News & Notes

Thursday

Even a Light Rain Can Send Raw Sewage Into New York City’s Waterways

New York City’s aging sewer system can be overwhelmed by as little as one-twentieth of an inch of rainfall. When it rains in New York, raw sewage bypasses treatment plants and flows directly into city waterways. Besides the human waste, oil, industrial waste and household garbage that happen to be on the street when a rainstorm begins can be captured by the flowing street water and wind up flowing untreated out of pipes that feed directly into waterways. The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is especially bad. Thirteen sites pour 377 million gallons of diluted raw sewage into the canal each year. Drinking the amoeba and bacteria-laden water could give people dysentery, and the sediment at the bottom is packed with cancer-causing compounds and heavy metals. The 1.8-mile channel is one of the most heavily contaminated bodies of water in the U.S. Newsweek

Food safety problems still plague China. The country has scrambled to make reforms ever since six infants died and thousands more were hospitalized with kidney damage in 2008 from milk adulterated with an industrial chemical. But as the latest scandal involving spoiled meat in fast-food shows, the attempted transformation has run up against the country’s centuries-old and sprawling food supply chain. Now the growing presence of big American brands means that the country’s most glaring lapses are playing out on a global stage. “The way I keep explaining China to people is that it’s kind of like the U.S. in the time of Upton Sinclair and ‘The Jungle,’ ” said Don Schaffner, president of the International Association for Food Protection. “There is tremendous desire by the Chinese to get it right, but they have a long way to go.” The New York Times

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Wednesday

U.S. Urges Phasing Out Thousands of Older Rail Tank Cars That Carry Crude Oil

Spurred by fiery train crashes, Transportation Department proposes new rail safety rules. Thousands of older rail tank cars that carry crude oil would be phased out within two years under regulations proposed today in response to recent crashes, including the oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last year that killed 47 people. Accident investigators have complained for decades that the cars are too easily punctured or ruptured, spilling their contents, when derailed. Besides oil, the proposed regulations would also apply to the transport of ethanol and other hazardous liquids. The proposal would make mandatory a 40 mph speed limit through urban areas that freight railroads had voluntarily agreed to earlier this year. Regulators said they’re considering lowering the speed limit to 30 mph for trains lacking more advanced braking systems. The Associated Press

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A wage theft protest in Seattle. Photo credit to Alex Garland/Demotix.

Fear Stifles Complaints of Wage Abuse

Karim Ameri decided to play hardball after learning that his Los Angeles recycling business was under investigation for allegedly failing to pay the minimum wage or overtime to workers putting in 60-hour weeks. Court records say Ameri pressured employees of Recycling Innovations, a string of bottle-and-can redemption centers, to lie to federal officials about his […]

A Walmart Warehouse Workers for Justice protest in Illinois. Photo credit to Peoplesworld/Flickr/Creative Commons.

Pay Violations Rampant in Low-Wage Industries Despite Enforcement Efforts

For workers stuck on the bottom rung, living on poverty wages is hard enough. But many also are victims of wage theft, a catch-all term for payroll abuses that cheat workers of income they are supposedly guaranteed by law. Over the last few years employers ranging from baseball’s San Francisco Giants to Subway franchises to […]

Consumer Advocates Urge Banning ATVs From Roadways, Citing Crash Hazards FairWarining Reports

Consumer Advocates Urge Banning ATVs From Roadways, Citing Crash Hazards

A leading consumer group is warning that the increasing use of all-terrain vehicles on the nation’s roads poses a “growing public health crisis” and is calling for immediate action by U.S., state and local officials. “ATVs are not designed to be on roads,” said Rachel Weintraub, the Consumer Federation of America’s legislative director and the co-author […]

FairWarning Investigates

Despite High Death Toll, Push Is On To Open More Public Roads to ATVs

Despite High Death Toll, Push Is On To Open More Public Roads to ATVs

Last Mother’s Day, Jaret Graham, 14, climbed on the back of an all-terrain vehicle driven by his 12-year-old cousin. As they sped down a paved stretch of country road in west Texas, the 12-year-old lost control, went into a ditch and fell off the vehicle, injuring his leg. Jaret was thrown off and hit his […]

Jacob Helvey. (The Helvey family.)

Elevator Safety Flaws Persist Despite History of Tragic Accidents

A type of elevator increasingly found in townhouses and single-family homes has been involved in rare but horrific injuries to small children, and the manufacturers have long been aware of the problem. But the companies, which set their own voluntary standards through an industry-dominated committee, have yet to address the hazard.

(iStockphoto)

Labor Department Investigating Pay Practices of 2 Major League Baseball Teams

Two Major League Baseball clubs–the San Francisco Giants and Miami Marlins—are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor for possible federal wage law violations. The investigations come amid wider concern about questionable pay practices throughout professional baseball, according to interviews and records obtained by FairWarning under the Freedom of Information Act.

Legal Battles Smolder Six Decades After 'the Greatest Health Protection in Cigarette History'

Legal Battles Smolder Six Decades After ‘the Greatest Health Protection in Cigarette History’

It’s hard to think of anything more reckless than adding a deadly carcinogen to a product that already causes cancer — and then bragging about the health benefits. That’s what Lorillard Tobacco did 60 years ago when it introduced Kent cigarettes, whose patented “Micronite” filter contained a particularly virulent form of asbestos.

Cigarette vendor in Indonesia. (iStockphoto)

Protest by Tobacco State Politicians, Business Groups May Snuff Out Obama Administration Trade Move

Tobacco companies are using free trade agreements to challenge countries that adopt tough anti-smoking rules, charging them with violating treaty obligations.

Contractors clean up lead paint in a contaminated building in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

After Flicking Away Lawsuits, Lead Industry Goes for a Final Knockout

Despite powerful evidence showing that paint makers knew for decades about the risks of household use of lead paint, the companies have scored dozens of courtroom victories and could be on the verge of a final victory in a California trial.

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Commentary

It’s Time to Accelerate the Shift to a Low-Carbon Future

In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place. The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail. The only question is how quickly we can accelerate and complete the transition to a low-carbon civilization. There […]

FairWarining Commentary

GM Ignition Switch Scandal Echoes Infamous Fire-Prone Pickups Case

Recent disclosures about the ignition switch defect in millions of General Motors cars–and the company’s early and secret knowledge of the hazard–are disturbing by themselves. But they are also an eerie echo of the terrible carnage from an earlier, even bigger safety scandal involving millions of fire-prone GM pickup trucks. Thanks to a bailout from […]

FairWarining Commentary

Like Them or Hate Them, Injury Lawsuits Sometimes Expose Health and Safety Hazards

The scandal over General Motors’ concealment for more than a decade of dangerously defective ignition switches in some of its cars highlights an often-overlooked fact: Injury lawsuits sometimes reveal health and safety hazards that would otherwise remain secret. As Ben Kelley notes, the deadly ignition defects were not exposed by engineers for GM or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but by an engineer for plaintiffs in a wrongful-death suit.