Scientists make radioactivity-free vodka from Chernobyl

Atomik(LONDON) -- A steady stream of thrill-seekers have been drawn to the scene of one of the worst civilian disasters in the nuclear age, and soon they may be offered a chance to bring home a souvenir in the form of a bottle of Atomik Chernobyl vodka.

A team of scientists from the U.K. and Ukraine just brewed the first bottle of artisanal spirits made of grain and water from Chernobyl's once-banned exclusion zone.

Though the 1,600-square-mile (4,200 square kilometers) zone surrounding the doomed nuclear plant was thought by some scientists to be uninhabitable for 20,000 years following the meltdown in April 1986, 33 years later, radioactivity both inside the former exclusion zone around the plant and in the rural areas around it has gone down to levels some scientists say is safe for humans.

"Atomik vodka is no more radioactive than any liquor on the market," Jim Smith, professor of Environmental Science at the University of Portsmouth, told ABC News.

Gennady Laptev of the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute and Smith spent a quarter of a century studying the long term effects of radioactivity in Chernobyl, and their vodka project has been in development for three years. Together, they founded the Chernobyl Spirit Company.

The two scientists and some of their colleagues were looking into the possibility of producing crops from Chernobyl good for human consumption and found vodka to be a decent possibility.

Grain for the vodka was produced on a plot in Section 2, a wider part of the Exclusion Zone. The rye they grew tested positive for Strontium 90, a radioactive isotope, but all traces of contamination disappeared in the distillation process, when water and all diluting substances are completely removed, while fermented liquids are purified.

The local water in the vodka is safe, too, they posited, because it comes from a discreet aquifer about 500 feet (150 meters) below the radiated area where the chemical composition is similar to the groundwater of the Champagne region.

Only a trace of Carbon-14 was detected in the vodka they made, at a level organically present in hard spirits. Radiation tests carried out by scientists at the University of Southampton confirmed the product to be as safe as any other hard liquor.

And just to be safer, Laptev and Smith said their vodka will be triple-distilled, like premium vodkas.

They are pitching their proposed product as a way for tourists to give back to the Chernobyl region by supporting local agriculture and local business.

"Ten thousand to 12,000 people are still living in the Zone of Obligatory Resettlement," explains Smith, "where new investment and use of agricultural land is still forbidden."

For them, Smith and Laptev claim, Atomik vodka could be an economic lifeline.

Risk at the exclusion zone is also considered "negligible" by the Ukrainian government, which reopened the zone to tourism almost a decade ago. Today, Chernobyl is a top tourist attraction Ukraine, a magnet for so-called atomic tourists. With the helping hand of hit HBO show "Chernobyl," there is a 30% spike in tourism this year, according to a guide.

"A lethal exposure of radiation ranges from 300 to 500 roentgens an hour," Laptev, who has worked on aftermath of Chernobyl explosion since 1986, said.

"Levels in the tour areas," he said by phone from Chernobyl, "vary from 15 to a hundred microroentgens per hour."

And that, Smith said, is "comparable to the exposure that an airplane passenger might receive on any commercial flight."

So far, only one wild boar-branded bottle has been produced, and there are still legal issues to be settled in Ukraine, but the producers hope to begin small-scale experimental production later this year.

"Atomik will have that fruity taste of traditional home-made Ukrainian vodka," Laptev said.

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Icing on the cake: Texas brothers build a family business and find a way to give back

Trinda Mushambi(MISSOURI CITY, Tx.) -- These Texas brothers aren’t just sweethearts, they’re catering to sweettooths.

Nigel Mushambi, 12, and big brother Shane Mushambi, 13, are the founders and co-CEOs of 2 Bros. In The Kitchen in Missouri City, Texas.

The pair’s passion for baking started before they could even reach the counter. Since the ages of 3 and 4, they have been busy creating baked goods that put smiles on faces of everyone who’s tried them.

"Everyone likes our cakes because they are so moist and they taste good," Nigel told "Good Morning America."

The brothers got a taste of professional pastry-making when they entered the "Cook-Off for Camp" competition hosted by the Greater Houston Church. Nigel and Shane have since become 3-time champions.

As a result of their winnings, they went on to found 2 Bros. In The Kitchen and got banned from the competition, but for a good reason.

"This year is our last year competing because professional bakers are not allowed to compete," Shane said.

2 Bros. In The Kitchen sells cakes, cake jars, cupcakes, cupcakes push-ups, chocolate-dipped pretzels and icings. Their treats come in a wide range of flavors, such as vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, German chocolate, mocha, coffee, salted caramel, coconut, red velvet, raspberry, almond and carrot.

But the goodness doesn’t end in the kitchen. Like any good business, they know the value of giving back, with the young philanthropists starting their Pay-It-Forward Program.

"We know that life can be bitter sometimes," they say on their website, noting how the program is "sprinkling a little bit of sweetness into the lives of unsuspecting individuals."

"Customers simply buy an extra Cake In A Jar that we distribute randomly. Then, we ingeniously bless a charitable organization with a portion of the proceeds, just like we do with all of our Cake In A Jar. You may even get a mention when we post the picture of the recipient to our sites. It’s a double blessing."

2 Bros. In The Kitchen donates up to 20% of its proceeds. They also partner up with nonprofit organizations that provide meals for homeless, funding for medical care and toys for underprivileged children. Currently, they are working to raise funds for a hospital in Zimbabwe.

The Mushambis released their first book earlier this year, titled "Beyond the Kitchen," which so far has sold more than 200 copies.

"In ‘Beyond the Kitchen,’ we learn how to cook up success despite life's mistakes. No one is perfect. Still, the fear of failure stops many from even trying," the brothers said about the book. "Everyone makes bad decisions and takes a few missteps. Those who learn from their errors and rise above them are destined to succeed."

"No matter how good you are, you are going to make a mistake sometime," Shane said. "So we learned perseverance and how to just keep going."

These young moguls are not just on top in the baking business. The two are in middle school, taking a high school pre-calculus course, and college-level math and engineering courses, managing their academia as well as their baking business.

And mom Trinda Mushambi couldn’t be more proud.

"I’m in awe about their perseverance, their dedication and just their hearts," she said. "This is all them. I am the driver, and they are due the respect and credit because they work hard."

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Group behind privately funded border wall under criminal investigation

ElFlacodelNorte/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The group that raised millions of dollars to build a privately funded border wall separating Mexico from the U.S. is under criminal investigation in Florida, according to officials.

We Build The Wall, a nonprofit organization that crowdfunded more than $25 million on GoFundMe, is under investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Services, which has oversight of nonprofits and charities in the state, a spokesperson confirmed to ABC News via email.

The investigation began after multiple complaints raising questions about the funds raised by the organization and how they were being allocated were sent to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, the spokesperson said, but declined to comment further.

One of the complaints provided to ABC News by the department -- received on Jan. 13 and written by Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Wendy Tien, which she noted was written in her "personal capacity"-- expresses concerns that the group's founder and the creator of the GoFundMe campaign, Miramar resident Brian Kolfage, was redirecting the donations to the nonprofit after learning that GoFundMe may require him to refund the money since he did not meet his $1 billion goal.

In her complaint from January 2019, Tien wrote that a search of the Florida Secretary of State business organizations site "provides no evidence" that We Build The Wall, which is registered in Florida, has filed articles of incorporation as required, and that it "seems unlikely" that it has obtained 501(c)(4) status, making it tax-exempt as a social welfare organization, with the Internal Revenue Service.

"I am concerned this high-profile fundraising effort is obtaining widespread press on the basis of potentially or intentionally misleading representations," she wrote. "I ask your Office to consider reviewing this possible misrepresentation regarding Florida nonprofit entity status for the benefit of the public."

Tien told ABC News that she wrote the complaint because "members of the public who make donations to nonprofit entities are entitled to an expectation that they be used in accordance to state law." She later received a response stating that her letter was received.

A complaint received on Jan. 14 accused Kolfage of previously being "in contact with the Border Wall Foundation" and "knowing" that the money could not be given to the US Government for the stated purposes."

"He has and continues to deceive and mislead the general public to receive donations," the complaint, written by a Mississippi resident, said of Kolfage.

Another complaint received on May 15 from a writer in New Jersey accused the cause of being a "fraud" that "needs to be shut down immediately."

Kolfage described the Florida investigation to ABC News as "a big fat nothing burger" and "old news." The complainants did not donate to the campaign, he said.

He added that a state senator who "looked into it," whom he declined to name, assured him two days ago that it was "100% politically motivated" by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, who is a Democrat.

"'Cause we’re doing the work for President Trump and they don’t support President Trump," he said. "It'll all be resolved in a couple of weeks once we give them the proper paperwork.

General counsel from We Build The Wall said in a statement to ABC News that the group has "never been contacted" by the department regarding "ANY investigations or inquiries." The statement described the complaints as "erroneous" and said they "originate from the radical open borders left."

"Ever since WBTW completed its first mile of a total security system in the El Paso sector near Sunland Park, New Mexico, the open border fanatics who oppose a safe and secure america have been relentless in trying to shut us down. WBTW augments President Trump's heroic efforts to secure [sic] our southern border," the statement said.

"The filing of erroneous complaints and applying improper pressure on government employees have failed and will continue to fail. WBTW state filings are accurate and in total compliance with each individual state's laws," the statement continued.

The first portion of the project, built in Sunland Park, New Mexico, is now complete, according to the GoFundMe campaign. However, U.S. officials from the International Boundary and Water Commission mandated that a gate remain open during the day because the barrier was blocking a government-owned access road.

The final cost of that portion of the wall has not been determined but is estimated to be between $6 and $8 million, according to the group.

The GoFundMe campaign, created on Dec. 16, is still accepting donations. More than $300 had been donated on Thursday alone.

A representative for GoFundMe did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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Google to give refunds for price drops on flights for a limited time

Google(NEW YORK) -- Google Flights, one of the search engine's tabs, is betting that it can guarantee ticket prices won't go down -- and will refund the fare difference if it does, at least for a limited time.

The company unveiled the promotion for flights on Thursday as it announced a new slate of travel-related features for customers that will be accessible through the browser and through Google's Maps app. The offer goes through Labor Day.

"We're confident that for certain flights, the price you're seeing is the lowest available," a Google spokesperson told ABC News. "That's why we're guaranteeing that if the price drops before the plane takes off, we'll refund the difference."

The offer represents the latest push by the tech giant to expand its reach, and comes as the company adds more personalized travel-related services.

The price guarantee applies to select U.S. domestic and international flights booked between Aug. 13 and Sept. 2, 2019. Those flights will be designated with a price guarantee badge, and travel must be completed between Aug. 13 and Nov. 24, 2019. Google will monitor the flight prices and email a link to offer a refund if the prices drops before the flight takes off.

Aside from the promotion, longer-term features on, are aimed to give more pricing data.

Shoppers can see the price history of a specific flight going back months. It will also predict pricing for the next few days.

For some airlines, there will be more transparency for what's included in the fare, including checked baggage or seat selection.

For travelers willing to hand over personal data, Google can personalize travel arrangements, suggesting hotels based on your previous searches or bookings, or their proximity to points of interest you've searched.

Google Maps has also been enhanced to include trip reservations for flights, hotels and restaurants. The app will make suggestions based on prior searches and bookings.

The Timeline feature has also been updated to allow you to document your trip and export the information to your friends and contacts.

"You can also add notes to the places on your list to make sure your loved ones know exactly what you liked, did, and ate," the statement said.

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Taco Bell cuts ceremonial ribbon made from hot sauce packets, opens boutique hotel

Taco Bell(PALM SPRINGS, Calif.) -- Taco Bell's new boutique hotel is open for business.

Reservations for The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort, located in tony Palm Springs, California, sold out in just two minutes when they went online in June.

The pop-up resort will be open for a limited time, and according to the company, fans are traveling from 21 states to check out the "Tacoasis" and "unique hotel experience."

Those lucky guests can catch some rays while lounging in the Fire! Pool, sipping specialty cocktails like the Strawberry Sangria Baja Blast Pop and get themselves looking sharp with "Baja Manis" and "Fire Fades" from the on-site salon. There's also a custom gift shop with limited-edition swimsuits, hot sauce, commemorative shirts, fire sunglasses and more.

On Thursday, Palm Springs city council members, local dignitaries and fans looked on as a ceremonial ribbon made from hot sauce packets was cut, officially marking the hotel as open for business.

The chain restaurant's foray into the hospitality industry is a unique way to connect with their fans. In 2017, the brand released a limited-edition fashion line with Forever 21.

"The Bell stands to be the biggest expression of the Taco Bell lifestyle to date," Taco Bell's chief global brand officer Marisa Thalberg said in a statement when the hotel was announced. "It will be fun, colorful, flavorful and filled with more than what our fans might expect."

"Also, just like some of our most sought-after food innovation, this hotel brings something entirely new for lucky fans to experience and enjoy," she added.

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Flight attendant charged with being intoxicated after passengers raise alarm 

Courtesy Aaron Scherb(NEW YORK) -- A flight attendant was charged with criminal public intoxication on Thursday after passengers aboard a United Express flight raised alarms and one tweeted a video appearing to show her slumped over in her seat.

Julianne March, 49, from Waukesha, Wisconsin, was charged with the misdemeanor by prosecutors in St. Joseph's County, Indiana. United Airlines earlier Thursday confirmed passengers had reported a flight attendant who appeared to be under the influence during the United Express flight from Chicago, Illinois, to South Bend, Indiana, on Aug. 2.

When the plane landed in South Bend, officers boarded, March started crying and, when asked which city she was in, said Chicago, the criminal complaint said.

And when administered a Breathalyzer test, her level was 0.204, five times over the legal limit for flight attendants, the complaint said. The Federal Aviation Administration said the limit for all aviation sensitive positions -- pilot, flight attendant, mechanic, for example -- is .04 for alcohol.

The flight was operated by Air Wisconsin -- meaning it was an Air Wisconsin crew and flight attendant. An Air Wisconsin spokesperson said, "The Flight Attendant involved in this incident is no longer an employee of the company. We will continue to cooperate with local authorities and assist them as necessary."

March was a probationary flight attendant who had been on the job only a few months, and was fired on the terms that she didn't complete the probationary time period, a source said.

"We expect our regional carriers to take appropriate action as required when issues like these happen with their employees. Legally and with regards to regulatory agencies this is an Air Wisconsin issue," a United Airlines spokesperson told ABC News.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the limit for all aviation sensitive positions -- pilot, flight attendant, mechanic, for example -- is .04% for alcohol.

In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, passenger Aaron Scherb said when he boarded United Express flight 4849 from Chicago to South Bend, he noticed the sole flight attendant on the plane was acting odd.

She was "kind of leaning against the galley and didn't seem to be making eye with passengers while boarding, which seemed a little strange," Scherb said, reperating an account first reported in the South Bend Tribune. After everyone boarded the flight and the plane was still at the gate, the flight attendant started to make the security announcement but her speech "very slurred," according to Scherb.

He said he then noticed her bumping into several seats and passengers as she walked up and down the aisle to check the overhead bins.

After the plane taxied to the runway, the flight attendant sat down in the jump seat and "appeared to pass out for nearly the whole flight," Scherb recalls. Scherb said numerous other passengers took videos and photos of the flight attendant.

While they were in the air, Scherb said a female passenger noticed the flight attendant didn't have her seat belt on and helped strap her in.

"The flight attendant didn't get up for the whole flight," Scherb said. "She didn't do a security announcement or secure the cabin. When we landed, she appeared to need help opening the jet bridge."

Scherb then told one of the pilots that the flight attendant shouldn't be on a return flight, and he replied something to the effect that "we're handling it," Scherb told ABC News.

"Two uniformed officers were waiting at the end of the jet bridge to interview and escort the flight attendant off the flight," Scherb said.

Scherb said he tweeted United Airlines about the experience, and a United representative contacted him later that day to offer him a $500 voucher or 25,000 miles in addition to a refund for that segment of his trip, according to Scherb.

Scherb said he has not accepted either offer from United.

"Given that the safety and well-being of all 50 passengers on that flight was jeopardized, I find United's response to be insufficient," Scherb said. "Especially since United had just given a $1200 voucher to a would-be passenger on the flight as we were about to board because the flight was oversold."

At the same time, Sherb said, "I hope this flight attendant is not fired. I would hope that United Airlines and Air Wisconsin treat this person as an employee, not as an expendable commodity, and that they will help her get treatment for addiction, if that's in fact what she suffers from. Given the significant safety and security roles that flight attendants have, United and other airlines should consider adopting zero tolerance policies for flight attendants going forward," he said.

March could not be reached for comment and it was not clear whether she had a lawyer.

The FAA said it would investigate the matter as a possible civil violation of the regulations that apply to safety-sensitive employees, prohibiting them from performing duties while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The Association of Flight Attendants said in a statement: " Substance abuse issues happen in every workplace, aviation being safety sensitive we take it incredibly seriously. There are programs that help pilots and flight attendants with addiction issues. We believe recovery is possible. The union started the Flight Attendant Drug and Alcohol Program deal with these issues."

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Equinox, SoulCycle respond to calls for boycott over owner's Trump ties

anouchka/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Equinox and SoulCycle responded to calls for members to cancel their memberships on Wednesday over their owner's plans to host a mega-fundraiser for President Donald Trump.

Equinox Fitness, which operates its namesake company in addition to SoulCycle and Blink Fitness, issued a statement amid outrage over Stephen Ross' upcoming fundraiser for Trump, where tickets run as high as $250,000, according to The Washington Post, which first reported news of the event.

Ross, a billionaire real estate investor, is chairman and majority owner of Related Companies, which oversees Equinox Fitness, but the company said it considers him to be a "passive investor."

"We want to let you know that Equinox and SoulCycle have nothing to do with the event and do not support it," the luxury gym tweeted Wednesday afternoon. "As is consistent with our policies, no company profits are used to fund politicians."

"We are committed to all our members and the communities we live in. We believe in tolerance and equality, and will always stay true to those values. Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business," it added.

SoulCycle tweeted a similar statement.

The response came as celebrities, including model Chrissy Teigen, comedian Billy Eichner and Waiting to Exhale author Terry McMillan, tweeted about canceling their memberships after learning about the news.

At one point on Wednesday, Equinox was the No. 2 trending topic in the U.S. on Twitter, with #BoycottEquinox and SoulCycle trending alongside it, and Stephen Ross was No. 4.

“Just contacted @Equinox to cancel my membership after many years. Money talks, especially with these monsters. If it’s too inconvenient for u to trade one LUXURY GYM for another, then you should be ashamed. (No disrespect to the many wonderful employees at my local Equinox). Bye," Eichner, a harsh critic of the president, tweeted.

"Called Equinox to cancel my membership and they put me on hold so long I hung up. Called back: same thing. Tomorrow, I'm going to confront the guy and cut up my card in pieces in front of him. #Equinox," McMillan added.

Ross, a longtime associate of Trump's, issued a statement of his own amid the backlash, noting that he doesn't always agree with the president. He also received criticism from fans and players on the Miami Dolphins, which he also owns.

“I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions," Ross said. "I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability, and I have and will continue to support leaders on both sides of the aisle to address these challenges."

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Models urge Victoria's Secret CEO to take a stand on sexual misconduct allegations

ViewApart/iStock(NEW YORK) -- More than 120 of the biggest names in fashion have signed an open letter to Victoria's Secret, expressing their "concern for the safety and wellbeing of the models and young women who aspire to model for Victoria’s Secret."

The likes of Doutzen Kroes, Christy Turlington Burns, Milla Jovovich and more all signed the letter from The Model Alliance and addressed it to Victoria’s Secret CEO John Mehas.

"In the past few weeks, we have heard numerous allegations of sexual assault, alleged rape, and sex trafficking of models and aspiring models. While these allegations may not have been aimed at Victoria's Secret directly, it is clear that your company has a crucial role to play in remedying the situation," the letter begins.

The letter calls out any alleged connection between Victoria’s Secret, its parent company L Brands and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Epstein has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexually exploiting and abusing dozens of minor girls at his Upper East Side mansion and his home in Palm Beach, Florida. He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted. His trial is set for sometime next year.

The letter also addresses "allegations of sexual misconduct by photographers."

"It is deeply disturbing that these men appear to have leveraged their working relationships with Victoria’s Secret to lure and abuse vulnerable girls," the letter states. "We stand with the courageous women who have come forward and shared their stories, despite fears of retaliation or harm to their careers. It breaks our hearts to keep hearing these stories. We can and must do better. It is time for RESPECT."

Ava Smith, a former Victoria's Secret model, said it's easy for photographers to try to push acceptable boundaries with models.

"How many other jobs can you expect to be asked to, you know, out of the blue, pose nude or topless, etc.?" Smith said. "And so I think one of the things to us is the inconsistency about how it's done, which you know you're almost never prepared for."

"There are multiple photographers who are known for their work for Victoria's Secret who have been accused of sexually assaulting models," Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance, told ABC News. "And in addition to that there has been a lot in the news recently about L Brand CEO Leslie Wexler's close personal and professional relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, who has multiple allegations against him of child sex trafficking and of luring girls and young women under the pretense that he was a recruiter for Victoria's Secret. So in the face of all of these very serious allegations we felt that we couldn't just sit silently and not say anything."

The Alliance lays out the new Respect Program in its letter.

"Signatory companies make a binding commitment to require their employees, agents, vendors, photographers and other contractors to follow a code of conduct that protects everyone’s safety on the job, and reduces models’ vulnerability to mistreatment. Models have access to an independent, confidential complaint mechanism, with swift and fair resolution of complaints and appropriate consequences for abusers," it explains.

Smith is one of the women to sign on to the Alliance.

"There's a responsibility for all of us to sort of come together, because it is really an industry-wide issue with all of this," Smith told ABC News. "So I think that it's fantastic that we do have major models that are are stepping up and saying, 'Hey this is an issue; we need to talk about this.'"

The letter asks the company to enact the Respect program and move "to be a leader, to use its power and influence to bring about the changes that are urgently needed in our industry."

"If Victoria’s Secret were to take a stand against these abuses and commit to meaningful change by joining the RESPECT Program, this would go a long way in helping our industry chart a new path forward," it closes.

A request for comment from Victoria's Secret was not immediately returned to ABC News.

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FedEx drops Amazon ground deliveries

Joel Carillet/iStock(NEW YORK) -- FedEx is pulling the plug on Amazon deliveries, effectively ending domestic ties with the largest U.S. retailer, the company said on Wednesday.

Shipping company officials said the company would not renew its ground delivery contract with Amazon when it expires at the end of August and would focus on business from other retailers. The move comes as Amazon steps up efforts to build up its own delivery fleet, and, in doing so, is increasingly becoming a competitor to its former shipper.

"This change is consistent with our strategy to focus on the broader e-commerce market, which the recent announcements related to our FedEx Ground network have us positioned extraordinarily well to do," FedEx officials said in a statement.

The news was first reported by Bloomberg, which reported that FedEx would continue to deliver Amazon packages internationally. Amazon only made up about 1.3% of FedEx’s sales in 2018, according to Bloomberg.

FedEx signalled the sea change in June, when it announced it would not renew its deal to fly Amazon’s deliveries through its Express unit in the United States.

"We are constantly innovating to improve the carrier experience and sometimes that means reevaluating our carrier relationships," an Amazon spokesperson wrote in a statement. "FedEx has been a great partner over the years and we appreciate all their work delivering packages to our customers."

Amazon has been focused on building out its own infrastructure by contracting its own planes, trucks and other traditional means of transportation.

The fissure comes as both companies aggressively explore new technologies and delivery methods amid ever increasing e-commerce sales.

In January, Amazon debuted a delivery robot named Scout for the last stretch of deliveries or the so-called retail "last mile." On Tuesday, the company announced it was extending the Scout trial program to Irvine, California.

In June, the online retailer announced it plans to start drone delivery "within months."

In February, FedEx unveiled the "FedEx SameDay Bot," to deliver same-day orders within a three-mile distance from a store. The program was slated to roll out this summer in Memphis, Tennessee, where the company is based. The company has paired with Autozone, Pizza Hut, Target and Walmart for the rollout.

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Walmart's response to deadly shootings will be 'thoughtful and deliberate,' CEO says

Wolterk/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Walmart CEO Doug McMillon wrote a letter to employees addressing two deadly shootings that occurred at its stores in less than a week, promising a "thoughtful and deliberate" response from the company.

On July 30, two Walmart employees were shot and killed at a Walmart store in Southaven, Mississippi, by a former employee who had recently been fired, and a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday has killed 22 people and injured more than two dozen more.

Another shooting scare occurred at a Walmart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Tuesday after two men who were arguing pulled guns on each other, sparking chaos among panicked customers.

McMillon traveled to El Paso after the attack, which is now being investigated as a hate crime, and promised to continue to promote diversity in the El Paso community.

"As it becomes clearer that the shooting in El Paso was motivated by hate, we are more resolved than ever to foster an inclusive environment where all people are valued and welcomed," McMilon wrote in a letter posted to LinkedIn Tuesday. "Our store in El Paso is well known as a tight-knit community hub for people in the region, where we serve customers from both sides of the border. I continue to be amazed at the strength and resilience that we find in the diversity of the communities where we live and work."

In the aftermath, Walmart faced mounting pressure to stop selling guns.

McMillon wrote that the corporation will "work to understand the many important issues that arise from El Paso and Southaven, as well as those that have been raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence."

"We will be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses, and we will act in a way that reflects the best values and ideals of our company, with a focus on serving the needs of our customers, associates and communities," he said.

McMillon acknowledged the "shock, anger, grief" employees may be feeling in the wake of shooting deadly shootings.

He also offered praise to the many who offered assistance during the shooting. In addition to thanking the first responders, McMillon named several employees who rushed in to help during the attack.

"We heard incredible stories of associates who made heroic efforts to get customers to safety," he wrote. "From our Store Manager, Robert, who was leaving the store and then ran back in when he heard the shots, to Gilbert and Lasonya, who helped dozens of customers to safety out the back of the store, to Mayra, who may have been the very first responder and did an exceptional job, bandaging wounds and helping customers escape."

He continued, "When the worst happens, we counter with our best selves. We support each other, pray together, stand firm and heal together."

Grief counselors will be available to employees for support, McMillon wrote.

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