Stuck on the sidelines: The most immediate effect of the long government shutdown for hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors is, of course, missed paychecks. But Eric Wolff of Politico notes how many of the watchdog functions of the government are stalled as well. Hundreds of environmental inspections at power plants, manufacturing sites and oil wells have been missed. Financial fraud investigations and tax audits have slowed. The Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into Facebook’s use of personal data is on pause. The National Transportation Safety Board has been unable to investigate at least a dozen crashes, including a plane crash that killed four people and a tractor-trailer collision with a school bus that injured 15, Wolff reports. And the list goes on. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that this shutdown may be achieving exactly what some White House allies had hoped for – not a big, beautiful wall but a smaller government.
- Also: The airline industry is feeling the effects of the shutdown, The Hill reports. –– Many inspections of food producers aren’t happening during the shutdown, but Dan Charles of NPR explains why the effect on food safety may be minimal. –– Government offices may be closed, but rather than save money the shutdown will ultimately cost the country more, writes Jim Tankersley. –– Data collection related to climate change, preparing for the next hurricane season, and evaluating the devastating effects of the California wildfires has been stymied by the shutdown too, InsideClimate News reports.
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Gun-toting teachers: Ever since the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, last February left 17 people dead, at least 215 school districts in the U.S. have adopted policies to arm teachers, bringing the total to 466 districts or more, according to reporting by Tess Owen of Vice News. It’s difficult to get an exact figure, Owen writes, because school districts often aren’t required to tell state authorities–or parents–that they’ve decided to arm teachers. Meanwhile, the nation’s largest teachers union says that having teachers carry guns is an “ill-conceived, preposterous, and dangerous” idea.
- Also: Among young people ages 14 to 29, school shootings are the most important issue facing the U.S. today, according to a SocialSphere poll reported on by Axios. –– Echoing work done on President Trump’s 2016 campaign, the National Rifle Association appears to have coordinated advertising with Republicans in important Senate races in 2016 and 2018, in violation of federal election law, according to The Trace and Mother Jones. — The Tampa Bay Times reports that schools in Florida are having a hard time hiring armed guardians to protect students and staff.
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A grim milestone: A person’s risk of dying of an opioid overdose is now greater than the likelihood of dying in a traffic accident, according to a new report from the National Safety Council. The skyrocketing overdose numbers are driven largely by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. The odds of a person’s death resulting from an overdose were 1 in 96 as of 2017. From a motor vehicle crash: 1 in 103. The overdose deaths are part of an overall rise in deaths from preventable, unintentional injury, Ian Stewart of NPR reports. “It is impacting our workforce, it is impacting our fathers and mothers who are still raising their children,” said Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the National Safety Council.
Shedding ice in Antarctica: Antarctic ice is melting at a rate six times greater than it was four decades ago, causing concern among scientists that global sea levels could rise even more quickly than expected. A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that Antarctica has lost 252 billion tons of ice per year beginning in 2009, up from about 40 billion annually between 1979 and 1989. Melting ice is normal and historically has been mitigated by snow falling on top of Antarctica, but the quicker pace of melting offsets that balance, Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report in The Washington Post. Environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben noted the story on Twitter, saying, “Just a reminder that behind each day’s controversies, the biggest story is constantly playing out.”
- Also: The governor of Pennsylvania pledged that his coal-mining state would speed carbon emissions reductions, cutting 26 percent off of 2005 levels by 2025. But he’ll need Republican lawmakers’ help to do it, InsideClimate News reports. –– Even with a drop in coal-fired power production, U.S. carbon emissions rose last year by an estimated 3.4 percent, due in part to a cold winter and a surging economy.
A life-saving smoke screen for Juul?: The dominant player in an e-cigarette industry that reversed decades of success in lowering youth nicotine use is now “billing itself as a public-health crusader,” Kevin Roose of The New York Times writes. Juul, under pressure for fueling an epidemic of nicotine addiction among teens, has launched a $10 million ad campaign to persuade adult cigarette smokers to switch to vaping and lower the impact on their health. Juul may want people to focus on its “life-saving mission,” as one magazine story put it, but Roose writes that the company’s record, including its aggressive marketing to young people, shows a different side. Just a few years ago, a development engineer said in an interview that Juul was “not trying to design a cessation product at all,” adding “anything about health is not on our mind.” Another cause of the skepticism aimed at Juul’s public health image: Altria, the largest U.S. cigarette manufacturer and parent of Marlboro maker Philip Morris USA, bought a 35 percent stake in Juul late last year.
- Also: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to raise the legal age for cigarette and e-cigarette sales to 21 as part of a broader plan to curb youth nicotine use. Several states, including California, Massachusetts and New Jersey, have already set the age for tobacco sales at 21.
PG&E bankruptcy: Facing potential liabilities of $30 billion or more for the deadly Camp Fire last year and the 2017 wine country fires in California, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said Monday it planned to file for bankruptcy protection. Chief executive Geisha Williams announced her resignation over the weekend and received a severance package of about $2.5 million. The company is accused of contributing to the fires by failing to properly maintain their lines and not adequately responding once they started. The company faces hundreds of lawsuits from people affected by the fires, including several cases that seek to be certified as class action suits, James F. Peltz of the Los Angeles Times reports. It’s too soon to tell just how bankruptcy will affect fire victims, but some lawmakers said they will be watching the proceedings closely and could intervene. The Natural Resources Defense Council said the bankruptcy also threatens the state’s clean energy efforts, in which PG&E is the largest investor. PG&E held just $1.4 billion in wildfire insurance coverage in 2018, The Washington Post reports.
Single-stream dreams: What’s not to love about single-stream recycling? It’s easy. Everything goes in one bin and out to the curb. And, for years, it’s been cost effective. But single-stream recycling has brought an era of more significant contamination, reports Maggie Koerth-Baker at FiveThirtyEight. About a quarter of all recycling is so contaminated –think diapers and shards of glass mixed in with the paper–that it goes right to the landfill. That’s up from 7 percent a decade ago. The Chinese market for some contaminated recyclables has disappeared. That means the cost of recycling for many municipalities is going up, causing some to ask residents to start sorting again.
Mining deaths down: The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration recorded 27 mining fatalities in 2018, the second-lowest number of deaths ever recorded for the industry. A Department of Labor press release does not mention the decline in coal power and coal mining overall.
- Also: Two utility contractors working in Wisconsin, Bear Communications of Kansas and subcontractor VC Tech of Michigan, face proposed penalties of $12,834 each after investigators found they failed to determine the location of an underground gas line that exploded when struck by excavating equipment. A volunteer firefighter was fatally injured after responding to the scene. –– An employee of RKM Utility Services died after being exposed to hydrogen sulfide while working in a trench in Dallas. The company faces penalties of $422,006 for failing to properly train workers on the hazard or how to avoid it. –– Investigators have again cited the U.S. Postal Service for failing to protect workers from extreme heat after a mail carrier died while on the job in Woodland Hills in Southern California, delivering mail on a July day when the temperature reached 117 degrees. The agency was also cited for improper record keeping of heat stress incidents. The proposed penalties total $149,664.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.