Who’s to blame for devastating wildfires?: At least 79 people are dead and nearly 700 more are unaccounted for in the Camp Fire, California’s most destructive wildfire ever. Megan Cassidy of the San Francisco Chronicle explains why it is so difficult to track people after a fire tragedy and what that means for loved ones of the missing. A pair of storms expected this week may finally quell the wildfire season in Northern California, but they present new problems for regions scarred by the fires: the risk of flash floods and mudflows. Meanwhile, residents are returning to their homes in Malibu after the Woolsey fire killed three people and burned nearly 100,000 acres. After first saying this is no time for finger-pointing, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday went ahead and pointed, suggesting “radical environmentalists” were to blame for blocking appropriate forest management. “This is on them,” he told Breitbart. President Trump over the weekend said California needs better “raking and cleaning” of the forest. George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times explores how real solutions are hard to come by and cited Gov. Jerry Brown’s more nuanced assessment: “It’s how people live, it’s where they live, and it’s the changing climate,” Brown said. “And the truth is…we’re going to have more difficulties. Things are not going to get better. They’re going to get more challenging because of the continuing alteration in the climate — lack of moisture, early snowmelt and faster winds, the whole thing.”
- Also: California — with its prolonged drought, extreme heat waves, and devastating wildfires blanketing the region with smoke — could be the poster child for a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change. It found that global warming will cause more coastal regions of North and South America to experience simultaneous disasters. “Like a terror movie that is real,” author Camilo Mora told John Schwartz of The New York Times.
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‘Trouble in Toyland’: Are you buying young children Christmas gifts from online retailers this year? You may want to pay extra attention to what you get. Some toys suggested as being appropriate for young children contained small parts that could pose choking hazards, including Hatchimals and the popular miniature animal figurines by L.O.L. Surprise, according to an annual review of hazardous toys by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The group tested only about 40 toys and found issues with 15 of them. Another common problem: too much boron in popular “slime” toys. Boron, which can cause nausea and vomiting or even reproductive problems, was found in concentrations as high as 4700 parts per million. Some states set a limit for boron in drinking water of 1 part per million or less. Lead in paint and plastic is a perennial issue. The report cited internet-connected toys as the source of an emerging problem, particularly when the toys collect a child’s personal information without parental consent. The report calls for better recall policies, particularly for online sellers. (Many brick-and-mortar stores have put in place “lock-out” mechanisms at checkout that prevent a recalled toy from being sold.) “Not enough consumers hear about recalls and not enough of those who do take action,” the report says.
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Memory supplements not as advertised: More and more aging Americans looking to boost their memory or stave off Alzheimer’s disease are turning to supplements, enough that sales nearly doubled between 2006 and 2015, to $643 million, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. FairWarning reported last year that some senators and scientists were concerned about supplement manufacturers making false promises and taking advantage of customers looking for hope in the face of cognitive decline. Now, the GAO has found that the ingredients in two heavily advertised memory supplements were not as advertised. One product marketed as Ginkgo biloba did not in fact contain any Ginkgo biloba. It was made with some sort of substitute, safety unknown. A second product, a blend said to include Ginkgo biloba, contained less of certain ingredients and also was adulterated with a substitute ingredient. A third product tested, a fish oil, was what it said it was.
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The duel between doctors and the NRA: After responding loudly to the NRA’s demand that doctors “stay in their lane” and out of the gun debate, doctors are ramping up their calls for gun control. The American College of Surgeons issued a set of recommendations for reducing firearm injuries and deaths, days after the American College of Physicians published its own. The surgeons’ assessment is unusual in one significant way: Eighteen of the 22 doctors who wrote it are gun owners themselves. The report includes a detailed account of how many guns each committee member owns–a few own dozens–and how they use them. “This is entirely in my lane,” trauma surgeon, gun owner and committee member Gary Timmerman told Frances Stead Sellers of The Washington Post. “Those trauma victims come to us.” Meanwhile, some doctors have begun lobbying their trade organizations, including the college of physicians, to stop giving campaign funds to lawmakers endorsed by the NRA, Alex Yablon of The Trace reports. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health said the impact of the college of physicians’ statement is undermined by the fact that the organization donated $46,000 to politicians supported by the NRA.
- Also: A Washington State study of thousands of households with children found that firearms were 20 percent more likely to be stored unsafely in homes with an adult who misused alcohol. That’s particularly significant because children whose caregivers misuse alcohol also may be more likely to suffer unintentional injury, to be at risk for self-harm or to be involved with interpersonal violence.
No easy fix on e-cigarettes, menthol: The Food and Drug Administration made waves last week when it said it planned to restrict sales of flavored e-cigarettes and would move to ban menthol cigarettes. Maggie Fox of NBC News explains why the road to those regulations actually taking effect is likely a long one. Big Tobacco, savvy e-cigarette makers, and retailers are likely to challenge the measures in court. The agency was expected to ban flavored e-cigarette liquids outright but instead announced plans to make it harder for teens to buy them, surprising anti-tobacco advocates and lawmakers who had issued statements praising the stronger effort they thought was coming, The New York Times reports. Meanwhile, e-cigarette use among high school students increased a whopping 78 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1 in 5 high schoolers now use the nicotine delivery devices.
- Also: Menthol cigarettes are favored by black smokers. So, is banning them racist? Or could a ban undo some of the effects of the tobacco industry’s targeting of black youth? Emily Atkins of The New Republic explores the topic.
Dire ocean warming report corrected: It may be embarrassing for the authors but perhaps some relief for the rest of us. A study published last month in the journal Nature that found the oceans were warming much more quickly than previously thought wasn’t quite right. A critic pointed out a problem with the calculations, and the authors have issued a correction. Their projections still show the oceans are likely warmer than estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but they can’t say by how much, Joshua Emerson Smith of the Los Angeles Times reports. “Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean,” author Ralph Keeling said.“We really muffed the error margins.”
- Also: A new report lays out how the U.S. could mitigate about a fifth of its annual greenhouse gas emissions using land-based strategies such as planting more trees in cities and off-season cover crops in the fields, preserving natural grasslands, limiting use of fertilizers and changing forest management practices. Georgina Gustin of InsideClimate News explains.
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Home, unsafe home: A pair of investigative reports out this week show in sharp relief how America’s public housing system is failing the most vulnerable families. A New York Times investigation found that the New York City Housing Authority routinely challenged findings of lead contamination in units it managed, something private landlords almost never do. The challenge frequently resulted in the city health department rescinding orders for the housing agency to fix lead problems it had identified. And an ongoing investigative partnership between ProPublica and The Southern Illinoisan found that inspectors with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development often give passing grades to buildings across the country that receive millions of dollars in taxpayer money to house low-income families but that are in fact deteriorating beyond acceptable living conditions. They are plagued with rats and toxic mold, and sometimes rife with violence.
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Researchers cite spin on insecticide: Research on the insecticide chlorpyrifos paid for by manufacturer Dow Chemical Co. and used two decades ago to demonstrate its safety were misleading, according to an analysis published last week by researchers who examined the original animal data. The report comes just as the Environmental Protection Agency is appealing a court decision that would force it to enact the scheduled Obama-era ban on use of the insecticide in food production, Brian Bienkowski reports for Environmental Health News. California regulators last week recommended a ban on the use of chlorpyrifos in crop dusting and discontinuing use on most crops. The chemical has been linked to a loss in IQ and other neurological damage.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.