1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2008
  4. July

News in July 2008

Browse by year

2008

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Baby Boomers Face Longer Lives with Fewer Assets

    Many may outlive their money

    People in their 50s and 60s today can look forward to longer lifespans than even their parents' generation. But a new industry-funded study suggests that baby boomers will need to tighten their belts as they age, since they are likely to outlive their assets.

    The study, conducted by Ernst & Young on behalf of Americans for Secure Retirement, found that almost three out of five new middle-class retirees will outlive their financial assets if they attempt to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.

    The study also finds that middle-income Americans entering retirement now will have to reduce their standard of living by an average of 24 percent to minimize the likelihood of outliving their financial assets. Those Americans seven years out from retirement are even less prepared and the study estimates that they will have to reduce their standard of living by even more, an average of 37 percent, the study said.

    These reductions will be necessary even when assuming that retirees can maintain the same standard of living with income equal to 59 to 71 percent of their pre-retirement wages.

    "Many Americans envision a retirement where their lifestyle continues much as before," said Tom Neubig of Ernst & Young. "Our work shows that this is not a realistic expectation and that, with the current state of savings and potentially very long life expectancies, many retirees will have to cut back far more on expenditures than they had ever expected."

    The study concludes that retirees have a much more secure retirement if they have some type of annuity or defined benefit plan, of the type marketed by the sponsors of the study. However, consulting with an independent financial planner, not affiliated with any type of investment instrument, is usually the best way to find the best fit for your individual needs.

    AARP survey

    An AARP survey finds more Americans plan to put off retirement and work longer.

    The decline in both the stock market and the real estate market has hit many baby boomers hard, to the point that an increasing number of people approaching retirement age think the prudent course is to keep working. The survey found that 20 percent of people age 55 to 64 plan to delay retirement because of the economic downturn.

    Other key findings of the Ernst & Young study include:

    • Persons that are 5-10 years away from retirement have a higher risk of outliving their financial assets than those currently at retirement age. To avoid outliving their retirement assets, these workers aged 55 to 59 will have to increase their savings substantially or work beyond age 65. Otherwise, they will have to reduce their standard of living significantly more than today's retirees to minimize the risk of exhausting their financial assets.

    • Married couples are more likely to outlive their financial assets, due to their longer joint life spans, than single households.

    • Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota citizens have the highest likelihood of outliving retirement savings.

    • D.C., Rhode Island, Utah and New York citizens have the least likelihood of outliving retirement savings.

    People in their 50s and 60s today can look forward to longer lifespans than even their parents' generation. But a new industry-funded study suggests that b...
    Read lessRead more

    IndyMac Federal Stops Foreclosures

    FDIC chief wants to keep homeowners in their homes

    IndyMac reopened under the control of federal regulators yesterday and there was little doubt who was in charge.

    The failed California bank stopped all pending foreclosures at the direction of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) chair Sheila Bair, who has been prodding lenders to find more ways to keep financially-troubled homeowners in their homes.

    Bair said that IndyMac Federal will "very aggressively pursue loan-modification strategies" for homeowners who are stuck with mortgages they can't afford. She said the goal would be to make those mortgages "affordable on a long-term sustainable basis."

    When the FDIC seized it Friday, IndyMac had about $15 billion in outstanding mortgages. It was also servicing another $185 billion. The FDIC won't have as much flexibility with the loans the bank was servicing but Bair said the agency would "look at each one" to try to find a solution that would stave off foreclosure.

    While that may be good news for borrowers, depositors weren't as pleased. Long lines stretched down the street at many IndyMac branches as consumers rushed to withdraw their funds when the bank reopened yesterday.

    It wasn't really necessary for depositors to withdraw their funds, as deposits of up to $100,000 -- more in some cases -- are guaranteed by FDIC, but many customers were taking no chances.

    Whatever steps FDIC takes to clean up the bank's operations will be temporary, as its primary goal is to sell the bank's assets within 90 days.

    Motormouth?

    While the IndyMac clean-up continued, so did the blame game. The office of Thrift Supervision yesterday pinned blame for the bank's failure on Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

    Agency officials didn't leak their opinion, or have it attributed to "a senior official" within the agency. No, they put it right in their press release.

    "The immediate cause of the closing was a deposit run that began and continued after the public release of a June 26 letter to the OTS and the FDIC from Senator Charles Schumer of New York," the news release stated. "The letter expressed concerns about IndyMac's viability. In the following 11 business days, depositors withdrew more than $1.3 billion from their accounts."

    If that wasn't plain enough, OTS Director John Reich underlined the point.

    "This institution failed today due to a liquidity crisis," Reich said. "Although this institution was already in distress, I am troubled by any interference in the regulatory process."

    For his part, Schumer didn't take the criticism lying down. The senior senator from New York fired back that if OTS and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation had been doing their jobs, the meltdown might have been avoided.

    IndyMac had been in a precarious financial situation that was caused, in part, by an unprecedented stress in the residential real estate market, combined with the evaporation of the non-agency secondary mortgage market in August of 2007. The OTS said it had significant concerns with the bank's funding strategy, had directed appropriate changes and was finalizing a new set of enforcement actions to address its numerous problems.

    As a result of an OTS examination that began in January 2008, the OTS said it deemed IndyMac to be in troubled condition. An overwhelming majority of problem institutions are able to successfully modify their operations and business plans, work closely with their regulator and eventually return to a healthy condition, the agency said.

    IndyMac had reacted to market conditions and OTS concerns in November 2007 by changing its operations and business plan to build a foundation for recovery, the OTS said, adding that IndyMac was actively seeking to arrange a significant capital infusion or find a buyer.

    "The recent release of the senator's letter undermined the public confidence essential for a financial institution and took away the time IndyMac needed to pursue a recovery," the agency said in its news release.

    IndyMac reopened under the control of federal regulators yesterday and there was little doubt who was in charge....
    Read lessRead more

    Feds Study Hyundai Airbag Failures

    Several Hyundai models the focus of safety probes

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating airbag failures in the 2001 and 2002 Hyundai Elantra.

    More than 150,000 of the economy-priced Korean sedans are covered by the investigation.

    "The airbag system is susceptible to airbag light illumination and airbag non-deployment or inadvertent deployment from liquid contamination of the airbag control module," according to the NHTSA Web site.

    The safety agency reported two fatalities occurred in crashes involving the Elantra when the airbag warning light was illuminated.

    In a previous report earlier this year, NHTSA cited the results of the investigation of those deadly accidents.

    "Post inspection and analysis indicate the airbag light had illuminated prior to the crash on both vehicles," NHTSA said on its Web site. In the first accident, "the center console covering the airbag control module was removed. The module and the main connector were covered with a brown sticky substance, possibly spilled liquid since the cup holders are positioned above the control module," according to NHTSA.

    The NHTSA Web site reported that the "recovered fault codes indicate a prior short circuit condition that most likely would shut down the airbag control module," and prevent airbag deployment.

    In the second fatal crash, NHTSA was told the airbag warning light had come on several months prior to the accident.

    The safety agency and Hyundai have received 501 consumer complaints concerning the airbag system failures in the Elantra. The automaker has repaired the airbag system in 9,110 Elantra sedans under warranty claims, according to the NHTSA Web site.

    The safety agency stated that it is also aware of "6 incidents of seat belt pretensioner and airbag deployments due to liquid spills," in the Elantra.

    The owner of a 2002 Hyundai Elantra GLS in Hartford, New York reported a recent airbag warning light failure to ConsumerAfairs.Com.

    The dealer told the Elantra owner that the "airbag system will not function" because the airbag module was no longer working. The airbag repair cost, paid by the consumer, was $560.

    Other models

    The Elantra is not the only Hyundai to experience an airbag failure according to a ConsumerAffairs.Com reader in Miami.

    "Both of my daughters were involved in a roll-over accident in their 2006 Hyundai Tucson, he said. "The impact caused the Tucson to roll-over several times. None of the airbags deployed in the accident," he told ConsumerAffairs.Com.

    "Thankfully, my daughters escaped with only minor injuries but I cannot believe not one airbag deployed given the severity of the accident," he said.

    The Hyundai dealer told his Miami customer that the airbag failure was "a safety measure to reduce further injury."

    A Canadian owner of a Hyundai Santa Fe also experienced an airbag warning light failure in his SUV. So far, the Hyundai dealer is unable to repair the warning light problem, he said.

    Hyundai customers relations "ordered a new harness for wiring," the owner said but there is "no improvement."

    The Canadian Hyundai owner is demanding the Korean automaker refund the money he paid for the Santa Fe and take the vehicle back.

    "This vehicle has been faulty since its delivery to me, he said. "After 5 attempts to fix the vehicle even the service manager is at wits end."

    Suspension failures

    NHTSA is also investigating Hyundai vehicles for catastrophic suspension failure.

    Federal safety investigators are examining consumer complaints of suspension failure, some at high rates of speed, in the 2001 model year Hyundai Santa Fe.

    Two consumers reported to NHTSA that their vehicle "nearly rolled over" following the suspension failure.

    The cause of the failures appears to be excessive corrosion in the vehicle suspension and federal safety investigators want to know if the Hyundai Santa Fe suspension rusts to the point of breaking.

    NHTSA has received allegations that the subframe on the Hyundai Sonata can rust to the point of causing suspension failure as well.

    The agency has received 40 consumer complaints about severe corrosion in the 1999 through 2002 model year Sonatas.

    Consumers have reported "fist-sized holes in the frame" that can cause the suspension control arm to detach from the vehicle, according to federal safety investigators.

    The result can be "wheel collapse or separation, half shaft detachment resulting in sudden vehicle disablement and or steering anomalies," according to the NHTSA Web site.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating airbag failures in the 2001 and 2002 Hyundai Elantra....
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Feds To 'Backstop' Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

      Government to expand credit line to the big lenders

      The Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department have stepped into the escalating mortgage crises, outlining steps to bolster mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and, they hope, restore investor confidence.

      Among the steps unveiled by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson over the weekend are expanding the government's line of credit to the two entities and allowing the government to purchase shares of the companies, if need be.

      "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play a central role in our housing finance system and must continue to do so in their current form as shareholder-owned companies," Paulson said in a statement. "Their support for the housing market is particularly important as we work through the current housing correction."

      In recent weeks both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac known in the industry as GSEs have had trouble raising money, since few investors seemed willing to buy their debt. Without cash from investors, the two companies have less money to lend, resulting in fewer mortgages.

      The timing of the announcement was made for maximum impact, as both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are auctioning a combined $3 billion in securities on Monday. Paulson said he has consulted with both regulators and key members of Congress in coming up with the three-part plan.

      "First, as a liquidity backstop, the plan includes a temporary increase in the line of credit the GSEs have with Treasury. Treasury would determine the terms and conditions for accessing the line of credit and the amount to be drawn," Paulson said. "Second, to ensure the GSEs have access to sufficient capital to continue to serve their mission, the plan includes temporary authority for Treasury to purchase equity in either of the two GSEs if needed."

      Paulson said use of either the line of credit or the equity investment would carry terms and conditions necessary to protect the taxpayer.

      "Third, to protect the financial system from systemic risk going forward, the plan strengthens the GSE regulatory reform legislation currently moving through Congress by giving the Federal Reserve a consultative role in the new GSE regulator's process for setting capital requirements and other prudential standards," Paulson said.

      The crisis on confidence is being driven partly by the seizure of mortgage lender IndyMac, taken over by agents of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Friday, becoming the second largest bank failure in U.S. history. The bank reopens today as IndyMac Federal FSB, operating under FDIC conservatorship.

      Under federal law, individual deposits are insured up to $100,000 $100,000 per depositor plus $250,000 per retirement account.

      At the time of its seizure, IndyMac had total assets of $32.01 billion and total deposits of $19.06 billion as of March 31, 2008.

      As conservator, the FDIC said it will operate IndyMac Federal Bank, FSB to maximize the value of the institution for a future sale and to maintain banking services in the communities formerly served by IndyMac Bank, F.S.B.

      The Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department have stepped into the escalating mortgage crises, outlining steps to bolster mortgage giants Fannie Ma...
      Read lessRead more

      Feds Seize Mortgage Lender IndyMac

      FDIC takes over as IndyMac becomes the second-largest bank failure in history

      Mortgage lender IndyMac was seized by agents of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Friday, becoming the second largest bank failure in U.S. history. The FDIC was named conservator.

      The agency said it will transfer insured deposits and substantially all the assets of the Pasadena, California bank to IndyMac Federal Bank, FSB. Brokered deposits will be held by the FDIC and those insured deposits will be paid off when the insurance determination is complete.

      Under federal law, individual deposits are insured up to $100,000 $100,000 per depositor plus $250,000 per retirement account.

      At the time of its seizure, IndyMac had total assets of $32.01 billion and total deposits of $19.06 billion as of March 31, 2008.

      As conservator, the FDIC said it will operate IndyMac Federal Bank, FSB to maximize the value of the institution for a future sale and to maintain banking services in the communities formerly served by IndyMac Bank, F.S.B.

      Insured depositors and borrowers will automatically become customers of IndyMac Federal, FSB and will continue to have uninterrupted customer service and access to their funds by ATM, debit cards and writing checks in the same manner as before, the agency said.

      However, IndyMac depositors will have no access to on-line and phone banking services this weekend. These services will be operational again on Monday. Loan customers should continue making loan payments as usual, FDIC said in a statement.

      Quick collapse

      Earlier this week, IndyMac Bancorp. announced it was laying off more than half its staff and virtually abandoning the mortgage business.

      CEO Michael W. Perry said the company was struggling with the continuing erosion of the housing and mortgage markets.

      It's one of the latest aftershocks of the meltdown of the mortgage market. The stocks of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the huge government-sponsored entities that buy much of the paper in the mortgage industry, sank yesterday after a warning that they could need to raise as much as $75 billion in new capital.

      IndyMac was founded in 1985 and became the leader in alt-A mortgages, those written to consumers whose credit was good if not outstanding, on terms that included adjustable interest rates, flexible pay plans and other features that often meant consumers' loan balances grew instead of declining over time.

      The company was also heavily into subprime and home-equity loans and often required little or no documentation of borrowers' income, critics said.

      The Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy organization, said IndyMac's decline was caused by unsound and abusive lending practices.

      Mortgage lender IndyMac was seized by agents of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Friday, becoming the second largest bank failure in U.S. history....
      Read lessRead more

      Melted Gold Isn't Always Green

      Jewelry may be worth more than its weight in gold

      No matter how high the price of gold has soared, it's never a good idea to send off your antique jewelry and coins to strangers. Those who do could not only be taking a huge risk.

      As the value of gold increases, some consumers are seeking to cash in with a process called gold melting. In gold melting, consumers sell the gold contained in their valuables, such as outdated bracelets, unwanted wedding bands, or a single earring without a mate.

      But to a jewelry collector, your great grandmother's out-of-style gold brooch may be worth a lot more than its "melt price." Likewise, a coin collector may find your gold coins to be worth much more than simply the weight of the gold they contain.

      That's why Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers says consumers should resist the temptation to sell an item before it reaches its potential value.

      The value of gold and other precious metals is at near-record levels. If you decide to sell your precious metals, make sure you take the time to protect yourself and get the most for your valuables.

      To avoid gold melting scams, follow these tips:

      Get an appraisal. Have your gold assessed by an accredited appraiser or a neutral jeweler or collector to find the accurate weight and gold content.

      Find a reputable buyer. Jewelry stores generally offer better prices than pawnshops. Search for complaints filed against a company with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org and other online consumer sites.

      Beware of scams. Scam artists are also tapping into the gold rush. They're using phone solicitations, Internet sites, mail advertisements and Tupperware-style gold parties to trick consumers into selling their gold for less than its true value. Some mail-in companies promise consumers cash in exchange for sending in their unwanted gold jewelry and coins. If you mail your gold, however, you risk losing it completely or not getting a fair price for it.

      Determine the fair markup price. Check the commodities markets for that day's spot price. Market prices are based on pure 24-karat gold, so the higher the karat, the more valuable it is. Gold less than 24K is discounted proportionately: 18K is 75% pure gold, 14K is 58%, and 10K is 41.7% gold. The scrap price is based on the value of the metal alone and doesn't reflect the craftsmanship or antique value of the item.

      Shop around. Get at least three estimates from different jewelers. Ask jewelers how much they offer for pure gold, how they calculate the value of a gold item, and what percentage commission they charge (typically about 10%).

      Consider the consequences. When you melt your gold jewelry, you lose all of its retail (and sentimental) value. Your antique jewelry may be worth more than its weight in gold. Think twice before you melt it.

      No matter how high the price of gold has soared, it's never a good idea to send off your antique jewelry and coins to strangers. Those who do could not onl...
      Read lessRead more

      FDA Wants Black Box Warning on Antibiotics

      Tendinitis, other side effects can occur

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has requested a "black box" warning on certain antibiotics, alerting consumers to the increased risk of tendinitis and tendon rupture but Public Citizen said the agency should have taken the step years ago.

      The agency has also determined that it is necessary for manufacturers of the drugs to provide a medication guide to patients about possible side effects.

      The antibiotics in question are flouroquinolone drugs, which are powerful antibacterials. Among the best known drugs in that class are Cipro, manufactured by Bayer, and Levaquin, which is produced by Ortho-McNeil.

      The FDA has notified the manufacturers of these drugs that a "Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS)" is necessary to ensure that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks. The medication guide will be considered to be an element of the REMS.

      Sidney Wolfe, M.D., Director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, noted that his organization had asked the FDA to require the black box warning nearly two years ago.

      "While we are pleased the agency has moved forward on part of the petition we filed in August 2006, there is still more that the FDA must do to make doctors and, indirectly, patients aware that fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as Cipro, Levaquin and others, can cause serious tendon ruptures and tendinitis," Wolfe said.

      Wolfe said the FDA has not responded to a request that it also send a warning letter to physicians clearly describing possible adverse reactions, such as tendon pain, so that patients can be switched to alternative treatments before tendons rupture.

      Troubled

      "We are troubled that the FDA is not doing everything within its power to prevent more people from needlessly suffering disabling tendon ruptures. Nothing could be simpler and more effective than a letter to doctors in addition to what the FDA has proposed," he said.

      Since Public Citizen filed its petition, more than a hundred cases of tendon ruptures have been reported to the FDA that might have been prevented had the FDA acted with more urgency, Wolfe charged.

      "From November 1997 through December 2007, there have been 407 reported cases of tendon rupture and 341 cases of tendinitis in patients using fluoroquinolone antibiotics," he said. "Because only a small fraction of cases are typically reported to the FDA, the actual number of ruptures and other tendon injuries attributable to the antibiotic is much higher."

      Fluoroquinolones are drugs approved for the treatment or prevention of certain bacterial infections. Like other antibacterial drugs, fluoroquinolones do not treat viral infections such as colds or flu.

      "Fluoroquinolones are effective in treating certain bacterial infections, but health care professionals and patients need to be aware of the increased risk associated with the use of these drugs of developing tendinitis and tendon rupture, particularly for certain patient populations," said Edward Cox, M.D., director, Office of Antimicrobial Products, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

      "The FDA believes it is important to highlight and strengthen information regarding possible side effects of fluoroquinolones because it may affect decisions about the relative risks and benefits associated with these products."

      The FDA has conducted a new analysis of the available literature and post-marketing adverse event reports. This new analysisreconfirmsthat use of fluoroquinolones is associated with an increased risk of tendon rupture.

      It also demonstrates that despite the current warning of tendon rupture in the labeling for the fluoroquinolones, large numbers of tendon-related adverse events continue to be reported. The FDA considers this new analysis to be "new safety information" as defined in federal law.

      The FDA also issued a bulletin to alert health care professionals to the increased risk of tendinitis and tendon rupture in patients taking these drugs and to highlight new information concerning who may be at higher risk for this side effect.

      The risk of developing fluoroquinolone-associated tendinitis and tendon rupture is further increased in people older than 60, in those taking corticosteroid drugs, and in kidney, heart, and lung transplant recipients.

      Patients experiencing pain, swelling, inflammation of a tendon or tendon rupture should be advised to stop taking their fluoroquinolone medication and to contact their health care professional promptly about changing their antimicrobial therapy. Patients should also avoid exercise and using the affected area at the first sign of tendon pain, swelling, or inflammation.

      Manufacturers are being notified of the need to change labeling so that all of the drugs in the class carry uniform updated warning language.

      Fluoroquinolone manufacturers are required to submit the safety labeling changes, including the strengthened warnings and the Medication Guide, to the FDA within 30 days, or to provide a reason why they do not believe such labeling changes are necessary.

      Health care professionals should consider the potential benefits and risks for each patient, the FDA said. While most patients tolerate these medicines well, occasionally some will develop other serious adverse reactions that may include convulsions, hallucinations, depression, abnormalities in heart rhythm, or severe diarrhea.

      Lawsuit

      Public Citizen sued the FDA in January for not responding to its petition in a timely manner.

      "There is no excuse for the FDA not fully complying with our petition," Wolfe said. "No one in the medical community disputes that these antibiotics can cause tendon ruptures, and the FDA has not learned anything new since we filed our petition and lawsuit. It shouldnt require legal action to get the FDA to do its job."



      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has requested a "black box" warning on certain antibiotics, alerting consumers to the increased risk of tendinitis an...
      Read lessRead more

      Feds Investigate Suspension Failure in Hyundai Santa Fe

      Some failures occurred at high speeds

      Federal safety investigators are examining consumer complaints of suspension failure, some at high rates of speed, in the 2001 model year Hyundai Santa Fe.

      Two consumers reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that their vehicle "nearly rolled over" following the suspension failure.

      NHTSA has received six consumer complaints about failed suspension parts in the Hyundai SUV that claim the rear trailing arm in the vehicle failed because of excessive corrosion.

      Safety investigators want to know if the Santa Fe suspension rusts to the point of breaking.

      Three people reported that they lost control of their Santa Fe while traveling at speeds of 55 mph or more.

      The safety agency has opened a "preliminary evaluation" of the complaints which could eventually lead to the recall of 25,000 Santa Fes.

      NHTSA is also investigating allegations that the subframe on the Hyundai Sonata can rust to the point of causing suspension failure.

      The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) at NHTSA has received 40 consumer complaints about severe corrosion in the 1999 through 2002 model year Sonatas.

      Consumers have reported "fist-sized holes in the frame" that can cause the suspension control arm to detach from the vehicle, according to federal safety investigators.

      The result can be "wheel collapse or separation, half shaft detachment resulting in sudden vehicle disablement and or steering anomalies," according to the NHTSA Web site.

      The federal agency has also received reports of corrosion in the engine cradle and front cross-member.

      NHTSA said that "there appears to be an increasing trend in failures, with 10 reported so far in 2008, 19 in 2007, 11 in 2006 and 1 in 2005."

      Most of the complaints come from states where large amounts of salt are used on roads during snowy months, according to NHTSA.

      The "salt belt" states according to NHTSA are Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

      Some consumers report discovering the severe corrosion during routine maintenance such as an oil change but the majority of the complaints "allege that the corrosion was not detected until it resulted in suspension failure" or a wheel came off, according to NHTSA.

      Sonata owners reported traveling at speeds from 5 to 65 mph when they encountered the suspension failure. Some of the incidents "resulted in the vehicle becoming disabled in the traffic lane at night with the driver and child stuck in the car," according to the NHTSA Web sit. "Passing traffic swerved around the vehicle at high speeds," NHTSA said.

      One consumer told federal safety regulators that the Hyundai Sonata was "stuck in the middle of a dangerous intersection."

      Another reported the Sonata was so badly rusted the vehicle was declared a total loss by the insurance company after the lower control arm completely separated from the vehicle "causing the half-shaft to detach from the transmission and resulting in damage to the wheel housing and quarter panel from the detached wheel.

      Federal safety investigators are examining consumer complaints of suspension failure, some at high rates of speed, in the 2001 model year Hyundai Santa Fe....
      Read lessRead more

      Obama Calls For Bankruptcy Law Reform

      Says process should be improved for military, disaster victims

      Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wants to implement reforms to bankruptcy law in order to make the process smoother for military families and..

      Solar Panels to Power Prius Air Conditioning

      Toyota hopes new option helps it maintain its green image

      Toyota is considering solar panels to power air conditioning for the Prius hybrid when the third generation of the car goes on sale next year.

      The solar panels will be available on the most expensive models of the Prius and will supply a portion of the electrical power required to run the air conditioning system in the hybrid.

      The symbolic gesture is part of Toyota's effort to maintain a green image as the leading producer of hybrids.

      The price of the solar panel option is not yet available. Solar panels are made of silicon and are expensive.

      Mazda offered a solar panel option in the early 1990s to ventilate cars while parked on hot summer days. The option was discontinued after a few years because of lack of interest.

      Sales of the Toyota Prius declined in June, in part because the automaker was unable to keep up with soaring demand for the hybrid. The waiting list for a new Prius now extends several months in many areas of the country.

      With the average gasoline price in the U.S. at $4.107 after 8 consecutive days of record highs, demand for the Prius is certain to continue to increase.

      The Prius first went on sale in Japan in late 1997 and arrived in the U.S. in 2000. Sales of the Prius have topped 1 million units worldwide.

      Toyota is considering solar panels to power air conditioning for the Prius hybrid when the third generation of the car goes on sale next year....
      Read lessRead more

      Emergency Regs Needed for Tracking Produce, Food Groups Say

      Traceability would speed response to outbreaks

      Using the same system that allows a supermarket cashier to identify a piece of produce at the checkout counter could also allow investigators to trace the origin of unsafe food, two consumer groups say.

      The pointed to the latest salmonella crisis, in which investigators' attention has recently shifted from tomatoes to jalapeño peppers after hundreds of consumers were sickened and millions of tomatoes were destroyed.

      The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America, in a letter to the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), argue that if fruits and vegetables can be tracked back up through the supply chain back to the farm, investigators would have an easier time nailing down the source of outbreaks of Salmonella, E. coli, and other dangerous pathogens.

      "Effective traceability labeling must encompass the multiple steps along the path from farm to table, including farm-of-origin, packer, distributor, and retailer," the groups wrote in a letter to Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach.

      "Such a system should use a standardized code for all FDA-regulated items to streamline investigations and ensure effective record-keeping by all entities along the production chain," the groups said.

      Simple system

      The groups say the system could be very simple: placing little stickers on fruits and vegetables at the point of origin. The industry already has standard price look-up codes, or PLUs, that retailers can use at the register. Tomatoes that bear a sticker with the number 4087 are red Roma tomatoes, for instance.

      Similar standardized codes could let retailers, food safety investigators, or even curious consumers know exactly what farm a given bunch of asparagus or bag of spinach hails from, the say.

      "Each outbreak causes huge losses, both for the consumers who become severely ill and for the growers, who often can't sell their products," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. ""Unfortunately, as this investigation has dragged on, the produce industry is reaping what it sowed when it sought and received special exemptions that allowed the industry to avoid the country of origin labeling requirements Congress passed in 2002."

      "While new requirements are scheduled to go into effect later this year, FDA needs to go beyond country of origin labeling and give public health officials the ability to trace produce from the fork back to the farm," DeWaal said.

      Wider net

      Although the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control are casting a wider net to locate the food source responsible for the current Salmonella outbreak, CSPI says the public should still follow the FDA's current advice which tomatoes to eat and which to avoid.

      "If FDA had put a traceability system in place two years ago following the spinach outbreak, this current investigation might be moving more quickly," said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America.

      "This latest outbreak demonstrates very clearly the need for the federal government to quickly and easily trace an implicated food to its source," he said.

      The letter from CFA and CSPI also urges the agency to require growers and packers to implement written food safety plans, similar to the hazard control plans that have proved successful in reducing bacterial contamination of fresh meat and poultry. CSPI has been encouraging the FDA to require such plans since 2006.

      When distributors mix and match produce from different sources, a practice called "repacking" in the industry, they should be required to maintain the identifying marks or labels that would allow FDA to determine the origin, according to the food safety groups.

      Since 1990, CSPI has tracked over 700 outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to produce items, including two dozen outbreaks linked to tomatoes that have caused more than 3,000 illnesses. While 869 have been sickened in the current outbreak, foodborne illness is dramatically underreported, so the actual number of illnesses is likely many times higher.

      Focus shifts

      Over the weekend, federal health officials said that maybe tomatoes weren't to blame for the odd strain of salmonella that has sickened hundreds of consumers after all.

      Stores pulled tomatoes off the shelves, restaurants filled dumpsters with them and shoppers shunned them, all as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they were trying to find the tomatoes that were causing the problem.

      But now, the CDC thinks that perhaps it's been something else causing trouble all along, the Wall Street Journal reports. Jalapeño peppers, maybe. Or maybe cilantro and Serrano peppers.

      The current theory making the rounds is that salsa prepared in restaurants may be the common thread that ties all the incidents together. After all, salsas is made with tomatoes. And jalapeño peppers. Cilantro too, come to think of it.

      The reason the CDC thinks this is that it has been interviewing people who got sick, asking them what they ate and when, and then looking for a common element that might explain the outbreak of the Saintpaul strain of salmonella, a relatively rare and rather virulent version of the disease.

      Consumer advocates have been irate for years with the apparently declining state of food safety in the U.S. Now restaurants and tomato growers are angry as well. They've lost millions of dollars and thrown away mountains of what may have been perfectly good produce.

      The FDA has been hedging its best for the past few weeks, saying it couldn't be certain tomatoes were the problem. The biggest clue? Although tomatoes had been taken off the table, people were still getting sick.

      So now, the prevailing theory is that maybe it's something that is commonly eaten with tomatoes. Salsa, after all, is made with tomatoes and other produce like, oh, jalapeño peppers.

      CDC is hedging its bets this time around, saying it is looking at "certain restaurants" but refusing to name them. It's dropping little hints, though, saying it's not looking at chain restaurants.

      All of this frustrates restaurateurs no end.

      "To blame salsa brings nothing to the table," a Texas Restaurant Association executive told the Journal. "There's all kinds of salsas."

      Symptoms of salmonella include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever.

      It can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections particularly in young children, frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy people often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, the organism can get into the bloodstream and produce more severe illnesses.



      Using the same system that allows a supermarket cashier to identify a piece of produce at the checkout counter could also allow investigators to trace the ...
      Read lessRead more

      Shortness of Breath Shouldn't Be Ignored

      The Healthy Geezer

      Q.My wife has complained of being short of breath while shopping in the mall. She says its just a sign of age, but Im concerned about her.

      A. The likelihood of suffering shortness of breath or dyspnea (disp-nee-ah) becomes greater the older we get. As we age, our air passages get smaller, chest muscles weaken, and our lungs become less flexible. These changes reduce our air flow.

      Dyspnea should happen rarely to healthy people. It can be brought on by exhaustive exertion, high altitude, extreme temperatures. Otherwise, shortness of breath is commonly a sign of a medical problem. So your wife should get this symptom checked by a doctor immediately.

      Dyspnea is associated with the major breathing disorders that can develop in seniors. These disorders are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary thromboembolism and aspiration.

      COPD involves difficulty in exhaling. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are COPDs. Emphysema makes the small air spaces in the lungs collapse. Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways.

      Most asthma is caused by allergies to airborne particles such as dust and mold. The airways become inflamed, which causes them to spasm. Unlike COPD, asthma is reversible.

      Diagnosing conditions in seniors can be challenging, because asthma in older people is often difficult to distinguish from emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In addition, many seniors have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

      Obstructive sleep apnea is common in older adults. People with sleep apnea stop breathing for as long as 30 seconds at a time. These interruptions can happen hundreds of times a night. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax, narrowing your airway and cutting off your breathing.

      In pulmonary fibrosis, the lungs air sacs become filled with scar tissue. The damage is permanent. Pulmonary fibrosis usually begins in your 40s or 50s, but can develop at any age.

      Pulmonary thromboembolism is a life-endangering blockage of a blood vessel by a blood clot that travels often from the legs to the lung and damages tissue. Pulmonary thromboembolism is most common after age 65.

      When something from your mouth goes down the wrong pipe, you have aspiration. Aspiration is inhaling food particles, liquids or bacteria. If the amount of aspirated material exceeds the ability of the immune system to handle it, you can get a serious lung infection.

      Symptoms of shortness of breath can be caused by a variety of abnormalities in organs other than the lungs.

      When the heart fails, it loses its ability pump blood. This elevates pressure in the blood vessels around the lung. Sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, causing shortness of breath, especially when a person is lying down.

      A low red-blood-cell count causes dyspnea because the red cells carry oxygen. When their number is extremely low, your body doesnt get enough oxygen.

      In addition, a high thyroid level, shock, systemic infection, kidney or chronic liver problems, stroke, nerve and muscle disorders, and anxiety can bring on dyspnea.

      The following are some symptoms that indicate a medical condition: shortness of breath at rest, with exercise, when lying down or upon exposure to allergens. In addition, you may have a problem if shortness of breath is accompanied by: chest pain or discomfort, arm pain, jaw pain, neck pain, swelling in the ankles and feet, fluid weight gain or unintentional weight loss with reduced appetite, unusual fatigue, sweating, yellow or green phlegm, blood in spit, fever, wheezing, persistent cough, blue lips or fingertips, fainting.

      All Rights Reserved © 2008 by Fred Cicetti



      The likelihood of suffering shortness of breath becomes greater the older we get. As we age, our air passages get smaller, chest muscles weaken, and our lu...
      Read lessRead more

      Study: Coffee Helps Replenish Muscles After Exercise

      Caffeine stimulates glycogen, rebuilding fuel for the next day's workout

      More good news for coffee drinkers. A study released last month found no ill effects from coffee and now Australian researchers say coffee can be just the thing after strenuous exercise.

      Researchers say that glycogen, the muscle's primary fuel source during exercise, is replenished more rapidly when athletes ingest both carbohydrate and caffeine after rigorous exercise. They found that athletes who ingested caffeine with carbohydrate had 66% more glycogen in their muscles four hours after finishing intense, glycogen-depleting exercise, compared to when they consumed carbohydrate alone.

      "If you have 66% more fuel for the next day's training or competition, there is absolutely no question you will go farther or faster," said Dr. John A. Hawley, the senior author of the study published by the American Physiological Society.

      The study involved seven well-trained endurance cyclists, who were asked to ride a cycle ergometer until exhaustion, and then consume a low-carbohydrate dinner before going home.

      The athletes did not eat again until the next day for the second session, when they again cycled until exhaustion. The participants were given a drink that contained carbohydrate alone or carbohydrate plus caffeine and rested in the laboratory for four hours. Both the processes were repeated 7-10 days later.

      The researchers found that one hour after exercise, muscle glycogen levels had been refilled to the same extent whether or not the athlete had the drink containing carbohydrate and caffeine or carbohydrate only.

      However, four hours after exercise, the drink containing caffeine resulted in 66% higher glycogen levels compared to the carbohydrate-only drink and caffeinated drink resulted in higher levels of blood glucose and plasma insulin.

      Several signalling proteins believed to play a role in glucose transport into the muscle also elevated to a greater extent after the athletes ingested the carbohydrate-plus-caffeine drink, compared to the carbohydrate-only drink.

      The researchers warned that athletes who want to incorporate caffeine into their workouts should experiment during training sessions well in advance of an important competition to find out what works for them.

      Besides coffee, caffeine is also present in common foods and beverages, including, tea, chocolate and cola drinks.



      More good news for coffee drinkers. A study released last month found no ill effects from coffee and now Australian researchers say coffee can be just the ...
      Read lessRead more

      Watermelon May Have Viagra Effect

      The big juicy fruit may increase libido, researchers find


      A cold slice of watermelon has long been a Fourth of July holiday staple. But according to recent studies, the juicy fruit may be better suited to Valentine's Day.

      Scientists say that's because watermelon has ingredients that deliver Viagra-like effects to the body's blood vessels and may even increase libido.

      "The more we study watermelons, the more we realize just how amazing a fruit it is in providing natural enhancers to the human body," said Dr. Bhimu Patil, director of Texas A&M's Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center in College Station. "We've always known that watermelon is good for you, but the list of its very important healthful benefits grows longer with each study."

      Beneficial ingredients in watermelon and other fruits and vegetables are known as phytonutrients, naturally occurring compounds that are bioactive, or able to react with the human body to trigger healthy reactions.

      In watermelons, these include lycopene, beta carotene and the rising star among its phytonutrients -- citrulline -- whose beneficial functions are now being unraveled. Among them is the ability to relax blood vessels, much as Viagra does.

      Scientists know that when watermelon is consumed, citrulline is converted to arginine through certain enzymes. Arginine is an amino acid that works wonders on the heart and circulation system and maintains a good immune system.

      "The citrulline-arginine relationship helps heart health, the immune system and may prove to be very helpful for those who suffer from obesity and type 2 diabetes," said Patil. "Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, the same basic effect that Viagra has, to treat erectile dysfunction and maybe even prevent it."

      While there are many psychological and physiological problems that can cause impotence, extra nitric oxide could help those who need increased blood flow, which would also help treat angina, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.

      "Watermelon may not be as organ-specific as Viagra," Patil said, "but it's a great way to relax blood vessels without any drug side-effects."

      The benefits of watermelon don't end there, he said. Arginine also helps the urea cycle by removing ammonia and other toxic compounds from our bodies.

      Citrulline, the precursor to arginine, is found in higher concentrations in the rind of watermelons than the flesh. Because the rind is not commonly eaten, two of Patil's fellow scientists -- Drs. Steve King and Hae Jeen Bang, are working to breed new varieties with higher concentrations in the flesh.

      In addition to the research by Texas A&M, watermelon's phytonutrients are being studied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Lane, Oklahoma.

      As an added bonus, these studies have shown that deep red varieties of watermelon have displaced the tomato as the lycopene king, Patil said. Almost 92 percent of watermelon is water, but the remaining 8 percent is loaded with lycopene, an anti-oxidant that protects the human heart, prostate and skin health.

      "Lycopene, which is also found in red grapefruit, was historically thought to exist only in tomatoes," he said. "But now we know that it's found in higher concentrations in red watermelon varieties."

      Lycopene, however, is fat-soluble, meaning that it needs certain fats in the blood for better absorption by the body.

      "Previous tests have shown that lycopene is much better absorbed from tomatoes when mixed in a salad with oily vegetables like avocado or spinach," Patil said. "That would also apply to the lycopene from watermelon, but I realize mixing watermelon with spinach or avocadoes is a very hard sell."

      No studies have been conducted to determine the timing of the consumption of oily vegetables to improve lycopene absorption.

      "One final bit of advice for those Fourth of July watermelons you buy," Patil said. "They store much better uncut if you leave them at room temperature. Lycopene levels can be maintained even as it sits on your kitchen floor. But once you cut it, refrigerate. And enjoy."



      A cold slice of watermelon has long been a Fourth of July holiday staple. But according to recent studies, the juicy fruit may be better suited to Valentin...
      Read lessRead more