No safe level: A one-year study commissioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found traces of asbestos in nine samples of talc-based cosmetics products; 43 samples came back negative. “There is general agreement among U.S. federal agencies and the World Health Organization that there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure,” said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a statement. Products that tested positive for asbestos included: one lot of Johnson’s baby powder; five products from Beauty Plus Global Inc.’s City Color line; and four makeup products from Claire’s, a brand marketed to young girls. The FDA has ordered testing on 50 additional talc samples in 2020 and will communicate any positive results if found. The final results should be released in early 2021. Talc, the softest known mineral, is often used to make cosmetic creams, lotions and foundations easier to spread. As FairWarning has reported, talc deposits are often interlaced with traces of naturally-occurring asbestos.
Dying of despair: A new book by Princeton economics professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton, reviewed for The New Republic by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, seeks to explain why a century-long trend of decreasing deaths of white, middle-aged Americans suddenly began a reversal after the year 2000. The authors call these deaths—by suicide, drug overdoses, and alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis—”deaths of despair,” which is also the title of their book. In 2017 alone, 158,000 Americans succumbed to these “deaths of despair,” the equivalent, they note, “of three full 737 MAXS falling out of the sky every day, with no survivors.” It’s easier to identify the phenomenon than to pinpoint a cause, but some factors could include stagnating wages and sky-high healthcare costs. It’s worth noting that the United States is the only wealthy country to see a rise in suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths, and only in the U.S. is there the potent combination of stagnating wages and fewer employee benefits, and “the broken, uniquely American system of employer-provided healthcare.”
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Whodathunk: “Who would have thought” that the world would be staring down a global disease pandemic, the United States commander-in-chief wondered during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Actually, as The New York Times’ Peter Baker reminds us, there was a team at the White House whose job was preparing for just such a scenario—until the office was eliminated in 2018. Keeping that in mind, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that observers have documented a litany of missteps that have hindered the administration’s response to the coronavirus. The first test kits that were distributed were faulty and it took three weeks to fix the problem, and narrow testing guidelines mean that only people exhibiting symptoms have been able to get tested, making it harder to track the spread of the virus. As of this writing, at least 730 people in 36 states and D.C. have tested positive, and at least 26 patients have died. However, those numbers probably don’t capture the full scope of the virus’ spread. Robinson Meyer and Alexis C. Madrigal reported for The Atlantic that, as of the start of this week, they had only been able to verify that 4,384 people had been tested. For comparison, by this time in the outbreak in South Korea, more than 100,000 people had been tested for the disease. Meanwhile, stocks continued their nosedive as fears of the virus battered world economics, with prices on the New York Stock Exchange plunging nearly 8 percent on Monday, the biggest single-day drop since 2008.
- Also: Some Asian-Americans are buying out gun stores on the West Coast, fearful that the coronavirus, which originated in China, will lead to xenophobic and racist violence, Champe Barton reports for The Trace. Their fears are not entirely unfounded: In London, an Asian student named Jonathan Mok said he was attacked by a group of men in London as they yelled, “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.”
Ghosting: Coronavirus has already caused a 25 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions in China, and with some countries instituting travel bans and individuals choosing to stay home, global demand for oil and gas will continue to go down, according to The Washington Post. On the other hand, Business Insider reports that airlines are burning thousands of gallons of fuel flying empty “ghost” planes because of E.U. rules that say operators can lose their flight slots if they keep their planes on the ground. The UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has asked for the rules to be suspended to prevent further environmental and economic damage. “It is not in the industry’s, the passengers’ or the environment’s interest and must be avoided,” Shapps stated.
Strength in numbers: Honolulu has joined more than a dozen cities, including San Francisco and New York, in filing a lawsuit against a group of eight oil companies for the growing cost of dealing with climate change, Nina Wu reports for the Honolulu Star Advertiser. The city faces costs estimated at more than $19 billion from sea level rise, according to InsideClimate News. “I am proud today that the City and County of Honolulu is leading the charge to hold Big Oil accountable for their decades-long misinformation campaign — they knowingly threw our planet headlong into the climate crisis,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell in a statement. “The people of Oahu and people everywhere deserve to see that a portion of the massive profits these corporations have raked in now help pay for the damages that they have caused to our island.”
- Also: Miami Beach is spending $1 billion on new infrastructure projects to fortify the low-lying island against increased flooding and sea-level rise, Arian Campo-Flores writes for The Wall Street Journal. The only problem? Residents say the upgrades are ugly and could send stormwater runoff toward their homes, depressing property values. “We’re under siege,” said Bob Kunst, who lives in an affluent neighborhood and objects to the infrastructure changes.
Constant racism: According to reporting by The Washington Post’s Annie Gowen and Katie Zezima, the Molson Coors brewery where a black worker shot and killed five colleagues before turning the gun on himself has a history of workplace racism. Years before the mass shooting, nooses were strewn around the building, including on the locker of the shooter, Anthony Ferrill, and racist cartoons and the n-word were scrawled on the walls. Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales has said he “[doesn’t] believe that was a factor” in the shooting. But one former brewery floor worker, who spoke to The Post on condition of anonymity, said there was “constant harassment. The constant nitpicking. The constant racial things that were done and allowed to be done because our complaints fell on deaf ears.”
- Also: Baba Punjab Singh, 72, who was left paralyzed after a white supremacist shot nine people, killing six, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012, has died from his injuries eight years after the attack, The Trace reports. “My father’s injuries and his passing, along with the other lives lost that day, are a reminder of the toxic hate that still plagues our country,” Singh’s son, Raghuvinder Singh, said.
Close quarters: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Dollar Tree Stores Inc., the giant discount chain, for safety violations relating to emergency exits, storage, and fire hazards at stores in Boston, Massachusetts, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The national discount retailer faces a combined $820,606 in proposed penalties. As FairWarning has previously reported, scores of Dollar Tree stores across the U.S. have been penalized by OSHA for violations involving overly-crowded stockrooms and towers of boxes that can tumble onto employees and block emergency exits.
Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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