Updates

News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Capital Metro makes Earth Day Announcement

Today, Capital Metro announced its plan to build a new, first of its kind, electric bus charging facility. The new facility, stationed off Burnet at the transit agencies’ northern depot, will be capable of charging over 200 buses, roughly half of the current size of the fleet.

Advocates like the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) and the Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance (TxETRA) applauded the move.

“What an exciting Earth Day announcement,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director. “Investing in infrastructure at this scale shows the deep commitment that Cap Metro has for a sustainable transportation future. Cleaner, healthier, and money-saving, electric buses are a win-win-win for the transit agency and everyone in the Austin metro area.”

Report | TexPIRG | Public Health

Get the Lead Out

Over the past five years, the tragedy of Flint, Michigan has stunned the nation. We watched the drinking water of an entire city become contaminated with lead. And, we know now that this toxic threat extends well beyond Flint to communities across the country.

In fact, test results now show that lead is even contaminating drinking water in schools and pre-schools — flowing from thousands of fountains and faucets where our kids drink water every day.

In all likelihood, the confirmed cases of lead in schools’ water are just the tip of the iceberg. Most schools have at least some lead in their pipes, plumbing, or fixtures. And where there is lead, there is risk of contamination.1

The health threat of lead in schools’ water deserves immediate attention from state and local policymakers for two reasons. First, lead is highly toxic and especially damaging to children — impairing how they learn, grow, and behave. So, we ought to be particularly vigilant against this health threat at schools and pre-schools, where our children spend their days learning and playing.

Second, current regulations are too weak to protect our children from lead-laden water at school. Federal rules only apply to the roughly ten percent of schools and pre-schools that are considered to be their own Public Water Systems.2 At schools not considered to be a Public Water System, there is no federal rule protecting kids from exposure to lead in schools’ drinking water. While the latest edition of the EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Centers recommends that schools reduce lead to the “lowest possible concentration,” unless a state’s law directs schools to adhere to it, this guidance is not enforceable.3 Moreover, even when federal rules do apply to a school, they only require remediation when testing confirms lead concentrations in excess of 15 parts per billion at ten percent or more of taps sampled, even though medical and public health experts agree that there is no safe level of lead for our children.4 The error of this approach is compounded by the fact that testing, even when properly done, often fails to detect maximum lead levels in water coming out of the tap.

Unfortunately, so far, most states are failing to protect children from lead in schools’ drinking water. Our review of 32 states’ laws and regulations finds:

Several states, including Texas, have no requirements for schools and pre-schools to address the threat of lead in drinking water.

News Release | TexPIRG | Public Health

Texas gets an F for efforts to address lead in school drinking water

Reacting to pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, Environment Texas and TexPIRG gave Texas an F grade today for addressing the problem, according to a new national report. The group announced support for legislation by Rep. James Talarico to ensure lead-free water in Texas schools and daycares.

“Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and play, but Texas is still failing to protect our kids from lead in drinking water,” said Bay Scoggin, Director of the Texas Public Interest Research Group(TexPIRG). “We need policies that actually get the lead out of faucets and fountains in our schools and pre-schools.”

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Health Care

The Real Price of Medications

People living in the United States have access to some of the best medical care in the world, from life-saving drugs to cutting-edge surgical techniques. But our system is deeply flawed, with spiraling costs forcing many Americans to spend more on care and often receiving poor quality care for all the extra money spent.

Retail prescription drug costs represent about 10% of the total national healthcare expenditure in America and are a public concern because of existing high prices, which often continue to climb. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 Americans on medication struggle to afford their prescription drugs - and that rises to more than 4 in 10 for individuals in worse health.  Research on these high health care expenses (including prescription drug expenses) in comparison to other countries show that this difficult cost burden is driven primarily by inflated prices: not differences in the drugs used, our aging population, nor the amount of drugs prescribed.”

These high prices decimate the delivered value we get from medications. The main problem is this: although a patient may pay more for their life saving medicine, they are not getting any more health value for the extra money spent.

Research shows that high prices lead patients to engage in risky behaviors, including medication rationing or altering dosages without doctor’s consent. Nearly 17% of older adults exhibit this non-adherence behavior, the highest among 11 comparably wealthy countries. Physician treatment plans don’t work when patients can’t follow them, and research shows that medical treatment deviations account for major proportions of treatment failures and many hospital and nursing home admissions.

The picture is even more concerning when you consider that drug prices can vary greatly within cities, states and regions of the United States. Doctors may prescribe more expensive medication that is just as effective as other options, or patients may decide to forgo treatment, when more affordable options could be available at the pharmacy around the corner. Sometimes, the best treatment may be what the patient can consistently stick to, but with providers and patients unsure about prescription drug prices, that treatment decision becomes even more daunting.  
 

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Health Care

Prices of common medications can vary by hundreds of dollars

While many Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs, TexPIRG Education Fund’s survey of retail prices of commonly-prescribed medications found patients can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in some cases by shopping around at pharmacies within their communities.

"Texans shouldn’t have to forgo life-saving medicines. But when they don't realize there are more affordable options at a different pharmacy, some have to do exactly that,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund’s Director.  “Our medications don’t work any better when we pay more for them. We need a transparent prescription drug system that delivers value to patients at a reasonable price, instead of confusing and price-gouging them."

Retail prescription drug spending represents about 10 percent of the overall national health expenditures in America, while nearly 1 in 4 Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs primarily because of inflated prices.

TexPIRG Education Fund’s report, The Real Price of Medications: A Survey of Pharmaceutical Prices, released today, reveals a wide variation in the retail pricing of prescription drugs by pharmacies large and small, urban and rural. The report looked at prices in Dallas, El Paso, and Gainesville.

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Driving Into Debt

In much of America, access to a car is all but required to hold a job or lead a full and vibrant life. Generations of car-centric transportation policies – including lavish spending on roads, sprawl-inducing land use policies, and meager support for other modes of transportation – have left millions of Americans fully dependent on cars for daily living.

Car ownership is costly, and often requires households to take on debt. In the wake of the Great Recession, Americans rapidly took on debt for car purchases. Since the end of 2009, the amount of money Americans owe on their cars has increased by 75 percent. A significant share of that debt has been incurred by borrowers with lower credit scores, who are particularly vulnerable to predatory loans with high interest rates and inflated costs.

Americans’ rising indebtedness for cars raises concerns for the financial future of millions of households. It also demonstrates the real costs and risks imposed by our car-dependent transportation system. Americans deserve protection from predatory loans and unfair practices in auto lending. Americans also deserve a transportation system that provides more people with the freedom to choose to live without owning a car.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Questionable lending drives Texas to nation’s highest auto debt

The amount of money Texans owe on their cars is now at an all-time high  -- up 75 percent since the end of 2009 to $6500 per capita, the nation’s highest. Americans’ rising indebtedness for cars raises concerns about the financial future of millions of households as lenders extend credit to more and more Americans without the ability to repay, according to a new TexPIRG Education Fund report.

“Texans deserve both protection from predatory and unfair practices in auto lending, and a transportation system that provides more people the freedom to live without owning a car,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director. “Texans shouldn't have to fight their way through a thicket of tricks and traps at the auto dealer just to get the transportation they need to get to work or school."

Access to a car is all but required in much of America to unlock opportunities for work, education and play. But the financial cost to households is steep: Transportation is the second-leading expenditure for American households, behind only housing.  

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Food

How safe is our food

Americans rely on a vast network of farms and businesses to provide safe food daily.  But in recent years, a string of high-profile recalls ranging from romaine lettuce to millions of pounds of beef to Ritz and Goldfish crackers have called into question the system developed to ensure safe food reaches people’s plates. The ubiquity of the problem can make grocery shopping a game of Russian Roulette where what a family has for dinner could make them seriously sick.

While our food safety system has improved significantly over the last 100 years, when toxics, fake foodstuffs, and bacteria regularly infiltrated the supply, it is clear there is more work to do.  A modern society relies on ensuring that the daily act of eating does not undermine the health of the population. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to get a handle on trends within the food system as ongoing, individual testing results are hard to access and may not indicate what hazards are reaching people’s mouths.  

In 2011, the United States made significant upgrades to the food safety system by passing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  This law, pushed through in the wake of a number of significant food recalls, was supposed to help the nation identify additional dangers by ensuring we were using modern techniques to track outbreaks of contamination like Salmonella and dangerous strains of E. coli, improve regulatory oversight of the food production system to minimize contamination, and update recall laws.

 

Our food safety system has two lines of defense. First, a series of protections including health standards, inspections, and enforcement help keep contaminants out of the food supply in the first place. Second, when contaminated products make it to store shelves, the recall system helps remove these products from stores, homes and restaurants to keep people safe.  

News Release | TexPIRG Ed Fund | Food

New report: Hazardous Meat & Poultry Recalls Nearly Double

AUSTIN -- From E. coli-contaminated romaine lettuce to Salmonella-tainted beef, major recalls in 2018 drove Americans to investigate their refrigerators for contaminated food and caused stores and restaurants to toss millions of pounds of meat and produce.  TexPIRG Ed Fund’s new report How Safe is Our Food? reveals that these recalls are part of a larger trend over the last five years indicating systemic problems with our current food safety system.

 

“The food we nourish our bodies with shouldn’t pose a serious health risk. But, systemic failures means we’re often rolling the dice when we go grocery shopping or eat out,” said Bay Scoggin, Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund Director. “Serious health risks are preventable through common sense protections from farm to fork.”

 

If the CapMetro board gets its way, the future of Austin's public transit system will be electric.

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