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National Politics

  • At first, Tomas Monarrez didn't notice the labels when he went shopping for pots and pans. 'Completely toxin free!' said a big green message on a line of nonstick frying pans in the cookware aisle at a store in the nation's capital. 'No PFOA!' boasted the label on a 12-piece kitchen set. 'Will never release any toxic fumes,' another label promised. 'Oh, wow,' Monarrez, an economist at a think tank, said, when asked if he had ever heard of the toxic chemicals that manufacturers were declaring their products free of. 'I didn't know anything. Should I buy these?' Monarrez asked. 'So all these are bad? Federal regulators are sorting out how to handle health risks from a group of widely used nonstick and stain-resistant compounds. But even reading labels may not be enough to guide consumers who want to limit their exposure to the manmade industrial material, known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Scientists say there are many steps people can take to minimize their contact with the compounds, which federal toxicologists say show links to health problems. Some changes are simple, such as checking on the safety of your drinking water or buying different pots and pans. Others require spending and lifestyle changes — for example, passing up fast food or other takeout because the containers the food may be packaged in. For those concerned about exposure, there's one critical thing to know about PFAS compounds: 'They're everywhere,' Linda Birnbaum, head of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, told a recent gathering of her agency's advisory council. 'The carpets and the chairs and maybe the clothes you're wearing,' Birnbaum said. She noted she used to love the ritual of spraying Scotchgard on newly bought tablecloths. No more, she made clear. There are thousands of different versions of the compounds, including PFOA and another early version, both now phased out of production in the U.S. PFAS are used in products including nonstick cookware, but also in stain- and steam-resistant bags for microwave popcorn and many other food containers and packaging, shaving cream, dental floss, stain protection for fabrics and rugs and outdoor garb — for starters. Federal studies of people heavily exposed to the compounds have found links between high blood levels of older kinds of PFAS and a range of health problems, including liver issues, low birth weights, and testicular and kidney cancer. High levels also have been found in many drinking water systems. Military installations that use PFAS-laden firefighting foam and businesses that work with PFAS are two big sources of water contamination. It's probably impossible to avoid all exposures, says Leonardo Trasande, a children's environmental health specialist and vice chair for research at New York University's pediatrics department, and a PFAS expert. But there are 'safe and simple steps to limit exposure based on what we know,' Trasande says. Trasande himself recommends two precautions. One is shunning nonstick cookware in favor of cast iron or stainless steel, Trasande said. That's despite statements from industry and manufacturers that newer forms of PFAS in nonstick cookware are safe. The other is eschewing food packaging as much as possible. In practice, that can require changing habits — cutting your consumption of takeout and packaged food, and committing to cooking more at home, from scratch. 'Literature does suggest that diet is a major route of exposure,' Trasande noted. People also can contact their local water utility to find out if their water system is one of those testing with higher levels of PFAS, Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Andrea Drinkard said. Eating certified organic food can guard against PFAS exposure from fields treated with treated human sewage sludge because federal rules prohibit use of the sludge on organically raised crops and livestock, environmental groups say. Older forms of the compounds are known to build up in people's bodies for years. And the chemical bonds holding PFAS compounds together are among the toughest going, so they are expected to take thousands of years to degrade. There's no across the board consensus on whether newer versions of the thousands of kinds of PFAS are safe. Industry says they are and that there's no reason to swear off all nonstick cookware and PFAS-treated food packaging. 'Consumers should have confidence in the safety of products manufactured with today's PFAS because they have been reviewed by regulators globally and found to meet relevant standards that are protective of health and the environment,' Jessica Bowman, executive director of the FluoroCouncil industry trade group, said in an email. 'Studies show that the newer PFAS do not present significant health concerns — they're not carcinogenic and not endocrine disruptors.' Several nonindustry researchers dispute that, and the Food and Drug Administration noted last month studies showing that that newer forms of the nonstick, grease- and water-repelling compounds may also be a health concern.

Latest from Jamie Dupree

Georgia Politics

  • The girl came forward about what the preacher had done to her after her parents caught her trying to slit her wrists. In the years that followed, the family’s world unraveled in their rural community in the North Georgia mountains. The girl’s health deteriorated from a congenital heart defect, and many in their church shunned them and rallied around the traveling evangelist who she told police had raped and molested her in her home while her parents slept, the family told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News earlier this year. The truth might have come out in a trial, but that didn’t happen because of who Jason Brothers hired to defend him: attorney and state House Speaker David Ralston. At the time, state law allowed lawyers serving in the Georgia Legislature to put off any court proceeding by telling judges they had state-level duties to tend to, and Ralston was known to do that over and over again. An assistant district attorney broke the news to the family, telling them to get ready for a long, long wait. After almost six years and at least eight case delays filed by Ralston, the waiting finally came to an end in a Union County courtroom on Wednesday, with a negotiated plea that allowed Brothers to avoid prison and return home to Ohio. With a terse apology, the 40-year-old who preached sermons from a wheelchair admitted to touching the victim’s breast and vaginal area, pleading guilty to two counts of felony sexual battery on a minor. “Someone I knew and trusted invaded my body and soul,” the now-21-year-old victim said in court, “and in the process tearing me apart … Some days, I don’t even recognize myself or the person I have become as this trauma has shaped me into someone else.” Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jeff Langley said a plea deal for 10 years on probation was the best thing he could do for the victim after the repeated delays in the case. Those delays had so frustrated him that he once vented in open court when Ralston didn’t show up for a scheduled hearing, sending instead a law partner who said they’d forgotten to put the hearing on their calendars and that Ralston was in Atlanta on legislative business. Langley said the case against Brothers would have been much stronger had it been tried three years ago or more. “The jury sees a 21-year-old woman, not that 14-year-old victim,” Langley said. “We were relying on witnesses remembering something that happened in 2012. That makes it difficult on prosecutors. It raises all those questions about how clear are memories.” Asked to comment Wednesday, Ralston said in a statement emailed from his spokesman, “As is often the case in criminal proceedings, the Brothers case was resolved by a negotiated plea agreed to by the District Attorney and my client and accepted in open court.” Langley said the deal forced Brothers to admit wrongdoing in front of the community, while sparing the victim the physical and mental strain of a trial. It also puts Brothers on the sex offender registry, banishes him from the four-county Enotah circuit and bars him from interacting with any female child under the age of 16. Because Brothers got credit for the nearly six years he’s been under house arrest in Ohio, those conditions will only last four years. The victim’s mother, Laurie Wilson, said the family agreed with the plea deal because her daughter can’t handle a trial or a possible litany of appeals. Her daughter suffers seizures, uses oxygen and a feeding tube and has developed thyroid problems and an iron deficiency. “I feel like he got just a slap on the wrist,” Wilson told the AJC on Thursday. “I think that’s what all Ralston’s clients intend to get, which is why they hire him.” It’s only the latest example of the advantage Ralston’s clients may have gained by the years of delay. In May, Gilmer County prosecutors agreed to dismiss the last remaining charges against Derek J. Key, accused a decade ago of sexual misconduct with two 15-year-old boys. In dropping the case, the prosecutor said the victims weren’t cooperating. The Brothers case was also the last of four that Ralston said he would close out before taking on any more clients charged with crimes. He made the pledge in a speech from the House well after an AJC/Channel 2 investigation revealed he perpetually stalled cases for clients accused of such crimes as child abuse, rape, assault, terroristic threats and drunk driving, and for clients embroiled in lawsuits. The law that allowed attorney-lawmakers to delay court appearances has since been amended. The law now allows judges to deny legislative leave delays through a four-part test looking at the nature of the legislative duties and how much the delay would affect the case. Ralston noted that he triggered that change by appointing an advisory panel to examine whether the state law needed to be revised. “Throughout this process, I have honored the two promises I made in February,” Ralston’s emailed statement said. “First, that we would review the legislative leave law and make changes if necessary, and we did. Second, that I would not accept any new criminal cases until the four discussed in the media were resolved – the Brothers case being the last – and they have been.” Ralston has said previously that he broke no laws by delaying cases, that he doesn’t control case calendars and that the justice system moves slow in North Georgia courts anyway. Two complaints with the State Bar of Georgia filed by victims in other cases have accused him of campaigning and fundraising when he told judges he couldn’t come to court; Ralston has defended that practice, too, telling The Augusta Chronicle he’d think about stopping “if George Soros will promise that he will not send any more money into Georgia.” Brothers was indicted in 2013 on charges of rape, statutory rape, two counts of aggravated child molestation, three counts of child molestation and simple assault. The incident happened in October 2012, when he was staying at the family’s home while preaching at North Mt. Zion Church of God in Hiawassee. Brothers has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, court records show. The girl said she got up during the night for a glass of water, and he asked her for a hug, then grabbed her and sexually assaulted her. The victim said in court Wednesday she chooses to forgive Brothers and refuses to “let this person torment me any more with the flashbacks, restless nights and panic attacks. “I know in my heart that the charges on the paper will never compare to what he did to me that night,” she said, “but I hope after all this time I will finally be able to get some peace and move on with my life as a stronger person than I was before.” OUR REPORTING  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported in February that House Speaker David Ralston used the privileges of his office to delay court cases for clients of his private law practice. A state law dating back to 1905 allowed legislators to put off court dates if they notified a judge that their lawmaker duties required them to be elsewhere, and Ralston used the privilege repeatedly for years, keeping clients out of jail and civil complaints from moving forward in courts. An independent review of eight counties by a former FBI agent found that since Ralston became House speaker in 2010, he cited his legislative responsibilities to delay 226 cases a total of 966 times.   Further reporting by the AJC revealed Ralston played a part in expanding the law in 2006 so that legislative leave could be claimed year-round, not just during legislative sessions. The General Assembly amended the law again this year based on recommendations from a Ralston-appointed advisory panel, giving judges the power to overrule legislative leave through a four-part test.

News

  • It's been a major distraction for drivers on Florida’s Turnpike in Osceola County. They don't know if she has a home, but a dog, whom some are now calling Ozzy, certainly has a lot of people watching out for her. >> Read more trending news  Dispatchers at the turnpike’s Traffic Management Center have spent months doing everything they can to catch the dog before she or a driver gets hurt. On Friday, Florida Turnpike officials said she was captured. She is very calm and quiet. There's a whole team of people watching hundreds of cameras along the turnpike and keeping an eye out for anything that may be dangerous for drivers. But consistently since May, in one particular part of the road, they kept seeing the same dog over and over. Road Ranger Jonathon Hester patrols a stretch of the turnpike near the Yeehaw Junction. “Our No. 1 job is safety,' Hester said. He's usually routing drivers around wrecks or helping with a flat tire. But lately, he's been determined to find the furry fugitive. 'This one has just evaded us for a long time and we keep trying to find him,” Hester said. For about two months, dispatchers were seeing the yellow Labrador between mile markers 196 and 205 on the turnpike, headed southbound. 'And just kind of runs up and down the roadway. It's a big distraction for the motorists driving by,” Hester said. “People see it and slam on their brakes.' Officials said they have no idea where she came from. 'It's possible it could've come from a vehicle crash,” Hester said. “A motorist could've been traveling with this dog, and crashed and the dog got scared and ran away.' Because she's been living on the road in Osceola County, they have affectionately named her Ozzy. Osceola County Animal Control let Hester borrow a trap in an effort to catch Ozzy. Now that the dog is caught, they plan to scan Ozzy for a chip to see if she has a home. If not, Ozzy may be up for adoption.
  • The Jacksonville Game Center has been burglarized twice in less than a month with thieves making off with nearly $10,000 worth of Magic the Gathering cards.  >> Read more trending news  Store owners told Action News Jax that both times, the thieves busted through a wall to get in. Hector Ortiz is a regular at the game center. Action News Jax caught up with him as customers and staff were preparing for their Friday night Magic the Gathering tournament. “The place is pretty packed, we have anywhere from 20-plus players,” Ortiz said. “It’s like a second home. A lot of people come to get away from issues.” So, when these crimes occur, Ortiz said the customers take it as a personal attack. “The first time it happened was really heartbreaking,” Ortiz said. Action News Jax first reported three weeks ago when thieves busted a hole in the wall to take more than $5,000 rare Magic the Gathering cards. The owner said they came back again overnight Friday. Surveillance video showed the glow of their flashlights. The owner said this time, they left another hole in the wall and stole more than $3,000 in those same, valuable cards.  He said they busted through the wall at the restaurant next door. Friday, Hunan Wok had a board up in the window where the thieves broke their glass to get in.Ortiz had a message for the thieves. “Just grow up,” Ortiz said. “It’s not necessary. You’re attacking us for a quick buck. Just go out there and get a job, man.
  • A woman is in jail facing felony charges after Clayton County authorities said she allegedly sneaked a firecracker into a courtroom and threatened to blow up the place.  >> Read more trending news  Whitney Jefferies, 32, was arrested Monday night after a judge saw the threat the woman allegedly posted on social media, Channel 2 Action News reported.  Judge Michael Garrett said Jefferies was in the front row in his courtroom. He told Channel 2 she seemed agitated that it was taking so long for her case to be called.  Later, he saw a video she posted on her social media page in which she held up a firecracker and said she was going to blow the courtroom apart, the news station reported.  It is not clear how Jefferies got the firecracker into the courtroom, and Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has not commented on the situation. Deputies went to Jefferies’ condo in Morrow to arrest her, Channel 2 reported. Nobody answered when agents first knocked on her door, according to the news station.However, deputies realized someone was inside the home when a pizza was delivered to the house later that evening, Channel 2 reported.  Deputies went back to Jefferies’ door and brought her out in handcuffs, the news station reported.  Jefferies was booked into the Clayton jail, where she remains held on a $35,000 bond. She face three charges, including making terroristic threats and possession of a destructive device.
  • A Charlotte, North Carolina woman and her Australian boyfriend were murdered while they were traveling the world, officials said. >> Read more trending news  Chynna Deese, 24, and her boyfriend, Lucas Fowler, 23, were found shot and killed on a remote western Canadian highway Monday near their broken down van, WSOC-TV reported. Officials said they were exploring Canadian national parks and heading to Alaska. Police said this does not appear connected to any other crimes. Friday night, WSOC-TV interviewed Chynna's mother Sheila Deese, who said despite not knowing how her daughter died, she's comforted in knowing her daughter and Fowler were together until the end. 'It is a love story, a southern girl goes out of the country, meets this Australian and they were just the same personality,' Sheila Deese said. Canadian Police said they don't know if Deese and Fowler were targeted or if this was random. They said they are working with the FBI to find the couple's killer. 
  • A 77-year-old convicted murderer who was released from prison after being deemed 'too old' to kill again was convicted this week of fatally stabbing a Maine woman. >> Read more trending news  Albert Flick was found guilty Wednesday of killing 48-year-old Kimberly Dobbie in July 2018 outside a Lewiston laundromat. The attack happened in front of Dobbie's 11-year-old twin boys. 'I'm glad the verdict is done and over and I'm glad he'll never be able to walk the streets again,' said Dobbie's friend James Lipps, NBC News reported. This is Flick's second murder conviction. Flick was convicted in the 1979 death of his wife, Sandra. Similar to Dobbie's death, Flick stabbed his wife as her daughter watched, CNN reported. Flick was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 1979 murder. He was released and was released in 2000 after 21 years for good behavior, The Washington Post reported.  By 2010, when he was in his late 60s, Flick had been convicted of assaulting two other women. Despite his record, the judge in the 2010 case sentenced him to four years. “At some point Mr. Flick is going to age out of his capacity to engage in this conduct,” Maine Superior Court Justice Robert E. Crowley said, according to the Portland Press Herald. “And incarcerating him beyond the time that he ages out doesn’t seem to me to make good sense.” Judge Crowley retired in 2010. He hasn't responded to media requests for comment. Flick is scheduled for sentencing August 9. He faces 25 years to life behind bars. “I firmly believe this could have been prevented,” Elsie Clement, whose mother was stabbed to death by Flick in 1979, told the Press Herald last year of Dobbie's death. “There is no reason this man should have been on the streets in the first place, no reason.”
  • Public school students in New Hampshire will be provided with free menstrual products thanks to the passage of a new law. SB 142, signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Chris Sununu, will require public schools to provide feminine hygiene products in women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms in high schools and middle schools starting January 1, The Concord Monitor reported.  >> Read more trending news  “This legislation is about equality and dignity,” Sununu said. “SB 142 will help ensure young women in New Hampshire public schools will have the freedom to learn without disruption – and free of shame, or fear of stigma.” The idea for the law came from 17-year-old Caroline Dillon, a high school student in Rochester, N.H. The high schooler was inspired to act after learning in U.S. History class about 'period poverty,' where those who can't afford feminine hygiene products miss work or school during menstruation. “It was sad to think about,” Dillon told The Monitor. “Girls in middle and high school would never dream of telling somebody that they have to miss school or use socks because they can’t pay for pads.” Dillon approached state Sen. Martha Hennessey with her idea, and Hennesey became a main sponsor of the bill. Educating some lawmakers was initially awkward, Dillon said. Most lawmakers are men, and wanted to avoid words like 'menstruation,' 'tampon' and 'feminine hygiene products,' The Monitor reported. “They would say ‘the thing’ or just try to avoid saying it all together,” Dillon said. “I would say to them, ‘If this makes you uncomfortable, think about how uncomfortable it is to be in this situation yourself. If you can't really picture it yourself, think about any woman in your life: your mom, your daughter, your aunt – think about how uncomfortable she feels – you are in the position to make it so these women don’t have to feel that way.’ ”  Dillon's efforts were ultimately successful. Funding for the new measure will come from school districts' budgets, according to CNN. Districts can partner with nonprofit organizations to provide the feminine hygiene products. Opponents of the bill said its amounts to an unconstitutional unfunded mandate,  USA Today reported. Similar laws currently exist in New York, Illinois and California.