Sixth Vaping Death Prompts Congressional Hearing

 

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A 50-year-old Kansas woman became the sixth person in the USA to die of a vaping-related lung illness, an outbreak that has ramped up health concerns nationwide.  Kansas State Epidemiologist Farah Ahmed said in a statement that the unidentified patient had a history of underlying health issues and had been hospitalized with symptoms that progressed rapidly.  Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said that the patient did have underlying health issues but nothing that would have foretold the fact that within a week after starting using e-cigarettes for the first time, she developed full-blown acute respiratory distress.  Doctors say it’s clear the vaping related lung illness is responsible for her rapid deterioration.

Kansas health officials noted six more cases associated with the outbreak, three patients confirmed with the illness and three cases under investigation.  Five previous vaping-related deaths were confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon. After the Kansas fatality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied six deaths and more than 450 possible cases of severe lung injury in 33 states and one jurisdiction.  The CDC confirmed that investigators narrowed their focus and that the additive vitamin E acetate is a chemical involved in many of the cases, but officials emphasized it is not in all of the cases being reviewed.

People with a history of vaping who experience lung injury symptoms should seek medical care, according to Kansas health officials.  Nationally, symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, cough, vomiting and diarrhea.  Other symptoms reported by some patients include headache, dizziness and chest pain.  Though many patients across the nation have been in their late teens, 20s or 30s, the Kansas death is a warning that older adults may be at particular risk.

Patients tend to arrive at the hospital short of breath and coughing. Many have also had fevers, general fatigue and gastrointestinal problems. It is not unusual for patients to be put into intensive care units, and on ventilators. All reported vaping nicotine, THC or a combination of the two in the days and weeks before falling ill.  The CDC has recommended people stay away from vaping devices while investigators work to pinpoint exactly what’s behind the illnesses.

The rapid and worrisome increase has now prompted a Congressional hearing on the matter, after a policy discussion on the matter.  The recent death has prompted the U.S. President to call for a ban on thousands of e-cigarette flavors in an effort to get people to give up e-cigarettes.  E-cigarette companies have been given years to gather and submit evidence their products are safe and effective ways to quit smoking traditional tobacco.  A federal judge has set a May 2020 deadline for companies to do so.

Dr. Norman said “God only knows what all is in there.  There should be a moratorium on the sale of these products until we know more.”  The American Lung Association also released a statement warning the public that e-cigarettes could cause irreversible lung damage.  “No one should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product,” Harold Wimmer, national president of the American Lung Association, wrote in the statement. “This message is even more urgent today following the increasing reports of vaping-related illnesses and deaths nationwide.”

5th Death Linked to Vaping

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Five deaths in the US have been linked to vaping as health officials continue to grapple with the dangers of e-cigarette use and the exact cause of the deaths.  All five died after developing a severe lung illness that is believed to be linked to vaping.  The exact cause of the deaths and the dangers of vaping still remain unclear but are being investigated on both the federal and state level.

More than 450 possible cases of respiratory illnesses have been reported in 33 states after use of e-cigarette products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The average age of those with the illness is 19, which is not surprising considering of the almost 10 million vapers in the US, nearly half of those are under 35, with 18-24-year-olds the most regular users.

Those who have suffered from the lung illness reported experiencing coughing, chest pain or shortness of breath before their health deteriorated to the point of respiratory failure and they needed to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Respiratory failure is where your body either can’t break down oxygen, produce carbon dioxide, or both. The result is that your lungs stop working and breathing becomes difficult.  Other reported symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and weight loss. Many victims have ended up with acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs and prevents the oxygen people’s bodies need to function from circulating in the bloodstream.

Those affected used a number of different devices from vaporizers to smaller e-cigarettes and a variety of different brands of liquids and cartridges.  Health officials recently said many cases involved products that contained THC, the mind-altering substance in marijuana.  The FDA has now collected over 120 samples to test for different chemicals, including nicotine, cannabinoids, additives and pesticides.

They also recently identified a common contaminant in some of the cannabis products used by patients across the country — an oil derived from vitamin E.  It remains unclear whether this is the cause or one of the causes of the illnesses.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement that advised against using electronic cigarettes while it investigates the issue.   The agency also said people should stop buying vaporizers, cartridges and liquids off the street or modifying vaping products bought legally.

New York Health officials have focusing their investigation on Vitamin E acetate after they found high levels of it in nearly all of the cannabis-containing vapes tested.  At least one vape containing both cannabis and vitamin E has been linked to every patient who submitted products for testing, the New York health department said.  Vitamin E isn’t known to be harmful if ingested as a vitamin supplement, but it could be dangerous if inhaled because of its “oil-like” properties. It has not been approved as an additive for New York’s medical marijuana program.

Federal health officials are warning that vitamin E is likely only one piece of the puzzle. The CDC is running its own tests on more than 100 samples for vitamin E, pesticides, opioids, poisons and other toxins.  “No one substance or compound, including vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all the samples tested,” Zeller said. “The samples we’re continuing to evaluate show a mix of results.”

RI Corrections Officer Resigns After Driving Truck Into Protesters

 

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The Rhode Island correctional officer accused of driving his truck into a group of peaceful protesters has resigned amid an investigation into the incident that occurred during a protest outside the Wyatt Detention Center.  Captain Thomas Woodworth resigned days after the incident after after initially being placed on leave.

Woodworth was seen behind the wheel of a pickup truck that drove into a crowd of protesters.  The Jewish activist group that started the protest, Never Again Action, released a statement that they are glad Woodworth resigned.  The group also called on authorities to punish the correctional officers that used pepper spray on the crowd of protesters surrounding the truck.

The detention center, owned by a municipal quasi-public agency, has been under scrutiny for months after entering an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees while they await trial. Approximately 139 federal immigration detainees are currently being housed at Wyatt.  The protest was attended by an estimated 500 people who gathered at the facility around 7PM.  The group heard from local faith leaders and community activists, leading one another in chants and songs outside the facility.

Anticipating a shift change by guards, around 30 members of the group moved to block the main parking lot used by employees of the prison at around 9PM. Harvey says they intended to use “peaceful protest in the civil disobedience mode” to disrupt Wyatt’s operations for a few hours.  When the incident occurred, protesters were standing in front of the entrance to the facility, holding hands to form a chain. Another group of protesters sat on the ground, blocking off access to a staff parking lot.  A video showed a pickup truck, driven by Woodworth, 64, driving into the seated protesters, hitting some and sending others running. The protest group says one person has a broken leg.  The truck stopped and honked at the protesters surrounding it, before continuing to drive forward. Several officers were seen on video misting the crowd with what appears to be pepper spray after asking them to move away from the truck.

After Woodworth drove into the crowd, officers from the facility poured into the parking lot and used pepper spray against the protesters. Of the five people who were hospitalized following the incident, two were treated for injuries related to Woodworth’s attack including 64-year-old Jerry Belair, of Warren, who suffered a broken leg and internal bleeding.  Three others were treated for pepper spray-related injuries – including one woman in her 70s.

The Rhode Island attorney general’s office said in a statement that it is working with Rhode Island State Police to investigate the event.  “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of all Americans,” the attorney general’s office said. “It is unfortunate last night’s situation unfolded as it did.”  Wyatt Detention Facility Warden Daniel Martin said that his office is investigating the incident and looking at how the facility responds to protests.

Newark NJ Water Crisis

 

 

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Newark, New Jersey’s water crisis is growing worse as authorities temporarily halted their distribution of bottled water to families whose tap water is contaminated with lead.  The Environmental Protection Agency told city officials to distribute bottled water “as soon as possible,” after it determined that water filters were ineffective at safely filtering lead from the water supply of thousands of homes. State and local officials began offering free bottled water to 15,000 Newark households, and hundreds of people queued in long lines in the summer heat for their allotment.  Officials stopped handing out the water after discovering many of the bottles had exceeded their best-by date.

The levels of lead in Newark, New Jersey’s drinking water are some of the highest recently recorded by a large water system in the United States.  City and state officials have been violating the Safe Drinking Water Act in several ways, such as failing to treat its water to prevent lead from flaking off from pipes into residents’ drinking water and neglecting to notify people about the elevated levels and the health risks.  For years, the city has had the greatest number of lead-poisoned children in New Jersey. This likely stems from a variety of exposures to lead, including from contaminated tap water and other sources.

One way lead particles get into water is through corrosion in pipes and it’s believed to be the cause in Newark.  The metal in lead service plumbing lines starts to tear away and mix with the water passing through. This is often apparent in older pipes; in some affected Newark neighborhoods, pipes are over 100 years old.  Citywide tests conducted in June 2017 showed that more than 10% of homes across Newark had twice the amount of lead that is considered safe according to federal law.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental and health advocacy group, sent a letter to officials in Newark later that year saying that they had failed to address the lead contamination issue.  After the city failed two more citywide lead tests in December 2017 and June 2018, the city announced in October that year that it would provide over 40,000 water filters to residents.  After the city then failed a fourth consecutive lead test in December 2018, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wrote an open letter to the President asking for federal help to fix the water system in the city.

The city failed another lead test in June 2019 and in August, after testing three homes that were using water filters provided by the city, officials found that two of those homes still had elevated levels of lead in them.  After the results of their water filter tests, city officials have begun handing out packages of bottled water to Newark residents, in accordance with guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There is no safe level of lead exposure and pregnant women and children are most at risk.  Even low lead levels are associated with serious, irreversible damage to developing brains and nervous systems. Lead exposure is also linked to fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney problems, cognitive dysfunction, and elevated blood pressure in otherwise healthy adults.newark.jpeg

Financier Jefferey Epstein Charged With Sex Trafficking

 

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Federal prosecutors charged financier Jeffrey Epstein with one count of sex trafficking of a minor and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking on July 8 2019.  Epstein was first arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on July 6, after arriving back in the United States from France.  Federal prosecutors also searched his New York City home over the weekend and news outlets report that during the search of his townhouse, investigators seized photographs of nude underage girls, federal prosecutors said.  Epstein has pleaded not guilty on both charges.  If convicted of the charges, Epstein faces a maximum of 45 years.

A federal judge in New York has denied bail to Jeffrey Epstein, declaring him a danger to the community and a significant flight risk. U.S. District Judge Richard Berman pointed to a raid by investigators on Epstein’s mansion earlier this month that found “piles of cash,” stashes of diamonds and an expired passport with Epstein’s photo next to someone else’s name listed under a Saudi address.  Prosecutors accused the serial child sex abuser of possible witness tampering, saying he made payments totaling $350,000 to two people he feared could testify against him in court.

Court documents say “over the course of many years, Jeffrey Epstein, the defendant, sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations.”  It also notes that “in order to maintain and increase his supply of victims, Epstein also paid some of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused.” The prosecution alleges that he sexually assaulted girls as young as 14 years old.

Epstein started his career in New York City as a math teacher at the Dalton School, but went to work at the investment bank Bear Stearns in the 1970s before founding his own firm, J. Epstein and Co., in 1982. According to Vox, he specifically marketed his services to “those with assets worth more than $1 billion,” and operates his company out of the U.S. Virgin Islands for tax reasons.  Throughout the years, Epstein belonged to a high society social circle that included politicians and elitists.

Epstein’s bust comes months after a federal judge ruled his 2007 non-prosecution agreement —violated federal law by keeping Epstein’s victims in the dark. Under the sweetheart deal, Epstein dodged federal charges that might have sent him to prison for life. He instead pleaded guilty in 2008 to felony state charge of solicitation of prostitution involving a minor and sentenced to 18 months in jail.  He served 13 months in a private wing of a county jail, mostly on work release, which allowed him to commute to an office outside the jail six days a week. He also registered as a sex offender.  Many say it was a slap on the wrist for someone accused of abusing dozens of underage Florida girls.

“It’s been a long time coming—it’s been too long coming,” said attorney David Boies, who represents Epstein accusers Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Sarah Ransome. “It is an important step towards getting justice for the many victims of Mr. Epstein’s sex trafficking enterprise.  “We hope that prosecutors will not stop with Mr. Epstein because there were many other people who participated with him and made the sex trafficking possible.”

 

NYC Declares Public Health Emergency As Measles Outbreak Continues

 

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New York City has declared a public health emergency over the growing measles outbreak with 285 confirmed cases in New York City since the fall.  The “epicenter” of the outbreak is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where vaccination rates among Orthodox Jews are particularly low.  The emergency order was declared in an effort to curtail the outbreak and protect others.  As part of the emergency order, all residents of four Williamsburg zip codes — 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11249 — must be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella if they are not already.

Those found to be in violation of the order could face up to a $1,000 fine, officials said.  Under the mandatory vaccinations, members of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will check the vaccination records of any individual who may have been in contact with infected patients. Those who have not received the MMR vaccine or do not have evidence of immunity may be given a violation and could be fined $1,000.  New York’s MMR vaccination rate is at 91.1 percent, below the 94 percent requirement to achieve herd immunity.

The NYC Health Department recently issued an order banning all unvaccinated members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg from entering yeshivas and day care programs. Non-compliant schools could be subject to closure.  Roughly 1,800 children in Williamsburg remain unvaccinated.  The city will help unprotected individuals secure affordable and accessible vaccination, and emphasized that vaccination is safe and effective.  In February, the department increased the recommended MMR vaccine dose for children between ages 6 months and 11 months who live in Williamsburg and Borough Park. Infants are advised to get immunized prior to international travel.

The Williamsburg outbreak started when an unvaccinated child acquired measles on a visit to Israel, where a large outbreak of the disease is occurring.  There have been additional people from Brooklyn and Queens who were unvaccinated and acquired measles while in Israel according to the health department.  Most of the Williamsburg cases involve members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, many of whom live by the Torah teachings that followers should not cause the body any damage since it is a gift from God.

Last month, in Rockland County, NY, near the city, county health officials declared a state of emergency and barred unvaccinated children from public spaces for 30 days. The order was temporarily halted last week after a judge ruled against it.  Outside of New York City and Rockland County, measles outbreaks are underway in the Pacific Northwest, California, New Jersey and Michigan.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported at least 465 individual cases of measles in 19 states in the past three and a half months. This outbreak has the second greatest number of infected individuals since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

An analysis published in PLOS Medicine has shown that non-medical exemptions increased in 12 out of 17 states with relaxed laws on immunization. Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah gave leeway for philosophical beliefs as a basis to refuse the vaccine.  Authorities said they are now reviewing a bill to ensure that only patients with a qualified medical history like chemotherapy or organ transplantation will be given an exemption.

 

 

September 11th Illness Related Deaths Increasing

 

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Three former New York City firefighters involved in the 9/11 rescue effort died last week, within 48 hours of each other.   Retired FDNY Lt. Timothy O’Neill, 60, died on April 2 and Firefighter Kevin Lennon, 54, died on April 4 from 9/11-related cancers — nearly 18 years after responding to the terror attacks.  A third retired FDNY member, Fire Marshal Michael Andreachi, died within the same time period.  His death has not been officially linked to the 9/11 illness he was suffering from.

Their deaths come as 101 survivors who either responded to, or lived and worked near Ground Zero following the terror attacks have passed away from a 9/11 illness since September.  John Feal, survivor advocate John Feal said survivors are passing away at a rate of about 12 a month — or three a week.  Between September 2017 and September 2018, 163 survivors passed away from 9/11 illnesses-which was the highest recorded number of 9/11 related deaths since the terror attacks.  Feal said that if the current rate continues, the number number deaths will exceed last years.  “9/11 is still killing,” Feal said  “Sadly, this fragile community of heroes and survivors is shrinking by the day.”

FDNY lost 343 fire fighters on the day of the attack and more than 180 FDNY employees have died of illnesses from the toxic dust at Ground Zero since the terror attack.  It’s estimated that 90,000 first responders showed up at the WTC in the aftermath of the attack. An additional 400,000 survivors lived and worked in the area at the time.  Nearly 10,000 first responders and others who were in the World Trade Center area have been diagnosed with cancer. More than 2,000 deaths have been attributed to 9/11 illnesses.

More than 7,000 FDNY Firefighters police officers and EMTs have been treated for a 9/11 injury or illness in the 18 years after the attack.  5,400 members have been diagnosed with lower respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and less commonly emphysema, COPD, sarcoidosis or pulmonary fibrosis.  Another 5,200 members have been diagnosed with upper respiratory diseases such as chronic rhinosinusitis and/or vocal cord diseases.  5,400 members have also been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disorders.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, when the planes crashed into the towers, 24,000 gallons of jet fuel ignited a fire that spread to 100,000 tons of organic debris and 230,000 gallons of transformer, heating and diesel oils in the buildings, setting off a giant toxic plume of soot and dust from pulverized building materials, The fires continued to burn during the rescue and recovery operations at Ground Zero, and workers were exposed to chemicals like asbestos, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, crystalline silica and other metals and particulates.

Epidemiology studies have confirmed that 9/11 emergency responders and recovery workers have significantly higher rates of thyroid cancer and skin melanoma than found in the general population.  They also face a higher risk of bladder cancer.  Non-responders have had significantly higher rates of breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and other blood-cell disorders.  As the population of those in the area of the World Trade Center attacks increases, so will the number of cancer cases and other 9/11 illness related deaths.

The World Trade Center Health Program, a fund set up to cover healthcare costs for 9/11 first responders and survivors is set to expire in 2020.  Since so many victims have been requesting compensation, the fund is now expected to run out of money even before the deadline.  Earlier this year, lawmakers including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced a bill to permanently fund the federal program and extend its authorization through 2090.