Having exposed the nation’s toxic waters, The New York Times‘ Charles Duhigg has now turned his attention to the Safe Drinking Water Act. Duhigg has found that “since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.”
The Associated Press has analyzed a decade of Environmental Protection Agency data and found that tests at thousands of American schools had shown the drinking water to be contaminated, with the water at some schools hitting unsafe levels in as many as 20 separate inspections. As part of the investigation, the AP provided an interactive map with which you can search and sort violations in your area. Although some children have become sick and some schools have resorted to bottled water, the AP found that the contaminants are generally not present in levels that would harm adults.
In the post, Reinhardt systematically runs through insurance heavyweight WellPoint’s income statement and, not only explains exactly how major insurers earn their money, but also teaches the reader how to deduce all of this from a publicly available income statement.
Reinhardt promises another blog posting this week that will “explore how the add-ons for marketing, administration and profits on top of expected outlays for health care to set the insurance premiums can be astonishingly high for individually sold policies. Up to half the premium can go for these non-medical items.”
The New York Times‘ Reed Abelson writes that the excise tax on premium health insurance plans that Montana Sen. Max Baucus is counting on to pay for about a quarter of his $774 billion reform proposal will hit urban families and union workers as hard as it will Goldman Sachs executives. Proportionally, in fact, union workers with less disposable income will suffer even more from the tax, which hits any plan that costs more than $8,000 for individuals or $21,000 for families, than high-flying white collar types.
The current national average for family policies is around $13,375, and only 1/10 of them would fall under the tax. But, Abelson reports, the pace of health premium inflation is such that far more policies will be caught in the tax net by the time the excise would go into effect in 2013.
The tax is based on the theory that it will help control health care costs by discouraging insurers from offering fancy plans that cover too many unnecessary tests and procedures. AHCJ immediate past president Trudy Lieberman writes for CJR.org that even this attempt to rein in costs will likely just increase them further as insurers pass the costs onto customers and the weaker coverage and corresponding rise in underinsurance forces folks faced with catastrophic conditions into financial difficulty or bankruptcy.
According to Duhigg, “runoff from all but the largest farms is essentially unregulated by many of the federal laws intended to prevent pollution and protect drinking water sources” and regulation and enforcement are instead left up to local authorities, who often lack the necessary resources.
Duhigg makes the scope of the contamination clear:
“Agricultural runoff is the single largest source of water pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the E.P.A. An estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.”
In the end, Duhigg seems to indicate that the only real hope of reigning in this contamination lies in overcoming powerful, entrenched ag interests and giving the E.P.A. broader powers to regulate agriculture.
In the latest installment of The New York Times‘ Toxic Waters series, Charles Duhigg says that, for this investigation, the Times “compiled a national database of water pollution violations that is more comprehensive than those maintained by states or the E.P.A.” (That database can be found here.)
In that database, Duhigg found serious violations across the country, from wells tainted by wet manure used to fertilize fields to seashores soiled by runoff from overwhelmed sewer systems, and discovered that while 60 percent of Clean Water Act violations were judged to be serious, only 3 percent “resulted in fines or significant punishment.”
The investigation found that agencies at every level of government had contributed to what amounts to a national failure to enforce the Clean Water Act. The causes of this failure are every bit as diverse as its manifestations, with lack of agency funding and political pressure from powerful industries being the worst culprits.
Duhigg’s story touches on points across the country, but focuses on the particularly egregious violations of West Virginia mining companies. He also details the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the investigation, as well as its plans for correcting the systematic problems revealed by the Times‘ database.