- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

NUCLEAR WASTE

Nuclear waste imports legal in U.S.

Witnesses told a House committee on Friday it’s up to Congress to stop other countries from shipping their radioactive waste to the United States.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission official Margaret Doane told lawmakers the agency has no choice but to permit private companies to import waste, so long as they meet safety and security standards and there’s an appropriate place to put it.

At issue is 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Italy’s nuclear reactor cleanups that a U.S. company wants to process in Tennessee and then bury in Utah.

It’s the most waste the NRC has ever been asked to allow into the country. Miss Doane said there are also applications to import waste from Brazil and Mexico for disposal in Utah.

FDA

Merck’s Gardasil for boys OK’d

Drugmaker Merck said Friday that U.S. regulators cleared its vaccine Gardasil for use in preventing genital warts in boys, a new use for a product already approved to prevent cervical cancer in women.

The Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company said the Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil for use in boys ages 9 through 26.

Gardasil already is approved for women to block four strains of the human papillomavirus that cause the majority of cervical cancers and genital warts. Merck has sold about 50 million doses worldwide, with more than $1.4 billion in revenue last year.

While the approval could theoretically double the market for Merck’s vaccine, analysts do not expect Gardasil to be widely used for boys.

Genital warts caused by HPV usually clear up by themselves, and the cancers caused by the virus are extremely rare in men.

Friday’s announcement came just hours after rival GlaxoSmithKline reported that the FDA approved its vaccine Cervarix for use in the U.S. The vaccine already was available in Europe and elsewhere.

Gardasil became an early success story for Merck after its 2006 launch, achieving blockbuster sales that are rare for a vaccine.

But sales have been slowing amid questions about the longevity of the vaccine’s effect and its price tag of nearly $400.

PARDON

McCain presses Obama on pardon

Sen. John McCain on Friday pressed President Obama to give a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the black heavyweight boxing champion who was imprisoned nearly a century ago because of his romantic ties with a white woman.

Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, and Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, noted in a letter to Mr. Obama that both houses of Congress this summer passed their resolution urging a pardon. After the vote, the lawmakers wrote to Mr. Obama in August asking him to issue the pardon.

“Regrettably, we have not received a response from you or any member of your administration,” they wrote in Friday’s letter, adding they hoped that Mr. Obama would be eager to “right this wrong and erase an act of racism that sent an American citizen to prison.”

The White House had no immediate comment.

Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion on Dec. 26, 1908 - 100 years before Mr. Obama was elected the first black president.

Johnson was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. He fled the country after his conviction, but agreed years later to return and serve a 10-month jail sentence.

CDC

Flu strain raises fall illness numbers

The H1N1 strain of flu is causing an unprecedented amount of illness for this early in the fall, with the deaths of 11 more children reported in the past week. And less vaccine than expected will be ready by month’s end, federal health officials said Friday.

Of the 86 children who have died since the new H1N1 flu arose last spring, 43 deaths have been reported in September and early October alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. That’s a startling number because in some past winters, the CDC has counted 40 or 50 child deaths for the entire flu season - and no one knows how long this swine flu outbreak will last.

“These are very sobering statistics,” said the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat.

Also surprising, about half of the child deaths reported since Sept. 1 have been teenagers. Until now, much of the attention has focused on younger children.

Overall, what CDC calls the 2009 H1N1 flu is causing widespread disease in 41 states. About 6 percent of all doctor visits are for flu-like illnesses, levels not normally seen until much later in the fall.

VETERANS

VA uses ‘smart’ phone to locate grave sites

Want to find a veteran’s grave? Get out your “smart” phone.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has enhanced its Web site to make it easier to look up the grave sites of more than 6.7 million veterans on a “smart” mobile phone, such as a BlackBerry.

It builds on an online service started in 2004 that helps locate the graves of veterans and eligible family members buried in national cemeteries or whose graves are marked with a government headstone.

Once the site locates the cemetery, it offers users directions on how to get there.

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