The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Like some creature in a sci-fi film, the huge gob of plastic known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing over a massive stretch of ocean between California and Hawaii where ocean currents deposit debris. According to findings published in the journal Scientific Reports, the size of the patch itself is not changing, but the volume of plastic it contains is. That volume is now thought to be 79,000 tons. Most alarming: The plastic in the patch is just some of what’s going into the ocean. Much more may be deposited on the ocean floor. “In this sense, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is, in the end, merely the most dramatic outward symptom of a far deeper problem of enormous volumes of human waste reaching places where it was never intended to be,” Chris Mooney of the Washington Post writes.

  • Also: Students at the University of California, Davis have been awarded a $14,998 federal grant to study whether darkling beetle larvae can be used to gobble up and biodegrade polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam. — InsideClimate News explains how the Environmental Protection Agency, under Scott Pruitt’s leadership, has taken at least 15 major actions to weaken clean air rules.

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Deadly products, delayed action: The Trump administration has delayed a decision on whether to largely ban a key but potentially deadly ingredient in many paint strippers, leaving consumer advocates concerned that the proposed rule may be shelved altogether, Jamie Smith Hopkins writes for the Center for Public Integrity.

There is no uncertainty about methylene chloride’s potential to harm. The European Union has banned it from general use since 2011. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes that workers’ long-term exposure can lead to liver toxicity, liver cancer and lung cancer. Even bystanders can suffer neurotoxicity from one-time exposures. The Center for Public Integrity’s investigation found that methylene chloride has been linked to more than 50 deaths in the United States since 1980. One of them was Wendy Hartley’s 21-year-old son, Kevin, who was overcome by fumes while refinishing a bathtub with a product called White Lightning Low Odor Stripper, Hartley wrote in Tuesday’s Tennessean. Hartley, who called for federal action, said her son was wearing a respirator mask, “but that wasn’t enough.”

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Lots of action on guns, but to what effect?: There was no shortage of reporting on the huge turnout for the March for Our Lives protests against gun violence and leadership by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, where a gunman killed 17 people last month, and from teens across the country. Among the coverage that stood out: The Guardian invited the school’s student journalists to guest edit, and published this manifesto for fixing the country’s gun laws. Elsewhere, The Trace looked at the serious staff shortage undermining the federal gun background check system. The spending bill that passed Congress Friday included measures requiring state and federal agencies to participate more fully in the background check database run by the FBI. NPR reports that researchers are skeptical that a measure in that bill allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence will have much effect. And the Justice Department last week proposed banning bump stocks, even though officials from the department said last year that they lacked authority to do so.

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Tiny lead levels not so bad?: Public health advocates have worked for decades to lower the threshold of lead in a child’s blood for triggering action by doctors and public health officials to reduce lead exposure. Now some advocates say the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest effort to lower the threshold to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, from 5 mcg/dL, may go too far. Charles Schmidt writes for Undark about how the lower standard could dramatically increase the caseload in already underfunded lead poisoning prevention programs. It could undermine efforts to help the children who face the most risk from lead, particularly low-income children living in neighborhoods of older homes, he writes. Plus, a focus on the number ignores a key question: When (and how) will the country stop using children as living lead tests in risky homes and instead push landlords to eliminate hazards before a child is hurt?

  • Also: For nearly three decades, California health officials failed to act when tests found that hundreds of workers were exposed to dangerous levels of lead at a plant near Los Angeles, most recently owned by Exide Technologies, an investigation by Joe Rubin of Capital & Main found. Rubin’s stories have already prompted proposed legislation. — The city of Detroit will halt demolitions this summer in five zip codes over concern about lead in the dust that construction creates and its effect on children living nearby, The Detroit News reports. The neighborhoods affected already have a high incidence of children with blood lead levels above the 5 mcg/dL federal threshold. In one zip code, as many as 22.3 percent of children tested above the threshold in 2016. — The blood lead levels of children in Flint, Mich., have fallen not only from peaks during the city’s water crisis but to historic lows, according to a study in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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More breast cancers linked to implants: The Food and Drug Administration is tracking more cases of a cancer linked to breast implants, now totaling 414 including nine deaths, the agency announced last week. That’s up from 359 but still less than a database maintained by professional societies in plastic surgery, which has identified about 500 cases worldwide and 16 deaths, Denise Grady reports for The New York Times. The cancer, called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, is more likely to affect women who have had implants with a textured coating, thought to provoke inflammation or trap bacteria that could lead to the cancer. Grady reports that advocates for women with the disease had hoped the FDA would advise against the textured implants. A doctor with the agency said there was not enough data to do so.

  • Also: The FDA took steps last week to limit large compounding pharmacies’ production of bulk medications that are otherwise available as FDA-approved drugs. It was part of the agency’s response to the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy that sickened hundreds of people and killed 64. — A new report found that antibiotic use has risen dramatically since the turn of the 21st century, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, fueling the development of resistant superbugs, Jason Beaubien of NPR reports. — A White House plan to address the opioid crisis favors one addiction medication over all others for use in prisons, despite some mixed views about the drug’s effectiveness, Lev Facher writes for Stat.   

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Tipping dressers remain a serious risk: As FairWarning has reported (here, herehere and here), scores of children have died over the years when furniture or TVs fell on them. Recently, the focus has been on Ikea after reports of several children being killed when dressers from the furniture retailer tipped over. A new Consumer Reports investigation found that dressers on the market today continue to pose a risk of tipping over from weight in their drawers or the pull of a small child.  Consumer Reports tested 24 dressers – only one from Ikea – by adding weight to open drawers. It determined that a voluntary industry standard for testing safety does not cover enough of the products on the market. The report urged parents to anchor furniture to the wall and said the federal government should create a mandatory safety standard if the industry does not act.

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Too loud for the heart: One in four American workers are exposed to loud noise in the workplace, and that noise puts them at risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to a new study by researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, analyzed data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey and also looked at hearing loss. But perhaps more surprising are the ways that noise exposure can contribute to heart disease. The study found that 24 percent of working Americans had high blood pressure and 28 percent had high cholesterol, and the portion of those cases that could be attributed to noise exposure were 14 percent and 9 percent respectively.

  • Also:  A roofing contractor in Georgia faces proposed penalities of $133,604 for failing to protect workers from fall risks. It’s nothing new for Jose A. Serrato: He’s been cited for similar violation seven times in five years, according to a press release from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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Revised tip pooling plan passes Congress: We’ve written previously about a controversial proposal by the Trump administration to allow employers to pool tips and distribute them to back-of-the-house workers who aren’t tipped directly, including to managers. The administration now has backed off that plan, Andrea Strong writes for Eater. The budget bill passed last week included a compromise that prohibits managers and supervisors from taking tips. It allows tips to be distributed to non-tipped employees, such as restaurant cooks and dishwashers, only if all employees are paid at least the full minimum wage, not the lower minimum that many states permit for tipped workers.

    • Also:  A U.S. District Court in West Virginia has ordered Randolph County Sheltered Workshop Inc. to pay $119,040 in back wages to 34 employees with disabilities. They were not paid the minimum wage for work that involved assembling fishing lures and packages. Paying sub-minimum wage to the workers would have been just fine, a press release notes, if the company had obtained the proper certification to do so. The company also failed to post required information about workers’ rights.  — ProPublica investigates how IBM flouted age discrimination laws as it cut more than 20,000 American workers age 40 and over in the past five years alone.

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Do Not Call rules lead to big penalty – for once: A U.S. District Court has issued a penalty of $45.4 million against three Utah companies in the first verdict enforcing the federal Telemarketing Sales Rule and Do Not Call Registry rules. A jury found in 2016 that the companies had made 99 million calls to numbers on the Do Not Call list and 4 million calls in which they made misleading statements about DVD sales. Telemarketers told customers that all proceeds from sales would go to an organization developing a list of recommended movies for children. In fact, according to court filings, the three companies kept 93 percent of DVD sales, Dennis Romboy of Deseret News reports. Because of the companies’ inability to pay the fine, all but $487,735 has been suspended.

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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

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