Medicaid program cuts would be used to fund the Republican tax-credit-dressed-up-as-a-health-plan stunt.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated these cuts would have to total $1.3 trillion over the next decade in order to keep the McCain plan budget neutral.

It is not clear that complex bureaucracies like Medicare could survive cuts like that, especially if they are implemented all at once, but that’s the point I guess. And never mind that Top Gun proposes a $5,000 health care tax credit for families, but the average family would have to fork over $12,000 for adequate coverage.

Conservative Republicans never warmed up to Top Gun. But now that they know what a President McCain would do to their despised entitlement program, they may just pull a lever for the guy after all.

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FDA: No Time for Kids

October 7th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: CBS News

In January, the FDA warned against giving over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children less than 2 years of age. Officials said at the time that they planned to release recommendations covering children up to age 11. Later, experts retained by the FDA voiced concerns about the efficacy of OTC drugs in kids between the ages of 2-6, but the FDA issued no further warnings.

Instead, the FDA held hearings on the matter last week. Pediatricians in attendance called for a ban on use of the drugs in children. They noted there is no evidence that they work in children and they prompt 7,000 ER visits each year due to side effects and overdoses from active ingredients such as decongestants.

John Jenkins, the FDA’s new drug director, rejected calls for the ban. Parents would simply give adult-strength versions of the same drugs to their kids, he said, adding “We don’t see a public health emergency here as far as an inherent risk of the products.”

Jenkins then said the FDA would make no recommendations on the matter for years to come.

US families spend $300 million per year on OTC cold remedies for children. In any given week nearly 10% of US children receive them. Utilization is highest among kids aged 2-5 years. Novartis (Triaminic), Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol Plus Cold) and Wyeth (Robitussin) all play in the market for OTC remedies to children. They voluntarily halted marketing to babies and toddlers even before the FDA’s January warning, but claim the medicines are safe for kids older than the age of 2.

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