Stories tagged safety

When's the last time you thought about what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion? I can't even remember that annoying Emergency Broadcast System klaxon interrupting a TV or radio program lately. Well, if it does come to that, the Obama administration is delicately trying to inform you of some new scientific research, that suggests you shouldn't make like Jason Robards and flee the city. Instead, head to the basement for a few days and a surprisingly large number of us might survive. OK...back to not really worrying about this.


Internal BP documents were released today that seem to highlight decisions by the company to forgo safety precautions in favor of saving money and cutting time in drilling the now-leaking oil well. One of the documents, an email message from an engineer working on the project, refers to it as a "nightmare well," language that the press has really picked up on.

I'm hesitant to fixate too much on a phrase like "nightmare well," because the hyperbolic language used in informal emails isn't always super helpful if taken literally (e.g., "It smells like someone microwaved a goat in the break room. I'm gonna die. If I find out who did that, I will challenge them to a knife duel, ala Steven Seagal and Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege. The first Under Siege, I mean.") But it does seem like the drilling of that well wasn't the best run operation, to say the least. Hopefully the investigation will determine the extent of BP's responsibility for the accident that caused the leak (or, possibly, the lack thereof).

The documents will very probably be brought up during Tony Hayward's (the CEO of BP) testimony to congress later this week. Should be interesting.

An online seminar, "Understanding Nanotechnology Safety", will be webcast on May 27, 2010, at 1:00 U.S. EDT and is intended for anyone concerned about the potential health hazards of exposure to nanoengineered materials.

The seminar, sponsored by Small Times, will educate workers about the risks they face, and inform employers about what they need to know to ensure worker safety. Participants will learn about: trends in nanotechnology and how it is used in manufacturing; the real risks of nanotechnology; what can happen to the body when exposed to hazardous nanomaterials; how to minimize your risk of exposure; and, government safety regulation.

Presenters include: Mark Bünger Research Director, Lux Research; Walt Trybula, Director of the Nanomaterials Application Center, Texas State University-San Marcos; Dr. Kristen Kulinowski, Department of Chemistry, Rice University; Nina Horne, Invited Expert; and, Dr. Antonietta M. Gatti Ph.D., Experimental Physics University of Bologna, Italy.

Registration information can be viewed online at the link below.

(via Meridian Nanotechnology and Development News)


H1N1 vaccination
H1N1 vaccinationCourtesy AJC1

How do I know it is safe?

"The recurring question is, 'How do we know it's safe?'" said Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic. What if, after getting a flu shot, a person goes home. then suddenly has a heart attack. Was the heart attack a side effect of the flu shot?

More than 3,000 people a day have a heart attack. This happens when no flu shots are given. When no flu shots are given, from 14,000 to 19,000 miscarriages happen every week.
When we start giving flu shots to 100s of millions of people, how do we differentiate side effects caused by the vaccination, from what would have happened even without the vaccination?

Intensive monitoring of side effects planned

This year there will be intense new monitoring.

Harvard Medical School scientists are linking large insurance databases that cover up to 50 million people with vaccination registries around the country for real-time checks of whether people see a doctor in the weeks after a flu shot and why. The huge numbers make it possible to quickly compare rates of complaints among the vaccinated and unvaccinated, said the project leader, Dr. Richard Platt, Harvard's population medicine chief.

Johns Hopkins University will direct e-mails to at least 100,000 vaccine recipients to track how they're feeling, including the smaller complaints that wouldn't prompt a doctor visit. If anything seems connected, researchers can call to follow up with detailed questions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is preparing take-home cards that tell vaccine recipients how to report any suspected side effects to the nation's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting system.

However the flu season turns out, the extra vaccine tracking promises a lasting impact.

"Part of what we hope is that it will teach us something about how to monitor the safety of all medical products quickly," said Harvard's Platt.

Source: Associated Press


H1N1 vaccination
H1N1 vaccinationCourtesy AJC1

Making sure vacinations are safe

Before giving H1N1 flu vaccinations to millions of people, clinical trials are needed. What is an effective dose for people of various ages and body types. What are the side effects.

No second shot required for H1N1 flu

Clinical trials are showing that the new H1N1 swine flu vaccine protects with only one dose instead of two. This is very good news. The vaccinations can be given to twice as many people at half the cost.

"Healthy adults got one 15-microgram shot, and their blood was tested 21 days later. By that time, 97 percent of the 120 adults had enough antibodies to be considered protected."
“This is definitely a big deal,” said Dr. John J. Treanor, a vaccine expert at the University oRochester. “People had been planning for a scenario that would require two doses.” New York Times

Pregnant women first

The vaccinations are proving to be effective only 8-10 days after being administered. This may allow all 159 million people in the high risk group (pregnant women, people under 24 years old or caring for infants, people with high-risk medical conditions and health-care workers) to be protected before the swine flu reaches its expected mid-winter peak.

Learn more about H1N1 influenza vaccine clinical trials

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) News statement: "Early Results from Clinical Trials of 2009 H1N1Influenza Vaccines in Healthy Adults".

The FDA recently reasserted that they do not need to specially address or label the over 300 products that use some sort of nano particles in the cosmetics, foods, and dietary supplements. They say that even though these tiny particles have very unique properties that there isn't enough scientific evidence to merit safety concerns. What do you think?


Well, folks, the numbers are in.

The awesomely named “Center for Excellence in Rural Safety,” based out of the University of Minnesota, has released a list of the states with the most dangerous rural driving (based on the highest percentages of traffic fatalities occurring on rural roads).
Trust the sign: photo by Mrflip on
Trust the sign: photo by Mrflip on

July 3 and 4 are the most dangerous days of the year to drive, and, although only a small minority of Americans live in rural areas, the majority of highway deaths occur on rural roads. The reason for this, says CERS, is because the type of accidents that happen on rural roads (head-on collisions, and driving off the roadway) are very dangerous, and because “rural roads, with lighter traffic and pleasant scenery, can easily lull drivers into a false sense of security.”

Here is a portion of the list. Also included are the most frequent reasons for driver distraction in each state.
1) Maine (Trees)

2) North Dakota (Ennui)

3) South Dakota (Buffalo sightings)

4) Iowa (Disorientation)

4) Vermont (Fall colors)

5) Montana (UFOs)

6) Wyoming (Loneliness)
7) South Carolina (Sea monsters)

8) Mississippi (Mildew)

9) Arkansas (Arkansas)

10) West Virginia (Vague nostalgia)

15) Minnesota (An accurate feeling of personal superiority)

18) Wisconsin (Proximity to Minnesota)

Anyhow, if you must leave your house this week, drive safely. And, if you can’t drive yet, repeatedly ask your parents to drive safely.


Thunderstorm season is already well underway, buzz people, and it’s got your number. YOUR number.
Lightning Strikes!: It's difficult to make out in this picture, but the man directly below the lightning is leaning against a flagpole and talking into a land line telephone. Don't be like him.    (Photo by Emi 7)
Lightning Strikes!: It's difficult to make out in this picture, but the man directly below the lightning is leaning against a flagpole and talking into a land line telephone. Don't be like him. (Photo by Emi 7)

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA (a source for some of the museum’s Science on a Sphere programming),”the biggest misconception people have about getting struck by lightning… is that it won't happen to them.” In fact, according to my personal calculations (based largely on repeated viewings of Back to the Future), a person is more likely to get struck by lightning than to get married. It depends on the person, though.

Living with the near-certainty of being stricken by lightning, or, as I prefer to say, being the victim of a “lightning attack,” we must all take certain precautions to protect ourselves (however futile the odds might make it seem).

NOAA presents the following tips:
1) Understand the weather patters in your area – find out when thunderstorms are most likely to occur, and don’t plan any regular flag football matches around that time.
2) If you’re outside, go inside.
3) If you’re inside, avoid windows, as well as anything that could carry acharge from a lightning strike into the house. This means plumbing, hard-wired electrical equipment, and land-line phones. Even something like a videogame console can get you zapped, if you’re playing when lighting strikes. It might be a good way to cure an addiction, though.
4) Avoid concrete walls. They often have metal reinforcement.
5) As much as you might want to, don’t go driving your soft-top convertible during a thunderstorm. It’s not safe.
6) Stay away from tall objects, even if they seem to provide shelter. Lightning hates tall things.
7) Wait a good thirty minutes after the last rumble of thunder before going back outside.

Useful suggestions, but not necessarily complete. I, JGordon, offer these tips:
1) Don’t offend lightning. Making sassy comments about lightning’s age, mother, or dropping out of community college are a sure fire way to get smoked. “Your mom’s so…” BAM! Like that. So watch your mouth.
2) Don’t hang out in lightning’s neighborhood. Avoid dark, towering clouds, K-Mart parking lots, and state park campgrounds. Especially if you’re alone.
3) Don’t ever assume that lightning is unarmed. Lightning is always packing heat. And, by heat, I mean lightning.
4) Before leaving the house each morning, throw away a dollar bill for lightning. If you live in an apartment, this isn’t strictly necessary.
5) Lightning is attracted to bright colors and high-contrast patterns. So wearing Zubas, in the rain is essentially a death wish. As if that’s anything new.
6) Lightning has the mentality of a wild animal (like a wolf or a zebra) that hates you. Accept this, and act accordingly.

If you follow all these tips to the letter, your chances of getting struck by lightning will probably fall to being about equal with your chances of accidentally buying the wrong brand of corn chips while shopping for groceries.

NOAA also reminds people that “lightning is a nervous system injury; it's not a burn injury.” It can cause lasting damage, from memory loss and depression to chronic pain and paralysis. So, if you do get attacked by lightning, it’s best to have a good lie-down after calling 9-1-1.

Protect yourself with knowledge!


Sign of the times: More stores, malls and public places are posting signs banning the use of "heeling' shoes, shoes that have a wheel built into the heel to allow them to be used like a roller skate. (Photo by voteprime)
Sign of the times: More stores, malls and public places are posting signs banning the use of "heeling' shoes, shoes that have a wheel built into the heel to allow them to be used like a roller skate. (Photo by voteprime)
In my job on working on the floor of the Science Museum of Minnesota, I see more and more young visitors rolling their way along with the new “heeling” shoes. They have a roller wheel equipped in the heel that allows the wear to scoot around like on roller skates.

Some of the floor staff can’t stand the shoes and quickly ask visitors to stop using them. If it’s not busy, I’m a little more forgiving, but when the museum is crowded, it’s a problem just waiting to happen.

Now a group on international doctors are chiming in…they don’t like Heelys (the brand name of the shoes). The list of injuries incurred from heeling incidents around the world includes broken wrists, arms and ankles; dislocated elbows and even a few cracked skulls.

A hospital in Ireland recorded 67 treated injuries to children over a 10-week period last summer. In the U.S., there were roughly 1,600 emergency room visits last year caused by “heeling” shoes, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Crash landing: National statistics show that there were at least 1,600 emergency room visits last year in the U.S. due to the use of "heeling" shoes. (photo by stevejlovegrove)
Crash landing: National statistics show that there were at least 1,600 emergency room visits last year in the U.S. due to the use of "heeling" shoes. (photo by stevejlovegrove)
All of those incidents have led the American Academy of Orthopeadic Surgeons to put out recommendations that heelers wear helmets, wrist protectors and knee and elbow pads while their zigging around.

Further investigation by the medial organizations has found that many of the “heeling” injuries happen to kids new to the using shoe. Still, many schools and shopping malls have banned use of the shoes for safety concerns.

Overall, since being introduced to the market in 2000, more than 10 million pairs of “heeling” shoes have been sold, making it one of the hottest new segments of the footware business. And officials from Heelys this spring addressed the issue by noting that their shoes are statistically safer than skateboarding, inline skating and swimming. Safety instructions are included with each new pair of “heeling” shoes that are sold.

What do you think? Are these new shoes a problem? Should they be banned? What could be done to make them safer? Is it no big deal? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.


With all the buzz in the news about new vaccines and other drugs and whether or not they're properly tested for safety and efficacy, I was totally intrigued with an article in the December 18, 2006, issue of The New Yorker: "The Right to a Trial: Should dying patients have access to experimental drugs?" (Jerome Groopman)

The whole topic was fascinating, but the article included a summary of the F.D.A. approval process:

"Guaranteeing drug safety has been part of the [Food and Drug Administration's] mandate since 1938, when Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after more than a hundred people died from taking a medicine for strep throat which contained diethylene glycol, an active ingredient in antifreeze. Today, the vast majority of patients with life-threatening diseases are treated with drugs that have been approved by the F.D.A. after a stringent evaluation process designed to insure they are safe and effective. It typically takes a pharmaceutical company six and a half years from the time it discovers a promising molecule to gather enough data to apply to the F.D.A. for permission to test a drug on patients. Completing the clinical trials requires, on average, another seven years: an initial set (Phase I), usually involving fewer than a hundred patients, to determine the maximum tolerated dose and likely side effects; a second set (Phase II), involving several hundred patients, to identify the diseases—or stages of a disease—that are affected by the experimental therapy; and a final set (Phase III), in which the drug is given to several thousand patients and compared with another drug that has already been approved by the F.D.A., or with a placebo. After the trials, the F.D.A. reviews the results and, usually in consultation with an advisory panel of experts, decides whether to approve an experimental drug. Drug companies pay most of the costs of clinical trials, and by the time a drug reaches the market the manufacturer will have spent nearly a billion dollars on its development.

Nearly ninety per cent of drugs that enter Phase I trials are eventually abandoned because they are shown to be unsafe or ineffective. (Last week, Pfizer announced that it was canceling its Phase III trial of torcetrapib, an experimental drug for heart disease, after eighty-two patients in the study died. Pfizer had spent almost a billion dollars on torcetrapib, whihc had shown exceptional promise in earlier trials. 'This drug, if it worked, would probably have been the largest-selling pharmaceutical in history,' Steven E. Nissen, the chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Times.) In the past decade, the number of new drugs approved by the F.D.A. has fallen sharply. According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 1994 and 1997 the agency approved an average of nearly thirty-six new drugs a year, but between 2001 and 2004 the approval rate averaged just twenty-three a year."

It's kind of mind-blowing. And it explains why drug companies do so much lobbying and marketing directly to patients.

I also found a cool article in the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's Regional Review, Quarter I, 2003: "Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Bad." (Carrie Conaway). It's about the development of cholesterol-lowering drugs, which are among the top-sellers in the US, but it touches on the same issues:

"The cost and uncertainty of the drug development process mean that pharmaceutical firms need to receive large returns on any successful drug in order to counterbalance the failures along the way. Yet the products they make, once discovered, are extremely easy for other firms to copy. Without some kind of legal right to the economic returns from their research findings, pharmaceutical companies would have no incentive to develop new drugs—and society would miss out on the new and improved treatments for disease and illness that the companies would discover. To solve this problem, the government grants drug manufacturers patents—short-term monopolies that limit competition and thus help ensure that companies receive a return on their research. But this benefit to inventors comes at a social cost. The shield from competition that patents provide gives manufacturers the economic power to set prices higher than competitive markets would allow, on the very goods that society regards as critically important to make available.

There is no doubt that patents foster innovation, especially for pharmaceuticals. But it is harder to know whether their current structure has struck the right balance between their costs and benefits for society."

What do you think IS the right balance between pharmaceutical costs and their benefits to society? Does FDA licensing make you feel okay about the safety and efficacy of a drug? Do you think that drug prices are fair? What could we do differently?