Huge Verdict in Herbicide Case Adds to Legal Troubles of Chemical Giant Bayer

Herbicide on trial: After a three-week trial, a federal court jury in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, ruled that German agribusiness giants Bayer and BASF must pay $265 million in actual and punitive damages to Bader Farms, a large peach grower in Missouri, for damage caused by their dicamba herbicides, which drifted into Bader’s orchards from nearby fields, Johnathan Hettinger reports for Investigate Midwest. In the early 2000s the peach grower harvested an average of 162,000 bushels; in 2018 they harvested only 12,000 bushels, according to testimony in the case. Bader Farms is among thousands of farms to claim damage from dicamba that drifted from nearby fields planted with special dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds. The Bader Farms case was the first of many dicamba cases to go to trial, and was considered a bellwether for similar suits by farmers in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and other states. Bayer said it will appeal. The verdict adds to Bayer’s legal woes, which include thousands of cancer claims by users of its popular weed-killer Roundup.

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“Fecal dust” storms: Cattle feedlots in Texas’s western Panhandle create millions of tons of manure, which is dried by the sun, stamped into dust by the animals, and blown away towards nearby communities, where respiratory problems like recurring bronchitis and asthma are common. Yet, in spite of the growing body of research that shows living near concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, is associated with various health risks, the feedlots receive little public scrutiny. And, as The Texas Observer’s Christopher Collins learned when he hired a photographer to document the sprawling feedlots from above, a Texas law adopted in 2013 makes it illegal to photograph them with a drone. That’s something the National Press Photographers Association is trying to change by suing leaders of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Highway Patrol, and the district attorney’s office in Hays County on the grounds that the ban violates the First Amendment.

Your morning brew: Is it about time for a pick-me-up? In moderation—no more than 3 to 5 cups, or up to 400 milligrams of caffeine, in a day—coffee can be good for you. “The evidence is pretty consistent that coffee is associated with a lower risk of mortality,” Erikka Loftfield, a research fellow at the National Cancer Institute, told The New York Times. A 2017 paper in the British Medical Journal examined more than 200 previous studies, and found that coffee consumption was “more often associated with benefit than harm.” Moderate coffee drinkers had less cardiovascular disease and premature death from all causes, including heart attacks and stroke, than those who avoided the beverage. But not all cups of joe are made equal. Boiling coffee releases cafestol and kahweol, members of a class of compounds called diterpenes, which have been shown to raise LDL, the bad cholesterol, and to slightly lower HDL, the good kind. That means coffee made in a French press may be worse for you than your standard drip pot, or a pour over, unless you filter it.

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Crossing the line: A new study published in Nature found that in most states, about half of the premature deaths caused by poor air quality are linked to pollutants that blow in from other states, Henry Fountain reports for The New York Times. In New York and Delaware, for example, the estimates of premature deaths attributable to pollution wafting from other states were nearly two-thirds and more than 90 percent, respectively. Pennsylvania had the highest rate of premature death from emissions from power plants and other combustion sources, but more than half of those fumes originated from within state lines. Neela Banerjee, writing for InsideClimate News, noted that premature deaths associated with pollution from fossil fuel combustion declined by about 30 percent over the 14-year period studied. Residential and commercial emissions are now the leading cause of cross-state early deaths, surpassing power generation and road transportation. “They may not have seemed so important 10 or 20 years ago, but these commercial and residential emissions now look really important, in big part because progress has been made in other sectors,” said study co-author Steven R.H. Barrett, director of the Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Future research and future policy are going to have to bear down on these emissions and start controlling them.”

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Viral update: 760 million people, more than half of China’s population, have had travel restrictions imposed upon them to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to The New York Times. At least 150 million people face government restrictions on how often they can leave their homes, like residents of the city of Xi’an, where authorities have limited trips outside the home to only once every three days to shop for food and other essentials. The Washington Post reports that Liu Zhiming, a respected neurologist and the director of a hospital in Wuhan, is one of eight front-line health workers who have died from the virus, while as many as 3,000 have been infected. As of this writing, the death toll in mainland China has risen to 1,868, with 72,436 confirmed cases.

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Whose mess is it anyway: The ambitious “Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act” introduced by Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California, which includes proposals to ban some single-use products, pause permitting for new plastics plants for three years, and shifting the cost of recycling to plastics producers, was not popular with the plastics industry, to say the least. As E&E News reported, Keith Christman, the director of the American Chemistry Council’s plastics division, claimed that stopping the construction of new plastic facilities would stunt economic growth. “The moratorium and bans on plastic products are likely to increase environmental impacts while limiting access to a material that enables society to do more with less,” he added. Senator Udall said plastics companies “have fooled the American people into thinking that plastic is convenient and that if we just recycle hard enough, we’ll clean up the mess. That is not true.”

  • Also: Who should be held responsible for the presence of so-called forever chemicals in waterways? Three months ago, a North Carolina environmental group filed a notice of intent to sue the city of Burlington for allegedly discharging PFAS chemicals in its treated wastewater into the Haw River, a violation of the Clean Water Act. Even when wastewater treatment plants are passing PFAS chemicals through the system into the environment, the plant is not generally the original source of the contamination. But as Brett Walton writes for Circle of Blue, muddled federal policy on PFAS has made wastewater treatment plants a “a logical target” for legal and regulatory action.

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Better late than never: Steve Hoegger & Associates Inc., a general contractor based in Wylie, Texas, sent painters, carpenters and other tradesmen to renovate two hotels in Hawaii, and misclassified them as independent contractors to avoid paying overtime, according to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. The company has been ordered to pay $159,122 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages to 69 employees. Another Texas business, Polvo’s Mexican Restaurant in Austin, Texas, paid kitchen employees flat weekly salaries regardless of work hours, resulting in overtime pay violations when the hours per week went above 40. The company has paid $98,520 in back wages and liquidated damages to 19 employees to resolve the issue. Hillcrest Hospital Cushing in Cushing, Oklahoma, has paid $30,488 in back wages and liquidated damages to 12 employees to resolve violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The hospital automatically deducted half-hour meal breaks from employees’ work time whether they took the break or not, and did not compensate employees for time spent answering phones and performing their regular job duties during their scheduled breaks.

 

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

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