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Oregon Researchers Frustrated By Federal Genetic Testing Block

Congressional efforts to block research on the genes of human embryos continue, and researchers at Oregon Health & Sciences University are finding it particularly frustrating.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee has included language in the Food & Drug Administration's budget for next year that effectively bans federal research on genetic editing in humans.

Philip Yeske, the science officer at the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, said the restriction is toughest on families with genetic disorders.

“Oh," he said, "we’re very disappointed.”

Researchers at OHSU have done breakthrough work on one kind of genetic editing — mitochondrial replacement therapy.

OHSU's Dan Dorsa said researchers were just about to submit a new study.

“What this will mean is here in the U.S., we’re precluded from moving ahead with this," Dorsa said. "And yet, in Britain and certainly other countries, this is already going on.”

Members of the appropriations subcommittee have said they understand the potential benefits of genetic modifications, but researchers don’t fully understand possible side effects.

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Nonprofits Try Partial Self-Insurance To Reduce Health Costs

Getting health insurance if you work for a nonprofit can be tough. To save money, employees often end up buying high-deductible plans, sometimes spending thousands of dollars in co-pays and fees.

But the Nonprofit Association of Oregon is teaming up with health broker Nonstop to allow small to midsize nonprofits to partially self-insure.

Jody Schreffler of Nonstop, said it works by keeping employees in plans, even if they have a high-deductible, while also having them pay into a reserve account. That money is then used to pay co-pays and fees.

Nonstop also offers healthcare benefits and administration for nonprofits with more than 50 employees on healthcare.

“We risk mitigate for these large non-profits. Drop the premiums, we administer the plan. And after six months, look at that reserve account. And if they have not exceeded what they’ve set aside, we return two thirds of that back to the nonprofit,” said Schreffler.

Jim White, the executive director of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon said the new system, "offers an immediate solution to containing premium costs."

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Health Officials Find 'Small' Cancer Increase Near Portland Glass Factories

Health officials announced Friday that they have discovered a small but "statistically significant" increase in the number of bladder cancers in North Portland between 1999 and 2003.

The Oregon Health Authority has been looking at cancer rates in neighborhoods around two glass manufacturers in Portland after a notable increase in air pollution was detected earlier this year.

The manufacturers had been using heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic to color glass, and elevated levels were found nearby.

Over a longer term, levels weren't as high. The health authority said most rates of lung and bladder cancers near the companies were “generally consistent with expected rates” over 15 years between 1999 and 2013.

But there was an increase in bladder cancer when narrowing in on the five-year period in North Portland.

State epidemiologist, Dr. Katrina Helberg, cautioned that the small number of cancers involved mean even a slight increase can result in a statistically significant outcome.

“At this point, we don’t have any evidence that the exposures that have been happening in these neighborhoods are resulting in any increases in cancer,” Helberg said.

She also said the increase was not sustained in subsequent years.

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State: Portland's Toxic Health Risk Low, Despite High Arsenic Levels

Oregon regulators said Thursday air and soil samples continue to show low health risks for Portland residents. But the level of arsenic in some areas is elevated.

A new test for arsenic around Uroboros Glass in North Portland showed levels several times higher than the state guideline.

But David Farrer with the Oregon Health Authority said people needn’t be concerned.

“When there’s an exceedance of a screening level found, that does not automatically mean that there’s a public health risk," Farrer said. "But it does mean that we need to do additional analysis, and found that the risk was low.”

Farrer said the test seemed high because Oregon’s guidelines are too conservative. It assumes 100 percent of the arsenic in a contaminated soil will be absorbed by the body. Farrer said some studies show absorption rates can be as low as 10 percent.

Concerns about toxic air started last month after high levels of heavy metals were found around glass manufacturers in the city.

Since then, Uroboros has signed an agreement not to use the heavy metals without a filter. Bullseye Glass remains in negotiations.

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Portland To Join Suit Against Monsanto

The Portland City Council voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against agrochemical giant Monsanto.

Portland plans to join six other West Coast cities — Seattle, Spokane, Berkley, Oakland, San Diego and San Jose — that have sued the company over toxic pollutants it produced.

Portland To Join Suit Against Monsanto

The Portland City Council voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against agrochemical giant Monsanto.

Portland plans to join six other West Coast cities — Seattle, Spokane, Berkley, Oakland, San Diego and San Jose — that have sued the company over toxic pollutants it produced.

Monsanto was the only company in the US that made Polychlorinated biphenals, or PCBs. The chemicals were once used as coolant fluids. Federal regulators banned PCBs in 1979. But the chemicals linger in the environment.

In Portland, PCBs still contaminate the Willamette River and the Columbia Slough. And they're found in fish in the area.

Attorneys pitching the Monsanto #pollution suit say that by 1969, the company knew PCBs were found in shrimp, fish, oysters, and birds.

— Amelia Templeton (@ameliaOPB) March 16, 2016

The attorneys pitching the case allege that Monsanto promoted its PCBs even though it knew they were contaminating food & wildlife.

— Amelia Templeton (@ameliaOPB) March 16, 2016

Mayor Charlie Hales said the city has spent more than $1 billion cleaning up the Willamette.

"The citizens of Portland dug deep in order to pay for cleaning up our mess, and other businesses should be held to that standard,” Hales said.

In a written statement, a spokesman said Monsanto is not responsible for the costs associated with PCBs.

"Monsanto today, and for the last decade, has been focused solely on agriculture, but we share a name with a company that dates back to 1901,” the statement read.

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State Says Health Risks Around Portland Glass Manufacturers Is Low

Government agencies announced Wednesday that the health risk around Portland glass manufacturers is low.

The DEQ said Wednesday that it took 67 soil samples from the area around Bullseye Glass in southeast Portland. Samples were taken from a Fred Meyer parking lot, a day care center and Powell Park.

The samples were tested for arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and several other elements.

They found that most heavy metals were at background levels. But there were a few samples that showed elevated levels.

Lynne Saxton, the director of the Oregon Health Authority said overall, the findings are encouraging.

“We’re not seeing evidence of health problems caused by metal emissions,” Saxton said.

Authorities announced that it's now okay to eat produce grown in backyards again, although they did recommend gardeners wash their produce and their hands.

The state has also been collecting results from anyone tested for cadmium. Out of 247 tests, it found seven people in Multnomah County with detectable levels.

Two were children, and three had levels that require some kind of clinical follow up.

There can be several reasons a person might have high cadmium levels, other than pollution. For example, if they smoke or engage in a hobby associated with cadmium.

The Oregon Health Authority also reviewed rates of lung and bladder cancers — the two kinds of cancer associated with cadmium and arsenic exposure.

The agency found that the incidence of those diseases was no higher than expected near Bullseye and Uroburos glass.

It’s good news. But so far the testing has focused on the soil.

Results from air sampling are expected next week.

Although the manufacturers have suspended their use of the arsenic, cadmium and chromium used to color glass, some residents might be skeptical of these results. Authorities at the meeting said they'll make an effort to get information out more quickly. They're also sending concerned people to a new webpage.

Saxton said this issue has opened the doors to what she called “long overdue changes."

The DEQ is launching a new rule-making process to move Oregon’s system closer to those in Washington and California, which better account for public health risks.

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OHSU Primate Center Being Investigated For Mistreating Monkeys

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed Thursday it’s investigating the treatment of research monkeys at Oregon Health And Science University.

The feds wouldn’t outline the reason for the investigation.

But over the last two years, OHSU’s Oregon National Primate Research Center has been warned about monkeys being burned by heating pads; one that died under respiratory distress; and 27 that either died in fights or were seriously injured.

Michael Budkie of ‘Stop Animal Exploitation Now!’ says OHSU entered into a settlement with the USDA four years ago, after violating the Animal Welfare Act. And two years ago, got a warning letter,  “There comes a time when you begin to wonder how often a facility will be allowed to break the law," he said. 

"We would like to see the USDA take a meaningful enough penalty against OHSU that either they stop breaking the law, or they move away from using primates in experimentation.”

In a statement, primate center director Nancy Haigwood said her office had not been contacted about any investigation. She said scientists adhere to the "appropriately stringent" Animal Welfare Act.

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