January 20, 2011
House Deals Symbolic Blow By Voting to Quash Health Reform
H.R. 2, legislation to repeal the health care reform law of 2010, was approved by a 245-189 vote in the House on Jan. 19, 2010. BNA reports that
[w]hile the bill is not expected to advance in the Senate, its passage sets the stage for Republicans over the coming months to try to dismantle the health reform law and craft legislative alternatives.
The final vote came at the end of a two-day debate on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in which lawmakers for both parties laid out their arguments for repealing or maintaining the law. Three Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for H.R. 2.
With Senate action on H.R. 2 highly unlikely, House Republicans will try to disrupt implementation of the law in other ways, including attempting to deny funding for it through the appropriations process and by conducting numerous oversight hearings with Obama administration officials.
The House Jan. 20 will consider a resolution (H. Res. 9) instructing committees with health care jurisdiction to begin crafting legislative alternatives to the health care law.
Chairmen of the committees with health care jurisdiction have scheduled a Jan. 20 press briefing to discuss their plans for developing health care legislation and conducting oversight.
January 19, 2011
Seton Hall Law School and Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies to Offer Executive Course in Intellectual Property and Global Public Health in Geneva, Switzerland
Intellectual property issues have come to play an increasingly important role in discussions of national and global health problems. Yet, individuals whose primary expertise is health or diplomacy may find these discussions inaccessible because they lack a sufficient understanding of basic intellectual property concepts and their relationship to global public health. To fill this gap, Seton Hall Law School and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva have joined together to offer an executive course on health-related aspects of intellectual property from a global public health perspective. A key goal of the course will be to develop concrete tools for implementing the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation, and Intellectual Property. Course faculty will include key representatives from the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, academia, industry, and nongovernmental organizations. The course will be held on the Graduate Institute's campus in Geneva, Switzerland on February 16-18, 2011. Further information is available here.
January 18, 2011
Compensating victims of environmental disasters
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill and British Petroleum’s quick efforts to pay for clean-up and compensation for victims may lead many people to falsely conclude that national and international laws operate effectively to make the polluter pay for harm. In truth, clean-up and compensation is rarely accomplished so efficiently, and laws operate to insulate polluters when they disaster occurs in poorer countries.
An obvious illustration is in Nigeria, where oil production facilities have caused 546 million gallons of oil to be spilled into the Niger Delta over the last five decades, at a rate of nearly 11 million gallons per year. The oil comes from operations owned by foreign companies including Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell that operate in the area. While many of the spills are due to sabotage and theft, there are few efforts to enforce laws, or engage in diplomacy to determine the companies’ liability or duties to stop the problems. Shrimp, crab and fish that once fed the local population have disappeared. Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, law and diplomacy have been ignored, and the local people suffer. See the NY Times Niger Delta article.
Victims of India’s Bhopal gas leak disaster In1984 also continue to suffer. Approximately 3,800 people died and several thousand more experienced permanent or partial disabilities when methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. The Supreme Court of India approved the final settlement of $470 million in compensation to India for the victims. In 1994, Union Carbide sold its interest in the plant to another company, and was allowed to do so under the condition that it fund a 500-bed hospital. Since then, there have been many lawsuits in the U.S. and India to provide more relief for victims and punishment for those responsible. But it is widely claimed that the law has failed the victims, as over 6,000 gas-affected patients visit hospitals in Bhopal every day, and according to a Times of India report, massive amounts of human suffering continues with little compensations over 25 years after the event.
Clearly, if the actions of one nation cause harm to another country, public international law can operate. Multilateral and bilateral agreements, conventions and customary laws operate to assign responsibility and liability. For example, international law was used to force Iraq to clean up the massive amounts of oil that it released in Kuwait’s deserts after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1980, with an estimated 60 million cubic meters of contaminated soil still remaining today. A Reuters article reports that Iraq now pays 5 percent of its oil revenues as war reparations, and still owes Kuwait nearly $22 billion in reparations. Here, the law of war reparations was easy to apply: the only issue here is Iraq’s ability to pay it, given its current situation, and Iraq is currently asking to renegotiate its payments.
However, Bhopal and Nigeria illustrate the difficulties in obtaining compensation for harm when private international law is involved. Here, private companies caused damage and relief often must be sought through national courts using national laws. Relief is rarely fair and uniform. Innovative legal strategies are needed, and one, involving the United States Alien Tort Claims Act, will be addressed in a future blog. But suffice to say that differences in national laws mean that compensation for environmental damage caused by private actors needs to be addressed in a global way, and is ripe for International study and action. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the quick steps taken to provide compensation reinforced the advantages of being a victim in the United States, as opposed to being one in Nigeria or India. [MM]
January 17, 2011
99% of Pregnant Women in US Test Positive for Multiple Chemicals, Including Banned Ones
A new study suggests that virtually all pregnant women in the United States have a chemical stew in their bodies which includes some chemicals that have been banned since the 1970s and other chemicals that are known to have negative health effects on the fetus including those used in "common products such as non-stick cookware, processed foods and personal care products." This is the first time the number of chemicals that pregnant women are exposed to in their everyday environments has been assessed. According to ScienceDaily,
[a]nalyzing data for 163 chemicals, researchers detected polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), phenols, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and perchlorate in 99 to 100 percent of pregnant women. Among the chemicals found in the study group were PBDEs, compounds used as flame retardants now banned in many states including California, and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane ( DDT), an organochlorine pesticide banned in the United States in 1972.
Bisphenol A (BPA), which makes plastic hard and clear, and is found in epoxy resins that are used to line the inside of metal food and beverage cans, was identified in 96 percent of the women surveyed. Prenatal exposure to BPA has been linked to adverse health outcomes, affecting brain development and increasing susceptibility to cancer later in life, according to the researchers.
Lead author Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, director of the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, stated,
'Several of these chemicals in pregnant women were at the same concentrations that have been associated with negative effects in children from other studies. In addition, exposure to multiple chemicals that can increase the risk of the same adverse health outcome can have a greater impact than exposure to just one chemical,' said Woodruff [who is] an associate professor in the UCSF Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences.
Exposure to chemicals during fetal development has been shown to increase the risk of adverse health consequences, including preterm birth and birth defects, childhood morbidity, and adult disease and mortality according to the research team. In addition, chemicals can cross the placenta and enter the fetus, and in other studies, a number of chemicals measured in maternal urine and serum have been found in amniotic fluid, cord blood and meconium, they state.