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6A ∫ THE ALPENA NEWS ∫ Thursday, July 15, 2010

Explosion at Pittsburgh-area coke plant injures 17

CLAIRTON, Pa. (AP) — An oven at a U.S. Steel plant near Pittsburgh exploded Wednesday, injuring 17 workers, at least three critically, causing a fire that burned for hours, emergency officials said. The powerful blast in the coke oven at United States Steel Corp.’s Clairton Coke Works happened around 9:30 a.m., Allegheny County spokesman Kevin Evanto said. Most of the workers suffered burns; one suffered chest pains. “It’s a miracle that anybody even walked away from that,” Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Bob Full told reporters at the scene. He said the explosion was so mighty it bent steel beams and destroyed block walls. Everyone had been accounted for, and the cause of the explosion was being investigated, union and company officials said. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had a team of investigators on site, spokeswoman Leni Fortson said. “It was a big boom and then everything just went black,” janitor John Chappell, 59, of Clairton, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

as he left UPMC Mercy. He was not injured. “It was pitch black but you could tell there was debris flying all over the place,” Chappell told the newspaper. “I’m just blessed because I know it could have been worse.” An air quality inspector at the plant at the time of the blast said he saw a large cloud of smoke that dissipated quickly, said Jim Thompson, manager of the Allegheny County Air Quality Program. Thompson said that and other factors indicate the explosion may have been caused by the gas used to heat one of the coke ovens. Neighbors said they heard alarms at the plant but didn’t know at first whether it was a real emergency. “They always play their siren,” said Tiarra Williams, 17, who lives on a hill overlooking the plant. A maintenance worker died in a September 2009 explosion at the plant, which sits in a valley along the Monongahela River about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. About 1,500 people work at the plant, said Michael Wright, head of the health, safety and environment department for the United

FDA panel: Diabetes drug should stay on market

AP Photo

People walk away from the Maple Avenue entrance to the United States Steel Corp.'s Clairton Coke Works in Clairton, Pa., Wednesday. Allegheny County spokesman Kevin Evanto said 15 people were injured, at least one critically when a coke oven exploded at the plant around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Steelworkers union. Coke, a raw material used in steelmaking, is coal that is baked for a long time at a high temperature to remove impurities. The coal is baked in special ovens, several of which make up a coal battery; there are 12 batteries at the Clairton plant. The explosion happened in the B battery, which consists of 75 ovens. The battery is located on the northern side of the sprawling plant and was shut down after the explosion. The other batteries remained open. U.S. Steel calls its Clairton plant the biggest coke manufacturing facility in the

U.S., producing about 4.7 million tons per year. At Pittsburgh’s West Penn Hospital, two workers in their 50s were in critical condition with chemical burns in their airways as well as burns to their heads, necks and faces, said Dr. Larry Jones, the hospital’s director of emergency medicine. “The burns themselves are serious burns, but with the inhalation injury on top of it, these are very, very serious, a very serious situation,” Jones said. A third worker, in his 40s, was in serious condition with burns on his head, neck, face and hands, and an ankle fracture, Jones said.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cast this debate as big banks versus big government. Despite lingering public anger at Wall Street, most congressional Republicans oppose the tougher financial regulations that Congress is expected to send to President Barack Obama this week. The GOP is betting that the bill’s ambitious goals

will be lost on voters and instead feed an electionyear narrative that Democrats stand for bigger, more intrusive government. Republicans are throwing up a final procedural roadblock to the bill Thursday. The sweeping regulatory overhaul is expected to make it through with the minimum of 60 votes. Only three Republicans have voiced their support.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A majority of federal health experts voted Wednesday to keep the controversial diabetes pill Avandia on the market despite evidence that it increases the risk of heart attack. A panel of Food and Drug advisers Administration voted 20-12 against withdrawing GlaxoSmithKline’s once-blockbuster drug. Panelists who voted to keep the drug on the market were split between several options, including adding new warning labels and restricting use of the drug. The vote marks a win for British drugmaker Glaxo, which has been battered in the press and on Capitol Hill for its the handling of the drug. The FDA is not required to follow the advice of its panelists, though it usually does. Officials said they would review the meeting transcript and make a decision on Avandia as soon as possible. The vote also came despite an earlier ruling by the panel that Avandia appears to increase heart attack risk compared with other diabetes treatments. The panel voted 21-4 that Avandia is more likely to cause heart attack than its closest competitor Actos. Eight panelists said there was not enough information to make a decision. Ultimately though, panelists said the dozens of contradictory studies of Avandia didn’t show strong enough evidence to justify removing a drug used by hundreds of thousands of patients. “I would be concerned about the precedent that would be set to have this quality of data sufficient to remove a drug,” said John Teerlink of the University of San Francisco. The agency convened the

two-day panel meeting to help untangle reams of conflicting data over Avandia. The FDA has been down this road before. Three years ago a similar FDA panel voted to keep Avandia on the market and the FDA responded by adding bolder warning labels to the drug. “In terms of what has changed since 2007, I think the totality of evidence is much stronger,” said panelist Clifford Rosen of the Maine Medical Research Institute. “It’s still not absolute but it’s stronger. Clearly there is a signal.” Despite the vote on Avandia’s heart risks, panelists didn’t reach a firm conclusion on whether Avandia is more likely to cause death than older drugs. Twenty panelists said it did not appear to cause death, while 12 said they didn’t know. Only one panelist concluded the drug leads to death. The panel’s vote to keep Avandia on the market is a vote of confidence in FDA leadership, who have been criticized by some members of Congress for not pulling the drug earlier. Minutes before the final vote on Avandia, the FDA’s director for new drugs emphasized the high bar needed to pull a previously approved drug from the market. “The two that have been withdrawn for cardiovascular concerns — Vioxx and Zelnorm — showed three, four or five fold-increase,” said John Jenkins “That’s the background of where we stand in terms of increased risk of very rare events.” Since diabetics are already predisposed to heart risks it is extremely difficult to tell which heart attacks are drugrelated and which are simply a result of the underlying disease.

Not too long ago, senators from both parties imagined a bill with broad bipartisan support that reflected a consensus that the financial sector needed a new set of rules. These days, though, Republicans liken the legislation to Obama’s health care legislation and the $862 billion economic stimulus package — two initiatives that have not rallied public support. “There’s a lot of fatigue on the part of the American people with regard to what they see as an overly aggressive power grab on so many different fronts,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the head of National Republican Senatorial Committee. The bill still bears Republican fingerprints. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd negotiated several provisions with key committee Republicans such as Richard Shelby of Alabama and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Neither, though, intends to vote for the bill. Corker, in an interview,

said he saw no political downside to voting against the bill. “The rage that they have about Wall Street will still exist — if they have it,” he said. “And now they will be highly discouraged, more discouraged, about our ability to even deal with the core issues that created this problem because we don’t do that in this bill.” Only three Republicans voted for the bill last month in the House. In the Senate, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts are the only Republicans to announce their support. “The others need to explain why they don’t want us to move forward with financial regulatory reform,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday. “They have to explain why they want to stand for the status quo, leave the laws as written and run the risk of another recession and another day leading to millions of people losing their jobs and businesses failing.”

GOP sees political advantage opposing banking bill

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