Thursday Briefing

Study on mice points to potential damage to immune systems from military burn pits. Since returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, untold numbers of soldiers have come down with puzzling health problems, including chronic bronchitis and neurological defects. Many blame exposure to open-air “burn pits” that incinerated trash — from human waste to computer parts — on military bases. Pentagon officials have consistently reassured personnel that there was no specific evidence connecting the two. But now, only days after the disclosure of a memo suggesting that Army officials knew how dangerous the pits were, an animal study offers evidence linking burn pits to depleted immune systems. Wired

Los Angeles bans plastic bags at supermarket checkout lines. The action makes Los Angeles the biggest city in the nation to prohibit the bags and hands a hard-fought victory to environmentalists. The phaseout over the next 16 months at an estimated 7,500 stores will mean that shoppers need to bring reusable bags or buy paper bags for 10 cents. The ban came after years of campaigning by clean-water advocates who said it would reduce the amount of trash in landfills, the region’s waterways and the ocean. They estimate Californians use 12 billion plastic bags a year and that less than 5 percent are recycled. Other California cities, including San Jose, San Francisco and Long Beach, previously adopted bans. Los Angeles Times

BP to spend more than $400 million to settle complaints about pollution at its northwest Indiana refinery. The measures at the Whiting refinery, the nation’s sixth-largest, are intended to reduce emissions of lung-damaging soot and other air pollution. Federal regulators had accused BP of violating a 2001 legal agreement over previous pollution problems at the Whiting plant and cited the company for repeatedly exceeding emissions limits on flares that shoot out harmful chemicals during frequent malfunctions. Changes outlined in the federal consent decree require BP to spend more than $400 million to dramatically reduce flaring by capturing most of the gases. It also will pay an $8 million fine. Chicago Tribune, EPA

Shell poised to begin drilling test wells in July in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of northern Alaska. The move, barring a successful last-minute legal challenge by environmental groups, will open a new frontier in domestic oil exploration and accelerate a global rush to tap the resources beneath the frozen ocean. Industry experts and national security officials view the Alaskan Arctic as the last great domestic oil prospect, one that over time could bring the country a giant step closer to cutting its dependence on foreign oil. But many Alaska Natives and environmental advocates say drilling threatens wildlife and pristine shorelines, and perpetuates the nation’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels. The New York Times

Anti-smoking advocates in Indonesia preparing lawsuit citing child addicts. The planned class-action suit against tobacco companies and the Indonesian government, in a society where one in three people smoke, will argue that feeble regulation has left children dangerously exposed to the risks of smoking. Indonesia is a paradise for tobacco companies, with the world’s fifth largest population of smokers. The government even gives tax incentives for the manufacture of hand-rolled cigarettes, and smoking has gotten more popular as the economy grows. That has attracted international tobacco firms, trying to replace dwindling sales elsewhere, to join domestic companies in the market. Reuters 

Recalls: Portfolio 7-inch reflector assemblies, Honeyville Honey Barbecue Sauce, HT Traders sorbets, Curlin Intravenous Administration Sets

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein



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