A surge in black lung: Cases of black lung declined dramatically in the last few decades of the 20th century, thanks to stronger health and safety rules for mines. But the chronic disease caused by breathing coal dust has spiked since 2000, thought to be linked to exposure to silica dust as workers cut around thinner coal seams. A new federal report has confirmed the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever recorded, 416 coal miners treated between 2013 and 2017 at clinics in central Appalachia. The cluster was first reported by NPR, which has tracked nearly 2,000 cases of progressive massive fibrosis, the most serious stage of the disease. An Obama-era rule meant to limit dust exposure is now under review. Nadja Popovich at The New York Times writes that David Zatezalo, who leads the Mine Safety and Health Administration and is a former miner and coal industry executive, told Congress earlier this month that he has no plan to rollback the stronger dust rule.

  • Also: Two Alabama companies face OSHA fines for endangering workers. The agency has proposed a $195,144 fine after finding that ABC Polymer Industries failed to install safety equipment on a plastics recycling machine that a worker was pulled into and killed. A fine of $74,833 has been proposed for fiberglass pipe maker RPS Composites Alabama Inc., after a worker lost a finger in a pipe winding machine that lacked proper guards.

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Pinching pennies in Washington: A slew of federal programs and offices are facing closure or major reductions as the Trump administration makes good on promises to reduce the size of government and cut costs. Miranda Green at the The Hill reports that a reorganization of the Environmental Protection Agency will eliminate a program that funds major research on children’s health risks from environmental factors. Among the offices that could close as lawmakers set new budget priorities next month is the storied Biological Survey Unit, which oversees a trove of bird, reptile and mammal specimens dating to 1885. The Washington Post tells of the office’s interesting history.

  • Also: Under a new application process, federal funding for family planning programs seems to favor programs that emphasize abstinence, natural planning methods and marriage, Politico reports.

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Low mileage, little savings: Consumer protection laws in California require that insurance companies provide significant discounts to low-mileage drivers. Those discounts are mostly nonexistent outside of that state, according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America. That group looked at 275 quotes from five major providers of basic liability insurance in 11 cities and found that consumers saved an average of $30 per year for every 5,000 fewer miles driven annually, compared with an average of $81 for California drivers. Two companies, Farmers and Progressive, did not provide mileage-based discounts in any of the 11 cities. Driving less reduces a person’s risk of an accident, the nonprofit’s report says, and fair rates should reflect that.

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At Department of Labor, honor or dishonor?: The Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could eliminate of a key stream of revenue for public sector unions, and the U.S. Department of Labor is preparing to induct President Reagan into its Hall of Honor, prompting Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary of Labor under the Obama administration, to dub this “Kill the Labor Movement Week.” A department press release notes that the Hall of Honor was established in 1988 to recognize people who “elevated working conditions, wages, and overall quality of life for American families.” Barab writes: “Not one mention of fired air traffic controllers, nor any fond memories of destroying OSHA’s cotton dust publications because the cover displayed a photo of a worker with brown lung disease, nor any mention of Reagan devastating OSHA’s enforcement program.”

  • Also: The California labor commissioner has ordered the owners of a Shrimp Lover restaurant on Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles to pay $519,706 in back wages and penalties to workers who received as little as $4 per hour and were required to work off the clock. A California farm labor contractor must pay $168,082 in penalties after federal officials found it had housed 22 employees in cramped quarters during the lettuce and cauliflower harvests last summer. The facility  had just one shower and sink, the bathroom was infested with insects and the water provided was unsafe for consumption.
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One more reason not to try kratom: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had already issued one warning this month about a supplement ingredient known as kratom, saying that the compound had opioid properties. That was of special concern given that kratom had become popular among people in recovery from substance use disorders. Then, last week, health officials announced that kratom capsules have been linked to 28 cases of a rare type of salmonella infection in 20 states. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced a voluntary recall of kratom products and urged consumers to destroy what they have, saying, “there’s no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use.”

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NRA feeling the heat, responding in kind: Dick’s Sporting Goods, a chain with more than 675 stores, announced that it will immediately halt sales of firearms to anyone under 21, and will stop selling high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons such as the gun used in the Parkland school shooting that killed 17. Walmart also announced that it will stop selling guns and ammunition to people under 21. Delta Airlines, Best Western and a growing list of corporations have announced that they will no longer offer perks to National Rifle Association members, after facing threatened boycotts if they didn’t cut ties following the Parkland shooting. The NRA called the companies’ decision “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.” And in Georgia, Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told Delta to reverse course or risk losing a a $50 million sales tax exemption on jet fuel.

  • Also: A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics found that gun owners who live with children who have a history of depression or mental health conditions were not significantly more likely to store their guns safely, locked and unloaded, than those whose children did not have factors that could contribute to self-harm. — “That’s the legacy of Marion Hammer”: The Trace has a profile of the NRA’s Florida lobbyist.
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BPA not so bad?: For years, companies have been moving away from the use of bisphenol-A in plastic bottles and in the lining of cans of food. Consumers have demanded it, after studies found that the chemical can leach into food and water – into the milk in a baby’s bottle, for example – and could affect hormone regulation. Now, a two-year study by government researchers has found that BPA had “minimal effects” on rodents, including in those exposed to amounts of BPA thousands of times higher than what people consume. Jon Hamilton writes on NPR’s Shots blog that the changes that did occur were within a normal biological range, “meaning they could have occurred by chance.” The report included results from the first phase in a large research effort, and at least one researcher involved told Newsweek that the FDA press release painted too rosy a picture, saying the next phase is likely to illuminate health effects using more advanced research techniques.

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3M case settled for $850 million: The manufacturing giant agreed to pay the state of Minnesota $850 million to settle a case alleging that the company knew that the perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, it dumped at sites near Minneapolis for more than four decades were harmful. The settlement will provide money for drinking water infrastructure and natural resource protection, and 3M will pay up to $40 million additional for cleanup. While the settlement is big, it’s far less than the $5 billion the state was seeking and it allows the company to avoid a big jury trial assessing whether PFCs harmed the health of residents whose drinking water was contaminated, while dozens of other PFC-related cases work their way through the courts elsewhere in the United States.

  • Also: The Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts has released its Toxic 100 indexes, ranking industrial polluters based on release of water and air pollutants and greenhouse gases. (3M is ranked No. 78 on the water list, where the No. 1 spot goes to DowDuPont) The website allows users to dig deep into data published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and evaluates the companies based on environmental justice indicators.
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Climate change as military crisis: More military sites are being damaged by sea level rise and storm surges linked to climate change, and the U.S. government isn’t doing enough to address the problem, according to a new report by a panel of retired admirals and generals published by the Center for Climate and Security. Neela Banerjee of InsideClimate News explains: “The report spotlights flooding and erosion risks to installations as diverse as the Marine Corps’ boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina, the nuclear submarine repair site in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine and a missile defense system against possible attacks from Asia based in the Marshall Islands.” Banerjee writes that efforts to date by the Pentagon have been “patchy” and largely dependent on the priorities of commanders at each installation.

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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.

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