A rush job with fatal effects?: As the investigation into the crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 in Ethiopia this month continues, the picture that seems to be emerging is a one of a faulty sensor, problematic software and hubris. With European aircraft maker Airbus threatening to lure away key customers, Boeing fast-tracked the redesign of its workhorse plane. Investigators are now looking at whether the pace of development caused the company to miss important safety issues and to downplay the need for pilot training, The New York Times reports. The Times also reported that the planes that crashed in Ethiopia and in Indonesia five months earlier, together killing 346 people, lacked two key safety features that could have helped the pilots decipher what was going wrong. That’s because Boeing charged extra for them, Hiroko Tabuchi and David Gelles write. According to people involved in testing a software upgrade being developed by Boeing who spoke with The Times, the pilots of the two planes would have had just 40 seconds to figure out why the plane was nosediving despite their efforts to correct it, a short window for someone who had been properly informed about how to manage the software controlling the plane, but likely far too little time for a pilot who was never told about the software change. The crashes have raised scrutiny of the process by which the Federal Aviation Administration allows airplane manufacturers to use their own employees to verify the safety of their planes. Michael Laris of The Washington Post reports that just last fall, Congress passed provisions that handed even more regulatory authority to Boeing.
On the safety of breast implants: Women who say they have suffered health problems from breast implant devices are gathering again today to tell their stories to a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel and to push for bans on certain products and more disclosure to patients considering the implants. The safety of the implants has long been a contentious issue, writes Laurie McGinley of The Washington Post. The FDA banned most implants in 1992 but lifted the ban in 2005 and approved new products the following year. The FDA has said there’s not enough evidence that the implants could cause autoimmune disorders or other “systemic illnesses,” but many patients and some scientists disagree. In recent years, many women have complained about autoimmune issues, such as fatigue and allergies, that some say were resolved by having the implants removed. The FDA has acknowledged that hundreds of women with implants in the U.S. have developed anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare type of cancer, which may be linked to textured devices. The agency has said it is taking a closer look at the safety issues, including sending warning letters to manufacturers who have been delinquent in completing long-term safety studies, as required.
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Another hit for Roundup: In a major blow to Monsanto, a jury in federal court found that the company’s widely used herbicide, Roundup, was likely a “substantial factor” in the development of a California man’s cancer. Edwin Hardeman used the herbicide for decades to control poison oak on his property and later developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, now in remission. Now the jury, in a second phase of the trial, must determine whether Monsanto is legally responsible and, if so, the amount of damages it should pay. Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that Hardeman’s is one of three cases set to go before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria that are considered bellwethers and likely to shape settlements in thousands of similar pending cases. Last year, a California state court jury found Monsanto liable for another man’s cancer, and a judge set the award at $78 million, which the company is appealing. Shares prices for Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year, took a hit following the jury’s decision.
- Also: Canadian officials tested 200 samples of honey and found glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides, in 197. The finding raises concern for the bees that make the honey and the humans who consume it, Environmental Health News reports.
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Smoke or vape, they profit: Cigarette giant Altria invested $12.8 billion last year in Juul, the largest e-cigarette maker and one that has declared a goal who getting people to stop smoking cigarettes. Jennifer Maloney and Dana Mattioli of The Wall Street Journal ask why join forces with such a rival when that company is facing intense pressure from regulators, and when doing so would require such a shift in your own business model? The answer shows just how quickly the cigarette industry is changing. “I’ve never believed this before: 10 years from now the majority of the tobacco products that are sold could very well be noncombustible products,” Altria CEO Howard Willard said. And, according to one analyst, the investment was a play for marketshare. Altria makes Marlboro, the top-selling cigarette, but rival brands, particularly Newport and Camel, are popular among younger smokers who are more interested in switching to e-cigarettes.
Action there, prayers here: Within a week after a gunman shot and killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, lawmakers had come up with a plan to ban assault weapons and create a buyback plan to take them off the market. The speed with which it happened left many in the U.S., still stuck in “thoughts and prayers,” reeling. Democrats praised the quick work of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, her cabinet and the political opponents who stood with her. A spokeswoman for the NRA noted this difference between the two countries: “While they do not have an inalienable right to bear arms and to self defense, we do.” Zachary Wolf of CNN noted a few more differences, notably that the U.S. has a lot more people than New Zealand, way more guns, and a style of government that slows things down by design. Plus, he writes, the New Zealand ban had bipartisan support.
- Also: Adeel Hassan of The New York Times looks at why a gun buyback in Australia has been effective at curbing gun violence but such programs in the U.S. have had little effect.
A fire burned in Houston: A fire at a petrochemical storage facility just outside of Houston burned for days last week, sending thick black smoke over the city and prompting officials in nearby communities to cancel school and order residents to stay inside for hours, with benzene in the air reaching levels of concern. The Houston Ship Channel was closed on Friday when a containment wall at the tank farm was breached, spilling chemicals and fire-suppressing foam into the water, the Houston Chronicle reports. On Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the owner of the storage complex, Intercontinental Terminals, saying the fire violated the Texas Clean Air Act. In a press release, Paxton cited the company’s poor environmental record. It has violated clean air and water rules repeatedly in the past decade, writes Matt Dempsey of the Chronicle. Now the consulting firm it has hired to monitor exposure risks is one that’s been accused, following past environmental disasters, of protecting corporate interests, writes Naveena Sadasivam of Grist.
Bigger action for Big Soda: Two prominent medical organizations are pushing for strong measures to discourage the sales of sugary beverages, citing concerns for childhood health. In a joint publication, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association are calling for lawmakers to enact soda taxes, for restaurants to make milk and water the default beverage choices on their kids’ menus, for more hospitals to take up the trend of eliminating or limiting sugary beverage sales, and for the federal government to stop allowing them to be purchased using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. “This is a call to policymakers to take action,” Dr. Natalie Muth, lead author of the paper, told USA Today. “Enough is enough. We really need bigger changes, more changes.” Sugary drinks are the top source of added sugars in the U.S. diet, the authors write, and added sugars play a big role in childhood obesity. A spokesman for the American Beverage Association told USA Today that the industry is working to reduce sugar in its products and said “beverages are not unique drivers of obesity rates in America.”
ATV fatalities pass grim milestone: Between 1982 and 2017, at least 15,250 people were killed in crashes of all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, and more than one in five of those deaths were of someone under age 16, FairWarning reports. The numbers come from the latest annual report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The annual toll has decreased some in recent years, but safety advocates don’t see a lot of hope there. It may be the result of drivers switching to another kind of off-road vehicle, called an ROV, that is growing in popularity and is not included in the report.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.