Wednesday

U.S. Urges Phasing Out Thousands of Older Rail Tank Cars That Carry Crude Oil

Spurred by fiery train crashes, Transportation Department proposes new rail safety rules. Thousands of older rail tank cars that carry crude oil would be phased out within two years under regulations proposed today in response to recent crashes, including the oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last year that killed 47 people. Accident investigators have complained for decades that the cars are too easily punctured or ruptured, spilling their contents, when derailed. Besides oil, the proposed regulations would also apply to the transport of ethanol and other hazardous liquids. The proposal would make mandatory a 40 mph speed limit through urban areas that freight railroads had voluntarily agreed to earlier this year. Regulators said they’re considering lowering the speed limit to 30 mph for trains lacking more advanced braking systems. The Associated Press

Study finds evidence of a broader cancer threat from surgical device commonly used in hysterectomies. The analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, follows a government assessment that use of the device, a laparoscopic power morcellator, is risky. In April, the Food and Drug Administration advised doctors to stop using morcellators for removing fibroids in the uterus. The agency concluded the device could spread previously undetected cancerous tissue inside the body, significantly worsening the patient’s odds of survival. The new study by Columbia University doctors found that 1 in 368 women undergoing hysterectomies have a hidden uterine cancer that is at risk of being spread by a morcellator. Beyond that, the researchers found the procedure presents the risk of spreading other types of cancer beyond the uterine sarcomas that had been the focus of concern. The findings are likely to fuel calls to limit or eliminate the procedure. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times

U.S. regulators deny Texas farmers’ push to use a powerful herbicide against invasive “super weeds.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited risks to drinking water and other hazards in its refusal of state officials’ emergency request to allow the farmers to use Milo-Pro to protect cotton crops. The herbicide includes the chemical propazine, a possible human carcinogen. Texas had asked the EPA for an exemption that would have permitted use of the pesticide on up to 3 million acres–roughly half the state’s land planted with cotton this year–to combat palmer amaranth, or pigweed, a fast-growing weed that can grow 3 inches a day and has developed a resistance to widely used chemicals. Separately, the EPA has told Texas officials that more than 310 public drinking water systems in the state — nearly 4.5 percent of its regulated public water systems — have quality issues that haven’t been adequately addressed, the worst level in the nation. The Wall Street Journal, The Texas Tribune

Black lung benefits may have been wrongly denied to about 1,100 coal miners. A deputy secretary of the U.S. Labor Department told a Senate panel that an influential doctor at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions systematically found that miners did not have black lung when, in fact, many of them did. Medical opinions by the doctor should be assumed not to be credible, and affected miners have been told they should re-apply for benefits. Miners who get black lung, a debilitating and incurable disease caused by breathing in coal dust, are entitled by federal law to compensation, often from their former employer. But a news investigation revealed last year two ways that coal companies undermined miners’ claims to benefits: Lawyers for coal companies withheld evidence that miners had the disease, and doctors consistently failed to diagnose black lung. The Center for Public Integrity, ABC News, BuzzFeed

Judge rejects claim that companies boycotted a table saw safety device. Citing a lack of evidence, a federal judge has dismissed a suit that accused leading power tool makers of conspiring to thwart adoption of a safety device that could prevent thousands of finger amputations in table saw accidents. According to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton, the allegations  by SawStop LLC, developer of  the safety device, failed “to cross the line from possible to plausible.” SawStop claimed the defendants violated anti-trust laws by engaging in a group boycott. But the judge said the companies might have acted individually to spurn a technology they considered to be of “uncertain commercial viability and safety.”  As reported by FairWarning, more than 67,000 U.S. workers and do-it-yourselfers suffer blade contact injuries annually, including 4,000 amputations, according to federal estimates. The SawStop system instantly stops a whirring blade on contact with skin, typically resulting in a minor nick instead of a life-changing injury.

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein and Myron Levin

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