Unlocked and loaded: About 4.6 million children in the United States live in homes where guns are kept unlocked and loaded, as more people come to believe – despite scientific evidence to the contrary – that a home with a gun is a safer home, according to a new analysis in the Journal of Urban Health. That’s about 7 percent of children, or double the previous estimate from 2002. It’s a startling trend when viewed against the news of the week: Officials have said the guns allegedly used by Dimitrios Pagourtzis to kill 10 classmates and teachers at Santa Fe High School in Texas belonged to his father. Nora Biette-Timmons of The Trace notes that a 2004 analysis of school shootings found that 65 percent of perpetrators used a relative’s gun.
- Also: Gun owners and non-gun owners agree on a host of gun control measures, including universal background checks, stronger safety standards for concealed carry permits and accountability for gun dealers, a survey found. –– This long read by Eli Saslow in The Washington Post, about one teenager’s effort to talk gun control in her conservative Wyoming town, is well worth your time. –– And this: Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo posted on Facebook after the shooting at Santa Fe High School that it’s time to ask “God’s forgiveness for our inaction.”
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Keyless ignition, poison gas: The risk is well-documented. The fix is inexpensive and relatively easy. Still, regulators and car manufacturers have failed to act decisively to prevent deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning when drivers of keyless ignition cars leave their vehicles running in enclosed spaces. In “Deadly Convenience,” David Jeans and Majlie De Puy Kamp of The New York Times relate how drivers long accustomed to turning a key, and perhaps confused by newer, quieter engines, have accidentally gotten out of their vehicles and left them running. That can be tragic when the cars are inside an attached garage and spew carbon monoxide into homes. The reporters identified 28 deaths and 45 injuries since 2006, though they note that the figures could well be higher. Federal regulators proposed a rule in 2011 requiring carmakers to install additional warnings to alert drivers if they walk away from a vehicle while it is on. “But the agency has postponed adoption of the keyless ignition regulation three times,” Jeans and De Puy Kamp write, “and in the meantime at least 21 people have died.” Installing an automatic shut-off would cost pennies per car. Several manufacturers – Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler – have already done this on some vehicles, according to a blog post by Safety Research and Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that has tracked the issue. “Modern vehicles contain all the required hardware to make this happen,” the post says.
- Also: The Safety Research and Strategies blog post notes that Heidi King, the nominee to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was asked during a Senate confirmation hearing whether she would finally implement the keyless ignition warning rule. She would not commit. The Senate committee was scheduled to vote today on whether to recommend King for confirmation, but that vote was postponed late Monday. A group that has voiced opposition to King’s confirmation is the Center for Auto Safety, which last week sent a letter to senators citing a lack of scrutiny for autonomous vehicles, delays in new safety regulations, a planned rollback of emissions standards, and a decline in investigations under King’s leadership as deputy administrator. –– The number of fatal crashes involving large trucks increased 3 percent in 2016, to 4,317, according to data released this month.
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Medications for all: There was plenty of build-up to President Trump’s proposal to curb prescription drug prices, but the plan left out Medicare price negotiations – something Trump had long claimed to support – and critics said it would ultimately do very little. Now, a group of 21 scholars and doctors in Canada and the United States has published a proposal for controlling costs and providing all patients with access to the safest, most effective medications, with no out-of-pocket costs. The group calls for major changes to the industry, limiting the patenting of drugs that are not substantially different from those already on the market, increasing the transparency of clinical trials, raising penalties for drugmakers that mislead patients and doctors in marketing their drugs, and preventing manufacturers from funding prescriber education programs. Published in the BMJ, the article offers this food for thought: “Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, eschewed patenting, declaring: ‘Could you patent the sun?’ Today, in contrast, profiteering too often reigns, to the detriment of population health.”
- Also: The Food and Drug Administration published a list of drug manufacturers accused of “gaming” the system by blocking generic drug development. – The general counsel for drug giant Novartis, following the disclosure that the company paid Trump lawyer Michael Cohen $1.2 million for consulting services, said he took personal responsibility for the decision and retired.
Putting plastic front and center: National Geographic’s June cover is startling: Inside the magazine’s trademark yellow frame is a craggy iceberg floating in clear blue water. Look again – that’s a plastic bag. “Plastic or planet?” the cover story asks, and the magazine is full of things that will depress (how a flood of plastic is harming marine life and humans alike) and perhaps even delight (a profile of the Trashpresso machine, which turns plastic into building tiles). The issue marks the launch of a multi-year campaign to raise awareness of the problem of plastic pollution, to partner with brands like North Face to produce products that repurpose plastic waste and to better document how plastic waste reaches the oceans, Fast Company notes.
- Also: Humanity’s plastic refuse is reaching even the deepest parts of the ocean. –– Two Los Angeles area plastics manufacturers will pay a total of about $35,000 in fines and take measures to prevent plastic pellets called “nurdles” from spilling into local waterways under a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Black lung spike a grim diagnosis for miners: Researchers have confirmed a dramatic rise in serious black lung disease among coal miners in recent years, documenting 4,679 cases between 1970 and 2014, half of which were identified since 2000. Black lung declined dramatically in the second half of the 20th century, with improved health and safety rules, but the disease has made a comeback, likely because miners are exposed to silica dust as they cut around thinner coal seams. Lung transplants due to the disease are up, too. And NPR’s Howard Berkes, who has closely tracked the epidemic, talked to researchers about yet-unpublished research with this takeaway: As many as 1 in 5 working coal miners in Appalachia could have diseased lungs.
Too many safety requirements for chemical plants?: The Environmental Protection Agency wants to undo an Obama era program tightening safety requirements at chemical plants. It was put in place after an explosion at a fertilizer producer in West, Texas, killed 15 people and injured hundreds more. Administrator Scott Pruitt said the proposed change will “reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, address the concerns of stakeholders and emergency responders on the ground, and save Americans roughly $88 million a year.” The only stakeholders that his press release quotes are those in the chemical industry, and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who called the proposal “another victory for common sense over environmental radicalism.” Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor during the Obama administration, offers perspective on the regulatory aftermath of the West Fertilizer disaster. He argues that rules have been twisted to suit Pruitt’s aims, even as more chemical plant explosions, like recent ones in Wisconsin and Texas, threaten nearby residents.
- Also: The Trump administration has sided with oil companies in lawsuits filed by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. The cases allege that ExxonMobil, Chevron and others have known for decades that fossil fuel production threatened the planet with climate change but continued to deceive customers about the risk, David Hasemyer of InsideClimate News reports. –– Pruitt may be quietly clearing the way for older, dirty power plants to continue operating without required emissions clean-ups, Rachel Leven and Fatima Bhojani of the Center for Public Integrity report.
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Stakes raised on PFAS pollution: The EPA is hosting a “leadership summit” this week on per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds in the environment. These compounds, used in the production of consumer and industrial products to make them water-resistant or non-stick, have contaminated the drinking water of millions of Americans. The Environmental Working Group has just increased its estimate of people whose water has been contaminated to 110 million Americans. The summit opens days after Annie Snider of Politico revealed that the White House and the EPA suppressed a report that found the chemicals can harm human health at much lower levels than previously thought. Residents and activists from the communities affected, for the most part, won’t be welcome at the summit, Sharon Lerner of The Intercept writes. The EPA also barred the Associated Press, CNN and the environmental-focused news organization E&E from the summit.
- Also: Drug manufacturers are pumping huge amounts of drug-laced wastewater into treatment plants and ultimately into local waterways, Environmental Health News reports.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.