Factory closings linked to 85% spike in U.S. opioid overdoses, says study

Researchers examined data on overdoses in 112 counties throughout industrial areas of the U.S. south and Midwest from 1999 to 2016.

Loss of automobile-manufacturing jobs has been deadly for Americans at risk of opioid addiction, according to a new study. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, linked car plant closures to an 85% increase in fatal opioid overdoses in recent years.

Researchers examined data on overdoses in 112 counties throughout industrial areas of the U.S. south and Midwest from 1999 to 2016. During this time span, plant closures affected 29 counties; no plant closures occurred in the other 83. Within five years of any plant closure, the affected county’s overdose rate surged to 8.6 deaths per 100,000 people–or 85%–on average.

The biggest increases were among white men ages 18-34, followed by white men in the 35-65 age bracket, according to the study. It cited the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau as its main sources of data.

“These findings highlight the potential importance of eroding economic opportunity as a factor in the US opioid overdose crisis,” the authors wrote.

Study co-author Atheendar Venkataramani, assistant professor in the health policy division of the Perelman School of Medicine, told reporters that he and colleagues had been interested for some years in the impact of economic security on personal health. He said that a plant closure can severely alter a person’s outlook on the future, which in turn may cause his or her mental well-being to suffer and put the person at a greater risk of substance abuse.

Venkaratamani recommends that health-care providers and public health agencies work on more targeted screenings for substance abuse and deploying rapid treatment solutions. He also advised public officials at the local, state, and national levels to pursue policies for helping areas affected by economic or social change to become more resilient.

NASA’s moon mission on hold due to coronavirus

The hardware for the SLS and Orion are being placed in storage, so that work can resume once the virus threat has subsided.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused NASA to suspend work on the launch system and space vehicle that it has been developing for an upcoming crewed mission to the Moon. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced March 19 that the agency’s Michoud assembly facility and Stennis Space Center are shutting down because of rising numbers of cases in their local areas.

The White House had tasked NASA with sending a crewed flight to the Moon in 2024. It would be the first crew to reach the Moon since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

Development teams at the two NASA facilities had been constructing and testing the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion module, both of which will be components in this future mission: The SLS will launch the crew to space, and the module will transport them to lunar orbit. But engineers said that this recent the coronavirus-related work suspension makes it exceedingly difficult for NASA to hold to that timetable.

“It’s just incredibly humbling,” Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT, told the Atlantic. “Because we think we’re so great, right? We can launch all these spacecraft. We’re just so powerful. And now we’re just basically knocked into a standstill.”

The hardware for the SLS and Orion are being placed in storage, so that work can resume once the virus threat has subsided. NASA has also postponed a meeting of the National Space Council, chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence, which was to take place March 24 and was to be a discussion about NASA’s moon mission plans.

Air pollution is down, due to Coronavirus

The overall effect represents the “largest-scale experiment ever” in what reducing industrial emissions could do for our planet.

The pandemic that has killed more than 30,000 people across the globe has indirectly caused a significant drop in air pollution worldwide, according to European Space Agency satellite images. The images show reductions in smog throughout Europe and Asia, which researchers attribute to widespread shutdowns in industrial activity.

The overall effect represents the “largest-scale experiment ever” in what reducing industrial emissions could do for our planet, said Paul Monks, professor of air pollution at the University of Leicester. He suggested that the resulting lower pollution offers a glimpse at life in a future low-carbon economy.

“Not to denigrate the loss of life, but this might give us some hope from something terrible. To see what can be achieved,” Monks said.

The images came from the ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite and showed that levels of nitrogen dioxide levels over European and Asian cities and industrial areas were markedly lower over the last six weeks than they were in the same timespan last year.

Nitrogen dioxide is emitted from cars, power plants, and other industrial processes, and researchers think that it may aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma. Monks suggested that the reduced pollution may bring some near-term benefits for human respiratory health, even though it would not offset the greater loss of life from the disease.

And while it is not a greenhouse gas, it is a byproduct of the same human activities that are responsible for much of humanity’s carbon footprint. So less of this gas could also mean that greenhouse-gas emissions are down as well, according to researchers.

This may be a slow year for wind energy

However, that growth may stall due to not enough transmission lines, the report also found.

Wind power grew markedly in 2019, but experts expect much slower going for the industry this year. A report by the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry trade group, concluded that 2020 will see less growth, owing mostly to insufficient infrastructure.

Global wind-energy capacity grew by 60 gigawatts last year, representing a 10% increase, which is its second-highest annual growth ever, according to the report. The report noted especially strong expansion in China and the United States, and added that wind is now one of the cheapest sources of electricity, and it costs less per unit of power to build and maintain wind turbines than it does to fuel a fossil-fuel plant.

However, that growth may stall due to not enough transmission lines, the report also found. It indicated that U.S. wind generators will need approximately 1,200 miles of new transmission lines to effectively feed their communities’ energy needs, and U.S. federal investment for transmission capacity needs to grow first.

The report foresees single-digit growth this year, and a stable market of slow growth for the next four.

The report does not attribute this year’s anticipated industry slowdown to coronavirus—it was published in January before the virus went global. But the pandemic has caused disruptions in many other industries, and the association states in a recent press release states that the wind industry may suffer further from it as well.

“This forecast will undoubtedly be impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, due to disruptions to global supply chains and project execution in 2020. However, it is too soon to predict the extent of the virus’s impact on the wider global economy and energy markets,” the release reads.

Chinese hacking surges as Coronavirus pandemic unfolds

Many of the world’s industries are slowing down amid the Coronavirus crisis, but some cybercriminals are not.

Many of the world’s industries are slowing down amid the Coronavirus crisis, but some cybercriminals are not, several U.S. cybersecurity firms warn. They report increased activity from hacking groups linked to China since the international outbreak of coronavirus earlier this year.

One firm, FireEye Inc., stated in a report that it has detected a surge in cyber-espionage by a suspected Chinese group dating back to early January, when the pathogen was beginning to expand beyond China’s borders. The report dubbed the group “APT41” and indicated that its hacking activity began on January 20 and targeted more than 75 of FireEye’s customers, which include manufacturers, nonprofit groups, healthcare organizations, and media companies, among others.

It added that APT41 took advantage of certain flaws in software developed by Cisco, Citrix, and others to try to hack multiple companies’ networks in the United States, Canada, Britain, Mexico, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and more than a dozen other countries.

APT41’s activity was “one of the broadest campaigns by a Chinese cyber espionage actor we have observed in recent years,” according to the report.

It’s also a departure from normal cybercrime trends, noted John Hultquist, FireEye’s head of analysis. He said that hacking activity linked to China has generally become “more focused” and that widespread attacks on many targets such as this are rare.

FirEye isn’t the only firm sounding alarms over Chinese hackers. Matt Webster, a researcher with Secureworks, Dell Technologies’ cybersecurity arm, told Reuters that his team has seen increased activity from Chinese hacking groups in the last several weeks.