WELL WISHING: BP is preparing to deliver the first half of a one-two punch to snuff out the Macondo oil well this week, blasting mud through its containment cap in a procedure known as a "static kill." It could happen as early as tonight or Tuesday morning, even though the relief well — long touted as the only true way to kill the leak — is just a few weeks away from completion. "The well can only be killed from the bottom up," National Incident Commander Thad Allen told reporters last week, but he added that performing a static kill first is helpful, not just as an extra precaution, but also because it will help engineers test the well's integrity before performing the riskier "bottom kill" with the relief well. "No one has come out and said the well has full integrity," a University of [skipwords]Texas[/skipwords] oil expert tells the [skipwords]New York[/skipwords] Times. "This is just an ultraconservative approach, and at this point in time we should be taking the most conservative approaches." The relief well is expected to be finished by late August, although officials warn that tropical storms could delay the operation. Meanwhile, as the oil slick disappears and dispersed crude continues lurking beneath the surface, the AP reports that Gulf Coast fishermen are skeptical of BP's rosy insistence that local seafood is safe to eat. Doug Suttles, the company's chief operating officer, even told reporters Sunday that he'd eat Gulf seafood and "would serve it to my family." That still hasn't convinced many of the region's anglers, however, who dispute the reliability of smell tests being used to determine whether fish and shrimp are oil-free. "They capped the well, they stopped the oil, so now they're trying to hurry up and get us back working to where they can say everything's fine when it's not," one Louisiana fisherman says. "It's not fine." (Sources: Reuters, New York Times, Associated Press)
ANTI-CLIMATIC: U.S. lawmakers' decision to once again put global warming on the back burner isn't just a letdown for the Obama administration and American environmentalists, the AP reports — the rest of the world is pretty bummed, too. A five-day round of international climate talks kicks off today in Bonn, Germany, and with U.S. action to limit greenhouse gas emissions now unlikely this year, negotiators face an even steeper climb than usual trying to coax an agreement from disenchanted diplomats. The United States is seen as a leader in global climate talks, both because of its high emissions and because China, India and other fast-developing countries won't commit to cuts if Americans don't. Disillusionment in the U.N. negotiations is already high after the failure of last year's Copenhagen climate talks, and last week's withdrawal of a U.S. bill to cap carbon dioxide emissions "plays into the same old fault lines," an official with Oxfam International tells the AP. Seeing the United States abandon its efforts to rein in climate-changing emissions will most likely now cause other nations to freeze up, too, leaving climate talks in limbo. One more weeklong meeting is scheduled for October in China before the year-end summit in Cancun, Mexico. (Sources: AP, Bloomberg News)
FLAKING OUT: Federal food regulators are helpless to protect Americans from most of the 80,000 chemicals currently on the U.S. market, the [skipwords]Washington[/skipwords] Post reports today, since most of the substances' effects on human health remain largely unknown. The problem was highlighted earlier this summer when Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops and Honey Smacks, all due to elevated levels of a packaging chemical known as 2-methylnaphthalene. The recall followed consumer complaints that the cereals tasted like wax, metal and soap, and revealed that no one really knows what 2-methylnaphthalene does to the human body. "It is really troubling that you've got this form of naphthalene that's produced in millions of pounds a year and we don't have some of the basic information about how toxic it is," an expert at the Pew Charitable Trusts tells the Post. "In so many cases, government agencies are missing data they need on even widely used chemicals about whether they pose a health risk." That problem has been festering since 1976, when the Toxic Substances Control Act exempted 62,000 chemicals from regulation, and also freed any newly developed chemicals from safety testing. Companies are instead encouraged to voluntarily report safety information, but since they're also legally required to report any knowledge they have that a chemical is unsafe, they're essentially discouraged from conducting such tests in the first place. The EPA asked the chemical industry in 1994 to provide safety data on 2-methylnaphthalene, but still hasn't heard back 16 years later. Bills now circulating through Congress would change this, however, forcing companies to prove new chemicals are safe and requiring safety reviews of existing ones, including 2-methylnaphthalene. (Source: Washington Post)
VICTORY IS WHEAT: Whole wheat is now the toast of the bread world, surpassing white bread in total sales for the first time, the Chicago Tribune reports. Wheat bread sales grew 0.6 percent to $2.6 billion between July 2009 and July 2010, according to Nielsen Co., while white bread sales fell 7 percent to $2.5 billion. White bread is still ahead in overall volume, but its lead is slipping — Americans bought 1.5 billion loaves of white bread in the past year, a 3 percent drop, and 1.3 billion wheat loaves, a 5 percent rise. The breads' change in fortune is being attributed largely to a rise in health-conscious consumers, who increasingly seek out breads labeled "whole grain" or "natural" in a quest for dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. "That's what the market is demanding," says an executive with Indiana-based Aunt Millie's Bakeries, which makes private-label breads for major grocery chains, including Walmart. Aunt Millie's now does about 20 percent of its business in whole-wheat breads, he says, compared with about 1.5 percent less than a decade ago. But while consumers are now willing to pay a little more for more grains, the Tribune finds that many shoppers still aren't breaking the bank to break bread. "I like the whole grain, but I usually try and go with the least expensive whole grain," one shopper says. And because labels can be confusing, "I look for the thick pieces that you can see the grains on the top of the bread." (Source: Chicago Tribune)
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Photo (Development Driller II and III relief rigs): Gerald Herbert/AP
Photo (coal-fired power plant): ZUMA Press
Photo (Kellogg's cereal boxes): Gene J. Puskar/AP
Photo (whole-wheat bread): National Library of Medicine
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