Sep 15

BEIJING — China’s Ministry of Health on Monday announced that two babies have died in recent months and 1,253 others have been sickened by contaminated milk powder in a widening food safety scandal that has exposed persistent weaknesses in the country’s regulatory system.

More than 340 infants remain hospitalized, including 53 in serious condition. Inspection teams are visiting dairy farms and processing centers in the country’s four main milk-producing provinces to ensure that producers are not violating safety standards.

The Chinese authorities have confirmed that the tainted baby formula was laced with melamine, a chemical additive sometimes used to make plastics and fertilizer. Last year, after thousands of pets became ill in the United States, the same chemical was found in pet food and traced to a Chinese ingredient.

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May 04

It may have seemed like just another improbable scene from a Hollywood sci-fi flick – Tom Cruise battling against an army of robotic spiders intent on hunting him down.

But the storyline from Minority Report may not be quite as far fetched as it sounds.

British defence giant BAE Systems is creating a series of tiny electronic spiders, insects and snakes that could become the eyes and ears of soldiers on the battlefield, helping to save thousands of lives.

Prototypes could be on the front line by the end of the year, scuttling into potential danger areas such as booby-trapped buildings or enemy hideouts to relay images back to troops safely positioned nearby.

Soldiers will carry the robots into combat and use a small tracked vehicle to transport them closer to their targets.

Then they would swarm into the building and relay images back to the soldiers’ hand-held or wrist-mounted computers, warning them of any threats inside.

BAE Systems has just signed a £19million contract to develop the robots for the US Army.

Plans for a creature that can crawl like a spider are said to be well developed, and researchers eventually hope to be able to create creatures that can slither like a snake or fly like a dragonfly.

While some of the creatures will be fitted with small cameras, others will be equipped with sensors that will be able to detect the presence of chemical, biological or radioactive weapons. Continue reading »

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Apr 29

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – The Pentagon will have its first specially trained task force designed to rapidly respond to a catastrophic attack against the United States ready by this fall, a top military commander said last week.

Gen. Victor “Gene” Renuart, chief of the U.S. Northern Command, said the brigade-sized unit will consist of military personnel who are trained to help local authorities respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear incident. The unit will have between 4,000 and 4,500 people and come from various bases and specialties across the country. When disaster strikes, those dedicated to the task force will come together to form the unit.

“Today we pull that together very quickly to respond,” Renuart said Thursday. “This unit will be trained to react in a very short period of time.”

Renuart, the top commander in charge of defending the homeland, is traveling through Europe this month to exchange information with NATO leaders on how military forces can fight homeland terrorism and respond to national disasters.

U.S. Northern Command, called NORTHCOM for short, was created in 2002 to oversee the Pentagon’s homeland defense efforts and support civil authorities. The creation of the rapid-response team comes after congressional leaders questioned heavily the military’s ability to react to a major attack against the United States. Continue reading »

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Apr 16

A chemical used in all kinds of plastic, including baby bottles and food containers, could be linked to a prostate and breast cancer, a preliminary government report has found.

The federal National Toxicology Program said yesterday that experiments on rats found precancerous prostate tumors, urinary system problems and early puberty when the animals were fed or injected with low doses of the chemical, bisphenol-A.

The latest draft significantly increased the chemical’s risk level from a bisphenol-A statement the government released last year.

“It’s an important step to have a federal agency acknowledge that it has concerns about bisphenol-A and breast cancer and prostate cancer,” said Pete Myers, chief scientist for Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit that raises awareness of chemical risks. “It’s a scary compound.” Continue reading »

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Apr 13

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) – The Bush administration and Republican allies in Congress are again pushing for seed money to explore options for putting a multibillion-dollar layer of ballistic-missile interceptors in space.

Last year, the Democratic-controlled Congress rejected the administration’s request for $10 million to resume studies on the idea, first floated in the 1980s as part of then-President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.

Derided by critics as “Star Wars,” the concept has been embraced by missile-defense backers as potentially more effective than sea- and ground-based parts of an emerging shield against missiles that could be tipped with chemical, germ or nuclear warheads.

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