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Cool weather helps keep Bay Area air clean

Cooler temperatures this summer have benefitted air quality around the Bay Area.

High pressure weather systems have not been prevalent along the coast, allowing offshore winds to keep temperatures moderate and breaking up any smog.

Smog forms when high pressure weather systems stir up hot, stagnant air for days on end. This, combined with car and factory exhaust, creates the brownish haze usually seen on hot days. The San Jose Mercury News reported that smog causes asthma attacks, watery eyes and can impair lung development in children.

The conditions have made for one of the cleanest years on record for the Bay Area. Not one Spare the Air advisory has been issued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and no violations of the federal public health standards for smog have been recorded. There were eight violations issued for air quality in 2009, 12 in 2008 and one in 2007. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that only four years since 1991 have had fewer than five Spare the Air Days: 1997, 2004, 2005 and 2007.

CBS 5 reported that temperatures are almost five degrees below their 30-year-norm.

The air district is forecasting good air quality at least through Sunday. Jet stream patterns indicate conditions are not expected to change much in the coming months.

Public health concerns prompt recall of eggs and warnings of faulty vaccinations

This week’s news highlights stories of potential contamination of both food and drugs, and government efforts to combat it to protect public health.

On Thursday, CBS 5 reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled 380 million eggs due to a possible salmonella outbreak, which has sickened hundreds of people.

Outbreaks occurred in California, Colorado and were suspected in other states. The Centers for Disease Control is working with state health departments to investigate the illnesses. California reported 226 salmonella cases since June and officials said a majority are related to eggs. No egg-related deaths have been recorded.

Colorado cited 28 cases in June and July, four times the usual number. Other states that have seen spikes in salmonella cases include Arizona, Nevada, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin.

Also under the microscope this week: vaccinations.

KTVU reported that Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation issued more than 3,000 warnings to adults and children who received vaccinations between January and June, saying they may need vaccination do-overs.

Improper refrigeration of vaccines in 14 of Sutter’s 64 affiliated care centers, in San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma and Lake counties, means patients may need their vaccinations administered again.

The vaccines that might have been affected include: Rotavirus vaccine; Pneumovax vaccine; hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine; Act Hib Vaccine; Menactra/Meningococcal;Dtap; Adacel/Tdap; Decavax/TD; Pentacel; Polio Vaccine; Gardasil Vaccine; Afluria; H1N1; Pediarix; Twinrix; Kinrix and MMR.

Anabel Anderson Imbert, chief medical officer of Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, told KTVU, “I don’t know why they fell outside the range.”

Obesity rates vary by ethnicity across state, UCSF study finds

Ethnicity has always been an important factor in measuring obesity in the population. Public health researchers looking at rates across the state have found that while there are the same or fewer fat children among whites, Asians and Hispanics, obesity in other groups has risen, the San Francisco Chronicle reported this week.

The study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that there has been an increase in youth obesity in black and American Indian girls.

 “While the decline and stabilization of obesity among certain groups is encouraging,” said Kristine Madsen, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UCSF, one of the authors of the study, “we are seeing an increase in disparities that is troubling, especially among the most severely obese youth.”

The study looked at the body mass index — a measure of fat based on height and weight — of adolescents between 2001 and 2008. Children are considered obese if they are in the 95th percentile, and overly obese if they are in the 99th percentile.

The data revealed a decline in the number of obese white and Asian children. But it also showed an increase of 22 percent among black girls and 23 percent among American Indian girls.

San Francisco faces a similar problem of racial disparities in obese youth.

Black, Hispanic and Pacific Islander children represented the lowest percentages with a healthy weight in San Francisco in 2008, according to the California Department of Education. 

In San Francisco, one program started by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Shape Up SF, encourages residents to purchase and eat healthier foods. The program also recommends drinking water rather than sugared beverages, said Christina Goette, a coordinator for the program. Recreation and Parks summer camps also endorse the soda-free life.

Shape Up SF is also working on ways to get healthier fruits and vegetables into neighborhoods where fresh produce is scarce. “We hope more neighborhood grocery stores will provide healthier choices for residents,” Goette said.

 

San Francisco, Navy agree on transfer of Treasure Island for $105 million

A deal has been reached to transfer Treasure Island from the Navy to San Francisco, culminating 17 years of negotiations.

The Navy will be paid $105 million for the island, which will be funded by private companies and expected revenue that will be made from developing the island.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus signed documents transferring the man-made island to the city. Part of neighboring Yerba Buena Island is included in the agreement. The agreement is key to the planned $1.4 billion development deal that includes 8,000 new homes, a 60-story skyscraper, three hotels and 300 acres of open space. The project includes making sure the island is seismically safe and protected from rising sea levels.

The official transfer of the island is expected to happen in spring after environmental reviews and project approvals are concluded.

Construction could begin as early as mid-2011, pending the conclusion of the environmental review. The development project is expected to last 15 to 20 years.

Treasure Island is the last piece of military property to be transferred to the city. The other pieces were the Hunters Point shipyard and the Presidio.

Tony Hall, former supervisor and former president of the Treasure Island Development Authority, spoke to ABC7, calling the development, "Fantasy Island."

Jack Sylvan, redevelopment project director for the city, jokingly told the San Francisco Chronicle the only way the deal could go wrong was if an earthquake struck and half the island was underwater.

Same-sex marriages put on hold

A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court  of Appeals on Monday afternoon continued the stay on same-sex marriages until the court considers an appeal filed by proponents of the voter-approved ban on gay marriages.

Proposition 8 was ruled unconsitutional on Aug. 4  by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker. After issuing the ruling, a stay was put in place by Walker, but was then lifted last week by the judge, who said same-sex marriages could resume this Wednesday at 5 p.m. 

The court will hear the Proposition 8  appeal case during the week of Dec. 6.

 

On San Francisco’s policy menu: making Happy Meals healthy, too

A SpongeBob figurine may soon lead to the disappearance of trinkets from fast food meals. 

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar recently recounted a story about finding a drawerful of happy meal toys like Sponge Bob in his daughter’s toy drawer. He was horrified to discover how many toys she had collected — and the corresponding number of Happy Meals she would have eaten to get those toys. 

So earlier this week Mar introduced legislation at a supervisors’ board meeting to ban toys from kids’ meals unless the meal is healthy.

“The legislation will set nutritional standards for restaurant food accompanied by toys or other youth incentives,” Mar said. The “Healthy Meal Incentive” legislation aims to create better eating habits to fight childhood obesity.

The law will require all meals with toys to include fruits and vegetables. Also, the entire meal must be less than 600 calories, or 200 calories for a single item. Beverages that come with meals must not contain an excessive amount of fat or sugar.

Mar said that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity in children ages 6 to 11 has quadrupled since the Happy Meal was created in 1979.

“This modest ordinance provides healthier food choices for children and families, addresses the childhood obesity epidemic, reduces costs to our health care system and protects the public’s health,” Mar said.

Similar legislation in Santa Clara County went into effect on Monday and dictates that meals with toys may not exceed 485 calories.

Before the board discusses the bill, the supervisors will be in recess until Sept. 11.

Lead-filled bounce houses face lawsuit

Who knew that colorful, springy blowup houses found at parties and fairs could be havens for lead? State officials — and now they are doing something about it.

Attorney General Jerry Brown has filed a lawsuit against several businesses that rent out children’s bounce houses, claiming that their structures violate the federal and state lead limit, according to a recent story on KTVU.

Testing from the Center for Environmental Health showed high levels of lead from 5,000 to 29,000 parts per million. The federal limits are 90 parts per million for painted surfaces and 300 for all other parts. Brown told KTVU: “Kids at birthday parties can spend hours playing in bounce houses. The goal of our lawsuit is to eliminate any chance they will be exposed to lead while they’re jumping around having a good time.”

Officials break ground on Transbay Transit Center

City and state officials were on hand this morning at First and Mission streets for the groundbreaking of the new Transbay Transit Center, a project that was 40 years in the making.

“Today, in breaking ground on the Transbay Transit Center. We are opening a new chapter in that history of progress,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi said the project would provide 48,000 jobs in just the first phase of the project that will replace the existing Transbay Terminal.

City starts marking new bike lanes after court ruling

A San Francisco Superior Cout judge ruled Friday that the city may continue with several bike projects after he found that the city was in compliance with enviromental reviews of traffic and parking problems.

The decision by Judge Peter J. Busch allows the city to start implementing the Bicycle Plan Program, which includes adding more bike lanes on city streets. The plan was approved by the Board of Supervisors 2005, but an injunction was placed the following year, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

Transbay Terminal to shut down; high-speed rail planners narrow right-of-way

Plans for a new Transbay Transit Center and bullet train route that would connect San Francisco to San Jose circulated this week. Both involve not just construction but also contentious demolition.

On Thursday the San Francisco Business Times reported on the Transbay Terminal closing permanently on Friday. A temporary terminal on Howard and Main streets will be in use for the next seven years, until the new $4.2 billion Transbay Transit Center on First and Mission streets is finished. The Transit Center project is just one part of a redevelopment proposal bounded by Mission, Folsom, Main and Second streets that would produce 2,600 new homes, 3 million square feet of new office space and 100,000 square feet of new retail.
 

On Thursday the San Francisco Business Times reported on high-speed rail planners narrowing the right-of-way for the San Francisco to San Jose route to minimize the possibility of bulldozing residential areas. Bob Doty, who leads a joint venture between Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority, told the Business Times that route designers have reduced the width of the right-of-way to 80 feet from 120 feet by running two high-speed rail tracks in between parallel Caltrain tracks.

Other plans to decrease the right of way involve putting part of the route below ground along some parts of the Peninsula. Bullet train planners want to start construction on the $42.6 billion project in September 2012 and possibly finish by 2020.