What we’re reading: American drywall; mining rare earth; probation hiring probe

December 16, 2010 by Andrew Clevenger

On a snowy Thursday, here’s the latest edition of stories that we’re following with interest:

Could some American-made drywall face the same contamination issues that has plagued drywall manufactured in China? Almost 100 homeowners in four states have joined lawsuits against U.S. drywall makers over the last year, alleging that sulfur emissions are causing health problems and corroding wiring and appliances, making their homes unlivable, according to a joint investigation by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and ProPublica.org. One theory is that “the gas release may somehow be connected to synthetic gypsum, a form of coal ash produced by the scrubbing process that removes sulfur dioxide from the emissions of coal-fired power plants,” according to the joint report.

An official with the Department of Energy has recommended that the U.S. reopen rare earth mines to ensure a steady supply, Bloomberg News reported. A new study suggests that stores of dysprosium, which is used to make wind turbines, solar panels and clean-energy products, may not meet demand. In addition to re-activating the Mountain Pass mine in California, the U.S. should start recycling materials that have rare-earth elements, the DoE official said.

A federal probe into alleged crooked hiring practices in the Massachusetts Probation Department has expanded to the state Legislature, the Boston Globe reported. Grand jury subpoenas were issued to the state Senate and House of Representatives. Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien has been suspended but continues to collect his $130,000 annual salary. A special investigator appointed by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court wrote in his report that “[t]he evidence demonstrates that an understanding existed among certain legislators and O’Brien that generous appropriations for the Probation Department were linked to O’Brien’s willingness to perpetuate and systematize fraudulent hiring and promotion on a pervasive scale.’’

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