Race for a Cause

CDC scientists were racing to find out why healthy young people across the US were falling sick and dying. Though the illnesses were quickly tied to vaping, the actual cause was a mystery.

In a must-read inside story chronicled by the Washington Post, Lena H. Sun documents the environmental health team’s round-the-clock investigation that landed the likely culprit, vitamin E acetate. The scientists had to contend with varied data from states and balky instruments. 

They also had to 3D-print an adapter so that puffing machines used to test cigarette smoke could be adapted to vaping devices. “You’re literally putting a square peg in a round hole,” said Jim Pirkle, who oversees CDC’s chemical lab analyses. 

Meanwhile, a new CDC report bolsters their findings that vitamin E acetate is probably behind the outbreak that caused nearly 2,300 illnesses and 47 deaths. The chemical was found in vaping products used by 11 of 12 Minnesota patients with vaping-related illness, according to STAT News.

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