Ridiculous redactions by the Labor Dept’s mine safety agency

Pump Handle - July 02, 2014

They wanted to keep these words secret:

“two” …..  “two miner operators” …….”worn by the miners. Both”   …….“right miner”   …….“left miner”

They are the phrases the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) initially redacted from a document requested by Mine Safety and Health News (MSHNews). (You can see the before and after versions here.)  It’s not only redaction overkill, but it’s made worse coming from the Administration that “pledged to make this the most transparent Administration in history.”

The document with the redacted terms  is a citation issued in January 2014 to Armstrong Coal company for violations at its Parkway mine. The underground coal mine was the subject of a story written last month by HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson.  Jamieson reported on the experience of two whistleblowers who alerted federal inspectors that their company was cheating when it collected air samples to measure respirable coal dust. Rather than assigning miners to wear the dust pumps, the company put the devices in a part of the mine far away from coal dust.

The cheating by coal operators on respirable dust sampling is nothing new. Back in the early 1990′s Republican Labor Secretary Lynn Martin said the coal mining industry was “addicted to cheating.”  Ouch.  But it’s not so easy to catch mine operators in the act. This time MSHA inspectors did and the Parkway mine got a citation for it.

Jamieson’s story piqued the interest of the Ellen Smith, the editor of MSHNews. She had a simple request: a copy of the citation related to the cheating. Smith could share with her readers the details of the mine operator’s deception. Getting those details from MSHA was not as easy as it should have been.

In the current edition of MSHNews, Smith reports on their effort to obtain an unredacted version of the citation.

MSHNews‘ correspondent Kathy Snyder, along with Emily Grannis, an attorney with the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press, went to MSHA headquarters to demand an unredacted copy of the citation.”

Smith explains:

“Under the 1977 Mine Act’s Section 104(h) ‘all records, information, reports, findings, citations, notices, orders, or decisions required or issued pursuant to or under this Act may be published from time to time, may be released to any interested person, and shall be made available for public inspection.”

Section 109 (b)(2) of the Mine Act also addresses disclosure of records:

Any “notice, order, citation, or decision shall be available for public inspection.”

In this case, MSHA ultimately agreed to provide an unredacted version of the citation. But it had to be pushed. In other words, they admitted their error.

This should mean that in future requests for citations, phrases like “two miner operators,” “right miner,” and “left miner” are not hidden under the ink of a black marker.  It should mean that MSHA will follow the plain language of the Mine Act’s Sections 104(h) and 109 (b)(2).

But will it?

My hope is that the before and after versions of the Parkway mine citations cross the desks of Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Solicitor of Labor Patricia Smith, or at least the desk of MSHA chief Joe Main. They’ll surely see the redactions on the document as ridiculous. As the officials ultimately responsible for implementing President Obama’s policies, including his pledge to be “the most transparent Administration in history,” I hope they will take steps to fix the cause of their Department’s redaction overkill.

I doubt the Parkway mine citation example is an isolated incident. It’s just the one that appeared in print courtesy of MSHNews.

 

Categories: Health

Roughly $80 Billion Wasted on Power for Networked Devices, Report Says

Yale Environment 360 - July 02, 2014
The world’s 14 billion online electronic devices, such as modems, printers, game consoles, and cable boxes, waste around $80 billion in electricity annually because of inefficient technology, according to a new reportby

Click to Enlarge

Energy consumption of a typical game console. the International Energy Agency (IEA). In 2013, networked devices consumed around 616 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity, with most of that used in standby mode. Roughly 400 TWh — equivalent to the combined annual electricity consumption of the United Kingdom and Norway — was wasted because of inefficient technology. The problem will worsen by 2020, the agency projects, with an estimated $120 billion wasted as devices such as refrigerators, washing machines, and thermostats become networked. Much of the problem boils down to inefficient “network standby,” or maintaining a network connection while in standby mode. Most network-enabled devices draw as much power in this mode as when fully active, the report notes. Using today's best technology could cut energy consumption by 65 percent, the IEA said.
Categories: Environment, Health

Interview: Where Will the Earth Head After Its ‘Climate Departure’?

Yale Environment 360 - July 02, 2014
The term “climate departure” has an odd ring, but its meaning is relatively straightforward. It marks the point at which the earth’s climate begins to cease resembling Camilo Mora what has come before and moves into a new state where the extreme becomes the norm. Camilo Mora — a University of Hawaii biogeographer, ecologist, and specialist in marshaling big data for climate modeling — has calculated a rough idea for the time of the earth’s climate departure: 2047. That date varies depending on region, he says. But in a widely publicized paper published in the journal Nature last year, Mora and 13 colleagues explored the concept of climate departure and what it will mean for our planet. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Mora explains why tropical regions will be most profoundly affected by climate change, why controlling population growth is at the core of the challenge posed by global warming, and the frustrations he and other scientists feel as their warnings about rising temperatures are ignored.
Read more.
Categories: Environment, Health

Occupational Health News Roundup

Pump Handle - July 01, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court released two big decisions yesterday. The first, which you’ve probably heard about, ruled that for-profit companies can deny female employees insurance coverage for birth control if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. (For more on the potential consequences of this outrageous and offensive decision, read this great piece in Slate. Also, since this is the Occupational Health News Roundup, it bears mentioning that in her dissent, Justice Ginsburg noted that the cost of an IUD is about a month’s full-time pay for a worker earning minimum wage.) But in addition to the Hobby Lobby decision, the court also ruled in Harris v. Quinn, which delivered a pretty significant blow to labor unions’ rights to collect fees from all workers who benefit from collective bargaining.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that a group of Illinois home health care workers — the plaintiffs in the case — can’t be forced to pay fees to a union they didn’t wish to join, even if they benefit from the outcomes of collective bargaining negotiations. Also known as fair-share fees or agency fees, the fees are used to support the expensive process of negotiating on behalf hundreds or thousands of workers for better working conditions.

Basically, agency fees mean no one gets a free ride: If a majority of a workforce votes to unionize, non-union workers still reap the rewards of union representation and should bear their fair share of the costs that go along with collective bargaining. Illinois is among a number of states that requires public-sector workers, whether they decide to join the union or not, to pay fair-share fees. The workers who brought the case are a small group of home health aides who care for Medicaid patients and are part of a larger workforce that voted to unionize. As Ian Millhiser at Think Progress wrote, the workers did indeed benefit from the union’s efforts:

By any reasonable objective measure, the union struck a very good deal for Illinois’ home health aides. Before the union negotiated a collective bargaining agreement, the aides’ wages were just $7.00 an hour. Now they are $11.65 an hour, and they are scheduled to increase to $13.00 per hour in December. Nevertheless, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWLDF), an anti-union litigation shop, found a handful of home health aides who object to this arrangement.

In describing why unions were holding their breath while awaiting the decision, Millhiser wrote:

If the Supreme Court complies with NRWLDF’s request to halt the non-union members’ fair-share payments, there will be little incentive for most workers to reimburse the union for the costs of collective bargaining — after all, why pay for higher wages when you can get them for free? Indeed, such a decision could set off a death spiral endangering the unions themselves. If non-members can suddenly stop paying agency fees, then unions will have to raise dues on their members in order to cover these losses. But, if unions raise their dues, more members will decide to drop out rather than pay the increased fees. Which will force even higher dues. Which will cause more members to drop out. Which will force even higher dues. The loss of agency fees potentially presents an existential threat to the union in Harris and to public sector unions across the country.

The majority of the court ruled that the workers in question weren’t full-blown government employees, but partial public employees and shouldn’t be subject to the same fair-share rules as other public workers, such as teachers or police. The health workers are paid by the state, but employed by the patients. It’s an unfortunate decision, but the one silver lining, observers say, is that the court didn’t completely overturn a previous decision from 1977 upholding fair-share fees for government employees. Still, Justice Kagan wrote in the dissent that the worker classification distinction is a bit far-fetched. She wrote:

A joint employer remains an employer, and here, as I have noted, Illinois kept authority over all workforce-wide terms of employment — the very issues most likely to be the subject of collective bargaining. The State thus should also retain the prerogative — as part of its effort to “ensure efficient and effective delivery of personal care services” — to require all employees to contribute fairly to their bargaining agent.

To read more about the court’s decision, read Millhiser’s article at Think Progress; Steven Greenhouse’s article in The New York Times; or this one from Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times. For a reaction from SEIU, the union that represents home health aides in Illinois, click here. And Mother Jones has a piece by Andy Kroll on four lawsuits that may be even worse for unions than Harris v. Quinn.

In other news:

Boston Globe: Last week, Massachusetts officially raised its minimum wage from $8 per hour to $11 by 2017, which means it’ll have the highest minimum wage of any state in the nation. Hourly wages for tipped workers will also go up from $2.63 to $3.75. The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health noted that the legislation also “strengthens safety protections for workers, increases funeral benefits for families and makes permanent the multi-agency task force charged with combating the underground economy.” Here’s a handy chart from the Washington Post on nationwide minimum wage trends.

The Nation: Reporter Zoë Carpenter writes that low-wage workers might have a new ally in David Weil, who recently took over as the director of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Carpenter writes that “Weill is directing the bulk of his resources to targeted investigations in industries and sectors where labor exploitation is endemic.”

Houston Chronicle: Texas Republicans are pushing back against proposed legislation drafted in response to the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion, which killed 15 people. According to reporter Paul Weber, the lawmakers are complaining that the proposed regulations, such as requiring that ammonium nitrate be stored in noncombustible containers, are an economic burden for business owners.

News of recent worker deaths: Just a small handful of recent worker deaths that made the news include Jose Felix Obando, a construction worker who died after falling down a 12-foot hole in Sweetwater, Florida (Sun-Sentinel); Macario Santiago-Cruz, a Kentucky construction worker who died after falling 30 feet (Lexington Herald-Leader); and Sarmad Iskander, a Toronto construction worker who died after falling from the 28th floor of a condominium project (Toronto Star).

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

Categories: Health

Small Island Nation of Kiribati Purchases Foreign Land as Climate Refuge

Yale Environment 360 - July 01, 2014
The small island nation of Kiribati has purchased a swath of land in Fiji as a refuge for citizens who may be displaced by rising sea levels, marking the first time a Kiribati's location (red) in the Pacific Ocean. country has taken such actions as a defense against climate change, the Guardian reports. Kiribati, home to 110,000 people scattered across 33 islands in the Pacific Ocean, is one of several small island nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans that could be extensively or completely submerged within a few decades. The cost of protecting such countries often far outweighs their national incomes. Kiribati, with a GDP of under $200 million, ranks among the 10 countries facing the most severe financial impacts of climate change. The tract of 20 square kilometers on the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji, could provide a future refuge for all of Kiribati's citizens, the nation's president said.
Categories: Environment, Health

Antarctica's Emperor Penguins Will Be in Serious Decline By 2100, Study Says

Yale Environment 360 - June 30, 2014
Antarctica's Emperor penguins are facing dramatic declines by the end of the century and should be given endangered species status because of the threats posed

Sea ice loss threatens Emperor penguins. by climate change, according to an international group of scientists. If sea ice declines at the rates projected by current climate models, at least two-thirds of the colonies will likely shrink by more than 50 percent by 2100, the researchers report in Nature Climate Change. That conclusion follows a 50-year study in eastern Antarctica of Emperor penguins, an iconic Antarctic species with 45 known colonies. Emperor penguins' survival is highly dependent on sea ice concentrations because they breed on the ice, and too little sea ice reduces the habitat for krill, a critical food source for the penguins. Granting the species protected status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will provide tools for improving fishing practices of U.S. vessels in the Southern Ocean and potentially for reducing CO2 emissions in the U.S. under the Clear Air Act, the researchers say.
Categories: Environment, Health

“You shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery”: The White House Summit on Working Families

Pump Handle - June 30, 2014

Last week’s White House Summit on Working Families – hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Labor, and the Center for American Progress – served both as a pitch to employers to adopt more family-friendly policies, and as a push for policies that require all employers to evolve for 21st-century realities. Wages, paid leave, flexibility, and caregiving were major topics in the day-long event, and speaker after speaker returned to the same themes. I was honored to attend the event, and left it feeling hopeful that we’ll keep seeing improvements in workplace policies – perhaps first at the level of individual employers, cities and states (where we’ve already seen progress), and eventually at the federal level.

“No one in this country should work a full-time job and have to live in poverty,” said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, who has been pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage. As for why more workers need access to paid sick, medical, and family leave, he told the crowd, “No one should have to choose between the job they need and the family they love.”

Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, described the way her boss’s flexibility helped her to balance work and family when her children were young – but, she noted, many US workers don’t have access to paid leave or flexible schedules. “I won the boss lottery, but you shouldn’t have to,” she told the audience.

Vice President Joe Biden picked up on that theme. He described how he struggled to balance his job as a US Senator with raising his sons after his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash. He told the crowd that he made 8,000 round trips between Washington, DC and Delaware so he could be home before his children went to bed, and that he skipped procedural votes to make it to parent-teacher conferences and his kids’ games and debates. It was hard for him and challenging for others like him – but, he noted “we’re the lucky ones,” with good salaries and some schedule flexibility. It’s even harder for those whose struggle to make their paychecks cover expenses and don’t have flexible schedules or paid leave.

Another theme that speakers echoed was the idea that the US economy has changed, but workplace policies have failed to keep up with the changes. Where it used to be the norm for households to have one breadwinner and one parent who stayed home and cared for children, that’s not a workable option for most US households today. (And, I’d add, many low-income households didn’t have that option even in the Leave it To Beaver days.) As the average lifespan increases, many households are also faced with responsibilities to care for aging parents and young children simultaneously.

In his remarks, President Obama also shared his family’s story of challenges in balancing jobs and family, and repeated that they still found it hard even though they were among the more fortunate workers. And then he said this, to cheers and thunderous applause:

And every day, I hear from parents all across the country. They are doing everything right — they are working hard, they are living responsibly, they are taking care of their children, they’re participating in their community — and these letters can be heartbreaking, because at the end of the day it doesn’t feel like they’re getting ahead. And all too often, it feels like they’re slipping behind. And a lot of the time, they end up blaming themselves thinking, if I just work a little harder — if I plan a little better, if I sleep a little bit less, if I stretch every dollar a little bit farther — maybe I can do it. And that thought may have crossed the minds of some of the folks here from time to time.

Part of the purpose of this summit is to make clear you’re not alone. Because here’s the thing: These problems are not typically the result of poor planning or too little diligence on the parts of moms or dads, and they cannot just be fixed by working harder or being an even better parent. All too often, they are the results of outdated policies and old ways of thinking. Family leave, childcare, workplace flexibility, a decent wage — these are not frills, they are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottom line as a society. That’s what we’re striving for.

The President noted that there are countries that have figured out how to do childcare well and affordably, suggesting we could follow their lead and make it so decent childcare doesn’t cost more than in-state college tuition (something that’s currently the case in 31 states). And, he noted, “Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth. Now, that’s a pretty low bar. You would think [that’s something] that we should be able to take care of.”

Economic impacts

In her speech, Jill Biden – who is a community-college professor as well as wife of Vice President Biden – pointed out that employees can be more productive if they’re not worried about childcare or their aging parents. Several small-business owners or members of upper management at large corporations, described the productivity and loyalty they experienced from employees as a result of offering higher wages, paid leave, and flexible scheduling.

I was also delighted that Makini Howell, owner of Seattle’s Plum Bistro described the public-health motivation behind her decision to support the city’s paid-sick-leave law: “I don’t want to serve you a cheap contagious flu with your sweet potato fries.” She and other business representatives also noted that demonstrating trust in employees not to abuse sick-leave policies tends to inspire trustworthy behavior.

Speakers also addressed the ways that family-unfriendly workplaces can hurt the economy as a whole, as well as individual businesses. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) pointed out that 70% of the US economy is consumer-driven, and low wages hurt consumer spending. Betsey Stevenson, a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, noted that when trained, educated workers drop out of the workforce because they can’t meet their families needs otherwise, that’s a big loss to our economy.

The workers who drop out of the workforce for caregiving purposes are most often women, but several speakers stressed that family-friendly policies help men, too, and that this is not a zero-sum game. Earlier in the month, a White House Summit on Working Fathers addressed this sometimes-overlooked topic; Scott Behson collected some of the memorable quotes from the event at his Fathers, Work and Family blog.

Policy solutions

The event showcased large and small employers that have chosen to go above and beyond what the law requires (which, in the case of federal law, isn’t much), and offer their workers higher wages, paid leave, and the flexibility they need to balance job and family responsibilities. They spoke about “the business case” for family-friendly policies –or, what I imagine much of the rest of the world considers to be commonsense policies. Another route to higher wages and better leave policies is unionization; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in her panel discussion that no one has done more for equal pay than organized labor.

Even as speakers encouraged other businesses to adopt these high-road practices, there was also a recognition that we can’t just wait for all employers to follow suit, or for workplaces to become unionized – this is an urgent problem that needs policy solutions. Workers should have access to livable wages, paid leave, and flexibility even if they don’t “win the boss lottery.”

In addition to Secretary Perez’s call for a higher minimum wage, President Obama urged Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for women with pregnancy-related medical needs, and the Paycheck Fairness Act, aimed at reducing the gender wage gap. In a session on caregiving, Nancy Duff Campbell of the National Women’s Law Center added a call for the Strong Start for America’s Children Act to increase access to affordable, high-quality childcare, preschool, and pre-kindergarten.

Two bills that I was surprised not to hear mentioned (although it’s possible they came up in breakout sessions) were the Healthy Families Act and the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (FAMILY Act). The Healthy Families Act would allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven days a year of paid sick time, while the FAMILY Act would set up a social-insurance system to enable workers, regardless of employer size or job tenure, to get a portion of their pay while taking medical or family leave for serious health conditions.

The Washington Post’s Zachary Goldfarb suggests a disturbing reason why President Obama isn’t endorsing the FAMILY Act: The proposed social-insurance system relies on an additional payroll tax of 0.2 percent to fund replacements of a portion of workers’ salaries when they’re taking medical or family leave. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, a worker earning the US median wage would pay an extra $65 per year into the system; the figure would be higher for higher-income workers, but in any case it would be a very modest contribution in exchange for access to benefits that could mean the difference between paying the rent and getting evicted for those who need to take time off to address a serious health condition or care for a new child.

Goldfarb notes, though, that President Obama made a 2008 campaign pledge to not raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000, and the FAMILY Acy would entail a tax increase on all workers. It seems that it would be worth violating a campaign promise in order to pass a law that would do so much good for so many people – especially those living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe President Obama would have more to say on the subject if the law were to pick up more support in Congress.

With Congressional gridlock as the current norm, the real hope for change seems to be at the state and local levels – and perhaps national action will eventually follow. Cities and states across the country are considering, or have already passed, laws and ballot measure to raise wages and require employers to offer paid sick leave; Rhode Island recently became the third state (following California and New Jersey) to establish a social-insurance system for paid caregiver leave. A Center for American Progress poll conducted earlier this month found that 71% of respondents, including 62% of Republican respondents, support paid family leave for workers with a sick child or immediate family member.

In a conversation with Robin Roberts, First Lady Michelle Obama told the summit audience, “The numbers are on our side – more and more people are realizing that this is an issue for everybody.” Later, she said, “We have to help elected officials understand just how important these issues are.”

Categories: Health

Study: New method of mapping HIV transmission risk may be more efficient way to prevent infection

Pump Handle - June 27, 2014

Ideally, everyone should be tested for HIV and in fact, federal guidelines introduced in 2006 recommend routine HIV screening for all patients. In reality, however, only about half of U.S. adults have ever been tested for HIV and about half of the 50,000 new infections that happen every year in the U.S. are transmitted by people who are unaware of their HIV status. Such statistics recently led a group of researchers to ask if there’s a more efficient way to go about curbing the HIV epidemic.

“We strongly support the concept of universal testing and treatment to limit or control the spread of HIV,” Susan Little, faculty in the Antiviral Research Center at the University of California-San Diego, told me. “The problem with that approach is that here in the U.S., despite having the greatest health care dollar resources available, we’re not universally testing or treating. …So if we have limited prevention dollars to spend, where might we focus our resources to have a much greater impact than if we used the same resources to try to reach everyone?”

Basically, Little and her colleagues asked this question: Instead of casting such a huge prevention net and hoping that people will fall in, could they shrink the net, attach a GPS unit to it and let it lead them to hotspots of high risk and greater preventive potential? They found that they could — and moreover, all the data they needed to do it was already available. Using the unique genetic HIV sequence from individual patients as a proverbial GPS device, the researchers were able to generate maps that pinpointed high-risk transmission networks that they hope can eventually direct prevention resources where they’ll have the greatest impact. Here’s how they did it.

Little and her fellow researchers, who published their methods and findings in the June issue of PLOS ONE, analyzed HIV sequence data among nearly 500 people recently infected with HIV as well as 170 of their sexual and social contacts in San Diego between 1996 and 2011. The sequencing data was already available and centralized as a result of testing HIV patients for antiretroviral drug resistance, which has become standard protocol in HIV care. Using the sequencing data, they pinpointed viruses from different individuals with a high degree of genetic similarity, which could suggest a transmission link. And from those links, they could map a network of HIV transmission and then model the likelihood of new HIV transmissions. (Little did caution, however, that viral similarity does not alone prove that a transmission occurred, only that the individuals are both part of a closely connected transmission network.)

“Not everyone who is HIV-infected is equally likely to transmit the infection to others,” Little said in a news release about the study. “There are clusters of more active disease transmission. We can use this information to target treatment interventions to those most likely to transmit the virus to others and markedly reduce the number of new infections.”

In mapping the networks, researchers were also able to map, in many cases, the direction of infection. When putting all the components together, researchers could measure the rate at which a network and sub-networks were growing and zero in on areas in the population in which HIV is spreading at a faster rate. Within a network, researchers then calculated a transmission network score that estimated the risk of transmission from a patient who is newly diagnosed to a new partner.

According to the study findings, high scores identified a group of patients who had significantly greater predicted risks of HIV transmission within their first year of living with the virus than patients with low scores. If put into clinical practice, the concept means clinicians could more precisely direct treatment and prevention education to patients at highest risk of transmission. Little and study co-authors Sergei Kosakovsky Pond, Christy Anderson, Jason Young, Joel Wertheim, Sanjay Mehta, Susanne May and Davey Smith write:

When adequately sampled, HIV-1 sequence analysis can help characterize local HIV epidemics. This network based study in San Diego, California, corroborated previous findings that higher (viral load) was associated with transmission risk and that early (antiretroviral treatment) decreased this risk. This study went further to identify that network connections at baseline also predicted future transmission risk, and prevention efforts targeted to these individuals may be a better use of prevention resources than random implementation or targeting individuals with higher number of sexual partners or recently diagnosed with a (sexually transmitted infection).

But wouldn’t genetically linking newly infected patients to other patients violate medical privacy? No, Little told me. Clinicians would only get back a transmission network score. It works like this: When a patient’s sample is sent to the lab to test for drug resistance, the lab could automatically search for sequencing similarities within its existing database, generate a score and relay only that score to the physician, who could then more precisely act to prevent further HIV infections. The doctor wouldn’t know how many similarities were found or whom their patient might have had sexual contact with — they’d just get a score.

That score would ideally be much more telling than the kind of information that a doctor would normally collect during a patient encounter. For example, Little told me, a patient who identifies only one sexual partner may be at low risk for transmission. However, sequencing data could reveal that the one partner has dozens of potential partners, which offers unique insight into an underlying transmission network of which even the initial patient is unaware. Little admitted that while labs may be nervous about linking sequencing similarities at the moment, the scoring technique is a strategy that wouldn’t first require a revision of medical privacy laws.

“These data are already available and we could start using it tomorrow,” she said. “But we do need to figure out answers to some important questions.”

In addition to ensuring that no one’s medical privacy is breached, Little and her colleagues also want to know how much of an impact the new information would really make. Finding patients at high risk of transmission is only one part of the prevention puzzle; getting high-risk patients to adhere to a treatment regimen and modify their risk behaviors is another. Little noted that while newly infected patients do tend to engage in immediate behavior changes, risky behaviors tend to resurface over time. Still, the mapping method is a promising approach to help clinicians as well as public health practitioners maximize their prevention resources.

“Some people might read the study and think ‘why are you targeting interventions when everyone should be treated’ and I completely agree with that,” Little told me. “This isn’t meant to say that we should be targeting certain individuals because that’s a better approach. It’s that the approach of universal testing and treatment has well-documented failures. …Until we develop better methods to endorse and get people to accept testing and treatment, we’re saying that if we really want to control the HIV epidemic, we may have the data we need to do that right now.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.1 million people in the U.S. were living with HIV as of 2010, and about 16 percent don’t know they’re infected.

To read the full HIV network study, visit PLOS ONE.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

Categories: Health

Going Vegetarian Could Halve A Consumer’s Food-related CO2 Footprint

Yale Environment 360 - June 27, 2014
A new study of more than 50,000 people in the United Kingdom shows that going vegan, vegetarian, or even “pescatarian” can drastically reduce people’s carbon footprints. Published in the journal Climatic Change, the study concluded that if people eating more than 100 grams of meat a day went vegan, their food-related carbon footprint would shrink by 60 percent. If a person eating more than 100 grams of meat per day — and U.S. consumers eat about 225 grams daily — cut down to 50 grams per day, their food-related CO2 emissions would fall by a third, the study said. Pescatarians, who eat fish but no other meat, generate only 2.5 percent more CO2 emissions than vegetarians, according to the study. The research also concluded that vegans produce 25 percent fewer CO2 emissions than vegetarians, who still eat eggs and dairy. “In general there is a clear and strong trend with reduced greenhouse gas emissions in diets that contain less meat,” said Oxford University researcher Peter Scarborough, a co-author of the study.
Categories: Environment, Health

Guest blog: Breast cancer survivor, Leslie Vanoni, on climbing Mt. Shasta

Breast Cancer Fund - June 26, 2014
The sun still shining, the inside of our tent warm and bright, we are told to at least rest even if we can't fall asleep. Bridget whispers to me "I am nervous". I whisper back, "Me too". Earlier she told...
Categories: Health

Major U.S. Retailers to Limit Pesticides That May Be Harmful to Bees

Yale Environment 360 - June 26, 2014
Home Depot and other U.S. retailers announced new policies to help limit the use of a group of pesticides suspected of contributing to widespread declines in bee

New warnings on plants aim to protect bees. populations, Reuters reports. Under the new rules, suppliers will be required to label any plants treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, or "neonics," that are sold in home and garden stores. Home Depot will require labeling by the fourth quarter of 2014, a company vice president said, and the retailer is testing to determine whether it's feasible to eliminate neonics altogether without compromising plant health. Another retailer, BJ's Wholesale Club, which has more than 200 East Coast locations, said it will ask suppliers to eliminate neonics by the end of the year, or label plants treated with them as requiring "caution around pollinators." An analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released this week by an international group of scientists found that neonics have been a key factor in bee declines.
Categories: Environment, Health

On Front Lines of Recycling, Turning Food Waste into Biogas

Yale Environment 360 - June 26, 2014
An increasing number of sewage treatment plants in the U.S. and Europe are processing food waste in anaerobic biodigesters, keeping more garbage out of landfills, reducing methane emissions, and producing energy to defray their operating costs. BY RACHEL CERNANSKY
Categories: Environment, Health

States and localities are where it’s at, opportunities to win safer workplaces

Pump Handle - June 26, 2014

Luis Castaneda Gomez, 34 and Jesus Martinez Benitez, 32 were asphyxiated in June 2011 when they were doing repairs inside a manhole. Their employer, Triangle Grading and Paving, was hired by the City of Durham, NC to make water line repairs. The firm had a history of violating worker safety regulations. Worse yet, it was not the first time an employee of Triangle Grading was killed on-the-job.

Durham, like most municipalities, did not have effective policies in place to guard against giving business to safety scofflaws. But that changed in Durham when it adopted a policy in 2012 requiring all bidders to provide information on their safety performance.

This example and many others are described in Winning Safer Workplaces: A Manual for State and Local Policy Reform.” Liz Borkowski and I wrote the guide, along with the Center for Progressive Reform’s James Goodwin, Michael Patoka, Matt Shudtz and law professor Rena Steinzor. The document includes more than a dozen ideas for reforms that would empower workers, make sure crime doesn’t pay, and strengthen institutions. Ideas contained in the guide came from worker safety advocates and experts, including those with the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) and its network of COSH groups. Mary Vogel, the group’s executive director, welcomed the manual. “It’s exactly what’s needed to help strategize, advocate and win improved health and safety so we can prevent illness, injury, and fatalities on the job.”

Vogel can point to successful state and local campaigns to improve worker protections.  A grass roots campaign led by MassCOSH, for example, won a bill of rights for temp workers. A coalition of faith leaders, labor organizations, safety advocacy groups and others in Massachusetts worked with state agencies to write legislation to better protect temp workers from employer abuse. The result was a 2013 law that requires staffing agencies to provide temp workers basic information, including the type of job they’ll be doing, requirements for special protective clothing and safety training, and the firm’s workers’ compensation insurer.

The topics presented in “Winning Safer Workplaces” are meant to enhance the conversation among workers and their allies about ways to strengthen protections and hold irresponsible employers accountable for failing to eliminate or control safety and health hazards. The key U.S. law addressing worker health and safety dates back to 1970. Working conditions have improved in those 44 years, but much still needs to be done to eliminate workplace hazards and retaliation against workers who speak up about safety concerns.

There’s little point in expecting change to come anytime soon from Washington, DC.  Most of those “leaders” could care less about improving conditions for working people—and some are even hostile to such an idea.  Just as we’re seeing with efforts to raise the minimum wage and provide paid sick leave, action to improve worker health and safety is not happening on Capitol Hill. States and localities are where it’s at.

Categories: Health

Blizzard Helps Scientists Visualize Airflow Around Large Wind Turbines

Yale Environment 360 - June 25, 2014
A Minnesota blizzard has helped scientists understand airflow patterns around large wind turbines, paving the way for more efficient turbine designs and wind farm

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Airflow patterns are visible during blizzard. configurations, researchers report in Nature Communications. Wind farms lose roughly 10 to 20 percent of the potential energy they could harvest, and complex airflow patterns play the largest role in those energy losses. Studying airflow around large turbines, which can be more than 100 meters tall, is not feasible in lab settings, so scientists typically test smaller turbine models in wind tunnels and use tracer particles to visualize airflow patterns. Researchers from the University of Minnesota realized they could scale up their experiments to real-world conditions by using heavy snowfall during a blizzard to trace airflow patterns, as shown in this video. Their findings show that airflow patterns under real-world conditions differ from smaller-scale laboratory tests in important ways, and those differences should be taken into account when designing turbines and wind farms.
Categories: Environment, Health
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