U.S. Premature Birth Rate Declines, But Remains One of the Highest Among Industrialized Nations

Report finds that the nation’s preterm rate in 2012 was 11.5 percent, a 15-year low. But the March of Dimes, the nonprofit that conducts the annual assessment, said the U.S. could reduce its rate to 9.6 percent by fully embracing efforts to prevent early births. Six states, including California, already have achieved or exceeded that level. Premature births, coming before the 37th week of pregnancy, are the leading cause of newborn deaths in the U.S. and can contribute to life-long problems for survivors. Prevention strategies include reducing smoking and improving prenatal care for pregnant women.  The U.S. last year ranked 131st out of 184 countries, on par with Somalia, Turkey and Thailand and far behind such nations as Finland and China. USA Today

Small farms escape job safety regulation in Iowa, even though agriculture is the state’s No. 1 source of occupational deaths. Farm deaths in Iowa averaged 25 per year from 2001 to 2011. Yet the limited attention that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration pays to agriculture is aimed at large farms, leaving the rest on an honors system that lets dangerous farm practices fly under the radar until serious accidents occur. During 2011, only 31 inspections were performed on Iowa’s 92,300 farms. Even so, agriculture-related fatalities are down from the 1990s. In 1998, about 80 people suffered fatal farm injuries in Iowa.

Climate change will squeeze the world’s food supply in coming decades, scientists say. The warnings come in a leaked draft of a report being written by a United Nations group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its authors conclude that rising temperatures will have benefits for crops in some places, but that globally they will make it harder for crops to thrive — perhaps reducing production overall by as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century. The document, which could change before it is officially released in March, reflects a large body of research in recent years showing how sensitive crops appear to be to heat waves. The report also foresees worsening droughts, flooding and disease. The New York Times, The Associated Press

35 years after the evacuation of Love Canal began, lawsuits from new residents pile up. The residents were attracted to the Niagara Falls, N.Y., neighborhood by promises of cleaned-up land and affordable homes. But they now claim they are being sickened by buried chemicals from the same disaster that spurred President Jimmy Carter in 1978 to issue a disaster declaration. Six families have sued over the past several months, and lawyers say another 1,100 claims could come. The suits contend Love Canal was never properly remediated and toxins continue to escape. The main target of the suits, Occidental Petroleum, which bought the company that dumped the chemicals, says the waste is contained and that state and U.S. agencies back up its position. The Associated Press, The Buffalo News

Johns Hopkins Medicine suspends its black lung program. The move followed an investigation by The Center for Public Integrity and ABC News revealing how medical opinions from doctors at the university’s prestigious hospital have helped coal companies thwart efforts by ailing mine workers to receive disability benefits. Johns Hopkins issued a statement saying that the suspension will continue until it completes a review of its black lung X-ray reading service. At the center of the issue is work performed by Dr. Paul Wheeler, who heads the Johns Hopkins unit where radiologists read X-rays of coal miners seeking black lung benefits. Wheeler found no severe black lung disease in the more than 1,500 cases decided since 2000 that he reviewed. The Center for Public Integrity-ABC News

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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