Wednesday Briefing

Top U.S. auto safety regulator is ill-equipped to detect problems with high-tech electronics common in today’s cars, a study finds. The National Research Council assessment called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to review its technical capabilities and to require electronic data recorders, or black boxes, in all new cars. But the study concluded that NHTSA was justified in closing its investigation into unintended acceleration of  Toyota vehicles without finding conclusive evidence of electronic causes. Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg

Dangerously high lead levels detected in blood of Burmese refugee children. U.S. scientists, testing 642 children bound for this country, discovered that 90 percent had lead in their blood, and 5 percent had lead poisoning. Lead exposure, which can damage children’s developing brains, is more common in developing countries than in the U.S., where the metal has been removed from gasoline, house paint and other products. Reuters

Hanford nuclear waste treatment plant in Washington State plagued by design problems. The project, intended to clean up radioactive wastes from World War II plutonium production, is the most complex environmental restoration ever attempted. But officials are concerned that design flaws create a risk of a hydrogen explosion or uncontrolled nuclear reaction inside the plant. USA Today

Justice Department lawyers question whether BP paid former executive to influence her testimony.  A court filing said the former BP executive, who was not identified, received $107,000 a month to do consulting for a company lawyer. But federal officials say the money may have been intended to influence the ex-executive’s testimony in litigation over BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The Associated Press

Airline ordered to reinstate pilot fired for blowing whistle on safety flaws. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also called for the carrier, AirTran Airways, to pay the pilot more than $1 million in back wages. The agency concluded that the pilot was fired in retaliation for filing reports about mechanical problems. Bloomberg, OSHA

Fetal alcohol syndrome risks are highest during latter half of first trimester of pregnancy. University of California, San Diego researchers found that a one-drink increase in daily alcohol consumption during that stage led to a 12 percent greater risk of the baby having a smaller-than-normal head, among other defects. The scientists stressed that their research illustrates there is no safe amount of drinking during any stage of pregnancy. USA Today, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

U.S. obesity rates appear to be leveling off. Federal researchers found that 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children are obese, up only slightly since the late 1990s and early 2000s. It’s not certain whether public education efforts to curb obesity are starting to succeed. The New York Times, Reuters, The Journal of the American Medical Association

Reviewers question effectiveness of Tamiflu. The U.S. and other nations have spent billions stockpiling the drug in case of a flu pandemic. But researchers, led by a Johns Hopkins University scientist, said they could not confirm that Tamiflu reduced flu complications or curbed transmission of the virus. The New York Times

Southern California construction contractor agrees to $725,000 settlement over illegal dumping charges. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the contractor, Thomas Staben, illegally put about 2,000 dump truck loads of rock and sediment from into Calleguas Creek in Ventura County. Staben and his company will pay a $225,000 fine and will spend at least $500,000 on water restoration projects. Ventura County Star, EPA

Recalls: BIGS sunflower seeds, Price Chopper tres leches cakesFrisia Dairy raw milk, Giant Bicycle

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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