How safe is your lift?: Uber and Lyft have been talking a lot about safety lately, following reports of sexual harassment by drivers and the murder of a South Carolina college student who got into a car she mistook for her Uber ride. Those efforts have focused on making sure customers feel safe with their drivers. But what about the vehicles themselves? Consumer Reports looked at records for nearly 94,000 ride-hailing vehicles in New York City and in King County, Washington, which includes Seattle. Local governments there require drivers working for those services to obtain a special license and to register their work vehicles. About 1 in 6 vehicles had an unaddressed safety recall, including dangerous airbags or risk of an engine fire, the nonprofit found. Twenty-five of the vehicles had five or more unfixed recalls. “Uber and Lyft are letting down their customers and jeopardizing their trust,” William Wallace, a safety policy advocate with Consumer Reports said. “Uber’s website says people can ‘ride with confidence,’ while Lyft promises ‘peace of mind,’ yet both companies fail to ensure that rideshare cars are free from safety defects that could put passengers at risk.” The companies told Consumer Reports this is an issue they’re working on, though Lyft seemed to put the onus back on its drivers. “Lyft drivers use their personal vehicles to drive on the platform—the same car they use in their daily lives, driving their kids to school or friends around town,” the company’s statement said. “Drivers have a strong personal incentive to make sure their car is in a safe operating condition.” Uber said it reminds drivers to fix recalled vehicles and blocks them on their platform when the vehicles have the most dangerous problems.
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Uncared for: Residential care facilities are growing in numbers across the country as seniors look for alternatives to expensive nursing homes. That’s true in California in particular, where more than 7,300 such homes are licensed by the state. In too many of them, the caregivers are taken advantage of, worked long hours for far less than minimum wage. That’s what Jennifer Gollan of Reveal found when she reviewed hundreds of wage theft cases and interviewed dozens of people. Human trafficking in the industry is not uncommon, she writes. “It’s a classic tale of human greed,” Tia Koonse, legal and policy research manager at the UCLA Labor Center, told Gollan. “Their entire business model is predicated on not making payroll.”
- Also: A federal court in Puerto Rico found Special Police Force Corp. and its owner liable for overtime and wage violations and ordered the security company to pay $324,492 in back wages and damages to 212 former workers. –– Hankook Tire Manufacturing Tennessee has paid $659,268 to 136 workers after investigators found the company failed to pay overtime as required. –– Securing Our Country has paid $195,513 in wages and fringe benefits to 22 employees after investigators found it improperly calculated prevailing wages under federal contracts to provide information technology support work at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
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Deep breaths: What’s a president to do when he wants to cut environmental regulations but doing so will result in calculable harm to the American people? Change the math. The Environmental Protection Agency is reworking the way it documents the health risks of air pollution, Lisa Friedman of The New York Times reports. The change would significantly lower the number of predicted premature deaths, now about 1,400 per year, resulting from President Trump’s plan to repeal the Clean Power Act and experts say it may lead to further environmental rollbacks. The new method is expected to be included in the final version of the law’s replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule, expected in June. The EPA’s air quality chief told Friedman that the acceptable level of fine particulate matter, produced by burning fossil fuels, is a matter of ongoing debate and that the agency is conducting analysis that will further that conversation. Richard L. Revesz, an environmental law expert at New York University, said changing the calculation represents a “monumental departure” from the way that both Republican and Democratic agency heads have operated.
- Also: The Washington Post looks at how states are responding to Trump’s environmental rollbacks by enacting in their own standards, resulting in a patchwork of laws that could complicate operations for some industries and confuse people on matters of public health.–A pair of recent books examine the toll of air pollution around the world.
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Strong medicine: The largest generic drugmakers in the United States are under pressure. The attorneys general of more than 40 states have filed a lawsuit accusing Teva Pharmaceuticals USA and its competitors of conspiring to orchestrate dramatic price increases that caused “many billions of dollars of harm to the national economy over a period of several years,” according to the suit. The Associated Press reports that the lawsuit, which followed a similar one filed in 2016, may involve as many as 20 companies. A spokesman for Teva dismissed the allegations as unproven saying, “The company delivers high-quality medicines to patients around the world and is committed to complying with all applicable laws and regulations in doing so.” Meanwhile, a new book puts the generic drug industry’s global operations under a microscope. Katherine Eban, author of “Bottle of Lies,” documents how generic drugmakers often adjust their manufacturing quality to the rigor of their customers’ regulators, with higher quality drugs going to Europe and the United States, and sometimes dangerously poor quality drugs going to patients in countries with little oversight. The result is that the drugs don’t work as intended and some doctors keep stashes of “fancy” drugs, brand-name or higher quality generic, for those patients who don’t respond to treatment that should have worked. But sometimes there are simply not enough “fancy” drugs to meet the need. “The low cost of generic drugs makes them essential to global public health,” Eban writes in Time magazine. “But if those bargain drugs are of low quality, they do more harm than good.”
- Also: The bankruptcy filings of a major U.S. coal producer, Cloud Peak Energy, show that the company has been funding think tanks that attack climate science, The Intercept reports. –– Here’s another reason to cut back on your plastic use: It’s a major greenhouse gas contributor. –– Setting an important precedent as the second most populous country in the world, India is investing more in renewable energy production than it is in fossil fuels, Phil McKenna of InsideClimate News reports. –– The New York Times reports on a new threat to the carbon locked in northern boreal forests: hungry earthworms on the move.
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E-cig ‘abdication’: A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shirked its legal obligations when it decided in 2016 to delay review of e-cigarette products by several years. Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb had set 2021 as the deadline for manufacturers to submit their products for review. But public health organizations filed a lawsuit last year saying the agency has allowed the e-cigarette industry to grow and flourish by hooking teen users with largely unregulated products. U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm called the delay “so extreme as to amount to an abdication of its statutory responsibilities,” Matthew Perrone of the Associated Press reports. The judge ordered the agency to submit a plan within 30 days outlining how it would begin product reviews.
- Also: Nearly half of all Twitter users who followed Juul last year were between the ages of 13 and 17, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. The e-cigarette giant questioned the results, saying by their measure that age group made up about 4 percent of its total following, Reuters reports. –– North Carolina has become the first state to sue Juul, alleging that the company targeted youth and misled customers about the strength of the nicotine in its products, CNN reports. Although never previously in the forefront of tobacco control efforts, North Carolina is the top tobacco growing state, and its farmers are threatened by competition from makers of e-cigarette products such as Juul.
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Antibiotics and oranges: Concern over antibiotic use in agriculture typically is focused on livestock and efforts to limit use, preserve the drugs’ effectiveness and protect human health. But the EPA recently allowed a massive increase in the use of two antibiotics, despite objections from top federal health officials, not for cows or pigs but for citrus groves. Andrew Jacobs of The New York Times reports that the EPA relied heavily on data from pesticide makers when expanding use of the drugs to fight the bacteria causing citrus greening disease, but it still acknowledged what it called “medium” risk. Advocates of the drugs’ use in agriculture say there’s little evidence of increased antibiotic resistance to weigh against the benefits of saving sick trees. But many scientists disagree, citing increased resistance in humans to the two drugs being used in citrus groves, which are used to treat tuberculosis, urinary tract infections and other diseases. The concern is not so much that the antibiotics will end up in your morning OJ. But they could cause potential pathogens in the soil to become resistant to antibiotics, and those pathogens could contaminate food or drinking water supplies and make people sick, Jacobs writes. The director of a United Nations coalition that studied global antibiotic use and misuse called the growing threat of drug resistance a “silent tsunami.”
- Also: The water coming from more than 300 public water systems in California is unsafe, and agriculture is a major culprit, The New York Times reports.
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Clear crisis: It’s not “climate change,” it’s a “climate breakdown.” Or more, a “climate crisis.” They’re not “climate skeptics,” they’re “climate science deniers.” That’s according to The Guardian, which has changed its style guide as part of a broader effort to improve coverage in the U.S. ahead of the 2020 election. How we talk about climate change matters. And that wording “sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity,” said The Guardian’s editor-in-chief Katherine Viner.