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National workplace exposure standards for
thousands of chemicals have not been promulgated and hundreds of
existing standards are much weaker than needed to protect workers.
Yet, the Obama administration is pursuing policies that will slow the
glacial pace of Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA)
exposure rulemaking even further, according to Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
safety regulation, OSHA has lagged badly in health regulation. Today,
OSHA's health rulemaking docket is so far behind that it is
overwhelmed. Save for a handful of substances, the vast majority of
Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) have not been updated since 1968.
In the late 1980s, OSHA tried to tighten about 420 PELs without using
the modern risk assessment methods the Supreme Court had already
required in a 1980 decision, and these limits were struck down en masse
During the ensuing 18 years, OSHA has made scant progress on the health front:
standard-setting is hopelessly backlogged with little chance of
catching up unless the new OSHA leadership," stated PEER Policy
Director Erica Rosenberg, pointing out that workplace exposures are now
the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S., resulting in more than
40,000 premature deaths per year or roughly ten times the death toll
from industrial accidents. "Unless OSHA makes its health mission a top
priority, American workers will remain unprotected from a growing array
of toxic substances on the job."
Despite this huge
backlog, the Obama administration is adding extra review processes that
will further delay every long-overdue health regulation currently in
the pipeline. In June, OSHA announced it would convene two special
peer review panels per standard to review both the science and the
economics before proposed standards appear in the Federal Register.
OSHA is unusual among federal agencies in that its regulatory proposals
are subject to a public hearing in front of a judge in which anyone can
challenge the scientific or other rationale for proposals. This
adjudicated process is a more daunting and rigorous form of peer review
than what occurs in academia.
"OSHA has let self-proclaimed 'experts' on the outside run roughshod
over its own career scientists for far too long," said Dr. Adam Finkel,
a risk assessment expert in academia, a former OSHA Director of Health
Standards Programs and a member of the PEER Board of Directors, noting
the agenda for a March 4th public hearing (called "OSHA Listens")
includes suggestions for ideas to address "the length and difficulty of
the current OSHA rulemaking process." "Without cutting any corners in
its use of the best scientific and economic information, OSHA can put
its life-saving regulatory proposals before the public."
In its testimony next week, among other recommendations, PEER is
calling upon new Assistant Secretary David Michaels to cancel the
optional peer reviews for the silica, beryllium, diacetyl, and other
See OSHA double peer review schedule for pending standards
Look at the "silent epidemic" from occupational exposures
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.
"In the absence of federal leadership, it's up to states like California to keep us safe from dangerous chemicals in candy, cookies, and other foods our families enjoy."
Food safety advocates applauded Monday as California took a major step towards becoming the first U.S. state to ban five chemicals—already prohibited in the European Union—that have been linked to cancer and childhood developmental issues.
The state Assembly passed A.B. 418 three months after it was introduced by Democratic Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks and Jesse Gabriel, who said the passage of the bill "is a major step forward in our effort to protect children and families in California from dangerous and toxic chemicals in our food supply."
"We don't love our children any less than they do in Europe, and it's not too much to ask food and beverage manufacturers to switch to the safer alternative ingredients that they already use in Europe and so many other nations around the globe," said Gabriel, who chairs the state Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection.
The legislation would ban the manufacture, sale, delivery, and distribution of food products that contain:
The E.U. banned the chemicals following a comprehensive review of all food additives in 2008.
\u201cIt\u2019s unacceptable that the U.S. is so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to banning these dangerous additives.\n | @ewg | https://t.co/LGk1bxgSzL\u201d— Ken Cook (@Ken Cook) 1684210950
In the U.S., according to EWG, nearly 99% of chemicals introduced to the market since 2000 "were approved by the food and chemical industry, not the Food and Drug Administration, the agency tasked with ensuring our food supply is safe."
Since then, companies have exploited a loophole allowing them to classify the chemicals and the foods that contain them as "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS.
"A food additive petition triggers rigorous pre-market safety review of a chemical, which can only be used after FDA approval. The 1958 Food Additives Amendment intended this review to be the primary way new food chemicals are approved," said EWG in an analysis published last year. "This GRAS loophole was created in the 1958 law and intended to apply narrowly, to common ingredients like sugar, vinegar and baking soda. But as EWG's analysis shows, the loophole—not FDA safety review—has become the main way new chemicals are allowed into food."
New York lawmakers have also proposed a ban on the five chemicals that would close the loophole.
"For decades, the FDA has failed to keep us safe from toxic food chemicals," said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at EWG. "In the absence of federal leadership, it's up to states like California to keep us safe from dangerous chemicals in candy, cookies, and other foods our families enjoy."
Helen Gym's campaign manager has said charter school advocate Jeffrey Yass is "bankrolling a false smear campaign against the only candidate in the race with a real vision to invest in Philly's public schools."
Jeffrey Yass—Pennsylvania's richest man, a registered libertarian, and a charter school advocate—has given over $1 million to a group trying to convince Philadelphians not to vote for progressive mayoral candidate Helen Gym, a former teacher and public school supporter, in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
Gym is one of nine candidates appearing on the Democratic ballot, though based on polling she is considered a top contender alongside two fellow former Philadelphia City Council members—Allan Domb and Cherelle Parker—as well as Jeff Brown, a supermarket chain founder, and Rebecca Rhynhart, Philly's ex-comptroller.
Brendan McPhillips, Gym's campaign manager, said in a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month that the billionaire is "bankrolling a false smear campaign against the only candidate in the race with a real vision to invest in Philly's public schools."
"This is how billionaires keep their own taxes low while killing public education funding."
Gym co-founded the citywide group Parents United for Public Education in 2006 and her campaign website details her plans for Philadelphia schools, pledging that "as mayor, Helen will lead an education-first agenda that recognizes the future of our city relies on the health and well-being of our young people."
\u201cBillionaire Jeff Yass has spent $1 million+ on the Philadelphia mayoral race.\n\nHe was also the fourth biggest political spender on federal races in the 2022 elections.\n\nThis is how billionaires keep their own taxes low while killing public education funding.\u201d— Americans For Tax Fairness (@Americans For Tax Fairness) 1684245702
The Inquirer reported that Yass—who has primarily funded Pennsylvania Republicans but also given money to groups backing Democrats who support expanding charter schools—couldn't be reached for comment, but Coalition for Safety and Equitable Growth treasurer Mo Rushdy said the super PAC's donors believe "our next mayor needs to have a commonsense approach to solving the problems facing Philadelphia" and "Helen Gym is the wrong person to confront these challenges."
It's not that the $1.1 million is a lot of dough—it is for you and me but not so much for Yass. He reportedly has a net worth of $28.5 billion, and is said to have spent at least $18 million on politics ahead of last year's primary, some on the Pennsylvania governor's race but a lot on candidates, both Republican and Democrat, who support what he calls "school choice." (The anti-Gym PAC has other backers including Josh Kopelman, The Inquirer's board chairman, who gave $50,000.) But why is Yass so committed to his vision of an America where mostly nonunionized charter schools or religious schools thrive while what his crowd insists on calling "government schools" wither?
It matters because Yass and his giant wad of cash are just one major point of attack on what's becoming an all-out assault on U.S. public schools in the 2020s—one that combines billionaires like Yass and their free market voodoo economics with the uglier, in-the-trenches culture wars of doctrinaire conservatives convinced that "woke," pink-haired teachers are indoctrinating kids about race or LGBTQ rights.
On Tuesday in Pennsylvania, voters will be making choices about the future of public schools not just in Philadelphia—where several buildings are closed due to asbestos, amid a broader crisis of disrepair—but in school board elections in smaller communities like Kutztown, torn asunder by campaigns to ban books from Gender Queer to Two Degrees, or Central Bucks, riven by months of conflict over issues such as LGBTQ-friendly books or stickers. It's part of a national climate in which school board meetings resemble hockey games, while teachers are increasingly demoralized.
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten shared Bunch's column on social media and joined unionized Philly educators and Gym for a Monday night campaign event.
"It’s been a decadeslong journey to get here. Standing alongside educators again and again to stop school closures, end a state takeover, and demand fair funding," Gym tweeted of the event. "Now it's time to finish the job we started all those years ago. We will fulfill the promise of our public schools."
\u201c(3/3) And of course a very special thank you to @rweingarten for coming to town for this special evening. #helenformayor #unionsforhelen #phled\u201d— PFT (@PFT) 1684203546
Although her campaign follows recent progressive mayoral victories is Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, "Gym is loath to discuss the national implications of her race," CNNreported Monday. She told the network that "I'm running for office to change the way people actually live in this city," pushing for change "that has to be felt by the people themselves, not by an ideology, not by a quote-unquote abstract movement."
However, progressives across the country have their eyes on Gym. The American Prospect managing editor Ryan Cooper wrote last week that "if she can pull out a victory, it could provide a lesson for how progressives can win in crime-wracked big cities."
In a Sunday viewpoint for In These Times, David I. Backer, an associate professor of education policy at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, highlighted how Gym's "unbelievably long list of her accomplishments" as a city council member shows what she could do as mayor.
\u201cToday Philadelphia votes for the city's next mayor.\n\nHelen Gym, a former public school teacher, community organizer, and city council member, has surged into the lead as an unabashed progressive fighting for working people and public schools.\nhttps://t.co/0x71aBvrbg\u201d— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1684248448
"Helen really represents the coming of age of the progressive movement," Our Revolution executive director Joseph Geevarghese told CNN. "She emerged as a community activist and organizer, she then sought political power, sought to bring movement politics into the political realm… Helen's trajectory reflects the trajectory of the progressive movement."
Our Revolution is among dozens of progressive advocacy groups, unions, and politicians who have endorsed Gym—including Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson along with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez rallied with Gym at Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia over the weekend.
"They've got money, but we've got the people," Ocasio-Cortez reportedly told the crowd. "I always say to my team back home, progressives win in a street fight, and that's what we've got here in Philly today, a street fight. We need to be knocking on every door, texting all our friends. We talk about youth organizing up, which means people need to call their tías, their tíos, their uncles, their cousins, todo, everybody."
"Big Pharma is manipulating and breaking the law to expand corporate profits at the expense of patients and taxpayers."
The U.S. pharmaceutical industry's aggressive and often unlawful efforts to prevent competition and keep drug prices elevated cost American patients, insurers, and federal health programs more than $40 billion in 2019 alone, according to a report released Tuesday.
The new report—put out by the American Economic Liberties Project and the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK)—focuses specifically on pharmaceutical companies' antitrust law violations, which the groups say are a key reason why U.S. drug prices are astonishingly high compared to those of other rich nations.
Examining the 100 top-selling drug products in Medicare Part D—which covers prescription medicines—and Medicaid, the report estimates that Big Pharma's antitrust violations "increased Part D gross spending by 14.15%, or $14.82 billion, and increased Medicaid gross drug spending by 9.05%, or $3.15 billion, in 2019 for the top 100 drugs in each."
Assuming that pharmaceutical companies' antitrust violations similarly affected retail brand drug spending, the report estimates that "U.S. patients and payers spent an additional $40.07 billion on pharmaceuticals in 2019."
“American families are paying far too much for prescription drugs, in large part due to rampant corporate lawlessness," said Erik Peinert, research manager and editor at the American Economic Liberties Project.
The report highlights 10 illegal anticompetitive schemes that U.S. pharmaceutical companies deploy to juice their profits and keep prices high, including horizontal collusion, patent fraud, no-generics agreements, and sham citizen petitions aimed at convincing regulators to delay approval of potential competitor drugs.
"This report documents the many ways Big Pharma is manipulating and breaking the law to expand corporate profits at the expense of patients and taxpayers," said Peinert. "The Federal Trade Commission has begun fighting back, but it needs more assistance from Congress and other agencies to crack down on these illegal practices and deliver for patients."
Shortly following the new report's release, the FTC sued to stop the biopharmaceutical giant Amgen from acquiring Horizon Therapeutics, warning that "rampant consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry has given powerful companies a pass to exorbitantly hike prescription drug prices."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8BIG: Our new report with @IMAKglobal finds Big Pharma\u2019s antitrust violations cost Americans a whopping $40 BILLION on branded pharmaceuticals in 2019.\n\nYou can read the report below, but here\u2019s some additional context and policy solutions.\ud83d\udc47\ud83e\uddf5\nhttps://t.co/FfsRoYm4QM\u201d— American Economic Liberties Project (@American Economic Liberties Project) 1684244370
The researchers behind the report offer several specific examples of how large pharmaceutical companies have used their power and dominance of certain markets to push up prices.
The nation's insulin market, they argue, "has been distorted by multiple overlapping anticompetitive schemes in recent years," including the "illegal listing" of products and "collusion" among top manufacturers in violation of RICO law, as well as "exclusionary rebates to drive patients toward brand products and away from substantially cheaper authorized generic versions."
The groups estimate that Medicare Part D and Medicaid "would have spent approximately 50% less on three of the four major insulin brands (Levemir, Novolog, Lantus) in 2019 but for the anticompetitive strategies used by the major insulin manufacturers."
The report also accuses AbbVie and Allergan—which the former acquired in 2020—of engaging in a "sustained, consistent pattern of illegally blocking generic and biosimilar competition in violation of the antitrust laws."
In the case of Bystolic, a blood pressure medicine, "Allergan entered illegal pay-for-delay agreements to prevent and delay generic competition" for the drug before 2019.
The groups estimate that Part D and Medicaid would have spent 90% less on Bystolic and its generic equivalents in 2019 had Allergan not entered the pay-for-delay agreement, which the FTC says cost U.S. consumers and taxpayers $3.5 billion a year in the form of higher drug prices.
The report also points to a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Janssen Pharmaceuticals—which is owned by Johnson & Johnson—committed patent fraud to prolong its monopoly on Zytiga, a prostate cancer drug.
"The patent system is at the root of enabling many of the antitrust violations we identified and which are leading to higher drug prices," said Tahir Amin, an executive director of I-MAK.
To combat the pharmaceutical industry's abuses and lower costs for patients, the American Economic Liberties Project and I-MAK recommended that lawmakers and regulators act to completely ban pay-for-delay agreements, modify patent laws to "ensure that drug companies cannot use bad-faith patent strategies to perpetually extend monopolies," and ramp up penalties for antitrust violations, among other changes.
"Until Congress and the United States Patent and Trademark Office ensure stricter standards that would prevent the granting of many of the types of patents that are leading to these violations in the first place," Amin said, "Americans can expect to see their drug prices continue to rise."