AmeriScan: August 1, 2001

EXTREME RAIN LINKED TO WATERBORNE DISEASE OUTBREAKS

BALTIMORE, Maryland, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - More than half of the waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States in the past 50 years were preceded by heavy rainfall, shows a study conducted at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The association is likely to become even stronger as the world's climate continues to warm, the researchers said.

Such rainfall and its subsequent runoff have been assumed to be a key factor in the transport of disease causing microorganisms. This study represents the first quantitative analysis of the relationship between extreme precipitation and waterborne disease outbreaks at the national level and over an extended period.

The results appear in the August 2001 issue of the "American Journal of Public Health."

"The significance of the association between precipitation and disease is amplified when you consider the effects of global climate change, which predict an increase in precipitation in parts of the United States," said Dr. Jonathan Patz, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the Bloomberg School and principal investigator of the study.

"As the temperature rises, climatologists expect more intense rainfall events, and, as our study suggests, a potential increased risk of waterborne disease outbreaks as well," Patz added.

The researchers used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the nation's 548 reported waterborne disease outbreaks from 1948 to 1994. A waterborne disease outbreak is defined as an incident where a drinking water source causes two or more persons to become ill at similar times.

The most common type of disease was "acute gastrointestinal illness." The data included the infectious agent, the community and state where the outbreak occurred, and the month and year of each outbreak. The outbreak source was designated as either surface water or groundwater contamination.

This data was combined with precipitation data from the National Climatic Data Center. Total monthly precipitation readings from weather stations across the U.S. from 1948 to 1994 were recorded and assigned to the nation's 2,105 watersheds.

The researchers found that 51 percent of the outbreaks were preceded by extremely high levels of precipitation, levels which were in the top 10 percent of accumulated rainfall over the period studied. About 68 percent of the outbreaks were preceded by precipitation levels in the top 20 percent of accumulated rainfall.

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BUSH TARGETS VAMPIRE DEVICES AT FEDERAL AGENCIES

WASHINGTON, DC, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - President George W. Bush has signed an executive order requiring that appliances purchased by federal agencies use no more than one watt of electricity in their standby power mode.

Devices that must store information even while shut down - such as computers and VCRs - use a little bit of energy as long as they are plugged in. Most of these devices use an average of four to seven watts while turned off - about four percent of the total electricity use of an average home.

"One of the ways that our nation wastes energy is through what they call vampire devices," said Bush. "These will be a battery charger, cell phone chargers, computer systems that we - we really think we're not using energy when plugged in but, in fact, are."

The energy consumed by so called vampire devices across the nation amounts to the energy output of about 26 power plants.

The president's order will require that federal agencies buying off the shelf products that use external standby power devices, or that contain an internal standby power function, only buy products that use no more than one watt in their standby power consuming mode.

If such products are not available, agencies will purchase the products with the lowest standby power wattage available. The executive order applies to all federal agencies, except where it is not "cost effective and practicable, and where the relevant product's utility and performance are not compromised as a result," Bush's order specifies.

By December 31, the Department of Energy, in consultation with the Department of Defense and the General Services Administration, shall compile a preliminary list of the products that will be subject to these requirements. The Department of Energy shall finalize the list and may remove products deemed inappropriate for listing.

Independent agencies will be encouraged to comply with the provisions of Bush's order.

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GREEN POWER PARTNERSHIP PROMOTES RENEWABLE ENERGY

WASHINGTON, DC, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is joining 20 Fortune 500 companies, cities, universities and others in the Green Power Partnership.

The new voluntary program is aimed at boosting the market for power alternatives that reduce the environmental and health risks of conventional electricity generation.

The Green Power Partnership, the newest addition to the EPA's family of voluntary energy efficiency programs, was required under President George W. Bush's National Energy Policy Report, released in May.

Green power is electricity generated by renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, water, geothermal, biomass (burning organic materials), and biogas (burning methane). Partners in the program must pledge a switch to Green Power for a portion of their electricity needs within the next year.

In return, the EPA will provide technical assistance and public recognition.

"A growing number of organizations recognize that green power is increasingly available and offers the next logical step in environmental responsibility," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "By choosing green power sources for their electricity, these groups are leading the way toward a cleaner future. Green power also offers benefits to participants in terms of power reliability, employee pride and enhanced public image. This is a win, win program for our partners and the environment."

The EPA announced the Green Power Partnership at a press conference at the Sixth Annual Green Power Marketing Conference, taking place this week in Portland, Oregon. The conference is sponsored by the Department of Energy, the EPA, and two industry trade groups: the Edison Electric Institute and the Electric Power Research Institute.

The founding partners in the Green Power Partnership have committed to procuring more than 280,000 megawatt hours of green power over the next year. This commitment will prevent 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide, the major global warming gas, from being emitted into the atmosphere.

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VIDEO PROMOTES BIRD SAFE POWER LINES

WASHINGTON, DC, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - A new video showing the dangers of high voltage lines and other equipment to birds, and proven ways to protect them, is part of an effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to enlist the support of power producers and consumers in safeguarding birds.

Birds with large wingspans, like raptors, run the highest risk of electrocution, which occurs when their bodies close a circuit between two wires. Wider spacing between lines, attractive perches away from dangerous locations, and devices to prevent perching are effective techniques in preventing bird electrocution.

The 26 minute video, titled "Raptors at Risk," was produced by a partnership of EDM International, an environmental engineering firm; Montana Power Company; Montana Audubon Society; North American Falconers Association; Southern Engineering Company; Swift Creek Consulting; and Arizona Public Service Company, in cooperation with USFWS, the Rural Utilities Service, and the Western Area Power Administration.

The video explains the electrocution problem and federal laws that protect birds while providing practical information on retrofitting existing power lines and installing new equipment to prevent bird deaths. The video points out the benefits of so called bird safe lines to both utilities and their customers.

Companies that protect birds eliminate power interruptions that occur when birds are electrocuted. They also avoid fines for violating bird protection laws and other legal costs that may be passed on to consumers in the form of rate hikes.

"Our goal is protecting birds, which is why partnerships like the one that produced this video are so important," said Kevin Adams, USFWS assistant director for law enforcement. "By working together with electric utility companies to prevent bird electrocutions, we can identify and remove hazards, promote the conservation of migratory birds, and keep the public supplied with power."

The USFWS has distributed 2,000 copies of "Raptors at Risk" to its field offices and to other federal and state natural resource agencies for sharing with local power companies and consumers. Information on acquiring a copy of the video, which is also being distributed among bird conservationists, is available at: http://www.edmlink.com/raptorvideo.htm

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$5 MILLION COULD TURN CHICKEN WASTE INTO ENERGY

CARTHAGE, Missouri, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is granting almost $5 million to the Gas Technology Institute to help develop a process for converting poultry wastes into fuel for power plants.

Senator Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican, and acting EPA regional administrator Bill Rice announced the $4,989,000 grant, which will help support the development of a demonstration food processing facility for use by the Butterball Turkey Company in Carthage. This project may help the food industry to adopt an efficient and profitable process for converting poultry wastes into useful, high value energy products without discharging air pollutants that pose odor and human respiratory problems.

The demonstration facility will use a new process, called thermal depolymerization (TDP), to dispose of all types of poultry waste. TDP converts wastes into useable energy and other useful products, such as industrial chemicals.

Traditional disposal methods can produce odors in the local community and generate air pollutant emissions. For example, disposing of waste in landfills has the potential for leaching contaminants into the groundwater and also generating significant quantities of global warming gases including methane.

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SOLAR STORMS DEPLETE EARTH'S OZONE LAYER

GREENBELT, Maryland, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - A new study confirms a long held theory that large solar storms rain electrically charged particles down on Earth's atmosphere and deplete the upper level ozone for weeks to months thereafter.

New satellite evidence from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is helping scientists better understand how man and nature both play a role in ozone loss.

The study, appearing in today's issue of "Geophysical Research Letters," examined impacts of a series of huge solar explosions on the atmosphere in the Northern Hemisphere. A solar flare sent positively charged protons streaming to Earth from July 14 to 16, 2000. The bombardment of protons, called a solar proton event, was the third largest in the last 30 years.

Solar storms consist of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. Coronal mass ejections are huge bubbles of gas ejected from the sun and are often associated with these flares. Solar flares are explosions on the sun that happen when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields - usually above sunspots - is released.

When protons like these bombard Earth's upper atmosphere, they break up molecules of gases like nitrogen and water vapor, and once freed, those atoms react with ozone molecules and reduce the layer.

"A lot of impacts on ozone are very subtle and happen over long periods of time," said Charles Jackman, a researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Laboratory for Atmospheres and lead author of the study. "But when these solar proton events occur you can see immediately a change in the atmosphere, so you have a clear cause and effect."

"Solar proton events help us test our models," Jackman added. "This is an instance where we have a huge natural variance. You have to first be able to separate the natural effects on ozone, before you can tease out humankind's impacts."

Chlorine and bromine are major culprits in ozone decline. Most of the chlorine and bromine comes from human produced compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halon gas.

More information is available at: http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/20010801solarproton.html

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IVORY SMUGGLER SENTENCED IN NEW YORK

NEW YORK, New York, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - A 53 year old Ivory Coast citizen has been convicted in federal court for attempting to smuggle 57 African elephant ivory carvings valued at more than $150,000 into the U.S.

Federal District Judge David Trager sentenced Oumar Keita, of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to serve 11 months and 10 days in prison following his conviction on charges stemming from his attempts to smuggle the ivory into John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York City.

The case is part of a continuing effort by dederal authorities to clamp down on illegal smuggling of endangered animals - including the African elephant - whose protection is required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Endangered Species Act, and the African Elephant Conservation Act.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators, the case began in September 2000 when Keita arrived at JFK aboard a flight originating in Abidjan. An examination of Keita's luggage revealed the 57 carvings that had been concealed inside a sand and paper substance designed to resemble stone carvings and hide the ivory's characteristics

Agents identified the concealment techniques because they were identical to those used in a January 2000 smuggling attempt which resulted in the arrest and subsequent conviction of another Ivory Coast citizen, Bayo Namory. Namory is serving a year in federal prison.

When agents opened Kieta's luggage they also found letters written by Namory from prison to Keita along with business cards listing African art dealers in New York City. Investigators estimated that the ivory pieces had an appraised value of more than $150,000 in New York City's African art market, with some of the individual pieces valued at $10,000 to $15,000 each.

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LAWSUIT FILED TO PROTECT SPOTTED OWL, PACIFIC FISHER

SAN FRANCISCO, California, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - Environmental groups have filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failing to protect the California spotted owl and Pacific fisher.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, Natural Resources Defense Council and Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation filed the suit Tuesday to gain protection for the animals under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The groups are represented by Earthjustice.

"Populations of both the California spotted owl and the Pacific fisher are declining and face a serious risk of extinction," said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of both petitions. "Old growth forests in the Sierra Nevada have been reduced by 60-85 percent as a result of logging on Forest Service and private timberlands. Species like the California spotted owl and fisher, which depend on intact old growth ecosystems, are at great risk."

The U.S. Forest Service has adopted the Sierra Nevada Framework plan, which, if implemented, would take steps towards protecting and restoring old growth forests on national forest lands in the Sierra Nevada. However, the plan has been appealed by numerous organizations seeking to increase logging and weaken the plan's environmental protections.

The plan does not affect private lands, where clearcutting has been accelerated in the past several years.

"This lawsuit should serve as a wake up call to the Bush Administration that any action to weaken or reverse the Sierra Nevada Framework will strengthen the need to protect the owl and fisher under the Endangered Species Act," said David Edelson, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If the Bush Administration chooses to disregard environmental laws designed to protect species and ecosystems, the inevitable result will be litigation and injunctions against further logging on Forest Service lands."

The groups petitioned to list the California spotted owl on April 3, 2000, and the Pacific fisher on December 5, 2000. Under the ESA, the USFWS is required to determine if a petition warrants further consideration within 90 days and determine whether a species should be listed within one year. The agency has not made the one year finding for the owl or the 90 day finding for the fisher.

"To further delay their protection under the Endangered Species Act violates the law," said Laura Hoehn, an attorney with Earthjustice. "Citizens are once again forced into court because time is running out for the owl and fisher."

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AVIAN BOTULISM HITS SALTON SEA EARLY AND HARD

CALIPATRIA, California, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - An avian botulism outbreak that began around June 1 has stricken more than 200 endangered California brown pelicans and 15 American white pelicans at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

This year's outbreak of avian botulism is the earliest on record. Outbreaks of the disease usually start in late July and continue until the weather cools in September.

"Last year we were taken by surprise when birds began to show signs of infection two weeks earlier than normal, but this year we began to see ill birds in early June," said Salton Sea Project Leader Sylvia Pelizza. "We are working with our partners to do everything we can to quickly retrieve and treat sick birds."

Avian botulism occurs each year at the Salton Sea once temperatures reach the low 100's for several weeks. This year, high temperatures occurred during a two week period in May, triggering the outbreak.

Fluctuating temperatures since then have kept bird deaths low, with an average of 20 sick birds and five to 10 dead ones being picked up from the Sea each week. Once temperatures sore into the mid-100's, biologists expect several hundred more pelicans to succumb to the disease.

The 2000 outbreak was the longest botulism season on record, beginning June 26 and lasting through the end of November. That outbreak killed more than 784 birds, including 557 brown pelicans. The California brown pelican population is now estimated at just 20,000 birds.

Staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and the Salton Sea Authority are patrolling the sea daily picking up sick and dead birds to keep disease from spreading further. Biologists have treated 117 sick birds and expect that number and the number of deaths to grow until temperatures recede.

The Salton Sea is a critical stopover for migratory birds and is home to more than 400 bird species.

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NEW INFORMATION HELPS SWIMMERS AVOID SEA NETTLES

BALTIMORE, Maryland, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - Scientists have developed a new way of helping boaters and swimmers in the Chesapeake Bay to avoid sea nettles, a type of stinging jellyfish.

The annual summertime infestation of sea nettles is in full force in the Chesapeake Bay, but data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could help human visitors avoid them.

A team of scientists, led by Christopher Brown of NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, has developed a method to map the locations where sea nettles are likely to be found. The method uses a computer model and sea surface temperature data from NOAA's satellites to identify areas of moderate salinity and warm water.

Because the sea nettles prefer these conditions, the scientists can predict where they are likely to occur.

"Sea nettle stings can ruin your day at the bay," Brown said. "While we can't eliminate the jellyfish, we can lessen the incidence of stings by letting swimmers and boaters know where they are likely to be, thereby avoiding or maintaining caution while in those areas."

The habitat model for sea nettles was constructed using historical data on sea nettle concentrations and the water conditions that accompanied the abundance. When used in conjunction with estimates of sea surface temperature, salinity and water depth, the habitat model identifies locations where the current conditions are favorable to sea nettles and indicates their likely distribution.

"We're delighted to provide scientific information that may ultimately help coastal visitors have a safer and more enjoyable beach experience," said Margaret Davidson, acting assistant administrator for NOAA's National Ocean Service.

For more information, including a recent map of sea nettle distribution in the Chesapeake Bay, visit: http://coastwatch.noaa.gov/seanettles.