February 13, 2020

South Sudan's government and the two dominant oil companies in the impoverished nation, Dar Petroleum and Greater Pioneer, have buried at least four environmental reports since 2013 that show serious water and soil contamination in two states with high rates of infertility, miscarriage, alarming birth defects, and unexplained deaths, Sam Mednick reports at The Associated Press. Doctors and residents in oil-rich Union and Upper Nile states report children born without heads, with intestines outside their bodies, and nonfatal deformities like too many fingers and not enough limbs. Dar Petroleum was ordered to clean up its toxic oil mess in Upper Nile in 2018, but residents and industry insiders say the company never acted.

Dar Petroleum and Greater Pioneer are both conglomerates controlled by Chinese state oil companies, with Sudan's state-run oil firm and companies from Malaysia, India, and Egypt. The first two reports AP obtained from people with close knowledge of the oil operations were compiled by Sudan's oil and health ministries in 2013 and 2016. Dar Petroleum and Greater Pioneer conducted their own separate studies in 2018, both finding significant toxic contamination and health issues in the areas. "The people who provided the reports to AP said they were purposely buried," Mednick reports. "An AP reporter looking into the pollution and health issues was detained and questioned by government officials and government security forces working on behalf of the oil companies"

There is no conclusive evidence that the mercury, manganese, arsenic, and other toxins found in the soil and water in Unity and Upper Nile caused these high rates of health problems, but the hidden reports and outside health experts draw a direct line. Neither company responded to AP's many requests for response. Oil is the only significant export from South Sudan, a country formed nine years ago then mired in civil war. It accounts for 40 percent of GDP. Read more at The Associated Press. Peter Weber

2:11 p.m.

First lady Melania Trump is officially donning a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, although the jury's still out on whether her husband will follow suit.

In a social media post Thursday, the first lady shared a photo of herself wearing what appears to be a surgical mask, touting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation "to wear cloth face coverings."

"Remember, this does NOT replace the importance of social distancing," she wrote. "It is recommended to keep us all safe."

Melania's masking comes one week after President Trump announced he would not be wearing a mask, despite the CDC-issued guidelines urging people to do so. At the time, Trump implied that it would be odd to be "sitting in the Oval Office, behind that beautiful Resolute Desk" while wearing a mask, so it's unclear how he's taking this news.

The photo of the first lady appears to show her wearing a surgical mask rather than the CDC-recommended "cloth face covering," the former of which is recommended only for use by health care professionals and medical first responders amid critical supply shortages.