Emergency Services

The recent news concerning the District's emergency ambulance system clearly indicates a need for reform. A Washington Post editorial {May 17} outlined some of the needed changes, yet it omitted the most important: that every adult and teen-ager should take a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic first-aid course. The most vital component of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system is the trained citizen-rescuer who must initiate immediate care for the victim until trained medical help arrives to take over.

The American Heart Association and the D.C. Fire Department offer free CPR courses on the fourth Saturday of each month for the rest of 1987. In addition, the American Red Cross offers CPR and first-aid courses at its five service centers, as well as elsewhere in the District. Therefore, it is inexcusable for anyone who lives or works in the District not to be trained in these lifesaving skills. The burden should not rest on the D.C. ambulance system alone. Edward Chung Emergency Medical Technician Waldorf, Md.

Another Side to Aspartame

Sandy Rovner's article, "NutraSweet: The Debate Continues" {Healthtalk, May 19}, suggests that a major scientific "controversy" is going on and that serious concerns regarding aspartame's safety have surfaced in many quarters. This is simply not the case, as the facts hardly justify the concern.

With the exception of individuals who have phenylketonuria (PKU) or are carriers of the disease, there is no credible or creditable evidence from human or animal experience at anything like a reasonable dose level to indicate a safety problem. There are anecdotes from persons who allege that they have had headaches or have had a pre-existing seizure disorder worsen. As aspartame is estimated to be consumed by about half the U.S. population, one need not be an epidemiologist to grasp the problem of establishing any cause-and-effect relationship. Half the headaches in America would be expected to occur in aspartame users, as would half the seizures and half the purchases of Chevrolets.

I attended the recent meeting in Washington referred to by Ms. Rovner and I share Dr. Bennett Shaywitz's concern regarding an evangelical fervor about the "controversy." As carefully controlled studies of this issue are in progress, it is prudent to await their outcome before engendering any anxiety.

It is useful in assessing likely risk to examine the composition of the material in question. Aspartame is made up of: a) two amino acids -- aspartic acid and phenylalanine -- normal constituents of the diet and of our body proteins; b) a negligible amount of methanol -- also a material found in the body as well as in vegetables, fruits and wines. Thus, from the constituent items, a neurotoxic action would not be expected and, indeed, if any deleterious effects were produced by drinking 19 cans of diet soda, this could likely be due to a large body burden of water, caffeine or other materials in the mixture. Arthur Raines, PhD Professor and Acting Chairman, Department of Pharmacology Georgetown University Letters intended for publication must be signed and include the writer's home address and home and business telephone numbers. Letters may be edited. Although we are unable to acknowledge all letters, we appreciate the time and value the viewpoints of those who write. Send letters to Health Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.