Health Column

April 18, 1990 2 min read

The Centers for Disease Control has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of mercury in indoor latex paint, saying the substance “presents an unnecessary hazard to human health.”

The cdc estimates that between one-fifth and one-third of all water-based indoor paint contains mercury, which is added to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi in stored paint.

Dr. Mary Agocs, a medical epidemiologist in the agency’s center for environmental health and injury control, said officials first became concerned about the mercury content in paint after a Michigan boy was hospitalized for four months last year with acrodynia, a type of mercury poisoning.

The rare case of early-childhood mercury poisoning was attributed to the parents’ use of a latex paint containing mercury to paint their house.

Exposure to mercury in vapors can lead to tremors, insomnia, anorexia, memory loss, and kidney damage. Dr. Agocs said health officials do not know what level of mercury exposure, if any, is safe for children.

The epa is currently surveying paint manufacturers about their use of lead.

Teenagers who use drugs are three times as likely to attempt suicide as their drug-free peers, a study by Washington-area researchers has found.

The research, published in the March issue of the American Journal of Diseases of Children, suggests that drugs may play an important role in a large number of youthful suicides.

“Both the wish to hurt oneself and actual suicide attempts were found to increase significantly after the initiation of substance use,” the study says.

Nearly 300 teenagers enrolled in substance-abuse clinics in three areas of the country were surveyed for the study, which found that 30 percent of the youths had attempted suicide. In contrast, other studies have found that between 7 and 9 percent of “normal” adolescents try to kill themselves.

Study findings also showed that 40 percent of those who had attempted suicide had used drugs within eight hours of the attempt.

More than 90 percent of those studied were white; two-thirds were male. The most commonly used drug was marijuana.

Teenagers who have had three or more bad sunburns or have worked outdoors for three or more summers have significantly increased chances of developing melanoma, the most common type of skin cancer, according to a study by New York University researchers.

Its results suggest that sunburns are most dangerous before the age of 20. Teenagers should avoid excessive sun exposure, the report says, and should always use sunscreen lotions.--ef

A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 1990 edition of Education Week as Health Column