AmeriScan: December 10, 2002

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Lawsuit Challenges Herbicide Use in Klamath Basin

PORTLAND, Oregon, December 10, 2002 (ENS) - Conservation organizations in Oregon and California have filed suit against federal and state officials over a permit allowing the Klamath Irrigation District to release an herbicide into the waters of the Klamath Basin.

The lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) contends both agencies are legally obligated to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) before granting the Klamath Irrigation District a pollution discharge permit to place known hazardous chemicals into the Klamath Basin.

Under a permit issued in March, the herbicide acrolein, which is known to kill fish at very low concentrations, can be applied in an area where endangered fish are present. The Endangered Species Act requires consultation before any federal permit can be issued or any federal money spent that might jeopardize an endangered species.

In authorizing the use of acrolein, the Oregon DEQ was acting in a federal government capacity, using federal money, and issuing a federal Clean Water Act permit, the suit charges.

"Either the EPA or its agent, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, should have consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the risks of acrolein to the two federally endangered fish species in the upper Klamath Basin," said Cindy Deacon Williams of the conservation group Headwaters, Inc. "These fish were decimated during fish kills in the 1990s that resulted in the loss of 80 to 90 percent of the adult population. There's no room left for mistakes."

The conservation groups filing the lawsuit include Headwaters, the Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC) and the Northcoast Environmental Center.

The Klamath Irrigation District requested the permit from the DEQ after being notified on March 26, 2002 of conservationists' intent to sue if the district followed the EPA's legal advice and failed to obtain the federal permit. The district's canals drain into the Lost River, which flows onto the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northern California, raising fears that endangered fishes and other wildlife species could be harmed.

The permit is valid through June 30, 2007 and allows the Klamath Irrigation District to apply an acrolein based herbicide into its irrigation system to kill unwanted aquatic vegetation. The herbicide is applied throughout the summer and fall irrigation season.

In a July 17, 2002 press release, the DEQ cautioned that "the chemical acrolein kills plant material on contact and, if breathed in large amounts, damages the lungs and can cause death."

"Measured in parts per billion, acrolein removes all oxygen from the water and suffocates all aquatic life it contacts," said Wendell Wood, southern Oregon field representative for the Oregon Natural Resource Council. "It is critical that the permit be formally reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

"Because consultation [with the USFWS] was not undertaken, the agency responsible for protecting fish and wildlife was not given an opportunity to ensure permit conditions critical to the survival of endangered fish species were included," added Wood.

The Klamath Irrigation District was the first irrigation district in Oregon to be issued a Clean Water Act permit for aquatic herbicide applications. Since this permit was issued in July 2002, DEQ has issued nine other NPDES permits for the application of acrolein to irrigation districts around the state.

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DuPont Publishes Wheat Genome Data

WILMINGTON, Delaware, December 10, 2002 (ENS) - DuPont announced Monday it is making proprietary wheat genome data available to public and private researchers without restrictions.

The decision is expected to give a boost to research across the biotechnology and agricultural industries. As the most widely consumed crop in the world, wheat holds the key to a variety of nutritional applications in feeding a growing world population.

The DuPont data, consisting of more than 200,000 lines of expressed sequence tags (ESTs), portions of a gene which can be used to locate an entire gene, more than doubles the amount of wheat genome information now available to researchers through GenBank, a public database of DNA information held by the National Institutes of Health.

"People across the globe, especially in developing countries, rely on wheat as an essential part of their diet more than any other cereal crop," said Olin Anderson, a research leader with the U. S. Department of Agriculture and coordinator of wheat and barley ESTs for the International Triticeae Mapping Initiative. "Better understanding of the wheat genome will greatly benefit ongoing research efforts and, ultimately, improve the nutritional value of such a vital component of the world's food supply. The DuPont EST donation is a valuable addition to GenBank because these specific ESTs were not previously represented."

DuPont's contribution will increase the amount of wheat genetic information available to scientists across the globe. A greater knowledge about the wheat genome will help advance the research of all cereal crops that feed a bulk of the people in the developing world, DuPont says.

"Making this data available to the public is consistent with the long tradition of DuPont of advancing science and crop genetics research worldwide," said Jim Miller, vice president of DuPont's Crop Genetics Research & Development division. "We are confident this data will strengthen the collaborative efforts among crop scientists and lead to the development of new and improved wheat varieties."

According to Miller, sharing this data with researchers worldwide will enhance the overall understanding of one of agriculture's most complex genomes.

"The wheat genome is significantly larger and more complex than most crops," said Miller. "Making this data available, without restrictions, will bolster many ongoing research efforts and provide a foundation for the development of advanced varieties that benefit growers, breeders and consumers."

DuPont and its subsidiary, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., will continue to research and develop improved wheat varieties. Pioneer is a leading provider of wheat varieties in the United States and Europe.

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Trained Technician Likely Launched Anthrax Attacks

WASHINGTON, DC, December 10, 2002 (ENS) - The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that last year's anthrax attacks were likely carried out by a trained biomedical technician.

The attacks, in which a powdered version of anthrax was mailed to news organizations and members of Congress, caused 22 anthrax infections in five states and the District of Columbia, killing five people.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, named as CDC director in July, said the person or persons responsible for the attacks had to have "incredible, sophisticated knowledge about what they are dealing with."

"They had to protect not only themselves, but the people in their environs from exposure to the powders, which basically function as a gas," she explained, speaking at the E-Gov Homeland Security conference, sponsored by FCW Media Group, in Washington, DC on Monday.

Gerberding

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding (Photo courtesy CDC)
The way in which the attacks were carried out indicates long term planning, Gerberding said, suggesting that the culprit is "not somebody who went in their garage and cooked this up over the weekend."

Gerberding helped to orchestrate the CDC's response to the anthrax attacks in her previous role as acting director of the agency's National Center for Infectious Diseases. Since the September 11 attacks, more than $900 million in federal funds has been disbursed to help state and local agencies gear up for future terrorist attacks, including bioterror acts.

"We are highly prepared. We are certainly far more prepared than we were a year ago," Gerberding said.

The CDC and other federal agencies are taking steps to ensure that swift countermeasures can be taken if another attack happens, and to share information gathered from public health departments and laboratories across the country that might point to a bioterrorist attack.

"We're well on our way to being able to do this," Gerberding said.

But she noted that more needs to be done, particularly as the people behind the anthrax attacks has not been caught.

"We haven't caught these people and that tells me that the alertness and the level of vigilance that has to go on in emergency departments throughout the country has not changed," Gerberding said, adding that she was not surprised at the failure to find the culprits.

"I think it is a huge challenge," she said, "in part, because it's [like] looking for a needle in a haystack."

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Atmospheric Waves Help Shrink Ozone Hole

WASHINGTON, DC, December 10, 2002 (ENS) - Massive waves in the atmosphere helped reduce the size of the Antarctic ozone hole this fall, but they do not provide evidence that the ozone layer is recovering, suggests a new report from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

A greater number of "planetary sized waves" in the atmosphere that move from the lower atmosphere into the upper atmosphere were responsible for the smaller Antarctic ozone hole, the NASA researchers said. The September 2002 ozone hole was half the size it was in 2000.

However, scientists caution that these large scale weather patterns in the Earth's atmosphere are not an indication that the ozone layer is recovering.

Paul Newman, a lead researcher on ozone at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said that large scale weather patterns have an affect on ozone when large "planetary sized waves" move up into ozone layer. If the waves are more frequent and stronger as they move from the surface to the upper atmosphere, they warm the upper air. Such weather phenomena are known as stratospheric warmings.

The stratosphere is an atmospheric layer about six to 30 miles above the Earth's surface where the ozone layer is found. Ozone breaks down more easily with colder temperatures.

A long wave or planetary wave is a weather system that circles the world. It resembles a series of ocean waves with ridges or high points, and troughs or low points.

At any given time, there are between one and three of these waves looping around the Earth. With more or stronger atmospheric waves, temperatures warm aloft. The warmer the upper air around the "polar vortex" or rotating column of winds that reach into the upper atmosphere where the protective ozone layer is, the less ozone is depleted.

"The Southern Hemisphere large scale weather systems are similar to the semi-permanent area of high pressure, which brought sunshine and dry conditions over much of the eastern United States during the 2002 summer," Newman said.

These large Southern Hemisphere weather systems generated more frequent and stronger planetary waves that caused a series of stratospheric warmings during the Southern winter. Scientists are not certain why that happened. What they are certain of is that these waves warmed the upper atmosphere at the poles, and cut ozone loss.

"2002 was a year of record setting planetary waves in both frequency and strength," Newman said. As a result, the total area of the ozone hole over the Antarctic was just over 15 million square kilometers (km) (5.8 million square miles) in late September. The ozone hole was almost gone by late-October, one of its earliest disappearances since 1988.

However, "this is an entirely different factor from chemicals in the atmosphere that affects the protective ozone layer," Newman noted.

The Montreal Protocol regulated chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in 1987, because of their destructive affect on the ozone layer. However, CFCs still linger in the upper atmosphere.

"The main reason why the ozone hole is smaller this year than last is simply because of higher temperatures from these waves. Decreases of CFCs are only causing the ozone hole to decrease by about one percent per year."

It could be a different story next year, if similar weather systems are not in place, Newman said.

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Sea Lions Face Not One, But Many Threats

SEATTLE, Washington, December 10, 2002 (ENS) - Killer whales, fishing gear, illegal shootings, harvesting by Alaska natives, or some combination of these - rather than a diminished food supply - appear to be the main reasons for the continuing population decline of Steller sea lions off the coast of Alaska.

A new report from the National Academies' National Research Council concludes that there is insufficient evidence to rule out other possible causes, and fishing restrictions in the area are still a "reasonable response" to the problem of sea lion declines. The committee that wrote the report said a series of open and closed fishing areas is the best way to measure the impact fishing is having on sea lion survival.

"Figuring out what's killing the sea lions and how best to protect them will require a concerted effort to implement a management plan that facilitates the collection of data," said committee chair Robert Paine, professor emeritus in the department of zoology at the University of Washington.

"The sea lions seem fit," Paine added, "indicating that they have enough food, so researchers should focus on other causes of death, such as predators, getting caught in fishing gear, or illegal shootings, all of which may have contributed to past declines of sea lions but could be having a greater impact now that the population is severely depleted."

The number of Steller sea lions in Alaskan waters has dropped by more than 80 percent in the past three decades. Those living in the western Gulf of Alaska, around the Aleutian Islands, and in the eastern Bering Sea continue to decline and were listed as endangered in 1997.

The population along the southeast Alaskan coast has increased in recent years but is still listed as threatened. In 2000, the National Marine Fisheries Service, acting under the Endangered Species Act, placed new restrictions on the Alaskan groundfish fishery - which harvests pollock, Pacific cod, and Atka mackerel - after concluding that the fishing posed a threat to the sea lions' recovery.

However, concerns about the impact of the new regulations on Alaskan communities prompted Congress to request the Research Council's study of the situation.

The committee found that there is not enough evidence to prove or disprove the impacts of factors such as large scale fishing operations that may reduce the availability or quality of the sea lions' prey; climate changes during the 1970s that may have affected the distribution or abundance of their prey; diseases that inhibit sea lions' ability to forage for food; and pollution that contaminates fish eaten by sea lions, possibly limiting their ability to reproduce.

Other potential factors include killer whales, which may target sea lions as other prey become depleted; entanglement in fishing gear; illegal shootings; subsistence harvesting; and fatal diseases caused by contagious pathogens or pollution.

Although most evidence indicates that groundfish fisheries are not causing a depletion of the food necessary to sustain the endangered sea lions, it is not conclusive enough to exclude fisheries as a contributing factor to the continuing decline, the committee said. Besides getting caught or entangled in fishing nets, sea lions attracted to fish in nets or on lines may become easy prey for killer whales.

And in some areas, fisheries may be competing with sea lions for the same stock of fish. Fishers also have been known to shoot sea lions to keep them away from fish or to prevent them from damaging gear, although shooting sea lions has been illegal since 1990.

The committee recommended research and monitoring of population trends, growth rates of individual sea lions, ecological features of the sea lion habitat, and predator population size and feeding habits.

The Research Council released the executive summary prior to completion of the full report so that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sponsored the study, would have the committee's recommendations in time for a meeting to discuss the management plan for the Alaska groundfish fishery. The full report will be available later this month.

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Mobile Lasers Help Test Bus Emissions

NEW YORK, New York, December 10, 2002 (ENS) - Atmospheric scientists used laser technology while riding in traffic behind New York City transit buses to find out exactly how much and what type of pollution different types of buses emit in their exhausts.

The findings may help other cities determine what kinds of buses to purchase for their transit systems.

The study found that while conventional diesel buses are more fuel efficient than other types of buses, they produce nitrogen oxide pollutants that can contribute to photochemical smog as well as large amounts of fine soot and sulfate particles, which are suspected to contribute to heart disease and lung cancer.

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The mobile laboratory used to test emissions from buses driving their regular routes. (Photo courtesy Aerodyne Research, Inc.)
Photochemical smog develops when primary pollutants - nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds created from fossil fuel combustion - interact with sunlight and produce a mixture of hundreds of different and hazardous chemicals known as secondary pollutants.

Scott Herndon and Charles Kolb, of Aerodyne Research used a mobile step van laboratory with fast response laser sensors that provided emission results every second. The laser sensors generated a low power light beam that measured pollutant levels in samples of the target vehicle's exhaust plumes drawn into the van as buses went along their normal routes.

"Normally, emissions from large vehicles, like buses, are measured at specialized facilities. The ability to measure in use emissions from a large number of buses and heavy duty trucks during their routine use is new and gives us a much more accurate picture of their impact on air quality issues," Kolb said.

The types of buses the researchers' tested included diesel buses with pollution controls called soot particle oxidation traps and without controls, new compressed natural gas fueled buses; and hybrid diesel/electric buses. The team determined that each type of bus poses different pollution problems.

Herndon and Kolb analyzed the levels of nitrogen oxides (NO2), formaldehyde, methane, and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions read by the lasers.

The measurements showed that diesel buses fitted with traps produced less fine particle emissions, but increased the fraction of nitrous oxides emitted as NO2, rather than the less toxic NO, from five to 40 percent. The Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) powered buses also emitted much less particulate matter than diesel buses, but emitted troubling quantities of methane and formaldehyde.

New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) diesel buses and diesel-electric hybrids released less SO2 than other New York City diesel buses and trucks, because the agency now supplies diesel fuel with a lower sulfur content for all of its diesel powered buses.

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Environmental Satellite Scientists Meet in Miami

MIAMI, Florida, December 10, 2002 (ENS) - The environmental satellite arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is holding a five day conference in Miami for all users of NOAA satellite data to exchange ideas about the impact of future NOAA satellite systems.

The conference, known as the Satellite Direct Readout Conference for the Americas, will focus on data users in North, Central, and South America and those operating their own satellite data receiving stations.

NOAA satellite data are available to all countries and users throughout the Western Hemisphere and are used to support a variety of meteorological, oceanographic, terrestrial, solar, climate and other specialized data collection activities and services.

"During the next several years the NOAA satellite system will undergo significant change and technological improvement," said Scott Gudes, deputy undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, who gave the conference's welcoming address on Monday.

"These changes will affect everyone using the NOAA satellites, particularly those who receive data directly," Gudes continued. "In the near future, users will have to modify or replace current receiving equipment and basic processing software as the next generations of NOAA satellites begin operation. We're hosting this forum to help our customers prepare and plan for change."

The conference will bring together users of the NOAA GOES geostationary and POES polar orbiting satellites, potential users of the forthcoming METOP polar orbiting satellite comprising part of the Initial Joint Polar-Orbiting Operational Satellite System, and the future NOAA NPOESS national polar-orbiting operational environmental satellite system.

The conference is of particular interest to national hydrometeorological agencies in the Americas and Caribbean, and any government or private organization using satellite direct readout data. Foreign government agencies throughout the Americas have been invited to participate.

Representatives from 34 countries, including most of the Latin American weather services, are expected to attend.

NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service is the nation's primary source of space-based meteorological and climate data. The agency operates the nation's environmental satellites, which are used for weather forecasting, climate monitoring and other environmental applications such as fire detection, ozone monitoring and sea surface temperature measurements.

NOAA Satellite and Information Services also operates three data centers, which house global data bases in climatology, oceanography, solid earth geophysics, marine geology and geophysics, solar-terrestrial physics, and paleoclimatology.

For more information on the conference, visit: http://noaasis.noaa.gov/miami02/

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Pennsylvania Takes Stock of Biodiversity

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, December 10, 2002 (ENS) - A new report that details biodiversity in Pennsylvania represents the first step toward protecting the state's animal and plant resources.

The Pennsylvania Biodiversity Partnership (PBP) introduced itself today with the release of the comprehensive report, "Biodiversity in Pennsylvania: Snapshot 2002."

"The Pennsylvania Biodiversity Partnership is an unprecedented collaboration of people who understand the need to conserve Pennsylvania's natural diversity in order to maintain the state's economic vitality and quality of life for all citizens," said state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary John Oliver.

"Biodiversity in Pennsylvania: Snapshot 2002" summarizes a year long effort to survey the status of Pennsylvania's biodiversity as it is now known. The report finds that Pennsylvania is home to more than 25,000 species of known organisms, and perhaps many thousands more yet to be identified.

The report notes that more than 150 species of plants and animals have been lost from Pennsylvania and 130 species are considered to be globally endangered, threatened or rare. Animals, plants and their unique habitats are being lost every year in Pennsylvania due to natural forces, human activities, neglect and a lack of coordinated protection efforts.

Scientists agree that Pennsylvania's biodiversity is in peril for a variety of reasons, the report notes, including habitat loss and fragmentation, and pollution. The report found that the state is making progress towards addressing some of these threats, such as point source water pollution, but others, such as urban sprawl and invasive species, present increasing problems.

The report "reveals that despite extensive knowledge about natural resource conservation in Pennsylvania and many activities focused on conserving wildlife and habitats, there is much we don't know about biodiversity in the state," the authors conclude. "Many gaps need to be filled."

In addition, "despite the importance of biodiversity and the continuing threats to biological communities, Pennsylvania lacks a statewide strategy for biodiversity conservation," the report notes. "Critical habitats, plants, and animals are being lost every year in the Commonwealth due to development, neglect, and lack of coordination among interested parties."

The next phase of the state's biodiversity protection effort will further pinpoint gaps in scientific knowledge, identify methods and initiate processes to fill those gaps, and provide a blueprint for how to achieve better protection. A completed Pennsylvania Biodiversity Conservation Plan is expected sometime in 2005.

The report is available on PBP's website at: http://www.pabiodiversity.org