AmeriScan: August 21, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - U.S. firefighters and land managers are using the most modern satellite data to combat wildfires.

The use of satellite image technology at the Forest Service's Remote Sensing Applications Center (RSAC) gives firefighting agencies a detailed picture of multiple wildland fires spread across several states. This regional perspective will help the agencies manage firefighting resources, particularly during peak fire season activity.

"Through a collaborative effort, we can now use images beamed back to earth from a NASA satellite to make strategic decisions as we combat wildfires across the nation," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "This is especially critical when firefighting resources are stretched to the limit as they are this fire season."

NASA - the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - delivers moderate resolution satellite images and active fire locations to RSAC. The images and fire locations are generated from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, instrument carried aboard NASA's Terra satellite.


This true color image over Washington state was taken by MODIS on August 18. The red spots show the location and extent of the active wildfires in the region (Photo courtesy NASA)
The Terra satellite beams daily images of western U.S. wildfires to NASA within a few hours of the time that it passes over the region. When the U.S. Forest Service's own direct broadcast receiving stations are completed in October, transmission time will be reduced to minutes.

"The Active Fire Maps offer the potential for understanding the 'big picture' when working on resource allocations decisions," said Alice Forbes, deputy director for Forest Service fire and aviation operations at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). "The maps can also help the public understand where the fires are located, and give them a look at the burned areas after fire season."

Other applications are on the way. Wei Min Hao, project leader of the Fire Chemistry Project at the Forest Service's Fire Science Laboratory in Montana is developing a MODIS aerosol product to track smoke dispersed by wildfires, and to determine the impact that it has on regional air quality.

"During fires where there are large amounts of smoke, reconnaissance planes that normally map fires can't fly into an area, but MODIS can provide those pictures from space," Hao said.

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - A judge in California has ordered four of the nation's largest oil companies to clean up groundwater and soil contaminated with the gasoline additive MTBE.

MTBE - methyl tertiary butyl ether - is added to gasoline to make it burn more cleanly, reducing air pollution from auto emissions. But when the water soluble chemical is spilled, it can pollute drinking water supplies.

Under a settlement signed Monday, oil giants Chevron, Shell, Texaco and Unocal agreed to clean up about 700 sites contaminated by leaking gasoline storage sites throughout the state. The settlement could cost the companies millions of dollars.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Stuart Pollak called the settlement a "sensible, very imaginative solution to the problem," and praised the four companies who signed the agreement. Four other companies - ARCO, Exxon, Mobil and Tosco - refused to sign the settlement.

The "San Francisco Chronicle" reported that Communities for a Better Environment, the Oakland group that brought the suit against the oil companies, is pleased with the settlement.

"For the first time, this settlement puts teeth into orders to clean up contaminated sites around the state," Richard Drury, staff attorney for the group, told the "Chronicle."

"Without this lawsuit, we would be stuck with decades of toxic contamination and ultimately the bill to clean it up, while the oil companies laughed all the way to the bank," added Drury.

State law requires oil companies to clean up MTBE contamination on their properties, but the law does not authorize regulators to fine companies that do not comply.

Under the new settlement, state environmental agencies will be able to enforce their compliance orders, and ask courts to impose penalties of up to $6,000 a day for cleanup delays.

"Agency orders will now essentially become orders of this court," Drury told the "Chronicle."

In 1999, California Governor Gray Davis has ordered the phase out of MTBE, a suspected carcinogen, throughout the state. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refused to grant the state a waiver from the Clean Air Act regulations that require the use of MTBE and other gasoline oxygenates, and the state is now suing the agency over the issue.

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - An Energy Department program to introduce better performing, lower cost subcompact fluorescent lamps (sub-CFLs) that also reduce lighting costs to consumers is being turned over to the private sector.

The program, which is already saving American consumers more than $22 million in energy costs each year, will now be managed by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, which will launch a private venture to support retail sales of sub-CFL products in the marketplace.

"This project is an outstanding example of how a partnership between government and the private sector can bring energy saving products to the marketplace without a government subsidy," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, announcing the move Monday. "With sub-CFLs now well established, the Energy Department will now step aside and let market forces carry the sales."

In the initial program phase, researchers at the Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory learned of the needs of multi-family housing owners and other large potential buyers for a shorter, brighter and more affordable CFL and established minimum specifications for lamps that fit those needs. Lights of America, Sunpark, JKRL and Surya were selected as program participants and introduced 17 new CFLs to the marketplace.

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance has already selected Sunpark and JKRL to participate in the new program, and expects to add additional suppliers.

The alliance plans to increase the market share of subcompact fluorescent lamps by promoting sales to retail outlets in the Pacific Northwest through its new web site at:

Compact fluorescent lamps use about one-fourth less energy and last up to 10 times longer than the typical light bulbs they replace, saving consumers $25 to $47 over the life of the CFL. Homeowners who replace 25 percent of their most used lights with CFLs can save about 50 percent on their lighting bill.

"Three million of these innovative energy efficient light bulbs have been introduced to the American public with help from the Energy Department and its project partners," Abraham added. "These light bulbs represent the cutting edge in energy efficient lamp technology and can bring long life, brightness and savings into any home, school or office."

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - Charlotte officials signed a precedent setting agreement today that allows a state brownfields specialist to work exclusively on sites in the Charlotte area.

The agreement allows the city of Charlotte to fund a state employee who will work with the city's Neighborhood Development Department. In addition to advancing Charlotte brownfields projects at no additional cost to the state, this employee will serve as site manager for cleanup projects funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Brownfields are abandoned, polluted industrial sites often shunned by developers due to their potential cleanup costs. The state's Brownfields Property Reuse Act, which took effect in October 1997, encourages and facilitates the safe reuse of properties abandoned due to environmental contamination.

Brownfield agreements shield prospective developers from liability in return for performing those actions needed to make the property safe for its planned reuse. The agreements do not change the obligations for the parties responsible for contamination, but the reduced liability enables developers to obtain financial backing.

Brownfield redevelopment benefits the environment by reducing the amount of green space destroyed to accommodate new construction. By bringing jobs back to city centers, sprawl and commuting times are reduced.

North Carolina has completed ten brownfields agreements, four of which are located in the Charlotte area. Over 30 projects are pending review, ten of which are in Charlotte.

The agreement, which sets a national precedent, was signed at Camden Square Village, site of North Carolina's first brownfields redevelopment. Another brownfields agreement signed today will expand the Camden redevelopment.

More information is available at:

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - It may be possible to keep insects and disease causing bacteria from developing resistance to pesticides and antibiotics, predict the authors of a new agricultural theory.

Too often, a few years after a pesticide is introduced, insects develop resistance to it, requiring the introduction of yet more chemicals.

Barry Pittendrigh, assistant professor of entomology at Purdue University, and Patrick Gaffney of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have developed a method of using pesticides so that genetic resistance does not arise. The technique is called negative cross resistance, and it involves using multiple pesticides in a precise way to stop the pests.

With the technique, scientists would identify a second biocide - pesticide, antibiotic, herbicide or fungicide - that kills the resistant pest. Then the two biocides would be used, either together or alternated, to prevent resistance.

Previous attempts to find compounds that would have a negative cross resistance effect have not worked because they focused on fewer than several dozen compounds, Pittendrigh explained.

Pittendrigh said it is necessary to screen upwards of 100,000 compounds to develop a negative cross resistance (NCR) system. Pittendrigh and Gaffney have invented a method to conduct these screens, described in a paper appearing today in the "Journal of Theoretical Biology."

"Specifically, in our paper, we outline how companies or individuals can search for and develop NCR compounds to a commercially applicable level," Pittendrigh said. "This paper provides part of the theoretical framework for research currently in progress here at Purdue for the development of negative cross resistant toxins and their use in field applications."

The researchers say their model shows that using negative cross-resistant biocides could delay resistance for decades, or even more than 100 years in some situations.

"Although negative cross-resistance is not 'the' answer to dealing with resistance to pesticides, it certainly has the potential to play a significant role in dramatically slowing the rate at which resistance enters insect populations," Pittendrigh added. "Nature will always find a way to get around whatever we do to control organisms."

In theory, the method also should work to prevent antibiotic resistance in bacteria, Pittendrigh said.

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PAGE, Arizona, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - The environmental group Living Rivers is calling on the National Park Service (NPS) to prohibit the use of personal watercraft, or jetskis, at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

An agreement between environmentalists and the NPS issued earlier this year requires that jetskis be banned in the Arizona recreation area. The NPS is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the issue.

"Federal law requires the Park Service to protect park resources and leave them 'unimpaired for future generations,'" said David Orr, director of field programs for Living Rivers. Orr pointed out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that between 25 and 30 percent of the fuel mixture that goes into a typical jetski passes out the exhaust unburned, fouling air and water.

"The agency cannot allow the water supply for over twenty million people in California, Nevada, and Arizona to continue being polluted by jetskis," added Orr.

The motorized watercraft, built to travel at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, lose all steering control when the throttle is released. One death has already occurred at Lake Mead this year resulting from a jetski collision.

NPS is holding a series of public meetings this week to solicit comments on the proposed ban, scheduled to take effect on September 15, 2002, under the terms of a settlement agreement negotiated by the agency with Bluewater Network, a California based environmental group. The settlement came in response to a lawsuit filed in 2000 by Bluewater Network that sought a nationwide ban on jetskis at all NPS managed park units.

"Jetskis are disproportionately responsible for accidents, injuries and deaths, relative to other watercraft," said Orr of Living Rivers, a coplaintiff in Bluewater Network's suit. "Personal watercraft users enjoy their 'sport' at the expense of the rest of us. The Park Service needs to put a stop to this situation before it gets even more out of hand."

Park Service sponsored public meetings will be held to discuss the proposed jetski ban in Salt Lake City, Utah on Tuesday, and in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday.

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed new guidelines to improve the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program.

The program offers annual matching grants to coastal states and U.S. territories for projects involving the acquisition, restoration or enhancement of coastal wetlands. All of the projects must be administered for long term conservation benefits to wildlife and habitat.

The proposed guidelines provide clear direction on grant proposal development, along with examples and information on how projects are ranked and scored. An additional criterion was developed to address the benefit of candidate projects to coastal dependent and migratory birds.

"The proposed rule provides clear guidance to the states, territories and other partners and will greatly improve the efficiency of the program," said USFWS acting director Marshall Jones.

The USFWS has provided more than $90 million in grants to 25 states and one U.S. territory under the grant program. When the 2001 grant projects are complete, more than 105,000 acres will have been protected or restored since the grant program was created in 1990.

The program is one of three conservation efforts funded by the 1990 Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act. All grants are awarded through a competitive process.

Funding for the program is generated from excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat and small engine fuels. These taxes are deposited into the Sport Fish Restoration Account of the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund (called Wallop-Breaux after its Congressional sponsors).

Implementation of the proposed guidelines is planned for the fiscal year 2003 grant cycle, which begins in March 2002. The guidelines were published in the Federal Register on Monday.

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DAVIS, California, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - The University of California-Davis (UC Davis) has signed a contract to provide technology and source material for commercial medical production of iodine-125, for use in treatment of prostate cancer.

"With the help of isotopes such as iodine-125, prostate cancer has become one of the most treatable forms of cancer today," said Energy Spencer Spencer Abraham. "This initiative with UC Davis will make an important medical isotope commercially available here in the United States and help save lives."

Since the 1980s, the use of iodine-125 has grown. The isotope is one of two used for brachytherapy treatment of prostate cancer - a procedure in which tiny radioactive seeds are implanted in a cancerous tumor using ultrasound imaging and a thin hollow needle.

Ten year results show that the vast majority of brachytherapy patients remain disease free, making it an attractive option to surgery and external radiation therapy.

Under terms of the contract, DOE is transferring the exclusive rights to a technology used to separate the iodine-125 from other isotopes that would result during the irradiation process. The department is providing source material from DOE's stable isotope inventory located at the Oak Ridge Reservation under a lease arrangement for five years, with options to renew the lease in the future.

The iodine-125 will be produced by the UC Davis McClellan Nuclear Radiation Center located near Sacramento, California.

The center owns and operates a remote controlled, two megawatt research reactor, the newest research reactor in the nation. The research reactor, built by the Air Force in 1990 to inspect and detect hidden defects in aircraft, was transferred to UC Davis last year for research, education and business purposes.

"We are proud to be recognized by the Department of Energy as the sole U.S. source of the iodine-125 isotope that is so effective in treating cancer, especially prostate cancer," said Barry Klein, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. "We look forward to continued collaboration with the Department of Energy, which provides key support for the UC Davis McClellan Nuclear Radiation Center, as we develop our research programs, providing new scientific knowledge, and utilizing the facility to directly benefit medical technology and other cutting edge support for the private sector."

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - The nation's newest environmental satellite sent back its first clear, crisp image of the western hemisphere on Friday.

The satellite, known as GOES-12, is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The satellite is the first of a planned series of satellites that will carry Solar X-ray Imagers enabling scientists and solar weather forecasters to better understand and predict events on the sun that impact activities on Earth and in orbit.

"The success of the GOES-12 will ensure the ongoing mission of our nation's environmental satellites, maintaining a constant vigil for the atmospheric "triggers" for severe weather conditions," said Kathy Kelly, director of satellite operations for NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service. "The GOES team is really excited about this first image. The fine scale meteorological features stand out clearly. It's right on the mark."

GOES-12 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) will provide a fixed view of Earth by maintaining a geosynchronous orbit, hovering over one position on the planet, almost 36,000 kilometers (22,300 miles) above the Earth's surface.

GOES-12 is watching North and South America, and will provide scientists with data on cloud patterns, temperatures and moisture that will be used for weather forecasting, climate monitoring and other environmental applications such as fire detection and sea temperature measurements.

GOES-12 will remain in operational storage until called upon to replace one of the two older geostationary satellites that could expire in the next year or two.

"When we need to tap this satellite, GOES-12 will guarantee a seamless stream of weather observations and atmospheric measurements for the United States," said Kelly. "It will ensure that NOAA's weather and space forecasters have the data they need to issue life saving warnings and forecasts."

More information on NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites is available at:

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ATHENS, Ohio, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - Two Ohio University botanists are in Hawaii this month to research the evolution of plant life and the influence of invasive species.

The botanists, accompanied by four students, hope to paint a clearer picture of Hawaiian plant diversity and support conservation efforts.

"We chose the Hawaiian Islands because the archipelago is exemplary of oceanic island systems around the world, and because we have ongoing research on plant groups there," said Harvey Ballard, an assistant professor of environmental and plant biology and one of two leaders of the university's Global Studies in Plant Biology program.

The group conducted field research on Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii, collecting plant samples in coastal areas, mountains, swamps, dry and wet forests and areas marked by volcanic lava. Their work shows an ecosystem invaded by foreign plant species.

"You have to hike far into the forest to find areas where there aren't many invasive plants," Ballard said. "The vast majority of the landscape has been altered from its native condition."


Students from the Universities of Ohio and Hawaii search for freshwater algae in a stream near Waimea Canyon on Kauai (Photo by Wayne Chiasson, courtesy Ohio University)
Ballard, an international expert on violets, is collecting DNA samples of the flowering herb to determine what varieties have taken a foothold on the islands, and whether they threaten to wipe out native violets.

"We don't know whether some of these will provide materials useful for us - they could be edible or have medicinal properties," said Ballard, who obtained permission from the Hawaiian government to collect plant samples for study. "For example, the rose periwinkle was endangered, but we now know it can treat childhood leukemia."

Morgan Vis, an assistant professor of environmental and plant biology, is examining how freshwater algae has colonized in low and high altitude areas of Hawaii. Algae is a vital food source for fish and other animals.

"One stream we sampled in Kauai had nine different macroalgae," Vis said. "That's a high level of diversity for any stream. And this is an oceanic island, which means it's difficult for a freshwater organism to make it here. This suggests that maybe freshwater algae are dispersed more easily than we thought they would be."

Vis's goal is to study how algae populations on different continents are related, and to determine if there are unique varieties of the plant that should be conserved.

More information about the Global Studies in Plant Biology program is available at: