AmeriScan: August 28, 2001

NEW BLM DIRECTOR NAMED

WASHINGTON, DC, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - President George W. Bush plans to nominate Kathleen Burton Clarke, current executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR), as Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Clarke would be the first woman director of the BLM.

Clarke was deputy director of the Utah DNR from 1993 to 1998, when she was named as the agency's executive director. From 1987 to 1993, Clarke served in the office of Representative James Hansen, a Utah Republican, first as director of constituent services and then as executive director of Hansen's Ogden, Utah office.

"Kathleen Clarke will bring a highly successful record of innovative public lands management to BLM," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "Kathleen's background and experience demonstrate a holistic, integrated approach to natural resource conservation. Her broad experience will prove invaluable to helping Interior protect our public lands for future generations of Americans to enjoy."

Clarke was instrumental in working with the Utah legislature to secure $3 million per year in funding to protect and recover endangered species, Norton said. Clarke also listened to and worked with diverse interests to formulate the Great Salt Lake Resource Management Plan, a comprehensive program to conserve the lake's resources.

As executive director of Utah's DNR, Clarke worked to meld seven diverse resource divisions into a cohesive interdisciplinary team that balances the needs of citizens with conscientious resource stewardship and management.

With almost two thirds of Utah's 57 million acres managed by the federal government, the Utah DNR must implement a land and resource ethic that not accounts for state and private lands, and works in a partnership with federal land managers.

The Bureau of Land Management director is in charge of administering 264 million acres of U.S. public lands, most located in 12 western states. Clarke graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Utah State in 1970.

Clarke's nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.

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WORKPLACE AIR POLLUTION CAN HURT HEARTS

DALLAS, Texas, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - Exposure to occupational and environmental air pollutants can alter heart rates in young, otherwise healthy hearts, researchers report in this week's issue of "Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association."

These altered heart rates may play a role in the development of cardiovascular disease, the researchers said.

Past studies have linked exposure to air pollution to cardiac death in the elderly. This study is the first to examine exposure to air pollution particles in a younger population. It is also the first to focus on air pollution in the work environment.

Researchers studied 40 men, with an average age of 38, working as boilermakers in Boston. Such workers are exposed to many air particles that are similar to those in the general environment, but at a higher concentration.

Researchers measured the workers' exposure to particulates 2.5 micrograms in diameter or smaller (PM 2.5). To determine if these particulate matters were affecting the heart, each worker wore an air sampler and a Holter monitor - a device that measures heart rate throughout the day - providing a measurement of heart rate variability.

Heart rates were recorded at five minute intervals to determine if the heart was beating faster or slower than normal. Heart rate variability measures cardiac autonomic function, which controls blood vessel size, blood pressure, the heart's electrical activity and its ability to contract.

The study reported a 2.6 percent decrease in normal heart rate variability for every milligram per cubic meter increase of PM 2.5. The findings of disturbances in autonomic function in this young, otherwise healthy population is of concern, the authors write.

Previous studies have shown that heart rate variability is decreased in heart conditions such as coronary artery disease and heart rhythm disturbances, but researchers say further research is needed to understand the significance of these findings.

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NOAA BEGINS SOUND RESEARCH UNDERWATER

SEATTLE, Washington, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has begun a research project that will allow scientists to study undersea sounds such as whales, dolphins, volcanoes and even the rumblings of the earth itself.

Casual observers often imagine that the depths of the ocean are dark, still and quiet, but those who work in and with the ocean know that there is a lot going on under the surface.

"There are a lot of things making noise down there," said Christopher Fox, director of the Acoustic Monitoring Project from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. "In addition to the rumblings of the earth, there are sounds made by whales, dolphins and fish."

Fox will head a project to install underwater hydrophones - electronic ears - that will hear these noises and send them back for researchers to study. The first hydrophone will be installed September 1 on a submarine cable at Pioneer Seamount off the California coast and will soon be sending back digital data that will be made available to the public via the Internet as part of a Sound in the Sea project.

"We will be listening for many things, such as underwater earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides," said Fox. "This will also help us track large marine mammals as they migrate along the West Coast."

The ocean's unique properties allow sound to travel over great distances with very little signal loss. Ice breaking up and separating from the main ice sheet or glacier in Antarctica or Greenland can be heard by a hydrophone many miles away.

Human produced noises, such as the engines of supertankers and container ships, will also be monitored.

"NOAA's Sound in the Sea Project is the beginning of a larger effort by the scientific community to expand our ability to study underwater acoustics on a global basis and to explore the sources of sound and their potential impact on marine life," said Christopher Fox, director of the project.

More information is available at: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/sound01/sound01.html

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ENERGY DEPARTMENT LAB DEVELOPS CLEANER FUEL

BOISE, Idaho, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) have developed an energy efficient process for producing alkylate - a high octane gasoline blend that is very low in environmental pollutants such as sulfur and benzene.

Cleaner fuels are a logical step towards reducing air pollutant emissions, but the petroleum industry is stymied by a technological catch-22. Today, making cleaner fuel means using hazardous chemicals and generating hazardous waste.

The INEEL researchers have found one way to solve this problem. Instead of using a liquid catalyst, the team uses a solid acid catalyst to change low octane gas into liquid alkylate.

Once the solid catalyst becomes coated with undesired hydrocarbon pollutants, researchers use a supercritical fluid solvent to clean and rejuvenate the catalyst, and then begin alkylate production again.

The researchers have been able to restore deactivated catalyst to 100 percent effectiveness, which increases the active lifespan of the catalyst. INEEL researcher Dan Ginosar presented this research at the annual American Chemical Society meeting on Monday.

"Using supercritical fluids, we get the best solvent properties of liquids and the diffusivity properties of gas," said Ginosar. "Using this approach, we not only restored the catalyst to 100 percent of original activity levels, we significantly extended the length of time in the catalyst - increasing the operating lifespan about 20 times."

The team has begun experiments using a commercial alkylation feed stream obtained from Phillips Petroleum Company - work that should be of great interest to the petroleum industry.

"This is the true test from industry's point of view," Ginosar explained. "Real world petroleum feedstock is dirtier and chemically more complex than the blends we use in the laboratory."

The team has already achieved comparable alkylation production and catalyst regeneration results using the industry grade feedstock, without changing any aspects of the process.

Scaling the process up to meet industrial production rates is the next challenge. In their almost nine day experimental run, the team produced 0.2 liters of alkylate - a far cry from the two million liters per day a refinery would produce. The catalyst regeneration vessels used in this research are about the length of a size 13 shoe, and the diameter of a garden hose.

"We'll have to scale up our equipment more than 60 million times their current size," said Ginosar.

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CAMPFIRES CONTRIBUTE TO GREAT LAKES POLLUTION

CHICAGO, Illinois, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - Wood smoke from campfires and residential fireplaces is toxic to certain aquatic animals in the Great Lakes and is a source of air pollution in the region, a new study shows.

The Great Lakes, which form a natural border between the United States and Canada, constitute the largest freshwater surface in the world. Camping is one of the major recreational activities in the area, which has become the focus of extensive environmental interest in recent years due to persistent pollution problems.

Previous studies of the impact of pollution on the area have focused on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury and other toxins regulated by the federal government. This is believed to be the first study to explore the potential toxicity of the area's recreational smoke.

Rebecca Sheesley, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a contributing researcher in the study, cautions that the study so far is limited to toxicity tests exposing aquatic animals to smoke residues. Although the study does not address the impact of wood burning emissions on human health, it raises concern over the impact of these emissions on the health of the Great Lakes, she says.

To determine the impact of atmospheric pollutants on aquatic life in the Great Lakes, the researchers collected particulate matter samples from different areas along the shores of southern Lake Michigan. From August 2000 to March 2001, the researchers collected air samples using special filters over 72 consecutive hours.

They then extracted particles from the filters and exposed each sample extract to a population of a hundred water fleas, which are used as a standard model for testing wastewater toxicity.

The pollutants were toxic to the water fleas: pollutant concentrations as low as 10 to 15 milligrams of particulate matter per liter killed 50 percent of the fleas in a 24 hour exposure. Chemical analysis showed that the air filters had captured particles from wood smoke.

Although the concentration of wood smoke in the Great Lakes waters is expected to be lower than the laboratory exposure concentrations, these tests are used as a screening tool to identify pollutants that can harm populations of aquatic animals at longer low level exposures, the researchers explained.

The study was described today at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

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LAWSUIT CHALLENGES APPROVAL OF ROCK CREEK MINE

MISSOULA, Montana, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - Eight conservation groups have filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) over the agency's approval of the Rock Creek Mine abutting the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in Montana.

The groups say the proposed mine threatens grizzly bears and bull trout in the region with extinction. Both species are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"By signing off on the Rock Creek Mine, the Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a death warrant for the Cabinets' grizzlies and trout," said Louisa Willcox of the Sierra Club.

The groups' lawsuit targets the USFWS's biological opinion sanctioning the Rock Creek Mine. The mine would extract 10,000 tons of copper and silver ore a day for 35 years.

While the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have not yet issued permits for the mine, the biological opinion sanctions the mine's damage to threatened and endangered species. The USFS and DEQ are expected to decide whether to issue permits for the mine this fall.

The mine would affect more than 7,000 acres within the habitat of the tiny Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population. As mining, logging and other human activities have eroded the bears' habitat, the population has plummeted.

Since 1999 ten bears have died in the Cabinet-Yaak. The USFWS estimates that as few as eleven bears might remain, a number that experts agree puts the bears on the verge of extinction. The mine could end all hopes for their survival, the groups charge.

"It's the mine or grizzly bears," said Sanjay Narayan, an attorney for Earthjustice. "Rather than protect the bears, the agency is sticking its head in the sand."

The USFWS's biological opinion also acknowledges that the mine could eradicate bull trout in Rock Creek, one of the last bull trout strongholds in the lower Clark Fork River basin. However, the agency decided that the Rock Creek bull trout population could be allowed to go extinct since there were bull trout elsewhere in the Columbia River Basin.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service is allowing bull trout to be driven to extinction one stream at a time," said Scott Yates of Trout Unlimited. "The agency needs to look at the big picture."

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PENNSYLVANIA REQUIRES CLEANUP BONDS FOR COAL MINES

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - Pennsylvania has announced a new bonding program for surface coal mines that requires operators to post bonds covering the full cost of reclamation.

"This is an historic milestone and the most significant change in the program in 30 years, and we're thankful for the thoughtful input we received from citizens' groups and industry," said state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secretary David Hess. "For the first time, surface coal mining operators are required to post site specific bonds based fully on DEP's estimated cost to reclaim the site."

"Full cost bonding provides equity among Pennsylvania's surface coal mines, makes mine operators fully accountable for their own sites, and better protects Pennsylvanians from future abandoned mine land problems," Hess added.

In Pennsylvania, mine operators are required to post bonds for every mining operation to cover the cost of reclaiming the site if they are unwilling or unable to do so. The bonds serve as an insurance policy to ensure that the affected areas are returned to their pre-mining condition.

Since 1981, Pennsylvania has used an alternative bonding system that is based on a flat per acre fee and supplemented by a pool of funds made up of $100 per acre nonrefundable fees. An evaluation of this bonding system by the DEP revealed a $5.5 million deficit.

Under full cost bonding, bond amounts are based on the specific mining site rather than the flat fee. The bonds reflect the estimated cost for backfilling, regrading and revegetating the site if it were to be completed by the DEP.

Pennsylvania's 2001-02 budget includes $12.5 million to ensure full cost bonding. These funds will be used to cover the existing $5.5 million deficit and provide conversion assistance to prevent future liabilities.

"The conversion assistance program allows DEP to underwrite bonds for existing sites that are going to experience large bond increases," Hess said. "Mine operators will have to pay a premium to use this money."

All new mining operations are now required to have full cost bonds. For existing mining sites, full cost bonds will apply to all new mining areas under existing permits.

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LANDFILL NAMED AS HISTORIC LANDMARK

WASHINGTON, DC, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - The nation's oldest sanitary landfill is one of 15 sites across the nation selected by the Department of Interior as new historic landmarks.

The Fresno Sanitary Landfill was opened in 1937 and closed in 1987. It is the oldest true sanitary landfill in the nation, and the oldest compartmentalized municipal landfill in the western U.S., holding the service record of more than 50 years of continuous operation.

It is the first landfill to have employed the trench method of disposal and the first to compact refuse to increase storage capacity. Techniques used at the Fresno site were later adopted by the builders of all modern sanitary landfills.

The Fresno landfill is one of 15 sites in 11 states and the District of Columbia named as national historic landmarks on Monday for their significance in American history and culture.

"These special sites underscore our heritage and tell stories of periods and events in our history," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "By preserving these unique sites, we share our culture and rich diversity with our children for future generations to learn from and enjoy."

Six of the sites recognized Monday embody important architectural history, including the Merchants' Exchange Building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Samuel Wadsworth Russell House in Middletown, Connecticut.

Three sites were nominated for their importance in national maritime history, including two oyster houses. Three schools were named for their significance in the school desegregation period.

Other sites were selected for their "individual contributions to the broad scope of American history," including the Fresno Sanitary Landfill.

All national historic landmarks are included in the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places, the nation's official list of the cultural resources and historic properties considered worthy of preservation. Most of the landmarks are owned by private individuals or groups.

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INDIAN POINT NUCLEAR PLANT LICENSES TRANSFERRED

BUCHANAN, New York, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the transfer of the operating licenses for Indian Point Nuclear Generating Units 1 and 2 from Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., to subsidiaries of Entergy Corporation.

The agency's approval of the license transfers becomes effective immediately, even though the Commission has granted hearing requests from the Citizens Awareness Network, the town of Cortlandt Manor, New York, and the Hendrick Hudson School District. The groups sought hearings regarding Entergy's financial ability to operate and maintain the Indian Point plant safely.

The NRC's August 22 order lays out a schedule for the hearings which could result in the agency reversing its decision next year.

On December 12, 2000, Consolidated Edison and Entergy submitted a joint application to the NRC requesting approval for the license transfers. The key issues considered by the NRC included the prospective licensees' technical and financial qualifications to maintain Indian Point 1, which shut down permanently in 1974, and safely operate Indian Point 2, as well as decommissioning funding assurance.

A copy of the NRC's approval letter and accompanying safety evaluation report is available at: http://www.nrc.gov/NRC/REACTOR/IP/index.html under the heading "News & Correspondence."

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THE CATS MIGHT BITE HARDER THAN THE MOSQUITOES

WASHINGTON, DC, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - Want a natural way to keep the mosquitoes from biting? Try catnip oil.

Researchers report that nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip that gives the plant its characteristic odor, is about 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET - the compound used in most commercial insect repellents.

The finding was reported Monday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society by the same Iowa State University research group that two years ago discovered that catnip also repels cockroaches.

Entomologist Chris Peterson, along with Joel Coats, chair of the university's entomology department, led the effort to test catnip's ability to repel mosquitoes. Peterson, a former post doctoral research associate at the school, is now with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Wood Products Insects Research Unit.

While they used so called yellow fever mosquitoes - one of several species of mosquitoes found in the United States - Peterson said catnip should work against all types of mosquitoes.

In the laboratory, repellency is measured on a scale ranging from +100 percent, considered highly repellent, to -100 percent, considered a strong attractant. A compound with a +100 percent repellency rating would repel all mosquitoes, while -100 percent would attract them all.

In Peterson's tests, catnip ranged from +49 percent to +59 percent at high doses, and +39 percent to +53 percent at low doses. By comparison, at the same doses, DEET's repellency was only about +10 percent, he noted.

Peterson said nepetalactone is about 10 times more effective than DEET because it takes about one tenth as much nepetalactone as DEET to have the same effect. Most commercial insect repellents contain about five percent to 25 percent DEET.

Why catnip repels mosquitoes is a mystery.

"It might simply be acting as an irritant or they don't like the smell," Peterson said. "But nobody really knows why insect repellents work."

No animal or human tests are yet scheduled for nepetalactone, although Peterson is hopeful that will take place in the future.

Catnip is native to Europe and was introduced to this country in the late 18th century. It is primarily known for the stimulating effect it has on cats, although some people use the leaves in tea, as a meat tenderizer and even as a folk treatment for fevers, colds, cramps and migraines.

A patent application for the use of catnip compounds as insect repellents was submitted last year by the Iowa State University Research Foundation. Funding for the research was from the Iowa Agriculture Experiment Station.