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Wednesday, Nov 13 1996
Caveat Sipper
The S.F. Department of Public Health has begun testing owners of Yi Xing Purple Grit Teapot sets for lead and cadmium poisoning. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, during a random test, found extremely high levels of lead and cadmium in the small ceramic teacups, which are imported from China and sold in gift shops, primarily in Chinatown and on Clement Street.

The cups have an unglazed brown or tan exterior finish, with a blue and gray crackled pattern inside. Because of the cups' small size, health officials fear that they are particularly appealing to children. FDA tests revealed lead levels of 20 to 220 parts per million (0.5 is normal), according to Dr. Peter Ng at the Chinatown Public Health Center. "It's OK to have them," Ng says. "Just don't use them. If you touch them, wash your hands."

Questions should be directed to the Chinatown Public Health Center at 705-8500.

-- L.D.

Conspiracy's Odd Convergence
The S.F. Board of Supervisors has a new pen pal. Its recent letter requesting a full congressional hearing on allegations of CIA involvement in the crack trade drew a plaudit from an unexpected source: Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., the proverbial whipping boy of the Bay Area left.

"I am aware of these allegations and support efforts to investigate them," explains an Oct. 15 letter over Helms' signature to John Taylor, the board's clerk.

Helms' letter, however, contends that hearings should be delayed pending the outcome of separate Justice Department, CIA, and House of Representatives investigations into the allegations, which were aired in a controversial report in August by the San Jose Mercury News.

-- C.F.

Muni's $3.26 Million Cigarette
Peter Meyrick Jones, a 21-year-old tourist from Canada, lost his left leg in one of the worst cable car accidents in more than a decade last year. The sole cause: A Municipal Railway conductor had to have one last cigarette before his shift. Now Jones stands to collect $3.26 million in an out-of-court settlement that is awaiting Board of Supervisors approval. That's one expensive smoke.

Jones was riding on the Hyde Street line in August 1995 when an unattended runaway cable car rammed into the car Jones was riding on, pinning both of Jones' feet at the ankle. After an hour-and-a-half on an IV of morphine, while an emergency crew sawed at the cars, Jones was freed and sped to S.F. General. There, his leg was amputated below the knee -- "at 1 a.m., in a strange city," stressed his lawyer, Kevin Domecus.

Three infections and three surgeries later, Jones sued, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched an investigation. The feds found that the crew who were supposed to be manning the runaway car, as it rested on a sidewalk platform waiting to be placed on the street rails, didn't set the brakes correctly. Worse, the conductor who according to Muni rules was supposed to be standing at the helm was having his smoke nearby.

According to Dave Watson, NTSB's regional director, the ultimate blame lies with Muni itself. The rule book that contained the brake-setting instructions and the mandate that conductors man cars waiting to go into service was not distributed to all employees -- there weren't enough to go around -- and conflicting versions of the book confused matters further. "That was bogus," Watson says.

And why weren't there enough rule books to go around? "Tourists pilfered them," Watson says. "They're a collector's item, I guess."

-- George Cothran


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