Thursday Briefing

Major British scientific review finds no evidence of health risks from cellphones. The analysis by the United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency evaluated hundreds of studies and found no conclusive links between cellphones and cancer, brain function or infertility risks. Still, the agency said monitoring should continue because little is known about long-term effects, given that few people used cellphones before the late 1990s. The agency also called for children to avoid excessive use. The analysis was described as the biggest review ever of cellphone safety evidence. Some experts have been wary, including the World Health Organization, which called cellphone radiation a possible carcinogen. BBC, USA Today

Some food-safety experts say the mad cow discovery in California exposes regulatory weaknesses. The nonprofit group Consumers Union, in a statement, called the U.S. mad cow testing program “way too small.” It said the U.S. “only tests some 40,000 cows a year of the millions slaughtered annually. So we really don’t know if this is an isolated unusual event.” A food safety lawyer with the Center for Science in the Public Interest agreed with federal authorities that the California case “is not a reason for significant concern,”  but said the U.S. has “a third-world animal identification system” for tracking livestock. United Nations officials, however, have praised surveillance by U.S. regulators. The Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg

Big Tobacco shifts into alternatives to traditional cigarettes. The acquisition by Lorillard Inc. of a maker of electronic cigarettes, Blu Ecigs, for $135 million, marks the first foray by Big Tobacco into that small but rapidly growing market. But the diversification by the third-largest U.S. tobacco company into battery-powered e-cigarettes—which turn heated nicotine-laced liquid into a vapor mist—coincides with aggressive moves by its larger rivals. Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. have pushed more-established smokeless tobacco products, including snuff and snus, as cigarette volumes fall. The shift also comes as federal regulators weigh a possible crackdown on menthol-flavored cigarettes. The Wall Street Journal

Workplace death rate increases for the first time in five years. A final tally of on-the-job fatalities for 2010 confirmed that the death rate increased during 2010 for the first time in five years. The figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the 2010 rate was 3.6 deaths for every 100,000 workers, up from 2009’s record low rate of 3.5. Overall, 4,690 workers lost their lives in 2010, versus 4,551 in 2009. The higher toll in 2010 partly reflected the disaster at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, where 29 workers died, along with the the Deepwater Horizon blowout, which took 11 lives, and a blast at a Tesoro Corp. oil refinery in Washington State that killed seven. Bloomberg BNA, The Center for Public Integrity

Texas foundry faces possible workplace safety fines of $107,600. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration accused AA Foundries of exposing workers at its 23-employee San Antonio plant to excessive levels of  airborne lead and copper as well as noise. In all, the agency cited the company for 21 offenses, including a willful violation, its most serious charge. AA Foundries’ lawyer said the company will contest the charges. OSHA cited “things that just seem inconsequential,” the lawyer said. “For example, they said that there is lead in the air. Well, of course there is, it’s a foundry.” He said AA Foundries requires employees to wear filters if they work in an area with lead in the air. San Antonio Express-News, OSHA

Recalls: Gerber instant knives, Target bunny sippy cups, Whoozit baby rattles, American Regent epinephrine, Hostess candy mix, Mrs. Weaver’s Pimento Spread, dry and smoked vobla fish

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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