Wednesday Briefing

Food recalls surged during the last three months of 2011. Recalls of foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration totaled 176 during the quarter, up 50 percent from the same period in 2010, according to a firm that tracks recalls. Foods with undisclosed allergens, followed by listeria, salmonella, botulism and E. coli contamination, were the leading causes of the recalls. One possible reason for the increase is greater caution by food companies. Food Safety News

Even short-term exposure to air pollution, scientists conclude, raises risk of heart attacks. French and U.S. researchers evaluated previous studies and found that exposure to major air pollutants, even for less than seven days, is associated with an increase in heart attacks. They said that so many people worldwide are breathing fine particulates, carbon monoxide and other pollutants that the numbers of people at risk are substantial. Environmental Health News

China’s air pollution takes a huge economic toll, researchers say. An MIT study found that, in 2005, China’s air pollution cost  the nation $112 billion in lost labor and in medical costs because of health problems stemming from breathing in ozone and particulates. Researchers said despite improved pollution controls, unhealthy air has led to 656,000 premature deaths annually in China. USA Today

Johnson & Johnson kept selling overseas an artificial hip rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The company also continued to sell in this country a related model, which earlier went on the market using a regulatory loophole that did not require a similar FDA safety review. Johnson & Johnson, through its DePuy orthopedic division, began phasing out both models of the device in November 2009 and recalled them in August 2010 amid reports abroad showing that they were failing at high rates. The New York Times

Railroad’s failure to report track washout blamed in fatal 2009 derailment. The Canadian National Railway was faulted by the National Transportation Safety Board for failing to warn the crew of the ill-fated freight train about flash flooding and the track problem near Rockford, Ill. The fireball that erupted after 19 ethanol-laden tank cars slid off the tracks took the life of a 44-year-old woman who was a passenger in a nearby car and caused her pregnant daughter to lose her unborn child. Chicago Tribune, The Associated Press

Trucking industry contests new driver-fatigue rules. The American Trucking Associations filed a petition to block the Transportation Department’s plans to require a 34-hour rest period each week that would require drivers to be off two consecutive nights.  The industry said that the government’s emphasis on rest time is misplaced, contending that many more fatalities and injuries are caused by speeding than fatigue. Preliminary figures indicate 3,675 truck-related fatalities in 2010, up 8.7 percent from the year before. Bloomberg

Trace amounts of lead found in 400 popular shades of lipstick. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the levels of lead that its analysis detected do not pose a safety concern. Some experts, however, stressed the need to shield children and pregnant women from exposure. Five lipsticks made by L’Oreal and Maybelline ranked among the 10 most contaminated. The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, FDA

Severe shortage of childhood leukemia drug should soon ease, regulators say. Only a few days ago cancer specialists predicted that they could run out of methotrexate by the end of next week. Food and Drug Administration officials, however, said Tuesday that the three remaining manufacturers of preservative-free methotrexate have agreed to ramp up production. A fourth company, which shut down production of the drug late last year due to manufacturing and quality concerns, said it is working with the FDA to bring back its product as soon as possible. USA Today, The Associated Press

Drug maker warns of counterfeit vials of cancer medicine. The Genentech unit of the Swiss company Roche said the fake products do not contain the key ingredient in Avastin, which is used to treat cancers of the colon, lung, kidney and brain. A company spokeswoman said the counterfeit drug has been distributed to U.S. health care facilities, but it’s unclear how much is in circulation or where it is concentrated. The Associated Press

Recalls: STIHL chain saws, Newport ventilators, Improvements Catalog ottoman beds, Bosch fire alarm control panels

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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