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Lawmaking After a Massacre

A grim anniversary: A year has passed since a gunman killed 58 people on the Las Vegas strip, and state lawmakers have had mixed success in passing new gun control measures, an Associated Press analysis found. Consider the outcomes in Florida versus Ohio. Following the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida lawmakers banned bump stocks, an accessory that allows a rifle to fire continuously like a machine gun. They also raised the gun-buying age to 21, imposed a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and empowered local authorities to seize guns from people thought to be a threat to themselves or others. But in Ohio, Ryan J. Foley writes, a panel on gun reform convened by Republican Gov. John Kasich produced legislation that went nowhere. Kasich said that gun control advocates are not as unified as the people who fight them. “You have disparate groups going against a force that totally knows what it wants,” he said.

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Bees harmed by Roundup: Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have found that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s widely used Roundup herbicide, damages the gut bacteria that honeybees need to fight off harmful bacteria and could contribute to the collapse of bee colonies. The study was performed by exposing bees from a single hive to the chemical. Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant that recently acquired Monsanto,  said it was “questionable whether the concentrations of the substance tested could at all be absorbed by bee populations in the open over a relevant period of time.” Erick Motta, the study’s lead author, told Vanessa Romo of NPR that the results suggest a need to rewrite guidelines for glyphosate use, which assume that the chemical does not harm bees. “Our study shows that’s not true,” he said.

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A flu for the ages: We knew last winter’s flu season was bad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed just how bad: An estimated 80,000 people died of influenza or complications of the flu, making it the most deadly flu season in at least four decades, Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press reports. The flu season was dominated by a dangerous strain of influenza and complicated by a vaccine that didn’t work very well. Health officials have begun the annual routine of urging people to get vaccinated this year.

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U.S. trails on tobacco warnings: The world is making “tremendous progress” in changing cigarette packaging to warn consumers about the hazards of smoking, a report from the Canadian Cancer Society found. Today, 118 countries and territories require picture warnings on cigarette packaging that clearly and graphically convey the risks, up from 100 in 2016. Twenty-five countries have adopted or are implementing “plain packaging,” which reduces cigarette appeal by eliminating promotional materials and standardizing the shape of the package. The report ranks efforts in 206 countries. So, how is the U.S. doing? It’s tied for dead last. A federal judge recently ordered the FDA to get to work in implementing a long-delayed law requiring cigarette makers to include graphic health warnings, with yet another study published this month showing their effectiveness.

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Something in the water: The likely culprit of this spring’s E. coli outbreak — which killed five people, caused kidney failure in 27 and sickened dozens more — was eventually identified. The same strain of E. coli was found in a canal used to irrigate crops in Yuma, Arizona, a major winter lettuce-growing region. Could the outbreak have been avoided? Six months before the outbreak, the Trump administration stopped the scheduled implementation of a law that would have required produce growers to test the safety of the water used on their crops, Elizabeth Shogren and Susie Neilson report for Reveal. The law passed in 2011, after other high-profile outbreaks linked to food safety. Most Arizona growers of leafy greens previously signed a voluntary agreement to test their irrigation water, which is a well-known factor in disease outbreaks, but the reporters write that this spring’s outbreak demonstrates the limits of a voluntary program against a particularly dangerous pathogen.

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Reconsidering human health at the EPA: Two key positions for protecting human health are being undermined or eliminated at the Environmental Protection Agency. The New York Times reports that the Office of the Science Advisor is set to be dissolved.  The current science advisor, Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, has been with the agency since 1981 and is an expert on chemical risks and human health, Coral Davenport writes. In an emailed statement, Orme-Zavaleta said the change was an effort to “eliminate redundancies.” Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists called it “a colossally bad idea.” Also last week, the head of the agency’s Office of Children’s Health Protection was put on leave. In a leaked email obtained by BuzzFeed News, Dr. Ruth Etzel wrote that the administration is acting on “their plan to ‘disappear'” her office. The office has played a key role, write Davenport and reporter Roni Caryn Rabin, in strengthening regulatory standards to protect children. Their developing brains and bodies are particularly sensitive to pollutants and chemicals in the environment – things like mercury, a neurotoxin, and contributors to smog, which is linked to childhood asthma.

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Dire outlook for beloved spaces: Within the next century, many national parks could become testaments to what has been lost to climate change, a study published last week revealed. Alex Horton of The Washington Post explained it this way: “Climate change could kill most of [Joshua Tree National Park’s] iconic trees, wildfires may transform the towering conifer forests at Yellowstone National Park into scarred grasslands, and once-mighty ice sheets in the north will probably melt and flow into the sea, making Glacier National Park both an obsolete name and a hard lesson about environmental degradation.”

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Easing up on offshore oil: The Trump administration has rolled back rules for offshore oil and gas production put in place after the 2011 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, Reuters reports. The move eases requirements such as having an independent third party certify devices, and changes rules about when and how much operators must report to the government on equipment failures. The Interior Department described the requirements, which were put in place in 2016, as “unduly burdensome.”

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