Friday Briefing

Regulators reject bid to ban BPA from food packaging. The Food and Drug Administration today turned down a petition from environmentalists that would have banned the plastic-hardening chemical, also known as bisphenol-A, from such items as plastic bottles and canned food. The agency said that petitioners did not present compelling scientific evidence to justify new restrictions on the much-debated chemical, although federal scientists are continuing to study the issue. Some scientists believe BPA can harm the reproductive and nervous systems, particularly in babies and small children, potentially leading to cancer and other diseases. The Associated Press

U.S. traffic deaths fall to lowest level since 1949. An analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that 32,885 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010, the fifth consecutive year of declining fatalities and down from 33,883 in 2009. It was the lowest total since 1949, when 30,246 deaths were recorded. A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted that traffic injuries also have fallen sharply, declining by about 30 percent over the past decade, and called the improvement “remarkable.” While saying the numbers of deaths and injuries still are too high, the GAO credited federal and state transportation safety efforts for the improvement. Motor Trend

Authorities attribute radioactivity in drinking water to treatments for thyroid patients. City, state and federal officials said the radioactive iodine-131 found in some waterways in the Philadelphia area, and detected in minute amounts in drinking water, comes from  patients who take the  chemical in capsule or liquid form. Some of it, officials said, eventually passes into their urine, which then enters the wastewater-treatment system and winds up in rivers that provide drinking water. Still, authorities said the city’s water is safe, with levels of iodine-131 well below federal drinking-water limits. The Philadelphia Inquirer

Federal researchers cite “remarkable increase” in earthquakes apparently related to oil and gas drilling. A study by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey says the surge in temblors in the middle of the country is “almost certainly man-made.” The findings, to be presented at April’s meeting of the Seismological Society of America, could provide ammunition for critics who want stronger drilling regulations. The study found that the frequency of earthquakes started rising in 2001 across a broad swath of the country between Alabama and Montana. In 2009, there were 50 earthquakes greater than magnitude-3.0. The numbers climbed to 87 in 2010 and 134 last year. EnergyWire

Ex-superintendent of Upper Big Branch Mine pleads guilty to fraud. Gary May, the highest-ranking Massey Energy official charged after the April 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 workers, faces up to five years in prison. He admitted to obstructing safety regulators by, among other things, tipping off miners when inspectors arrived and altering the mine’s ventilation to trick an inspector. May’s plea agreement is a key step in the effort by federal authorities to seek criminal charges further up the Massey corporate ladder. Separately, a federal judge declined to dismiss a securities-fraud lawsuit alleging that former Massey officials lied about the company’s safety practices to inflate its stock price. NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press

Workplace safety regulators cite 22 violations at Chicago meat-processing plant. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed penalties of up to $118,700 against the owner of the plant, Anaheim, Calif.-based Bridgford Foods Corp. Among other charges, the plant was accused of a repeat violation for failing to provide emergency eyewash stations for employees working with corrosive chemicals. The company was inspected under OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which targets recalcitrant employers. OSHA also accused the Chicago plant of offenses in 2008 and 2010, and in recent months the agency cited a rash of violations at Bridgford’s two plants in Dallas. OSHA

Radioactivity from Japan’s nuclear disaster detected in kelp off Southern California coast. A study found that the kelp was contaminated with short-lived radioisotopes a month after the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi power plant accident. However, the radioactivity had no known effects on the giant kelp, or on fish or other marine life, and it was undetectable when the kelp was retested a month later. “It’s pretty much all gone,” said Steven Manley, an author of the study and a biologist at California State University, Long Beach. “But this shows what happens half a world away does effect what happens here. I don’t think these levels are harmful but it’s better if we don’t have it at all.” Environmental Health News

Recalls and alerts: Honda’s 2002-2004 CR-Vs and 2003 Pilot sport utility vehicles, 2012 Chevrolet Express, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Savana and GMC Yukon XL vans and SUVs, Porsche 911 Carrera S sports cars, Happy Shirts toy trucks, organ transplant storage fluidBlue Ocean Smokehouse fish, Chocolate Chip Chunk Cookies, Kubba of Wheat beef products, jalapeno peppers

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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