Trial to Begin Against 3 Charged in Deadly Food Poisoning Outbreak

U.S. prosecutors take aim against Peanut Corp. of America officials accused in conspiracy to sell tainted products. Jury selection begins today in Albany, Ga., in the case against three former company officials accused of scheming to manufacture and ship salmonella-tainted peanuts that killed nine people, sickened more than 700 and prompted one of the largest food recalls ever. The defendants are Stewart Parnell, PCA’s former chief executive; along with his brother, Michael Parnell, a former company vice president; and Mary Wilkerson, the ex-manager of quality control. Federal investigators found filthy conditions at the company’s Georgia plant and said the defendants fabricated certificates that claimed peanut product shipments were safe when tests showed otherwise. The case is a rare federal prosecution linked to an outbreak of food poisoning. The Associated Press, Atlanta Business Chronicle

Amusement park rides are faster than ever, but no one knows how safe they are. There is no U.S. agency responsible for collecting safety data or enforcing standards. Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates portable rides like the ones at county fairs, the most popular amusement park rides are the so-called fixed-site rides, which remain outside the agency’s jurisdiction. As a result, regulation varies by city and state; rides may be inspected by departments that normally handle building inspections or labor issues. “Roller coasters that hurtle riders at extreme speeds along precipitous drops should not be exempt from federal safety oversight,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey, D.-Mass. “A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour.” A study found that more than 93,000 children under 18 were treated in emergency rooms for amusement-park-related injuries between 1990 and 2010. The New York Times

Confidentiality agreements in suits over 2013 fertilizer plant explosion could hide key health and safety information. The agreements, already approved by a judge handling litigation over the devastating explosion in West, Texas, may mean that people will never find out much more about what happened or how to prevent a future disaster. Richard Zitrin, a law professor who has testified before the U.S. Senate about secrecy in the courts, called the confidentiality agreements “some of the most outrageous examples I have ever seen. It is completely unlimited.” Information that is being kept secret could include more details on injuries, safety testing of the fertilizer that exploded, what the city knew about the plant’s dangers, and how it had planned for emergencies. The West blast killed 15 and injured hundreds. The Dallas Morning News

Rising U.S. coal exports could undermine Obama administration’s goal of slashing greenhouse gases. With companies looking to double America’s coal exports, the nation’s growing position in the global energy trade could make global warming worse, fueling the world’s demand for coal when many experts say most fossil fuels should remain in the ground to avert the most disastrous effects of climate change. In 2012, about 9 percent of worldwide coal exports originated in the U.S. “This is the single biggest flaw in U.S. climate policy,” said Roger Martella, the former general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. “Although the administration is moving forward with climate change regulations at home, we don’t consider how policy decisions in the United States impact greenhouse gas emissions in other parts of the world.” The Associated Press

Peace Corps worker’s death raises questions about the agency’s medical care. Nick Castle, 23, died last year of a gastrointestinal illness seven months after heading to rural China for the Peace Corps. An outside expert who examined the case said Castle’s death could not have been prevented. But it followed a series of medical missteps, including the Peace Corps doctor’s slowness in realizing that Castle needed hospitalization. Castle died as the Peace Corps was making extensive changes to its health care system, after a scathing internal report that exposed lapses in the care of another volunteer who died in Morocco in 2009. As FairWarning has reported, volunteers who serve in impoverished, dangerous countries often endure sexual and other assaults, psychological trauma and physical injuries, as well as exotic diseases. Yet former volunteers-turned-activists say the government workers’ compensation program that is supposed to provide medical care and disability payments for the injured is rife with troubles.  The New York Times

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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