Oil Company to Face Felony Charges Over Massive California Spill

In this May 21, 2015, file photo, workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., two days after a ruptured pipeline created the largest coastal oil spill in California in 25 years. (photo: Jae C. Hong/AP)
In this May 21, 2015, file photo, workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., two days after a ruptured pipeline created the largest coastal oil spill in California in 25


Samantha Page | Think Progress | Reader Supported News | May 18, 2016

he company responsible for spilling 140,000 gallons of oil on the Pacific coastline near Santa Barbara, California, has been indicted on 46 charges, including four felony charges. One employee of Plains All American Pipeline was also indicted.

The company faces up to $2.8 million in fines plus additional costs and penalties, which would be split between the state and Santa Barbara County. The employee, 41-year-old environmental and regulatory compliance specialist James Buchanan, faces up to three years in jail.

“Crimes against our environment must be met with swift action and accountability,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement. “This conduct is criminal and today’s charges serve as a powerful reminder of the consequences that flow from jeopardizing the well-being of our ecosystems and public health.”

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Surgeon General: I Have No Regrets About Calling Gun Violence Public Health Issue

Vivek Murthy, the new Surgeon General of the U.S. (photo: AP/Charles Dharapak)
Vivek Murthy, the new Surgeon General of the U.S. (photo: AP/Charles Dharapak)


Associated Press | Reader Supported News | August 16, 2015

Vivek Murthy stands by comments, saying his rocky confirmation process resulted from a gun control stance that prompted NRA opposition


he nation’s chief doctor said he doesn’t regret saying gun violence is a public health issue, calling his difficult confirmation process a consequence of speaking out.

Surgeon general Vivek Murthy said Saturday that the backlash from his gun control statement was disappointing but not a surprise.

He was confirmed in December in the face of opposition from the National Rifle Association, in a rare defeat for the powerful gun lobby.

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Contaminated Water Supplies, Health Concerns Accumulate With Fracking Boom in Pennsylvania

Roger Drouin | Truthout | March 14, 2014

An open wastewater impoundment in Washington County, Pa. (Photo: Vanessa Lamers)An open wastewater impoundment in Washington County, Pa. (Photo: Vanessa Lamers)

As the first official research is published that confirms water contamination by hydraulic fracturing, an alarming amount and array of hazardous chemicals and compounds – including arsenic, chloride, barium and radium – are found in Pennsylvania groundwater.

Shortly after a gas company in Donegal, Pennsylvania, began storing fracking wastewater in an impoundment pit, a water well at a nearby home showed some alarmingly elevated levels of barium and strontium.

The Southwest Pennsylvania home sits within 2,000 feet of the impoundment pit, which began leaking in late 2012, Kathryn Hilton told Truthout. Hilton is a community organizer at the Mountain Watershed Association, a nonprofit dedicated to water conservation in the state’s Indian Creek Watershed.

In August, 2012, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) test results showed levels of barium and strontium above EPA standards. “Those are hazardous chemicals that can cause health problems when exposed to for extended periods of time,” Hilton said.

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AMA Continues Opposition to Marijuana Legalization, But Softens Language

English: Close up shot of some high quality ma...

English: Close up shot of some high quality marijuana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NORML | November 22, 2013

National Harbor, MD: The House of Delegates of the  American Medical Association voted Tuesday to retain an official position that  “cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health  concern,” while at the same time adopting language appearing to acknowledge  the changing attitudes toward marijuana among the American public.

Since 1977, the AMA has been on record urging the  “modification of state law to reduce the severity of penalties for  possession of marijuana.” That language has now been replaced by a call  for the states and the federal government to modify laws “to emphasize public  health based strategies to address and reduce cannabis use”; and for the  offense of possession of marijuana for personal use, they adopted new language  calling for “public health based strategies, rather than  incarceration.”

Perhaps most promising, the Delegates determined  current federal anti-marijuana policies are “ineffective” and called for a  review of the “risks and benefits” of the new legalization laws adopted by the  voters in Colorado and Washington.

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The Anti-Democratic ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership’

United States Capitol

United States Capitol (Photo credit: Jack’s LOST FILM)

Wenonah Hauter | OtherWords | Reader Supported News | August 22, 2013

The Trans-Pacific Partnership deal threatens food safety and public health.

The United States is negotiating a NAFTA-style trade deal that should be alarming to American consumers. The main reason it’s not getting much attention is that the mainstream media is largely ignoring it.

This pact deserves more news coverage. It threatens to undermine our own laws and increase the opportunity for corporate takeovers of public resources in the United States and abroad. The worst part? These negotiations are taking place behind closed doors.

This controversial agreement is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It’s comprised of the United States plus 11 other nations that border the Pacific Ocean. The TPP would boost liquefied natural gas exports and food imports. This increases the real dangers posed by reckless fracking for natural gas and the growth of imported food from several countries whose safety standards fall far short of our own.

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Jerry Brown: Counties must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Anthony York | LA Times | June 26, 2013

Gov. Jerry Brown said county clerks must soon begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue Wednesday.

Brown has directed his Department of Public Health, which oversees marriage licenses, birth and death certificates and other such documents, to tell local officials the licenses should be issued as soon as a federal appeals court lifts a ruling that was temporarily making same-sex unions illegal.

The temporary ban is expected to be lifted now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a lower-court ruling which held that Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure prohibiting gay marriage, is unconstitutional.

“I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted,” Brown said in a statement.

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Gay meningitis scare hits LA. Advocates blast city’s “indifference” after 4 infections revealed.

 | America Blog | April 17, 2013

In a rather disturbing development, the city of Los Angeles revealed Tuesday that four gay or bisexual men in Los Angeles have contracted meningitis over the past four months – two of whom died.

Health care advocates immediately blasted the city’s “indifference” towards the issue, especially now that the LA cases have been linked to an ongoing deadly outbreak in New York City.  From the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, moments ago:

“While AHF applauds the County for offering the vaccine to low-income and uninsured residents, we are disappointed that the L.A. County Public Health Department is not urging people to get vaccinated. We believe it shows an insensitivity to the population involved and to the understandable concerns they have,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “How many deaths will there need to be before the County will acknowledge these incidences as an outbreak? The County has known since December and has done nothing to alert the community. The fact that these cases have been shown to be linked to the outbreak in New York should have set off alarm bells, but the L.A. County Public Health Department remains indifferent.”

I’d reported earlier on growing concerns out of New York City about a particularly deadly meningitis outbreak there among gay men.  (I also interviewed the CDC and did a good backgrounder on the outbreak, about how its transmitted, and whether gay men in other cities should get vaccinated.)

According to Jonathan Fielding, the director of the Los Angeles Public Health Department, there is an 85% overlap between the strain they found in 3 of the men in LA and the deadly strain that’s been causing problems in NYC.  They do not yet have the results of the strain that infected the 4th man in LA.  I’m going to talk to the CDC to find out what that 85% really means.  At the very least, it sounds like the 3 cases in LA are related to each other, which right there raises some concern.

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Transgender Women 49 Times More Likely To Have HIV, Study Says

 | Huffington Post | April 2, 2013

Transgender women were 49 times more likely to have HIV compared to a reference population, according to a new study on transgender women and HIV.

Led by Dr. Stefan Baral, director of the key populations programs in the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, a team of researchers conducted a review and meta-analysis of studies assessing HIV infection among transgender women in 15 countries over the span of about a decade and compared it to adults of similar reproductive age in those populations.

Data were only available in countries “with male-predominant HIV epidemics,” including six Asia-Pacific countries, five Latin American countries, three European countries and the United States.

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Epidemiologists Testify About Serious Research And Ethical Failures In Veterans Administration Epidemiologic Studies

Epimonitor.net | March 31, 2013

Epidemiologists           Testify About Serious Research And Ethical Failures In Veterans           Administration Epidemiologic Studies  

“…if the studies               produce results that do not support OPH’s (Office of Public               Health, Department of Veterans Affairs) unwritten policy, they do               not release them…On rare occasions when embarrassing study results               are released, data are manipulated to make them               unintelligible…Anything that supports the position that the Gulf               War illness is a neurological condition is unlikely to ever be               published.”

These accusations are not your general run of the               mill statements about flaws in a study. Nor are they minor               violations of informed consent or breaches in protecting               confidentiality. Instead they are accusations of serious failures               in the responsible and ethical conduct of research, possibly               including deaths, made by Steven Coughlin, former senior               epidemiologist for the Office of Public Health at the Department               of Veterans Affairs, in testimony before the Veterans Affairs               Committee of the US Congress on March 13, 2013. According to our               sources, fellow researchers at the VA think Coughlin has been                “very courageous” in making his stand on these issues.

Second               Epidemiologist

Also testifying               with Coughlin was Baylor University epidemiologist Lea Steele               who has worked on Gulf War Illness for many years and served as               Scientific Director for the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf               War Illnesses. In her testimony, Steele said, “…in some sectors               within VA, there appears to have been backward movement, with               actions that seem intended to ignore the science and minimize the               fact that there is a serious medical condition resulting from               military service in the 1991 Gulf War.” She also stated that                “Together, VA’s poor representation of the Gulf War illness               problem, and failure to apply current scientific knowledge to               develop a focused, state-of-the-art research program, have led to               relatively little in the way of tangible benefits for ill Gulf War               veterans. From my perspective as a scientist who has worked in               this area for many years, it is time to get this right…”

Case Definition

Gulf War Illness is the term commonly used for the               symptomatic condition that affects military personnel who served               in the 1990-91 Gulf War. At least one in four of the 700,000               military personnel who served in the war are affected, according               to the Department               of Veterans Affairs.

VA Testimony

At the same               session, Dr Victoria Davey, Chief Officer, in the Office of               Public Health and Environmental Hazards at the VA did not address               in her testimony the statements made by Coughlin and Steele.               However, she told the Committee “We remain committed to providing               evidence-based, compassionate care for these Veterans, and for all               of the Veterans it is our privilege to serve. VA intends to               continue our ongoing efforts to improve our abilities to provide                health care for Gulf War Veterans; to better educate our health               care providers; and to expand the evidence basis for the               treatments we provide Gulf War Veterans, and all Veterans.”

Ethical               Failures

In an email to               epidemiology colleagues following his testimony, Coughlin wrote               about another concern of his, namely the responsibility               of VA researchers to provide access to               care for medical problems they encounter in the course of               doing their research. Coughlin has tangled with the VA on that               score as well.

According to               Coughlin, “the VA currently has ongoing large scale epidemiologic                              studies that involve hundreds of thousands of US               service men and women and US Veterans; the safeguards for ensuring               that vulnerable men and women who are experiencing pronounced               psychiatric distress receive appropriate follow-up care by a               trained mental health professional varies widely across these               studies. 

For example, in the National Health Study for a New               Generation of US Veterans, which reached out to more than 60,000               US Veterans (20% women), only about 5% of nearly 2,000 men and               women who self-reported suicide ideation ever received a call back               from a study clinician.  Some of those research participants are               now homeless and deceased.  The Cooperative Studies Protocol CSP               Biorepository and Gulf War Survey initiative is currently reaching               out to 100,000 Veterans who served in the first Gulf War.                                

              Although the majority of US Veterans are not “vulnerable,” it is               clear that many do have profound life challenges due to neurologic               illness or injury, and other medical and psychiatric conditions.               

As a               former Principal Investigator and co-investigator on large-scale,               national epidemiologic surveys involving tens of thousands of US               Veterans, I can tell you that 9 to 10% self-report that they are               having thoughts that they would be better off dead, and that               much more needs to be done to help these men and women who fought               in a war, came home, and are now unemployed, sick, at-risk of               homelessness, and in many cases “falling through the cracks.”

              Call for Consideration

              Coughlin told colleagues that the Gulf War Veterans advocates who               attended the Congressional panel stated that they feel that the               epidemiology profession should examine these important issues and               look inwardly about what happened and how to improve the situation               in the future.  I agree with that viewpoint which is why I am               writing to you with this summary information, so that you can               share it with potentially interested colleagues.”

Steele told the Monitor that the scientific research and results               produced by Coughlin’s former  office at the VA corroborate some               of his  individual allegatons, specifically in relation to Gulf               War illness research.  For example, a current national survey               targeting 30,000 Gulf War veterans dos not include a symptoms               inventory that would permit the study of Gulf War Illnes in a               survey involving 30,000 veterans. A committee which had reviewed               the study protocol had been very critical of the study and had               advised the VA to include such an inventory. It was not done.

In               interviews with media, Coughlin was even more outspoken about the               deficiencies he says he witnessed. For example, in an interview               with the Daily Beast, Coughlin said his bosses intimidated him               every time he spoke about any alleged unethical activity.  When he               went over their heads, “that’s when all hell broke loose,” he told               the Daily Beast. “My supervisors tried to remove me from the               study, and I received a written admonition. It was shocking. All I               was trying to do was help ensure the safety of veterans               participating in our study.”

The               VA is reportedly investigating and says that all allegations of               malfeasance are taken seriously and investigated fully.

Whistleblower: VA Hiding Veteran Health Data

Bryant Jordan | Military.com | March 19, 2013

A former epidemiologist for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs told lawmakers on Wednesday that the agency’s Office of Public Health buries or obscures research findings on veterans exposed to environmental toxins and hazards going as far back as the Persian Gulf War.

Steven Coughlin, who had worked more than four years for the VA before quitting over “serious ethical concerns” in December, said in testimony that leadership in the agency’s public health office did not want to find or reveal evidence that Gulf War illness and other sicknesses were linked to troops’ military experience.

“On the rare occasions when embarrassing study results are released, data are manipulated to make them unintelligible,” he told the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Coughlin said his former office never released findings of a $10 million study that produced data on 60,000 Iraq and Afghan war vets – of which up to 30 percent were Gulf War vets – that revealed exposures to pesticides, oil well fires and more.

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