AmeriScan: February 11, 2002


WASHINGTON, DC, February 12, 2002 (ENS) - Senator Chuck Grassley has called for an official investigation of complaints by dozens of Senate employees who say that measures taken to kill anthrax in mail are making them ill.

Since anthrax tainted letters killed several people and sickened dozens more last year, the U.S. Postal Service has been irradiating mail to kill any anthrax spores. The irradiation process create toxic gases that can be harmful to those who breathe them.

Grassley, an Iowa Republican, asked the legislative branch's Office of Compliance to investigate the reports to learn whether mail irradiation, or decontamination methods used in the Hart Senate Office Building, could be responsible for the illnesses.

After a letter contaminated with anthrax bacteria addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was discovered October 15, 2001, the Hart Senate Office building was closed for anthrax detection and decontamination. Chlorine dioxide was used as the cleanup agent for the Hart Building, which reopened January 22, 2002.

From January 22 to February 4, about 73 staff members working in all three Senate office buildings complained to the Attending Physician's Office of headaches, skin rashes, dry mouth and eye irritation after handling irradiated mail. Examining health officials attributed some of the complaints to colds and flu and dry weather.

Soon after the Hart building re-opened, between 50 and 60 staff members complained of ill health effects such as dry eyes, dry throats and headaches. Building managers have been recirculating air in the building, and the complaints have decreased.

"One of the responsibilities of the Office of Compliance is to make sure legislative branch employees have a safe work environment," Grassley said. "The health concerns about the Hart building and irradiated mail are an appropriate target for investigation by that office. An independent review can help shed light on what kind of health risks might exist and if they exist, how to solve them. The results should ease a lot of worries."

Postal workers are also complaining of illnesses caused by mail irradiation. In Gaithersburg, Maryland, at least 87 postal workers have reported health problems ranging from nausea and headaches to breathing problems. The Gaithersburg post office handles mail headed for federal government offices.

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 11, 2002 (ENS) - The National Park Service's (NPS) decision to authorize motorized vehicle tours in the Cumberland Island Wilderness in Georgia prompted a lawsuit filed today by three conservation groups.

The suit, filed by Wilderness Watch, Defenders of Wild Cumberland (DWC) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), seeks to stop motorized tours in the wilderness to protect the area's primitive character and comply with federal law.

Conservationists oppose the tours, noting that the Wilderness Act prohibits the use of motorized vehicles in wilderness except in rare cases such as emergencies. The suit also alleges that the commercial nature of some tours violates the Wilderness Act's limitation on commercial use.

While some of the tours are operated by the NPS itself, the majority are conducted by Greyfield Inn, a private corporation. The groups charge that in both cases, the NPS failed to consider the environmental impacts of the tours or to elicit public review and comment before authorizing the tours.

"This is the only place in the country where the National Park Service drives tourists around in the wilderness," says George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch. "It sets a terrible precedent for wilderness everywhere and flies in the face of the Wilderness Act."

Cumberland Island, which lies off Georgia's southeast coast just north of the Florida border, is the largest undeveloped barrier island on the eastern seaboard. The island provides shelter for over 300 species of birds and nesting sites for sea turtles, including the threatened loggerhead sea turtle.

The entire island was designated as the Cumberland Island National Seashore in 1972. In 1982, Congress designated 8,800 acres of the heart of the Island's north end as the Cumberland Island Wilderness. Cumberland Island was named an International Biosphere Reserve in 1984.

Hal Wright, director of DWC noted, "It is not our goal to end all tours on the island. We're only concerned with those motorized tours which take place in wilderness, where motor vehicles are prohibited by law."

Most popular visitor sites lie outside the wilderness boundary on the south end of the island, and tours to those areas would not be affected by the lawsuit.

"The lawsuit is needed because the entrenched politics surrounding Cumberland Island have prevented Park Service managers from fulfilling their legal obligations," said PEER general counsel Dan Meyer. "Congress made it clear that the Cumberland Island Wilderness must be managed by the same rules as all other wildernesses in the United States. Restrictions, like those excluding motor vehicles, were put in place to achieve this goal."

"If we allow motor vehicle tours here, then we could have them anywhere in America's wilderness," added Nickas.

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 11, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Energy has released the first in a series of guides to increasing energy efficiency in schools.

"Energy Design Guidelines for High Performance Schools: Hot and Dry Climates," is the first volume in a series intended to help the nation's K-12 schools save millions of dollars on their annual energy costs, which now top $6 billion a year.

"New construction practices and technologies, and energy efficient renovations can bring that $6 billion expense down by 25 percent," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "Schools could make good use of the savings for books, more teachers, computers and other worthy programs."

Six more sets of guidelines geared to specific U.S. climate zones will be released by summer 2002. The information is could be useful to architects, builders and school officials nationwide.

This volume includes case studies illustrating energy efficient practices already in place at various schools across the nation. One example is the Roy Lee Walker Elementary School in McKinney, Texas, which uses daylighting, passive solar heating, and a rainwater catchment system - an anti-erosion measure - that incorporates a garden with native plants as a teaching tool.

David Garman, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), released the guidelines Friday at a meeting of the Council of Educational Facility Planners in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"Many of the guidelines also address highly pertinent health and safety issues in today's schools," Assistant Secretary Garman said. "Our goal is to help schools reduce operating costs and improve the learning environment while making the schools themselves a hands on lesson about energy efficiency."

Over the next three years, school districts will spend more than $79 billion to build new K-12 schools or to renovate existing schools. To help make these schools energy efficient and to enhance the learning environment, DOE's EnergySmart Schools team is producing energy education materials and other resources for teachers, administrators, parents and students.

More information is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 11, 2002 (ENS) - The federal ban on shark finning has been extended to the Pacific Ocean by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Finning - the practice of cutting off the fins and throwing the remainder of the shark overboard - is prohibited under state regulations on the West Coast, in a number of Atlantic states and Hawaii and has been prohibited in federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea since 1993.

In 2000, Congress enacted the Shark Finning Prohibition Act out of concern about the status of shark populations and the effects of heavy shark fishing. The slow growth, late sexual maturity and low birth rate of sharks make them vulnerable to overfishing.

The new regulations, effective March 13, 2002, make it illegal for any federally regulated fishing vessel to carry or land shark fins without the entire shark carcass.

The ban on shark finning in the Pacific Ocean will prohibit foreign vessels from landing fins in U.S. ports without the entire shark carcasses.

"Today's action is another indicator of this Administration's commitment to the conservation of marine resources," said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. "Wasteful fishing practices can lead to devastation of vital living marine resources and economic hardship for the fishermen and communities that rely on the long term, sustained use of these resources."

The U.S. ban is consistent with international agreements to better manage shark populations, including the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Plan of Action for Sharks, and the United Nation's Agreement on Straddling Stocks and Highly Migratory Species, Lautenbacher noted.

The Shark Finning Prohibition Act aims to eliminate the wasteful practice of killing sharks only for their fins. Shark fins comprise only between one percent and five percent of the weight of a shark, and finning results in a 95 to 99 percent waste by weight.

In 1991, the percentage of sharks killed by U.S. longline fisheries in the Pacific Ocean for finning was about three percent. By 1998, that percentage had grown to 60 percent.

Between 1991 and 1998, the number of sharks retained by the Hawaii based swordfish and tuna longline fishery had increased from 2,289 to 60,857 a year, and by 1998, an estimated 98 percent of these sharks were killed for their fins.

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, February 11, 2002 (ENS) - Waste Management Inc. has agreed to pay a $3.7 million civil penalty to settle charges that the Alliance Landfill accepted 36,000 tons more municipal solid waste than permitted during 1995 and 1996.

"The former owners of the landfill violated their capacity permit conditions and defrauded the Commonwealth and local governments of the required fees," said state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secretary David Hess. "The department negotiated this settlement with the current landfill owners, and the penalty monies will go to Pennsylvania's Solid Waste Abatement Fund and the Clean Water Fund."

The U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania began looking into activities at the landfill as part of an investigation of illegal campaign contributions involving officials of the former Empire landfill. DEP found that Empire had disposed of 36,296 tons of solid waste at the landfill in excess of what was reported to the department, the host municipalities and other governmental entities that were entitled to fees based on the amount of waste received at the landfill.

DEP found that of those 36,296 tons, more than 30,000 tons was accepted for disposal in excess of Empire's permitted maximum daily volume. The U.S. Attorney's case resulted in the indictment of four former landfill officials for concealing the excess dumping and underpaying the required fees.

The four officials entered guilty pleas with the federal government in 2000, and all but one are awaiting sentencing. Waste Management, the current owner of the landfill, cooperated with both the federal and state investigations.

In August 2001, DEP submitted a Victim's Impact Statement in the federal case for consideration in the sentencing of the defendants and to collect the avoided fees due the state and local governments as part of any restitution by the defendants. Taylor Borough and Lackawanna County could collect about $200,000 in fees lost as a result of these violations.

"This case represents a far reaching investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office and DEP," Hess said. "It sends a message that nothing short of total compliance with state and federal solid waste regulations will be tolerated. We appreciate the cooperation of Alliance Landfill in settling this case."

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SACRAMENTO, California, February 11, 2002 (ENS) Eldorado National Forest officials have failed to obey laws for managing off road vehicles (ORVs) on the 786,000 acre forest in California's Sierra Nevada range, charges a lawsuit filed Friday by three conservation groups.

ORV use off designated roads and trails is uncontrolled and causing widespread damage to soils, wildlife and vegetation, the suit charges.

Eldorado County based Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation (CSNC) and co-plaintiffs Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and California Wilderness Coalition (CWC) say that the Eldorado's Off Road Vehicle Plan failed to analyze the effects of ORV use on the forest. The lawsuit charges the Forest with violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.

The suit also challenges the Rock Creek ORV area decision, adopted in 1999, saying it failed to address impacts to soils and wildlife, including the declining Pacific deer herd and California spotted owls.

Karen Schambach, president of the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, says lack of analysis renders the Forest Service unable to restrict ORV use on the Forest.

"In lieu of enforceable Forest Orders, the Eldorado relies on signs that are routinely vandalized," Schambach explained. "Their law enforcement officers can't cite riders going off designated routes; the riders know this, and the irresponsible ones are taking full advantage of the situation. You can go almost anywhere on that forest and see significant damage."

The Eldorado's Land Management Plan, adopted in 1989, restricts ORV use to a designated route system, but failed to analyze the impacts of the route designations to soils, fish and wildlife and other recreationists. Appeals of that decision to the Forest Service's national office resulted in an order to the Eldorado to complete analysis of their trail plan by May 1997.

The Eldorado has not initiated those studies, nor even indicated that it intends to do so, the lawsuit states.

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BOISE, Idaho, February 11, 2002 (ENS) - An endangered gray wolf has crossed into Washington state from Idaho, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) says.

USFWS wolf biologist Tom Meier says a black wolf tagged Y206 was located during a routine monitoring flight on February 6, 10 miles west of Priest Lake inside the Washington state border. The wolf is the first to appear in the state in 70 years.

"We followed her signal out to the Priest Lake area in Idaho and then just kept following it west into Washington," Meier said.

The conservation group Defenders of Wildlife has pledged to use The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Wolf Compensation Trust to repay ranchers for wolf depredations of livestock if they occur in Washington.

"This is great news for wolves and wildlife supporters, and a positive development for the entire Northwest," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "Wolves deserve the chance to reestablish themselves in areas of prime historic habitat, and Defenders stands ready to help smooth the way for this important species with its compensation and proactive programs."

Y206 is the alpha female of the Gravelly pack and biologists believe she may be seeking a mate in the new area where they suspect, but have not documented, the presence of other recolonizing wolves. Her radio collar is new and expected to last four years, giving biologists a long time to monitor her activity.

She was scavenging the carcass of a dead moose when she was seen from the air.

"Hopefully, she will find a suitable partner and reestablish the first pack of wolves in Washington state since they were eradicated over 70 years ago," Suzanne Laverty, northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "We've been hoping for this day to come soon. There is plentiful habitat in this part of Washington state and very few livestock to cause any real conflicts. It's perfect for wolves."

On December 19, this alpha female, her six pups and one yearling son were relocated to the Yaak River drainage in Northwestern Montana after being in captivity since June 2001. The pack was held to allow the pups to reach an age where they could survive on their own after the death of the pack's alpha male.

Now at 80 percent of their adult size, the 10 month old pups appear to be faring well in their new territory, though biologists are still monitoring them. One pup has traveled to British Columbia, about 15 miles beyond the U.S.-Canadian border.

The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Wolf Compensation Trust has helped promote acceptance of reintroduced wolves or those returning to their historic range. Through this fund, Defenders of Wildlife has paid over $208,000 since 1987 to ranchers to reimburse them for wolf caused livestock losses, in order to help create an atmosphere of greater tolerance with local residents where wolves have been re-established.

For more information on the program and a map of payments, visit: