October 26, 2016 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

Charles Ornstein at ProPublica and Mike Hixenbaugh at the Virginian-Pilot investigate the man known as Dr. Orange for his “fervent” defense against claims that exposures to Agent Orange sickened American veterans. A part of their long-running investigation “Reliving Agent Orange,” this most recent article reports that the Veterans Administration has repeatedly cited Dr. Orange’s (real name: Alvin Young) work to deny compensation to veterans, even though many argue Young’s work is compromised by inaccuracies, inconsistencies and omissions. In addition, the very chemical companies that make Agent Orange funded some of Young’s research.

Ornstein and Hixenbaugh write:

Decades after the last of the military’s Agent Orange was supposedly incinerated aboard a ship in the Pacific Ocean, Army vet Steve House went public in 2011 with a surprising claim: He and five others had been ordered in 1978 to dig a large ditch at a U.S. base in South Korea and dump leaky 55-gallon drums, some labeled “Compound Orange,” in it. One broke open, splashing him with its contents. More than three decades later, House was suffering from diabetes and nerve damage in his hands and feet — ailments that researchers have associated with dioxin exposure.

Around the same time House came forward, other ailing vets recounted that they, too, had been exposed to Agent Orange on military bases in Okinawa, Japan.

The Pentagon turned to a familiar ally.

“I just heard back from Korea and the situation has ‘re-heated’ and they do want to get Dr. Young on contract,” one defense department official wrote to others in June 2011, according to internal correspondence obtained by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot through the Freedom of Information Act.

By then, Young had established a second career. From his home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he and his son ran a sort of Agent Orange crisis management firm. His clients: the federal government and the herbicide’s makers — both worried about a new wave of claims.

Read the entire investigation at ProPublica.

In other news:

Charleston Gazette-Mail: Ken Ward Jr. reports that this week, a panel of federal judges grilled attorneys for former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who’s attempting to have his conviction for willfully violating federal mine safety laws overturned. An April 2010 explosion at the Massey-owned Upper Big Branch Mine resulted in the death of 29 miners. According to Ward, judges were especially tough on arguments Blankenship’s lawyer made that jurors were wrongly instructed on what constitutes a “willful” violation. He writes: “Several family members of miners who died at Upper Big Branch made the trip to watch, and a couple of rows of seats were filled with students on a tour to see the appeals court in action. Almost all of the argument was about the willfulness jury instruction, which was one of four issues Blankenship raised on appeal. …There was a very brief exchange toward the end of the hearing about a separate jury instruction that Blankenship’s lawyers argue wrongly defined ‘reasonable doubt’ for the jurors.”

PBS NewsHour (Associated Press): Kristin Wyatt reports that five more states will vote on raising the minimum wage in November: Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Washington and South Dakota. Arizona, Colorado and Maine measures would phase in a $12 hourly wage by 2020; Washington voters will consider a $13.50 wage by 2020; and South Dakota will vote on keeping a newly lowered minimum wage of $7.50 for workers younger than 18 or requiring higher wages for all working teens. Arizona and Washington voters will also be casting ballots on paid sick leave. Wyatt writes: “Is it a slam dunk that this year’s measures will pass, too? Maybe. Even the classic opponents to a higher minimum wage — restaurant associations and small-business groups — are running muted campaigns to oppose the wage measures.”

Atlantic Monthly: James Hamblin writes about the role of night shift work in perpetuating health inequities, reporting on the health risks that studies have connected to night work as well as the risks that come with rotating shifts between day and night. His article was in response to a letter from a police officer who asked about the health risks of rotating night-day schedules verus working a consistent night schedule. Hamblin writes: “The actual best solution is to make a gradual transition between day shifts and nights shifts — like if you could start and finish ten minutes earlier every day. That would just be a nightmare for scheduling. And it’s a reminder that most people who have to work frequent night shifts aren’t in a position to be making demands like that. Night-shift jobs and their associated health risks tend to fall to people of lower socioeconomic status, so the risks of shift work tend to go ignored.”

EHS Today: Sandy Smith reports that provisions within OSHA’s new injury reporting rule that prohibit employers from discouraging such reporting have been delayed until Dec. 1. The anti-retaliation rules were originally supposed to go into effect in August. According to Smith, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas requested OSHA delay implementation to allow time for a motion challenging the rules. She writes: “Under the anti-retaliation protections in the rule, employers are required to inform workers of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation; implement procedures for reporting injuries and illnesses that are reasonable and do not deter workers from reporting; and incorporate the existing statutory prohibition on retaliating against workers for reporting injuries and illnesses.”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.

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