Friday Briefing

Asbestos litigation booms. Experts say that, half a century after the first lawsuits over illnesses linked to asbestos exposure and 40 years after regulation curtailed use of the insulating and fire-resistant mineral, scads of cases are being filed. Meanwhile, a tabulation of jury verdicts and settlements found that the average award was $6.3 million in 2009, $17.6 million in 2010 and $10.5 million in 2011 — amounts much greater than what lawyers say was the norm more than a decade earlier. Yet the dozens of trusts set up by companies forced into bankruptcy by asbestos liabilities are facing such heavy claims that many are paying only a few cents on the dollar, and some have suspended settlements. Reuters

Proponents press ahead with anti-sustainability bills in three states. Alabama, Kansas and Louisiana are considering measures banning or condemning the United Nations Agenda 21 principles of sustainable development. The 27 nonbinding principles are meant to guide policies to eradicate poverty and combat climate change, among other environmental threats. Legislation opposing the principles has failed this year in Arizona and four other states. The bills have mirrored language in model legislation by the John Birch Society, which is dedicated to fighting what it calls an international plot by global forces “to abolish U.S. independence, build a world government or otherwise undermine our personal liberties.” InsideClimate News

Panel backs use of drug to help prevent healthy but at-risk people from contracting the AIDS virus. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to adopt its expert panel’s recommendation to approve Gilead Sciences’ widely used HIV drug, Truvada, as a prevention tool. It would be the first time the agency has allowed a company to market a drug to help prevent infection, a milestone in the effort to combat HIV and AIDS. The panel overwhelmingly approved the use of the drug by gay men and heterosexual couples in which one person is HIV-infected. Separately, an FDA panel supported approval of the obesity drug lorcaserin, the second weight-loss drug to gain a recommendation this year. The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune

California governor removes doctor in tobacco industry-funded ad from state health panel. Dr. La Donna Porter, who had served since 2005 on an expert panel that identifies chemicals known to cause developmental or reproductive harm, was one of six members fired by Gov. Jerry Brown. Porter drew controversy for appearing in a recent industry-funded ad against Proposition 29, a June ballot measure that would raise taxes by $1 per pack of cigarettes in California. Separately, a study by University of Illinois researchers found that the 2009 federal tobacco excise tax increase on cigarettes and other tobacco products substantially cut use among middle school and high school students. The Sacramento Bee

U.S. senator urges rental car firms to protect consumers. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, sent letters to Enterprise, Avis and Dollar/Thrifty asking them to pledge, as Hertz already has, “to not rent out or sell any vehicles under safety recall until the defect has been remedied.” Boxer is backing legislation to ban car rental companies from renting or selling vehicles that are under recall. The legislation was spurred by the deaths of two sisters from Santa Cruz, Calif., in the crash of a car under recall that they had rented from Enterprise. Separately, a study released this week by Carfax found that, last year, more than 2.7 million used cars were offered for sale online without safety recall repairs. The Detroit News

Recalls: Ford Windstar minivans, F-150 pickup trucks, Expedition and Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicles and 2012-13 Mustangs, BMW 3 Series, Banzai inflatable pool slides, Galaxy motorcycle helmets, Kennedy folding step stools, children’s letterman jackets sold at Dillard’s, Salsa bicycle racks, frozen tuna strips


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