Wednesday Briefing

Chinese chemical plant explosion leaves at least 16 people dead and dozens missing. The official Xinhua News Agency said that about 100 people were working at the Hebei Zhaoxian Keeper Chemical plant in northern China’s Hebei province when the blast struck Tuesday. A government agency said the plant at the time was producing guanidine nitrate, a high-energy fuel and propellant, but the operation is said to mainly produce pesticides. Rescue operations were halted today amid fears of further explosions., China Daily

Industrial boilers targeted for environmental cleanup concentrated in eastern half of U.S. In all, new regulations unveiled in December by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if they are not blocked by Congress, would require 1,753 industrial boilers to curb toxic air emissions. An analysis by the nonprofit group Earthjustice found that the Carolinas and Pennsylvania were the states with the largest number of the offending boilers, which generate electricity and heat for manufacturing plants. The EPA rules would reduce such toxic pollutants as mercury, sulfur dioxide, dioxin and lead. InsideClimate News

Spine implant manufacturer and chief executive agree to $1 million settlement.  Globus Medical Inc. of Audubon, Pa., will pay a $550,000 penalty and David Paul, the company’s CEO, will pay $450,000 to resolve federal charges of selling unapproved devices. The Food and Drug Administration said its investigators discovered in a September 2010 inspection that the company marketed its NuBone Osteoinductive Bone Graft product even though it never received regulatory approval. Reuters

Critics seek ouster of food safety official with ties to Monsanto. Consumer groups are waging an online petition drive calling for the dismissal of Michael Taylor, the Food and Drug Administration’s deputy commissioner for food safety. He was vice president for public policy at Monsanto, the world’s biggest producer of genetically modified seed, for a 16-month period that ended in 2000. Critics say that, as a Clinton administration official, Taylor allowed genetically modified organisms into the U.S. food supply without requiring testing. But Taylor also has supporters who praise his efforts to curb food-borne illnesses. Bloomberg

Debris from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami drifting to the U.S. Refrigerators, TVs and other debris dragged into sea after a massive earthquake hit Japan last March could show up in remote atolls north of Hawaii as soon as this winter, with other pieces reaching the West Coast in 2013 and 2014, experts say.  But an official discounted the chance of radiation-contaminated debris arriving on U.S. shores. The debris came from a large swath of Japan’s northeastern coast, not only near the tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Also, it was dragged out to sea with the tsunamis, before the Fukushima plant experienced multiple meltdowns. The Associated Press

Workplace safety authorities accuse Florida aluminum company of 37 violations. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed fines of $139,800 against a Fritz Aluminum Services plant in Eustis, Fla. Six of the charges are willful violations, the agency’s most serious offenses. OSHA said the company has let potentially hazardous combustible dust accumulate. “Although the employer knows the fire and explosion hazards associated with the accumulation of combustible dust, a choice was made to do nothing about it,” an OSHA official said. Separately, OSHA proposed fines of $139,000 against a Kuehne Chemical Co. plant in Delaware City, Del., and $91,000 against Yaskawa America‘s plant in Oak Creek, Wis. OSHA

Watchdog group cites 15 “near-misses” at U.S. nuclear plants last year. The Union of Concerned Scientists said many of the incidents occurred because nuclear reactor owners either tolerated known safety problems or took inadequate measures to correct them. One example was Duke Energy’s Oconee plant in South Carolina, which regulators say relied for 28 years on a backup emergency cooling system that didn’t work. The group’s report also said that it “repeatedly found” that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “enforcement of safety regulations is not timely, consistent or effective.” Environment News Service, The Charlotte Observer

Rule that could require all cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to have rear-view cameras is delayed. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said federal authorities need more time for “study and data analysis” before they can complete the details of the rule. The regulation, which originally was supposed to be released a year ago, now won’t be issued until the end of this year. The installation of rear-view cameras is expected to cut in half the 292 deaths annually — mostly children and the elderly — involving cars and trucks that are backing up. Bloomberg, The Associated Press

Federal health officials add safety alerts to cholesterol-reducing statin medications. The Food and Drug Administration said that the widely prescribed drugs carry rare risks of diabetes and memory loss, the first time it has officially linked statins to cognitive problems.  But federal officials and some medical experts said the new alerts should not scare people away from statins, given their demonstrated benefits in preventing heart disease. The New York Times

Recalls: PapaBear Loungeabout children’s pajamas, Carlisle beverage cups and mugs, Honda grass trimmers, Twin Oaks hammock stands

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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