A decade-long conspiracy to cheat U.S. emission tests—and drivers—has now cost Volkswagen $22 billion and counting.
VW has reached a $4.3 billion agreement with the Justice Department stemming from its Dieselgate scandal.
In the latest financial blow, the German automaker has reached a $4.3 billion agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which will cover criminal and civil charges stemming from its Dieselgate scandal.
VW equipped almost 600,000 American diesel vehicles with devices that would cheat U.S. emissions tests by showing nitrogen oxide emissions exponentially lower than what the cars would emit on the road.
The devices were discovered in 2014. In September 2015, VW admitted to installing the defeat devices, but not the length or extent of its conspiracy.
Last year, the company reached a $15 billion settlement with owners of 2.0-liter “Clean Diesel” vehicles, and a $1 billion settlement with owners of 3.0-liter vehicles.
Of the $4.3 billion under the terms of the new settlement (which still must receive final approval from a judge), $2.8 billion will serve as a criminal penalty, while $1.5 billion will go to civil lawsuit resolutions.
Due to the severity and extent of this cover-up, several Volkswagen executives also face serious charges for their roles in the Dieselgate scandal.
Six VW Execs Charged with Conspiracy and Fraud
A federal grand jury in Michigan has indicted the following six VW officials for carrying out the emissions cheating scheme and defrauding American drivers:
Richard Dorenkamp (68)
Bernd Gottweis (69)
Jens Hadler (50)
Heinz-Jakob Neusser (56)
Jürgen Peter (59)
Oliver Schmidt (48)
The grand jury also indicted the executives for violating the Clean Air Act.
One of the VW officials, Oliver Schmidt, was arrested while vacationing in Miami earlier this month. The other five live in Germany and will presumably stay out of the U.S. in order to avoid being arrested.
The U.S. government has faced criticism in the past for punishing corporations for white-collar crimes, but not the people who run those corporations and perpetrate those crimes. For some, the indictment of several VW executives represented a welcome break in that pattern.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said, “This wasn’t simply the action of some faceless, multinational corporation. This conspiracy involved flesh-and-blood individuals who used their positions within Volkswagen to deceive both regulators and consumers.”
As a result, more charges could be on the way for other VW employees who engaged in the scheme to defraud drivers, the U.S. government, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Fiat Chrysler Allegedly Cheated on Emissions, Too
Late last week, the EPA said that Fiat Chrysler, too, misled regulators with regard to at least 104,000 of its vehicles, namely Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Ram trucks (2014-2016). Like many of VW’s Dieselgate vehicles, these trucks have 3.0-liter diesel engines.
Fiat Chrysler now faces a $4.6 billion fine for failing to disclose emissions software.
Fiat Chrysler now faces a $4.6 billion fine for failing to disclose that these vehicles have software that can switch off emission controls while driving.
The depths of Fiat Chrysler’s scheme are not yet clear. John German, a senior fellow at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told the Irish Times that the cases are “quite different,” adding that “we don’t know how often the emissions controls were shut off.”
The EPA has not yet used the terms “cheat device” or “cheat software,” so it’s possible Fiat Chrysler’s violation was more of an innocent mistake (or just a smaller, less egregious cheat) than VW’s. We won’t know until the EPA and the Justice Department conclude their investigations.
What is clear is that automakers continue to cheat American regulators and drivers, with no regard for their schemes’ impact on the environment—or on people’s wallets.
Combined with Monsanto, Bayer would control a quarter of the world’s seeds and pesticides, potentially affecting the world’s food supply, ecosystem, and supermarket prices.
A merger between Monsanto (the company behind GMOs and the herbicide Roundup) and Bayer (the pharmaceutical company that manufacturers pesticides and seeds under Bayer CropScience) is gathering momentum. Earlier this week, Monsanto shareholders approved Bayer’s $66 billion offer to acquire the company: the largest all-cash offer in history.
What makes this potential merger so important—and scary—is just how powerful it would make Bayer. Combined with Monsanto, they would control a quarter of the seeds and pesticides market worldwide, potentially affecting the world’s food supply, ecosystem, and supermarket prices.
Small farmers, consumers, scientists, and politicians alike hope that the merger will be rejected by antitrust regulators. But with shareholders on board and a new administration on the horizon, the merger may be approved.
Merger Raises Red Flags for Antitrust Regulators
If the merger is approved, Bayer would own 29% of seeds and 28% of pesticides worldwide. The sheer size of the new company, combined with the similarity of Monsanto and Bayer’s businesses, raises antitrust red flags.
The century-old Sherman Antitrust Act and Clayton Antitrust Act help prevent mergers and acquisitions of this size. Primarily, regulators are concerned about reduced competition which can inhibit innovation, result in price fixing, and leave consumers and employees vulnerable to abusive business practices.
As a preventative measure, large mergers and acquisitions must be reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. This is where Bayer may stumble. The current administration has strictly opposed large mergers, like Staples and Office Depot, among others.
But Bayer may benefit from a change in administration. The company is so optimistic that it promised Monsanto shareholders a $2 billion termination fee if blocked.
“A Marriage Made in Hell”
If approved, environmental experts warn the merger would be a “marriage made in hell.” After examining the harmful track record of their products, this description may not be far off.
Monsanto is known for a long list of dangerous and controversial biotechnology, including Agent Orange, PCBs, GMOs, and the carcinogenic pesticide RoundUp.
Like Monsanto, Bayer also has a line of genetically engineered (GE) seeds and herbicides and pesticides. Most dangerous are Bayer’s neonicotinoids—pesticides that are the primary cause of the destruction of bee colonies.
Bayer argues that acquiring Monsanto will help the company better address greater demands on the world’s food supply, primarily by selling GE seeds. GE seed cells are modified so that they are resistant to the powerful herbicides and insecticides Monsanto and Bayer sell. By planting GE crops, the companies argue, farmers are able to produce greater crop yields and decrease the overall amount of herbicides and pesticides they spray.
Farmers Will Pay Higher Seed Prices
What does a Bayer-Monsanto merger mean for the average farmer and consumer? Farmers will first notice higher seed prices and few non-GE alternatives—a cost eventually felt by consumers in the supermarket.
GE seeds are particularly pricey because they are registered as intellectual property. This prevents farmers from reusing their seeds, a millennia-old farming practice.
Corn and soy seed prices have increased more than 300 percent since 1995.
Since the introduction of GMOs 20 years ago, seed prices have only gone up. According to Farm Aid’s Alicia Harvie, corn and soy seed prices have increased more than 300 percent since 1995.
Farmers looking for alternatives to genetically engineered seeds are having a harder time finding them. Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University, found that between 2000 and 2010, non-GE corn seed varieties decreased by 67 percent. Similar trends were found for other plants, including sugar beets, for which Monsanto owns 95% of the seeds.
More Herbicide Will Be Sprayed
In addition to pricier seeds, farmers are also faced with having to spend more on the seeds’ accompanying herbicides.
After years of spraying, weeds eventually adapt to the herbicides and become resistant to it. This leaves farmers with “super weeds,” requiring them to spray greater quantities of stronger chemicals.
A study by TheNew York Times found that since genetically engineered seeds were introduced, herbicide use increased by one-fifth in the U.S. and Canada—countries reliant on GE seeds. In France, a country that is GMO-free, herbicide usage dropped by one-third.
Aside from the costs to farmers, higher quantities of herbicides is also bad news for the health of consumers and the environment. Monsanto’s Roundup is a carcinogen that puts farmers and gardeners that use the spray at a greater risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Lingering herbicide residue left on food is also linked to a rise in food allergies, especially gluten intolerance like celiac disease.
Bayer and Monsanto argue that their merger would help to feed a growing world population, but it may actually lead to more food shortages.
The New York Times discovered that over GMOs’ 20-year history, they have not resulted in an increased food supply. What Monsanto and Bayer have managed to do, though, is severely damage the ecosystem—a trend that is likely to result in major food crises in the future.
Pesticides like Bayer’s neonicotinoids have decimated the world’s populations of natural pollinators. Ninety percent of the monarch butterfly population has died over the last 20 years, and between 2006 and 2012, the USDA reported that 10 million beehives were lost.
Environmental experts estimate that the work of pollinators equates to $15 billion in agricultural labor. Because of the severity of the crisis, the EPA is taking steps to regulate neonicotinoids.
But Bayer’s pesticides aren’t the only threat to the environment. By using identical genetically modified seeds, companies like Bayer and Monsanto destroy biological diversity. Biodiversity is important because it helps reduce the spread of crop diseases. If every crop has the same genetic makeup, a disease has the potential to wipe out a huge portion of our food supply.
Giving so much control to one company—especially one that is hurting farmers, the ecosystem, and our health—may spell disaster for our food supply.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks marked the second deadliest day on U.S. soil—second only to the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam. However, unlike some battles and acts of terror, we are still counting the casualties of 9/11 to this day.
The traumatic scenes and the dust cloud that encompassed Lower Manhattan are still affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of survivors. While the mental health issues this group faces have been known for a while, we are only now beginning to understand the long-term effects of the toxic dust.
400,000 Were in the World Trade Center Disaster Area
Overall, it’s estimated that 400,000 were in Lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. This group includes workers who fled the towers; rescue workers; passerby who got caught in the cloud; and the people who lived, worked, or went to school in Lower Manhattan.
Health professionals worry that many in this group aren’t coming forward because they weren’t part of the rescue mission or in the towers. However, the deadly dust and the psychologically traumatic events did not discriminate between first responder or passerby: Anyone in the area could face health complications.
As of July 2016, independent reports estimated that1,140survivors had died from 9/11 complications.
12,000 Suffered From Mental Health Issues
Rescue workers, cleanup workers, and those who were near Ground Zero and watched the events unfold suffer from a host of mental health issues, including PTSD, depression, memory loss, panic attacks, and substance abuse.
Those who had greater exposure to the events were twice as likely to binge drink 5 to 6 years after the attack.
Passerby suffered the highest rates of PTSD symptoms.
Mental health experts argue that non-emergency workers suffered more from PTSD because they weren’t necessarily trained to cope with disasters. In fact, the WTC Health Registry discovered that passerby suffered the highest rates of PTSD symptoms of any other group affected by the attacks (23.2%).
What makes the events of September 11th particularly hard to recover from are the towers’ noticeable absence.
In an article for the New York Times, Charles Figley, professor of disaster mental health at Tulane University, explained how for many, the towers were part of the fabric of daily life, near where people lived, worked, and went to school.
“You go into a combat zone and then you leave. You don’t leave home. You return all the time,” said Professor Figley.
9/11 Cancer Diagnoses Triple
In addition to carrying traumatizing memories with them, survivors and rescue workers also carry the deadly dust that was released into Lower Manhattan for months afterwards. The dust (largely made up of pulverized concrete and building materials) coated passerby and the insides of homes and offices nearby when the towers collapsed.
Dr. Michael Crane described the dust as a “witch’s brew.”
Dr. Michael Crane, director of the World Trade Center Health Program’s lead clinical center at Mount Sinai, described the dust as a “witch’s brew”: “What we do know is that it had all kinds of god-awful things in it. Burning jet fuel. Plastics, metal, fiberglass, asbestos. It was thick, terrible stuff.”
Studies show that the dust had high pH levels of 10 and 11 (7.4 is considered healthy). Even worse, ongoing fires at the site of Ground Zero continued to release toxic fumes in the air for months.
New Yorkers, however, were told the air and dust were safe. It was recommended that landlords and building owners professionally clean their properties, but it was never enforced.
These numbers, however, only reflect the patients who have enrolled in the federal health program, and are just the earliest wave of cancer diagnoses. Since it can take cancer 15 to 20 years to show symptoms, we are only seeing the first incidents.
Dust Inhalation Caused More Damage Than Years of Smoking
Immediately after the attacks, New Yorkers filled hospitals with difficulty breathing. The dust took such a toll on lungs that it gave birth to a deadly cough: the “World Trade Center cough” (WTC cough). The persistent cough is accompanied by breathlessness, wheezing, and often acid reflux and nasal congestion.
Since emergency workers were exposed to the dust for longer periods of time, they are particularly susceptible to WTC cough and other health complications. In 2004, researchers discovered that lungs of first responders were more damaged than longtime smokers. CT scans revealed dark spots where air was trapped in the lungs. Using a scale of 0 to 24 (with 24 being the worst) to rate the severity of the problem, researchers put a typical smoker’s lung somewhere between 0 and 4 and a 9/11 rescue worker at 10.55.
Since the attacks, it’s estimated that more than 32,000 in the disaster area have been diagnosed with asthma, COPD, and WTC cough. For many, survivors will have these chronic conditions for life.
Legal Options for 9/11 Victims and Survivors
Just this year, Congress pledged their support for 9/11 victims by amending the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, allowing victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia for their alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks. If you have questions about your eligibility for a lawsuit, contact ClassAction.com today. We’ll answer your questions and provide you with a free, no-obligation legal review.
As one automaker’s polluting diesel scandal nears an end, another’s is just getting started.
In a major step towards resolving its ongoing diesel emission problems in the United States, Volkswagen recently agreed on a plan addressing 80,000 3.0-liter diesel vehicles.
Meanwhile, Chrysler faces allegations that it rigged Dodge diesel trucks to conceal illegally high emissions.
Owners of affected Volkswagen and Dodge vehicles can contact ClassAction.com to learn how to hold the automakers accountable.
VW Looks to Put Dieselgate in Rearview
Volkswagen, which earlier this year reached a $14.7 billion settlement over polluting 2.0-liter diesel cars, has struck a deal with U.S. regulators that resolves pollution issues in 80,000 Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen 3.0-liter vehicles.
Although not yet official, Reuters reports that the 3.0-liter deal will mirror terms offered in the 2.0-liter settlement, offering owners a buyback or a fix (pending EPA approval).
The pollution problems in 2.0-liter and 3.0-liter Volkswagens are not identical. Smaller, 4-cylinder VWs, including TDI versions of the Golf, Jetta, and Passat, have software that registered permissible nitrous oxide emissions during testing but polluted at levels up to 40 times the legal limit on the road. Larger, 6-cylinder Porsche, Audi and VW cars and SUVs contain an undeclared emissions system that creates pollutants as much as nine times the legal limit.
Owners of 2.0-liter VWs have overwhelmingly opted for vehicle buybacks, an option which also provides a $5,100-$10,000 payment. VW will offer 3.0-liter owners significantly less compensation, say sources briefed on the matter.
Like the 2.0-liter settlement, the 3.0-liter settlement is expected to include billions of dollars in criminal and civil fines. Nearly one-third of the $14.7 billion 2-liter settlement will go toward remediating environmental harm.
Lawsuit Claims That Dodge Diesels Hide Emissions
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) became the first U.S. automaker hit with emissions cheating claims when it was sued by customers alleging their Dodge trucks have deceptively dirty engines.
A lawsuit accuses Dodge of breaking emissions laws and covering up the problem.
According to a lawsuit filed in Detroit, nearly 500,000 Dodge Ram diesel pickups from 2007 – 2012 emit nitrous oxide (NOx) pollutants as much as 14 times higher than the legal limit. Chrysler and its diesel partner Cummins Inc. are accused of concealing from the public an engine feature that does not break down NOx properly, allowing excess gasses to escape.
Not only does the flaw nearly double emissions, the lawsuit claims, it also reduces fuel efficiency and places excessive strain on the catalytic converter.
Chrysler and Cummings are accused of knowing about but not disclosing the engine flaws. The lawsuit says the alleged fraud resulted from the companies’ attempt to get out ahead of a 2001 regulatory change that cracked down on emissions standards for heavy-duty diesel engines. Their aggressive development efforts, owners say, caused the fraudulent design.
“We believe we have uncovered a deeply entrenched scheme,” said a plaintiffs’ lawyer.
Chrysler and Cummins deny any wrongdoing in the case.
Is Diesel Dead?
Whatever the outcome, the lawsuit casts further doubt on the concept of “clean diesel” technology and the reliability of emissions testing. Diesel cars made by Mercedes Benz, Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Fiat, Volvo, Jeep, Mazda, and other automakers have all been accused of emitting significantly more pollution on the road than in the lab.
Diesel vehicles, which get better gas mileage than gasoline vehicles but produce more NOx, are more popular in Europe, where NOx standards are less strict. Only about 5 percent of U.S. passenger vehicles are diesel, compared to 80% in Europe.
The VW emissions cheating scandal (coupled with low gas prices) has fueled speculation that the U.S. market for diesel is dead, except for trucks.
Chemicals used in everyday products cost the United States more than $340 billion per year in health care and lost earnings, according to a new study.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals—found in consumer goods that include plastics, metal food cans, furniture, carpeting, toys, detergents, cosmetics, and pesticides—interfere with the body’s endocrine (hormone) system and contribute to developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune dysfunction.
Endocrine disruptors are linked to IQ points loss, autism, ADHD, diabetes, cancer, and more.
In the United States, the economic disease burden of endocrine-disrupting chemicals—which reflects direct treatment costs as well as indirect lost productivity costs—is estimated to be higher than in the European Union, where industrial chemicals are more tightly regulated. Endocrine disruptors cost the U.S. $340 billion per year (2.33% of GDP) and the European Union $217 billion per year (1.28% of GDP).
The greatest difference in U.S. vs. E.U. disease costs, say the study authors, comes from IQ points loss and intellectual disability due to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), a chemical blend used as a flame retardant on furniture. PBDE causes 43,000 annual cases of intellectual disability annually in the U.S., compared to 3,290 in the EU. Europe has restricted PBDEs since 2008.
Costs associated with organophosphates—chemical substances found in pesticides—are significantly lower in the United States ($42 billion) than in Europe ($121 billion). U.S. regulators are stricter about organophosphates than their European counterparts.
Other diseases linked to endocrine disruptors looked at in the study included autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and endometriosis.
“These findings speak to the large health and economic benefits to regulating endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” senior study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande told Reuters.
Researchers based U.S. data on endocrine-disrupting hormones found in blood and urine samples of patients in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and compared it to the results of an earlier European study.
Differences in U.S., EU Policy Underlie Exposure Disparity
Chemical policy in the United States operates differently in the European Union and helps explains why more people in this country are exposed to chemicals like endocrine disruptors.
“Adults and children in the U.S. carry more industrial chemicals in their bodies than their European counterparts simply due to differences in chemical policies,” public health researcher Joseph Allen of Harvard told Reuters.
European Union chemical policy endorses the precautionary principle, a burden of proof that does not require a substance to be proven absolutely safe. Rather, when the precautionary principle is invoked, a company may be required to prove the absence of danger. This allows potentially hazardous chemicals to be restricted even without a complete scientific evaluation. Only substantial, credible evidence of human or environmental health risks is needed to trigger regulatory action.
U.S. law, which does not formally endorse the precautionary principle, sets a much higher bar for proving a substance is safe. In the U.S., evidence of actual harm must generally be produced before regulatory action is taken.
“Our chemical policy largely follows the approach of our legal system – ‘innocent until proven guilty,’” said Joseph Allen. “This is appropriate for criminal justice policy but has disastrous consequences for health when used for chemical policy.”
Endocrine Disruptors Can Wreak Havoc on Bodies
There’s room for debate about whether European and American chemical regulations are significantly different in their overall outcomes. For example, the measured effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers and organophosphates in the E.U. and U.S. from the Lancet study show how regulators on each continent vary in their precautionary approaches to the same chemicals.
Americans are effectively acting as guinea pigs for the chemical industry.
But there’s no debating the fact that endocrine disruptors pose significant health risks. Since the precise nature of those risks are still being studied, Americans are effectively acting as guinea pigs for the chemical industry.
What is known about endocrine disruptors is cause enough for concern. They’ve been linked to cancers, reproductive problems, early puberty, birth defects, kidney and thyroid disease, nervous system dysfunction, and other serious problems.
The prevalence of these chemicals in our bodies underscores their omnipresence. BPA—a chemical used in plastics that can cause cancer, obesity, and heart disease—has been found in 93% of Americans. Atrazine, used on U.S. corn crops and pervasive in drinking water, has been shown to feminize male frogs and is linked to several cancers.
Avoiding these chemicals therefore requires major lifestyle changes, such as eating organic, avoiding plastic food containers, and filtering drinking water.
The Environmental Working Group offers a free download that details twelve of the most prevalent endocrine disruptors and how to avoid them.
A decades-long campaign involving classic advertising, targeting youth, fighting taxes, influencing research, and obscuring facts? Sounds like a story we’ve already seen played out when we lifted the veil on Big Tobacco. This, however, is Big Soda—whose main players include The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo—and their tactics are all too familiar.
Today, we face an added sugar crisis. Sugar consumption has increased by 30% in the last 30 years. The average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and American children consume 32 teaspoons—way above the World Health Organization’s six teaspoon recommendation. According to the latest Federal Government Dietary Guidelines, soft drinks currently represent 25% of Americans’ sugar intake, and sugar-sweetened beverages in general (including sports drinks and juice) represent 39% of our sugar consumption. Just one 12-oz can of coke has 9.5 teaspoons of sugar.
Why is soda so bad for us?
As the largest source of added sugars in the American diet, soda is a major contributing factor to a host of medical conditions. High amounts of sugar can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, teeth and bone damage.
The more soda a person drinks, the greater the chance that he or she is overweight. “People who drink this ‘liquid candy’ do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food and do not compensate by eating less,” said Harvard researchers.
“People who drink this ‘liquid candy’ do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food.”
Science also shows that excess sugar consumption can affect cognitive function. UCLA scientists discovered that if your diet doesn’t have a sufficient amount of Omega-3 fatty acids to balance a diet high in sugar, your ability to learn and remember information will suffer. In their study, two groups of rats were fed a sugared solution for six weeks. The rats that didn’t receive Omega-3 fatty acids to offset the high glucose amounts significantly underperformed in a maze.
There are also claims that sugar has similar effects on our brain that drugs like cocaine do. In fact, Coca-Cola was initially made with cocaine, so it isn’t that much of a stretch. Sugar activates the rewards system in our cerebral cortex and releases dopamine, producing a good feeling. Too much sugar and it can create an addiction, similar to drugs and alcohol.
If we know soft drinks are so bad for us, why are they still so popular? Here are ten ways that Big Soda got us to overlook damaging statistics and continue consuming sugary beverages.
1. They told us that physical inactivity was to blame for obesity
The soda industry successfully shifted the obesity conversation away from diet and on to exercise. They argue that the high obesity rates today are attributed to Americans becoming more sedentary and not moving as much as they used to. The solution, according to them, is exercise—not making changes to our diets.
To ingrain the misconception that exercise is the cure-all for obesity and diabetes, Coca-Cola proclaims on their website: “There is increasing concern about overweight and obesity worldwide, and while there are many factors involved, the fundamental cause in most cases is an imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.”
This theory formed the basis for Coca-Cola’s short-lived and controversial Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN). GEBN proclaimed that the cause of obesity was a discrepancy between “energy in” (the amount of calories consumed) and “energy out” (calories burned in physical activity). The nonprofit disbanded at the end of 2015, less than two years from its formation, after it was revealed that Coca-Cola paid University of Colorado researchers $1 million to promote these ideas.
While it’s true that exercise is important in leading a healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t have a major impact on our waistlines. A year-long study conducted in 2007 followed sedentary, overweight adults as they started a regular exercise regimen. Without making any changes in diet, men had lost an average of 3.5 pounds by the end of the year, and women only 2.5 pounds. Similarly, Loyola University released a report in 2015 that argued that unless you are exercising well above the recommended daily activity levels, the only way to lose weight is by cutting calories.
Even fitness experts, who would normally love pro-exercise arguments, have told us that resting the weight of obesity on physical activity is unrealistic. Crossfit Founder Greg Glassman actively opposes Coca-Cola’s pro-exercise programs, saying that if people believed that exercise is the solution to obesity, then what he was promoting at Crossfit was akin to “medical malpractice.”
2.They funded pro-soda and pro-sugar research
Big Soda supports their pro-exercise argument by funding research studies to ensure that they have “science-backed” claims. Just last year, the Mayo Clinic published a Coca-Cola-funded report that claimed “the American diet is no longer a significant risk factor for disease for most individuals.”
Most importantly, Big Soda rests on a decades-long pro-sugar campaign. It was only this year that we learned from the University of California San Francisco that the sugar industry manipulated research on the causes of heart disease. After research emerged in the 1950s that connected sugar to heart disease, the Sugar Research Foundation sponsored a 1965 Harvard University literature review that downplayed sugar’s risk factors. Instead, researchers shifted the blame to fats, shaping public misperception of heart health for decades.
Researchers shifted the blame to fats, shaping public misperception of heart health for decades.
In addition, the sugar industry influenced dental health research, particularly in the 1970s. Sugar-funded research and campaigns focused attention on fluoride toothpaste and other measures to prevent tooth decay, rather than urging people to lower sugar consumption.
The current president of the Sugar Association has said that sugar doesn’t cause obesity—that it’s a “slippery slope” to connect the two. Current PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has made similar remarks: “We have to approach this as a complex problem that requires a multifaceted solution, as opposed to a simple solution such as tax the company or make bans happen.”
Misperception of sugar comes all the way from the top. The federal government didn’t provide recommendations on sugar consumption until this year. (Now they suggest sugar should be less than 10% of your daily calories.)
To make Americans more aware of the sugar they consume, the FDA unveiled new nutrition labels that will take effect in July 2018. The new labels break out added sugars and list the percentage of your daily recommended sugar intake.
Not surprisingly, the Sugar Association released a statement protesting the new guidelines: “We are concerned that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America.” They go on to argue that adding another category to the labels and fixating on one dietary aspect “may undermine consumer efforts to have healthier diets.” The American Beverage Association (ABA) also believes the new label is unnecessary, but because soda companies are already addressing sugar concerns.
Though the new labels are a move in the right direction, many health advocates argue that the FDA should stop measuring sugar in grams and instead use teaspoons, of which Americans have a better understanding. Tina Rosenberg writes in an op-ed for The New York Times, “In general, the industry has been able to make nutritional labels as feeble and confusing as possible. It’s hard to tell what’s a little and what’s a lot.”
3.They influenced health groups, researchers, and dietitians
In addition to funding pro-soda and sugar research, Big Soda also pays health professionals outright to make statements supporting them. This is especially common when legislators propose soda taxes. Kyle Pfister, a public health advocator, discovered that dieticians were tweeting against the soda taxes, using hashtags like “#partner” and “#advisor” to allude to their connections with the soda industry (like the one below).
But their influence goes much deeper than just paying for endorsements here and there. A study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo financially supported nearly 100 health organizations between 2011 and 2015, including, ironically, the American Diabetes Association and the American Society for Nutrition.
Though they are one of the leading causes of obesity, soda companies are completely woven into the fabric of our health and wellness organizations.
Soda companies are completely woven into the fabric of our health and wellness organizations.
Applebaum allegedly told Hill that the GEBN researchers had to cooperate with the soda industry—”that is non-negotiable.” It was also leaked that Hill wrote to another Coke executive, stating: “I want to help your company avoid the image of being a problem in peoples’ [sic] lives and back to being a company that brings important and fun things to them.”
In June 2016, Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, resigned after leaked emails showed she was collaborating with Coca-Cola executives. Emails revealed her offering executive Alex Malaspina help connecting with the World Health Organization (WHO), which had previously given Coca-Cola the cold shoulder.
In some cases, soda companies have hired public health officials who previously fought against them. PepsiCo hired Dr. Derek Yach, a public health advocate who worked for WHO and led their fight against tobacco, as director of PepsiCo’s global health policy. Yach argued that he wanted to make change from within. However, critics (like Soda Politics author Marion Nestle) argued that this move only lended more credibility to PepsiCo.
4. They created fake grassroots movements to fight soda taxes
To fight obesity, 33 states have passed some form of a soda tax. However, the tax amounts are generally small enough not to affect consumption levels. When communities have come together to propose higher soda taxes and restrictions, the industry has reacted with a force equal to Big Tobacco lobbying.
In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg witnessed this firsthand when he proposed the Soda Cap, prohibiting the sale of sugary beverages 16 ounces or larger. This measure ignited the soda-backed grassroots movement. New Yorkers saw anti-soda cap propaganda from what appeared to be community-based organizations (e.g., “New Yorkers against Soda Cap”), but who were in fact created and supported by the soda industry.
To fight San Francisco’s Prop E soda tax in 2014, Big Soda created The Coalition for an Affordable City, which deceptively sounded like a community group fighting against the high cost of living. They hired non-residents to hold signs during “No-on-E” protests, and even published the names of many companies who opposed the tax that were actually in favor of it.
San Francisco’s Prop E didn’t pass, but when taxes and amendments are approved they are immediately challenged in court by the American Beverage Association. After the New York soda cap was approved by the NYC Board of Health, it was defeated in the New York Supreme Court in June 2014.
Though hailed as a success story, Philadelphia is now battling the ABA over their Sweetened Beverage Tax. Revenue from the tax, which is the highest in America at 1.5 cents per ounce, goes towards pre-K programs, parks, and rec centers. The ABA argues that it’s double taxation and therefore unconstitutional. It is still unclear if the tax will take effect in 2017 as planned.
“They hired every lobbyist in America—some from the moon.”
Big Soda spent $10 million to fight the tax in Philadelphia alone, and it has spent $67 million nationwide to fight similar legislation. In an interview with The New York Times, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney tried to make light of the fierce battle with Big Soda, noting that “they hired every lobbyist in America—some from the moon.”
5. They pushed stevia-sweetened sodas—the new “healthy cigarette”
Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s diet sodas have long been the industry’s answer to sugar critics. Though lower in sugar and calories than regular cola, the ingredients in these beverages don’t fit the healthy banner they sit under.
Coca-Cola Life and Pepsi True, which were both introduced in the U.S. in 2014, are packaged in green cans and marketed for their low-calorie natural sweetener, Stevia. Both companies have been criticized for their claims about how “natural” Stevia is, which they support with advertisements that feature plants and the color green.
Stevia sweetener, which is derived from the Stevia plant, doesn’t just fall off the plant like the ads suggest. It is significantly processed.
A class action lawsuit against stevia argued that, “A reasonable consumer would not consider food products containing unnaturally processed, synthetic substances… created via chemical processing to be ‘all-natural.’”
Furthermore, critics argue that the green, natural images Coca-Cola and PepsiCo project with these products lead consumers to believe (wrongly) that they are healthy. But Pepsi True contains 3.2 teaspoons of sugar in its small 7.5-ounce can, while Coca-Cola Life has a whopping six teaspoons of sugar for every 12-ounce can.
Queensland University of Technology’s Professor Amanda Lee said, “It reminds me of the stage we were up at 30 years ago when manufacturers were making healthy cigarettes. I’m worried, it’s trying to make a product that’s intrinsically unhealthy, healthy.”
On September 22, 2016, three Lithia, Florida residents (Nicholas Bohn, Natasha McCormick, and Eric Weckman) filed a class action lawsuit against Mosaic Fertilizer over the massive sinkhole that recently appeared in the area, leaking radioactive water into the Floridan Aquifer.
The complaint—filed by ClassAction.com attorneys in partnership with New York-based firm Weitz & Luxenberg—seeks relief for water treatment and monitoring as well as property damage, and alleges that Mosaic “recklessly and negligently managed, operated and stored toxic radioactive wastewater produced from Defendants’ New Wales Facility.”
The plaintiffs also argue that Mosaic violated Florida’s Pollutant Discharge Prevention and Control Act and is likewise liable for an abnormally dangerous activity, nuisance, negligence, and gross negligence.
The plaintiffs brought the class action lawsuit on behalf of anyone similarly situated and affected by the Mosaic sinkhole, noting that roughly 5,000 people live within five miles of the sinkhole “who obtain their water from private wells and are impacted by the sinkhole.”
If you have been similarly impacted by the Mosaic sinkhole, contact us today. You may qualify for a lawsuit.
What Took Mosaic So Long to Come Clean?
On August 27, 2016, a 300-foot-deep sinkhole appeared at the Mosaic Fertilizer phosphate mine in Mulberry, Florida.
Nearly three weeks later, on September 15, Mosaic notified the public through its website. The massive sinkhole has since made headlines after leaking 215 million gallons of potentially radioactive water into the Floridan Aquifer—Florida’s main source of drinking water.
So why on earth didn’t Mosaic alert residents sooner? Why wait three weeks to break the story, while families drink and swim in this potentially toxic water?
Because they could.
Mosaic Was Not Legally Obligated to Disclose Leak
According to the Tampa Bay Times, a 2005 state law requires only that companies report contaminations to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within ten days of learning about them. The DEP then has 30 days to notify residents who could be affected.
This is a stark change from 1994, the last time a sinkhole of this nature formed at the same site. Then, the public learned of the incident almost immediately and could respond accordingly—by testing their water, for example, or pursuing legal action.
In his apology for the three-week delay, Mosaic’s Senior Vice President of Phosphates Walt Precourt failed to explain why Mosaic felt Polk County residents didn’t deserve to learn of the leak sooner. Mr. Precourt said simply:
“I regret and apologize for not providing information sooner. We immediately took steps to remove as much water from the leaking process pond as possible and are now operating a recovery well to remove the rest of the water from the aquifer.”
Given Mosaic’s checkered past, the delay may come as no surprise.
Mosaic Has History of Questionable Ethics
In October 2015, the EPA reached a settlement with Mosaic over 60 billion pounds of toxic waste pollution. According to the EPA, Mosaic’s violations included the following:
Failure to make hazardous waste determinations for scrubber effluents, fluorosilicic acid-production wastes, product spills and leaks, and wastes from cleaning pipes and tanks;
Treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes without a permit or interim status;
Failure to perform land disposal determinations and to meet land disposal restrictions for hazardous wastes;
Failure to provide adequate financial assurance for closure, long-term care, and third-party liability; and
Failure to comply with record-keeping requirements
Under the settlement terms, Mosaic paid $1.8 billion and agreed to reduce and more safely store toxic waste at eight of its facilities—including the New Wales site where the new sinkhole appeared.
Mosaic agreed to “install advanced engineering controls that will mitigate future impacts from its phosphyogypsum stack systems” (such as the one where the Mulberry sinkhole formed).
Mosaic also “agreed to implement an estimated $1.2 million environmental project in Florida to mitigate and prevent certain potential environmental impacts associated with an orphaned industrial property located in Mulberry, Florida.”
Leak Will Cost Mosaic Upwards of $50 Million
A Mosaic executive says fixing the leak will cost $20-50 million. But that’s just a drop in the bucket to the largest fertilizer company in the world, one that generated $11.1 billion in revenue in 2012.
Instead of paying tens of millions of dollars to clean up its toxic messes, or paying billions of dollars in EPA penalties, why doesn’t Mosaic overhaul its operations to prevent these hazardous accidents in the first place?
Many of Mosaic’s EPA settlement terms from last year involved not just safety (e.g., preventing radioactive waste from leaking into Florida’s water supply) but transparency. The idea was not only to reduce toxic waste, but to be upfront in the event of a leak or spill so that agencies and residents could take the appropriate steps.
By keeping Floridians in the dark for three weeks about a potentially harmful leak, Mosaic has violated the spirit of that settlement if not the actual terms. It has also further eroded any remaining trust residents had in the company and the process of phosphate mining as a whole.
It will take more than free water bottles to regain that trust.
1. What is the Mosaic sinkhole and how did it form?
The Mosaic sinkhole is a massive 45-foot-wide sinkhole that recently formed at the Mosaic fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Florida.
The hole was first discovered on August 27, 2016, but Mosaic did not alert the public until September 16—nearly three weeks later. (We don’t yet know whether Mosaic alerted authorities more promptly.)
Two hundred and fifteen million gallons of radioactive wastewater have drained into the sinkhole, and into the Floridan aquifer system. Mosaic admits that the contaminants have reached the aquifer.
2. What is phosphogypsum?
Phosphogypsum is a waste product formed in the production of fertilizer from phosphate ore. (Florida produces 90% of the United States’ phosphate for fertilizers.) Although gypsum is a widely used material in construction, phosphogypsum is not used but rather stored indefinitely due to its radioactivity.
The process of phosphate mining is controversial due to its environmental implications.
It has contaminated the Floridan Aquifer used by millions of Floridians for drinking water.
The aquifer system is an underground network of porous rocks through which water passes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “The Floridan aquifer system is the primary source of water for nearly 10 million people and supports agriculture, industry, and tourism throughout most of the region.”
“The Floridan aquifer system is the primary source of water for nearly 10 million people and supports agriculture, industry, and tourism throughout most of the region.”
The Weather Channel reports that the Floridan Aquifer is “the principal source of groundwater for much of the state, and the cities of Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Tampa, and St. Petersburg all rely on it.”
Additionally, according to environmental attorney Frank Petosa, water that escapes from the aquifers creates springs that are used for recreational activities like swimming and snorkeling.
The contaminants from the Mosaic sinkhole will likely include natural radionuclides like uranium and radium (as per the EPA’s page on phosphoygypsum stacks).
It is no wonder, then, that environmentalist groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have long called for an end to phosphate mining. Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the CBD, states:
“Enough is enough. Mosaic wants to mine an additional 50,000 acres of Florida’s beautiful, biodiverse lands, but this incident makes clear it can’t even handle the radioactive waste it currently generates. We must come together and demand that our counties, our state and our federal government reject further expansion of this dangerous industry.”
In response to the Mosaic sinkhole, protestors gathered outside of Mulberry City Hall aiming to hold the industrial company accountable. Many expressed grave concern over how water contamination could affect their health and the health of their families.
5. What should I do if I live in the affected area?
If you live in Hillsborough or Polk County and own land or a well in one of those counties, you should call 888-987-1307 to determine the best course of action.
Morgan & Morgan is one of the nation’s leading plaintiffs-only law firms. In addition to filing legal proceedings against Mosaic, the firm’s ClassAction.com attorneys will continue to monitor the environmental impact of the sinkhole, as well as any possible health risks posed by the water’s contaminants.
You may also want to read more on this issue via the following sources:
1. Which parts of East Chicago have been affected by the Calumet lead crisis? How broad is the contaminated area?
The contamination site encompasses the Calumet neighborhood of East Chicago. If you live outside of that neighborhood—in Whiting, for example—we haven’t been made aware of any environmental issues as yet.
However, there are 39 other areas in Indiana that have been tainted by hazardous waste and therefore designated “Superfund” sites by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You can find a list of these locations here.
If you live in another part of Calumet, the EPA is now testing the soil and determining the best course of action. The Times of Northwest Indiana reports: “EPA has started to release soil sampling results to residents in zone 3, the eastern part of the neighborhood. EPA will begin cleanup at the most contaminated properties this fall, and work is expected to continue next spring.”
You should also receive free blood testing at the East Chicago Health Department or at Carrie Gosch to determine the lead levels in your blood and your children’s. According to Jennifer O’Malley, director of public affairs for the Indiana State Department of Health, anything above 5 micrograms per deciliter (5 μg/dL) is considered elevated.
(Infographic sources listed at bottom of page.)
3. Who is most vulnerable to lead poisoning?
“Children age six and under and pregnant women are the most vulnerable populations because of the way the brain develops,” Ms. O’Malley tells the Public News Service. “The brain actually starts developing in the womb, so we are most concerned about those younger children and pregnant women.”
4. How can I reduce my children’s exposure to lead?
Dr. Richard Troast, PhD—founder of Troast Environmental Consulting—offers the following advice for curbing the risk of lead poisoning:
Shortening the period of exposure may reduce the toxic effects. This can be accomplished by removing lead sources within the household. Lead paint can be removed, lead dust removed through intensive cleaning, and lead in soil through the use of ground cover to minimize the release of the dirt and lead into the home. Parents can move into lead-free residences. Generally, homes built after the ban of lead based paints [in 1978] will be safer than homes built prior. However, when in doubt, there are commercial certified contractors available to test the home.
Additionally, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) advises the following:
Don’t let children play in dirt or mulch
Wash children’s toys regularly
Wash children’s hands after they play outside
Remove shoes before entering homes
In Superfund sites like West Calumet Housing Complex, do not disturb mulch or dig/garden in yards
5. What can I do if a family member has an elevated level of lead in his or her blood?
See Question #4 for ways to reduce present and future lead exposure.
The Mayo Clinic states, “A level of 5 mcg/dL or higher indicates your child may have unsafe levels of lead in their blood and should have their blood tested periodically. If levels become too high—generally 45 mcg/dL or higher—your child should be treated.”
ClassAction will continue to investigate this crisis and keep you informed as news breaks. If you have been personally affected by the Calumet soil crisis, please feel free to share your story in the Comments section below this article.
Residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Indiana were advised in late July that due to dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil the complex would be demolished and they’d have to find new homes.
The extent of soil contamination is much higher than West Calumet residents—more than half of whom are children—were previously led to believe they were. The top six inches of soil in West Calumet yards have lead levels up to 30 times higher than the level considered safe for children, in addition to dangerous levels of arsenic. Initial testing shows that hundreds of children have excessive lead levels.
ClassAction.com is investigating the toxic soil scandal in West Calumet and determining how we can best help residents there. Stay in the know and protect your family by contacting us.
West Calumet sits atop the U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc. Superfund site. From 1906 to 1985 a copper smelter, lead refinery, and lead smelter operated on the site. EPA has identified Anaconda/Atlantic Richfield, DuPont, and USS Lead as the sources of contamination.
EPA sought Superfund status for the site in 2008 and began initial soil testing that revealed some “hot spots,” EPA acting regional administrator for the Great Lakes region told the New York Times. Kaplan says EPA removed soil from these hot spots and did so again in 2011.
“Preliminary results reveal that hundreds of children suffer from excessive levels of lead in their blood.”
In 2012 EPA had a plan in place to remove contaminated soil from 57% (723 out of 1271) of West Calumet properties. In 2014 EPA and the state of Indiana entered into a site cleanup agreement with Atlantic Richfield and DuPont.
But it wasn’t until May, when EPA gave lead and arsenic data to East Chicago city officials as part of the soil removal plan, that West Calumet residents learned just how toxic their soil is.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland, who upon obtaining the lead and arsenic data called for demolishing the housing complex rather than following the soil removal plan, accused EPA of withholding data about the levels of lead and arsenic contamination from the city.
“Despite the EPA’s knowledge for more than a decade of the unprecedented high levels of lead contamination in the soils, the EPA neither performed not requested testing of residents’ blood (lead) levels,” Copeland wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Instead, when the city became aware of the extremely high levels of lead in the soil on May 24, 2016, it immediately commenced testing. Preliminary results reveal that hundreds of children suffer from excessive levels of lead in their blood.”
Lead poisoning is of particular concern to children. West Calumet parents have described a range of symptoms in their children consistent with lead poisoning, including headaches, stomachaches, and nausea. Even low levels of lead exposure in children can irreversibly harm their developing brains and nervous systems.
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There are currently more questions than answers about West Calumet toxic soil. Residents wonder whether they’ll be able to afford new, safe housing and how they’ll help their poisoned children.
Ultimately, liability for the toxic West Calumet soil and resulting health issues lies with the companies that operated there for most of the 20th century.
Lawyers for ClassAction.com are investigating what legal remedies may be available for residents harmed by West Calumet toxic soil.
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