AmeriScan: December 2, 2002

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U.S., Mexico Team Up On Environment

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - The United States and Mexico have developed a new Air Quality Strategy to address transboundary air pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton met last week in Mexico City with Mexico's Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Victor Lichtinger and other senior officials to bolster cooperation between the two countries on natural and cultural resource conservation. The two secretaries attended the first meeting of the bilateral Working Group on Natural Resources and unveiled a strategy for pilot projects aimed at reducing air pollution along the border.

"The agreement will serve as a foundation for dramatically improving the public health and air quality on both sides of our border and also for contributing to our economies in the region," said Whitman.

But later in the week, President George W. Bush lifted a moratorium on allowing Mexican trucks to travel to the U.S. without meeting U.S. emissions limits. Critics of the decision say it will increase air pollution along the border and wherever the trucks travel in the U.S.

"Increased trade with Mexico should not and need not come at the cost of human health. We will take all steps necessary to ensure U.S. environmental standards are vigorously enforced," said Jonathan Weissglass, an associate at Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain, and an attorney for several groups that are challenging the Bush administration's move in court.

An environmental, labor and industry coalition including the Environmental Law Foundation, Public Citizen and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is seeking an emergency stay from a federal appeals court until an environmental review of the decision can be performed. According to their court petition, if the administration approves applications from Mexican truckers, "high polluting heavy duty diesel vehicles from Mexico will begin traveling throughout the United States…. The whole point of conducting the environmental reviews is to allow the government to take environmental effects into account before making the operative decision and putting it into effect."

"Increases in air pollution, especially from older, largely unregulated vehicles, present increased risks of asthma, cancer and other respiratory ills," Weissglass added.

At the U.S.-Mexico working group meeting, officials from the two nations also signed a joint action plan that encourages exchanges and cooperation among national parks in both countries. The secretaries discussed how the United States and Mexico can coordinate efforts to prevent and contain catastrophic wildfires.

Norton also extended an invitation on behalf of the National Park Service to Mexico's National Commission for Protected Areas (CONANP) to a meeting in March 2003 to discuss establishing and managing sister areas in border regions.

"The United States and Mexico have worked together for more than 60 years to address natural resource issues that affect both our nations, including the wildlife that migrate across our border," Norton said. "We hope to build on this close relationship, learning from each other and finding new ways to cooperate together on conservation."

For more information go to: http://www.epa.gov/usmexicoborder/index.htm

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Enriched Environments May Reverse Lead Damage

BALTIMORE, Maryland, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - Environmental enrichment that stimulates brain activity can reverse the long term learning deficits caused by lead poisoning, new research suggests.

Doctors have long known that lead poisoning in children affects their cognitive and behavioral development. Despite efforts to reduce lead contamination in homes, childhood lead poisoning remains a major public health problem, with an estimated 34 million housing units in the United States containing lead paint.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have become the first to demonstrate that the long term deficits in cognitive function caused by lead can be reversed, and to offer a basis for the treatment of childhood lead intoxication.

"Lead exposure during development causes long-lasting deficits in learning in experimental animals, but our study shows for the first time that these cognitive deficits are reversible," said lead author Dr. Tomás Guilarte, a professor of environmental health sciences at Hopkins.

"This study is particularly important for two reasons," Guilarte added. "First, it was not known until now whether the effects of lead on cognitive function were reversible. Secondly, the environmental enrichment that reversed the learning deficits was administered after the animals were exposed to lead. Environmental enrichment could be a promising therapy for treating millions of children suffering from the effects of lead poisoning."

For their study, Guilarte, graduate student Christopher Toscano, research technologist Jennifer McGlothan, and research associate Shelley Weaver observed groups of lead treated or non-treated rats that were raised in an enriched environment.

Enrichment cages were multi-level, containing toys, a running wheel, a hammock, platforms, tunnels, and housing multiple animals. Littermates to these rats were raised in standard sized laboratory cages that the researchers designated as "isolated environment."

To measure the learning ability of rats in the various treatment groups, the researchers trained each rat to find a submerged, invisible platform in a pool of water, called the water maze. On each day of training, they timed how long each rat took to find the platform.

They observed that both the lead exposed and control rats living in the enriched environment learned to find the platform in 20 seconds or less within the four day training period. The isolated control rats took longer to find the platform, while lead exposed isolated rats took the longest - and almost 50 percent of them failed to learn the test by the last day of training.

The researchers also found that rats living in enriched environments showed some recovery in the levels of part of important neural receptors. The receptors are located in the hippocampus, a brain region important for learning and memory. Previous research has determined that the receptor affected by the lead exposure is essential for learning performance in the water maze.

"We all recognize that children who are intellectually stimulated have a greater capacity to learn. Unfortunately, often times the same children who are exposed to lead, also live in impoverished and neglected homes," said Guilarte. "It seems that based on our study, many lead exposed children would benefit from this type of therapeutic approach."

The study, "Environmental Enrichment Reverses Cognitive and Molecular Deficits Induced by Developmental Lead Exposure," appears in the December 2002 edition of the journal "Annals of Neurology."

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New Corn Snake Discovered

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - A new species of snake, Slowinski's corn snake, has been discovered in north-central Louisiana and eastern Texas.

The new species was named Elaphe slowinskii in memory of the late Dr. Joseph Slowinski, who was curator of herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Dr. Slowinski was bitten by a venomous krait in Burma on September 11, 2001, and died the next day at the age of 38.

The new species is related to the Eastern corn snake, found east of the Mississippi River in the southeastern U.S., and to the Great Plains rat snake, found on the Great Plains from Texas north to Utah and Nebraska.

Slowinski

Dr. Joseph Slowinski discovered at least 18 new species of reptiles and amphibians during his abbreviated career, and had been bitten at least eight times by poisonous species before the bite that cost him his life last year. (Photo courtesy California Academy of Sciences)
Slowinski's corn snake was discovered by Frank Burbrink, a biologist at the College of Staten Island (CSI) who specializes in snakes and reptile evolution. Burbink, 32, had considered Slowinski as a mentor since the two researchers met while Burbink was doing fieldwork while earning his PhD in zoology from Louisiana State University.

The same fieldwork led to Burbink's discovery of the new snake, which previous researchers had mistaken for other more common corn snakes. Burbink determined that it was a separate species by comparing the DNA of the three snakes species.

Slowinski's corn snake is now recognized by the Center for North American Herpetology, raising the number of known U.S snake species from 140 to 141.

"People seem to be pretty excited about it," Burbrink told the "Staten Island Advance." "There's not too many [new snakes] that are being found."

Burbrink said this is the first new snake discovered in North American in decades.

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Coral Reef Research Targets Caribbean, Micronesia

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is sponsoring research teams that will study the coral reef ecosystems of the Caribbean for five years and Micronesia for three years.

The NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences (NCCOS) Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) is funding the two long term coral reef ecosystem studies on reefs of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the islands around Guam. The two programs, aimed at defining the causes of reef degradation, are designed to help meet the objectives of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force National Action Plan.

While both studies share the common goal to protect healthy coral reef ecosystems and reverse the degradation of those that have been impaired by human interference, each is focused on the unique problems facing their respective regions.

The study of the Caribbean coral reefs, led by the University of Puerto Rico, builds upon current research and historical data going back 40 years. It will compare ecological and social processes, resulting in a greater understanding of coral reef function and providing a scientific basis for reef conservation and restoration.

The Caribbean research will evaluate alternative management strategies such as marine protected areas, and assess how fishery closures may affect the reefs. It will evaluate socioeconomic processes affecting the implementation and success of each reserve, and develop user friendly computer models to be used as ecosystem management tools.

The coral research in Micronesia, led by the University of Guam, is expected to produce ways to assess the stress on coral reef ecosystems and establish water quality guidelines on coastal pollutants. The data will guide reef recovery and restoration efforts.

The study will collect data on marine protected area effectiveness and on the values of watersheds and coral reefs to the region's societies. It will also create educational materials and data to support the development of policies for integrated coral reef management.

Since traditional management and leadership structures are still prevalent in many of the Micronesian islands, the project also plans to transfer knowledge gained from this study into a form that can be accessed by island systems where stakeholders still control their resources through established reef tenure systems.

While the setting for the Micronesian research is based in Guam, the coral reef systems of the islands of Palau and Yap is where the information generated by this study can be best applied to reef protection and preservation, NOAA said.

In September, NOAA and other federal agencies published a 265 page report identifying the pressures facing reefs and assessing the health of reef resources. The report also ranks threats in 13 geographic areas and details mitigation efforts.

To read the report, visit: http://www.nccos.noaa.gov/library/notables.html

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Hartz Must Re-Label Pesticides After Cat Deaths

WASHINGTON, DC, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - Thousands of illnesses and deaths in cats and kittens have led to a reissue of some flea and tick products, along with new warning labels and other protective measures.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said last week that safety concerns stemming from use of two flea and tick control products for cats and kittens, led the agency to persuade the Hartz Mountain Corp. to enact measures to reduce potential risks to pets from using these products.

"EPA sought this agreement due to concerns over safety issues based on thousands of adverse effects incidents investigated by EPA," the agency said.

Under an agreement with the EPA, Hartz has ceased the distribution of Hartz Advanced Care Brand Flea and Tick Drops Plus for Cats and Kittens and Hartz Advanced Care Brand Once-a-Month Flea and Tick Drops for Cats and Kittens.

When the new packaging is available in January, Hartz will exchange it for the current packages, a spokesman said today. This is considered "an orderly product exchange" by the EPA, not a recall, and the company is permitted to sell those products that are still on the shelves.

Hartz is required to recover, repackage, and re-label currently available stock of the flea and tick drops and to educate consumers about their risks if applied incorrectly. "The actual product formulation will not change," said Hartz in a statement November 21.

In the so-called "stripe-on" procedure now recommended by the company to apply its flea and tick drops in a stripe down the cat’s back, the animals can reach around and lick it from their fur. The EPA says incident reports ranged from "minor adverse effects including skin irritation or hair loss at the application site and salivation to more serious effects on the nervous system, such as tremors (twitching of muscles) and, in some circumstances, severe full body tremors (convulsion). Unfortunately, in some cases, death has also been reported."

In the new process, the drops are applied at the base of the cat’s head. As part of these changes, Hartz will also include a more detailed precautionary statement on the label. The company worked closely with the EPA to develop this new packaging and labeling.

To continue to evaluate safety concerns for cats, the EPA is also requiring Hartz to submit an additional animal safety study conducted by an independent laboratory, and to submit additional quarterly reports specific to cats, summarizing any incidents of toxic effects from Hertz products.

The new product labels, which will start appearing on store shelves over the next several months, will direct users to consult with a veterinarian before use of these products on debilitated, aged, medicated, pregnant or nursing animals, or animals known to be sensitive to pesticides. The labels will advise that cats should be monitored after application of the product and if any adverse symptoms are observed, the animal should be washed with mild soap and rinsed with water and evaluated by a veterinarian.

The EPA is also requiring Hartz to conduct a consumer education program, which will include a website, direct mail campaign to pet owners, pet stores and veterinarians on the new safety improvements. If consumers choose to return either of the two Hartz products, the company is expected to exchange it for the relabeled product or refund the purchase price.

The company is also required to improve labeling on individual tubes of the affected products to help ensure consumers are using them correctly.

For more information on the EPA's action, visit: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/citizens/hartzq_a.htm

For information regarding the product recovery and label improvements, consumers may contact Hartz by phone at: 800- 275-1414.

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Grants Fund Research Into Nutrient Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded $3.4 million in grants for research and community outreach projects to address nutrient related water quality issues in rural and agricultural watersheds.

The projects were funded through a joint program sponsored by the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"USDA's joint program with EPA demonstrates our mutual commitment to protecting our Nation's water resources," said Joseph Jen, the USDA's under secretary for research, education and economics. "These projects integrate research and community outreach to address locally defined water quality problems."

The grants will allow scientists to work with farmers, ranchers and community leaders to address local water quality issues.

The following universities will receive nutrient research grants:

The University of Arkansas at Fayettville, will investigate the mechanisms that cause algae to build up and pollute a lake used for recreation and as a major municipal water supply.

The University of Florida, will work to reduce surface and groundwater pollution by developing computer visualizations that show the movement of nutrients through the soil and shallow groundwater.

Louisiana State University, will explore how flow diversions in the lower Mississippi River can be used to decrease nutrients entering the Gulf of Mexico where excess nutrients contribute to an oxygen depleted dead zone in the Gulf.

The State University of New York at Brockport will investigate how changes in Best Management Practices may reduce the pollution and excess algae growth in local lakes.

Ohio State University will evaluate how draining ditches may alter the rate and quantity of nutrients transported from agricultural watersheds to various water bodies.

For more information about CSREES's water quality program, visit: http://www.usawaterquality.org

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Leopard Sales Send Florida Man to Jail

CITRA, Florida, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - Timothy Dale Rivers, owner of Animals in Motion Animal Park in Citra, has been sentenced to six months in prison and one year probation for illegally selling two black leopards.

The sale was a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection law. Rivers pleaded guilty in August, admitting that he sold two black leopards to a buyer in Illinois in 1998 through an animal dealer in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for $750 each. Rivers falsified federal documents to show that the sale of the leopards was a donation.

Rivers also admitted to being involved in the illegal sale of an endangered Bengal tiger to the same Cape Girardeau animal dealer. Following the sale of the tiger, Rivers again falsified documents to indicate the sale was a donation. The tiger was transported from Florida to Missouri and then on to Illinois where it was killed four days later.

"This is very troubling, because animals that are protected around the world - as beautiful as they were when they were alive - it seems they are more valuable when they are dead," said Judge Richard Webber in sentencing Rivers.

Rivers was among five people indicted in St. Louis in November 2001 following a lengthy undercover investigation - dubbed "Operation Snow Plow" - by special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agents, working closely with the U.S. Attorney's offices in Missouri, Illinois and Michigan, uncovered a group of residents and small business owners in the Midwest that bought and killed tigers, leopards, lions, mountain lions, cougars and other exotic animals with the intention of selling the meat skins and other parts in the lucrative animal parts trade.

Rivers was ordered to pay $2,500 to the Save the Tiger Fund, a conservation fund administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Fines collected from other "Operation Snow Plow" defendants also have been directed by the court to the Save the Tiger Fund.

To date, about $90,000 has been awarded, and the Save the Tiger Fund has earmarked about $30,000 for projects in Thailand and Russia for training rangers and other measures aimed at stopping the poaching of tigers.

Tigers are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The law also protects leopards, which are classified as either endangered or threatened depending on the location of the wild population.

Although federal regulations allow possession of captive bred tigers, the regulations require that activities involving their use must be to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. It is unlawful to kill the animals for profit, or to sell their hides, parts or meat in interstate commerce.

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Jailed Activist Strikes for Vegan Food

MISSOULA, Montana, December 2, 2002 (ENS) - A man imprisoned for protesting the slaughter of wild buffalo near Yellowstone National Park is now in the 36th day of a prison hunger strike.

Randall Mark, a 22 year old activist also known as Locust, was sentenced to spend 60 days in jail for his role in an April protest over the killing of bison that stray out of the park onto an area known as Horse Butte. Although Mark's arrest for not carrying identification was later dismissed, he was then charged with obstructing an officer because he went limp when a U.S. Forest Service official tried to remove him from the road blockade.

Mark has been refusing food in the Missoula Detention Facility since he was incarcerated on October 28. For years, Mark has followed a vegan diet, which excludes all foods derived from animal sources. While the jail serves fruit, vegetables and grains to prisoners who also eat meat, its only vegan option, called "Nutriloaf," is not accompanied by these additions.

Nutriloaf, a baked mixture of beans, vegetables and flour, is considered a punishment food at the facility, according to his supporters at the Buffalo Field Campaign. Mark is turning down the Nutriloaf and requesting a diverse vegan diet.

Mark was jailed for protesting state and federal policies aimed at protecting domestic cattle from the disease brucellosis, which can cause spontaneous abortions in animals such as cattle, buffalo and elk. In an effort to keep all cattle in Montana free of brucellosis, the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) attempts to keep the entire herd of wild buffalo within the confines of the national park.

DOL staffers haze the animals back into the park when they stray outside in search of good grazing. Animals that will not reenter the park are often killed, whether they carry the disease at all.

Critics of the policy note that there are no confirmed cases of brucellosis being transmitted from bison to cattle, and that the only possible route of transmission is through pregnant or aborting females - yet male bison are often killed when they stray from the park. In additional, wildlife and livestock managers do not take action to control the movements of elk, though Yellowstone's elk herd is known to be infected with brucellosis.

Mark has been protesting over federal and state bison policies and other environmental issues for years. In September 2000, he was arrested for throwing a pie filled with rotting salmon at former Idaho Representative Helen Chenoweth-Hage, to protest the Republican's support for timber and dam policies that Mark said have harmed endangered salmon.

And in January 2000, Mark was sentenced to spend 60 days in jail for blocking a Forest Service road in Idaho.