News & Notes


California Regulators Propose $1.4 Billion Fine for Deadly Gas Pipeline Blast in 2010

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. faces biggest utility fine ever in California over the explosion that killed eight in San Bruno. Regulators proposed that the company, California’s biggest utility, pay $1.4 billion for the 2010 pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area community. The decision by two administrative law judges at the California Public Utilities Commission was based on 3,798 alleged violations of state and federal laws and regulations that govern gas pipeline safety and operations. In addition to the deaths, the explosion and firestorm in San Bruno, near San Francisco International Airport, destroyed 38 houses and injured 66 people. Federal investigators concluded that the blast — which left a 167-foot crater in the street — was caused by defective welds in the 54-year-old, 30-inch-diameter pipe. The company still faces 27 federal criminal charges related to allegations it lied to officials investigating the disaster. Los Angeles Times

Second-biggest U.S. drugstore chain stops selling tobacco, a month ahead of schedule. CVS Caremark also said it is changing its name to CVS Health. In February CVS said it would rid all of its stores of tobacco products by Oct. 1, forgoing $2 billion in annual sales. The financial risk was balanced by the hope that being the first major pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco would create a public relations halo. CVS is banking that the distinction can help it win business in other parts of the company, like administering prescription-drug programs for clients, and position it as a broader provider of basic health services. But it is unclear whether the move has yielded any financial benefits, and no other national pharmacy chain has followed CVS in dropping cigarettes. The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press

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Report Finds Global Surge in People With Access to Clean Water

WHO assessment says more than 2 billion have gained access to improved drinking water since 1990. In addition, the World Health Organization found that about 4 billion people now have achieved the gold standard: Clean is water piped directly into their homes. That’s well over half the world’s population. The movement toward providing universal access to clean water has been the result of a massive global effort by governments, philanthropists and nongovernmental organizations. Still, the WHO says improved sanitation operations still are needed, and the 2015 deadline set by the United Nations in 1990 for upgrading those operations is expected to be missed. That will leave 2.4 billion people without protection from contaminated water. Separately, a research organization pointed out that the anticipated global boom in fracking — an energy drilling technique that requires lots of fresh water — could leave countries in the difficult position of choosing between seeking more oil and gas or ensuring water supplies for their citizens. The Christian Science Monitor, Fortune

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Cuban postage stamps touting the country's efforts to save limbs of diabetics (Photo by Andrew Schneider) FairWarining Investigates

As U.S. Bids to Renew Relations With Havana, Heralded Cuban Diabetes Drug Remains Off-Limits

HAVANA – President Obama’s efforts to renew relations with Cuba may soon allow Americans to visit this island’s pristine beaches and start lugging home shopping bags filled with long-coveted cigars and rum. But for frustrated American physicians battling to save the feet and legs of tens of thousands of diabetic patients, it may be a […]

iStock photo.

Older Cars Left Behind When Safety Motors Ahead

Federal auto safety regulations cover new cars, of course. But what about older cars? Of the more than 250 million vehicles on the roads, three-quarters are more than five years old, according to the data firm IHS Automotive, and more than 50 million are pre-1999 models. They met the government’s safety rules when they were […]

FairWarning Investigates

Courtesy of Off-Highway Vehicle Association. FairWarining Investigates

Battling Safety Rules for Off-Road Vehicles, Industry Gets Boost From Senators

Manufacturers of off-road vehicles have enlisted the help of a dozen U.S. senators to try to block regulations intended to prevent rollover crashes that have killed hundreds of riders.

In a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the senators urged delaying a pending vote on safety standards for the popular trail machines known as recreational off-highway vehicles, or ROVs. Instead, the lawmakers called for the commission to continue long-running discussions with the industry.

‘’We recommend that the CPSC staff and the industry reach an agreement on voluntary standards that adequately address the risk of injury concerning ROVs,’’ the Oct. 17 letter said.

Eight of the 12 ...

Blueberry pickers at a farm in Hillsboro, Oregon. (Photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian) FairWarining Investigates

Heat Rising Over ‘Hot Goods’

Growers Accused of Wage Violations Fight Labor Department's Tactic of Halting Farm Shipments

An attempted crackdown on minimum wage and child labor violations at berry farms in the Pacific Northwest has sparked a backlash that threatens one of the U.S. Labor Department's most potent tools for enforcing protections for farm workers.

At issue is the little-known "hot goods'' provision of federal wage law. It allows the government to halt shipments of goods produced in violation of employment standards. The weapon has been used mainly to combat minimum wage and overtime pay abuses by garment makers but, under President Obama, federal officials have invoked the hot goods provision against farm owners somewhat more often than earlier administrations.

Farm worker advocates have ...

Packs of Marlboro, the most popular cigarette brand, and images of how the pack would have looked with two  of the graphic warning labels ordered by the FDA in June, 2011. In a 2009 law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, Congress directed the FDA to create graphic warnings covering 50 percent of the front and back of cigarette packs to replace the text warnings on the side of the pack that have been unchanged since the 1980s. But a group of tobacco companies, led by cigarette makers R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard, sued the FDA, contending the labeling rule violated their 1st Amendment Rights.  (Note, Marlboro maker Philip Morris USA did not join the lawsuit)  U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon agreed with the companies, and his order rejecting the labeling rule was later upheld on appeal. FDA officials say they are working on a new set of warnings. (photos by David LaFontaine). FairWarining Investigates

Tobacco Industry Batting a Thousand With Federal Judge, While FDA Strikes Out

What are the odds?

In 2009, Congress passed landmark legislation directing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products, aiming to cut the toll from the leading preventable cause of disease and death. Three times since, however, cigarette and e-cigarette companies have filed successful legal challenges to thwart rules intended to make their products less appealing to consumers--and less accessible to kids.

The three cases, which, among other things, have blocked graphic cigarette warning labels and delayed regulation of e-cigarettes for at least a few years, were decided in favor of industry plaintiffs by the same federal judge, Richard J. Leon of the U.S. ...

March, 2011 crash at a 7-Eleven store in Midland, Texas (Photo by Roger Primera) FairWarining Investigates

Bread, Milk and Mayhem

Storefront Crashes More Common Than You Think, and Often Preventable

Just as Kimmy Dubuque was about to enter a Cumberland Farms convenience store to get a cup of coffee, she was struck and killed by an SUV. Police said the SUV, driven by an 81-year-old man who suffered a stroke, had sped through the parking lot of the Chicopee, Mass., store and smashed into the front, pushing Dubuque, 43, through a wall.

Although storefront crashes such as the one that took Dubuque’s life in November 2010 may seem like freak accidents, they are more common than many people think. Just last month, 10 people were hurt, including a 5-year-old girl who suffered serious head ...

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FairWarning Reports

Labor Department's 'Hot Goods' Case Charging Underpayment of Farmworkers Goes Up in Smoke FairWarining Reports

Labor Department’s ‘Hot Goods’ Case Charging Underpayment of Farmworkers Goes Up in Smoke

An attempted crackdown on wage and hour violations on two Oregon berry farms has ended in a retreat by the U.S. Labor Department, which dropped all charges against two growers it had accused of failing to pay the minimum wage to about 1,000 workers. The case has brought scrutiny to one of the Labor Department’s […]

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FairWarining Commentary

Older Cars Left Behind When Safety Motors Ahead

Federal auto safety regulations cover new cars, of course. But what about older cars? Of the more than 250 million vehicles on the roads, three-quarters are more than five years old, according to the data firm IHS Automotive, and more than 50 million are pre-1999 models. They met the government’s safety rules when they were […]

Did the Labor Department’s ‘Hot Goods’ Crackdown on Farmers Go Too Far?

The federal Department of Labor has for decades used a little-noted enforcement tool to compel employers to observe laws governing minimum wages, overtime pay and child labor. The enforcement tool is known at the “hot goods” provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which lets the Labor Department bar an employer from selling or shipping […]

‘Stand Up to Cancer’ Not Standing Up to Cigarette Promoters

In three previous national telethons, Stand Up To Cancer has raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars for cancer research. Contributions to the “War on Cancer” pledged in the fourth such telethon on September 5 would seem to be welcome. But several sponsors that were praised in the telecast appear to be doing […]