Deadly Blast in East Harlem Spotlights Problem of Aging Gas Lines in U.S. Cities

New York City explosion comes as utilities nationwide are grappling with leak-prone gas mains. Authorities said today that at least seven people were killed and dozens injured in the East Harlem blast Wednesday that razed two buildings. The explosion is blamed on a gas leak, drawing fresh attention to a nationwide issue: aging natural gas mains — many in difficult-to-access locations in older U.S. urban areas — that have deteriorated and are leak-prone.  The mains causing the most concern are made of cast iron and often date back to before World War II. Gas main problems were underscored by a recently published study by researchers who spent two months driving around Washington, D.C., with monitoring equipment. They found a dozen sites with underground methane concentrations at 10 times the threshold at which an explosion can occur. National Geographic, Time

Auto safety advocates urge GM to set up a $1 billion fund to compensate accident victims and their families. The safety advocates also asked General Motors to waive its post-bankruptcy legal immunity against claims connected to an ignition switch defect that has led to the recall of 1.6 million vehicles. Under the government-supervised bankruptcy restructuring of GM, the automaker was given immunity from product liability or wrongful death claims due to accidents that occurred before it exited bankruptcy in mid-2009. Of the 12 deaths GM has tied to the ignition switch flaw, at least five happened before the bankruptcy. Separately, GM disclosed that it knew of faulty ignition switches as early as 2001—three years earlier than previously reported—and has yet to determine the full scope of the problem. USA Today, Wall Street Journal

Drug company agrees to pay more than $27.6 million to settle U.S. and Illinois allegations. The company, Teva Pharmaceuticals, was accused of inducing a Chicago psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Reinstein, to overprescribe clozapine, a powerful antipsychotic drug. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the U.S. Justice Department claimed that a Teva subsidiary paid Reinstein to overprescribe clozapine to Medicare and Medicaid patients. Under the settlement, Teva did not admit to any wrongdoing. Previous reports indicated that Reinstein in 2007 had prescribed more clozapine to patients in Medicaid’s Illinois program than did all of the doctors in the Medicaid programs of Texas, Florida and North Carolina combined. At least three of Reinstein’s patients died of clozapine intoxication. ProPublica

Report documents the surge in Americans taking drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The assessment by Express Scripts, the nation’s largest prescription drug maker, found that the number of Americans taking the medicines rose 36 percent from 2008 to 2012, with particularly sharp gains among women. Almost 4.8 million privately insured people were on ADHD medicines in 2012, the report said. It also found that boys 12 to 18 years old are the most heavily prescribed, with about 9.3 percent on ADHD drugs in 2012. Some experts said the report provided the clearest evidence to date that the disorder is being diagnosed in children and treated with medication at far beyond reasonable rates, and that the problem also might be emerging among adults. Bloomberg, The New York Times

18 Ohio coal sites remain in operation despite having expired pollution discharge permits. Ohio Environmental Protection Agency records show that 13 of the 18 sites — which include mines, waste storage and other coal operations — have permits that expired since Republican Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011. Several holders of expired permits gave generously to Kasich’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, state campaign finance records show. Environmentalists contend delayed permit renewals allow mining companies to avoid making pollution-control improvements intended to safeguard water quality. But under Ohio law, as long as a company applies for a renewal at least six months before its permit expires, it can operate under that expired permit indefinitely. The Associated Press

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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