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  December 4, 2014

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Texas Tribune Daily Brief



The Brief for Dec 4

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Compilation of Texas news by the Texas Tribune.
John Reynolds, Texas Tribune 12/04/2014   Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedIn Icon

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Benzene and Worker Cancers: 'An American Tragedy'

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A carpenter by trade, Thompson, then 70, had spent much of his life building infrastructure for the petrochemical industry in his native Texas — synthetic rubber plants in Port Neches, chemical facilities in Orange. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, he often encountered benzene, stored on job sites in 55-gallon drums, which he used as a cleaning solvent. He dipped hammers and cutters into buckets full of the sweet-smelling liquid; to expunge tar, he soaked gloves and boots in it. Thompson died before a lawsuit filed by his family against benzene suppliers could play out in court, where science linking the chemical to cancer could be put on display. Over the past 10 years, however, scores of other lawsuits, most filed by sick and dying workers like Thompson, have uncovered tens of thousands of pages of previously secret documents detailing the petrochemical industry’s campaign to undercut that science.
Kristen Lombardi, The Center for Public Integrity 12/04/2014   Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedIn Icon

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Internal Documents Reveal Industry 'Pattern of Behavior' on Toxic Chemicals

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Sixty-six years ago, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health wrote a report linking leukemia to benzene, a common solvent and an ingredient in gasoline. “It is generally considered,” he wrote, “that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.” The report is remarkable not only because of its age and candor, but also because it was prepared for and published by the oil industry’s main lobby group, the American Petroleum Institute. This document and others like it bedevil oil and chemical industry executives and their lawyers, who to this day maintain that benzene causes only rare types of cancer and only at high doses. Decades after its release, a lawyer for Shell Oil Company flagged the 1948 report as being potentially damaging in lawsuits and gave out instructions to “avoid unnecessary disclosure of sensitive documents or information” and “disclose sensitive benzene documents only on court order.”
David Heath, The Center for Public Integrity 12/04/2014   Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedIn Icon

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Oil from BP Spill Still Present on Alabama Coast: Researchers

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A new study says oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is still trapped in Alabama’s beaches four years later. The report was released by Auburn University researchers who’ve been studying the BP oil spill since shortly after it occurred. A team from Auburn collected oil on Alabama’s coast as recently as August. The research found that oil is still trapped in the sand, mostly as tar balls. Test results also show the oil degrades much slower when it’s submerged than when it’s exposed to air or water. The report says the latest findings and other research show that oil could remain an ecological threat for years. The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.
Staff, Insurance Journal 12/04/2014   Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedIn Icon

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Mich. Flooding Lawsuit Dismissed by Appeals Court

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A lawsuit alleging that the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan did not do enough to prevent flooding has been dismissed by the Michigan Court of Appeals. According to the appellate court judge, a lower court's ruling which let the lawsuit stand would have put municipalities at "unprecedented liability, and create(ed) the potential for financially crippling damage awards against cities -- and ultimately their taxpaying citizens." The lawsuit was filed by a man who alleged that the city did not have the proper infrastructure in place to prevent his home from flooding during a 2010 rainstorm. The Court of Appeals dismissed the case in a 2-1 decision which reversed a ruling by former 22nd Circuit Court Judge Donald Shelton.
John Counts, MLive 12/04/2014   Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedIn Icon

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Sanofi Whistle-Blower Claims Drugmaker Paid Kickbacks

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A former Sanofi paralegal claimed in a lawsuit that she was fired after complaining the drugmaker illegally paid $34 million in kickbacks to induce physicians, hospitals and pharmacies to switch to its diabetes drugs. In a whistle-blower suit filed in state court in Newark, New Jersey, Diane Ponte said former Chief Executive Officer Chris Viehbacher was among those at the company who engaged in the scheme. Paris-based Sanofi fired Viehbacher on Oct. 29, ending a six-year tenure marked by tension with board members and French politicians.
David Voreacos , Bloomberg 12/04/2014   Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedIn Icon

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Toyota Lessons Lost on Takata as it Resists U.S. Recall Order

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Takata Corp's resistance to a U.S. order to expand a recall of its air bag inflators is likely driven by a need to protect itself from legal liability, but risks longer-term business damage by alienating the public, experts say. Takata this week rejected a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) demand to declare its inflators defective and call in vehicles U.S.-wide for replacement. An existing recall is limited to a few hot and humid states. In a letter, Takata queried NHTSA's justification for the order while a cause for why its inflators can erupt with excessive force is still unclear. The Japanese firm left it up to automakers to decide whether to expand the recall.
CHANG-RAN KIM, Reuters 12/04/2014   Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedIn Icon

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F.D.A. Revamps System Explaining the Risks of Medicines During Pregnancy

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The FDA changed how drug companies are required to present the risks of taking medicine during pregnancy and while breast-feeding, replacing a system that officials described as confusing and outdated with a clearer, more consistent explanation of dangers. The current system, developed in the 1970s, uses letters of the alphabet to denote risk, with X being the most dangerous, but doctors say it is too vague. For example, many drugs fall into a middle category and often get a letter grade of C, which gives pregnant women a muddled message: that dangers have not been ruled out because animal studies have shown potential risks to the fetus, but that no adequate studies exist for humans. Starting in June, when the new rule will take effect, the letter-warning system in information packets that come with prescription drugs will be replaced by information that will make the risks easier for consumers and doctors to understand. The new system breaks the risk into three parts — pregnancy, lactation and fertility — and requires companies to give a summary of the dangers, including information, for example, on existing human studies and on adverse reactions caused when the drug was taken during pregnancy or lactation.
SABRINA TAVERNISE, The New York Times 12/04/2014   Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedIn Icon

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