Canada sets new speed limits on trains carrying dangerous goods

(Reuters) – Canada on Sunday announced new measures to lower speed limits in trains hauling dangerous goods like diesel, gasoline and chemicals to reduce the risk of derailment, effective immediately.

Trains carrying 20 or more cars with dangerous goods will be limited to 35 miles per hour (56 kph) in metropolitan areas and to 40 mph outside metropolitan areas with no track signals, Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said https://www.canada.ca/en/transport-canada/news/2020/02/minister-of-transport-updates-ministerial-order-to-reduce-the-risks-of-derailment-of-trains-transporting-dangerous-goods.html in a statement.

Last week, Garneau announced a temporary speed limit after a Canadian Pacific Railway train hauling oil derailed and caught on fire near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, the second such derailment in the area in two months.

For higher risk trains, including those with any combination of 80 or more cars containing dangerous goods, the speed limit will be 30 mph for urban areas and 25 mph for areas with no track signals, the statement added.

Canada’s biggest railway, Canadian National Railway Co, said in a separate statement it supported the decision taken by Canada’s Transport Minister.

(Reporting by Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin)

As wildfires devour communities, toxic threats emerge

FILE PHOTO: Vanthy Bizzle hands some small religious figurines to her husband Brett Bizzle in the remains of their home after returning for the first time since the Camp Fire forced them to evacuate in Paradise, California, U.S. November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By Sharon Bernstein

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – As an uncontrollable wildfire turned the California town of Paradise to ash, air pollution researcher Keith Bein knew he had to act fast: Little is known about toxic chemicals released when a whole town burns and the wind would soon blow away evidence.

He drove the roughly 100 miles to Paradise, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, from his laboratory at the University of California, Davis, only to be refused entrance under rules that allow first responders and journalists – but not public health researchers – to cross police lines.

It was the second time Bein says he was unable to gather post-wildfire research in a field so new public safety agencies have not yet developed procedures for allowing scientists into restricted areas.

Fires like the one that razed Paradise last November burn thousands of pounds of wiring, plastic pipes and building materials, leaving dangerous chemicals in the air, soil and water. Lead paint, burned asbestos and even melted refrigerators from tens of thousands of households only add to the danger, public health experts say.

Bein’s experience highlights the difficulties in assessing the impact of today’s massive disasters, whether wildfires that burn entire towns or flooding after major hurricanes, incidents scientists say are becoming more common due to climate change.

“Everything that we’re doing, it feels like this is a question nobody has asked before, and we have no answers,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, director of the Environmental Health Sciences Center at U.C. Davis.

Researchers are examining soil tested for the presence of chemical compounds in neighborhoods destroyed by the 2017 wildfire that swept into Santa Rosa, located in California’s Sonoma County north of the Bay Area, and comparing it to uninhabited land nearby where only trees had burned, Hertz-Picciotto said. In that still-uncompleted study, researchers found nearly 2,000 more chemical compounds in the soil than in uninhabited parkland nearby. Researchers are now working to identify the compounds.

While scientists have studied wildfires for decades — learning much about the impact on air, soil and nearby ecosystems — fires that race from the forest into large urban communities were, until recently, exceedingly rare.

 

COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH

As natural disasters increase in scope and frequency, public health researchers across the United States are developing new lines of inquiry with unusual speed.

Scientists, many of them funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), are studying pregnant women exposed to polluted air and water after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017; residents of Puerto Rico forced to live in unrepaired homes where mold and fungi grew after Hurricane Maria in 2017; eggs from backyard chickens that ate California wildfire ash, among other topics.

“It’s fundamentally critical that we be able to understand these situations and the risks to populations both in the short term and in the long term,” said NIEHS senior medical adviser Aubrey Miller, who is helping to develop quick-response disaster research cutting across scientific specialties.

To do that, NIEH has sped up the time it needs to fund research, from months or years to as little as 120 days, said Gwen Collman, who directs the agency’s work with outside researchers.

At U.C. Davis, where researchers are studying eggs from backyard chickens that may have breathed smoke and pecked at ash in areas affected by wildfires, the work is complicated.

“In an urban fire you’re dealing with contaminants that don’t go away – arsenic, heavy metals, copper, lead, transformer fluid, brake fluid, fire retardant,” said veterinarian Maurice Pitesky, who is leading the study.

Any contaminants found in the eggs could stem from other factors such as the proximity of the home to a factory, a waste disposal site or a highway, he said.

In an as-yet-uncompleted study, researchers have tested eggs sent by individual owners of roughly 350 backyard properties concerned about possible contamination from wildfires and other causes, researcher Todd Kelman said. The locations of the yards were mapped to see which homeowners lived near wildfire areas, and the eggs were tested to see if they have high levels of contaminants such as lead, cadmium and other chemicals associated with human buildings and activities.

COMBING PARADISE

One recent morning, teams from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in white hazmat suits combed through Paradise, loading seared paint cans, partially melted pesticide containers and the remains of propane tanks onto trucks to be hauled away.

Rusty Harris Bishop, a toxics expert with the EPA who worked on the Paradise cleanup, said removal teams take away whatever contaminants they find, including melted pipes or asbestos-laden construction materials, going beyond the older definition of hazardous household waste.

But cleanup protocols after such disasters are evolving along with the public health science, he said. 

That gap in knowledge concerns researchers like Bein, who plans to train as a firefighter to get access to the burned areas in the next big blaze.

“As these types of fires become more frequent in nature, where instead of once every decade it’s once every summer . . . then we really need to know how this is going to affect health,” Bein said.

Starbucks coffee in California must have cancer warning, judge says

FILE PHOTO - A woman holds a Frappuccino at a Starbucks store inside the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, United States, October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp and other coffee sellers must put a cancer warning on coffee sold in California, a Los Angeles judge has ruled, possibly exposing the companies to millions of dollars in fines.

A little-known not-for-profit group sued some 90 coffee retailers, including Starbucks, on grounds they were violating a California law requiring companies to warn consumers of chemicals in their products that could cause cancer.

One of those chemicals is acrylamide, a byproduct of roasting coffee beans that is present in high levels in brewed coffee.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said in a decision dated Wednesday that Starbucks and other companies had failed to show there was no significant risk from a carcinogen produced in the coffee roasting process, court documents showed.

Starbucks and other defendants have until April 10 to file objections to the decision.

Starbucks declined to comment, referring reporters to a statement by the National Coffee Association (NCA) that said the industry was considering an appeal and further legal actions.

“Cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading. The U.S. government’s own Dietary Guidelines state that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle,” the NCA statement said.

In his decision, Berle said: “Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health.”

Officials from Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s Corp, Peet’s and other big coffee sellers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT). It calls for fines as large as $2,500 per person for every exposure to the chemical since 2002 at the defendants’ shops in California. Any civil penalties, which will be decided in a third phase of the trial, could be huge in California, which has a population of nearly 40 million.

CERT’s lawyer Raphael Metzger did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Starbucks lost the first phase of the trial in which it failed to show the level of acrylamide in coffee was below that which would pose a significant risk of cancer. In the second phase of the trial, defendants failed to prove there was an acceptable “alternative” risk level for the carcinogen, court documents showed.

Several defendants in the case settled before Wednesday’s decision, agreeing to post signage about the cancer-linked chemical and pay millions in fines, according to published reports.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler)

Cloud from chemical accident in Kansas dissipated

A fog plume believed by authorities to contain chemicals is seen after a chemical spill at a facility in Atchison, Kansas, U.S., October 21,

By Dave Kaup

ATCHISON, Kansas (Reuters) – City and county officials told residents of Atchison in northeastern Kansas it was safe to return after a chemical spill at an MGP Ingredients Inc facility on Friday caused the formation of a chemical cloud that forced evacuations.

Thirty-four people were being treated for respiratory discomfort, although the injuries appeared to be minor, Trey Cocking, Atchison city manager, told reporters. The city said in a statement on social media that the chemical cloud had lifted.

“We are in the process of issuing an all-clear,” Cocking said. “Students were evacuated from their schools this morning. They are being allowed to return at this time.”

Cocking did not identify the chemicals involved in the incident in the city of about 11,000 people located about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Kansas City, Kansas.

First responders are seen at the scene of a chemical spill at a facility in Atchison, Kansas,

First responders are seen at the scene of a chemical spill at a facility in Atchison, Kansas, U.S., October 21, 2016. Courtesy Emma Matlock/Handout via REUTERS

A Fox station in Kansas City reported that an emergency management team’s spokesperson said the chemicals may have been sulfuric acid and chlorine.

Founded in 1941, MPG Ingredients employs 320 people, according to the company website. It makes bourbon and rye whiskeys, gins and vodkas, according to the website.

The incident occurred when two chemicals were mistakenly mixed at the MGP Ingredients facility, Cocking said.

Cocking said MGP employees were being allowed to return but it was unclear if the facility would re-open on Friday.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Bill Trott and Will Dunham)

Bayer offers to buy Monsanto to become world’s biggest supplier

Monsanto is displayed on a screen where the stock is traded on the floor of the NYSE

By Greg Roumeliotis and Mike Stone

NEW YORK/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German drugs and chemicals group Bayer has made an unsolicited takeover proposal to U.S. seeds company Monsanto, aiming to create the world’s biggest agricultural supplier and take advantage of converging pesticides and seeds markets.

Monsanto disclosed the approach on Wednesday before Bayer confirmed its move, though neither released proposed terms.

The $42 billion market capitalization of Monsanto means that the deal would be likely to eclipse ChemChina’s planned acquisition of Swiss agrichemicals company Syngenta — a target Monsanto itself pursued last year — and could face U.S. antitrust hurdles.

A Monsanto statement said that its board was reviewing the proposal, which is subject to due diligence, regulatory approvals and other conditions. There is no assurance that any transaction will take place, it added. Bayer shares dropped more than 8 percent to a 2-1/2 year low of 88.39 euros in early Thursday trading, with some investors worried by the potential cost of a deal.

Monsanto shares were seen 7.6 percent higher at $104.50 in pre-market trades.

UBS Global Asset Management, which Reuters data shows is among Bayer’s 30 biggest investors, said it was “deeply concerned” about the burden on Bayer’s finances from a takeover, saying it would prefer the companies to agree a joint venture or a nil-premium merger.

Deutsche Bank analysts said a deal could shift Bayer’s center of gravity to agriculture, accounting for about 55 percent of core earnings, up from roughly 28 percent last year excluding the Covestro chemicals business Bayer plans to sell.

That would have a negative impact on sentiment among Bayer’s healthcare-focused investor base, the bank said.

PRICE ESTIMATES

Bayer, which has a market value of $90 billion, said the merger would create “a leading integrated agriculture business”, referring to Bayer’s push to seek more synergies from combining the development and sale of seeds and crop protection chemicals.

Most of the major agrichemical companies are aiming to genetically engineer more robust plants and custom-build chemicals to go with them, selling them together to farmers who are struggling to contend with low commodity prices.

While no takeover price was mentioned by either company, Bernstein Research analyst Jeremy Redenius estimated that it would be 41.9 billion euros ($47 billion), plus 6.7 billion euros in assumed debt. He said that Bayer might need a 27 billion euro share issue to help to fund the purchase.

Citi analysts have said that Bayer would probably need to pay 14-16 times Monsanto’s core earnings, implying a takeover price including debt of 57 billion euros to 65 billion euros.

A sale of Bayer’s stake in foam chemicals maker Covestro could raise about 4 billion euros, while its animal health business, which Bayer has said it might put on the block, could fetch up to 7 billion euros.

The proposal comes as ChemChina’s deal for Syngenta faces regulatory review in the United States over concerns about the security of U.S. food supply.

Any deal between Bayer and Monsanto, which would be Bayer’s largest by far and dwarf the 17 billion euro takeover of drugmaker Schering in 2006, could raise U.S. antitrust concerns because of an overlap in seeds business, particularly in soybeans, cotton and canola, antitrust experts have said.

The proposal comes less than three weeks after Werner Baumann took over as Bayer chief executive, a sign of the power base he built in his previous role as strategy chief.

Bayer, the inventor of aspirin and maker of Yasmin birth control pills, is far more diversified than Syngenta or Monsanto, with products including cancer drugs, flea and tick collars for pets and Coppertone sunscreen. Some analysts have said a deal with Monsanto could lead to a break up of the group.

Bayer’s crop science division has businesses in seeds, crop protection and non-agricultural pest control, potentially complementing Monsanto’s seeds assets.

BAYER, BASF AMBITIONS

Both Bayer and German rival BASF SE have been looking to build scale in agrichemicals. Monsanto said after its failure to land Syngenta that it didn’t need to do a deal, but it has also been involved in discussions.

Monsanto approached Bayer this year to express interest in the latter’s crop science unit, in the form of an acquisition or joint venture, sources told Reuters in March.

Both Bayer and BASF had been exploring tie-ups with Monsanto for months but valuation concerns have made a deal elusive, sources have said.

Bayer is ranked No. 2 in crop chemicals, with an 18 percent market share, just behind Syngenta on 19 percent, industry data shows.

Monsanto is the leader in seeds, with a 26 percent market share, followed by DuPont with 21 percent. DuPont agreed last year to merge with Dow Chemical. Any Bayer-Monsanto deal would further reduce the number of major players in seeds and pesticides to four from six.

Morgan Stanley and Ducera Partners are financial advisers to Monsanto, the company said in its statement, while Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz is legal adviser.

($1 = 0.8920 euros)

(1 euro = $1.1205)

(Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt and Victoria Bryan in Berlin; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Mark Potter and David Goodman)

Rain Could Release Cyanide into Air after Tianjin Explosion

Environmental officials are warning the deaths from the explosion at the port of Tianjin may not end with the dousing of the fires that are still burning.

There are now fears that rain could release poisonous hydrogen cyanide into the air in the event of a heavy rain.  Also, more explosions could be possible as many of the chemicals still at the site violently explode when they come into contact with water.

“If there is rain, it will produce hydrogen cyanide, so we are monitoring it closely,” Bao Jingling, chief engineer for the Tianjin Environmental Protection Bureau told NBC News.  He added the nation’s anti-chemical warfare military divisions are on site.

Scientists also have admitted that they have found sodium cyanide in the waters of Bohai Bay.  Local officials say that they learned over 700 tons of sodium cyanide was stored at the site, 70 times the legal limit and that the chemicals had not been reported to Chinese customs officials.

The government has cleared a 1.8 mile area of the city with over 6,000 families forced from their homes.

The death toll from the blast has officially reached 114 and local rescuers say at least 90 people are still reported missing including many firefighters.  One firefighter told the NY Times that he doesn’t know the fate of 25 men from his brigade and “no one told [his crew] the fire involved chemicals.”

Some fire experts are speculating that the water from the hoses of the fire crews came into contact with explosive chemicals, causing the massive second explosion that had the force of 21 tons of TNT.

A 40-year-old man was found alive in the debris on Saturday and is hospitalized.  Thousands are now homeless because of the fire’s impact on surrounding buildings.

The city’s residents have taken to the streets to demand the government buy out their homes so they can begin a new life.  They say the toxins from the explosion are likely much worse than the government will admit.

Water Ban Slowly Being Lifted In West Virginia

West Virginia officials announced late Monday they were going to start lifting the water ban for communities impacted by a massive chemical spill.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said that a “rolling lift” of the ban would take place to avoid having the water system overtaxed by everyone returning to the system at one time.  A mass return would also cause more water quality problems.

Up to 10,000 residents were allowed to use the water system Monday with an additional 25,000 on Tuesday.  Officials with West Virginia American Water said it could be a few more days before all customers could return to the system.

Customers were warned that while the water may continue to have an odd odor, it is safe for use in bathing, cooking and cleaning.

Health officials say only 14 people have been admitted to hospitals because of exposure to the tainted water and none are in serious condition.  In addition, the river has not seen a fish kill or animal deaths from the contamination.

West Virginians Frustrated As Chemical Contamination Issues Continue

It was a very long, hard weekend for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians still dealing with the massive chemical spill in the Elk River.

Residents say they have been taking bottled water and food to elderly neighbors and shut-ins as emergency services aren’t meeting the needs of their communities.

“They can’t get out,” Chris Laws, 42, of Marmet, a coal miner, told the Associated Press. “I’m keeping an eye on them. You got to watch out for your neighbors. They’re the ones who are going to watch out for you.”

State officials said Saturday that they now estimate 7,500 gallons of chemicals leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries.  They had previously told media sources that only 5,000 gallons had leaked from the tank.  They could not say how many gallons made it into the Elk River.

Residents of the capital city Charleston and surrounding towns are still being told not to use tap water for any purpose.

West Virginia Fire Department Finds Source of Chemical Spill

Investigators from a West Virginia Fire Department and the state Department of Environmental Protection found the source of a chemical leak that contaminated the water for up to 300,000 residents in West Virginia.

The source was a leak from a 48,000 gallon storage tank located along the Elk River. The storage tank is a source of water for the 1,500 mile pipeline that carries water to customers throughout central and southwestern West Virginia.

Although the source has been found, this did not solve the problem. More than 1,000 calls were placed in four to five hours to the 911 center, 24 of those calls were for emergency medical services who took approximately five people to local hospitals.

Local business owner, Patricia Peal, not only had to close her floral shop, but also told CNN how the chemical spill is affecting West Virginia citizens.

“It’s all very hectic. You don’t even want to go to the grocery store. I think everyone is in a panic.”

Chemical Leak Puts 300,000 West Virginians At Risk

A chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River has put 300,000 area residents at risk.

Federal officials are descending into the Charleston area to investigate the leak.   The chemical release has poisoned the water supplies for nine counties.

Schools and restaurants were forced to close and residents ordered by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes using tap water because of the chemicals in the water.

The extent of the damage has not been able to be determined.

The chemical is a foaming agent used in the preparation of coal.  The leak at Freedom Industries somehow broke through a containment area and rushed into the river.  A spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said that no more than 5,000 gallons of the chemical escaped into the water.

Officials could not say how long the advisory against using the water will be in effect.