Living less: Life expectancy for the average American has fallen for the third year in a row, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, down to 78.6 years in 2017 from a high of 78.9 years in 2014. The sharpest declines have been in the 25 to 64 age group, where the U.S. has the worst midlife death rate among 17 high-income nations despite higher per capita spending for health care. As Jorge L. Ortiz points out in USA Today. Today, residents of other wealthy nations outlive us by several years: In Japan, to 84.1, in France to 82.4, and in Canada to 81.9. “It would be easier if we could blame this whole trend on one problem, like guns or obesity or the opioid epidemic, all of which distinguish the U.S. from the other countries,’’ the study’s lead author Steven H. Woolf told USA Today. “But we found increases in death rates across 35 causes of death.’’ As The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein writes, the last time the country saw a sustained decline in life expectancy was between 1915 and 1918, during the First World War. “I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States,” Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Post. “Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn’t be declining in the United States.”

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Pattern of neglect: A new report by the California Public Utilities Commission found that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. systemically failed to inspect and maintain its transmission lines for multiple years before a faulty line caused the Camp Fire last November, which claimed 85 lives and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and thousands of other structures, Russell Gold and Katherine Blunt report for The Wall Street Journal. Investigators found that maintenance crews hadn’t climbed the tower that malfunctioned and started the fire since at least 2001, in violation of company policy. They concluded that an inspection of the tower during that time could have identified a worn component, called a C-hook, “before it failed, and that its timely replacement could have prevented ignition of the Camp Fire.” “The tragedy in Butte County on Nov. 8, 2018, will never be forgotten,” PG&E said in a statement. “We remain deeply sorry about the role our equipment had in this tragedy, and we apologize to all those impacted by the devastating Camp Fire.”

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Visualizing dirty air: Outdoor air pollution was responsible for around 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2015, according to a study in The Lancet funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Health Effects Institute. To understand what that means, a team at The New York Times pulled together an interactive article to visualize what air pollution looks like on a bad day in Brooklyn, in the Bay Area of California during the Camp Fire, and in New Delhi, where last month fine particulate levels far exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of “hazardous” air. In environments like that, “you can’t function, you can’t thrive,” Alexandra Karambelas, a research scientist affiliated with Columbia University, told The Times. “Having access to clean air is kind of a basic human right.” Air pollution is responsible for an estimated 88,000 premature deaths per year in U.S. annually and, according to one study, particulate pollution has worsened since 2016.

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Something in the water: A multimillion-dollar study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water has been held up by officials in the Trump administration, Kyle Bagenstose reports for USA Today. PFAS, often described as “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment, have been widely used in products like non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, food packaging, carpets and military firefighting foams, but some studies have linked the chemicals to health problems such as high cholesterol, reproductive harm, and testicular and kidney cancer. PFAS pollution of groundwater has been most widespread around U.S. military bases. The CDC had been slated to start studying communities in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania that all show high levels of PFAS in the drinking water, but a dispute between the CDC and White House Office of Management and Budget has ground the process to a halt, sources told Bagenstose.

  • Also: Ohio officials have announced that the state’s Environmental Protection Agency will be testing nearly 1,500 public water systems for PFAS. The feature film ”‘Dark Waters,” starring Mark Ruffalo as Robert Bilott, a Cincinnati attorney who took on DuPont for contaminating water with PFAS, is currently in theaters, and is bound to stir more awareness of the potential harms of “forever chemicals.”

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Swampy and swampier: At least 11 officials from the Department of the Interior have left their positions for jobs at lobbying firms and private companies, in some cases after internal probes were launched to examine alleged misconduct, Chris D’Angelo and Jimmy Tobias report for HuffPost. At first glance, these quick turnarounds seem to violate an executive order by President Trump requiring that political appointees sign an ethics pledge barring them from lobbying their former agencies for five years. But, as HuffPost reports, the order contains a loophole for lobbying on “rulemaking.” (As previous reporting by ProPublica shows, at least 33 individuals who previously worked for the Trump administration have taken advantage of this workaround.) “The conduct of these Interior officials, both in office and after, raises serious questions about whether those officials used their time in government to serve the public’s interests or the interests of the wealthy, influential industry groups who could line their pockets,” Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, told HuffPost. Some of the conduct in office included opening large swaths of formerly protected sites in Utah to mining and drilling, and promoting new oil exploration and drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, HuffPost said. Many of the officials went on to take positions at mineral, oil and gas companies.

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Thanksgiving evacuation: A pair of massive explosions at a Texas chemical plant 90 miles east of Houston forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents from their homes in surrounding cities in southeast Texas just before Thanksgiving, The New York Times reported. Officials lifted the evacuation order a couple of days later, allowing 50,000 Texans to return home. The TPC Group plant in Port Neches produced butadiene, a chemical used to make synthetic rubber and other products, NBC News reported. The blasts injured three employees, shattered windows, ripped doors off hinges, sent debris flying, including a piece of a tower, and started fires that burned for days. A TPC official warned area residents not to touch any debris because it could be tainted with asbestos from the plant, which dates to the 1940s.

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Danger at work: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Purvis Home Improvement Co. Inc. in Saco, Maine, for willful, repeated and serious workplace safety violations, including allowing employees to work on scaffolds near energized power lines and on a two-story roof without fall protection. The roofing contractor, Shawn D. Purvis, faces a total of $278,456 in proposed new penalties. OSHA said it had cited the company seven times in the last seven years, including after a worker fell to his death from a roof in Portland. A grand jury there indicted Purvis for manslaughter earlier this year. The agency also cited Frazer & Jones Co. for multiple health and safety violations at the company’s Solvay, New York, iron foundry, including exposing employees to crystalline silica and  combustible dust, and failing to provide adequate respiratory protection. The company faces $460,316 in proposed penalties.

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Buyer beware: Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but it’s more than likely that a plague of fake five-star reviews remain. As Suzanne Kapner writes for The Wall Street Journal, at least one-third of online reviews for such major websites as Amazon.com, Walmart and Sephora are fake, generated either by bots or posted by people paid to write them, according to a company that identifies fraudulent reviews. Retailers have responded by saying it’s not that big a problem. “An Amazon spokeswoman said that in the past month more than 99% of the reviews read by customers on its site were authentic,” Kapner reports. Quartz asked Tommy Noonan, the creator of ReviewMeta, a site that analyzes fake reviews on Amazon, how to spot a fake one. “I always recommend that customers read the actual reviews, rather than just looking at the average star rating, to get a better sense of what’s going on,” Noonan said. “Furthermore, I always recommend that customers return items when they feel they have been swindled, this sends a financial message to Amazon and the seller that you won’t put up with low-quality products.”

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.