Saturday, March 6, 2010

360 Weekend News Briefs

National News Briefs

GAO: FDA Should Tighten Ingredient Oversight

Congressional investigators say the Food and Drug Administration should pay more attention to the safety of some food ingredients, including one involved in a widespread recall this week.

A report released Friday by the Government Accountability Office points out that some spices, artificial flavors and other ingredients are not subject to frequent safety reviews by the FDA because the agency or manufacturers deem them "generally recognized as safe." A flavor-enhancing hydrolyzed vegetable protein recalled Thursday due to salmonella contamination is among those ingredients.

The investigators said the FDA has not done enough to review the substances and recommends the agency require companies making or using them to provide the government with more information.

Other substances "generally recognized as safe" include salt, trans fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, spices, artificial flavors, emulsifiers, binders, vitamins, minerals and preservatives intended to enhance a food's taste, texture, nutritional content or shelf life, according to the report, which notes increasing public concern about salt and trans fat.

The FDA "agrees broadly" that its oversight of such ingredients could be strengthened, spokeswoman Rita Chappelle said in a statement Friday.

The recall of hydrolyzed vegetable protein - an ingredient found in thousands of processed foods, including dried soups, dips and dressings - is expected to expand. After more than 50 products were recalled Thursday, several new recalls were announced Friday, including four dip, gravy and stuffing mixes made by McCormick & Co.

The recall involves hydrolyzed vegetable protein made by Las Vegas-based Basic Food Flavors Inc. Salmonella, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children and others with weakened immune systems, was found on the company's processing equipment, the FDA said.

Many products that contain the ingredient are not dangerous because cooking them eliminates the risk of salmonella. No illnesses or deaths have been reported. FDA officials said they believe the risk to consumers is low.

Chilling Call: Girl Reports Parents' Shootings

A frantic 8-year-girl called 911 this week to report her parents had been shot in the basement of a home on Detroit's west side, police told Detroit TV station WDIV.

"My mommy's in the basement, and I need emergency," the girl is heard telling an emergency dispatcher Monday night.

The dispatcher asked the girl to put her mother on the phone. The girl responded with "No, she's almost dead."

Unsure of her address, the girl can be heard asking her mother "Mommy, where we at? Tell me. Where we at? I got to tell the police where we at. I called 911. Where we at?"

"My mommy is almost dead. Please help me. Do you promise you'll help me?" the girl cried.

Police later found the girl's mother, 26-year-old Monica Botella, and her father, 26-year-old Percil Carson, dead from gunshot wounds.

The 8-year-old and her 6-year-old sister were upstairs and called 911 after hearing gunshots, police said. Neither child was harmed during the shooting, nor did they see it happen, police said.

Police said the victims appear to have known their assailants because there was no sign of forced entry. Police believe two men may be responsible for the shooting and were at the house earlier in the evening before the shooting. The girls are staying with grandparents.

According to state records, Carson had been in police custody for firearm and drug charges.

Upper Midwest Braces For Severe Spring Flooding

Spring could bring disastrous flooding again to the Upper Midwest, government forecasters are warning. And folks along the Red, the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers are taking precautions, especially after calamities last year and the year before.

The National Weather Service said heavy snow cover and ground that is already saturated could lead to severe flooding in as little as a few weeks. Exactly how severe will depend on how fast the snow melts and how heavy the spring rains are.

In Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., an area of about 200,000 people, the chances of major flooding were projected Friday at about 90 percent. The probability of record flooding was put at 19 percent. Elsewhere across the Upper Midwest, the threat is less dire but still serious.

In dozens of towns from Missouri north through the Dakotas to the Canadian border, homeowners, farmers and business owners are putting aside normal business to deal with a hazard they know all too well.

During March and April last year, rivers and streams burst their banks in North Dakota and Minnesota, forcing millions to evacuate, damaging hundreds of homes and causing an estimated $100 million in damage. At least three deaths were blamed on the rising waters. Fargo and Moorhead stacked 6 million sandbags to hold off the Red River, which lapped to within 6 inches of the top of the floodwall, breaking a record set in 1897.

Clarksville, Mo., a town of about 500 people whose downtown antiques shops and other businesses lie close to the Mississippi, plans to construct a levee using sand-filled metal bins. The bins are then covered with plastic and sandbags.

The downtown part of Quincy, Ill., is safely perched on a bluff, but the sewage plant on lower ground was almost swallowed up in a flood in 2008. Emergency managers there are now reviewing flood-response plans and checking the condition of the area's dikes.

Some of the 4 million bushels of grain stockpiled in a World War II-era river terminal in Meyer, Ill., about 20 miles upriver, are being sent to storage sites inland, said Gerald Jenkins, overseer of the Ursa Farmers Cooperative. But he said it can't all be moved to safety in time. Ice jams on the Mississippi slowed barge traffic this winter, and repairs have shut down a lock and dam.

Officials in Keokuk, Iowa, are testing pumps and emergency equipment and planning to haul large rocks from a quarry to protect the water treatment plant.

Folks in Fargo are beginning 12-hour shifts building sandbag barriers as thick as castle walls. Three machines called "spiders," each with 12 funnels, fill 5,000 bags an hour. Two hundred shovels are ready for volunteers filling bags the old-fashioned way.

Other labor-saving products offered for sale include the Muscle Wall, a water-filled plastic barricade that is supposed to make sandbags obsolete, and the funnel-like Sandbagging Buddy, used to fill bags rapidly.

Across the Red River in Minnesota's Oakport Township, workers using backhoes, bulldozers and dump trucks will build more than six miles of temporary clay levees.

Teen Paralyzed After Getting H1N1 Vaccine

A 16-year-old boy in Maryland was paralyzed from the chest down after getting the H1N1 flu vaccine at school, a doctor said.

In December, Robert Beckham lost feeling in both his legs and was rushed to Baltimore's Sinai Hospital, Baltimore station WBAL reported.

"Under very heavy treatment, not only did he not improve, he even got slightly worse," said Sinai pediatric neurologist Dr. Yuval Shafrir.

Shafrir said Robert is being treated for a rare condition called transverse mylitis in which a segment of Robert's spinal cord was destroyed by his own immune system. Transverse mylitis is a disease that can occur after infection, but in this case, Shafrir said it was a medically unpredictable reaction to a vaccination that's being given in schools all over the country.

"The only obvious cause was the H1N1 vaccination," Shafrir said.

"I kept pestering my parents to get me this shot. I got it, and a month later, it went bad," Robert said.

"I'm still in shock from it. I can't believe that this happened to him," his mother, Belinda Beckham said.

Robert's parents are disabled and financially unable to bring him home from the hospital.

"If he had received the regular flu vaccine, the family would be able to file a claim with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program," said attorney Clifford Shoemaker. "But because it was the swine flu program, which falls under the same bill as terrorism … the family will get very little in compensation for what's happened to this child."

The family needs help making their home handicapped-accessible for Robert. There's a fundraiser this weekend at the Porters Grover Baptist Church. All donations can be made at Cecil Bank in care of Robert Beckham.

Meanwhile, Maryland Health Department officials are aware of Robert's case.

"Certainly, there are instances of adverse events - they're very rare - and it's something we want to monitor closely," said DHMH Deputy Secretary Fran Phillips.

While Robert Beckham's paralysis is heartbreaking, Shafrir said it shouldn't deter anyone from getting the vaccination.

On the Web: NIH Transverse mylitis Factsheet

Iditarod Begins Amid Money Woes

The 38th running of the world's most famous sled dog race begins Saturday amid depleted finances that have slashed the cash purse even as the cost of competitive mushing continues to climb.

Yet the mystique of the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race keeps drawing mushers from around the world, including a first this year - a rookie from Jamaica.

Also running are five past winners, including defending champion Lance Mackey, a throat cancer survivor from Fairbanks who is going for a fourth consecutive win. Another strong contender is Canadian Hans Gatt of Whitehorse who in February became a four-time winner of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, which Mackey also has won four times.

The Iditarod begins with a ceremonial start in Anchorage. The actual competition gets under way Sunday in Willow, 50 miles to the north. From there, mushers leave festivities behind for a trail that crosses two mountain ranges, scores of native villages, then a stretch of the frozen Bering Sea shore before it reaches the finish line in the old gold rush town of Nome on Alaska's western coast. It's a trail where temperatures can plunge to 50 below zero.

The total purse this year is $590,000 - down from a high of $925,000 in 2008 - with $50,000 of this year's prize money donated by four-time champion Jeff King, who also is in the running. Even the prize for the winner will be nearly $20,000 smaller than the $69,000 of past years. The winner still receives a new Dodge truck.

Georgia News Briefs

Woodstock Judge Cited For Underage Drinking At Her Home

A Woodstock municipal judge has been cited for allowing underage drinking in her home, police said. Police said municipal judge and attorney Diane Busch is charged with 21 misdemeanor counts, including 10 counts for providing alcohol to minors in December 2009 at her Cobb County home.

Jimmy Berry, Busch's attorney, said the judge went to bed after a holiday party and didn't know that 10 teens were drinking in her basement. Berry's comments contradict a police report where Busch said she would rather have teenagers drinking at her home than "out driving around."

Police were initially called to Busch's neighborhood around 3 a.m. on Dec. 22 after a neighbor reported possible gunshots. This later proved to be bursting balloons at the party, police reports said.

Hand Grenade Found In Griffin Back Yard

A bomb squad disposed of a hand grenade discovered Friday in the back yard of a Spalding County house. A woman called WSB Channel 2 Action News Friday morning to report her father found the grenade while digging in his yard in the 1300 block of Hillwood Avenue in Griffin.

The Channel 2 Action News assignment desk called the Griffin Fire Department and a spokesman there confirmed the woman's report. News Chopper 2 was over the scene and sent video of several fire trucks and a bomb squad truck from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at the location. The GBI used a remote controlled robot to remove the grenade.

It was taken to a secure location and either disarmed or detonated, according to a spokesman from the Griffin Police Department. The grenade was probably a Vietnam-era grenade, according to police.

Thieves Hit Church 4 Times In 4 Weeks

A Decatur church has been hit four times by burglars in four weeks.

The Rev. Brian Jemmot of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross on South Columbia Pace said the church's sound system was stolen in the latest break-in. TVs, printers, computers and speakers have been taken in previous break-ins.

"It's really hard to fathom why anyone would do this so often and so regularly. It really is baffling," Jemmot said.

The thieves also emptied barrels of food donations and cleared the kitchen counters of two microwaves, Jemmot said.

"I think the folks who are doing this may not believe in God. They don't think this is a sacred space," Jemmot said.

Jemmot told Moore that the church's security system has been turned off because construction workers were working on a part of the church but has since been turned back on. Jemmot hopes the burglars back off, "It's good to know you are forgiven but the scriptures says to go and sin no more."

Shoplifters Hit Target For $1,300

Police are searching for a team of shoplifters who allegedly stole more than $1,300 worth of merchandise from a Henry County Target store. The two women and two men stole the items from the store at 1850 Jonesboro Road on Feb. 26, according to Henry County police.

Investigators said they are looking for two black females and two black males who left the store in a brown Chevrolet Tahoe. Police said the last three digits of the license tag on the Tahoe could be 4-3-4.

Anyone with information on the people should contact Detective Dean Watson of the Henry County Police Department at 770-288-8496.

AP; WDIV - Detroit; NOAA/NWS; WBAL - Baltimore; ESPN; Reuters; WSB - Atlanta

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