A federal judge in one of the lawsuits between pharmaceutical giant AG Bayer, which bought agrochemical giant Monsanto in 2018, and plaintiffs who claim its Roundup herbicide caused their cancer has slashed an $80 million payout, Reuters reported on Monday.
According to Reuters, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco found that while evidence supports a $5.27 million in compensatory damages owed by Bayer to Edwin Hardeman, punitive damages should be reduced from $75 million to $20 million. Chhabria wrote that Monsanto “deserves to be punished” for ignoring safety concerns and its conduct was “reprehensible.” But he also found the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages was too high, “particularly in the absence of evidence showing intentional concealment of a known or obvious safety risk.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that while Chhabria found mixed scientific evidence as to whether Roundup exposure is a risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he wrote “the evidence at trial painted the picture of a company focused on attacking or undermining the people who raised concerns.” The paper noted that while Bayer has lost two additional cases involving Roundup (in one case involving a jury award of over $2 billion) and is facing thousands of others, it has had success limiting payouts:
Bayer similarly succeeded in having a trial judge slash the first Roundup jury verdict in the case of a San Francisco Bay Area groundskeeper, to $78.5 million from $289.2 million. The company is now appealing that slimmed-down amount. Bayer is asking a judge to reduce a third jury verdict, also in Northern California, of more than $2 billion awarded in May to a couple who used Roundup at their home.
In Mr. Hardeman’s trial, unlike in the other two, jurors first weighed whether science showed a link between Roundup and his non-Hodgkin lymphoma before turning to the question of Monsanto’s liability… The trio of jury verdicts and 13,000 additional claims tying Roundup to cancer have sent German-based Bayer into turmoil. Its shares have lost over 30% in value over the past year as investors worry the legal battle could take years to resolve and end up costing Bayer billions.
According to Reuters, Chhabria emphasized that he was required to reduce the punitive damages due to precedent set by the Supreme Court, but he felt the jury’s original award was reasonable.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) deemed Roundup’s key ingredient, glyphosate, a “probable carcinogen” in 2015—a stance supported by a study this year finding glyphosate exposure was associated with significantly higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hardeman says that he used the herbicide on a large property north of San Francisco for over two decades.
Monsanto insists that Roundup is safe, but court documents have shown it had a hand in overseeing supposedly “independent” evaluations of its safety. The Environmental Protection Agency’s official position is also that Roundup is safe when used according to label instructions, though an EPA official formerly responsible for evaluating its safety has faced allegations of an suspiciously cozy relationship with Monsanto.
That said, there is disagreement on how much of a risk Roundup truly poses. University of California, Riverside toxicologist David Eastmond, author of a glyphosate review for the World Health Organization’s Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues, told NPR earlier this year that the IARC had simply found that the chemical could cause cancer without evaluating how likely it is to pose a risk to the public.
“From my reading of things, if glyphosate causes cancer, it’s a pretty weak carcinogen, which means that you’re going to need pretty high doses in order to cause it,” Eastmond told NPR, adding that he had based his conclusions in part on a large number of Monsanto-funded studies not considered by the IARC.
“We are pleased that the judge denied Monsanto’s motion to throw out the verdict, and recognized that Monsanto deserved to be punished,” Jennifer Moore, a member of Hardeman’s legal team, told Reuters. “We disagree with any reduction in the jury verdict.”
Backlash against Roundup is building elsewhere as well. Austrian legislators recently approved a total ban on glyphosate, positioning it to be the first member state of the European Union to do so and creating the possibility of other nations following suit.
On Monday, officials from SpaceX and NASA provided an update on the investigation of an anomaly that occurred in April, which destroyed a Crew Dragon spacecraft. Generally, they were upbeat with their assessment: “I’m pretty optimistic right now, because we have a good path forward,” said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of mission assurance.
After nearly three months of work—which has included the collection of debris from the ground-based incident, assessing large volumes of data, and a series of tests at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas—the company is about 80% complete with its analysis, Koenigsmann said. He characterized the findings discussed Monday as “preliminary.”
The accident occurred during tests of the Crew Dragon’s thruster systems in Florida. The capsule has “Draco” thrusters used to maneuver in space as well as powerful “SuperDracos.” They would fire in the event of an emergency with the rocket to pull the crew safely away during a launch. Specifically, the April 20 anomaly occurred during the activation phase of the SuperDraco thruster system, when it is pressurized and valves are opened and closed.
Approximately 100 milliseconds prior to ignition of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco thrusters, a leaking component allowed about one cup of liquid oxidizer—nitrogen tetroxide—or NTO—into the wrong fuel tank plumbing.
“A slug of this NTO was driven through a helium check valve at high speed during rapid initialization of the launch escape system, resulting in structural failure within the check valve,” the company said in a statement. “The failure of the titanium component in a high-pressure NTO environment was sufficient to cause ignition of the check valve and led to an explosion.”
Koenigsmann said the company is already taking steps to prevent such a problem from occurring again. This includes the use of “burst disks” instead of check valves to eliminate the possibility of any liquid propellant flowing into the gaseous pressurization system.
The hardware components needed to mitigate this problem are relatively straightforward, he said. What may take more time is the process of checking other fuel systems in Crew Dragon for similar vulnerabilities, as well as characterizing the basic physics of the NTO and titanium that ignited in this situation. “The hardware is probably the smaller part,” he said.
New schedule uncertain
After flying a virtually flawless uncrewed Dragon test mission to the International Space Station in February, SpaceX has been working toward a crewed flight of the vehicle (by NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken) later this year. That now appears unlikely, but Koenigsmann was optimistic that this issue could be worked in parallel to several other challenges between Dragon and that flight, such as qualification of the spacecraft’s parachutes.
NASA’s chief of the commercial crew program, which is paying for and managing development of Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner vehicles to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, expressed satisfaction with the pace and quality of SpaceX’s investigation into the mishap.
“In a lot of ways, this was a gift for us,” said Kathy Lueders, the NASA manager. “It was a test on the ground, we had a lot of instrumentation on the vehicle, we had high-speed cameras, [and] we were able to get the hardware and the data. Through this process, we will continue to learn things that will help us fly safer.”
The company also confirmed its plan to use Crew Dragon spacecraft originally assigned to SpaceX’s first crewed mission to the International Space Station for an In-Flight Abort test—which will test the SuperDraco thrusters during an ascent to space. The spacecraft originally assigned to the first operational mission will now launch Hurley and Behnken on their demonstration flight.
Sources told Ars that SpaceX will probably do well to complete the In-Flight Abort test in 2019, with a crewed flight occurring early in 2020, provided all goes well during the abort test. On this schedule, the competition between SpaceX and Boeing to launch the first people into orbit from US soil since 2011’s retirement of the space shuttle will be very close.
It’s no secret Scotland has a lot of wind farms, but it’s now clear just how much electricity those turbines can produce. Data from WeatherEnergy shows that Scottish wind turbines generated just over 9.8MWh of electricity between January and June, or enough to power roughly 4.47 million homes — nearly twice as many homes as there are in Scotland. The operators theoretically have enough excess wind energy to power a large chunk of northern England.
The Scottish government already has plans to clean up its power supply. It hopes to to feed half of its energy consumption with renewables by 2050, and wants to virtually eliminate CO2 emissions from its energy infrastructure by 2050. The new stats suggest the plan is on track and might even be cautious.
The timing is convenient, too. The UK has gradually been weaning itself off coal, and just last May went over two weeks without using the emissions-heavy resource. If Scotland and other locales with an abundance of wind energy can sell their output elsewhere, even those territories without many turbines of their own could reduce their dependence on more harmful electricity sources.
It may be difficult for other countries to follow suit. Like with solar power, wind farms need the right environment to maximize their output. Scotland has the advantage of strong wind patterns, ample coastlines and other natural traits that make energy generation easier, not to mention a relatively modest population size. Even so, this shows that renewable energy is reaching scales that were previously unimaginable, and that it’s not outlandish to scrap dirty power in some cases.
It has been more than half a century since Russia developed its last new spacecraft for carrying humans into orbit—the venerable Soyuz capsule, which still flies both Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts into orbit today. However, over the last decade, the Russian space program has been designing and developing a new vehicle, named Federation.
Like NASA’s own Orion spacecraft, the Federation capsule has been beset by delays and cost overruns for more than a decade’s worth of development. But when it flies, possibly as early as 2022 aboard a Soyuz-5 rocket for a test flight, Federation would be the rare human vehicle designed to fly beyond low-Earth orbit.
However, Russian sources are reporting a problem with the vehicle’s launch escape system. Federation will lift off from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in far eastern Russia, located within about 600km of the Pacific Ocean. Under certain scenarios, during which Federation’s launch abort system would pull it away from the rocket during an emergency, Federation could splash down in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
“Upon launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, the Federation spacecraft has a colossal problem in the event of a launch abort,” said Igor Verkhovskiy, head of business development for crewed programs and low-Earth-orbit satellite programs for RKK Energia, the prime contractor for Russia’s space program.
“We could end up in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, where we have no high-speed ships of the Naval or civilian fleets,” the Russian official said. “It could take several days for us to reach the splashdown location, risking loss of the crew.” A translation of the Russian news articles was provided to Ars by Robinson Mitchell.
A Moon vehicle?
It remains unclear how far along Russia is in actually developing Federation and its critical systems to support long-duration spaceflight into deep space. Russian news sources have previously reported construction of the pressure vessel, which provides the vehicle’s solid structure, only began in May. While Russian officials cite a 2022 launch date, that would seem to be unfeasible if work on the first pressure vessel did indeed only begin a few months ago.
Earlier this year, Roscosmos chief Dimitry Rogozin ordered changes at RKK Energia management—specifically in areas involved in designing the Federation spacecraft, perhaps due to delays and problems since the program first began more than a decade ago.
Eventually, Russia intends to use the Federation spacecraft for crewed missions to lunar orbit, much as NASA intends to use its Orion spacecraft. However, there are serious questions about the legitimacy of Russia’s plans to send humans into deep space, and the Moon, on its own.
According to The Mayo Clinic, a healthy adult can safely ingest approximately 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. If you go above that, you general health could be affected, including the quality of your sleep and other unpleasantness. With that in mind, Redditor SportsAnalyticsGuy created two charts listing some of the most popular products containing caffeine and how much you have to “ingest” to reach the 400 milligrams limit. The data you see in the graphs comes from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
It’s the early 1990s. A Toyota Sprinter is wedged half-way onto a cargo ship. Its rear axle floats in the air, hovering above the Sea of Japan. A few dozen more second-hand cars from Japan are stuffed onto the vessel, some more precariously than others.
Soon these cars will arrive in the newly formed Russian Federation, where they’ll be welcomed with open yet sometimes punishing arms. The majority will find loving families in the Russian far east. Others may end up in the coldest inhabited regions of the World: in permafrost-laden Yakutia and Kolyma.
A luckier few might wind up in the subtropics of Sochi, among palm trees and pebbly beaches. Only time will tell, and only one thing is clear: none will return to the orderly thoroughfares of Japan ever again.
The cargo ship inches closer to its destination: the port city of Vladivostok, where seven decades of automotive isolation have come to an abrupt end. Demand for cheap cars is skyrocketing.
Five hundred miles to the east of Vladivostok lies the coast of Japan. There, stringent vehicle inspections and parking regulations have contributed to a surplus of used cars in desperate need of adoption. Very high-quality used cars.
Supply meets demand and, in the wake of the Soviet Union’s demise, a massive car shipping industry is emerging.
The vessel makes landfall in the Free Port of Vladivostok, where the precious automotive cargo is unloaded. Many of the cars are funneled to the “Green Corner” on Vladivostok’s outskirts, where all imaginable forms of JDM cars can be found: adorable kei trucks like the Subaru Sambar, regal executive sedans like the Nissan Laurel, bulletproof off-roaders like the Land Cruiser 70.
Since the early ’90s, millions of right-hand-drive cars from Japan have found their way into Russia, a country that drives on the right side of the road, just like the U.S. and totally opposite from Japan.
That is to say, for these cars, they’re going to operate on the wrong side of the road than what they were designed for.
The JDM import industry in Russia peaked in 2008, when over 500,000 second-hand vehicles from Japan were imported. Since then, economic and legal factors have dented the trade, which has declined “ten-fold” in recent years. Unsurprisingly, rumors float that the era of right-hand-drive is slowly coming to an end.
But you wouldn’t get that impression in the contemporary Russian far east, where 84 percent of traffic is right-hand-drive. That’s 84 percent of 835,000 registered vehicles all driving on the wrong side of the road, according to 2017 AVTOSTAT figures.
This means that the Russian far east is perhaps the only large part of the world (hi there, U.S. Virgin Islands!) where the vast majority of cars has steering wheels on the—for lack of a better term—wrong side. Though motorists in the Russian far-east would beg to differ. To them, right-hand-drive is much more than an awkward driving position.
Vasiliy Avchenko describes this phenomenon in a fascinating Russian-language column, noting the culture stemming from the “era of right-hand-drive” in Russia’s far-east. In one such poem, written by Ivan Shepeta, there’s a telling line: “my steering wheel is on the right, and my heart is to the left.” Apparently, there’s also a “Right-Hand-Drive” beer now available in Vladivostok.
Avchenko himself wrote a 366 page novel novel titled “The Right Wheel.”
Right-hand-drive culture is by no means exclusive to the Russian far east. But the farther west you go in Russia, the less JDM you’ll find.
I’m writing this article from Saint Petersburg, which is just about the westernmost city on the Russian mainland—a 5,900 mile drive from Vladivostok. Almost all of traffic here is left-hand drive, and therefore boring.
I set out thinking that I’d struggle to find this right-hand-drive culture out here—that it would be easier for me to travel 2,000 miles to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Wales, and report on castles and sheep instead.
I was very wrong. Here’s what I found:
I got in touch with a gentleman named Vitaly, who owns a very Jalopnik car: a 1988 Toyota Crown Wagon (GS136V), with a four-speed manual on the tree, a bench seat in the front, and, of course, right-hand drive.
Vitaly comes from a right-hand-drive family, which, in Saint Petersburg, is kind of weird. His wife drives a Nissan Serena Rider Autech 4×4—a tall and graceful minivan not unlike the Toyota Alphard. As Vitaly tells me, she’s only ever driven right-hand-drive cars and “categorically refuses to even try” left-hand-drive.
In a way, Vitaly and his wife reflect the mainstream right-hand-driving Russian. They appreciate their cars for the comfort, reliability, and affordability, paying little attention to the awkwardness of steering where the front passenger should be sitting. For them, these cars are, foremost, utilities, not objects of petrol-headed adulation.
When I asked Vitaly how he felt about driving a right-hand-drive car in right-hand traffic, he gave me an oblivious shrug. “Eh,” he said. “You get used to it in a few days.”
I’d managed to scratch the surface with Vitaly, but I wanted to get a sense of the folklore surrounding right-hand-drive. In the left-hand-drive stronghold of Saint Petersburg, this meant diving into the JDM underground.
In the midst of an early March snowstorm in Saint Petersburg, I received a phone call. A friend was going to pick me up and take me to a meet-up of what he called “JDM junk.” This sounded promising.
Well, the event was sort-of underground, but, at the same time, not underground at all. To the extent that the event was held in an underground parking lot of a busy shopping center, it was indeed underground. However, the shopping center actually allowed this congregation to take place, and during peak shopping hours. If you’re approved by the authorities that be, how underground can you be.
But it was still totally ridiculous. It was amazing, actually.
Straight-piped Skylines fought for parking spots with confused and frightened weekend shoppers. All the engine farts and exhaust fumes marinated in the confined quarters of the lot.
There was an army of JDM Nissan Cubes. One of them had all this fake metal patina and barbed-wire wrapped around its plastic grille.
There was a Toyota Aristo (similar to an early-2000s Lexus GS) wrapped in highly suggestive anime, parked next to a Lada with a missing headlight. It’s itasha, if you’re curious.
There were cars so relentlessly chewed up and spit out from perpetual hooning, that they developed this callous layer of dust and grit. It was, for some reason, deeply satisfying to behold, like a broken-in baseball glove is soothing to the palm.
Somebody brought a katana. As you do.
It was nice to see members of the Eurotrash delegation in attendance, like this Opel Ascona parked alongside an R33 Skyline.
So too was therea E60 BMW 5 Series that photobombed one of my shots, although this could have been an unwitting shopper desperately trying to find a way out.
I couldn’t take my eyes off a super-mint Toyota Crown Super Saloon V8 from the ‘90s, which the owner, Yaroslav, claims has less than 40,000 miles. It certainly looks the part.
Yaroslav kept telling me of his right-hand-drive adventures. About how he has to “reverse through the McDonalds drive-thru” and drive around with an arm extender so that he can pay tolls.
Max, the owner of an early ‘80s Toyota Cresta, more clearly explained the distinction these cars had against the left-hand-drive norm. He told me about his long search for a vintage JDM car and how “back in the day, JDM cars were built for people,” meaning that “they weren’t meant to be disposed of in just a few years.”
Our conversation was cut short by an uncanny cacophony. At one end of the garage there was a Mazda 3 hatch, blaring high-octane dubstep through a military-spec subwoofer. The dubstep was occasionally interrupted by an MC who, through relentless microphone feedback, tried to bring a semblance of order to the event. The MC would, in turn, be interrupted by a redlining straight-six in the distance. In an underground parking lot, it’s as abrasive a noise as a space shuttle breaking through the earth’s atmosphere.
Then came the burnouts.
The tire smoke, in combination with vape clouds, degraded the air quality to public-health-crisis levels. It was, at that point, prudent that the event move somewhere else.
The cars ventured almost halfway across the snow-covered city to a new, above-ground location. At an empty mall parking lot, the JDM crowd converged with an indigenous Saint Petersburg car scene: the Lada drift people.
The snowstorm had passed and the temperature was falling, yet the communal festivities continued. The Mazda 3 MC assumed his place in the center of the crowd, now blaring a more diverse selection of thumps. J-Trance reverberated into the snow.
At one point, the MC challenged everyone to a revving contest, and an orchestra of redlining Toyotas ensued, complete with 2JZ trumpeters and contrabass 1UZ V8s.
Meanwhile, a makeshift drift circuit assembled on the perimeter of the lot. Ladas and Skylines and Crowns slid gracefully in tandem, spooling up clouds of powdery snow.
I stood there, slowly losing my hearing from the noise and the feeling in my fingertips from the cold. My quest to locate the elusive ‘right-hand-drive’ culture of Saint Petersburg was complete.
As the night went on, more and more diverse JDM filled up the parking lot. The scene began to resemble that “Green Corner” car market in Vladivostok—where a fair share of these cars likely began their journey through Russia. And I couldn’t help but envision some of them wedged half-way onto a cargo ship—their rear wheels pointing into the air, hanging above the Sea of Japan.