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pollution in chicago

Willowbrook Sterigenics Investigated for Emitting Invisible Cancer-Causing Gas to Residents and Workers

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is headed to the neighborhood of one of Levin & Perconti’s founding partners, John Perconti, to perform “ambient air testing” at the Willowbrook Sterigenics facility in DuPage County. Sterigenics is a global company which runs contract business for sterilization services. The Willowbrook facility, currently at the center of a toxic emissions review, sterilizes medical devices such as syringes and surgical procedure kits. The emission in question, Ethylene Oxide (EtO), is a known carcinogen and airborne substance identified as troublesome and cancer-causing for residents and workers who are ongoingly exposed. In 2007, the EPA issued standards to reduce emissions of EtO from hospital and medical device sterilizers to protect workers and community residents from damaging air pollutants.

An August 2018 public report prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) titled “Evaluation of Potential Health Impacts for Ethylene Oxide Emissions” showed workers and residents who live nearby Sterigenics have been exposed to elevated airborne EtO concentrations. The ATSDR further concluded that “an elevated cancer risk exists for residents and off-site workers in the Willowbrook community surrounding the Sterigenics facility,” and that “these elevated risks present a public health hazard.” ATSDR officials have put forth the recommendation that Sterigenics “take immediate action to reduce EtO emissions at this facility.”

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In an audit released late last month, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that a southern Illinois housing authority failed to test for and safely remedy lead-based paint, while also allowing residents to live in units with little heat, and mold, rat, and roach infestations. The agency’s own investigative division also said that HUD has been aware of the problems since 2010 and failed to intervene for fear of bringing unwanted attention upon themselves.

With 109 housing authorities in the state of Illinois and HUD’s own inspector general calling out their inadequacy, many are wondering whom else the agency is failing to protect.

Housing Authority Discriminated Against Black Residents, Employees

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For the first time in history, the Food and Drug Administration is set to conduct a survey examining safety and production practices of cosmetics and beauty products. On July 2, the FDA officially announced its intention to investigate the beauty industry and gave 60 days (by 8/31/18) for the public to comment.

Beauty Industry is Largely Unregulated

Most people are surprised to learn that the FDA has very little regulatory authority over the $100 billion cosmetics industry. Cosmetics, including shampoos, lotions, deodorants, nail polish, and other personal care products, do not require FDA approval before being sold to the public, nor does the FDA have the ability to force a company to recall a product.

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“If you don’t have enough staff to take care of the kids, that’s negligence.”

-Casa Guadalupe employee speaking to ProPublica for Records Reveal “Lax” Supervision, Sexual Activity at Chicago-Area Shelters Housing Immigrant Children

Following on the heels of news that an HIV-positive employee at a youth immigrant shelter in Mesa, Arizona has been charged with 11 counts of sexual misconduct against minors, comes a report of similar offenses within Chicago-area facilities.

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The FDA is often criticized for the amount of time it takes to test and approve a drug, a required step before a medication is able to be marketed and sold to the public. But behind the scenes, more and more pharmaceuticals are being quickly approved, bypassing the traditionally-required clinical trials that ensure a drug’s safety while providing the benefits they claim.

The Drug Approval Process

According to FDA.gov, the standard drug approval process is 3 phases:

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If you have a car with a keyless ignition, odds are you’ve started to leave your car before you realized you still had the engine running. Maybe you’ve even stepped out and closed the door. Or even worse, maybe you’ve gone in your house with the car parked in the garage and only after second guessing yourself, gone out to find you did leave the car on. It’s surprisingly easy to do given that car engines are quieter than ever, we’re busier than ever, and many cars are not outfitted with alerts to notify us that the car is still on.

Suburban Chicago Couple Dies After Car Left Running in Garage

A New York Times investigation found that while no agency or group tracks the number of deaths or injuries related to carbon monoxide poisoning from cars with keyless ignitions, at least 28 people have died after leaving their car on in their own garage. The known number of those injured is at least 45. The Times tells multiple stories of victims both living and deceased, including that of a 75 year old man who died after leaving his car on overnight. Another couple managed to escape their home after waking up sick and disoriented, only to find the level of carbon monoxide was 80 times higher than tolerable for the human body.

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In early June, a Brooklyn judge ruled that Uber users couldn’t be expected to navigate to the terms & conditions section of the app to locate legal language that binds them to using arbitration to solve disputes with the company. The ruling came about in response to a Brooklyn woman’s attempt to sue the rideshare giant for failing to pick her up when she requested a wheelchair-accessible car. The woman, Elizabeth Ramos, is disabled and has relied on a wheelchair for most of her life. In the summer of 2016, she attempted to secure a ride through Uber in a wheelchair-capable car on multiple occasions, only to be told there were no cars available. With the hope of making Uber as user-friendly for the disabled as for the able-bodied, she decided to sue the company. It was only through attempting to sue that she realized she had unknowingly agreed to arbitration. Users who order a ride through Uber are automatically bound to the Terms & Conditions just by using the service.

Arbitration is a process in which disputes are handled outside the courtroom with an arbitrator (a negotiator) chosen by the group accused of wrongdoing. The meetings are held behind closed doors, so the public has no idea that a dispute has been brought forth. Companies favor arbitration agreements because they are more favorable to the company and eliminate the potential for high jury verdicts. They also help keep unsavory details of abuse, neglect, and discrimination out of the public eye, allowing the company to retain tighter control of their public image.

Ruling Could Pave the Way for Other Lawsuits

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On May 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that employees who have signed an arbitration agreement with a class action lawsuit waiver cannot band together to sue their employer for unfair wages or working conditions. A 2011 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Federal Arbitration Act legally upheld that companies could bypass class actions by enforcing individual arbitration.

The majority of non-union employees have signed an employment contract that forces them into arbitration, some without even knowing it. The number of American workers bound by an employment arbitration agreement continues to rise, going from 2% just 16 years ago to 54% today. Arbitration agreements are notorious for being embedded in pages upon pages of new hire paperwork. Even when the legal language used to explain arbitration agreements and class action waivers is recognized by an employee, most feel forced to sign it for fear of losing their job.

The ruling upholding the use of arbitration agreements and class action bans in employment agreements has many worried that the law will extend to cases of discrimination and harassment. The major concern is that these disputes are handled secretly, with an arbitrator chosen by the company themselves. The process is known to heavily favor the corporation accused of wrongdoing, with the outcome rarely yielding the same results as a legal settlement or trial by jury.

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In the first part of 2017, more than 4,460 cases of sex trafficking were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. That’s just the number willing to come forward. Experts estimate that thousands of other victims are silenced, either out of fear of their perpetrator(s) or because of guilt. While many of us may feel far removed from the sex trafficking industry, states that are home to major cities such as Chicago are considered hubs for these activities, due in large part to a person’s ability to be anonymous, as well as our proximity to O’Hare International Airport, the 6th busiest in the world and the 3rd busiest in the country. Last year, Illinois ranked 10th on a list of states with the most reported human trafficking cases and had 100 reports within just the first half of the year.

Federal Law Now Makes Social Media Sites Pay Victim

Social media has given both traffickers and those seeking illegal sex an easy way of finding and targeting victims. With new legislation passed that allows victims to sue businesses that had any part in a case of a sex trafficking, the country is hopeful that the number of those brought into the human trafficking trade will dwindle.

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airplane engine

Steven Levin Talks with MONEY Magazine on Southwest Airline’s Payouts to Recovering Flight 1380 Passengers

Southwest is one of the nation’s busiest airlines and recently landed headline news when one of its Boeing 737-700s was forced to make an emergency stop after a left engine failed and exploded mid-air. The incident occurred while Flight 1380 was en route from New York City to Dallas. The pilot was forced to land the plane in Pennsylvania just 20 minutes after takeoff. The engine blowout created instant chaos amongst all 144 passengers and several injuries were caused by flying debris. Tragically, one passenger died after she was partially sucked out of the aircraft.

The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation of the incident to determine the probable cause. There is the possibility the busy airline knew of mechanical issues or missed repairs that could have been made to ensure a safe flight.