AmeriScan: August 16, 2001


ATLANTA, Georgia, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - A 71 year old Atlanta woman has become the first human victim of West Nile Virus in 2001.

The woman, identified only as Miss Hill by hospital authorities, was admitted to a hospital at the end of July while suffering from encephalitis. Her diagnosis with the mosquito borne virus was confirmed last Friday, one day before she died.

The case is the first confirmed human case of West Nile Virus outside the Northeast since the disease was first found in the U.S. in 1999. Nine people in New York and New Jersey have been killed by the disease, which now appears to be spreading across the nation.

Last month, a Florida man was confirmed to be infected with the virus, which can be contracted when a human is bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus. Birds and horses appear to be the major animal hosts of the diseases.

Six other hospital patients are now being tested for the virus, which can cause flu like symptoms or the sometimes fatal swelling of the brain known as encephalitis.

This year, birds and horses infected with the virus have turned up as far west as Ohio, and as far south as Florida and Louisiana.

Health officials are warning the public to take preventive measures, such as wearing long clothing and repellent sprays to keep from being bitten by mosquitoes. Educational programs at many health departments are training citizens how to identify and eliminate mosquito breeding sites, such as old tires and bird baths.

"Old tires, cans, buckets, and clogged gutters are often the source of mosquitoes," said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin. "Mosquitoes can breed in any puddle that lasts more than four days and some can breed in as little as a bottlecap of water."

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - People living near chemical depots face an unnecessarily high risk from possible accidents as the depots incinerate their stockpiles of chemical weapons, finds a new report by the General Accounting Office (GAO).

Millions of people live and work near eight Army storage facilities containing almost 30,000 tons of chemical agents, the GAO report states. A chemical accident at these facilities could affect people in 10 different states.

The Army plans to destroy its entire chemical weapons stockpile by 2007 and is taking measures to protect the public before and during the demilitarization process. The Army's Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program helps the 10 states obtain the equipment and training they need to protect the public and the environment in the event of a chemical stockpile accident.

But despite receiving more than $761 million in federal funding, the Preparedness Program has failed to meet its own 1998 deadline for achieving full preparedness. Three states - Alabama, Indiana and Kentucky - are still "considerably behind in their efforts," the GAO reports.

"Problems in federal management relations with state and local emergency management officials have contributed to delays in achieving full preparedness," the report states. "Some state and local emergency management officials have said that, unless all critical items are in place, they will not support the start of the Army's destruction of chemical agents in their locality."

The program may run out of money before all affected states can acquire the equipment and training they need, the GAO found.

"Currently too little planned funding remains to procure all the critical items the states have identified as needed to be fully prepared for a chemical emergency," the report warns. "The program has already spent over 85 percent of all the procurement funding it was expected to need through fiscal year 2010."

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KAUAI, Hawaii, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - Mixing exotic plants and animals with native species does not always lead to a happy ending, researchers learned in a study of Kauai Island, Hawaii.

Biocontrol - the introduction of real organisms to control pests - can lead to community wide ecological harm if not well planned, researchers report in today's issue of the journal "Science." Jane Memmott and M. Laurie Henneman of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom bring new scientific insights to the ongoing debate concerning widespread impacts of biocontrol.

Some agricultural experts, foresters and conservationists favor biocontrol over chemical solutions such as insecticides and pesticides to eradicate or maintain weeds, bugs, and sometimes disease. But if not tested beforehand in a community wide context, introduced species can do more harm than the plant or animal they target, the new study suggests.

The use of biocontrol to fight pests - and even invasive species, the second largest problem in biodiversity and conservation, next to habitat destruction - has clear environmental benefits, Memmott emphasized. But, she added, a biocontrol agent gone wild may have the potential to impose cascading problems in the food chain.

Since 1945, Hawaii has had a history of exotic species being introduced into the ecosystem. Memmott and Henneman wanted to examine the degree to which certain biocontrol species are interacting with native species.

They constructed food webs of Hawaiian plants, butterflies and moths, and parasitoids. Researchers wanted to map out who eats what, to keep track of the real impact of nonnative species on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

The food webs provide scientists with real numbers to draw conclusions about the proportions of different organisms that depend on another for reproduction or food. These food webs allow ecologists to establish how much an alien parasite has penetrated the food chain, and to predict the effects of biocontrol agents on species.

Memmott and Henneman collected more than 2,000 caterpillars, which they checked for parasites. Some 20 percent of the caterpillars died from parasite attacks, the majority of which were biological control agents people had introduced to fight pests.

Exotic wasps introduced by accident constituted the next most lethal group of parasites. Because native parasites only constituted three percent of all parasites, they were responsible for low levels of mortality.

"Some of the biocontrol agents released in early biocontrol programs have left the agricultural habitats in which they were released, and turned to attacking native species," Memmott noted. "However, no agents released post 1945 were found in the web, suggesting that biocontrol may be much safer today than in the past."

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental groups has launched the single largest paid media campaign ever undertaken to educate Americans in 23 states about the stakes in the congressional battle to stop oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club are telling voters in 35 congressional districts, from New Hampshire to New Mexico, whether their representative supported or opposed a recent vote in the House of Representatives to open the North Slope of ANWR to oil exploration.

The House also failed to close the loophole that allows sport utility vehicles and light trucks to waste more gas and produce more pollution compared to other passenger vehicles, and adopted a national energy policy that would increase domestic oil, gas and coal production.

The House bill also included $33.5 billion in tax breaks and other subsidies to fossil fuel companies that are, according to the "Wall Street Journal," enjoying record profits through the first six months of the Bush administration.

The ads, which run from August 4 to September 3, also call voters' attention to their Senators, who will consider the same issues beginning next month.

"Citizens need to know if their representative sold out to special oil, coal and gas interests; caved in to pressure from the Teamsters; or had the courage to stand up for the public's interest in a clean environment and support a responsible, balanced energy policy," said Betsy Loyless, LCV political director. "Americans should learn whether their representative did the wrong thing by giving away billions of tax dollars to Big Oil, so they can make sure their Senators do the right thing by protecting our natural heritage and our pocketbooks."

"Voters should be aware that their representatives voted against the environment by supporting an energy bill that benefits wealthy corporate polluters at the expense of public health and the environment," said Alyssondra Campaigne, NRDC's legislative director. "Americans overwhelmingly support measures to protect our environment, and they expect their elected officials to fight for their interests, not for special interests."

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MONTEREY, California, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - Bluefin tuna migrate between the eastern and western Atlantic, and are vulnerable to fishers in both areas, suggesting that catch quotas may need to be revised to protect the species.

Bluefin tuna tagged in the Western Atlantic with electronic data recording tags are moving to distinct spawning grounds in the Western Atlantic and the Eastern Mediterranean, learned scientists with the Tuna Research and Conservation Center. Their new insights into the biology, migrations, diving patterns and environmental preferences of the prized fish are described in a new study in today's issue of the journal "Science."

The tagging research - a collaboration of scientists from Stanford, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) - was led by Barbara Block, the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Professor in Marine Science at Stanford and lead author of the study.

The bluefin tuna, which can grow to be 10 feet (305 centimeters) long and weigh 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms), is so valuable that, in January, a single fish weighing 444 pounds (201 kilograms) sold at auction for $175,000 in the Tokyo seafood market. Atlantic bluefin in that market sell for $8 to $45 per pound.

Commercial harvesting of bluefin and other Atlantic tuna is managed through catch quotas established by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). ICCAT imposes strict quotas on fish caught in the Western Atlantic and much more liberal quotas on bluefin landed in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea.

The Western Atlantic management is aimed at recovering the breeding population to levels that produce "maximum sustainable yield." The Eastern Atlantic breeding population is considered to be in decline and overfished, although it is of greater overall abundance than the western breeding population.

"The electronic tagging data indicate that mixing between the two management units exists at a higher level than ICCAT has incorporated into…stock assessments. However, movements to distinct breeding grounds are apparent, suggesting a mixing of stocks on feeding grounds and a separation to distinct breeding localities," the researchers wrote. "The results indicate western tagged bluefin are vulnerable to fishing mortality from all Atlantic bluefin tuna fisheries."

"Future assessment of stock status should evaluate the new information and reassess the management strategies applied to Atlantic bluefin tuna," the writers conclude, emphasizing, "the need to protect both major eastern and western spawning regions, as they directly influence the western fishery."

"From the data, it's clear there are two breeding populations of bluefin tuna that spend considerable time together on the rich Western North Atlantic feeding grounds," said Block. "Our results demonstrate that bluefin tuna are capable of ranging widely throughout the North Atlantic without regard to the stock boundary in the mid-Atlantic. That means efforts to bring about a recovery of bluefin tuna populations will require increased cooperation among all nations fishing for bluefin tuna. "

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - The United States is not able to find any credible scientific evidence that an anti-cocaine pesticide spraying program in Colombia represents a health hazard to humans.

Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, briefed reporters Thursday about the Colombian government's spraying program, which receives financial support from the United States. Beers refuted newspaper reports that said an "epidemic" was occurring in southern Colombia from the aerial spraying campaign to stop illegal coca production.

Beers said the U.S. government is "looking for credible information that can be related directly to the spraying." If damaging information is found, Beers said, the Bush Administration will reexamine the program and determine whether changes are in order.

Beers said the government is reviewing reports that the spraying has killed animals in the region and is damaging human health. But as to why these reports keep surfacing, Beers said: "I can't answer that question. I don't know. We are trying to find out the answer."

The assistant secretary said that glyphosate, the herbicide used in the spraying program, kills coca and does not affect humans. He added, however, that heavy over exposure to that chemical would cause health problems.

Beers suggested that Columbian farmers might be objecting to the spraying program because it hurts them economically. He also said that many of the coca farmers are already living in "unsanitary conditions" from their exposure to a precurser chemical used in turning coca leaf into coca paste.

This means, Beers suggested, that these farmers might already have had preexisting health problems before the first aerial coca eradication flights took place.

Critics of the spraying program say it causes vomiting in children, and damages corn and other crops. Environmental problems can arise when the herbicide drifts during spraying onto neighboring lands, critics warn.

Beers testified to the safety of the spraying program, saying that he had stood in a field that was sprayed in Colombia and did not suffer any damaging health effects. For the benefit of any doubters, he said he would be willing to put himself through that test again.

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has released a report criticizing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) decision to open a hunting season on rare trumpeter swans.

The report, "Swan Dive: Trumpeter Swan Restoration Trumped by Politics," written by anonymous USFWS employees, summarizes the threats facing the Tri-State subpopulation of Rocky Mountain trumpeter swans and the politics behind a recent decision to open a hunting season on these imperiled birds.

The report adds scientific support for the efforts of wildlife advocates to protect the rare trumpeter swan in the Rocky Mountain region. In August 2000, The Fund for Animals and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation filed a petition to list the Tri-State breeding subpopulation under the Endangered Species Act. The PEER report outlines some of the reasons why these birds qualify as a "distinct population segment."

The USFWS has failed to act on the petition, instead proceeding to open a trumpeter hunting season designed to absolve tundra swan hunters of liability for shooting the similar looking trumpeters. The Fund and other groups sued the USFWS in October 2000 over its flawed environmental analysis and forced the agency to prepare a new study on the biological impacts of hunting trumpeters, only to have the agency approve the hunt again this summer.

"The federal government claims it does not have the time or money to list imperiled species such as the trumpeter swan, yet it has somehow found plenty of time and money to implement a new hunting season on this rare species," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Fund. "We commend the federal agents who had the courage to speak out against this nonsense."

Among the information documented in the PEER report is that the USFWS and the state of Utah spent $120,000 trying to prove that trumpeters do not migrate to Utah, despite mounting numbers of trumpeter carcasses in the state.

"The FWS has left the trumpeter swans in limbo by refusing to recognize the extreme vulnerability of these birds. If wildlife agencies were truly concerned about conserving this species, they would have closed the tundra swan hunting season years ago," added Andrea Lococo, Rocky Mountain Coordinator of The Fund. "The fact that they haven't is proof that pleasing hunters is more important than protecting birds."

The PEER report is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - Scientists at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to block an industry plan to use animals to test a chemical already known to be toxic.

The tests are planned by the Industrial Health Foundation, a consortium of chemical manufacturing companies, as part of the High Production Volume (HPV) Challenge, a controversial program launched by the EPA in 1998. Among the proposed experiments are repeat dose poisoning tests, reproductive toxicity tests, and a fatal test on fish.

The nonprofit PCRM maintains that the chemical nadic methyl anhydride is already known to be poisonous and, in fact, is already regulated.

"Nadic methyl anhydride causes blindness and severe respiratory and skin reactions," said PCRM staff scientist Nicole Cardello. "Further tests on animals will not change how these chemicals are handled."

PCRM's criticism comes under the 120 day public comment period mandated by the HPV program. Unfortunately, the EPA has so far ignored public comments under the program and left test decision making up to the chemical industry.

The HPV Challenge is a voluntary program in which chemical manufacturers gather data on the toxicity of chemicals produced or imported in quantities exceeding one million pounds per year. Critics charge that the companies are proposing tests that have already been conducted.

"The EPA seems to be paying no attention at all to the kinds of tests that are proposed," Cardello said. "Cruel and needless tests - one after another - seem to be the rule of the day."

PCRM's report challenging the EPA's toxicity testing program, "Analysis of the HPV Challenge: Industry Violations and EPA Negligence," is available at:

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CINCINNATI, Ohio, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that it will power three of its research facilities in Cincinnati with 100 percent renewable energy through an agreement with Community Energy, Inc., a renewable energy marketing company.

By early 2002, EPA will be receiving nine percent of its electricity from green sources, at facilities located in Richmond, California; Golden, Colorado; Chelmsford, Massachusetts; Manchester, Washington; and Cincinnati, Ohio.

"The Bush Administration has asked the government to be the first to conserve energy," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "These purchases represent a creative and innovative approach to help solve our nation's energy crisis, while achieving tremendous environmental benefits and charting the way for the emerging green power market."

The EPA Cincinnati facilities have committed to purchasing a total of 15,560,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of premium renewable energy annually for three years, with a three year option to renew. Community Energy, Inc. will supply 778,000 kWh of New Wind Energy each year from the Exelon Power Team at Mill Run, Pennsylvania, which will make up five percent of EPA Cincinnati's estimated usage.

ComEd, a subsidiary of Exelon Corp. that serves customers in Northern Illinois, in partnership with Environmental Resources Trust (ERT), will supply the remainder of the renewable energy contract with landfill gas energy from ComEd's territory in Illinois.

By purchasing wind and biomass energy, the EPA can claim large reductions in emissions associated with the purchase of conventional energy. The emission benefits associated with this purchase are about 16,000 tons carbon dioxide, 112,000 pounds of nitrous oxides and 246,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide each year.

"With this purchase of New Wind Energy, the EPA is leading the way to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future," said Brent Alderfer, president of Community Energy, Inc. "EPA's decision to buy locally generated wind energy shows others that there are sensible clean energy choices that can help to create a clear future. This is the kind of real environmental leadership that will make a difference."

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has seized a tractor trailer that hauled asbestos and then picked up wheat to be processed for human consumption.

DEP Secretary David Hess said the driver then attempted to deliver the wheat to a mill in Martins Creek, Northampton County, where it would be processed into food for people.

"It is illegal to use the same tractor trailer to haul waste and food products," Hess said, noting that the practice is called backhauling. "This kind of activity threatens the health and safety of Pennsylvanians, and we won't tolerate it."

Inspectors from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the Pennsylvania State Police and the DEP discovered the problem August 13 during routine inspections of trucks south of State College, Pennsylvania.

The driver, Thomas Leiter of Lewistown, Pennsylvania, had hauled asbestos from Portland, Connecticut, to L.A.S. Recycling in Youngstown, Ohio. He then picked up the wheat at McCullough Grain in Sharpsville, Ohio. Leiter was driving for Marbec Trucking Inc.

When stopped, Leiter told inspectors he was en route to ConAgra in Martins Creek, Northampton County, and that the wheat was to be used for animal feed. Inspectors did not know at the time that the mill processes wheat only for human consumption.

Upon learning that, DEP investigators worked with ConAgra and waited for Leiter to arrive at the mill on August 14. The mill's operator rejected Leiter's load after investigators notified the operator that the wheat was contaminated.

"I'd like to thank ConAgra for its full cooperation during this investigation," Hess said. "Food processors like ConAgra have tough policies against backhauling, and they want to see the law enforced."

Leiter was issued a summary citation by the Pennsylvania State Police. He faces a fine of up to $10,000. DEP made arrangements to dispose of the contaminated wheat.