AmeriScan: February 1, 2002


SACRAMENTO, California, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - A decade long study of California children has produced the strongest evidence to date that ozone, found in smog, can cause asthma in children.

The study, funded by the California Environmental Protection Agency's Air Resources Board (ARB) and conducted by the University of Southern California (USC), concludes that children who compete in sports in communities with more heavily polluted air are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than other children.

Children in communities with high average ozone levels who compete in three or more team sports have a three to four times higher risk of developing the respiratory illness than non-athletic kids, the researchers report in the February 2 issue of "The Lancet." The more sports children participate in, the greater the effect.

"This research suggests that contrary to conventional wisdom, ozone is involved in the causation of asthma," said Dr. Rob McConnell, associate professor of preventive medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

Previous studies have shown that ozone can aggravate existing cases of asthma. The new ARB-USC study, however, points to ozone as a cause of asthma in young people who did not have the disease before.

"We've known for some time that smog can trigger attacks in asthmatics," said ARB chair Dr. Alan Lloyd. "This study has shown that ozone can cause asthma as well."

Although asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood, and the disease has been becoming more common for several decades, this is the first study to examine athletic activity, air pollution and the development of new onset asthma.

"Identifying potential causes of asthma is very important because eliminating the causative factors can prevent this life threatening disease," said Dr. John Peters, Hastings Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School.

Athletes get a higher dose of pollutants to the lung, because they must breathe fast and deep. In addition, most sports are played outside, where ozone concentrations rise higher than they do indoors.

McConnell cautioned parents to be cognizant of air pollution levels when their children are exercising outdoors.

"The bottom line is this: exercise is really healthy for children, for many reasons, and children should be encouraged to play team sports," McConnell said. "But, on days when air pollution levels are expected to be high, children should limit prolonged outdoor exertion. Air quality forecasts can be found in newspapers, and on days when unhealthy air quality is predicted, state agencies send alerts to schools. If ozone is causing asthma then, ultimately, the solution is to reduce the levels of ozone."

The research is part of the USC led Children's Health Study, an extensive investigation into pollution and kids' respiratory health. More information on the Children's Health Study is available at:

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GREENBELT, Maryland, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - Many of the Americans who celebrated the new millennium with expensive caviar were gypped - and so was the protected American paddlefish, the Justice Department said Thursday.

Alfred Yazback, president and owner of Connoisseur Brands Ltd., will serve time in prison and pay fines for conspiring to smuggle protected sturgeon caviar and selling counterfeit caviar to retail food companies with false labels, the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division (ENRD) said.

Yazback was caught in "Operation Malossol," a covert operation in which a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) posed as a buyer with Sutton Place Gourmet in Rockville, Maryland. The undercover agent, in cooperation with Sutton Place, purchased caviar from Connoisseur Brands, which was then DNA tested by the USFWS National Forensics Laboratory in Oregon.

The DNA results showed that the vast majority of Russian Sevruga caviar - one of three types of commercially available caviar - purchased from Connoisseur was in fact fish eggs from the American paddlefish, a protected species native to the U.S. and found in the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers.

While paddlefish roe has less commercial value, it resembles Sevruga caviar enough to be passed off to the uninformed consumer. Yazback marketed the fake Sevruga to upmarket catalogues and stores gearing up for increased demand for millennial celebrations.

The paddlefish is listed as endangered by several of the states where it occurs. About a dozen states ban any sport or commercial fishing for the paddlefish.

Yazback will serve two years in prison, pay a $26,404 individual fine and pay $23,596 restitution for unpaid custom duties for caviar smuggled into the country using false invoices. New York based Connoisseur Brands will pay a criminal fine of $110,000, which includes a community service payment of $25,000 to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the preservation and restoration of sturgeon and American paddlefish in Maryland and across the U.S.

"Smuggling wildlife, especially protected species with questionable futures, is a serious crime," said Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the ENRD. "This case highlights that domestic sturgeon species and paddlefish are protected by the same laws that protect sturgeon in the Caspian Sea. The Justice Department is dedicated to enforcing the laws designed to protect and preserve protected species to ensure their survival."

Yazback admitted to selling counterfeit caviar labeled as "Product of Russia." His customers included Balducci's, Dean & Deluca, Harry & David and Trader Joe's.

Connoisseur Brands bought caviar out of suitcases smuggled into the U.S. without refrigeration, then doctored the caviar to cover up spoilage. The caviar was sold to food retailers after being drained, washed with salt water, soaked in walnut or hazelnut oil to disguise bad smells or taste, and partially pasteurizied.

The defendants bought thousands of pounds of paddlefish roe from poachers. An undercover Alabama State conservation officer working with the USFWS recorded a conversation in 1999 in which Yazback said he wanted to purchase American caviar - paddlefish roe - for years to come because, "I think that's the score to be made over the next five or six years."

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HAMPTON, Virginia, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - Global warming reduced cloud cover over the tropics in the 1990s, researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said Thursday.

More sunlight entered the tropics and more heat escaped to space in the 1990s than in the 1980s, because less cloud cover blocked incoming radiation and trapped outgoing heat, the researchers said after examining 22 years of satellite measurements.

"Since clouds were thought to be the weakest link in predicting future climate change from greenhouse gases, these new results are unsettling," said Dr. Bruce Wielicki of NASA's Langley Research Center. Wielicki is the lead author of the first of two papers about this research appearing in today's issue of the journal "Science."

"It suggests that current climate models may, in fact, be more uncertain than we had thought," Wielicki added. "Climate change might be either larger or smaller than the current range of predictions."

The observations capture changes in the radiation budget - the balance between Earth's incoming and outgoing energy - that controls the planet's temperature and climate.

A research group at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) developed a new method of comparing the satellite observed changes to other meteorological data.

"What it shows is remarkable," said Wielicki. "The rising and descending motions of air that cover the entire tropics, known as the Hadley and Walker circulation cells, appear to increase in strength from the 1980s to the 1990s. This suggests that the tropical heat engine increased its speed."

The faster circulation dried out the water vapor that is needed for cloud formation in the upper regions of the lower atmosphere over the most northern and southern tropical areas. Less cloudiness formed allowing more sunlight to enter and more heat to leave the tropics.

Several of the world's top climate modeling research groups tried to reproduce the tropical cloud changes in their computer models. The climate models failed the test, predicting smaller than observed variability by factors of two to four.

"It's as if the heat engine in the tropics has become less efficient using more fuel in the 1990s than in the 1980s," said Wielicki. "We tracked the changes to a decrease in tropical cloudiness that allowed more sunlight to reach the Earth's surface. But what we want to know is why the clouds would change."

The results also indicate the tropics are much more variable and dynamic than previously thought.

"The question is, if this fluctuation is due to global climate change or to natural variability," said Anthony Del Genio, a scientist at GISS and coauthor of the companion paper. "We think this is a natural fluctuation, but there is no way to tell yet."

While the current 22 year radiation budget record - the longest and most accurate ever compiled - is still too short to pinpoint a cause, the recorded change acts as a standard by which to measure future improvements in cloud modeling.

"A value of this research is it provides a documented change in climate and a target for climate models to simulate," said Del Genio.

More information is available at:

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must respond to a three year old petition seeking controls on pollution discharges from ships, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled Wednesday.

The ships at issue discharge ballast water containing non-native species, which damage U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes. The petition, filed by a coalition of environmental, fishing, drinking water supplier and other groups, asked the EPA to withdraw its regulation exempting these ships from Clean Water Act pollution controls.

The U.S. District Court has now ordered the EPA to respond to the petition within 30 days.

"For three years EPA has effectively ignored our petition and allowed unregulated discharges of ballast water," said Linda Sheehan, director of the Pacific regional office for The Ocean Conservancy. "Now the agency will have to deal with this important issue. Invasive species in ships' ballast water threatens native plants and animals that are on the verge of extinction, hurts commercial fishing and shellfishing, and threatens significant damage to California's water supply facilities."

Three of the petitioners - The Ocean Conservancy, Northwest Environmental Advocates and WaterKeepers Northern California - filed suit in April 2001 to compel EPA to respond to the January 1999 petition. In a summary judgment ruling, the court found that the EPA had violated the Administrative Procedures Act by its failure to respond and ordered the agency to either grant or deny the petition within 30 days.

Live species from other countries are carried to U.S. waters in ballast water, which ships use for stabilization. The ballast water is discharged into bays, estuaries and the Great Lakes when cargo for export is loaded.

More than 21 billion gallons of ballast water from international ports is discharged into U.S. waters each year. Ballast water is the number one source of new aquatic species in U.S. coastal waters. Estimates of the cost of invasive species to the U.S. economy run in the billions of dollars each year.

"The San Francisco Bay ecosystem has been devastated by invasive species," said Jonathan Kaplan, San Francisco BayKeeper for WaterKeepers Northern California. Kaplan noted that more than 99 percent of the weight of living organisms in the Bay are now non-native, and that a new non-native organism establishes itself in the Bay every 14 weeks, a rate that is increasing.

"Up to one billion gallons of foreign ballast water is discharged into San Francisco Bay each year, and EPA's regulation exempts all of it from Clean Water Act controls set up to protect us from such threats," Kaplan said. "We hope through our petition to change that."

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corporation (Transco) has agreed to test and clean up soil and groundwater contamination related to waste disposal at compressor stations along its natural gas pipeline, which crosses 12 states from Texas to New York.

The company will also clean up polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination, complete a storm water monitoring program, conduct stormwater sampling at several compressor stations and pay a $1.4 million civil penalty. The Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the settlement today.

The settlement resolves claims for Transco's violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Clean Water Act (CWA) and Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) related to the company's ownership and operation of the pipeline.

"This settlement will result in consistent, high quality cleanups along the length of the pipeline," said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division. "Transco's willingness to work with EPA and its agreement to perform the necessary cleanup proved beneficial to all parties and the environment."

Along its 10,500 mile natural gas transmission pipeline system, Transco has 53 compressor stations, which it uses to drive natural gas through the pipeline. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Texas based Williams Companies, Inc., which is the largest volume transporter of natural gas in the United States.

Transco also uses numerous metering stations along the pipeline to measure the flow of gas at various interchanges and sales points.

In transmitting natural gas through the pipeline, Transco generates wastes known as natural gas pipeline condensate. Natural gas condensate contains a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, including benzene, which is a known carcinogen.

From the 1950s to the mid-1980s, Transco disposed of pipeline condensate and other materials in unlined earthen pits and debris areas at its compressor stations. Often the wastes in the pits were burned.

PCB contamination was found at a number of Transco's compressor stations, from historic use of PCB containing lubricants. PCBs are classified as probable human carcinogens.

Mercury contamination at Transco's metering stations arose from past use of mercury in the meters. The company's mercury disposal practices contaminated soils near the surface at the metering stations.

While these practices had ceased by 1989, contaminated soils remained at the metering stations.

The EPA learned that Transco had already performed some cleanup at many sites, while in other locations additional work remained to be completed. Under the settlement, Transco will complete remaining cleanup work related to hazardous wastes released at 26 of its compressor stations.

"This settlement resolves Transco's past illegal disposal practices and commits the company to a comprehensive testing and cleanup program that will protect public health and the environment," said Sylvia Lowrance, EPA's acting administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.

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FERNLAND, Ohio, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) has developed an accelerated cleanup plan for the nation's Cold War era nuclear weapons sites.

The Environmental Management plan creates a new $800 million "Expedited Cleanup Account" to be used by participating sites. The plan is part of the agency's $6.7 billion request for basic cleanup that will be released with the Bush administration's fiscal year 2003 budget request on Monday.

"When I took office, I was presented with the old plan for cleaning up the Department's Cold War nuclear sites, which called for a timetable of some 70 years to complete and at a cost of $300 billion," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "That is not good enough for me, and I doubt it is good enough for anyone who lives near these sites."

"Last year I called for a top to bottom review of the program, which has been recently completed," Abraham added. "The result is this new plan that is targeted to swiftly clean up serious problems at sites and also reduce the risks to human health, safety and the environment."

The new proposal emphasizes three goals:

"This initial $800 million Expedited Cleanup Account represents our current estimate of the number of sites likely to need new cleanup agreements this year," Abraham said. "However, we are ready to expand this account with more money as additional sites move to expedited schedules."

To have access to the Expedited Cleanup Account, a Cold War site will have to reach an agreement with the DOE on an expedited schedule that shows measurable gains in addressing cleanup and important risks. A site that agrees to participate in the new expedited cleanup plan will receive more resources in the near term than in previous years.

"By cleaning up serious problems more quickly under the new plan, our communities will be cleaner and safer," Abraham said. "The Environmental Management Program will be stronger and more effective in its mission of reducing health risks and expediting the environmental restoration of the nation's nuclear sites."

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FULTON, Missouri, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - A malfunctioning pump at the Callaway nuclear power plant suggests a potential problem with all of the plant's auxiliary feedwater pumps.

Callaway, operated by Ameren UE, is being shut down as a precaution so that Ameren UE workers may check the feedwater system and repair it as necessary. One of the plant's auxiliary feedwater pumps malfunctioned on December 3, and plant workers have learned that others may be at risk.

Auxiliary feedwater pumps, which are required by NRC regulations to be available for operation while the plant is operating, are important components of the plant's safety system because they are relied upon to supply cooling water to the steam generators if the main feedwater pumps are not operating. Steam generators remove heat from the reactor and send steam to the electrical generator.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) decided to send an augmented inspection team of four inspectors when Ameren UE workers discovered that pieces of debris from a degraded seal in the condensate storage tank had the potential to affect all three auxiliary feedwater pumps. The condensate storage tank is the common water supply for all three auxiliary feedwater pumps.

A smaller inspection team arrived at Callaway on January 28 to review the initial, single feedwater pump malfunction. This team is being expanded as a result of the evidence from the condensate storage tank.

The inspection team will develop a complete description of the sequence of events related to the pump malfunction, review Ameren UE's determination of the cause of the problem and determine to what extent the degraded tank seal could have affected other plant equipment.

The results of the inspection will be discussed at a public meeting to be scheduled on completion of the fact finding inspection. A written report of the team's findings will be issued within 30 days of that meeting.

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DETROIT, Michigan, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - Detroit will host a meeting of energy leaders from eight nations this May.

"I am delighted to join [Michigan Governor John] Engler today to announce that on May 2 and 3, here in the City of Detroit, the United States will host an official meeting of the energy ministers of the G-8 nations," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

The May meeting will bring together the energy ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the European Union to explore issues of cooperation and understanding relating to energy, issues that each year are more and more global in scope, Abraham said.

"When I first met with President elect [George W.] Bush to discuss the possibility of becoming the Secretary of Energy, one of the things he strongly emphasized was the importance of a diversity in the supply of fuels as a foundation for energy security," Abraham said. "He and I both agreed on the need to develop energy strategies to increase energy production around the world and to work closely with other nations to build international energy security."

During the 2000 campaign, then Governor Bush raised the idea that the Secretary of Energy should hold regular consultations with the energy leaders of other nations. He incorporated this thinking into the national energy policy released last May, which called for holding meetings with the energy ministers of the G-8 nations.

"I found in my discussions with energy ministers from various developed countries a lot of enthusiasm for the idea," Abraham noted. "And so to move it along, I offered to host the first of what I hope will be annual forums. I am pleased to say this proposal was also enthusiastically received."

Hosting the G-8 energy meeting in Detroit will take advantage of the region's "diverse energy mix," Abraham said, which includes nuclear power, coal, oil, natural gas, hydropower and other renewable sources.

"Detroit has an interesting DOE component as well, as the site for a superconductivity pilot program that searches for new ways to carry huge amounts of current safely, efficiently and reliably," Abraham added.

The G-8 energy meeting will seek answers of how all of these developing technologies can be applied to meet the nation's energy challenges.

The Bush Administration has asked the Canadian government to serve as co-host for the energy ministerial meeting. Last summer, Canadian Prime Minister Chretien announced plans for holding the overall G-8 2002 Summit for heads of state in Alberta.