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Mass. to Inspect Small Chemical, Waste Plants

Danvers neighborhood last November, state officials Monday outlined the first federally approved plan to inspect small chemical and hazardous waste plants that they said could pose "a significant danger to populations in the event of a problem or accident."

Teams from the state departments of fire services and environmental protection will join local fire officials to inspect 15 smaller plants in the next two months and 25 more by year's end. Owners who do not cooperate may face administrative search warrants.

The targeted plants were chosen based on how close they are to neighborhoods, the types or amounts of chemicals or waste materials they produce, and their inspection histories. Officials would not identify the plants to be inspected, but they said they are selecting those that pose the most danger among some 15,000 smaller plants across the state.

"We don't want to single out publicly, prior to inspection, any company or facility in a way that implies it is in any way unsafe or that its neighbors face any particular danger," said Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "The identification of these 40 facilities is simply a way of prioritizing inspections. Only if we discover unsafe conditions and conclude that an enforcement action is warranted will we name a facility publicly."

ABN Amro Rejects Royal Bank of Scotland Bid

ABN Amro on Monday rejected a $24.5-billion bid from the Royal Bank of Scotland Group and two partners for its American unit, LaSalle Bank, putting the fate of the Dutch bank at the center of one of a large and complex takeover battle more into the hands of shareholders.

ABN Amro said the offer from the consortium was linked to too many conditions and made it difficult to recommend to shareholders as superior even though its amount exceeded an earlier $21-billion offer from Bank of America. The rejection increases the tension between ABN Amro's board and the rival consortium, which also includes Banco Santander Central Hispano and Fortis, a Belgian financial services group.

On April 25, the Royal Bank of Scotland consortium said it planned to offer 72.2 billion euros, or $98.5 billion, mostly in cash, for ABN Amro, but that the bid depended on the Dutch bank's retaining LaSalle. Such an offer would exceed an all-share bid by Barclays worth 65.3 billion euros, which ABN Amro's management had recommended on April 23.

ABN Amro shareholders have not yet voted on any offer or option related to this deal; it is up to the board of management there to frame the choices and call a special shareholder meeting to present them for a vote. The Royal Bank of Scotland consortium can now make a hostile bid for ABN Amro by going directly to shareholders without a recommendation from the management board. Such an acquisition, however, could prove especially difficult because the combined institution needs the broad cooperation of senior management and employees to bring about a successful integration.

Astronomers Report One For the Record Books

Kaboom indeed.

In a cascade of superlatives that belies the traditional cerebral reserve of their profession, astronomers reported Monday that they had seen the brightest and most powerful stellar explosion ever recorded.

The cataclysm — a monster more than a hundred times as energetic as the typical supernova in which the more massive stars end their lives — may be an example, they said, of a completely new type of explosion. Such a blast, proposed but never seen, would explain how the earliest and most massive stars in the universe ended their lives and strewed new elements across space to fertilize future stars and planets.

"It is quite possibly the most massive star that has ever been seen to explode," said Nathan Smith of the University of California, Berkeley, who estimated it as "freakishly massive," about 150 times the mass of the Sun.

Smith led a team of astronomers from Berkeley and the University of Texas who have submitted a paper about the supernova to The Astrophysical Journal and discussed the results on Monday at a news conference from NASA headquarters in Washington. "We're really excited about this," he said. "If it really is what we think it is, it forces us to rethink how massive stars die."

China Tells Little About Illness That Kills Pigs, Officials Say

A mysterious epidemic is killing pigs in southeastern China, but international and Hong Kong authorities said Monday that the Chinese government was providing little information about it or the contaminated wheat gluten that has caused death and illness in animals.

The lack of even basic details is reviving longstanding questions about whether China is willing to share information about health and food safety issues with potentially global implications.

The Chinese government — and particularly the government of Guangdong Province, which is next to Hong Kong — was criticized in 2003 for concealing information about the SARS virus when it emerged in Foshan, 95 miles northwest of Hong Kong. After SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, spread to Hong Kong and around the world, top Chinese officials promised to improve disclosure.

But officials in Hong Kong, at the World Health Organization and at the Food and Agriculture Organization said Monday that they had been told almost nothing about the latest pig deaths and that they had been given limited details about the apparently unrelated problem of wheat gluten contamination.