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Health Highlights: Oct. 25, 2017

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

Trump Administration Wants to Limit Review of Toxic Chemicals

Firefighter, construction workers and others are condemning a Trump administration plan that would remove millions of tons of asbestos, flame retardants and other toxins in buildings nationwide from a congressionally mandated Environmental Protection Agency review.

Instead of looking at chemicals already in widespread use, the Trump administration wants to restrict the review to products still being manufactured and entering the marketplace, the Associated Press reported.

The review is meant to be the first step toward creating new regulations to protect the public, lawmakers say. But ignoring products already in use defeats that purpose, critics say.

For example, the Trump administration plan would limit the review to just a few hundred tons of asbestos imported each year and ignore nearly all of the estimated 8.9 million tons of asbestos-containing products that the U.S. Geological Survey said entered the national marketplace between 1970 and 2016, the AP reported.

Asbestos fibers can pose a deadly threat when disturbed in a fire or during renovations. the fibers can lodge in the lungs and cause problems such as a form of cancer called mesothelioma.

Despite the known dangers of asbestos, a 1989 attempt to ban most asbestos products was overturned by a federal court, and it remains in widespread use in the U.S., the AP reported.

Firefighters and construction workers are at risk of harm from asbestos due to its presence in materials such as insulation, roofing and flooring tiles in tens of millions of homes.

"Hundreds of thousands of firefighters are going to be affected by this. It is by far the biggest hazard we have out there," Patrick Morrison, assistant general president for health and safety at the International Association of Fire Fighters, told the AP.

"My God, these are not just firefighters at risk. There are people that live in these structures and don't know the danger of asbestos," he added.

A 2015 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded that the rate of mesothelioma is twice as high among firefighters than in the general public, the AP reported.

The EPA review was ordered last year by Congress and is also supposed to include eight other highly toxic substances, including flame retardants used in furniture and other products.

"It doesn't matter whether the dangerous substance is no longer being manufactured; if people are still being exposed, then there is still a risk," law co-author New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall Udall told the AP.

"Ignoring these circumstances would openly violate the letter and the underlying purpose of the law," he warned.

The EPA is bending to the chemical industry's wishes rather than safeguarding Americans' health, said Rep. Frank Pallone of New York, ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been criticized for hiring two people who formerly worked for the American Chemistry Council, the industry's lobbying arm. They are Nancy Beck, the EPA's deputy assistant administrator for chemical safety, and Liz Bowman, the EPA's associate administrator for public affairs, the AP reported.


Legionnaires' Disease Outbreak in NYC

Twelve confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease in downtown Flushing, Queens are being investigated by New York City health officials.

The 12 cases were confirmed in the past two weeks and include people ranging in age from the early 30s to the late 80s. Most of them had serious underlying health conditions.

Five patients are still in hospital and seven have been treated and discharged from the hospital. No patients have died.

Two more suspected cases are being assessed to determine if they are part of this cluster, the health department said. It urged New Yorkers with respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough, chills and muscle aches to seek immediate medical attention.

Legionnaire's disease cannot be spread from person to person. Those at high risk for the disease include people 50 and older -- especially cigarette smokers -- and people with chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems.


Second Hurricane Harvey-Related Flesh-Eating Disease Death in Texas

A second person with flesh-eating disease linked to Hurricane Harvey has died in Texas.

Josue Zurita, 31, died last week of necrotizing fasciitis, the Galveston County Health District announced Monday, CNN reported.

He helped repair several homes damaged by flooding from Harvey. On Oct. 10, Zurita went to the hospital for treatment of a seriously infected wound on his left arm and was diagnosed with the deadly disease.

In September, a 77-year-old Houston-area woman named Nancy Reed died from necrotizing fasciitis related to Harvey floodwaters, CNN reported.

Former first responder J.R. Atkins also contracted a flesh-eating bacterial infection but survived. He kayaked through Harvey floodwaters to check on neighbors affected by the storm, according to a social media post in September.

"We're surprised we saw three (cases) in the region, but given the exposure to all the construction and potential injuries that people would have ... it shouldn't be surprising. It's well within what we would expect given those numbers," said Dr. Philip Keiser, the Galveston County local health authority, CNN reported.

About 700 to 1,100 cases of necrotizing fasciitis have occurred each year in the U.S. since 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Posted: October 2017