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Jan. 27, 2010 by Rena Steinzor

The Human Costs of Pander

President Obama’s expected State of the Union announcement that he plans to seek a freeze on non-security discretionary spending is an early warning sign that he and his team have decided to play small ball, abandoning the promise of his newly minted transformative presidency. The President’s decision to borrow this shopworn pander from the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations almost certainly means continued, fatal dysfunction for the five agencies that ensure the quality of the air we breathe and the food we eat, the safety of the drugs we take and the consumer products we buy, and the control of toxic chemical exposures in the workplace.

Let’s be clear: those five protector agencies are severely handicapped in their efforts to protect Americans from a variety of hazards because their budgets have been shrinking or staying flat while the challenges they face have grown. In the scale of the things, it wouldn’t take a lot of money to give them the resources they need to protect us from future iterations of the recent spate of regulatory failures – poisonous peanut butter, toxic drywall, lead-laden toys, etc. Mostly, it just takes political will.

Instead, we get a freeze that …

Dec. 12, 2009 by Matthew Freeman
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The tagline that the producers of Food, Inc. are using to promote their Academy Award-winning documentary is “You’ll never look at dinner the same way.” They’re quite right. The film airs on many PBS stations this evening (and on others throughout the course of the next week). See for yourself.

 
I came to it expecting that I’d end up feeling guilty about being part of the industry-consumer web that subjects farm animals to “nasty, brutish and short” lives, before slaughtering them for hamburger. I did feel guilty, and still do, days later. But more than that, you come away from Food, Inc. convinced that in the interest of maximizing profits for the food industry, we’ve introduced hazards into the food we eat, created an obesity problem, and allowed mega-corporations to run roughshod over family farmers.
 
I won’t spoil the story, but the …

Dec. 1, 2009 by Matt Shudtz
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Yesterday came and went with no announcement from the FDA on the safety of BPA in food packaging. The agency had created a self-imposed November 30 deadline for releasing a new finding, and in the intervening months, a number of new studies on the health effects of BPA have been released and FDA has brought in an outside expert to head up the review. These developments have understandably slowed the review process.

The question before FDA is whether BPA is safe for its intended use in food contact applications -- the lining inside cans, for example. So Kaiser Permanente’s recent headline-grabbing study that showed an increased likelihood of erectile dysfunction and problems ejaculating among workers who were highly exposed to BPA in a Chinese plant might not be very useful in making that determination. But the many studies showing correlations between various exposures to BPA and other …

Oct. 29, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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Today the Consumer Product Safety Comission released three draft reports on its findings so far regarding contaminated Chinese drywall.

Here's how the Sarasota Herald-Tribune puts the development:

In what is sure to inflame lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the federal government issued a report on Thursday about Chinese drywall that stopped short of linking the material to health problems, foul smells or corrosion reported by homeowners.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and others have been analyzing the drywall and said they need more time to complete that work.

Explains CPSC's email update:

Basically, the combined federal task force investigating the issue has found elevated levels of two elements in some Chinese-made drywall: sulfur and strontium. We are conducting additional scientific tests to find the connection between these elevated levels and any reported health symptoms or corrosion effects. The results of …

Sept. 9, 2009 by Thomas McGarity
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Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a 2007 food safety statute by promulgating a rule requiring food manufacturers to report instances of foodborne diseases to an electronic database that the agency has just established (the Reportable Food Registry). This long-awaited database will help epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control, state health agencies and academia identify "clusters" of illnesses that should contribute to a better assessment of the extent and magnitude of the foodborne disease problem in this country.

More important, the new database may assist epidemiologists in pinpointing the food items that have caused particular outbreaks much more quickly. This is critical to the government's ability to take action to prevent the spread of foodborne diseases before they become full-fledged catastrophes like the recent spinach and peanut butter outbreaks.

In a food distribution system in which ground beef from a single cow can wind …

Sept. 4, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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The AP reports:

A federal judge presiding over hundreds of lawsuits against Chinese drywall makers and installers said Thursday that he plans to hold the first trial in January for the cases, which claim the imported products emit sulfur, methane and other chemical compounds that have ruined homes and harmed residents' health.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon told attorneys that he expects them to pick six plaintiffs whose cases could be tried in early 2010, with the first trial starting in January.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, in its August drywall update, reported that new complaints continue to come in, and "the majority of the reports continue to be from Florida, Louisiana, and Virginia." And:

To date, CPSC staff has confirmed 6,211,200 sheets of Chinese drywall were imported into the U.S., plus 28,778 sheets imported into Guam, Saipan, and American Samoa during …

Aug. 25, 2009 by Rena Steinzor
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The publication of in-depth investigative reporting on complex regulatory issues is a phenomenon that has become as rare as hen’s teeth, and I greeted the front-page story in Sunday's New York Times on the perils posed by atrazine with a big cheer. Unfortunately, despite reporter Charles Duhigg’s best efforts, the response of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokespeople and other commentators garbled the issue substantially. What the story revealed is that even on this mammoth and controversial environmental problem, Obama’s EPA has not yet made plans to defuse the booby traps set up by the Bush Administration. It also left the unfortunate impression that experts think that it’s a reasonable public health policy to tell pregnant women to stop drinking tap water to protect their babies from atrazine “spikes.” This mindset that it is up to consumers to protect themselves by avoiding …

Aug. 24, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

Atrazine is suddenly very much in the news. Sunday’s New York Times features a major story about whether the EPA’s current standard for acceptable levels of atrazine in drinking water is tight enough to protect human health. Yesterday’s Peoria Journal carried a story about a class action lawsuit filed in Illinois state court against Syngenta, the primary manufacturer of atrazine. And NRDC has just issued a report accusing EPA of ignoring the atrazine problem (summary here, full text here).

Atrazine is a herbicide commonly used to keep corn fields, lawns, and golf courses free of broad-leaved weeds. It is reportedly the most widely used herbicide in the United States and, correspondingly, the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. waters. EPA regulates atrazine under two laws, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the …

Aug. 20, 2009 by Catherine O'Neill
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The United States Geological Survey (USGS) issued a report today finding widespread mercury contamination in U.S. streams. The USGS found methylmercury in every fish that it sampled – an extraordinary indictment of the health of our nation’s waters. The USGS reported that the fish at 27% of the sites contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of humans who consume an average amount of fish, as established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA’s criterion grossly understates the risk to those people whose fish consumption practices differ from those of the “average American,” particularly members of the various fishing tribes, Asian-Americans, and those hailing from the Pacific or Caribbean Islands. Whereas EPA’s criterion is based on the assumption that people eat 17.5 grams per day of fish – about one fish meal every two weeks, on average – people in …

Aug. 19, 2009 by Matt Shudtz
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On Monday, the big news out of FDA was the announcement that they’re going to publish a new assessment of the risks posed by BPA in food packaging, due out by the end of November. Jesse Goodman, FDA’s Chief Scientist, made the announcement at a meeting of the agency’s Science Board, which also heard two presentations by scientists from different offices within FDA working on the new assessment.

Last year, FDA formed a task force to assess the risks of BPA and the task force quickly concluded that “there is a large body of evidence that indicates that FDA-regulated products containing BPA currently on the market are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects.” Given the rapid development of new studies on BPA in the diet, it …

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