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Labored coverage - Columbia Journalism Review

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Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

On the night of September 16th, security guards and a small crowd waited in the parking lot at the General Motors plant in Rochester, New York, for a strike that no one knew for sure would come. As the minutes ticked by it seemed it wasn’t going to happen at all. Then, about 20 minutes after midnight, hundreds of workers began flooding out of the turnstiles at the front gates of the plant, many of them shouting and high fiving as they walked out. It was the first strike in 39 years, as 49,000 GM workers at 52 facilities across 19 states went on strike. 

A strike at one of the city’s biggest employers should be front-page news. But for two days, the local daily, the Rochester Democrat-Chronicle, didn’t even run a story on the strike’s effects on local workers, 1,000 of whom work at the Rochester plant, and 840 of whom are members of the United Automobile Workers union. (This week, as the strike continues, there wasn’t a single mention of it on the home page of the newspaper’s web site.)

In another age, walkouts at a company as large as General Motors would have received around-the-clock coverage, appeared on the top of daily newscasts and on front pages. Now, outside of the financial press, the Detroit Free Press, and a few diligent local reporters, the strike is treated as an after-thought. The New York Times ran only five reports from the field over the course of a month, while  the Washington Post ran none and relied entirely on wire services for its coverage.   

The stories that have appeared on the strike in the mainstream press have tended to frame it, incorrectly, through a Trump lens, offering up a false narrative of angry white working-class GM strikers, precisely the kind of people who propelled Trump to the presidency. One Chicago Tribune headline read “As UAW strike against GM drags on, President Donald Trump has plenty of 2020 supporters on key Michigan picket line.”Vox wrote that the strike gives “Democrats a unique opportunity to reach disillusioned Trump voters.” 

These storylines play into a mistaken stereotype: in fact, only 28 percent of UAW members voted for Trump, according to a survey by the union. Worse, they also ignore the role of African American workers in helping to lead these strikes. While African Americans comprise 12 percent of the workforce, they make up 17 percent of automotive manufacturing workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“The reason that reporters are underserving the GM strike is the same reason they’re missing the engagement of black people in the labor movement — there just isn’t a serious investment on the part of these outlets in looking at the world through the eyes of wage workers,” says Janine Jackson, a veteran labor reporter and program director at Fairness and Accuracy of Reporting. She notes that the media, which is 83 percent white, mostly fails to cover the diversity of unions because few reporters come from racially diverse, working-class backgrounds. “For media elites, the image of ‘America’s working class’ is a white image; black  people go in a separate category. It’s divisive and ahistorical and wrong.” 

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It’s evident that most news outlets don’t see covering workers as a serious beat in the way they see crime or sports. Just five out of the top 25 newspapers have full-time labor reporters. But the potential audience is there. In 2015, after getting fired during a failed union drive at Politico, I started Payday Report as a crowdfunded labor news site using my National Labor Relations Board settlement as seed money. In three years, we have raised $100,000 directly from readers to cover stories of the labor movement that most local papers ignore.

During the GM strike, we were able to raise over $5,000 to file over a dozen stories from Rochester, Toledo, Cleveland, Tennessee, and Kentucky. With the exception of massive outlets like Reuters and AP, we filed more on-the-ground stories from more states than any other outlet in the US. 

The lesson is clear: people want to read about labor news — and they will pay good money for it. 

ICYMI: The segment that shook the media world

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.
Mike Elk is a Sidney-award winning labor reporter who founded the labor publication, Payday Report. He also covers labor and immigration issues for the Guardian and lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh. His email is <a href=""></a>
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It’s time to stop subsidizing the NYC Ferry fares

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The EDC finally released demographics of ferry riders, and the fare subsidy should now come under political scrutiny.

Let me ask some questions about the NYC ferry system. Your answers, I believe, will depend entirely on your experiences and your convictions: Is Bill de Blasio’s signature transportation initiative — the New York City Ferry system — a success? Should the city keep subsidizing fares to keep the cost of a ferry ride on par with a $2.75 MetroCard swipe?

Perhaps your answer depends on your commuting habits. If you’re a ferry ride who views them as more “civilized” than the subways or buses, as some riders told The Village Voice last year, you may feel the ferries are great. But if you learn the ferries began with a subsidy of $6.60 per rider that has since increased to nearly $10 per rider (and could reach $16-$24 per ride on future routes), you may feel the ferries are a giveaway, a success through legalized governmental bribery.

Much as I’ve made a career out of questioning the boats, for his part, the mayor has made a career out of defending them. He’s held, by most accounts, 10 press conferences about his ferry system, and each time ridership numbers are announced, he makes a scene about praising them as better than projected. In a way, that’s true; after all, the ferries saw 2.5 million riders over the summer and daily volumes have been a bit better than expected. But that’s because each rider is essentially being paid to take the boats. Sure, they’re not getting actual cash in hand, but they are getting generously subsidized.

Over the years, many transit advocates and supporters have criticized the boats. I’ve been particularly vocal on that front, penning a piece in May of 2018 questioning Bill de Blasio’s love of low-capacity transit, and following The Village Voice piece, I voiced more skepticism in a piece for Curbed New York. Underlying the criticism of the expensive subsidy has been a lack of transparency regarding the details of those who ride the ferries. Anecdotally, The Village Voice found a bunch of wealthier-than-average New Yorkers who would have taken the subway for the same price but enjoyed the boat rides, and when I looked at Census districts near ferry docks, I found that the median household income in Census districts one mile from the docks was around $20,000 higher city average. Thus the ferries also raise a question of policy and prioritization: Are these the transit riders and mode of travel we should be subsidizing so heavily?

Despite long-standing FOIL requests from both Aaron Gordon and The New York Post and a pledge of transparency, the NYC EDC had never publicly released demographics studies of ferry riders until last week. Now that we’ve finally received an official glimpse of the demographics of ferry riders, we can now say definitively New York City should stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money heavily subsidizing a luxury, niche, low-capacity transit option that largely attracts New Yorkers wealthier than city average and wealthier than those who rely on any other mode of transit.

The NYC Ferry largely serves those within walking distance to a dock. (Source: NYC EDC)

The results of the survey as the EDC wants you to see them are available here as a PDF. It’s notable that the city released only a 13-page summary and not the raw data because it allows the EDC to set the tone. Even still, the numbers do not make a strong case for continued substantial investment in the ferry fare. As the EDC unavoidably must note, most riders “live near the water and in walking distance of a [ferry] landing.” In fact, nearly three quarters of all riders walk to the landings while the EDC notes that 6 percent bike and 11 percent take the subway or bus. The remaining 11 percent use a car, and the EDC notes that most of the drivers are heading the boat that serves the Rockaways.

There’s not much to learn from those figures, and I’ll return to them in a second. But this slide is the most damning:

EDC data offers a glimpse at the economics of ferry riders.

As you can see from the EDC’s data, ferry riders have a median income between $75-$99,999, and while that’s a big income window, it’s already higher than the median income for the service area. While it’s not clear if this is individual income or household income, it’s far higher than median household income across the city or for users of other parts of the transit network. The median household income for NYC is around $63,000 per year while individual median income is around $38,000. The average median individual income for an employed subway rider is around $40,000 and for bus commuters is around $28,455 (per data published in 2017 by Scott Stringer). So no matter how you slice it, we’re spending over $9 per ride to subsidize a low-capacity transit service for New Yorkers who are, on average, on the high side of the income scale.

It’s long been assumed the ferries were a bad investment that do little to improve mobility for the New Yorkers who need it most, and now we have the numbers to back up that reality. While some, such as the Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas, have argued that these taxpayers would exit New York or perhaps otherwise drive without this generous ferry subsidy, it’s hard to see how those arguments play out. The ferries are, after all, not even three years old yet, and New Yorkers have been flocking to the waterfront for the better part of two decades. Plus, most of the ferry riders who spoke with The Village Voice said they would shift to transit if faced with a choice, and many would stick with the boats even at a steeper fare. As the ferries themselves are net polluters, the environmental argument doesn’t hold up too well either.

Meanwhile, as new analysis from the Citizens Budget Commission points out, the NYC Ferry subsidy is the second highest in the nation, and every city other than New Orleans that offers ferry service does so at a higher price point. As the ferries are bleeding taxpayer dollars, the CBC calls for a “reconsideration of the operating strategy and pricing model.”

At this point, we can comfortably say Bill de Blasio is subsidizing a luxury travel option for relatively few people who tend to be wealthier. These aren’t the folks facing a mobility crisis whose buses are stuck in traffic or who can’t afford transit fares. These aren’t folks who have endless commuters from far-flung areas of the city, and it’s time to stop the giveaway. We make these types of policy decisions routinely, and it’s time to admit that a ferry fare subsidy was a bad idea. If the city wants to invest capital dollars into the ferry system and if the city can support a ferry system with a much smaller fare subsidy — say $2-$4 to align it with subways or the more popular express bus routes — so be it. But a handout to a private ferry operator so a few people pay the equivalent of a MetroCard swipe for a “civilized” commute isn’t one we should embrace. It’s time for this subsidy to end.

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2 days ago
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Kids, Kimonos and Cultural Appropriation

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So, via Bored Panda we have a charming tale of a Utah mother throwing a themed birthday party for her child and the inevitable performative wokeness tumblr fight because “our nature is not only destitute of all good, but is so fertile in all evils that it cannot remain inactive [for] man is of himself nothing else but concupiscence.”[1] Questionable bukkake[2] joke aside, the piece transcribes the tumblr users on the right side of the argument. But some of you still may have questions about how to judge the parenting of a Utah woman for a party she threw in… jeeze, 2012? Seriously? Sorry Patty. Anyway, if you want to know the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation I’ve got an answer for you and it has to do with factions because factions are everywhere.

For those of you reading me for the first time, some context: I am Chinese. I am also American. My parents are both Han Chinese who emigrated to the United States as adults and had me and my brother here.[3]  I am married to a woman of Hmong heritage (via Laos) who was also born here. This will all become relevant shortly.

So, when I say I am Chinese, the thing I need you to understand is that there are people you would indisputably recognize as Chinese that would not call me Chinese. They would call me American and find my claim to be Chinese spurious. But many Chinese would be happy to recognize my claim. Thus, we have our first factional split. This is probably the most visible layer. Any group will split along the issue of who is to be considered an insider – a member of the group – and who is an outsider, not a member of the group. Who is Chinese? Who is American? Who is a Jew? There are of course, far more than two options for this factional split but there will be at least two groups, includers versus purists. Let’s dig deeper.

The next layer of factions I want to point out is between sharers and hoarders.[4] Sharers within a faction want to take the elements of their culture – food, philosophy, food, language, food, clothing, food, music and did I mention food[5] – and share them to as many people as possible because these things are good and it is good that people partake in them. Think of the yogis who spread their practice across the world. The hoarders on the other hand, want to restrict the elements of their culture to those who have a “right” to it, often by blood and legitimacy, taking offense to outsiders stealing their heritage away, especially as to sacred symbols and idiots in costumes on Halloween. This factional split, between sharers and hoarders is both distinct and interlocking with the split between the includes versus the purists. In turn, this is distinct and interlocking with people who want a culture to adapt and change, and those who want a culture to stay the same.

These three factional conflicts between who is in the group, how should the culture change, and whether it can be shared with outsiders, do not cleanly split into two sides. But for simplicity’s sake, we will model them as if they do. On one side of a community you have progressives who recognize many claims to a culture, wish to share that culture, and wish for that culture to adapt. On the other, you have conservatives, who recognize fewer claims, do not want to share the culture, and do not want it to change.[6] Sometimes, progressives and conservatives can come to terms. For example, the Māori people have a tradition called tā moko – tattoos that indicate identity and status within the Māori. Outsiders got moko, because they thought it looks cool[7] which many Māori found offensive. As a solution, some Māori have developed the idea of kirituhi. Kirituhi are meaningless designs that anyone, including outsiders can wear.[8] Problem averted, right?

Of course, not all factional conflict can be settled by clever compromise. Should, for example, a white man who marries a Māori woman, be allowed to wear moko? That is the sort of question that will irrevocably split a community into factions with very little compromise available. It is not an abstract question for me, either, although in my case it has nothing to do with moko. When my wife and I married[9] I did it in Hmong dress within a Hmong cultural ceremony. I was, in a very real sense, culturally appropriating my wife, at least according to some of the Hmong. And this fear of outsiders taking our women, lies deep in the dark hearts of hoarder factions. It always has and it always will.

So, what does this have to do with you, a well-meaning and curious outsider, especially a white outsider, trying navigating the world and it’s many traditions? Unfortunately, everything. As I have said before:

Something that every racial minority knows implicitly is that factional struggles within our race are won by convincing whites and our victories are enforced by co-opting whites. … When whites wring their hands about cultural appropriation of minority cultures, they side with the isolationists within those minority cultures over the assimilationists and boundary pushers. … These choices are almost never made to make one faction the victor. In fact, these choices are most often made ignorant of that dynamic. But you cannot help but choose. The moment you, as a culturally powerful outsider, essentialize another culture, you finger one faction as the true, authentic representative of that culture.

It is of course, not just about race but any axis of identity. Whether you are progressive or conservative, the victor of factional struggles are determined by outsiders. So we try to convince you, the outsider, to take our side, and we play to win. We start screaming things about cultural appropriation on the one hand, or accuse our opponents of being allies to the Patriarchy on the other.

So, the issue at hand, with the child, the Japanese tea themed birthday party? Something important to know is that kimono manufacture is a dying art in Japan, because the Japanese of Japan aren’t particularly interested supporting the industry! I mean, would YOU buy traditionally made ball gowns or tuxedos if you had the choice? So part of what keeps the art and its artisans alive in Japan are tourist and exports to foreigners. Something the Japanese descended in America are fighting against for their own reasons.[10] So, where does that leave you?

There is no right or wrong way to appropriate or appreciate a culture because a culture is never truly static. You cannot respect a culture, but you can respect people. But know that you will inevitably find yourself having to choose to two rightful heirs to a tradition, one who holds out a hand in invitation and another who holds up their hand to deny you, and you cannot respect one without disrespecting the other. You cannot but choose a side.

As to all the things I have a right to, I hold out my hand to you in invitation. The choice, as it always was, is yours.


[1] I am of course quoting John Calvin of double-predestination fame, and subject of my first attempt at a viral image meme. It did not take off.

[2] If you, like my wife, did not know what this was, DO NOT LOOK IT UP ON THE INTERNET.

[3] Thus, I am an American Born Chinese, ABC for short, and also the title of a good book by Gene Luen Yang.

[4] Simply by those names you can figure out which side I am likely on, but bear with me anyway.

[5] In college, I took a course on the social foundations of teaching and diversity with a woman who made very clear to us that food is not all there is to culture. But it is delicious so we had a party with diverse foods.

[6] “But wait,” you might say, “don’t progressives tend to side with the people you call conservatives when they complain about cultural appropriation?” Funny that.

[7] We might call this cultural appropriation classic: wearing a cultural design of a foreign culture with little to no understanding of its significance.

[8] Not only does this protect the cultural significance of moko it provides an income stream for artists!

[9] One of the times anyway

[10] It has to do with signaling but this post is long enough as it is.

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3 days ago
This was really interesting.
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2 days ago
Thanks for the share. Great read.
2 days ago
Washington, District of Columbia
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AT&T raises prices 7% by making its customers pay AT&T’s property taxes


Telecom companies like AT&T love creating new fees to tack on customer bills, and they really love raising those fees after customers sign contracts that are supposed to lock in a consistent price.

It's a win-win for the company, but not the customer: AT&T gets to advertise a lower price than it actually charges and has a mechanism for raising customer bills whenever it wants to. Customers who are angry enough to cancel service would have to pay early termination fees.

This story about AT&T thus isn't likely to surprise anyone, but it's possible you haven't heard about the particular fee we've been looking into this week. AT&T has been charging business Internet customers a "property tax" fee, claiming it needs to charge this to recover AT&T's own property taxes. AT&T has been charging the fee for at least a couple of years and just hit customers in California with an increase that more doubled the fee.

A first-bill surprise

Scott Phillips, owner of a small business called Valley View Media in Santa Clarita, California, signed up for AT&T fiber Internet service and a block of static IP addresses, agreeing to an all-in price of $95 a month. His order summary, which he shared with us, specifically says that the $95 ongoing monthly price includes taxes and fees. The document makes no mention of property taxes.

But when Phillips got his first bill on July 1, which he also shared with Ars, it contained this notice:

Effective October 1, 2019, there will be an increase in the AT&T Cost Assessment Charge used to recover AT&T property taxes. The monthly rate will change from 2.92% to 7.00% of your total AT&T Business Internet, Phone and/or U-verse TV monthly charges. This charge is not a tax or fee that the government requires AT&T to collect from its customers.

That first bill included exactly $95 in recurring charges, consisting of $60 for 100Mbps download Internet and $35 for the static IP addresses, just as AT&T promised. (There was also a one-time installation fee of $99.) While the property-tax fee notice on that first bill suggested he was already paying a 2.92% charge on top of the $95, the first few bills didn't actually include a separate property-tax fee.

But when Phillips' October bill came, AT&T imposed the 7% property-tax fee, adding $6.65 to the $95 base price. The actual billing increase was thus for the full 7%, not just for the difference between 2.92% and 7%.

"Don't you wish you could pass on the cost of your property taxes to your clients?" Phillips asked rhetorically. "I sure wish I could. But we both know that's really not ethical."

Phillips had switched from Charter Spectrum Internet to AT&T after a price dispute. He said that Charter started offering much lower prices to new customers, charging $50 less for the same service, but the company refused Phillips' request for a similar discount. Phillips told us that ditching AT&T to go back to Charter now would result in a $225 early termination fee, consisting of $25 for each month left in his deal.

"What gets me the most about paying AT&T's CAC [Cost Assessment Charge] is that it's basically paying their taxes for them and they are so blatant about it, like 'What are you gonna do about it, huh?' They know they have a stronghold on the market in our area," Phillips said.

Phillips' order summary links to AT&T's Internet terms of service, but the specific page it links to makes no mention of property taxes. From there, you have to follow two more links to get to the AT&T Internet Business Fee Schedule, which lists the property-tax charge. The document says that as of October 1, the charge varies between 2.76% and 7% depending on the state, and it's not applied in all states or to certain customers.

“I pay my own property tax”

AT&T has been charging the property-tax fee to business customers since at least mid-2017. An AT&T business DSL customer in Oklahoma complained about it on Reddit at the time, saying the then-new fee was 1.08% of the monthly bill.

In January 2019, an AT&T customer complained in a DSLReports forum that the property-tax fee was raised from 2% to 6.69%. "So I gotta ask—did their 'property taxes' increase by 335%?" the customer wrote, noting the greater-than-three-fold increase.

Most companies would consider property taxes one of the costs of doing business, and they'd simply factor the taxes into their advertised prices instead of deceiving customers by listing one price in an order and then charging a higher one. At the risk of giving AT&T's billing department more ideas, why stop at property taxes? Why not charge customers separate fees for AT&T's water and electricity bills, too?

"I pay my own property tax, don't want to pay theirs!" one customer wrote in an AT&T support forum in July 2017. "Can a doctor add a property tax to their bill for services, or a bank? Why not just raise the rates if it is part of their business?"

Aside from the property-tax fee, Phillips' cost could go up a lot after his one-year contract is up. His order form said the $95 monthly price is a promotional rate after a $140 discount. The form indicated that his Internet service would normally cost $200 a month instead of $60, not including the $35 charge for static IP addresses.

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5 days ago
Proof that markets work and that the libertarians were right all along in hating government regulation of the private sector.
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6 days ago
Thank Trump
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FBI misused surveillance data, spied on its own, FISA ruling finds

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In an October 2018 ruling unsealed and posted on October 8, 2019 by the Office of the Director of Intelligence, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) found that the employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had inappropriately used data collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The FBI was found to have misused surveillance data to look into American residents, including other FBI employees and their family members, making large-scale queries that did not distinguish between US persons and foreign intelligence targets.

The revelation drew immediate outcry from privacy advocates and renewed calls for the termination of FISA and USA FREEDOM Act that authorized bulk intelligence collection. President Donald Trump signed a bill extending Section 702 collection authorizations for six years in 2018; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced earlier this year that the administration would seek the extension of authority for collection of call data granted under the USA FREEDOM Act.

In a statement emailed to Ars Technica, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani, said:

The government should not be able to spy on our calls and emails without a warrant. Any surveillance legislation considered by Congress this year must include reforms that address the disturbing abuses detailed in these opinions. Congress and the courts now have even more reason to prohibit warrantless searches of our information, and to permanently close the door on any collection of information that is not to or from a surveillance target.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling found that the FBI's "querying procedures" for intelligence data did not properly record when the database of intelligence data was searched for information about US persons. "The querying procedures did not require FBI personnel to document the basis for finding that each United States-person query term satisfied the relevant standard—i.e., that queries be reasonably designed to return foreign-inteligence information or evidence of crime," the FISC opinion stated. "Without such documentation and in view of reported instances of non-compliance with that standard, the procedures seemed unreasonable under FISA's definition of 'minimization procedures' and possibly the Fourth Amendment."

Among those instances of "non-compliance" were:

  • Between March 24 and 27, 2017, the FBI ran queries against intelligence data "using identifiers for over 70,000 communications facilities 'associated with' persons with access to FBI facilities and systems," the court noted, "notwithstanding advice from the FBI Office of General Counsel (OGC) that they should not be conducted without the approval of the OGC and the National Security Division of the Department of Justice."
  • On December 1, 2017, a redacted FBI division "conducted over 6,800 queries using the Social Security Numbers of individuals" against raw, unredacted FISA data. A week later, the same unit conducted 1,600 queries using another set of identifiers for US persons. The person who conducted the queries "advised he did not intend to run them against raw FISA information, but nonetheless reviewed raw FISA information returned by them."
  • In February of 2018, the FBI searched raw FISA data for information, with about 30 queries regarding "potential [redacted] sources," and conducted about 45 other queries on people "under consideration as potential sources of information."
  • In an undated event, reported to the Department of Justice's National Security Division in April of 2018, the FBI ran queries against raw FISA metadata using identifiers for "approximately 57,000 individuals" where it was not clear that the information would return foreign intelligence information.
  • Queries against individual US persons were run against the FISA data on a number of occasions, including people about to be served a FISA order—and "a small number of cases in which FBI personnel apparently conducted queries for improper personal reasons—for example, a contract linguist who ran queries on himself, other FBI employees, and relatives."

The court found a huge lack of oversight over the FBI's querying of FISA metadata and ordered the FBI to revise its search procedures. The FISC ruling said that the FISA statutory and Fourth Amendment concerns regarding warrantless searches would be cleared if all queries required written documentation of the basis for a belief by the FBI that searching against a US person's metadata would be "reasonably likely to return foreign-intelligence information or evidence of crime" before anyone at the FBI was allowed access to the contents of FISA data that would be returned by such a search.

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7 days ago
My modest proposal here is to demand that EPIC create a data management interface for the FBI with full access auditing, just like it has setup for accessing HIPAA protected patient health information in the US.
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Home buyers, beware: Contamination from cooking meth can linger for years

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Breaking Bad brought the messy, smelly process of cooking methamphetamine into American households with its depiction of a high school chemistry teacher who begins making the stuff after a terminal cancer diagnosis. Walter White went from cooking meth in an RV, to a home basement, to a full-fledged underground lab run by a crime syndicate. It's highly likely that any place he cooked would still be contaminated years later, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research.

Researchers at Flinders University in Australia took samples from a house in rural Victoria, Australia, once used to cook meth and found the house still contained significant levels of the drug even five years after the drug operations had ended. And that contamination had transferred over to personal possessions of the home's new owners.

"Our results demonstrate that methamphetamine has continued to mobilize after manufacture when the property was under new ownership for a period exceeding five years," said co-author Kirstin Ross. "This suggests that the methamphetamine is not breaking down or being removed and is constantly transferred from contaminated to non-contaminated objects."

Australian police seized chemicals and cooking equipment from the house in question in May 2013. The police notified the local council that the home had been used to cook meth and thus posed a potential health risk. It was supposed to undergo remediation to clear any lingering contamination, but for some reason this didn't happen. A family of five (two adults, and children aged 7, 8, and 11 years) bought the home in August of that year, unaware of its prior history. They didn't find out until March 2014, and when environmental testing revealed levels of methamphetamine well above the Australian limit, the family was forced to vacate the home.

A 2015 study found significant traces of meth in hair samples taken from the family members. Although no family member had ever used meth or were taking any amphetamine-based medications, there were traces at concentrations ranging from 5 to 460 pg/mg. The two youngest children had the highest levels, probably because they had the lowest body weight and were exposed more as they played around the house.

All family members reported some adverse health effects—sore and watery eyes, dizziness, blurred vision, persistent coughs—but the youngest boy was the most affected. He developed asthma-like symptoms, had trouble sleeping, and began demonstrating behavioral changes, such as anxiety, nightmares, and signs of ADHD. (A behavioral assessment of the boy conducted before the family moved into the house found no such issues, so it was most likely due to his exposure to meth in the house.)

Fortunately, most of the health and behavioral issues cleared up within a year after moving out. But the case study amply demonstrates the importance of properly cleaning such homes, since trace contamination can have a deleterious effect on young children in particular.

This new study builds on those earlier findings, to determine just how much contamination there was in the home, how much those traces were transferred to family possessions, and how long those traces lasted. The family haven't done any renovations, and the home had remained vacant in the year since they moved out. The researchers took surface wipe samples of the interior walls at various points in time, the better to monitor any changes in contamination levels. They also sampled several house materials: roof insulation, wall plasterboard, the timber frame in the hallway, carpet, blinds, and filters from the kitchen range and air conditioner. And they sampled various family-owned items: rugs, mattresses, toys, toothbrushes, cooking utensils, and vacuum cleaner bags, for instance. All the samples were then analyzed for contamination levels.

The highest levels were found in the plastic window blinds, in keeping with previous research finding high levels of meth in PVC, polyurethane, and stained or varnished wood. Those levels remained relatively consistent over several years, with no signs of degradation or decrease in surface residues. Of even greater concern, from a public health perspective, was just how much methamphetamine had been transferred to the family's belongings. "It is clear that the transference was high and that contamination is extensive," the authors wrote.

The authors questioned whether current practices regarding remediation of such sites are sufficient to determine contamination levels, given how much contamination they found in the material samples, and how much was transferred to other objects. "Without fully understanding the extent of contamination that is present, not only on surfaces but also within the building materials and surfaces/items that people are exposed to on a daily basis, it is difficult to ensure that the correct and most effective remedial approaches are taken," they wrote.

DOI: International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2019. 10.3390/ijerph16193568  (About DOIs).

Listing image by AMC

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7 days ago
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