Health Highlights: June 12, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Shower Curtains May Affect Health: Study

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) shower curtains and liners release into the air 108 toxic chemicals that can affect the lungs, central nervous system, liver and kidney, according to a study by the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice. It wants the federal government to recall and ban all PVC shower curtains and liners.

The researchers examined shower curtains and liners bought at retailers Bed Bath and Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart, the New York Daily News reported.

"The familiar 'new curtain smell' may be toxic to your health," said Mike Schade, the center's PVC campaign coordinator. "It's really surprising that retailers are manufacturing products that contain and release harmful chemicals in our homes."

But a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission dismissed the center's demand for a recall and ban of the products.

"There's no justification whatsoever for the agency to take any kind of action," Julie Vallese told the Daily News. "The claims being made about the dangers of shower curtains are phantasmagorical. It's ridiculous."

Consumers needn't be worried, said a New York pediatrician who specializes in environmental exposure. Dr. Joel Forman, an associate professor of community and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, recommended airing out a new plastic curtain for a week before hanging it in the shower.

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Infrared Sauna Rooms Pose Fire Hazard

About 225 Sauna By Airwall infrared sauna rooms are being recalled because the heating unit and fuse can fail, leading to overheating and risk of a fire, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday.

Sauna By Airwall Inc. of Bellflower, Calif. has received four reports of fires that resulted in property damage. There have been no reports of injuries.

The recalled sauna rooms include the following model numbers: IC, I, IC II, IC III, IC IV, and IC V. The model number is found on the serial plate located on the back of the machine, in the lower right hand corner. The sauna rooms were sold nationwide from November 2006 through April 2008 for between $600 and $4,000.

Consumers with the recalled sauna room should stop using it and disconnect it from the power source, the CPSC said. Owners can contact Sauna By Airwall collect at 562-630-2283 for more information.

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Bosch Hammer Drills Recalled

About 9,700 Bosch hammer drills are being recalled because they can continue to operate after the trigger has been released, posing a danger to users and bystanders, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said. No injuries have been reported.

The recalled hammer drills are blue with "BOSCH" printed on the side and have the number 1191VSR on the product nameplate mounted on the side of the motor. Only drills with a serial number that begins with "7" are included in the recall.

The hammer drills were sold nationwide from July 2007 through April 2008 for about $100. Consumers should stop using the hammer drills, the CPSC said.

To get information about a free repair, contact the Robert Bosch Tool Corp. toll-free at 877-472-0007.

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More Underweight Babies Being Born in U.S.

The percentage of underweight babies born in the United States in 2005 was 8.2 percent, the highest level since 1968, says the annual Kids Count report released Thursday.

Mississippi had the highest rate (11.8 percent), while Alaska, Oregon and Washington had the lowest rate (6.1 percent). The rate of low-weight births was 13.6 percent for blacks, 7.3 percent for whites, and 6.9 percent for Hispanics, the Associated Press reported.

Low-birthweight babies (weighing less than 5.5 pounds) are at increased risk of dying in infancy or having long-term disabilities.

The nationwide rise in low-weight births was due to an increase in multiple births as more older women use fertility treatments to conceive, said Laura Beavers, coordinator of the Kids Count project for the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, the AP reported.

The Kids Count report examined 10 categories of children's health and well-being, finding that New Hampshire, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Utah ranked highest overall, while Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama and South Carolina ranked lowest.

There were nationwide improvements in the child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate, high school dropout rate, and teens not in school and not working. Four areas worsened: low-birthweight babies, children living in poverty, children in single-parent families, and children living with unemployed parents.

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Marijuana Potency Increasing

In 2007, marijuana potency reached its highest level in more than 30 years, according to a new report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Researchers at the University of Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project analyzed levels of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) in samples seized by law enforcement agencies from 1975 through 2007, the Associated Press reported.

The average amount of THC in the samples was 8.75 percent in 2006 and 9.6 percent in 2007, compared to just under 4 percent in 1983. These increasing levels of THC pose greater psychological, cognitive and respiratory risks to people who use marijuana, according to John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Sophisticated growing techniques used by marijuana producers in the United States and Canada are behind the increased potency of the drug, according to the White House office.

While federal officials expressed concern over the increased potency of marijuana, one expert said marijuana users generally adjust to the level of potency and smoke it accordingly, the AP reported.

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"Stronger cannabis leads to less inhaled smoke," said Dr. Mitch Earleywine, who teaches psychology at the State University of New York in Albany and serves as an adviser for marijuana advocacy groups.

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Lack of Sleep Increases Snacking

Lack of sleep can lead to excessive snacking, according to a University of Chicago study.

It included 11 healthy volunteers who each completed two 14-day laboratory studies at least three months apart. The participants had 5.5-hour or 8.5-hour sleep sessions and ad lib food intake, United Press International reported.

When their sleep times were limited to 5.5 hours, the participants consumed more energy from snacks and their carbohydrate content of snacks also increased, the study found.

This type of snacking may contribute to the increased risk of weight gain and obesity associated with inadequate sleep, said study leader Dr. Plamen Penev, UPI reported.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

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