Breath of fresh air: Premature deaths from air pollution in the U.S. fell by nearly half between 1990 and 2010, according to an analysis by researchers in North Carolina and Beijing. Total deaths attributable to the health impacts of ozone and fine particulate matter fell to about 71,000 each year, from 135,000, Yale Environment 360 reports. The study demonstrates that efforts to curb air pollution have had a dramatic impact, said Jason West, an atmospheric scientist at the University of North Carolina and a study author. “Even though we’ve seen some tangible success, there are still people dying, and a public health challenge remains going forward,” West said in a press release. “New federal policies curtailing air pollution regulations likely will slow the improvement in air quality or possibly make air quality worse.”
- Also: Ten of the world’s most polluted cities are in India, the world’s fastest-growing economy. Iain Marlow of Bloomberg looks at what it means for the future.
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Beef and antibiotics: Fast-food chains have largely made the switch to antibiotic-free chicken. While that’s worth celebrating, chicken accounts for just 6 percent of the meat industry’s use of antibiotics that are important for human health. Beef accounts for 43 percent, and Consumer Reports found there’s a lot more work to do when it comes to burgers. The group surveyed 25 burger chains and only two, BurgerFi and Shake Shack, received A grades for sourcing beef raised without the routine use of antibiotics. Wendy’s earned credit for sourcing beef from a producer that has modestly reduced its use of one important antibiotic, but still received a D- grade. The 22 other chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Five Guys, White Castle and more, received an F.
- Also: What does it take to produce Costco’s $5 rotisserie chickens? A whole lot of small chickens and Nebraska corn. Grant Gerlock explains.
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Dangerous painkiller nears approval, despite warnings: A Food and Drug Administration panel has recommended approval of a synthetic opioid that is 10 times more potent than fentanyl, a drug that has flooded the black market and killed thousands of Americans. The drug is a tiny pill meant to relieve acute pain quickly when dissolved under the tongue. Members of the panel said the drug, to be marketed under the name Dsuvia, would provide doctors with a key noninvasive tool for pain relief. But the chairman of the committee, Raeford E. Brown Jr., a professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics at the University of Kentucky, said the FDA should reject the medication, calling it “extremely divertible” to illegal distribution channels. “We have learned a hard lesson in the US that if you put a drug on the market, it will be diverted, and if it’s diverted, people will die,” Brown told Pauline Anderson of WebMD. In a letter sent to the FDA jointly with the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, Brown also alleges that the FDA intentionally subverted review of the drug, leaving out drug safety experts, to tip the outcome in favor of approval. The drug, to be sold by AcelRX Pharmaceuticals of Redwood City, Calif., “has no truly unique benefits and will only add to the worsening, not the mitigation, of the opioid epidemic in this country,” the letter states. A final decision is expected by Nov. 3.
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Slow-motion disaster: Damaged oil wells located 12 miles off the Louisiana coast have spilled hundreds of gallons of oil a day since a mudslide prompted by Hurricane Ivan 14 years ago sank a production platform owned by Taylor Energy, reports Darryl Fears of The Washington Post. The spill is on track to become the worst in U.S. history, and federal officials say it could continue through the century. The spill was kept secret for years before environmental monitors happened upon it and then fought in court for details. Fears explains what the ever-growing spill means for a national debate over a Trump proposal to expand oil leases to the entire outer continental shelf, including areas of the Atlantic coast vulnerable to hurricanes and dependent on tourist dollars.
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Conservative clerkship: The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, organized a secret training program for judicial clerks but cancelled the program once The New York Times reported on its existence. The conservative movement has long worked to influence the nation’s judicial system, nurturing young lawyers and promoting court nominees. But, Adam Liptak writes, the effort to explicitly train clerks to work in the foundation’s best interest raises ethical questions and could undermine the commitment the clerks make to the judicial system and to the judges they serve.
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Unwelcome advice: The primary role of the EPA Office of Children’s Health Protection was as a kind of “conscience of the EPA,” making sure regulations take into account that children are especially sensitive to pollutants, said Dr. Ruth Etzel, who was placed on leave last month from her job as director of that office. She told “CBS This Morning” that her office’s input was no longer welcome by the Trump administration. Monthly meetings with the EPA administrator ceased. She didn’t have a single one-on-one meeting with Andrew Wheeler or his predecessor, Scott Pruitt. “Not one,” she said. The EPA said after the segment aired that Etzel was on “investigative leave” resulting from concerns about her ability to lead the office. She denied that characterization, saying her supervisors have not informed her of any complaint filed against her. At least eight Democratic senators sent letters protesting Etzel’s removal from her post, CBS reports.
- Also: The EPA has put off making a decision on a controversial proposal to dramatically limit which scientific studies can be used in making regulatory decisions. The agency could decide on the final rule around January 2020, The Hill reports. — More than a dozen scientists are running for a seat in Congress, a record number driven by the Trump administration’s anti-science agenda, writes Marianne Lavelle of InsideClimate News.
Human cost of “stand your ground”: In 2005, Florida dramatically changed its laws to allow people to use lethal force in self-defense, even when they have other options, such as fleeing or de-escalating the situation. The “stand your ground” law “shifted lethal force from a last resort option to a first move,” according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. As a result, the analysis found, since 2006 about 4,200 people were killed with a gun who might have survived if the law had not been changed. The authors note that Florida was the first to enact such a law, but two dozen others followed suit. Researchers previously found that a “stand your ground” legal defense for use of firearms has been considerably more effective when the victim in the case was a person of color.
- Also: A Florida city commissioner has been charged with second-degree murder after fatally shooting a man leaving his store who had been suspected of shoplifting. Prosecutors rejected the idea that Michael Dunn’s actions were defensible under the “stand your ground” law, Reuters reports. –– The Trace and NBC 5 Chicago take a deep look at the link between the rise in gun theft and violence in Chicago.
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Hazards on the job: Federal investigators cited Orlando-based Kasper Roofing & Construction for exposing workers to fall hazards, after an employee fell from the roof of a one-story home and died. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed penalties of $134,510, the maximum allowed. “Workers can be protected from falls by the use of harnesses and other fall protection devices,” Tampa Area Office Director Les Grove said in a press release. “This tragedy could have been prevented if the employer had complied with OSHA’s fall protection standards.”
- Also: ThyssenKrupp Elevator Corp. of Ohio faces proposed penalties of $142,270, the maximum allowed, for failing to secure an elevator platform at a hospital construction site that lowered onto a 45-year-old mechanic working in the pit, killing him.
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Recall dominoes: McCain Foods recalled food produced at one of its California plants last week and set off a string of recalls targeting millions of pounds of food made by companies that use McCain products in their own foods. The recalls affected ready-to-eat salads at certain Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods stores, Jenny Craig meals shipped to consumers’ homes, grab-and-go taquitos sold at 7-Eleven stores and more. “These recalls demonstrate just how complex and interconnected our food system is today. When you buy something from the store, it’s possible the company that produced it was three companies ago,” Will Wallace, senior food policy analyst for Consumers Union told Mike Snider of USA Today. “This is a big deal. It could impact tens of thousands of people, if not more.” The recall was for possible salmonella or listeria contamination, but the FDA said no illnesses had been reported as of October 19.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.