US Asks Federal Judge to Toss Out Nevada Plutonium Lawsuit

The federal government wants a judge to reject Nevada’s request for a court order to remove weapons-grade plutonium from a site north of Las Vegas, arguing that officials have already promised that no more will be shipped to the state.
                   
In documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Reno, the federal government brands as “conjectural” or “hypothetical” state claims that residents are harmed by radiation from the one-half metric ton of plutonium secretly trucked a year ago from South Carolina to Nevada.
                   
The decision cannot be undone, the material is already in the state and the federal government has sovereign immunity, meaning the state can’t force the federal government to act, the motion contends.
                   
The Department of Energy “routinely and safely transports nuclear materials into and out of Nevada and stores classified amounts of plutonium in Nevada,” it added.
                   
State Attorney General Aaron Ford is pressing for the court order, saying the state was not informed of the shipments until they had already been made and can’t trust the federal agency to abide by after-the-fact promises.
                   
“While we appreciate the Department of Energy’s new position that it will not ship additional plutonium here, a court order to this effect will hold the department accountable,” Ford said Monday in a statement.
                   
The state maintains the Energy Department failed to conduct proper environmental reviews, and that an accident transporting, handling or storing the highly radioactive material could permanently harm Las Vegas, home to 2.2 million people and host to more than 40 million tourists a year.
                   
“The long-term storage of this plutonium has exposed, and will continue to expose Nevada’s property, lands, water, air and citizens to greater radiological pollution and increased risk of ecological and economic catastrophe,” state attorneys said in documents filed Oct. 23.
                   
The Energy Department disclosed last January that the plutonium had been taken in late 2018 to a specialized facility at the vast Nevada National Security Site, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. The site was used to conduct nuclear weapons tests from 1945 to 1992.
                   
The U.S. government had been ordered by a federal judge in South Carolina to remove a metric ton (2,204 pounds) of plutonium from the Savannah River nuclear weapons refining complex by 2020, and to remove another 5 metric tons (11,020 pounds) in future years.
                   
The Energy Department says it plans to eventually move the plutonium to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April promised to send no more plutonium to Nevada and to remove the amount already delivered by 2027.
                   
A spokeswoman for Democratic Sen. Catherine Marie Cortez Masto of Nevada said last week that Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Perry, said he will abide by the department’s promise to remove the plutonium.

New and Old Drugs May Offer New Ways to Fight Heart Disease

Novel drugs may offer fresh ways to reduce heart risks beyond the usual medicines to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.One new study found that heart attack survivors benefited from a medicine long used to treat gout. Several experimental drugs also showed early promise for interfering with heart-harmful genes without modifying the genes themselves – in one case, with treatment just twice a year.The research was featured at an American Heart Association conference ending Monday in Philadelphia.”There’s a lot of excitement” about the new gene-targeting medicines, especially because they seem to last so long, said Dr. Karol Watson, of the University of California, Los Angeles.Scientists have been exploring gene therapy – altering DNA – to attack the root cause of many diseases. The new drugs essentially accomplish the same thing without tampering with genes, said the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Daniel Rader, who has consulted for some makers of these drugs.The medicines work by silencing or blocking messages that genes give to cells to make proteins that can do harm, such as allowing cholesterol to accumulate. The first few of these “RNA-interference” drugs recently were approved for other conditions, and research is also targeting heart disease.Farthest along is inclisiran, tested in 1,561 people with heart disease from clogged arteries who still had high LDL, the bad form of cholesterol, despite taking standard drugs. They were given a shot of inclisiran or a dummy drug when they joined the study, three months later and then every six months.The drug lowered LDL by 56% without serious side effects. More testing will show whether it also lowers heart attacks and other problems, not just cholesterol. Inclisiran’s maker, The Medicines Company, plans to seek federal approval for it later this year.Two other RNA interference drugs aim at a different target – triglycerides, another fat in the blood that’s elevated in one quarter of Americans. Treatments include very low-fat diets, weight loss, fish oil and drugs, but doctors say more and better therapies are needed.Each RNA interference drug was tested at various doses in 40 people. A single shot lowered triglycerides by 30% to 67%, and the benefit lasted for at least four months. The studies were just intended to show safety; Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals is developing both drugs.Other research found new benefits from older drugs. AstraZeneca’s Farxiga, originally developed to treat diabetes, also lowered the risk of heart problems in heart failure patients who did not have diabetes. Among 2,605 of such patients treated for 18 months, about 9% of those on Farxiga had worsening heart failure or heart-related death versus nearly 13% of those not given the drug. That worked out to a 27% lower risk, without extra serious side effects.Surprising benefits also were seen in a Canadian study of the decades-old gout drug. The anti-inflammatory drug colchicine – sold as Colcrys, Mitigare and in generic form – was tested in 4,745 people who recently had a heart attack.After about two years, colchicine users had a 23% lower risk of suffering a new heart attack, heart-related death, stroke, cardiac arrest or urgent need for an artery-opening procedure compared with a group given dummy pills. The benefit came mostly from preventing strokes and artery-opening procedures, and some heart doctors would rather have seen more difference in heart attacks and deaths.Colchicine is being tested in several other studies, and more evidence is needed before using it routinely to lower heart risks, Dr. L. Kristin Newby of Duke University wrote in a commentary published with the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, a Northwestern University cardiologist and program chief for the heart conference, was more supportive.”When you have a safe drug that’s easily available, it’s going to be hard to hold this one back,” he said.

Hazardous Bushfire Smoke Blankets Sydney, Residents Warned to Stay Inside

Heavy winds stirred dozens of fires across Australia’s east coast on Tuesday, blanketing Sydney in hazardous smoke and prompting health warnings for the country’s most populous city.Wildfires have destroyed about 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of farmland and bush over the past couple of weeks, fuelled by tinder-dry conditions after three years of drought that experts say has been exacerbated by climate change.Strong winds fanned around 60 fires still ablaze across New South Wales (NSW) state and officials said smoke that stretched across Sydney was measured at 10 times above hazardous levels in some parts of the city.The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said the smoke would linger for most of Tuesday as strong winds exacerbated the threat of more fires across Australia’s east coast.The state’s health department said people should stay inside as much as possible.”For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat. However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are more likely to be sensitive to the health effects of smoke,” said Dr. Richard Broom, Director of Environmental Health at NSW Health.Australia’s bushfires are a common and deadly threat but the early outbreak of fires in the southern spring this year has already claimed at least four lives and destroyed more than 300 homes over the past week.NSW RFS said firefighters were working desperately to strengthen containment lines, with temperatures across the east coast set to soar for much of the week.”More than 1,300 firefighters are working on these fires, undertaking backburning operations and strengthening containment lines ahead of forecast hot, dry and windy weather, with seven areas under a total fire ban,” the RFS said in a statement.

California Sues E-Cigarette Maker Juul for Selling Nicotine Products to Youth

The state of California on Monday sued e-cigarette maker Juul Labs, alleging the San Francisco company engaged in a “systematic” and “wildly successful” campaign to attract teenagers to its nicotine devices.The lawsuit draws on internal correspondence and other evidence, asserting the company did little to prevent sales to underage customers. It also claims that Juul used a “flawed” age-verification process for online sales.Filed in California state court in Alameda County, the lawsuit also cites passages from a recent Reuters investigation that documented how Juul disregarded evidence soon after its launch in 2015 that teenagers were attracted to the product.The Reuters story documented how Juul rarely mentioned nicotine in early consumer marketing, while at the same time pitching retailers on Juul’s unique addictive power.FILE – A woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop in New York, Dec. 20, 2018.Juul spokesman Austin Finan said the company had not yet reviewed the complaint. “We remain focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes,” he said in a statement.The lawsuit seeks monetary damages based on violations of state laws governing false advertising and unfair competition, among others.Other lawsuits brought so far on behalf of teenage Juul users and other plaintiffs focus on the company’s early youth-oriented advertising and social media campaigns. The state of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against Juul earlier this year.Juul, the U.S. market leader in e-cigarettes, has come under intense scrutiny from regulators, lawmakers and attorneys general over the surging popularity of its products among teenagers in recent years. More than 27% of U.S. high schoolers used an e-cigarette in the previous month, according to a federal youth tobacco survey released in September, up from 11.7% two years ago.A recent study found that nearly 60% of high schoolers and 54% of middle schoolers who use nicotine vaping products said Juul was their usual brand.The company stopped selling many of its most popular flavors in the United States in recent months, including mint and mango, as research showed those flavors were highly popular among teenagers.Age verification processThe lawsuit brought by California alleges that customers who failed Juul’s online age verification process could create multiple accounts to circumvent the system or ask Juul customer service employees to adjust the address or name to try again.Sales records in California, according to the suit, show the company sent thousands of Juul devices and pods to fictitious names including “Beer Can” and “Patricia Juul,” and to addresses such as “no signature needed, Palo Alto.”The lawsuit quotes correspondence earlier this year from a Juul senior developer, Frederic Boivin, agreeing with another employee that the company shouldn’t be allowed to edit customer information because it risked “huge compliance violations.”Referring to a specific case, he added: “For all we know this is an underage person,” according to the suit.Boivin went on to tell Eadon Jacobs, a director of digital product at Juul, that “you can edit everything,” according to the suit. Boivin and Jacobs did not respond to requests for comment.California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on Monday that Juul “targeted underage Californians with its marketing and sales practices,” and is engaging in business practices that are “endangering lives, especially of our children.”
 

Trump Backing Off Banning Vaping Flavors Popular with Teens

When President Donald Trump boarded Air Force One to fly to a Kentucky campaign rally two weeks ago, a plan was in place for him to give final approval to a plan to ban most flavored e-cigarettes.By the time Trump landed back at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington a few hours later, the plan was off. And its future is unclear.For nearly two months, momentum had been building inside the White House to try to halt a youth vaping epidemic that experts feared was hurting as many as 5 million teenagers.Both first lady Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, pushed for the ban, which was also being championed internally by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who has taken the lead on some public health issues.But as Trump sat surrounded by political advisers on the flights to and from Lexington, he grew reluctant to sign the ban, convinced it could alienate voters who would be financially or otherwise affected by a vaping ban, according to two White House and campaign officials not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.A news conference scheduled by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to announce the ban was canceled, while more meetings with industry leaders and lobbyists were proposed, according to the officials.Trump tweeted last week that he’ll be meeting with vaping industry representatives, medical professionals and others “to come up with an acceptable solution to the Vaping and E-cigarette dilemma.” The White House has yet to announce a date for a meeting.FILE- Flavored vaping solutions are shown in a window display at a vape and smoke shop in New York, Sept. 16, 2019.This month, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and others showed the president polling data indicating that e-cigarette users could abandon him if he followed through with the ban, the officials said.Campaign aides also highlighted an aggressive social media campaign — (hash)IVapeIVote —  in which advocates claimed a ban would force the closure of vaping shops, eliminating jobs and sending users of electronic cigarettes back to traditional smokes. Parscale also pointed out the risk that a ban could have on e-cigarette users in key battleground states that Trump narrowly won in 2016.Others in the West Wing, including Conway, have argued that a ban could be a winning issue with suburban voters, including mothers, who have fled the president in large numbers. Few would predict where Trump, who is known to abruptly change his mind, would end up since he recently has been consumed with other matters, notably televised impeachments hearings.The vaping industry’s largest trade group said Monday the administration was heading “in the right direction for adult smokers and their families.”“Bans don’t work, they never have,” Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, said in a statement.Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, an advocacy organization, added that the government should put in place “sensible and targeted regulations” before it resorts to prohibition, which opponents of a ban said could lead to the creation of an underground market for e-cigarettes.But Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said Trump would be guilty of “terrible public policy” and “bad politics” if he backs down.“This is one of the very few issues on which public views are unified,” Myers said in a telephone interview. “There are a small number of vape shop owners who are loud and don’t care. But there are millions more moms and dads who are deeply concerned.”Robin Koval, president and CEO of the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit, anti-tobacco organization, called on Trump to implement the original plan.“The health of America’s youth must come first and is not for sale or political gain,” Koval said in a statement. The first lady opened the White House to a group of young people from the Truth Initiative in October to tell her about their experiences with vaping.FILE – A high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Trump’s initial pledge Sept. 11 to ban virtually all flavored e-cigarettes stunned vaping proponents and was immediately embraced by anti-tobacco advocates. In an Oval Office appearance with the first lady and Azar, Trump said the government would act within weeks to protect children from fruit, candy, dessert and other sweet vaping flavors, including mint and menthol.The announcement followed a tweet two days earlier by Mrs. Trump expressing concern “about the growing epidemic of e-cigarette use in our children.”“We need to do all we can to protect the public from tobacco-related disease and death, and prevent e-cigarettes from becoming an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for a generation of youth,” she said.But within days, Trump tweeted that e-cigarettes might be a less-harmful alternative for smokers, a point long made by the industry. Meanwhile, vaping lobbyists, conservative groups and Republican lawmakers from key states warned Trump that a crackdown could cost him with voters.The Vapor Technology Association launched ads and an online campaign promising to punish Trump and other politicians who support vaping restrictions. Conservative groups that have long promoted vaping as an alternative to smoking, including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, joined the criticism.That group and others helped organize protests against banning flavors, including one outside the White House. Trump supporters also showed up at some of his campaign rallies holding signs expressing their opposition to a ban.The industry warned some 15,000 to 19,000 vaping shops across the country — and jobs — could be wiped out if flavors were eliminated.The administration was widely expected earlier this month to announce a scaled-back flavor ban that would exempt menthol, citing research that the flavor was not widely used by children. But no decision came.Trump instead told reporters on Nov. 8 — four days after his political advisers buttonholed him on the Kentucky trip — he was considering new approaches to curbing teen use, including raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21.Last week, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson sent Trump a letter warning against “unchecked government action that stifles innovation and restricts adults’ freedom to choose safer alternatives to smoking.”Asked how disappointed the first lady would be if the president did not follow through with a ban, her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, who also speaks for the president, said Mrs. Trump’s priority is the health and safety of children.“She does not believe e-cigarettes or any nicotine products should be marketed or available to children,” Grisham said.Underage vaping has reached what health officials call epidemic levels. In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month.Anticipating a ban on flavors, Juul Labs, the nation’s largest e-cigarette maker, said this month it would stop selling its best-selling, mint-flavored nicotine pods.

California to Stop Buying GM, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler Vehicles Over Emissions Fight

California said on Monday it will halt all purchases of new vehicles for state government fleets from GM, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler and other automakers backing President Donald Trump in a battle to strip the state of authority to regulate tailpipe emissions.Between 2016 and 2018, California purchased $58.6 million in vehicles from General Motors, $55.8 million from Fiat Chrysler, $10.6 million from Toyota and $9 million from Nissan.Last month, GM, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and members of the Global Automakers trade association backed the Trump administration’s effort to bar California from setting tailpipe standards, which are more rigid than Washington’s proposed national standards.The automakers declined or did not immediately comment on California’s announced ban on purchases of their vehicles.FILE – California Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., July 23, 2019.Starting in January, the state will only buy from automakers that recognize California’s legal authority to set emissions standards. Those automakers include Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen, which struck a deal with California in July to follow revised state vehicle emissions standards.”Car makers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement.California purchased $69.2 million in vehicles from Ford over the three-year period, $565,000 from Honda and none from the German automakers.The state also disclosed it will immediately no longer allow state agencies to buy sedans powered by an internal combustion engine, with exemptions for certain public safety vehicles.California’s vehicle rules have been adopted by 13 other states.LawsuitsOn Friday, California and 22 other U.S. states challenged the Trump administration’s decision to revoke California’s legal authority to set vehicle tailpipe emissions rules and require a rising number of zero emission vehicles (ZEV).The move follows a separate lawsuit filed in September by the states against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seeking to undo a parallel determination.In August 2018, the Trump administration proposed freezing fuel efficiency requirements at 2020 levels through 2026, reversing planned 5% annual increases.The Trump administration’s final requirements are expected in the coming months and are set to modestly boost fuel efficiency versus the initial proposal, with several automakers anticipating annual increases of about 1.5%. That would be much less stringent than the Obama rules.CalMatters, a non-profit California journalism website, reported California’s decision to stop buying some vehicles earlier.
 

US Extends License For Businesses to Work With Huawei by 90 Days

The United States on Monday granted another 90 days for companies to cease doing business with China’s telecoms giant Huawei, saying this would allow service providers to continue to serve rural areas.President Donald Trump in May effectively barred Huawei from American communications networks after Washington found the company had violated US sanctions on Iran and attempted to block a subsequent investigation.The extension, renewing one issued in August, “will allow carriers to continue to service customers in some of the most remote areas of the United States who would otherwise be left in the dark,” US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.”The department will continue to rigorously monitor sensitive technology exports to ensure that our innovations are not harnessed by those who would threaten our national security.”American officials also claim Huawei is a tool of Beijing’s electronic espionage, making its equipment a threat to US national security — something the company denies.Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the company’s founder and CEO, was arrested in Canada last year and is now fighting extradition to the United States on fraud and conspiracy charges tied to US sanctions.The battle over Huawei has also landed squarely in the middle of Trump’s trade battle with Beijing.US officials initially said the two were unrelated as the Huawei actions were strictly law enforcement and national security matters but Trump has suggested a resolution could involve some common ground concerning Huawei.Following the near-collapse of US-China trade talks in May, Washington added Huawei to a list of companies effectively barred from purchasing US technology without prior approval from the US government.But, since companies have said they need time to begin to comply with the change, Trump has granted a series of limited reprieves, which officials say allow only “specific, limited” transactions involving exports and re-exports.

Report: US Agriculture Uses Child Labor, Exposes Them to Health Hazards

New research has found that U.S. agriculture uses child workers without proper training and care for their safety. The report published last week in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine says 33 children are injured every day while working on U.S. farms, and more child workers die in agriculture than in any other industry. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports rights groups blame loopholes in U.S. laws for failing to protect child workers in agriculture

WHO Calls for Stricter Regulations on E-Cigarettes

The World Health Organization is calling for stricter regulations on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes as more information comes to light about the potentially harmful impact of these products.   Health officials are increasingly worried about the risks posed by e-cigarettes as reported cases of deaths and illnesses from these devices spread from the United States to Europe and beyond. They see the recent death of a young man in Belgium and reports of vaping-related illnesses in the Philippines and other countries in the world as a call to action.  The World Health Organization says it is disturbed that vaping devices continue to be marketed as products that are healthy and that can wean smokers off their nicotine addiction.  WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier tells VOA these industry health claims are unproven.“While these electronic nicotine delivery systems may be less toxic than conventional cigarettes, this does not make them harmless,” he said.  “They produce aerosols from the vapor that contain toxicants that can result in a range of significant pathological changes.  These ends pose health risks for nonsmokers, to minors, to pregnant women — all of those who should not use such systems.”  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed at least 42 deaths in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 2,100 illnesses related to vaping products.   Vaping is an extremely profitable growth industry.  The number of people using vaping devices has increased from 7 million in 2011 to 41 million in 2018.  Profits have nearly tripled, from $6.9 billion five years ago to more than $19 billion today.  Getting the tobacco industry to refrain from the sale of electronic smoking devices will be extremely difficult.The World Health Organization says long-term studies of health implications of electronic nicotine devices should begin.  In the meantime, the U.N. health agency is issuing recommendations that in some ways mirror those enacted to control tobacco use.WHO says there should be a ban on the promotion of electronic nicotine delivery systems to nonsmokers, pregnant women and youth; measures should be taken to minimize the potential risks to users and others from these devices, and the tobacco industry should be prohibited from using unproven health claims to market vaping products.    

Measles Spread Prompts Samoa to Declare State of Emergency

Samoa declared a state of emergency this weekend, closing all schools and cracking down on public gatherings, after several deaths linked to a measles outbreak that has spread across the Pacific islands.The island state of about 200,000, south of the equator and half way between Hawaii and New Zealand, declared a measles epidemic late in October after the first deaths were reported.Since then, at least six deaths, mostly infants younger than 2, have been linked to the outbreak, the health ministry said in a statement late last week. Of the 716 suspected cases of measles, 40% required hospitalization.Worst yet to comeAs of the weekend, vaccination “for members of the public who have not yet received a vaccination injection, is now a mandatory legal requirement,” the government said in a statement. Only about two-thirds of the population has been immunized, according to the health ministry.“The way it is going now and the poor (immunization) coverage, we are anticipating the worst to come,” Samoa’s Director General of Health Leausa Take Naseri was cited in the health ministry statement as saying.He added that the children who died had not been vaccinated.New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Friday his country would send 3,000 doses of vaccine and 12 nurses to Samoa to assist with the outbreak.“Measles is highly contagious, and the outbreak has taken lives in Samoa,” Peters said in a statement. “It is in everybody’s interests that we work together to stop its spread.”Measles on the riseMeasles cases are rising globally, including in wealthy nations such as the United States and Germany, where some parents shun immunization mostly for philosophical or religious reasons, or concerns, debunked by medical science, that such vaccines could cause autism.In Tonga, about 900km (559.23 miles) from Samoa, the ministry of health last week said an outbreak of measles in the country occurred following the return of a squad of Tongan rugby players from New Zealand.Since then, 251 cases of confirmed or suspected measles have been identified, the ministry said in the statement.American Samoa, a U.S. territory neighboring Samoa, declared a public health emergency Thursday following the measles outbreak in Samoa and Tonga, according to New Zealand media.According to Samoa’s Naseri about 90% of population in Tonga and American Samoa has been immunized and neither of these countries have reported any measles-related deaths.