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A Weekly News Briefing

Lead a major driver of fatal heart disease: Lead poisoning may be responsible for as many as 400,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, a figure  about 10 times higher than previous estimates, a study published in the Lancet found. The study found deaths from cardiovascular disease linked to even low levels of lead in the blood. The main author of the study told The Guardian that, while the findings were troubling, they also presented an opportunity, because more serious efforts to prevent lead poisoning could dramatically lower premature deaths from heart disease.

Also: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced action against six companies in California and Arizona for violating rules on lead paint hazards, with penalties totaling $287,000.

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Selling smoking at school: Cigarettes are sold as singles, in flavors such as grape or cinnamon, and under colorful banner advertising just feet from school gates in countries around the world, according to an investigation by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Correspondents with The Guardian visited some of the 22 countries included in the analysis, many with high rates of youth smoking, and corroborated the findings. Tobacco companies denied marketing to children. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids launched a crowdsourcing campaign, asking people to upload images of tobacco advertising near schools and other kid-focused venues that could be used to spur regulatory action.

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Going after unpaid mine safety penalties: The federal Mine Safety and Health Act imposes penalties on mine operators who violate job safety rules. But since 2007, operators have failed to pay $67 million in fines. David Zatezalo, assistant secretary for mine safety and health at the Department of Labor, said in an op-ed last week that the agency planned to crack down on delinquent payments. “These penalties are an important reminder of the need to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for America’s miners,” he wrote. Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta also said at a hearing that the agency plans to hire 65 inspectors to replace 40 who left their jobs at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since January 2017. Still, that office has budgeted for fewer inspections this year than last year, according to Safety+Health magazine, a publication of the National Safety Council.

  • Also: The Trump administration has “mothballed” a board meant to help workers injured at nuclear weapons labs. — The New York Times takes a long look at a dilemma well known to waitstaff: How much harassment is worth the tip? — California regulators fined Alhambra Foundry $283,390 after a worker became caught in an auger screw and suffered amputation of his legs. The company received a similar citation eight years ago. — An Alabama security contractor and two subcontractors must pay $1.2 million in back wages to 236 workers after federal investigators found the companies guilty of wage violations, including failure to pay overtime. — California-based Camp Bootcamp must pay $8.3 million after state investigators received a complaint last spring and found numerous wage theft and labor law violations.
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Essure complaints flood FDA:  In late 2016, federal regulators required Bayer to publish a strong warning label on packaging of its implantable sterilization device, called Essure, and to develop a checklist that doctors could use to talk with patients about possible risks. Women were reporting chronic pain and other serious complications, sometimes requiring a hysterectomy. A year later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was flooded with a new wave of complaints about Essure, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a press release last week. The agency received nearly 12,000 reports of adverse events related to the device in 2017, the majority of them in the last three months of the year. Most new reports are linked to litigation against Bayer, Gottlieb said. Bayer pulled the product from global distribution last year, though it’s still available in the United States, where the company faces thousands of lawsuits, according to an in-depth story by the Investigative Fund about women dealing with serious side effects following Essure implantation. Gottlieb said his agency is assessing the new reports, but still holds the view that Essure “may be appropriate for some women.”

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Firings at Veterans Affairs: A law meant to hold leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for poor performance and to protect whistleblowers may be having an opposite effect, according to reporting by ProPublica and Politico. The bipartisan bill that rolled back protections on civil service jobs was signed into law last June, and firings at the department rose 60 percent in the second half of 2017–but nearly all of them targeted low-level workers.

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Actually, BPA is best avoided: Earlier this month, Warning Wire wrote about controversial new research that found exposure to bisphenol-A may not be all that harmful. Government researchers concluded that even large exposures to the chemical used in plastic bottles and in the lining of cans had “minimal effects” on rodents. But, a meta-analysis of studies in humans and rodents, published last week in the journal Environment International, found that early exposure to BPA was linked with hyperactivity later in life. “What regulators think is a ‘safe’ dose for the developing brain may have to be re-evaluated,” Heather Patisaul, an associate professor at North Carolina State University’s Department of Biological Science who was not involved in the study, told Environmental Health News.

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Trump backpedals on gun control measures: The president ditched promises to shepherd significant changes to federal gun laws, such as raising the age limit to purchase rifles, through the political quagmire following the Florida school shooting that killed 17 people. Instead, in an apparent concession to the National Rifle Association, he is pushing for weapons training for teachers and for a commission to study other responses to school shootings. “The president’s retreat is a stark reminder — if anyone in Washington needed one — that the gun debate remains stuck where it has been for more than a decade,” Michael Shear and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times wrote.

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Feds tell states to keep hands off loan servicers: The U.S. Department of Education declared in a memo that states lack the authority to impose consumer protections on companies that service federal student loans. The loan industry pushed for just such a clarification from Secretary Betsy DeVos’ office after several states seemed ready to follow the lead of California, Connecticut and the District of Columbia, which require loan servicers to obtain a license from state regulators, The Washington Post reported. The state actions were seen as an attempt to do what the federal government had so far refused to do, protect borrowers from sloppy paperwork, inconsistent application of fees, or other unfair practices that could worsen their debt.
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Better to let this one go: Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, planned to host public debates challenging climate science before White House Chief of Staff John Kelly stepped in to put the kibosh on the idea, according to a story by The New York Times based on three anonymous sources.

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Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.