Federal Investigators Say Design Flaws Caused the DuPont Accident

Categories: Public Health

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Federal investigators in Houston on Thursday shared some more details about the incident that killed four workers at DuPont's LaPorte facility back in November.

Investigators say that a design flaw in DuPont's pipes and valves screwed up the ventilation system. Liquids would routinely build up in the ventilation system and workers would have to go in and manually drain the vents, according to the Associated Press. That process of draining the vents would expose the workers to whatever chemicals were trapped inside, including methyl mercaptan, a highly toxic substance often used in insecticides

In the incident that killed four employees, the supply line had been plugged. While workers were trying to unstop the line, the following happened, as U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso explained in written testimony before a Senate joint committee back in December:

"On November 15, 2014, there was a release of methyl mercaptan, a highly toxic and volatile liquid, which DuPont itself has estimated at 23,000 pounds - a very significant quantity. Odors of the chemical were reportedly discernible many miles from the plant. Four workers - including operators and would-be rescuers - perished inside the methomyl-production building where the release originated."

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Texas's New First Lady Is Heading Up a Pro-Life Rally. Because of Course She Is.

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First Lady Cecilia Abbott is getting down to business right quick.

We admit we've been curious about what it would be like. While everybody and their dog could see that newly anointed Gov. Greg Abbott would essentially be like a grumpier Rick Perry with worse hair, things were really up in the air about our new first lady, Cecilia Abbott. What would the first Latina to hold the spot of governor's wife in the great state of Texas choose to do with her power? The options seemed limitless and anything seemed possible.

Well, that ended fast. While her husband is pretty much living up to expectations since taking office this week, Cecilia Abbott has already gone and surprised us by signing on to headline a massive pro-life (aka anti-abortion) rally in Austin on Saturday. The rally is supposedly being held to "commemorate" the 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which made access to abortions a constitutional right, although we're betting this rally isn't exactly about celebrating a woman's right to choose.

Anyway, at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow thousands of people (according to a press release) will gather and then the whole group is going to march through the streets of Austin to wind up at the steps of the Capitol Building. And once there, Cecilia Abbott will be the headliner.


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The Fifth Circuit Is Set to Hear the Texas Abortion Law Case

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Photo by Francisco Montes

After the holiday breather the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is getting back into the ring this month to grapple with Texas abortion law once again.

Specifically, the Fifth will be wading into the constitutionality of House Bill 2. Last year, District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the law was unconstitutional and the state has been fighting ever since to prove that the law -- which, if allowed to go into effect, will shutter most of the abortion clinics in Texas -- is in fact totally constitutional.

For those with short memories, HB 2 was slammed through the Texas legislature back in 2013. (Former gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis rose to national prominence when she filibustered the first attempt to get the law passed in the Lege.) The law required all abortion clinics to become certified as ambulatory surgical centers and required all abortion clinic doctors to obtain admitting privileges with a nearby hospital, meaning this would basically close all but a handful of the clinics in the state.


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Texas Is Willing to Close State Schools, Sending Profoundly Mentally Disabled Persons Into the Community

Categories: Public Health

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Photo by Max Burkhalter
Louise Abt Clay says her son Walt Wingo is safest at the Richmond school.
Walt Wingo is a 55-year-old severely retarded man who has lived in state institutions in Texas since he was four years old. He's flown on airplanes, dined at country clubs, seen countless rodeos and circuses, walked on the beach, celebrated holidays with his mother and visited his father in Dallas in the spring one last time before his dad died. His mother describes Walt as "verbal and very alert, like an enthusiastic five-year-old."

Since 1977, he's lived at the Richmond State Supported Living Center in Fort Bend County, where he's surrounded by friends and cushioned by daily activities. The parameters of his world, though, have diminished in recent years, despite the efforts of his very determined 75-year-old mother, Louise Abt Clay. Thanks to what Clay says was a botched spinal surgery in Galveston in 2008, her son became a quadriplegic and began losing his sight. He spent three months in a long-term acute-care hospital in Sugar Land where, his mother says, a doctor asked her if she wanted to turn her son over to hospice care.

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Watch Out; Those Ecstasy Pills You're About to Swallow May Actually Be Meth in Disguise

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HCSO

You should probably think twice before ingesting those blue and yellow or purple (illicit) pills you scored on the Houston streets recently. While the dude slangin' on the corner may have told you those colorful tabs were ecstasy, it may actually be meth in disguise.

Deputies with the Harris County Sheriff's Office shut down a couple of major drug labs in northwest Harris County Monday, where investigators say pill manufacturers were whipping up methamphetamine pills but disguising them to look like ecstasy. Not awesome at all.

According to the HCSO, deputies obtained voluntary consent to enter a warehouse on West 34th Street -- which was located right next to a daycare and a church, mind you -- and discovered that it was being used as a major drug-manufacturing lab.

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The Sick Untouched by the Affordable Care Act Turn to Houston's San José Clinic

Categories: Public Health

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Courtesy of San Jose Clinic
Jason Villareal goes over his treatment with San José Clinic's Dr. Sherri Onylego.
Just after midnight on January 1, 2011, Jason Villareal and his wife were driving home from a church service when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver. The damage was massive.

"My wife broke her right foot. I was knocked unconscious. I had a shattered right foot, heel and a broken left arm. My ribs were all broken, displaced and my aorta had came out of my heart. It had severed," he says.

Doctors had to resuscitate him twice at Ben Taub Hospital, Villareal says. "I was in ICU for 20 days. I had nine surgeries. I was out of work for a year." He had to use a walker to get around.

Fortunately, he was a longtime employee of his company, which produces lift equipment. "I was disabled and left with a deformity in my right leg and right foot. They still wanted me to come back. They gave me a lot of accommodations; they understood. If I had to leave early or come in late, it didn't bother them." And equally fortunately, he had health insurance.

But then another company bought out his employer. "I got laid off November 30 of 2012." And because it was the end of the month, on the day his job was terminated, he also lost health insurance coverage on the spot.

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Blood in the Streets: Harris County Suing Texas Farm Fresh Halal Over Alleged Violations

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Photo by Dianna Wray
The Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meat

After more than two years of alleged violations, Harris County is suing Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meat.The Harris County Attorney's Office filed a lawsuit against Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meats last Friday requesting an injunction and civil penalties against Irfan Sheikh, the owner of the slaughterhouse. The suit alleges that Sheikh has discharged industrial waste into state waters, improperly stored animal parts and discharged contaminated storm waters without a permit. And according to the recorded violations, this has been going on for years.

It started with blood in the streets.

Well, bloody water, technically. On Dec. 31, 2012, someone called in to complain about a slaughter house, Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meats, located on 13221 Old Richmond Road out on the very edge of Harris County. Bloody water was filling up the parking lot and slopping into the streets, the caller reported, according to court documents.

A Harris County Pollution Control investigator went out to the scene and "observed blood and smelled a metallic odor" in a ditch in front of a property just east of Texas Farm Fresh Halal. There must have been about 500 gallons of blood, she figured, according to court records. She noticed a small pool of blood, just a few inches wide, next to the fence bordering the two properties, with a 25-foot trail connecting the small pool of blood to the larger amount in the ditch, according to court documents. And this was just the beginning.

The investigator continued following the gory trail, tracking pools of blood to the animal holding pens and then to the kill floor. She watched the blood flowing from the site at a rate of about a quarter of a gallon per minute. And then a violation was issued against Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meats. A couple days later the investigators came back and managers of the company said that the kill floor waste is set up to flow into a septic tank, but the septic tank was clogged, hence the blood in the streets.


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The Flu Is on the Rise in Texas, Just in Time for the Holidays

Categories: Public Health

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CDC Weekly Influenza Map

Should you want to avoid some Thanksgiving awkwardness with the family, well, just go out into the general public and touch a bunch of stuff. Flu cases are up in Texas, a bit earlier than normal, according to the CDC, which means there's still hope for a valid excuse for skipping out on the turkey talk next week.

According to the most recent weekly survey data from the CDC, Texas is one of the states seeing a significant uptick in flu cases. About 8.8 percent of the folks heading to the doctor with flu-like symptoms are testing positive for the virus, which is quite a bit higher than other regions are reporting.

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The Galveston Plague of 1920

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Courtesy of the Blocker History of Medicine Collections, Moody Medical Library
Galveston officials fought the 1920 plague by declaring war on rats and poisoning thousands of them.

While Ebola is the most recent incredibly unexpected disease to show up in Texas, it isn't anywhere near the most deadly. Long before anyone even knew Ebola existed, the city of Galveston grappled with an outbreak of bubonic plague.

When the first few patients started getting sick in June 1920, bubonic plague was such a foreign possibility that most doctors in the town didn't even consider it, according to reports from the time. It was only after the first patient, a 17-year-old boy, died that tests confirmed he'd had plague.

The disease sprang up in four different Gulf ports at almost the same time, including Galveston, according to a report published in 1921 by Dr. Mark Boyd and Dr. T.W. Kemmerer, the doctors who ran Galveston's plague laboratories. The timing indicated that there was a common source for the disease, but they were never able to figure out what the source was.


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Convicted Riverside CEO Tells His Side of the Story

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Photo by Susan Du
Earnest Gibson III, former CEO of Riverside General Hospital, is in the process of appealing his conviction.

It's been two years since FBI agents burst into the Third Ward office of Riverside General Hospital's longtime CEO, Earnest Gibson III, and accused him conspiring to scam Medicare and Medicaid out of $158 million. Judge Lee Rosenthal ordered Gibson not to discuss Riverside business or speak to Riverside colleagues, so his side of the story went unheard. But since a jury convicted him on October 20, he's now filing a motion for a new trial and firmly maintaining his innocence as he awaits sentencing.

Federal prosecutors accused Gibson and others of paying illegal kickbacks to group homes owners to send their patients to Riverside so Riverside could then bill the government for medical services they it never intended to deliver. The hospital claimed to employ marketers who were really acting as patient bounty hunters, prosecutors said.

"The former president of Riverside Hospital, his son, and their co-conspirators systematically defrauded Medicare, treating mentally ill and disabled Americans like chits to be traded and cashed out to pad their own pockets," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell in a statement. "For over six years, the Gibsons and their co-conspirator stuck taxpayers with millions in hospital bills, purportedly for intensive psychiatric treatment. But the 'treatment' was a sham - some patients just watched television all day."

Gibson, speaking out against his conviction, claims prosecutors and their witnesses took the jury for a ride. He says the government's witnesses were all confirmed criminals who stood to gain from falsely accusing him.

Gibson says he's rather "go down to Guantanamo Bay and be waterboarded to the point of death" than claim that Riverside ever paid for patients. "I want the jury to remember that, that one day I may be dead and gone, but it's gonna come up. Somebody will come out and tell the truth."

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