AmeriScan: April 15, 2003

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EPA Launches Expedited Investigation of Common Chemical

WASHINGTON, DC, April 15, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a preliminary risk assessment Monday for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical processing aid widely used in the manufacture of a wide variety of consumer and industrial products, including products coated with Teflon.

The EPA says there is too much scientific uncertainty about the health effects and risks of PFOA for the agency to issue regulations, but studies of PFOA have raised a number of potential toxicity concerns.

PFOA has been found to accumulate in human blood and it does not appear to break down in the environment. It is not currently regulated by the EPA.

The urgency of the EPA's review, according to agency officials, has been heightened by information that the general U.S. population may be widely exposed to low levels of PFOA.

"To ensure consumers are protected from any potential risks, the Agency will be conducting its most extensive scientific assessment ever undertaken on this type of chemical," said Stephen Johnson, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances.

"This priority scientific review will guarantee that any future regulatory action on PFOA is protective of public health and supported by the best scientific information."

The effects of these low levels of PFOA have sparked considerable debate. Analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental research and advocacy group, found evidence that women and children are in particular at risk from PFOA, which has caused cancer in laboratory animals.

But Dupont, the only American manufacturer of PFOA, insists there are no health risks from the chemical.

And cookware sold under the Teflon brand, according to Dupont, does not contain PFOA. The company says the chemical is a process aid, but is removed in the manufacturing process.

PFOA has come under increasing scrutiny of late - EWG last week alleged that Dupont has hid studies that outline health risks from the chemical.

These studies became public, according to EWG, as the result of a class action lawsuit brought by 3,000 individuals living near the Dupont Teflon production facility in Parkersburg. The plaintiffs allege that PFOA pollution from the facility has contaminated local tap water and presents serious public health risks.

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California Asks That Federal Oil and Gas Leases Expire

SACRAMENTO, California, April 15, 2003 (ENS) - California Governor Gray Davis has formally asked the Bush administration to allow 36 federal oil and gas leases off the coast of central California to expire. Davis sent a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Gale Norton last week, asking her to build on the administration's recent reversal of its position that California had no right to block the development of these leases.

Some two weeks ago the Bush administration decided not to appeal California's right to review the leases, but the issue remains open as long as the leases are in effect.

"It is time to take the next step and put an end to the threat these 36 leases pose," Davis wrote in a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. "It is our best hope to avoid more costly litigation while protecting our magnificent coastline."

The 36 undeveloped oil leases are located in federal waters, some three miles off the coast between the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

They were leased prior to the moratorium on new offshore oil and gas drilling and before the creation of the marine sanctuaries.

The legal battle over the leases began in 1999 when the federal government, under President Bill Clinton's administration, extended the leases by two to four years.

State officials and environmentalists filed suit, arguing that the state had the right to review the oil drilling leases under its Coastal Management Plan.

In June 2001 a U.S. District Court ruled in favor of state officials and environmentalists and determined that the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service failed to comply with the Coastal Zone Management Act, a federal law that gives states the authority to review federal actions that may affect their coasts.

The U.S. District Court ruling also found that the lease extensions were illegal because the federal government failed to study the environmental consequences of drilling the leases, as required by federal law. It determined that the state has the right to ban drilling on the leases permanently if it determines they threaten the coast or the state's fisheries.

Not renewing the leases, as Davis has requested, would simply expire them, costing the government nothing. But a legal challenge from the leaseholders is a near certainty - some are already involved in a legal action because they have not been permitted to develop the leases.

The Bush administration is also considering a buyback, for which there is precedent.

In May 2002, the administration agreed to purchase some $235 million worth of oil and gas leases off the coast of Florida.

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Map of the Human Genome Is Complete

WASHINGTON DC, April 15, 2003 (ENS) - Leaders of six nations issued a rare joint proclamation yesterday, celebrating the completion of the human genome project. The 13 year effort is considered by many to be the most ambitious biomedical project ever undertaken.

"The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium has completed decoding all the chapters of the instruction book of human life," according to the statement from heads of state of China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"We take today an important step toward establishing a healthier future for all the peoples of the globe, for whom the human genome serves as a common inheritance," the statement said.

The announcement that the DNA map was 99.99 percent accurate was more a celebration than anything else, as researchers already have access to the DNA data from the final version. The map includes "the essential sequence" of three billion base pairs of DNA of the human genome, described by the heads of state as the "molecular instruction book of human life."

The map of the human genome will give researchers critical tools to better understand the workings of individual genes. This could offer important clues into how genes malfunction, something that often causes disease and illness.

The genome map could provide even deeper insight, into the secretes behind human behavior, personality and mental processes.

The quest to map the human genome began in 1990 and was originally projected to take 15 years. U.S. officials say the project cost some $2.7 billion, a bit less than the $3 billion first estimated.

It is only five decades since the landmark discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA in April 1953.

"The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium has completed decoding all the chapters of the instruction book of human life," the statement says. "This genetic sequence provides us with the fundamental platform for understanding ourselves, from which revolutionary progress will be made in biomedical sciences and in the health and welfare of humankind."

"Thus, we take today an important step toward establishing a healthier future for all the peoples of the globe, for whom the human genome serves as a common inheritance."

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Connecticut Extends Protection for River Herring

HARTFORD, Connecticut, April 15, 2003 (ENS) - Connecticut state officials have extended the state's ban on the taking of alewives and blueback herring from most of its inland and marine waters. The ban was first put into effect in April 2002 and will now run through at least March 2004.

Officials with the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said the action was taken because river herring populations have declined to historically low levels.

The populations are so low that they are "potentially compromising their ability to sustain themselves," said Ed Parker, chief of the DEP's Bureau of Natural Resources.

"Data collected during 2002 indicate that the populations did not show the signs of recovery that would have been necessary for the DEP to lift the prohibition," Parker said.

Both alewife and the blueback herring hatch in freshwater, migrate to the ocean to grow, then return to freshwater to spawn. River herring runs into Connecticut rivers and streams historically numbered in the millions, but the runs have been declining steadily since 1990.

DEP officials said they are not fully certain why the runs are in decline, but believe predation by increasingly abundant striped bass is an important factor.

These fish are important to freshwater and marine ecosystems, state officials explained, because because adult herring and their young provide food for a variety of predators including freshwater gamefish, marine gamefish, osprey, bald eagle, harbor seals, porpoise, egrets, kingfishers, and river otter.

Some alewife populations are established in several lakes and ponds in Connecticut are not experiencing similar declines and are not subject to the ban.

"Protecting wild fish populations is one of our top priorities," Parker said. "We believe that the fishery closure may reduce the threat of further population declines and that it may enable river herring populations to recover more quickly in years when striped bass are less abundant."

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Sunlight Can Convert Disinfectant Into Dioxin

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, April 15, 2003 (ENS) - Researchers have shown that sunlight can convert a common disinfectant into a form of dioxin. The study, conducted by scientists at the University of Minnesota, indicates that this process may produce some of the dioxin found in the environment.

It was already known that triclosan, a common disinfectant used in antibacterial soaps, could be converted to dioxin in a laboratory and that sunlight causes the disinfectant to degrade in the environment. A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey found triclosan in 58 percent of natural waters tested.

But scientists did not know that the natural degradation resulted in dioxin, explained researchers Kristopher McNeill, an assistant professor of chemistry, and William Arnold, an assistant professor of civil engineering.

In their study, McNeill and Arnold added triclosan to river water, shined ultraviolet light on the water, and found that between one percent and 12 percent of the triclosan was converted to dioxin.

Although the dioxin was a relatively benign form, the scientists said that treating wastewater with chlorine could possibly lead to the production of a much more toxic species of dioxin.

"This form of dioxin is at least 150,000 times less toxic than the most dangerous form," said McNeill. "But repeated exposure to chlorine, perhaps in water treatment facilities, could chlorinate triclosan."

"After chlorinated triclosan is discharged from the facility, sunlight could convert it into more toxic dioxins," he explained. "Such a process could be a source of highly toxic dioxin in the environment."

Reported in the "Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A: Chemistry," the study was started after the researchers read numerous environmental studies that reported the presence of pharmaceutical compounds in surface waters around the nation. It seemed appropriate to McNeill and Arnold to examine the natural processes that led to the loss of such materials in the environment.

"This study also shows that the disappearance of a pollutant such as triclosan does not necessarily mean an environmental threat has been removed," said Arnold. "It may just have been converted into another threat."

The researchers said that even low levels of toxic dioxin are worrisome because dioxin readily accumulates in organisms and becomes more concentrated in tissues as it moves up the food chain.

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The Battle Between Natural Gas and Diesel

BOSTON, Massachusetts, April 15, 2003 (ENS) - A new study from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis finds that compressed natural gas technologies deployed on urban transit buses offer more health benefits than competing "clean diesel" technologies but at greater cost.

The analysis of the two technologies showed that compressed natural gas (CNG) provides one third more health benefits than emission controlled diesel (ECD)" but the cost per unit of health improvement is six to nine times higher.

The study, published in the current issue of the journal "Environmental Science and Technology," measures the public health damages of air pollution from urban transit buses in units of Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs).

According to the research team, the study finds that new ECD buses reduce health damages by 40 percent, and that new CNG buses cuts health damages by 55 percent, compared with new conventional diesel buses.

Both technologies reduce emissions of fine particles by some 75 percent, but CNG also reduces emissions of nitrogen oxides, which contributes to smog and the formation of fine particles.

Yet the cost per QALY saved using CNG would be six to nine times greater than for ECD because of the higher cost of acquiring and maintaining these vehicles, as well as installing and maintaining infrastructure to fuel them, and paying more for fuel to run them.

The study did not take into account the safety risk of CNG, which is readily ignitable, nor does it consider some of the drawbacks of diesel technology, including a strong odor and noisier operation.

The authors say this analysis is the "the first to compute and compare aggregate incremental costs and health benefits for bus propulsion technologies."

"These first order ball-park estimates of the costs and benefits of these alternative propulsion systems provide an important way to think about the pros and cons of different ways to address this important environmental issue," said senior research associate Joshua Cohen.

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Jaguar Keen To Protect Jaguars

NEW YORK, New York, April 15, 2003 (ENS) - Automaker Jaguar North America has launched a new campaign to save the animal that inspired the company's name.

The company has formed the Jaguar Conservation Trust, which will provide grants and funding for projects that promote the preservation of the jaguar and its habitat.

The effort builds on other initiatives by the company to save the rare cats, including a program started in the mid 1980s by Jaguar Canada. That initiative helped to dramatically expand the world's only jaguar sanctuary, according to the company, and safeguarded some 100,000 acres of tropical rain forest and jaguar habitat in Belize.

Jaguar UK has donated some $3 million to help construct a rainforest exhibit and breeding environment at the Chester Zoo in the England and in the United States, the company committed $1 million to the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, which helps to fund research, and species protection programs for jaguars in the wild.

"Through a number of different projects and sponsorships in the past, we have built up an association with jaguar preservation," said Richard Beattie, a spokesman for Jaguar Land Rover North America. "It is now time to take our conservation efforts to the next level and ensure that the future of our namesake is protected."

According to Jaguar, the founder of the car company, the late Sir William Lyons, chose the name because it signified "feline grace and elegance, combining docility with remarkable power and agility."

It is estimated that there are now only around 15,000 jaguars left in the wild and conservation is centering on the establishment of protected areas that may serve to reduce the decline of the jaguars natural habitat. The big cats

"Jaguar is possibly the only major corporation that has dedicated itself to the preservation of the very species from which it derives its name," said Stefanie Powers, an actress and conservationist who will lead the development of the trust. "I am very pleased to be associated with Jaguar as they build a program that will have a far reaching effect not only on jaguar preservation, but the habitat in which this remarkable animal lives."

Powers is the cofounder of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation and serves on the advisory board of three North American zoos.

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