With Ethiopian crash, toll at 346 in five months: At least 27 airlines have grounded their Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft after 157 people were killed when one crashed in Ethiopia Sunday. A growing list of countries–including China, the U.K., Australia, Indonesia and Singapore–have banned the planes from their airspace, worried about similarities between the latest crash and the one in Indonesia in October that killed 189. That crash prompted Boeing to plan a software update and changes to training protocol. Ethiopian Airlines’ chief executive said the pilots reported “flight control problems” just before the crash, The New York Times reported. The investigation is ongoing. Voice and data recorders have been recovered from the wreckage. Boeing stock continued to fall Tuesday as Edward Jones downgraded it saying the accident could delay orders for new planes. Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, the two U.S.-based carriers using the Max 8, said as of Monday that they would continue flying them.
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Patient harm hidden at the FDA: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowed the makers of dozens of medical devices to file secret reports when their products cause serious harm or otherwise malfunction, shielding the information from scrutiny by doctors and hospitals using those devices or by researchers focused on patient safety, Christina Jewett of Kaiser Health News reports. Device makers are supposed to file such reports to a public database known as MAUDE, but the agency has granted many an exemption that allows reports–at least 1.1 million since 2016–to be filed to an “alternative summary reporting” repository, Jewett writes. Data have been hidden even for devices with known risks, including surgical staplers used in minimally invasive procedures that can cause massive bleeding when they malfunction, and pelvic mesh that can cause injury and infection. Dr. M. Tom Margolis, a urogynecologist who has served as an expert witness for patients suing the mesh makers, called the idea that patient injuries are being hidden at the FDA “heinous.” A day after Jewett’s report, the agency said it is reviewing the safety of surgical staplers and analyzing the alternative summary reports more broadly, the results of which it plans to make public.
- Also: Many health care advocates (but not all) were surprised and dismayed by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s announcement that he’ll leave his post within weeks, worried in particular about what would happen to his plans for controlling nicotine use, including e-cigarette regulation, a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes, and ratcheting down nicotine to non-addictive levels. –– A federal court has given the agency about a year to finally implement a 2009 law requiring graphic warnings to be printed on cigarette packages and advertising. –– The FDA warned consumers not to use three cosmetic products from Claire’s that tested positive for asbestos, and the agency called on Congress to update cosmetic safety rules.
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Making a move on climate: Climate change hasn’t been a winning issue for Democrats on the national stage, but New York Senator Chuck Schumer and other party leaders think that could change in 2020. Looking to stare down critics of the “Green New Deal,” Schumer told The New York Times that the party is going “on offense on climate change” for the first time, and he plans to highlight the issue now and on the campaign trail. Reporters Coral Davenport and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write that Democrats have been “skittish” about promoting action on climate since Al Gore lost the presidential race in 2000, a feeling reinforced in 2010, when President Obama’s bill to curb carbon emissions failed in the Senate and took several Democrats down with it. Now, they see it as a way to galvanize young voters, progressives and people who care about economic and social justice, as well as those who are suffering the effects of sea level rise and extreme weather events linked to rising temperatures.
- Also: Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, one of the largest in the world with $1 trillion in assets, will stop investing in oil and gas exploration, citing concerns about the vulnerability of oil prices rather than climate change. –– The Rocky Mountains are experiencing an especially dangerous avalanche season, and communities there are scrambling to adjust to predictions that climate change will bring more extreme avalanches in the near future, Bob Berwyn of InsideClimate News reports.
ExxonMobil settles in Texas: ExxonMobil has agreed to pay a $616,000 civil penalty and to conduct a formal review of maintenance procedures for certain equipment to settle charges resulting from an explosion at its Beaumont, Texas, refinery in 2013 that killed two people and injured 10 others. The explosion was sparked by workers using a torch to remove bolts on a heat exchanger. The company also will purchase a hazardous material response vehicle for the local fire and rescue service. OSHA previously fined ExxonMobil and two contractors for the incident.
- Also: The Department of Labor has issued a $26,520 penalty that it said is the highest allowed to Wisconsin aluminum castings maker Nemak USA after three employees exposed to metalworking fluids were diagnosed with a debilitating lung disease called occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis. — U.S. Battery Manufacturing Co. of Augusta, Georgia, faces penalties of $115,594 after investigators found the company exposed workers to elevated lead and arsenic levels and failed to properly guard equipment or monitor employees for exposure. –– Two contractors, PCL Construction Services and Universal Engineering Sciences, have been fined a total of $157,792 after two workers involved in building the JW Marriott Hotel in Orlando were killed when a support structure collapsed as they were pouring concrete on the seventh floor. The contractors were cited for failing to properly design the formwork and failing to inspect it and other support systems.
USA-made guns, a border concern: Guns that Honduran military police used against people protesting the 2017 re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernández appear to have been made by Connecticut-based Colt Manufacturing, providing one example of the high stakes of exporting weapons from the U.S. to Central America, where the gun market has been growing since the start of the Obama administration, Alex Yablon of The Trace reports. Those sales, especially to countries with weak or corrupt leadership, have far-reaching consequences. Yablon writes: “The violence, corruption, and abuse in Central American countries tend to be the biggest factors driving migration to the United States — a phenomenon the Trump administration has dedicated itself to curbing. Since the gun sales fuel the violence and corruption, the United States has effectively undermined its own objectives by allowing the weapons deals, according to experts.”
- Also: By the agency’s own admission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures tracking nonfatal gun injuries are “unstable and potentially unreliable.” The Trace asks why. — Sheriffs and other local authorities in several states, including Washington and New Mexico, are objecting to new state gun control measures and even refusing to enforce the law. The New York Times looks at how the disputes may be the set up for a constitutional fight.
‘The end of recycling?’: China has seriously restricted the kinds of recyclable materials it will import, and the effects in the U.S. are widespread and local. For The Atlantic, Alana Semuels writes about how Americans, consuming more than ever, have finally grown accustomed to sorting their recyclables from the waste stream, but it could be for naught. The city of Franklin, New Hampshire, is now sending its recyclables to a trash incinerator. They used to break even on recycling, when those items could be sold for $6 a ton. Now, recycling them would cost $125 per ton. The cost of burning them instead? About half that. “We are doing our best to be environmentally responsible, but we can’t afford it,” City Manager Judie Milner told Semuels.
With us or against us: In a tense call last month, senior Trump administration officials told auto executives that they should publicly express support for the president’s plan to rollback Obama-era fuel economy standards or risk blowback from the White House, Ryan Beene of Bloomberg reported. The administration recently stopped negotiations with officials in California, which is allowed under the Clean Air Act to write more stringent emissions rules for the state, a measure that has pushed the nation toward a cleaner car market as a whole. The fight seems to be headed for the courts. The car industry depends on predictability, and auto makers have urged the two sides to negotiate to ease some short-term requirements. But as FairWarning has reported, many auto makers, trying to compete globally and with investments already made in electric vehicles, have rejected Trump’s broader plan to reverse course on emissions. Since the phone call, none of the automakers have issued statements of support for the plan, E&E News reporter Maxine Joselow writes.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.