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Foodborne Illnesses Spanning Multiple States Spiked in 2018

Food sick: The U.S. has seen a significant increase in the number of people contracting certain foodborne illnesses, with more multi-state outbreaks in 2018 than at any point in the previous decade, reports Laura Riley of The Washington Post. Better, quicker diagnosis is one factor, but public health experts told Riley that holes in food safety regulation and a rollback of some protections by  the Trump administration also may have played a role. Campylobacter, a pathogen that sickened at least 9,723 people last year, is especially problematic. Chickens contract it in chicken houses and their waste can spread the disease to produce fields. But the chicken doesn’t suffer. “These infections live in food animals and their environment, and the farmer or rancher is not aware that they have a problem,” Robert Tauxe, who oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention division that handles foodborne disease, told Riley. Foodborne illnesses killed 120 Americans in 2018 and sickened 25,606, requiring 5,893 to be hospitalized, according to a report from the agency.

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Ford tailpipe query: The company has told investors and regulators that it is under criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for its handling of emissions certifications, Mike Colias and Allison Prang of The Wall Street Journal report. When investigators notified the second largest U.S. auto maker of the probe earlier this month, Ford already had launched its own investigation, prompted by employee concerns about the computer modeling the company used in generating mileage and emissions data that is submitted to regulators, the BBC reports. The company says the issue is not the same as the scandal that has rocked Volkswagen, which admitted to using “defeat devices” to make diesel engines seem cleaner than they were. Hyundai, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and Daimler also have dealt with accusations of emissions errors or cheating in recent months.

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Firefight at the NRA: Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA who has served as a top executive for the gun rights group since 1991, was reelected Monday despite efforts by some board members to oust him, as the organization faces increasing scrutiny of its political and financial operations. Several congressional committees have sent document requests to the NRA but the group may face the highest stakes in an investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James. The organization’s charter was originally filed in New York, and James is investigating its status as a nonprofit, amid internal allegations of self-dealing and excessive personal spending, the AP reports. Meanwhile, at the heart of the NRA’s internal strife is its relationship with public relations contractor Ackerman McQueen, which has shaped the group’s image through the decades and runs the controversial NRATV. In a lawsuit, the NRA has accused Ackerman of over-billing for its services. Outgoing NRA board president Oliver North, who led efforts to persuade LaPierre to leave his job, is employed by Ackerman. One former board member called it a “cabal of cronyism.” Tim Mak of NPR reports that some NRA members had hoped LaPierre would leave his post to make way for new leadership and restructuring as a means of preempting action by New York state and others.

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More measles: More than 700 people in the U.S. have contracted measles so far this year, marking a 25-year peak and heightening concern among public health officials across the country, Lena H. Sun of The Washington Post reports. About half of all people infected are children under the age of 5, according to the CDC.  The largest outbreaks are in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, which are susceptible to the spread of the disease because of frequent community gatherings and because they have been targeted with the same misleading information about vaccine safety that has lowered vaccination rates across the country and caused numerous smaller outbreaks. Dozens of people were sickened in southwest Washington state before officials there declared the outbreak over. Hundreds of university students in Los Angeles were asked last week to stay home unless they could prove that they had been vaccinated after school leaders learned that students on two campuses had attended classes or visited the library while infected. “We think this is a very serious situation,” CDC Director Robert Redfield told Here & Now. “It does have the potential to regain a foothold in the United States, and then put us back to have to renew efforts to once again try to eradicate it.”

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A danger above: A crane collapsed over a busy road in Seattle on Saturday, killing a college freshman and a retired city worker in vehicles below, along with two men who were in the crane’s cab. The crane was being disassembled when the tragedy occurred. Washington job safety regulators are investigating five companies involved in the crane’s operations, a process that could take six months, Christina Maxouris of CNN reports. Under a new federal rule, crane operators must be certified or licensed and participate in safety training, but there is no formal process for certifying people involved in erecting or disassembling the machines, Maxouris writes.

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‘Rear-guard’ action on chlorpyrifos: Following a ban imposed in Hawaii, California and three more states are considering measures to prohibit the widely used insecticide chlorpyrifos, which can cause low birth weight and developmental problems in children who are exposed prenatally. Ana B. Ibarra of Kaiser Health News reports that a ban in California, the largest agricultural state, could have a far-reaching impact. Farmers, particularly in the citrus industry, have said the pesticide is a critical tool. But the Obama administration proposed banning its agriculture use, citing health risks. Scott Pruitt, former EPA Administrator in the  Trump administration, declined to carry out that plan. The agency’s website now says the science on the pesticide’s neurodevelopmental effects “remains unresolved.” The California bill is moving through state senate committees.

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A cloud of vape: Juul has promised to work to curb teen use of its products, but Sheila Kaplan of The New York Times reports that the e-cigarette giant is working in statehouses around the country to block some efforts to do just that. It has backed bills in several states that would raise the minimum buying age for tobacco products from 18 to 21 while also blocking local officials from taking other steps, such as restricting the sale of flavored liquids, which appeal to teens. In some legislatures, Kaplan notes, Juul’s influence may be nearly invisible, with its interests represented by a trade organization or by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA which owns a 35 percent stake in Juul. Politico reports that public health experts are worried that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to raise the tobacco-buying age to 21 nationally really is aimed at preempting state and local efforts, such as banning flavors or increasing taxes, that could more effectively reduce smoking and vaping rates among young people.

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Backpedaling on PFAS cleanup: Under pressure from the Defense Department, the Environmental Protection Agency has weakened its proposed guidance for cleanup of contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. The class of chemical used to make consumer products stain- and water-resistant also was a key part of firefighting foam used at military bases. The military has identified confirmed or possible releases of the chemicals at more than 400 locations around the country. The EPA had suggested setting a threshold for groundwater contamination that would trigger immediate cleanup efforts. Instead, the agency has proposed longer-term cleanup efforts in places where the contamination has reached drinking water supplies. But critics, including residents in communities where the chemicals have been released, say contaminated groundwater could soon seep into drinking water supplies as the chemicals spread, write Eric Lipton and Julie Turkewitz of The New York Times. The chemicals have been linked to health problems, including several kinds of cancer.

  • Also: Keith Matheny of the Detroit Free Press takes a long look at the PFAS problem in Michigan. It’s the biggest environmental crisis in that state in 40 years, but “It’s not just Michigan’s problem,” he writes.

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