Attention Parents: Crayons Sold at Dollar Tree and Amazon May Contain Asbestos


Asbestos, once a common building material, has surfaced in an unexpected place: children's crayons. As The Washington Post reports, tests revealed that Playskool-brand crayons sold at Dollar Tree, Amazon, and contained trace amounts of the toxic substance.

Asbestos is a carcinogen that can be harmful when inhaled. In 1989, the EPA introduced the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule in light of reports that exposure to the material was linked to deadly illnesses, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Though asbestos is heavily regulated in the U.S. today, it isn't outlawed completely.

Its presence in crayons was identified through tests conducted by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. As part of the fund's campaign for safe back-to-school products, it also found phthalates in Jot-brand blue three-ring binders and benzene in Board Dudes-brand dry-erase markers. (The report notes that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has already recalled two brands of water bottles, GSI Outdoors Kids insulated water bottles and Base Brands Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends water bottles, for the presence of lead.)

Hasbro, Playskool's parent company, and Leap Year Publishing, which manufactures the crayons, say they are investigating the test results. In the meantime, parents looking to purchase asbestos-free school supplies before September can find PIRG's safe shopping guide here [PDF].

[h/t The Washington Post]

FDA Recalls Thyroid Medications Due to Contamination Risk


Hypothyroid medications manufactured by Westminster Pharmaceuticals have been recalled after it was discovered that one of the company’s Chinese suppliers failed to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, CNN reports.

The oral tablets contain levothyroxine (LT4) and liothyronine (LT3), which are both synthetic hormones used to treat thyroid conditions.

The medicine was recalled as a precaution after it was discovered during a 2017 FDA inspection that the Chinese supplier in question, Sichuan Friendly Pharmaceutical Co., was not practicing good manufacturing practices.

However, patients with serious thyroid conditions shouldn’t throw out their pills just yet. No adverse effects from the medication have been reported, and the risk of not taking the medication outweighs the risk of taking a recalled pill.

According to the FDA, “Because these products may be used in the treatment of serious medical conditions, patients taking the recalled medicines should continue taking their medicine until they have a replacement product.”

For more information on the specific lots and products in question, visit the FDA’s website.

[h/t CNN]

A 'Zombie Gene' Might Be the Reason Elephants Rarely Get Cancer


When it comes to cancer rates in the animal kingdom, elephants are an anomaly. As Popular Science notes, cancer should be more common among larger species, but with elephants, that simply isn’t the case. Only about 5 percent of elephants die from cancer, compared to 11 to 25 percent of humans.

In a new study, published in Cell Reports, University of Chicago researchers found what’s believed to be the genetic source of elephants’ cancer immunity. Elephants, like all mammals, have a gene called LIF that is known to suppress tumors. Humans have one copy of this gene, but elephants have 10 copies, which have developed over 80 million years of evolution. However, only one of those copies, called LIF6, is functional in elephants.

The other LIF copies are essentially dead because they lack a specific piece of DNA to make them function. At some point during the evolutionary process, the LIF6 gene copy turned back on, but scientists don’t know why or when this occurred. This “zombie gene” helps kill mutated cells, in true Night of the Living Dead fashion.

“This reanimation of LIF6 occurred perhaps over 59 million years,” Joshua Schiffman, who studies cancer in elephants but was not involved in the study, told Popular Science. “That’s an amazingly long period of time for nature to modify and perfect an anticancer mechanism.”

Scientists aren’t yet sure how this could be applied to cancer research in humans, but they say it’s a promising start and a creative approach to the problem. While these findings are still fresh and need to be duplicated, it raises the possibility of creating a drug that mimics the function of LIF6.

[h/t Popular Science]


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