Clowning around: Internal emails released by Boeing show employees of the beleaguered plane manufacturer boasting about deceiving airlines and expressing concerns about cutting corners. “This airplane is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys,” said one of the messages. “I’ll be shocked if the FAA passes this turd,” another email said. “Jesus, it’s doomed,” read another. The new documents, Politico reports, have stirred renewed bipartisan anger in Congress. The company has been under intense scrutiny ever since two 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people, with House and Senate investigations now investigating how a plane with such serious safety  flaws was allowed to go on the market. The recent cycle of newly released documents, followed by bipartisan outrage, make it more likely that Congress will crack down on how airplanes are approved by the FAA.

  • Also: The FAA has proposed a $5.4 million fine against Boeing for allegedly using defective wing parts on some 737 Max jets that the company had said were ready for service, Doug Cameron reports for the Wall Street Journal. This is in addition to a $3.9 million penalty proposed last month for a similar violation. In a separate filing, the FAA proposed a $3.92 million fine against Southwest Airlines for reporting incorrect weight and balance data on 21,000 flights in 2018. The data are used to determine how many passengers and how much fuel can be safely carried on board.

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Eroding environmentalism: Capping his long-running assault on environmental standards, President Trump has proposed sweeping changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a foundational law dating to 1970 that requires federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of development projects before they are approved. The proposed changes sought by the president would narrow the scope of the law to assessing effects that are most directly related to the project, Jeff Brady and Jennifer Ludden report for NPR. This would exclude, for example, consideration of the impact of carbon dioxide emissions from the oil and gas that would flow through proposed new pipelines. It would also allow the industry more leeway to regulate itself. The move rounds out three years of attacks on the nation’s environmental laws, Lisa Friedman writes for The New York Times, as Trump proves himself willing to go further than any other president in dismantling clean air and water protections. Trump also seeks to change the public comment process, either eliminating the requirement to solicit feedback from impacted communities, or placing a burden on commenters to provide extensive detail, like supplementary data sources that back up their assertions, Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill. Ironically, as Environmental Health News’ Peter Dykstra observes, the new “streamlined” NEPA could accelerate the construction of a few solar and wind farms that had been held up by environmental reviews. If they are made final after a 60-day comment period, the proposed changes are almost certain to be challenged in court.

  • Also: The number of Superfund toxic waste sites where cleanup has been stalled for lack of funding has increased from 12 in 2016, the last year President Obama was in office, to 34 in 2019, according to EPA figures released late last month, Chris D’Angelo reports for The Huffington Post.

Healthcare fraud: The Department of Justice obtained more than $3 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud and false claims against the government in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2019, the Justice Department has announced–$2.6 billion of it from cases involving the healthcare industry. Two of the largest settlements involved opioid manufacturers: Insys Therapeutics agreed to pay $195 million to settle civil allegations that it paid kickbacks to get physicians and nurse practitioners to prescribe the cancer drug Subsys, which contains the narcotic fentanyl, on top of $30 million more in criminal fines and penalties. Reckitt Benckiser Group agreed to pay a total of $1.4 billion to resolve criminal and civil liability related to the marketing of the opioid addiction treatment drug Suboxone, including for uses deemed unsafe, ineffective, and medically unnecessary.

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Safe enough: The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences did not find a definitive link between talc-based powders and ovarian cancer in the largest study on the subject to date, Julie Steenhuysen reports for Reuters. “We got an ambiguous answer,” Katie O’Brien, an NIEHS epidemiologist who led the study, told Reuters. “This was the largest study ever done, but because ovarian cancer is such a rare disease, it was still not big enough to detect a very small change in risk.” Johnson & Johnson faces more than 16,800 lawsuits contending that its talc body powders, including Johnson’s Baby Powder, cause cancer, according to the company’s latest quarterly report. The company said the NIEHS findings affirmed the safety of its products.

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Hair-raising: A new study that tracked nearly 47,000 American women over eight years has found that black women using permanent hair dye had a 45 percent higher rate of breast cancer, while the risk for white women using the dyes was 7 percent higher, Nina Lakhani reports for The Guardian. The study authors stopped short of saying the research proved that the products cause breast cancer, but concluded that ”chemicals in hair products may play a role in breast carcinogenesis.” Previous studies have found that beauty products aimed at black women may contain more chemicals that disrupt the endocrine or hormonal system than comparable products aimed at white women, Lakhani notes. The endocrine system regulates basic functions of the human body like reproduction and metabolism, and disrupting it can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, reproductive problems, developmental and neurological disorders. The European Union has banned or restricted the use of more than 1,300 chemicals in cosmetics and other beauty products, whereas the U.S. has regulated only 11. The study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, also analyzed the link between chemical hair straighteners and breast cancer. It found that, regardless of race, regular use of hair straighteners was associated with a 31 percent increased risk of breast cancer, although black women are overwhelmingly more likely to use chemical straighteners.

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The flailing FDA: The number of inspections of foreign drug manufacturing plants by the Food and Drug Administration has been falling since 2016 as dozens of positions at the federal  agency go unfilled, leading the Government Accountability Office to raise the alarm about the FDA’s ability to inspect overseas drug makers, Hillel Aron reports for FairWarning. The GAO report reveals several glaring weaknesses, including the FDA’s reliance on foreign drug makers to provide their own translators, and giving the companies months of advance notice before an inspection takes place. “That’s just an unacceptable practice, to announce most of these inspections,” Michael Carome, director of the health research group at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization, told FairWarning. “It gives companies a chance to destroy documents, manipulate documents and clean up a facility.”

  • Also: California would begin selling its own brand of generic drugs to fight rising healthcare costs under a proposal by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Melody Gutierrez reports for the Los Angeles Times. If the state legislature signs off, California would become the first state to operate such a system.

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No restraint: Alabama contractors Apex Roofing and Restoration LLC and WW Restoration LLC face $159,118 in proposed penalties for failing to protect roofing workers from fall hazards, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Last July, a 15-year-old Guatemalan youth working for W&W Restoration, a subcontractor of Apex Roofing, fell through unsupported roof insulation to his death in Cullman, Alabama. Officials told local news outlets that it was the 15-year-old’s first day on the job and that he was working alongside his brother, who was said to be the boy’s only family.

  • Also: OSHA is seeking $79,559 in penalties against Advanced Construction & Development LLC, in Biloxi, Mississippi, for exposing employees to excavation hazards at a D’Iberville, Mississippi, worksite, after a compliance officer saw employees installing a storm drainpipe in an excavation without cave-in protection.

 

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

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