Soaring number of Americans

deep in debt trouble, AP finds

SAN FRANCISCO - Americans are falling behind on their credit- card payments at an alarming rate, sending delinquencies and defaults surging by double-digit percentages in the last year and prompting warnings of worse to come.

Experts say these signs of the deterioration of finances of many households are partly a byproduct of the subprime mortgage crisis and could spell more trouble ahead for an already sputtering economy.

The value of credit-card accounts at least 30 days late jumped 26 percent to $17.3 billion in October from a year earlier at 17 large credit-card trusts examined by the AP.

At the same time, defaults - when lenders essentially give up hope of being repaid and write off the debt - rose 18 percent to almost $961 million in October, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Serious delinquencies also are up sharply: Some of the nation's biggest lenders reported increases of 50 percent or more in the value of accounts that were at least 90 days delinquent when compared with the same period a year ago.

Canadian outfitter halts sales of bottle because of hormone

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Worries about a hormone-mimicking chemical used in hard-plastic Nalgene bottles led a major Canadian retailer in early December to remove Nalgene and other polycarbonate plastic containers from store shelves.

Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op is waiting for Canadian health regulators to finish a preliminary review in May before it reconsiders restocking its 11 stores with the reusable, transparent bottles made with bisphenol A, or BPA, a compound created by a Russian chemist in 1891.

There is little dispute that the chemical can disrupt the hormonal system, but scientists differ on whether very low doses found in food and beverage containers can be harmful. The U.S. FDA sides with the plastics industry that BPA-based products do not pose a health risk.

Patagonia Inc., another outdoor-gear retailer, pulled polycarbonate water bottles from its 40 stores worldwide in December 2005. A month later, Whole Foods Markets stopped selling polycarbonate baby bottles and child drinking cups.

Fake Milwaukee policeman

deported to native Mexico

GUADALAJARA, Mexico - The U.S. yesterday deported a man who had taken a dead cousin's identity to pose as a citizen in order to become a Milwaukee police officer.

Oscar Ayala-Cornejo, 25, arrived yesterday afternoon at Guadalajara's international airport, where he was greeted by nearly a dozen relatives. He was visibly tired after traveling for more than 10 hours, but the reunion appeared to be joyous and hugs were exchanged.

Ayala-Cornejo said he was too tired to talk with reporters at the airport but indicated he would speak publicly in the coming days.

Police arrested Ayala-Cornejo on May 31 after an anonymous tip and charged him with falsely representing himself as an American citizen.

He accepted a plea deal, agreeing to be deported, and resigned from the Milwaukee police force. A judge sentenced Ayala-Cornejo last month to a year of probation.

In a cell phone interview Saturday, Ayala-Cornejo said he was sad to leave his family and friends but was optimistic. He plans to study computer engineering.

Jesus gets help from GPS

BAL HARBOUR, Fla. - A baby Jesus statue here is getting a Global Positioning System for Christmas.

The statue, part of a nativity scene, will be equipped with the device after the previous statue went missing, even though it had been bolted down. "I don't anticipate this will ever happen again," said Dina Cellini, who oversees the display, "but we may need to rely on technology to save our savior."

The Mary and Joseph statues will also be fitted with a GPS, she said. *

- Daily News wire services