Friday Briefing

Urban air pollution expected to become the biggest environmental cause of premature death. According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, air pollution in coming decades will overtake such mass killers as poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water. Both developed and developing countries will be hit and, by 2050, there could be 3.6 million premature deaths a year from exposure to particulate matter, mostly in China and India. The OECD assessment, the latest in a series of reports on climate change and other threats to the Earth’s ecosystem, warned of potential “irreversible changes that could endanger two centuries of rising living standards.” The Guardian, Agence France-Presse

Seven tubes that carry radioactive water at a Southern California nuclear plant fail pressure tests. The findings heightened safety concerns about the oceanfront San Onofre plant in northern San Diego County. The Unit 3 reactor of the Southern California Edison plant has been shut since Jan. 31, after a leak was discovered and the utility began testing thousands of tubes in its steam generators. Traces of radiation escaped during the leak, but officials said there was no danger to workers or neighbors. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it was sending a team of inspectors to determine why the metal tubes, which were installed only a few years ago, have become so frail. The Associated Press

Federal regulators order Buffalo, N.Y., to reduce raw sewage flowing into waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency gave the city’s sewer authority until the end of April to submit a long-term plan to deal with the pollution. Local officials said they are close to completing their plans, and are making $60 million in other improvements to curb the problem. The city’s aging sewer system overflows into waterways when there is heavy rain or snow. The EPA estimates that 4 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water are released into the Niagara River and its tributaries every year. “Local fish are inedible and people can’t enjoy recreational water sports or local parks because of sewage odors,” an EPA official said. Buffalo News, EPA

Approved Senate transportation bill could delay rail safety systems. Part of the $109 billion measure that passed Wednesday would allow railroads to apply for up to three one-year deadline extensions for installing safety systems called Positve Train Control, or PTC. The PTC provision in the legislation, which awaits House action,  could delay deadlines until the end of 2018. Republican lawmakers in the House have pushed an even longer extension to 2020 or beyond, based on industry concerns about cost and technology challenges. As FairWarning reported, a law passed in late 2008 soon after a train disaster in Chatsworth, Calif., killed 25 people, mandated PTC on 70,000 miles of track. It automatically puts the brakes on trains about to collide or derail.

California warehouse workers allege they were illegally denied overtime pay. In a suit filed in federal court in Los Angeles, the workers claim that a company that operates warehouses in Southern California for Walmart, Schneider Logistics, devised an “unlawful scheme” to have them work overtime without receiving overtime pay. Schneider also is a defendant in a case filed last year in which dozens of other warehouse workers charge it and two other companies with fraudulent pay practices, including actions to deny workers the legal minimum wage. As FairWarning has reported, the litigation and investigations by California labor officials reflect what critics say is the underside of the warehouse business. The Huffington Post

Workplace safety regulators propose fines of $121,000 against Dollar Tree Stores in Newark, N.J. The agency accused the Newark store of having obstructed exit routes and unsafely stored materials. OSHA classified both charges as repeat offenses because the agency previously discovered the same violations at other New Jersey and New York locations of the Chesapeake, Va.-based company. OSHA, The Star-Ledger

Schools get a new lunch menu option: Hold the “pink slime.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture created a stir this month when it said it would buy in coming weeks, for the National School Lunch Program, 7 million pounds of beef trimmings treated with ammonia hydroxide, a food dubbed “pink slime” by a former agency scientist. But now the USDA says that schools will be able to choose whether they serve that type of meat. More than 220,000 people signed an online petition calling on the agency to stop using the product. While federal officials insist it is safe, critics worry about the quality of a product made up of scraps and connective tissue and then treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens. Bloomberg, Los Angeles Times

Recalls: Hyundai Sonata hybrids, 2012 Volvo S60s and XC60s

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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