Mercury isn't safe in dental fillings
The studies cited in "Silver fillings found kid-safe" (April 19) made front-page news when they were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
But it is important to be aware of the critical editorial in the same issue of that journal by Dr. Herbert L. Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh, a scientist who pioneered research on the adverse health effects of lead exposure in children.
He writes that the studies on mercury fillings in children do not address "the delayed effects of early toxic exposure on health later in life."
He also writes, "It is predictable that some outside interest will expand the modest conclusions of these studies to assert the use of mercury amalgam in dentistry is risk-free. This conclusion would be unfortunate and unscientific."
As chairman of the Amalgam Investigation Committee for the American Academy of Head, Neck and Facial Pain, I can say confidently, after many years of researching the scientific literature, that the facts clearly document the potentially dangerous effects of mercury in dental restorations.
At least 17 separate studies support this statement.
Kid-safe silver fillings are actually 46 percent to 56 percent metallic mercury, with varying amounts of silver, copper, zinc and tin.
Mercury is a neurotoxin - more toxic than lead, cadmium or arsenic.
Mercury can damage the nervous system, and infants and toddlers are thought to be particularly at risk because of their low body weight and rapidly developing brains.
That concern is behind the wide-ranging initiatives to cut mercury from industrial plants, warn pregnant women to limit intake of certain types of fish and ban mercury in pediatric vaccines. And in fact several countries have restricted the use of amalgam restoration for health reasons.
Well-designed studies have documented that the daily dose of mercury absorbed by dental patients with amalgam fillings exceeds the government's toxic thresholds for mercury exposure.
There are unavoidable risk factors that we are exposed to daily in our environment. But mercury in dental fillings need not be one of them.
Michael A. Baylin
Waiting to attack Iran adds to danger
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasts loudly about the nuclear bombs his country is building ("Iran warns of pullout from nuclear treaty," April 25). He boasts that Israel will be wiped off the map.
It is as futile and dangerous to negotiate with Mr. Ahmadinejad's Iran as it was to negotiate with Adolf Hitler's Germany in the 1930s.
President Bush deserves severe criticism for not already having our military in the field against Iran.
Every day we delay in fighting Iran increases the cost and danger of fighting that country.
There is every reason to engage in battle now, and no reason to wait any longer.
The Iranian threat to the civilized world must be ended, with the United States leading the way.
Kurt A. Snavely
Congress must alter the nation's course
Lawrence Wilkerson explained in clear and convincing terms the reasons a majority of Americans feel our nation is headed in the wrong direction ("Is U.S. being transformed into a radical republic?" Opinion
Commentary, April 23).
At the same time, he points to the need for Congress to awaken and assume its role as an equal branch of government.
The majority of Americans, who are dissatisfied with our nation's direction, need to send Congress a clear message in the coming election - that it must act responsibly and decisively to correct the precipitous slide in our standing in a rapidly changing world.
E. Niel Carey
Is the Muslim world willing to co-exist?
Lawrence Wilkerson's latest rant ("Is U.S. being transformed into a radical republic?" Opinion Commentary, April 23) contains much of what we've seen so often on The Sun's opinion pages, but seldom with such a concentration of fervor and punch.
Mr. Wilkerson uses strong words about wanting to cleanse the radicals from our government, to rid us of their "reign of terror," their "hubris and unparalleled radicalism," "new level of sleaze and corruption," "colossal incompetence" "swaggering ineptitude" and "unbridled arrogance."
But then, in a concluding paragraph, he turns away from his domestic demons toward the threat that I consider to be our nation's - and the free world's - greatest danger.
But he tackles it with a dangerously naive, pacifist statement: "We can ... convince the majority of the Islamic world that we can and must co-exist - and eventually prosper together - and at the same time confront, confound and defeat the small element in Islam's midst that lives to murder innocents, Christian, Jew and Muslim alike."
I only hope that Mr. Wilkerson, for the sake of the country he loves, will turn his fiery analytic talent toward a thorough study of that Islamic world, to answer some vital questions.
For instance, does there actually exist in the Muslim world a "majority" that believes in, or will hear his plea and come to believe in, peaceful co-existence?
And if so, why are so few of them heard? Why the deafening silence against the ravings of the truly dangerous radicals who want to aggressively expand the world of Islam and consider our country the enemy to be destroyed by any means?
Nelson L. Hyman
Assimilation makes immigration work
I am also a second-generation Asian-American, and I feel that Stella Dong's column "My dad, the illegal alien" (Opinion Commentary, April 24) forgot to mention that our parents, legal immigrants or otherwise, were wise enough to teach us how to assimilate into American society.
We learned the English language, yet we were all bilingual and spoke Chinese to our elders.
We maintained our customs and holidays, and we did not demand that American society conform to our language or customs. Yet our foods and our art and other cultural practices are being accepted every day in this country.
We were taught the value of an education and about what patriotism really is. We all suffered the effects of the "glass ceiling" in our time as we tried to move up the corporate ladder. But now that, too, has been broken.
I believe that all who come to this country and want to take advantage of the freedoms we have and the opportunities that are here should learn to assimilate.
I do not believe we should have a Latino version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" or that Latin immigrants should demand that Spanish be used in legal documents.
The bottom line is that if people want to take advantage of what America has to offer, they should become Americans - and that means understanding the Pledge of Allegiance and being willing to die for your country.
Illegal immigrants deserve no benefits
As a member of a family of second-generation immigrants from Italy and Poland, I am very offended when I see the term "immigrant" used to refer to today's "illegal immigrants" from Central America or any other country for that matter ("Bush addresses immigration," April 25).
Paying someone to help you sneak into our country or just packing a bag and setting out on foot on your own to illegally sneak across an open border is, quite frankly, wrong. Intentionally avoiding all the required paperwork and documentation is also wrong - and very much illegal.
Why should an individual who knowingly and intentionally commits a crime expect to be showered with all types of government benefits?
It's not like these illegal immigrants are running away from tyranny or torture. They simply are coming here for jobs to make money to send back to their respective countries.
Immigration is fine. But it has to be done the legal way.
And people who come to our country to become Americans should become Americans.
Today's illegal immigrants seem to have no intention of blending in here; they do everything in their power to live separately from the rest of us, right down to not learning the English language.
And what do we do about the millions of illegals who are already here?
That's a good question, and it deserves good answers - one of which is to hold all American employers accountable if they hire "illegals."
Walter R. Milanicz
Build Metro system for Red Line corridor
Before Baltimore proceeds further with the Red Line project, we must first study heavy-rail alternatives (systems such as Baltimore's Metro line) ("Light rail's readiness," April 19).
The Maryland Transit Administration and the Citizens Planning and Housing Administration have implied that heavy-rail projects aren't being considered or built in cities such as Baltimore ("MTA seeks input on east-west transit line," April 15 and "More bus route changes stalled," April 13).
However, San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is smaller than Baltimore, recently opened a new subway system, and Honolulu and Indianapolis, both much smaller than Baltimore, are considering heavy-rail systems.
And indeed, after adjusting for increases as a result of newly built light rail systems, heavy-rail ridership across the country has actually grown faster than light rail ridership.
The mentality of "If we built the Red Line cheaply enough, it will get funded" is bogus. Projects get funded based on how much they shorten people's trips for the money expended.
Today, it takes more than twice as much time to get downtown from Hunt Valley on the light rail as from Owings Mills on the Metro.
And trains lumbering 10 miles per hour down Fleet Street wouldn't save people time, so few people would choose to ride them.
However, the proposal of the MTA Citizens Advisory Committee would attract riders with trains that would travel approximately 28 miles per hour.
The CAC's rail route would travel from western Baltimore County through Camden Station, then north to Penn Station and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
We believe it could attract triple the ridership and induce more development than the alternatives under study.
Light rail is great for Phoenix, with its wide streets, but narrow streets and high density make the areas to be served by the Red Line best-suited to be a heavy-rail corridor.
With a looming energy crisis necessitating increased use of public transportation, a light rail system's limited capacity could be exhausted quickly and painfully.
Then locals may again rightly scratch their heads and complain, "Why didn't we build a real subway system?"
Edward Cohen Mercedes Eugenia Baltimore
The writers are presidents, respectively, of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore and of the Greater Northwest Community Coalition.
Wheelchair athlete wins an unfair edge
Reading The Sun's front-page article about wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden's triumphant trouncing of her pedestrian opponents - fellow high-schoolers who actually participated in a footrace with their feet - I was somewhat baffled that there was no mention of a dissenting point of view: i.e., that it seems quite obvious that in the longer races, Ms. McFadden has an enormous and unfair advantage over competitors who compete without the benefit of a world-class, finely tuned racing machine ("Thanks to injunction, teen is off to the races," April 20).
U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis' decision to allow Ms. McFadden to compete may have been made with compassion - and perhaps in good faith - but unfortunately, it seems, without much common sense or regard for the problematic ramifications his ruling would set in motion.
While almost everyone certainly has the same compassion, and even admiration, for Ms. McFadden - as she undoubtedly is a courageous and extraordinary young woman - the plain and simple fact is that allowing her to employ a mechanical device with wheels in a footrace in which everyone else is using only a pair of sneakers and running shorts not only is unfair to the able-bodied athletes who have spent countless grueling hours training and pushing themselves to the limit, it is patently absurd.
Working to combat hospital infections
The Sun's article "Tracking hospital infections" (April 14) discussed public reporting of hospital infections, and noted that reporting doesn't ensure improved performance. But it failed to mention that Maryland has been a national leader in seeking ways to reduce and - where possible - eliminate infections.
The Maryland Patient Safety Center is leading this crusade.
By sharing best practices and educating key hospital personnel, the safety center is accelerating efforts to make hospitals as safe as humanly possible.
Just last month, the center's second annual conference drew 1,100 health care providers from every Maryland hospital to sessions on safety solutions, accountability, best practices and ways to reduce hospital infections.
Last year, 52 Maryland hospital teams took part in a collaborative effort to reduce infections in their intensive care units.
As a result, ICUs in Maryland registered sharp declines in ventilator-related pneumonias and intravenous-line infections.
Now the focus is on reducing hospital-based bacterial infections and reducing infections in emergency departments.
William F. Minogue
The writer is director of the Maryland Patient Safety Center.
Scientology strives to cut birth stress
I was disappointed by Susan Reimer's misinformed remarks about Scientology ("With a baby, a quiet Katie is a tall order," April 20).
The issue of being quiet in the delivery room and in hospitals in general is very serious. And it is not a new concept.
For instance, an April 17 article in USA Today talks about hospitals - in New York, Oregon, Atlanta and even Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore - that are trying to reduce noise wherever possible to assist in their patients' comfort and to help lessen stress.
Scientology's principle has exactly the same point - to assist in making the environment around a mother giving birth a quiet and peaceful to lessen the stress for the mother and the baby.
Scientologists and hospitals are in step with each other on this issue.
And Scientologists are loving parents who keep their newborns close to them from the moment of birth.
The Rev. Susan Taylor
The writer is president of the Church of Scientology of Washington.
Use churches to aid struggling city areas
As clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore for almost eight years, I have watched the sad progression of drug addiction cause some of our deepest and most profound social problems - ones that gnaw at the foundations of our society and that establish a breeding ground for crime to thrive.
I have also witnessed the efforts of state and local government to eradicate these problems by funding and sponsoring a variety of programs designed to bring counseling and treatment to those caught in the web of addiction.
While these programs are certainly well-meaning, I have often questioned whether the full effects of each program's funding are truly felt within the community they are intended to aid.
For example, while these funds are often intended to help our most sorely pressed neighborhoods, the actual dollars are usually given to institutions headquartered in areas far distant from the neighborhoods they are paid to help.
Their employees almost always live and spend their income in their own neighborhoods, which are far away from the blight and hopelessness they must visit for eight hours each day.
To maximize the effect of the funding dedicated to helping certain areas of our city, it is essential that it should go right to the neighborhoods where the services are performed.
To serve as a new dissemination point for this aid, new institutions could be created and built within the neighborhoods where the need is greatest. However, a much less expensive proposition would be to utilize organizations already located within the community.
In my opinion, our churches are the logical choice to serve as the focal point for the distribution of these services.
African-American churches are often the only stable and respected institutions that still exist in many of our downtrodden neighborhoods.
Using and building upon their existing personnel, who often live in the communities around their churches, programs could be administered through church facilities (modernized, if necessary, with government funding), while a large number of the social welfare professionals could be employed directly by the local church and live in the neighborhood in which they work.
Obviously, such a sea change would not take place without controversy.
Yet I believe that if we are to realistically address these long-standing problems, we must utilize long-standing institutions.
Only in this manner will our communities obtain the maximum yield from each dollar committed to their revitalization.
Frank M. Conaway
Re-regulating the local electricity market
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s "deal" on Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s 72 percent rate increase won't really save consumers money, and because it fails to address the underlying root problem - deregulation - the plan would subject ratepayers to high market-rate prices in 2008 ("Rate deal reached," April 21).
Unless the faults of deregulation are addressed, consumers will be stuck in this endless cycle of big rate increases.
But The Sun's recent article "Doubts are raised on re-regulation" (April 19) casts doubt on the feasibility of Maryland re-regulating electricity markets, and questions whether consumers would benefit from such a move.
The article fails to mention that a major legal filing on April 10 before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by a coalition of groups representing tens of thousands of Maryland residents answers the questions reporter Paul Adams asks.
Our landmark filing argues that regulators have the authority to attach many conditions to approval of the proposed merger between Constellation Energy Group and Florida's FPL Group.
One such condition would be returning to BGE's control the power plants that Maryland unwisely allowed it to shift to its parent company, Constellation Energy.
Regulators can easily mandate that the power plants be swapped back to BGE at the cost that Constellation paid for the plants, minus their depreciation.
Our filing alleges that the asset transfer could occur at that old price, and not at the new "market" price, because the rates currently charged by Constellation Energy may be violating the federal "just and reasonable" rate standard.
That means that Constellation's record profits may be in violation of federal law, and therefore Constellation Energy may not be automatically entitled to any market gains on the value of the facilities.
Transferring the power plants at cost would guarantee lower prices for Maryland ratepayers in the short and long term, and is a better option than crossing our fingers and praying that "deregulation" will somehow work in the future.
The people of Baltimore have a right to know that re-regulation is not only a legally viable option but the only solution to the state's energy crisis.
The writer is acting director of Public Citizen's energy program.
So the best deal the governor could get from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. was a worse deal than the one the legislature had brokered.
I would have thought that the governor could exert a little more influence. But he has always stuck with his pro-business mantra, and this deal backs that up.
The ratepayers in this state payed a substantial part of the cost of the construction of the Maryland power plants that produce some of the cheapest power in the nation.
However, we now can't benefit from this because under the deregulation deal brokered years ago by a clueless group of politicians, Constellation Energy was given the plants - actually, it was paid millions of dollars to take them.
And now its response is somewhere along the lines of, "Let them eat cake."
I'll survive these price increases, but the stress they will put on the elderly, including my parents and in-laws, is criminal.
While the executives and investors of BGE and Constellation sit back and bask in their windfall, golden parachutes and all, our representatives have done a grave disservice to their citizens, particularly the most vulnerable among us.
If it were up to me, I would stop the merger between Constellation Energy and Florida's FPL Group.
Then maybe some of the money for the ridiculous payouts to executives that are part of that deal could be used to pay for rate relief.
I am very disappointed with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s plan to deal with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s rate increases.
The governor's plan merely defers the problem without resolving anything and asks the ratepayers to pay the interest on the money borrowed to defer much of the rate increase until the election year is over.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan is right: Constellation Energy is a monopoly and should be re-regulated.
Deregulation was a mistake and will never reduce costs to BGE consumers.
This entire episode illustrates how a monopoly will act to its own advantage while entirely ignoring the impact on its customers.
The governor must understand this, and one can only wonder why he isn't recalling the legislature with re-regulation as a goal.
Ernest C. Wilson