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A Foodborne Parasite on the Rise

Illness reports mounting: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has documented 2,173 cases of the foodborne illness cyclosporiasis from May through August this year. That’s a surge in the case count from prior years. Although the total exceeded 1,000 for all of last year, the overall tally from the previous 17 years was only 1,646. About 35 percent of the 2018 cases have been linked to two big outbreaks from McDonald’s salads sold in the Midwest and from Del Monte vegetable trays sold at convenience stores. Investigators have tracked small clusters of cases to imported basil and cilantro. The Food and Drug Administration has also found the Cyclospora intestinal parasite in domestically grown produce. The agency recently added Cyclospora to the list of pathogens it routinely tests for in certain commodities,  FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a written statement, and the CDC partly attributed the reported increase in illness cases to improved testing. Symptoms can include stomach-related illness, fever and fatigue. At least 150 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

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Worldwide, 152 million child laborers: If you buy bananas grown in Brazil, textiles made in China or Vietnam, carpets woven in Iran, or gold mined in a list of countries stretching across three continents, odds are high the products were made with child labor. An estimated 152 million children are engaged in labor around the world, nearly half of them below age 12. That’s according to a just-updated report from the Department of Labor on goods from around the world made with child or forced labor. Another 25 million people work in slave-like conditions. A second report, the annual “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor,” takes a deeper look at what’s being done to improve labor conditions worldwide. Fourteen countries are noted for making significant improvements, including Paraguay, Colombia and India.

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Deep in coal ash: The nation’s largest-ever coal ash spill, which in 2008 spread 5 million cubic yards of toxic sludge across 300 acres in Tennessee’s Roane County and into the Emory River, took years to clean up. Though early testing showed high levels of arsenic and radium in the mix, the workers who did the job lacked even basic protective equipment. They also were repeatedly told that exposure to the sludge, which became fly ash as it dried, was harmless, according to in-depth reporting last year by Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel. In her latest report, Satterfield writes that the death toll is rising. At least 30 workers have died of illnesses linked with exposure to heavy metals and other toxins. More than 200 others are sick. The workers are suing Jacobs Engineering, the contractor that Tennessee Valley Authority ratepayers paid $27.7 million to protect the workers during cleanup, Satterfield writes.

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Money woes at the NRA: The National Rife Association’s financial outlook was strong in 2015, with the organization reporting $27.8 million in unrestricted net assets in an audit obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics. But in a striking turnaround, the group has faced a deficit in the past two years totaling $31.8 million in 2017. That’s in part a result of a 22 percent decline in membership dues last year, John Cook of The Trace writes. Cook also notes that the NRA had maxed out a $25 million bank line of credit and borrowed $5 million from the NRA Foundation, an affiliated nonprofit. “I think they needed the cash,” Marcus Owens, a lawyer specializing in nonprofit law, told him.

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‘Arctic cauldron’: Don’t miss this incredible – and incredibly worrying – story by writer Chris Mooney and photographer Jonathan Newton of The Washington Post. They visited a bubbling Arctic lake, along with ecologist Katey Walter Anthony and a team of researchers. The aim was to discover exactly how the lake is releasing two tons of of methane gas every day (equivalent to the emissions of about 6,000 cows) and what the implications could be for the future of the planet. The photos and video are as stunning as the researchers’ predictions are dire.

  • Also: The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world’s oceans, and researchers using new data collection tools and climate models found, with certainty, that the trend is the result of human influence, Sabrina Shankman of InsideClimate News reports.
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Drugs on the hoof: Despite regulations that took effect in 2017 to combat the spread of superbugs by curbing the use of antibiotics on livestock, federal inspectors found they still are being used in “unacceptable” quantities. That lack of progress was uncovered in testing by the U.S. Food Safety Inspection Service on 180,000 samples from meat plants, a team of reporters from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found. The use of antibiotics in livestock is a major factor in antibiotic drug resistance, undermining the effectiveness of antibiotics in protecting human health. In the year after the regulations took effect, the number of times federal testing found residues of antibiotics deemed of highest priority by the World Health Organization actually increased to 461, from 363 in 2016, according to data obtained by the Bureau. In a report released in February, the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics estimated that U.S. livestock receive about five times more antibiotics than livestock in the UK. “Antibiotic residues are extremely rare and meat is safe,” a spokeswoman for the North American Meat Institute said. “To make any other sweeping public health conclusions from the residue testing data is inappropriate and irresponsible.”

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Lessons from the storm: Climate change is here. The wet, slow-moving force of Hurricane Florence, acting on a coastline that’s already seen the sea level rise nearly a foot in the past century, is an example of what it will bring, writes CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. “Florence and Harvey should not be treated as an example of what human-fueled global warming could bring us at some point in the future,” he writes. “They are unfortunate examples of what global warming, caused by ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions, is doing to storms in the present day.”  Jeffrey Ball for The New York Times takes a broad look at how the world is beginning to adapt and just how great of an effort is needed.

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Doctor disclosures in California: Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last week making California the first state to require doctors to disclose to patients when they are on probation for actions that harm patients, including sexual misconduct, drug abuse and inappropriate prescribing. The Patient Right to Know Act, which applies to probations that begin July 1 or later, requires that patients be notified in writing. Many state medical boards, including California’s, disclose doctor probations on their websites, but state records can be incomplete and the onus is on patients to look up their doctors’ history.

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Flame retardants a complex problem: Last September, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted in favor of a petition to ban most children’s products, home furniture, mattresses and electronic casings with flame retardants added. But regulating a large class of chemicals – a move strongly opposed by manufacturers – is difficult. The commission has asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine how and whether to ban organohalogen flame retardants as a class or to consider them as subgroups, Cheryl Hogue of Chemical and Engineering News reports. Many commonly used flame retardants have been identified as endocrine disruptors and linked to health risks, including developmental disorders and reproductive issues.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.