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New Paper Revives Debate Over Whether 1991 Gulf War Soldiers Were Harmed by Nerve Gas

Scientists say chemicals released by bombing Iraqi chemical weapons depots could have blown back on U.S. troops. A paper published in the journal Neuroepidemiology tries to rebut the longstanding Pentagon position that neurotoxins, particularly sarin gas, could not have carried far enough to sicken U.S. forces. For the new paper, the authors assembled data from meteorological and intelligence reports to support their thesis that American bombs in 1991 were powerful enough to propel sarin from depots in Muthanna and Falluja high into the atmosphere, where winds whisked it hundreds of miles south to the Saudi border. Once over U.S. encampments, the toxic plume could have stalled and fallen back to the surface, the paper says. The New York Times 


Environmental Protection Agency tightens U.S. soot standards 20 percent. The move announced today will force communities to improve air quality by the end of the decade while making it harder for some industries to expand operations without strict pollution controls. The new rules limit soot, or fine particulate matter, that causes disease by entering the lungs and bloodstream. It can stem from activities ranging from burning wood to vehicle emissions. Fine particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or one-thirtieth the width of a human hair, ranks as the country’s most widespread deadly pollutant. The EPA will determine which areas exceed the rules in 2014, and the communities will then have six years to comply. The Washington Post 


Sales of chewing tobacco and other smokeless products rise in California. State officials, expressing special concern about the impact on youths, reported that smokeless tobacco use among high school students grew to 3.9 percent in 2010, up from 3.1 percent in 2004. Nearly $211 million in non-cigarette tobacco and nicotine products were sold in California in 2011, up from $77 million in 2001. The main smokeless products in California are snuff and chewing tobacco, which have similar health risks to cigarettes. There was also an increase in sales of snus, small packets of tobacco placed under the lip. “Some of these products are really flying under the radar,” a state health official said, adding that they are so small they can be used in classrooms. Los Angeles Times 


Falling TV sets killed 29 people, mostly children, in the U.S. last year. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, in a report, also said about 18,900 people per year are taken to hospital emergency rooms to be treated for injuries from falling TVs. The problem is happening despite the widespread switch to lighter flat-screens. As FairWarning reported in August, safety experts say the switch may actually be making the problem worse, because consumers often take old, heavy sets out of their family rooms and put them atop unstable bedroom dressers and playroom shelves. “Children will climb up on furniture to try to turn the TV on, and there goes the heavy television as well as the piece of furniture,” said Inez Tenenbaum, who heads the CPSC. USA Today 


Walgreens to pay $16.57 million to settle charges of illegal dumping in California. The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed in June by district attorneys around the state. It accused more than 600 of the pharmacy chain’s stores of illegally disposing pesticides, bleach, paint, pharmaceutical waste and other items. The stores were also accused of unlawfully disposing of customer records with confidential medical information. Inspections around the state found that Walgreens routinely sent hazardous wastes and medical records to landfills. A company spokesman said Walgreens settled the case to avoid protracted litigation. Since 2010, Walmart, Costco and CVS have reached similar settlements over charges they violated California toxic disposal laws. The Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle 


California tops “judicial hellholes.” The pro-business American Tort Reform Association, in its annual ranking, said “the sheer number of atrociously abusive lawsuits” would be the “basis of a blockbuster Hollywood comedy, were it not for their negative impact on the state’s economy.” It called California a hotspot for class actions against “Big Food,” including cases against Nutella, Kellogg’s and McDonald’s. Lawrence Levine, a University of Pacific law professor, countered: “We have better safety or we have better products because of these class action lawsuits. What we often hear about are the lawsuits that are filed. But we don’t follow up and learn that they’ve been dismissed.” His lament: “People who have been wronged can’t get to trial in a timely manner.” The Wall Street Journal, KXTV (Sacramento, Calif.)

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein