The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 36.0°F | A Few Clouds
Article Tools

China Detains 22 in Milk Case

China said Monday that it had detained 22 people suspected of operating an underground network that intentionally adulterated milk with an industrial chemical, melamine. The contamination has led to the nation’s worst food safety crisis in decades.

The announcement, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, was the third regarding a mass detention of suspects in the contamination, which has sickened more than 50,000 children, caused the deaths of at least four from kidney stones, and led to recalls of products in China and abroad suspected of containing adulterated Chinese milk powder.

On Sept. 14, the government said 19 people had been detained, and on Sept. 19 it reported the detention of 12 more. The government did not explain in the Monday announcement how many suspects in all had been detained in the investigation, or whether some had been included in the earlier announcements.

The announcement said that police officers in northern China, the nation’s biggest dairy production area, had raided more than 40 dairy farms and milk stations in Hebei province and seized more than 220 kilograms, or 485 pounds, of melamine, a chemical commonly used to make plastics and fertilizer. Melamine can also be used to illegally inflate the nutrition value of foods by fooling testers measuring protein levels.

The government accused the group of operating as a kind of criminal syndicate, producing melamine in underground factories and then marketing it to dairy farms and milking stations in Hebei province to adulterate the milk for profit.

Judge Rebukes Prosecutors in Alaska Senator’s Trial

The judge overseeing the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens sharply rebuked the Justice Department’s prosecutors on Monday, saying he was considering sanctions because they might have improperly sent a witness away.

The judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, declined a request by Stevens’ lawyers to declare a mistrial, but the episode could prove a significant blow to the prosecution because the judge was clearly angered over the government’s handling of the witness.

“The government made a unilateral decision to put him on a plane and send him away from the court,” Sullivan said. “There may be an inference that can be drawn from this that the government chose not to call him to testify because the government realized his testimony was not helpful.”

Sullivan said he found it “very curious” that the government had sent away the witness, Robert Williams, without telling the court or the defense lawyers, who had also sought his testimony.

Stevens, R-Alaska, who has been in the Senate for 40 years, is charged with knowingly failing to list on congressional disclosure forms more than $250,000 in gifts and services in the renovation of his home in Girdwood, Alaska.

The witness, Williams, is a senior employee of Veco, the Alaska oil services company that provided the gifts and services. Williams, who supervised the work, had been scheduled to testify for the government.

You’re Sick, But Is Internet Health Information Correct?

Are patients swimming in a sea of health information? Or are they drowning in it?

The rise of the Internet, along with thousands of health-oriented Web sites, medical blogs and even doctor-based television and radio programs, means that today’s patients have more opportunities than ever to take charge of their medical care. Technological advances have vastly increased doctors’ diagnostic tools and treatments, and have exponentially expanded the amount of information on just about every known disease.

The daily bombardment of news reports and drug advertising offers little guidance on how to make sense of self-proclaimed medical breakthroughs and claims of worrisome risks. And doctors, the people best equipped to guide us through these murky waters, are finding themselves with less time to spend with their patients.

But patients have more than ever to gain by decoding the latest health news and researching their own medical care.

“I don’t think people have a choice — it’s mandatory,” said Dr. Marisa Weiss, a breast oncologist in Pennsylvania who founded the Web site breastcancer.org. “The time you have with your doctor is getting progressively shorter, yet there’s so much more to talk about. You have to prepare for this important meeting.”

Shuttle Mission to Hubble Telescope Is Moved to ’09

A problem that struck the Hubble Space Telescope on Saturday will delay the final space shuttle mission to service it, moving the launching from next month to next year, NASA officials said Monday.

A crew of seven astronauts was scheduled to blast off in the shuttle Atlantis on Oct. 14 for an 11-day visit to the telescope, which for 18 years has been beaming cosmic postcards to Earth from its orbital vantage point above the atmosphere.

During five spacewalks, the astronauts were set to install two new instruments and repair the telescope’s best camera and a spectrograph, both of which had electrical failures. They were also scheduled to replace the telescope’s batteries and gyroscopes, among other things.

But on Saturday, a channel on a control system known as the Hubble Control Unit/Science Data Formatter — which helps relay data to the ground — failed, causing the telescope to go into a “safe mode” and cease observations. Hubble’s managers expect that activating a backup channel will restore the telescope to service later this week.

But that will leave the telescope with no backup if the new channel stops working, so NASA would like to have the astronauts replace the failed control unit with a spare from the Goddard Space Flight Center.