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Health Highlights: April 9, 2010

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

EPA Introduces New Lead Safety Regulation

After a nearly two-decade delay, a new rule requiring the construction industry to take measures to protect children from lead poisoning will be implemented April 22, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Renovation and remodeling contractors' requirements under the new regulation include containing work sites with plastic and thoroughly cleaning up lead paint dust stirred up during work, The New York Times reported.

About 38 million units of housing stock are potentially affected by the rule, according to EPA officials.

"We think it will be very effective," Steve Owens, assistant administrator for the EPA's office of prevention, pesticides and toxic substances, told the Times. "It's a rule designed to address one of the major sources of lead pollution."

Legislation directing the EPA to propose the regulation was passed by Congress in 1992. The EPA finally finished the rule in 2008 after a lawsuit from environmental and public interest groups, the newspaper said.


Gene Fault Linked to Deafness: Study

A genetic problem that may be associated with some types of inherited deafness has been identified by Dutch researchers.

They said a fault in a gene called PTPRQ causes improper development or insufficient numbers of inner ear "hair cells," resulting in extremely poor hearing or deafness, BBC News reported.

The finding, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, may one day help in prevention and lead to new treatments, said the researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre.

So far, dozens of genes believed to be linked to inherited hearing loss have been identified but scientists believe many more have yet to be pinpointed.

"Knowledge of genes causing deafness tells us more about how our hearing works," Dr. Sohaila Rastan, chief scientific officer for the deaf and hard of hearing charity RNID, told BBC News. "This research will help develop medicines that are desperately needed to prevent deafness and restore hearing."


FDA to Get Tougher on Medical Radiation Devices

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided to tighten its regulation of the equipment used to administer beams of radiation aimed at killing cancer cells.

No longer will a streamlined process be used to review and approve new devices, the agency said in a letter to makers of such equipment. The FDA's action stemmed from its analysis of 1,000 reports of problems with the devices that were filed in the past decade, most involving computer software, according to The New York Times.

Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, told the Times that the FDA "is belatedly realizing that some dangerously high radiation exposures to patients could be the result of faulty design or use error" and that the letter "could signal the long overdue beginning of adequate device regulation."

About 40 percent of new radiation equipment was approved in 2009 through the streamlined process, according to the FDA.


Smoking Banned on U.S. Submarines

Smoking on U.S. submarines will be forbidden when the vessels are submerged. The policy will take effect by the end of the year, the Navy said.

The Navy decided on the smoking ban after medical testing showed that secondhand smoke was affecting nonsmokers, ABC News reported.

About 40 percent of submariners are smokers, according to Lt. Commander Mark Jones of the Commander Naval Submarine Forces out of Norfolk, Va. The new rule could prove difficult for those sailors.

"In a stress-filled environment that a submarine is, that's going to be a big change for smokers," said retired Master Chief John Carcioppolo, commander of the U.S. Submarine Veterans at the Groton, Conn. base, ABC News reported.

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Posted: April 2010