The Dicamba Controversy

November 16th, 2017

Dicamba (3,6-dichloro-2-methoxybenzoic acid) is an organochloride and derivative of benzoic acid. Various formulations are available and go by the herbicide brand names Banvel, Diablo, Oracle, and Vanquish. It works by increasing the growth of plants. This may sound like an odd mechanism for a herbicide, but it increases the growth rate past that which the plant can supply itself with nutrients, so the plant exhausts its resources and dies.

Recently Monsanto released genetically modified seeds that were resistant to the effects of dicamba. Monsanto also has a new formulation of dicamba. Therein lies the rub.

Dicamba had not been approved for crop use prior to 2016. This chemical has a nasty tendency to not stay put where it is applied. It likes to drift and doing so can damage crops in neighboring farms. Sometimes the damage is minimal, but sometimes the damage can be reducing a field’s yield by up to 30%. In several states farmers are suing Monsanto for damage to their crops because of the improper use of the herbicide. There seems to be about 900,000 acres of crops affected in just Arkansas.

There are more questions in this case than the usual “Did this company cause the damage?” and “Is this an inherently unsafe product?” We’ll pose some of them in our next entry.

The Modern Monsanto

November 13th, 2017

Monsanto may not be a household name, but they reach out and touch many things. If you eat, chances are you’ve been affected by a Monsanto product. They are one of the major players in the production of genetically modified seeds and the maker of one of the world’s most famous pesticides, RoundUp (TM). This is also the chemical company that has developed several famous products such as saccharin and Astroturf.

From their humble origins as a small chemical company founded in St. Louis in 1901, they have become one of the giants of the chemical field. They’ve produced numerous food and medical commodities like caffeine, aspirin, and vanillin. They branched into other chemicals such as salicylic and sulphuric acid, styrene, polyurethane, agent orange, DDT, and PCBs. Some of their industrial products, such as their LEDs (light emitting diodes) became industry standards in many consumer products like calculators and digital watches. Over time they switched their focus to medical and agricultural products. The medical and pharmaceutical business was bought by the medicine giant Pfizer in 2002. After a series of acquisitions and divestments the “new Monsanto” emerged as a titan of high tech agricultural products. These products now include a number of pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), especially GMO seeds that have been bred to withstand Monsanto’s pesticides such as glyphosate and dicamba.

Many of Monsanto’s products have had a fair share of controversy. Many countries have issues with allowing GMO foods and seeds. There have been a number of issues with RoundUp (See the blog entry in July). Monsanto is now creating seeds that create their own pesticides in the plant. Monsanto produces seeds for drought-resistant corn and broccoli with increased levels of anti-microbial chemicals. Some call these “frankenfoods.”

Any one of these has produced a range of controversy. In the next entry we’re going to focus on the controversy regarding dicamba. Stay tuned.

Did Your Vehicle Come with a Warning Label?

October 25th, 2017

I was surprised to find out that “the government doesn’t have any standards that involve rolling a vehicle over.” (Consumer Reports).  And the Toyota 4Runner is one of the vehicles most likely to roll over. SUVs like the 4Runner are more than three times as likely to roll over than a standard passenger car.  Some tests show a propensity to flip at speeds less than 35 miles an hour!

But this problem is not limited to the Toyota 4Runner. The propensity to roll over is so great that SUVs with a wheelbase of less than 110 inches now must come with a warning label like cigarettes. And we know how good those are for you. Think about that. You need to get a license to operate a vehicle that can literally weigh a ton. Yet certain vehicles have a design flaw that makes them unstable and so prone to flip upside down that they need a warning label. In fact, Ricardo Martinez, an administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) once said, “Sport-utility vehicles have the highest rollover-related occupant fatality rate–double the average for all vehicle types.”

I don’t know about you, but a design that leaves you twice as likely to die sounds like a fatal design flaw to me.

We hope you don’t know anyone who has had firsthand experience with this flaw, but if you do – give us a call.

P – O – P !

October 2nd, 2017


Mmmm – popcorn. You know that delicious smell of movie theater popcorn. Heck, popcorn even got its own song that’s been remixed and remade numerous times. I like this one.

But sometimes the smell of popcorn isn’t the buttery, movie theater indulgence. Sometimes it’s the smell of a scorched bag that a coworker left in the microwave too long and smoked up the entire office. A little indulgence can sometimes go terribly wrong.

That buttery smell of microwaved popcorn used to be a chemical called diacetyl. It’s harmless when eaten, but can be very problematic when inhaled in sufficient doses. It’s unlikely to be an issue from getting a whiff of the occasional office mishap, but it’s serious enough that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has put out a health alert and exposure guideline standards for those who worked in factories that produce microwave popcorn.

Inhaled exposure to sufficient doses of diacetyl can lead to bronchiolitis obliterans. Because of the chemical’s association with microwave popcorn, this serious, incurable, and potentially deadly condition became known as “popcorn lung.” Diacetyl in the lungs can cause scars on the inside of the lungs. “Popcorn lung is also a leading cause of death associated with heart-lung and lung transplants.”  Since discovering this microwave popcorn makers have switched to other flavorings.

You’d think that would be the end of it, right? Hardly. We know this chemical can cause lung disease. So where did researchers find it?  

As unbelievable as it sounds, diacetyl was found in the vapors of many e-cigarettes. Yep. People trying to quit smoking for health reasons are often encouraged to switch to something potentially harmful to their lungs. The study looked at diacetyl and two other chemicals (2,3 pentanedione and acetoin) that had similar harmful effects. At least one of these chemicals was present in over 90% of the e-cigarettes tested.

A little indulgence can be a nice thing. But we need to choose our vices carefully or we’ll be the ones getting burned.

When that Metal-on-Metal Sound Isn’t Your Brakes

September 27th, 2017

Stop me if you’ve heard the jokes that go with hip replacements. The silly “hip-ster” jokes: “Hip-hip-hurray!” “So-and-so was never hip to begin with.” “Do the hippy hippy shake.” And “I just had a joint.”

Horse cartoon aside, sometimes it isn’t a laughing matter – Especially when things go wrong.

Some companies changed their designs on hip implants to a metal on metal approach. (You might see it abbreviated as MoM.) Unfortunately, this design didn’t work out at the manufacturer’s intended. The metal on metal design has led to metallosis, a metal poisoning that occurs when bits of metal debris build up in the soft tissues of the body. Some of these joint replacements will literally need joint replacement. Several companies that manufactured hip replacements are recalling their products. These run from DePuy alphabetically all the way down to Zimmer, with many companies in between (including Encore, Stryker, Wright Medical, etc.).

So a bunch of companies jumped on the bandwagon of a new design that was “supposed to be” innovative and more durable than the previous design. And this bandwagon has led to one of the most common joint replacement procedures in the U.S. giving rise to a number of problems when the shavings of metal-on-metal get released into the body. There are issues with metallosis as mentioned above, but also inflammation, loss of mobility, groin pain, bone loss, tissue breakdown and possibly cobalt poisoning.

As with many faulty products, the manufacturers are being sued. If you or a loved one had hip replacement surgery, we wish you the best. But if there are issues, you may need legal as well as medical advice. If this is the case, give us a call – we aren’t horsing around.

Hacked Off

September 21st, 2017

In light of the recent hack of Equifax  we are all reminded how vulnerable we are to hackers. The Equifax hack concerned data. But hackers can sometimes get to things even more sensitive.

For that reason the FDA is recalling over 400,000 pacemakers. Several brands may be vulnerable to radio frequency telemetry which can change the pacemaker’s instructions.

What could this do? It could cause the pacemaker to beat faster, or beat slower. It could turn off the pacemaker. One hacker has shown, with the right instructions, a pacemaker can be reverse engineered to deliver a shock of over 800 volts. One doesn’t need to be a doctor to know that that isn’t healthy.

Fortunately, the pacemaker manufacturer says this flaw can be corrected with a software patch and the pacemakers don’t have to be surgically replaced. The patch should “reduce the risk of patient harm due to potential exploitation of cyber-security vulnerabilities.” But it will require visiting the doctor to get this “corrective action.”

If you have had a pacemaker put in, please contact your doctor to find out which manufacturer made your device and if that model is part of the recall.

If only fixing the Equifax hack was so easy.

Losing More Than Keys

September 17th, 2017

When people get old, sometimes they forget things.

I don’t mean the little things like whether it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, or where you last put down your keys. I mean things like how old I am or what my children look like. Some seniors aren’t really in their right mind a lot of the time.  That’s troubling enough. But when you need to put your parents in a nursing home you may have other troubles. Many nursing homes want to require arbitration agreements in order to house residents. Currently the CMS (the Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services) prohibits nursing homes from requiring binding arbitration as part of a contract for their services. That’s good news for the patients in case of nursing home abuse. They can get their day in court.

At least for now. Earlier this summer the CMS proposed a revision. This would reinstate the ability of nursing homes to require arbitration clauses in their contracts.

So the rule was one thing. Now it’s another. And it depending on what happens with the CMS proposal, it could be something else soon. Sometimes it’s not just the seniors who get confused.

Hopefully elder abuse isn’t something you have to worry about. If you do – give us a call. We can help you figure out where you stand.

But we can’t help you with where you put the keys.

Invokana Users Get Burned

September 1st, 2017

A couple months ago we pointed out some of the problems associated with Invokana (See the Unauthorized Acid Trips blog from June 5, 2017). It can create an excess amount of acid in the bloodstream leading to acidosis. Alas, that’s not the only problem with this particular medicine.

In January of 2013 an FDA committee received presentations from Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Invokana (canagliflozin) was discussed and Dr. Sidney Wolfe raised issues regarding the thrombotic effects of the medicine. In laymen’s terms, the thrombotic effect means that it increased blood clots which obstruct the flow of blood. These effects led to a number of “cardiovascular events.” Dr. Hyon Kwon of the FDA testified that the trial of Invokana had an increased hazard ratio of 6.9. Translating that into laymen’s terms again, that means that taking Invokana increased the risk of heart disease by almost seven times.

I know that if I have green peppers on my pizza I’m about seven times more likely to have the pizza give me heartburn.  Okay, maybe the measurement isn’t that precise – but the point is I know what the effect of green peppers might have.  I’ll just bet that that those people taking Invokana didn’t know that taking the drug would make them more susceptible to heart attacks.

Heart attacks are much more serious than heartburn.  But it looks like those taking Invokana got burned anyway.

Left Turn Clyde

August 25th, 2017

When you’re riding a motorcycle you need to be careful.  

A cycle is not as obvious as a car. And while every driver thinks they are conscientious,  some common accidents are those that a driver doesn’t see the cycle coming.

Specifically, two of the most common motor cycle accidents happen when the cyclist is in the other vehicle’s blind spot. The first one is when a vehicle is turning left and doesn’t see a cyclist approaching from behind. This is the most common occurrence of accidents between cars and motorcycles. Cyclist need to constantly be aware that they are more difficult to see. A slowing car may be turning left. Be ready.

The other blind spot threat comes from lane changes. Often a vehicle will try to change lanes to avoid traffic, or they may try to slip into traffic not realizing they cycle is there. Even if they look to check their blind spot, a cycle is smaller than a car and they may miss seeing you entirely. Be especially vigilant in heavy traffic when lane changes are most common. While not as common as left-turn accidents, these are still among the top five.

It would be nice if all drivers were aware, alert and properly sharing the road. A cyclist needs to be aware of where other vehicles blind spots are. Avoid driving in them if you can.

It doesn’t take much to knock a cyclist every which way but loose.

Insufficient Lifeguards

August 22nd, 2017

In these hot humid days of August, consider this question -Would you hire a lifeguard that could not swim?

It sounds stupid doesn’t it? Yet every day, thousands of people are using guards as a method of protecting themselves from a life threatening situation that can’t possibly do the job that they have been put in place to do.

In this case we’re not talking about the lifeguard at the beach. We’re talking about cab guards. Cab guards are also known as headache racks or bulkhead guards. These are the racks placed between the cab and the load on a semi. In theory, they are there to protect the driver from load shifts that might drive the load into the cab – specifically into the drivers head. There are several neat looking models like the one below:

Oh – shiny.

But the question is, do they do their job?
Merritt Equipment Co. is one of the leading manufacturers of cab guards. Up until 2005 they said that their guards had been tested and could handle cargo loads of up to 55,586 pounds. That sounds pretty impressive doesn’t it? Wonder why they don’t mention that anymore …

Perhaps it’s because the average load of timber for a semi is about 110,000 pounds – almost double what a cab guard could supposedly protect against. So, if the average person in the U.S. weighs 180 pounds, that’s the equivalent of having a lifeguard who can only save people who weigh less than 100 pounds. There are times when it can be real trouble to be above average.

The seas of commerce can get pretty rough sometimes. If you need us to throw you a line, give us a call.