Shell researchers called for climate action – in 1988: Researchers working for Royal Dutch Shell in the 1980s knew that the world could be dramatically altered by global warming and urged the oil giant to take action even as the company publicly emphasized the uncertainty of climate science and warned against the risk of aggressive policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the takeaway from a trove of Shell documents revealed by Dutch journalists and covered  by John H. Cushman Jr. at InsideClimate News. Cushman notes that other oil companies, like Exxon, held a similar poker face while internal research about the global effects of burning fossil fuels piled up. Now those companies face lawsuits from states, local municipalities and kids who will inherit the consequences of a warming world. “The key legal question in much of the litigation is whether the companies understood risks of global warming well enough, and early enough, to be held accountable for damages that are already occurring and are likely to grow,” Cushman writes.

  • Also: Friends of the Earth has threatened to sue Royal Dutch Shell if the company doesn’t commit to a plan within eight weeks to bring its business into line with the Paris climate agreement. Shell has pledged to halve its carbon footprint by 2050, but said this week that its emissions rose in 2017 to the highest level since 2014.

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Polaris customers file class action over fire hazard: Owners of Polaris off-road vehicles have filed a class action lawsuit against the company, saying it knew its vehicles could catch fire due to a design flaw but did not fix the problem or notify customers fast enough. The lawsuit was filed just two days after the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Polaris Industries announced that the company agreed to pay more than $27 million to settle charges that it failed to promptly report the fire hazard. The company admitted no wrongdoing and issued no apology for the faulty vehicles, which have been linked to at least three deaths and dozens of injuries. The class action filing suggests that more than 300,000 owners of vehicles produced between 2011 and 2018 could be represented in the case. When Christopher Jensen of FairWarning reported on the persistent problems with Polaris vehicles in February, James Hardiman, a managing director of an investment firm that tracks the company, pointed to the intense competition Polaris has faced from other manufacturers. It’s possible that new models were rushed to production before they were fully tested, Hardiman said.

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For Johnson & Johnson, more baby powder battles: J&J’s baby powder, seen as a safe and reliable product by generations of parents and other customers, was responsible for causing a New Jersey banker’s mesothelioma, a jury found. The case is the first to affirm a consumer’s claim that the company knew that the talc in its body powder was contaminated with asbestos and that the product caused the rare, aggressive cancer.

The jury awarded Stephen Lanzo III and his wife $37 million, with 70 percent to be paid by J&J and the remainder by talc supplier Imerys Talc America. A second phase of the trial is now under way, with jurors considering whether the companies should face punitive damages.

As of Dec. 31, about 6,610 lawsuits had been filed against J&J related to its talc-containing powders, according to the company’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. But most of those allege that the products caused ovarian cancer in women, not mesothelioma.

A California jury decided in J&J’s favor last year in the first case alleging the link to mesothelioma. Johnson & Johnson has long asserted that its powders never contained asbestos. In January, FairWarning’s Myron Levin reported on a trove of company documents that cast doubt on that assertion, showing the company deliberated about the potential risk of asbestos in its powders since the early 1970s.

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More restrictions for Essure: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has taken an unusual step to restrict the sale of Bayer’s implantable sterilization device, called Essure, after the agency was flooded with complaints. Patients say they were harmed by the device and often not properly informed of the risks it poses. The agency issued an order requiring that doctors implanting the device sign a document affirming that they have talked with the patient about possible adverse effects, which have included perforation of the uterus or fallopian tubes, persistent pain or allergic reactions. The company has stopped selling Essure outside of the U.S., and some patient advocates want to see it banned here, where it is the subject of thousands of lawsuits.

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What are you vaping?: There’s more evidence that nicotine may not be the only thing to worry about inhaling from e-cigarettes. In a New York Times op-ed, Dr. Joseph G. Allen an assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explains recent research that found vapers may be inhaling high levels of formaldehyde and diacetyl, a flavoring chemical that can cause respiratory disease (It caused workers at a microwave popcorn packaging plant to become seriously ill with what became known as “popcorn lung.”). Plus, he says, it’s difficult to deny that they are marketed to children. “Who else is interested in puffing on an ‘Alien Blood’-flavored e-cig?” he writes. The FDA has delayed its reviews of e-cigarettes until 2022, a decision being challenged by public health groups.

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The ocean’s plastic problem is a toxic metal problem, too: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is becoming more plastic every day. Making matters worse in the ocean is plastic waste from sources such as China’s Yangtze River. Now an analysis of debris from Canadian beaches has found that the plastic carries with it another problem: toxic metals that are absorbed from the surrounding environment onto biofilms that form on the plastic and then are carried into the ocean and potentially into the food supply. Danielle Beurteaux writes at Oceans Deeply that scientists still aren’t sure what health effects the metals could have on the sea creatures that consume the plastic, or on the humans that eat the sea creatures.

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Slash-and-burn approach at the EPA faces roadblocks: The New York Times reports on how efforts by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to dramatically cut federal environmental regulations have been slowed by legal challenges. “Six of Mr. Pruitt’s efforts to delay or roll back Obama-era regulations — on issues including pesticides, lead paint and renewable-fuel requirements — have been struck down by the courts,” write Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman. “Mr. Pruitt also backed down on a proposal to delay implementing smog regulations and another to withdraw a regulation on mercury pollution.”

  • Also: The U.S. Office of Government Ethics sent a letter to an ethics official at the EPA raising questions about improper spending by Pruitt, the demotion of employees who questioned that spending and reports that Pruitt leased a condo at a below-market price from a lobbyist with ties to companies seeking approvals from his agency. 
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A checkup for Congress on gun control: Pediatricians arrived in Washington to lobby Congress for gun control measures, including a ban on assault weapons and a limit on sales of semiautomatic weapons to people age 21 and up. The effort was organized by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has long advocated for gun safety and increased gun control and which recommends that doctors talk with parents about safe storage of any guns in the home. Dr. Ben Hoffman, chair of the organization’s Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, told Maggie Fox of NBC News he is hopeful that the message that gun control is a public health issue will be heard more clearly this year. “This is a unique time,” he said.

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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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One comment to “A Weekly News Briefing”

  1. Myron Levin

    Concerning the problem of plastics in the ocean, I wonder if we could kill two birds with one stone. Too many large fishing vessels challenge the ocean’s ability to sustain its fish production. Why don’t we get governments of countries that have contributed to all this plastic (U.S., China, Japan, European countries . . .) to pay the fishing vessels to collect plastic from the ocean for recycling or disposal. This would distract them from catching fish and would help to clean up at least the larger pieces of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Does this make sense?

    Carl Nash

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