- FairWarning - https://www.fairwarning.org -

Public Health Experts Warn of Controversial Experiments on Mutant Viruses

Report points to risks of pathogens escaping from laboratories and spreading globally. Several groups of scientists around the world are creating and altering viruses to understand how natural strains might evolve into more lethal forms that spread easily among humans. But researchers at Harvard and Yale universities assert in a new report that the benefits of the work are outweighed by the risk of putting human lives in danger by unleashing an accidental pandemic. “We are not saying this is going to happen, but when the potential is a pandemic, even a small chance is something you have to weigh very heavily,” one of the co-authors said. The report threatens to reignite a crisis in science that erupted in 2012 when a U.S. biosecurity panel ruled that two studies on mutant bird flu were too dangerous to publish. The Guardian

U.S. authorities say at least four workers have died apparently due to exposure to fracking chemicals. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said initial government field studies on fracking operations suggest that workers could be exposed to hazardous levels of volatile hydrocarbons from used fracking fluids. The workers who died, all since 2010, apparently encountered the chemicals during flowback operations, which involve transferring, storing and measuring fluids that return to the surface after fracking, NIOSH said. The agency highlighted how little is known about the potential health hazards associated with fracking, a controversial drilling practice that involves injecting chemically treated water and sand into shale rock to free trapped oil and gas. Daily Environment Report, Bloomberg

Congressional investigators cite scant U.S. oversight of explosive chemical. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that the  government has no way of fully knowing which U.S. chemical plants stock ammonium nitrate, the substance that exploded in April 2013 at a Texas fertilizer plant and killed 14 people. The report faulted outdated federal policies, poor information sharing with states, regulatory gaps and a raft of industry exemptions. It urged broad changes in U.S. safety rules. President Obama pledged to stiffen enforcement following last year’s deadly explosion in West, Texas, and a federal working group established by the administration is due to submit a report this month outlining ways to improve oversight. The Associated Press

Czech court hands down life sentences to two producers of poisonous methanol-laced alcohol. Eight other people involved in the distribution of the tainted bootleg liquor — which killed 50 and injured dozens two years ago — were sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight to 21 years. Rudolf Fian and Tomas Krepela were the two masterminds behind mixing 5,000 liters of methanol, a toxic liquid commonly used as antifreeze in engines, with the same amount of pure beverage-grade alcohol. Unscrupulous criminal networks sometimes use methanol to produce liquor because it’s cheap and impossible for consumers to distinguish from drinking alcohol. The victims included Czechs, Slovaks and Poles. The life sentences were the stiffest penalty for public endangerment in the country’s history since the fall of communism in 1989. The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press

Spurred by three deaths, a recall is launched for 113,000 adult portable bed handles. The Consumer Product Safety Commission said the devices — which are designed to help patients get in and out of bed and also are called side rails — are being voluntarily recalled because they pose a risk of entrapment and strangulation. The three women whose deaths sparked the recall died after becoming trapped between the mattress and the bed handles, all in accidents that occurred during or before 2007. The handles were sold nationwide from 1994 through 2007 by Bed Handles of Blue Springs, Mo.  The devices lack safety straps that were provided with later models. Other portable bed rails have been involved in tragedies, too. The safety commission said 174 deaths overall were linked to adult portable bed rails from 2003 through 2012. Chicago Tribune, The New York Times

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein