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Stories You Might Have Missed This Week

Prisons in Washington State may be blocking book donations, air pollution is shortening lives, and a four-legged whale skeleton provides evolutionary clues.
Emissions from a steel plant in China.

Emissions from a steel plant in China.

This week at Pacific Standard, we brought you stories on the Trump administration's attacks on Medicaid, the consequences of the United States' surprisingly wide border zone, and the trouble with active shooter drills.

Our small newsroom has been busy keeping up with the news lately, but there's always more that we're following. Here are a few other stories that caught our attention this week.

Prisoners in Washington State May Be Losing Access to Donated Books

Volunteers at Books to Prisoners, a Seattle-based non-profit that donates books to inmates, have noticed over the past year that the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) has been rejecting more and more of the organization's packages, the Stranger reports. So they went on the DOC website—and discovered that a memo to employees, posted a few weeks ago, said the department is "moving away from" allowing publications in their facilities, with a few exceptions. Prisoners often rely on donated books because it's difficult (and sometimes impossible) for them to purchase new ones.

"We're really frustrated that this type of ban is being rolled out universally and without any attempt to work with us," Michelle Dillon, a Books to Prisoners board member and volunteer, told the Stranger.

A New Report Finds Air Pollution Lowers Life Expectancy

According to the Health Effects Institute's "State of Global Air" report released this week, bad air lowers the average life expectancy of children born today by 20 months. The report finds that air pollution "is responsible for more deaths than many better-known risk factors such as malnutrition, alcohol use, and physical inactivity."

"[T]his newest evidence suggests a much shorter life for anyone born into highly polluted air," Dan Greenbaum, president of the institute, wrote in a press release. "In much of the world, just breathing in an average city is the health equivalent to being a heavy smoker."

A Hooved, Four-Legged Whale Once Walked (and Swam) the Earth

A 42.6-million-year-old fossil discovered in sediments off the coast of Peru is helping scientists fill in a gap in our understanding of whales' evolution, the Guardian reports. Findings on the significance of this fossil, identified as the first record of an amphibious whale anywhere in the Pacific Ocean, were published this week by the journal Current Biology.

Though other whale fossils with four limbs had already been discovered, this one is larger and more complete, giving more clues about the animal's abilities: "Even though it could swim in the water [with] no problem, it still had little hooves on its fingers and toes," Travis Park, an expert on ancient whales at the Natural History Museum in London, told the Guardian. "It'd be a lot more capable than seals at getting around on land."