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Health Highlights: Dec. 20, 2017

Last Updated: December 20, 2017.

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

EPA Criticized for Delaying Ban on Toxic Chemicals

Bans on certain uses of three toxic chemicals in consumer products have been put on indefinite hold by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, prompting criticism from environmentalists and others.

The chemicals are methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) -- used in paint strippers -- and trichloroethylene (TCE), which is used as a spot cleaner in dry-cleaning and as a degreasing agent, The New York Times reported.

Methylene chloride is a threat to the brain and liver and NMP can damage the reproductive system. The EPA itself has concluded that TCE can cause cancer in people and the chemical has also been linked to birth defects.

The EPA first declared several years ago that certain uses of the three chemicals are dangerous. The decision to indefinitely postpone bans on those uses was revealed in an update of the Trump administration's regulatory plans, The Times reported.

The policy reversal highlights the EPA's hesitancy to use enforcement powers it received from Congress last year, according to critics.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a Trump appointee, is "blatantly ignoring Congress's clear directive to the agency to better protect the health and safety of millions of Americans by more effectively regulating some of the most dangerous chemicals known to man," said Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware. He is the ranking minority member on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

"The delays are very disturbing," Dr. Richard Denison, lead senior scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Times. "This latest agenda shows that instead of using their expanded authorities under this new law, the EPA is shoving health protections from highly toxic chemicals to the very back of the back burner."

"These indefinite delays are unnecessary and dangerous," said Representative Frank Pallone, Democrat of New Jersey. He is the ranking minority member of the House Energy and Commerce committee.

"The harmful impacts of these chemicals are avoidable, and EPA should finalize the proposed rules as soon as possible," Pallone said, The Times reported.

The EPA refused to comment on the issue.


Embryo Frozen for 25 Years Results in Successful Birth

A healthy baby girl born last month in Tennessee was a frozen embryo for 25 years, making her the longest known frozen human embryo to result in a successful birth.

The previous known record was 20 years, CNN reported.

Emma Wren Gibson was born November 25 to parents Tina and Benjamin Gibson. As an embryo, she was was frozen on Oct. 14, 1992 and thawed March 13 at the National Embryo Donation Center. She was conceived the year after her mother, Tina, was born.

"Do you realize I'm only 25? This embryo and I could have been best friends," Tina said when told the age of the embryo when she received it, CNN reported.

Emma was 6 pounds 8 ounces at birth and 20 inches long.

"I just wanted a baby. I don't care if it's a world record or not," Tina, now 26, told CNN.

Benjamin is infertile due to cystic fibrosis.

Emma and four sibling embryos came from the same egg donor and were created for in vitro fertilization by another, anonymous couple. These "snowbabies" remained in frozen suspension until they could be use by people unable or unwilling to conceive a child naturally.

Emma's birth is "pretty exciting considering how long the embryos had been frozen," Carol Sommerfelt, embryology lab director at the National Embryo Donation Center, told CNN.

While she's the longest known frozen embryo to result in a successful birth, it can't be confirmed whether Emma represents a new record.

"Identifying the oldest known embryo is simply an impossibility," Dr. Zaher Merhi, director of IVF research and development at New Hope Fertility Center, told CNN. He was not involved in Emma's case.

U.S. companies do not have to report to the government the age of an embryo used, only the outcome of the pregnancy, so "nobody has these records," Merhi explained.

Other experts cited a case study of a 20-year-old frozen embryo that resulted in a successful birth, CNN reported.


Salmonella Infection Linked to Rattlesnake Pills: CDC

A case of salmonella infection has been linked to rattlesnake pills, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The pills -- made from dehydrated, powdered rattlesnake meat -- are marketed for various conditions, including cancer and HIV infection.

In this case, a person in Kansas became ill with salmonella a week after taking rattlesnake pills. Tests showed that the salmonella that caused the person's illness was the same as that found in rattlesnake pills from Mexico that were collected in a previous, unrelated investigation, according to the CDC.

If you're considering taking rattlesnake pills, talk to your health care provider first, the agency advised.

This is especially important for people who are more likely to get severe salmonella infections, including pregnant women, children younger than 5 years, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems, including those who are receiving chemotherapy or have HIV.

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