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Mystery Solved? Ozone-Destroying Gas Wafting from Plants in China

Outlawed emissions:  A mysterious increase in emissions of a banned industrial gas that destroys the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer has been traced to a province in China where manufacturers have kept using it to make foam insulation. According to The New York Times, the spike in emissions of CFC-11 is undermining the success of the Montreal Protocol, the global agreement that banned such chlorofluorocarbon compounds. Manufacturers in Shandong Province have continued using CFC-11 to make foam for refrigerators rather than switch to more expensive alternatives. Reporters Chris Buckley and Henry Fountain say there have been hints of action by Chinese authorities, including an announcement of tougher controls on carbon tetrachloride, a chemical that can be used to make CFC-11. But the owner of a refrigerator factory said: “You had a choice: Choose the cheaper foam agent that’s not so good for the environment, or the expensive one that’s better for the environment … Of course, we chose the cheaper foam agent … That’s how we survived.”

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Public relations nightmare?:  A group of  toxic chemicals  widely detected in drinking water may pose health risks at far lower levels than previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency. A draft federal health study focuses on perfluoroalkyl compounds, including chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA, that are suspected to cause health problems such as liver damage and certain cancers. The chemicals have been used in paper and packaging, carpets, firefighting foam, the 3M stain repellant called Scotchgard, and the DuPont nonstick coating known as Teflon. The findings could lead to a major rise in cleanup costs at chemical plants and military bases, including dozens of Defense Department sites where firefighting foam has contaminated water supplies. Earlier this year, the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group, obtained emails in which Trump administration officials voiced alarm  about expected fallout from the report.  As reported by Politico,  a White House aide warned of  a”potential public relations nightmare,” and said the impact on the EPA and Defense Department “is going to be extremely painful.”  Yet as Emily Atkin noted in The New Republic, the 852-page report landed quietly amid the furor over border separations of immigrant children and parents.

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Going … going — yet hardly gone:  The U.S. adult smoking rate dropped to a record of low 13.9 percent in 2017,  according to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considering that more than 42 percent of Americans 18 and older were smokers in the mid-1960s, the continuing decline is a ”a public health success story of extraordinary importance,” said the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Even so, health authorities say that more than 480,000 people die annually of smoking-related causes in the U.S. And smoking, once a symbol of sophistication and upward mobility, is increasingly the habit of  the poor and mentally ill. The CDC estimate does not include use of e-cigarettes, amid uncertainty over whether these nicotine delivery devices — deemed less harmful because they don’t burn tobacco — will ultimately reduce consumption of conventional cigarettes.

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Offshore drilling rules sunk: After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil, the Obama administration imposed tougher environmental rules. But last week President Trump revoked the measures, giving states more responsibility for overseeing offshore drilling and, Umair Irfan of Vox reports, prioritizing business interests ahead of the environment. While it’s unlikely that the new executive order will lead to more offshore drilling right away, environmental activists are worried looser regulations eventually will lead to a new wave of less-regulated drilling, increasing the likelihood of another disaster.

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Controlling leaks of potent climate pollutant: The amount of methane gas leaking from the nation’s oil and gas fields may be 60 percent higher than the official estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to research published in the journal Science. Sabrina Shankman of InsideClimate News reports that the study, led by scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund, presents compelling evidence that switching to gas from dirtier coal might not be as effective a climate strategy as its proponents suggest — unless the gas industry improves how it controls leaks. “It starts to have a material effect on just how clean a fuel natural gas really is,” said Ramon Alvarez, one of the study’s authors.

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The deadly risks of hot cars: In recent years, an average of 37 infants and toddlers annually in the U.S. perished from heat stroke after being left unattended in hot vehicles.  This year, with the hottest weather still ahead, 18 children, ranging in age from 5 months to 3 years, already have died, according to  KidsAndCars.org. Some deaths occur because parents or caregivers forget there is a sleeping child in back. Others assume incorrectly that it’s OK to leave a child for a short time. As FairWarning has reported,  cars can become dangerously hot in as little as 10 minutes even with outside temperatures in the 80s and a window cracked open. Pending federal legislation would require the Department of Transportation to issue a rule within two years requiring vehicles to be equipped with an alert to warn a driver about the presence of a back seat passenger when the car is turned off.   Should the bill pass, it would still be several years before all new vehicles are equipped with the alert. In the meantime, said Janette Fennell of KidsAndCars, nothing stops vehicle makers from voluntarily installing an alert.

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More guns than people:  U.S. civilians own 393 million firearms, or about 1.2 per resident, according to an estimate by the Small Arms Survey, a research group in Geneva, Switzerland. That’s more than twice the per capita average for the second-ranking country, Yemen, and 46 percent of the global total of civilian-owned firearms, Alex Yablon writes in The Trace. He notes that the Swiss organization’s count of U.S. gun ownership is considerably higher than the 2015 estimate of the National Firearms Survey, a project of Harvard and Northeastern universities that put the number of guns owned by American civilians at 265 million.

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Wage case leads to $1.6 million order against consultants: A federal judge ordered Fire & Safety Investigation Consulting Services of Bridgeport, West Virginia, and its owner, Christopher Harris, to pay 70 employees $817,902 in back wages along with an equal amount in liquidated damages. U.S. Labor Department investigators found that the firm, which provides safety and environmental consulting services for the oil and gas industry, failed to pay the employees overtime when they put in more than 40 hours in a workweek. Instead, the government said, the firm paid employees a fixed amount  every two weeks and ignored the hours actually worked.  “Just because a pay practice appears to be common within an industry, does not mean that it complies with the law,” said John DuMont, a wage and hour district director for the Labor Department.

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Consumer group urges withdrawal of gout drug: The advocacy group, Public Citizen, filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration to sideline the drug, Uloric. It cited “overwhelming evidence that the serious cardiovascular harms” of the drug “outweigh any purported clinical benefit” in treating gout, a form of inflammatory arthritis. As Angus Liu of FiercePharma reported, the FDA rejected the medication twice over safety concerns before approving it in 2009 on the condition that the Japanese drug maker, Takeda, conduct a large clinical trial to further evaluate the cardiovascular risks. Findings from the 6,190-subject study ultimately were published in March in The New England Journal of Medicine, and they showed higher mortality rates among patients taking Uloric than those being treated with an older gout drug, allopurinol.