FDA investigates vaping and seizures


The Food and Drug Administration announced on Wednesday that it will investigate dozens of reports of seizures after using electronic cigarettes in the last decade.

At least 35 people who actively vape, mostly teens and young adults, reported suffering seizures to the FDA since 2010. Seizures, convulsions, vomiting and brain injuries are all known side effects of nicotine poisoning, according to NBC News.

“We can’t yet say for certain that e-cigarettes are causing these seizures,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in Wednesday’s statement. “As a public health agency, it’s our job to communicate about potential safety concerns associated with the products we regulate.”

According to USA Today, federal data shows that e-cigarette use was up 78% among high school students and 48% among middle school students from 2017 to 2018. Popular vaping products can be highly addictive, many containing a significantly higher dose of nicotine than traditional cigarettes

“The FDA is committed to monitoring this issue closely and taking additional steps as necessary to protect the public, especially our nation’s youth,” said Gottlieb. “We will continue to provide updates as more is learned.”

This story received an extensive amount of coverage, as expected from a pervasive issue that affects youth in particular. As more is learned about the health effects of these products, media outlets fulfill their role in distributing the information, which can influence societal patterns.

Deadly floods swamp Iran


Flash floods in 20 of Iran’s 31 provinces have killed at least 24 people and injured hundreds more earlier this week, according to emergency services.

Days of “unprecedented” rain have caused rivers to overflow and engulf cities and villages across the country. Video footage on Twitter shows people clinging to lampposts as currents sweep through streets with massive debris.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his condolences to the people of Iran and expanded government-led relief efforts, which will be supported by the United Nations.

The torrential rainfall was at times equivalent to half of the average annual levels within 24 hours, according to CBS News, which is highly unusual for the country that suffered decades of drought until 2018.

“Climate change is forcing itself on our country,” Energy Minister Reza Ardekanian told Tasnim news agency. “These unprecedented floods in our country are because of climate change worldwide.”

Coverage of the floods in Iran adds to the continuing narrative of increasing natural disasters around the world as a result of climate change. Although the story would receive more attention in the U.S. if a Western country was devastated, social media allows Americans to better visualize of the extent of the tragedy.

Airline cancels $4.9 billion Boeing order


Indonesia’s national airline Garuda cancelled a $4.9 billion order of Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger jets after the model suffered two fatal crashes in less than five months.

This move follows a worldwide grounding of Max 8s in response to the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which killed all 157 people on board and Lion Air Flight 610, which killed all 189 people on board. Officials are investigating whether or not Boeing’s changes to the model’s flight control system played a role, according to CNN.

“Continuing the Max order does not benefit Garuda,” Garuda spokesperson, Ikhsan Rosan, told The New York Times. “Our passengers, psychologically, they don’t trust flying with Max anymore. They often asked during booking what type of aircraft they would be flying on.”

Garuda sent a letter to Boeing on March 14 requesting the withdrawal of their order, but acknowledges that it will be difficult to proceed since the agreement has already been signed. Garuda and Boeing executives plan to meet to discuss the cancellation request.

Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, said in a statement this week that the company is working to update its software and “taking actions to fully ensure the safety of the 737 Max.”

The resonating effects of the two Max 8 crashes have been covered across media platforms, including stories regarding the families of the victims, the investigation on the cause of the crashes, and the minimal training given to pilots before flying the model. Recent coverage by The New York Times also revealed how some of Boeing’s safety features on the Max 8 are sold only as extras.

Oil leak threatens major reef


A grounded cargo ship in the Solomon Islands is leaking metric tons of oil near the largest coral atoll in the world, threatening a major ecological crisis.

The Solomon Trader was carrying more than 700 metric tons of heavy fuel oil when it ran aground in in Kangava Bay at Rennell Island, said the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Tuesday. About 100 metric tons have spilled so far, already spreading five to six kilometers and washing up on shore according to DFAT.

“There are dead fish and crabs and all that,” Loti Yates, the director of the Solomon Islands Disaster Management Office, told Radio NZ. “The fumes that is coming out from the oil is also affecting communities and I just had a report it’s also impacting on the chicken and birds.”

The southern third of Kangava Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, encompassing a coral atoll treasured in the South Pacific. Australian officials are working with the Solomon Islands in containing the environmental damage.

The ship’s owner, King Trader Ltd., and insurer, Korea Protection and Indemnity Club, offered their “sincere apology” to the people of the Solomon Islands in a statement on Tuesday. The companies are now working on transferring the remaining oil off of the ship, deploying oil spill booms, and cleaning along the shoreline, the statement said.

Despite the international weight of this story, I don’t think that domestic news media outlets devoted as much attention to it as it deserved. If the event took place near a location that receives more U.S. tourists, coverage would’ve been much heavier and reporters would have had included more sources like the citizens directly impacted and experts who could provide insight on the ecological impact the leak is expected to have.

Amtrak train freed from snow


An Amtrak train with 183 passengers began moving again on Tuesday morning after being stranded in the Oregon mountains for more than 36 hours.

A winter storm that downed trees and left a foot of snowfall forced the Coast Starlight train to halt Sunday evening. Crew members decided to keep the passengers onboard as crews worked through Monday and into Tuesday to clear the track, according to Amtrak and Union Pacific.

“With more than a foot of heavy snow and numerous trees blocking the track, we made every decision in the best interest of the safety of our customers during the unfortunate sequence of events,” Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek said.

Food, heat and electricity were provided to the passengers as the train was being extricated from the snow and debris. One passenger told CNN that the travelers remained in relatively high spirits and developed a sense of camaraderie as the hours went on.

The train is now heading towards Eugene, a town about 45 miles away, after more than a day of being stationary on the track. According to Fox News, the Red Cross is waiting at the station to aid the passengers, although no one onboard was injured.

This story has received extensive coverage since the train was first stranded, multiple news media outlets providing developments as the amount of time it was stuck drew on. What I found interesting was the way that social media was integrated into the articles, Facebook posts giving a deeper understanding of the experience that the passengers underwent.

Uranium found in park’s museum


Buckets of uranium ore stored at the Grand Canyon National Park museum may have exposed park visitors and workers to radiation beyond the federal limit for nearly two decades, according to Elston Stephenson, the park’s Safety, Health and Wellness manager.

Stephenson told CNN that his requests for the National Park Service and Department of the Interior to warn tourists and employees of their possible exposure went ignored for months last summer. With a lack of response from officials, he sent an email to all park staff on Feb. 4 informing them of the situation.

“If you were in the Museum Collections Building (bldg 2C) between the year 2000 and June 18, 2018, you were ‘exposed’ to uranium by OSHA’s definition,” said the email. He also clarified that the exposure doesn’t mean imminent health issues. “It merely means essentially that there was uranium on the site and you were in its presence … and by law we are supposed to tell you.”

Stephenson contacted a park service radiation specialist when he found out that three buckets of ore had been stored next to a taxidermy exhibit for 18 years. According to the specialist’s report, testing results were positive for elevated radioactivity near the buckets, but elsewhere remained at background levels.

The park service decided to dispose of the ore in a nearby uranium mine, according to the report. The Department of the Interior says that the National Park Service is investigating the situation and working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“Uranium naturally occurs in the rocks of Grand Canyon National Park. A recent survey of the Grand Canyon National Park’s museum collection facility found radiation levels at ‘background’ levels,” the department said in a statement provided to CNN. “There is no current risk to the public or Park employees.”

From a reporting standpoint, I think that this story doesn’t have deep enough coverage for its scale. For the museum of a national park that receives approximately five million visitors yearly, further investigation should be conducted regarding the origin of the uranium buckets and the reason why it took nearly two decades to remove them. The fact that schoolchildren would sit near the buckets regularly on tours and park employees and high school interns would work near them daily increases the urgency for more knowledge on the health effects of exposure.

An analysis of the manner in which the situation was handled from a management standpoint should also be covered, considering the poor communication and lack of acknowledgement by the National Park Service and Department of the Interior when initial reports emerged.

Butterfly group fights border wall


The North American Butterfly Association is seeking to block the Trump administration from constructing its border wall through the National Butterfly Center in Southern Texas, pleading to a federal judge that the project interferes with its property rights.

The 100-acre wildlife facility is set the be cut in half by one of the first new wall projects being constructed under President Donald Trump, according to NPR. The project and its related construction, already approved and funded as part of last fiscal year’s budget, would cause “irreparable harm” to the sanctuary, said Marianna Trevino Wright, director of the facility.

“The issue is not whether butterflies can fly over a wall, but whether private property should be seized and destroyed for a project that does not serve the greater good or enhance national security,” the National Butterfly Center posted in a GoFundMe in December.

The case takes place in the midst of a looming national emergency Trump is expected to declare in an effort to finance for his proposed wall. He has met strong opposition to his border security plans in congress, resulting in the longest government shutdown in history last month.

Heavy coverage of both the Congressional standoff and public debate over the U.S.-Mexico border wall has proliferated in the news media as Trump continues to push for its construction. This story is yet another in the line of related stories that shows the intense polarity regarding his plans, now from the perspective of conservationists and private property owners. The Hill calls it “the ugly political reality of the wall: Even if Trump wins wall money in Washington, the administration will still face an array of challenges to getting anything built.”

Measles spread in Washington state


An outbreak of measles in the Pacific Northwest is averaging more than one new case a day according to state health officials, intensifying their push for parents to vaccinate their children.

On Jan. 22, a public health emergency was declared in Clark County, Wash., a metropolitan area near Portland, Ore., with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. Most of the 49 confirmed cases as of Monday were unvaccinated children under the age of 10, according to Clark County officials.

The highly contagious disease has reemerged in anti-vaccination hot spots over the past several years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 10 states have reported measles cases in 2019, mostly in and around cities where families choose not to vaccinate for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.“If you have a population that is unvaccinated, it’s like throwing a match into a can of gasoline,” Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s public health director, told The New York Times. “And immunization rates have been dropping.”

The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is 93 percent effective at preventing the virus according to epidemiologists, and measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 as a result of its high effectiveness. Before the vaccine’s introduction in 1963, there were four million measles cases in the U.S. each year, with its victims experiencing high fever, cough, and signature rash. Untreated cases can lead to encephalitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain that can cause permanent neurological damage.

Seventeen states, many of which are now experiencing outbreaks, allow parents to exempt their children from vaccination for unspecified personal reasons. Some parents who choose to take part in the anti-vaccination movement are concerned that vaccines can trigger autism, a theory debunked by medical professionals according to The New York Times.

Multiple media outlets have been covering the increasingly frequent outbreaks across the U.S. and world as they arise. Top stories include the 64 reported cases in New York’s Orthodox Jew community in late 2018 and reports of the highest level of measles in Europe since the 1990s. The extensive coverage is an indicator of the overall breakdown of “herd immunity” to measles.

The New York Times has featured articles explaining the science and importance of vaccines, and CBS News further explained the ineffectiveness of various home remedies like the over-consumption of Vitamin A.

In addition to emphasizing statistics that strongly encourage vaccination and referring to sources criticizing weak vaccination policy, these stories are an example of news companies using their influence as a catalyst for political change, adding pressure to state legislators to take a stronger stance on the issue.

Another Canadian diplomat falls ill


The Canadian government has confirmed another case of mysterious symptoms affecting one of its embassy employees in Havana. The government released a statement on Wednesday that it plans to withdraw half of its diplomatic staff stationed in Cuba as a result.

The unknown ailment has stricken dozens of American and Canadian government employees since early 2017, who suffered unusual symptoms including dizziness, nausea, insomnia, ringing in the ears, and occasional memory loss. A total of 14 Canadian employees, spouses and dependents have fallen ill.

Canada pulled all nonessential staff and family members of diplomats in April 2018 in response to the onset of symptoms. According to a government statement, it now plans to cut its diplomats from 16 to eight.

“The health, safety and security of our diplomatic staff and their families remain our priority,” the statement said. “The Canadian government continues to investigate the potential causes of the unusual health symptoms … to date, no cause has been identified.”

According to the U.S. State Department, 26 Americans have suffered from a similar illness. Inner-ear damage was discovered in some of the afflicted Americans upon medical examination, but similar to Canada, the United States has yet to determine a cause.

The United States has also reduced the staff stationed at its embassy in Cuba to about two dozen. The Trump administration warned against traveling to the country in October 2017, after expelling over a dozen Cuban diplomats.

“This behavior favors those who in the United States use this issue to attack and denigrate Cuba,” Josefina Vidal, Cuban ambassador to Canada, told CNN. She said Cuba is cooperating in the investigation and is committed to maintaining good relations.

Many news outlets have been consistently following this story for more than a year and covering developments in the case as they arise; The New York Times in particular has covered when 25th U.S. embassy employee fell ill in June 2018, the discovery of inner-ear damage in diplomats in December 2018, as well as the initial withdrawal of nonessential Canadian personnel and the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from the U.S.

Related articles speculating the potential cause of the maladies have also been published, including a theory that a kind of microwave weapon may have been deployed against the diplomats or that two scientists suggest a loud species of cricket found in Cuba is responsible for their neurological symptoms.

The Canadian government said there is no evidence that Canadian travelers are at risk, and that its embassy will continue to function with minimal effect to its services.