This is a big deal

Reminder: If you smell gas, leave your house

March 13, 2014
Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

There's a reason — a really, really good reason — that natural gas companies add a rotten-egg smell to their otherwise odorless product: Gas leaks are dangerous, and the best way to find them is with your nose. Wednesday's huge gas-leak explosion in New York City, which leveled two buildings and killed at least six people, is a sad reminder of that danger.

Digg's Josh Petri has taken the occasion to remind everyone that if you smell gas in your home, open the windows and leave, immediately. Smell isn't the only way to detect a leak — a hissing sound, dead houseplants, or bubbles in flooded areas are also red flags — but it's the most obvious one. Don't let the jocular tone of Petri's article dissuade you from reading about the dangers and aging infrastructure of natural gas delivery. Almost as important as the advice to leave your home and call the utility company (or 911), though, is Petri's list of what not to do if you smell gas:

Do not, under any circumstances:

• Flip any switches

• Unplug or plug in any electronics

• Use a telephone

• Start your car

• Use an open flame [Digg]

Most deadly gas explosions aren't as dramatic as the ones in Harlem, but they happen all over the country, and they kill people. Be safe.

justice is served

Friendship Nine cleared 54 years after anti-segregation sit-in

7:37pm ET

On Jan. 31, 1961, nine African-American men protesting segregation held a sit-in at a Rock Hill, South Carolina, dining counter, and were dragged out and arrested. On Wednesday, almost 54 years later, their misdemeanor trespassing charges have been vacated and local authorities are offering up heartfelt apologies.

"We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history," Judge John C. Hayes III, chief administrative judge for South Carolina's 16th Judicial Circuit, said. "Now, as to the Friendship Nine, is the time and opportunity to do so. Now is the time to recognize that justice is not temporal, but is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow."

The men — dubbed the Friendship Nine, as most attended the now-closed Friendship College — decided against paying their fine for trespassing and were sentenced to 30 days of labor in a county prison camp, The New York Times reports. Their choice also inspired other activists to protest and accept jail time. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was at the courthouse, and said it was time for the Friendship Nine to be recognized for what they did. "This is a monumental day for not just civil rights, but human rights and human dignity," she said.

your health

Study: Beauty products may cause early menopause

7:36pm ET
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A woman's use of products like fragrance, cosmetics, and hairspray could mean she hits menopause years sooner than she would have naturally, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study, which TIME calls one of the most comprehensive studies of factors that disrupt menopause, looked at 31,575 women between 1999 and 2008. The Washington University in St. Louis researchers found on average, the women with the highest levels of designated chemicals experienced menopause 1.9 to 3.8 years earlier than the other women studied.

Certain chemicals are thought to disrupt reproductive hormones, like estrogen. More extensive research would need to be done to solidify the link between beauty products and menopause.

Business

CEO of McDonald's stepping down

6:28pm ET
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

McDonald's CEO Don Thompson announced Wednesday he is retiring, effective March 1.

"It's tough to say goodbye to the McFamily, but there is a time and season for everything," he said in a statement. The 25-year veteran of the company will be replaced by Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook. After the news was announced, McDonald's stock went up three percent to $91.50. Last quarter, profits were down 21 percent to $1.13 per share, missing estimates of $1.23 per share, and revenue fell 7 percent, Forbes reports.

survey says

Survey: 3 in 5 Americans support Charlie Hebdo

6:25pm ET

Three in five Americans who heard of the recent terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo support the French satirical magazine's cartoons depicting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

Those surveyed by Pew Research who supported the publication cited reasons like press freedom, harmlessness, and a belief that all religions get lampooned. Opponents of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, numbering 28 percent, argued for respect for religious beliefs, offensive images, and their possibility of provoking violence. The remaining participants familiar with the news didn't take a side.

Overall, out of 1,003 adults surveyed, 75 percent were familiar with the attack. Check out the full report here.

$$$$$

Fed will wait to raise interest rates, citing 'solid' economic growth

5:57pm ET
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The U.S. Federal Reserve will remain patient in raising interest rates, waiting until at least June, the Federal Open Market Committee hinted in its report Wednesday.

The report said economic activity has been "expanding at a solid pace," in what The New York Times called "its most upbeat economic assessment since the recession." However, it did also mention that inflation is weak, reflecting drops in energy prices.

Quotables

Rand Paul to drone fliers: 'Beware, because I've got a shotgun'

5:25pm ET

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) spent part of his Wednesday on Snapchat, taking questions in what the company is calling its first legislator interview.

During the interview, the potential 2016 contender said drones should be used only according to the Constitution, then added that drone operators near his house "better beware, because I've got a shotgun."

The lawmaker also fielded the inevitable question: Will he run in 2016?

"Maybe. They may have to make the fence and guard the fence a little bit better than they have been doing lately." —Julie Kliegman

put down that cigarette

E-cigarettes labeled a 'health threat' in California report

5:11pm ET
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A new study by the California Department of Public Health released Wednesday declares that e-cigarettes and their secondhand aerosols are indeed health hazardous, despite the popular belief that they are significantly less harmful than regular cigarettes. Among other things, the report found that e-cigarettes emit chemicals that are known to cause cancer and birth defects, and that their effectiveness in helping users quit smoking traditional cigarettes is unclear. 

Though California outlawed the sale of e-cigarettes to minors years ago, the report also claims that they put youth at greater risk than traditional cigarettes. This is mainly because e-cigs aren't bound to the same marketing restrictions — flavored e-cigs are legal, while flavored cigarettes are not, for example — that traditional cigarettes are.

This just in

Supreme Court orders Oklahoma to halt executions over lethal injection drug

4:30pm ET
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the executions of three Oklahoma men due to concerns about the controversial drug cocktail the state uses for lethal injections.

The move was widely expected after the Justices agreed last week to hear the inmates' legal challenge that the drug, midazolam, causes intense suffering and thus violates the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Lawyers for the petitioners pointed to Oklahoma's botched execution last year of  Clayton Lockett as proof the drug should not be administered.

Though the state initially opposed staying the executions, it changed course on Monday and asked the high court to intervene.

This is sad

1 in 5 U.S. children live off food stamps

4:25pm ET
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The economy may have picked up, but children are still struggling to get enough to eat. New statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau have revealed that about 16 million U.S. children — roughly one in five — received food stamps last year.

The number of children on food stamps is higher than it was at the start of the recession in 2007, when nine million children — about one in eight — were on food stamps.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the data is "the latest evidence of how little America's less-advantaged groups — children, but also young adults, the poor, minorities, the middle class — have benefited from an economic recovery whose gains have gone disproportionately to the affluent." Forty-seven percent of children on food stamps live only with their mothers, but the rate of children with married parents who are on food stamps has doubled since 2007, too.

Numbers don't lie

Government budget cuts hit red states the hardest

3:35pm ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

A new Reuters analysis found that recent budget cuts may demonstrate the politicization of public spending.

The findings suggest that governmental budget cuts after a 2011 budget deal hit Republican states harder than swing states or Democratic states. Funding for discretionary grant programs has fallen 40 percent in red states, versus just 25 percent in purple and blue states. The funding cuts affected programs including Head Start preschool education and anti-drug initiatives.

"In the context of the Obama administration, swing states and blue states are doing better than red states," John Hudak, a federal spending expert who worked with Reuters on the analysis, said in a statement.

Reuters notes that the disparity "only shows up in federal aid that is most directly controlled by the administration." Even controlling for factors like population, economy, and the number of research universities, "red states still came up short."

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