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An environmental organization has called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that the milk cartons used in its school-nutrition programs do not contain dioxin, a highly toxic chemical.

Action is urgently needed, argues Greenpeace, an international advocacy group, because a study by the Canadian government last year found that dioxin migrates from paper cartons into milk. Dioxin has been linked with reproductive and immunological disorders.

Dioxin is a byproduct of a chlorine bleaching process used to whiten paper products, including milk cartons. Milk stored in cartons made from plastic, glass, and unbleached paper products is much less likely to contain dioxin, according to the Canadian study.

A spokesman for the usda said that no changes will be made until the agency receives more information about the matter from the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Increasing percentages of children and the elderly are placing more demands on the nation's 13 Western states, a new report maintains.

The demographic expansion of the two age groups that most need and use public services has imposed a greater burden on taxpayers in the West than in any other region, argues the report by Westrends, a branch of the Council of State Governments.

The Pacific and Rocky Mountain states have the highest percentage of children under age 5 in the nation and three times the national rate of elderly people.

Every Western state but Oregon has a birth rate higher than the national average, said Cathy Callaway, a spokesman for the organization.

Copies of the report, "The Dynamic West: A Region in Transition," are available for $30 each from the Council of State Governments, Iron Works Pike, P.O. Box 11910, Lexington, Ky. 40578-9989.

"Running Start," a program designed to develop reading skills among young children, has been established with a $2.1-million grant from the Chrysler Corporation Fund.

In its largest commitment ever to a single project--and its first for early-childhood education--the automobile manufacturer's philanthropic arm has formed a partnership with Reading is Fundamental Inc., the nation's largest nonprofit reading organization.

The new initiative will distribute money over the next three years to enhance 1st-grade reading programs at selected schools in cities where Chrysler has facilities.

"We're still in the process of making that selection," said Vicki Heland, rif's manager of educational services. "We'll be looking for geographic variety in both large and small cities."

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