AmeriScan: February 13, 2002


WASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has signed a memorandum of understanding with Habitat for Humanity International that will begin a partnership to build energy efficient housing on former brownfields properties.

"EPA is proud to be joining Habitat as partners in the effort to make the dream of home ownership come true for families across the country," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "This is an excellent opportunity to work with Habitat for Humanity to encourage affordable and energy efficient housing on cleaned up brownfields properties. The agreement being signed today will help us do just that."

"We have already started this work together on sites in Missouri and Minnesota and now we will extend our efforts to five additional urban locations where abandoned brownfields can be turned into affordable homes," added Whitman. "We also hope that through this agreement we can encourage the use of energy efficient products to not only save money but the environment as well."

Brownfields are abandoned, contaminated properties that can be cleaned up and reused, reducing the need for sprawl into remaining open space. In a recent study done by George Washington University, it was found that for every one acre of brownfields reused, 4.5 acres of greenspace is saved.

Since 1993, the EPA has awarded more than $157 million in brownfield cleanup grants to cities, counties, tribes, states, nonprofits and educational institutions nationwide. An independent study conducted by the Council for Urban Economic Development found that the revitalization of brownfields has created more than 22,000 permanent jobs, and leveraged $2.48 in private investment for every $1 spent by federal, state, or local governments.

The EPA has worked with Habitat for Humanity International's affiliates in the cities of Wellston, Missouri, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, to construct homes on former brownfields properties. With today's agreement, EPA pledges to expand its work with Habitat to five additional cities, which EPA and Habitat are now working to identify.

The EPA will use brownfields dollars to perform environmental assessments at community identified brownfields properties so that Habitat can locate safe, affordable building lots. The EPA may also offer cleanup grants to nonprofits such as Habitat to provide cleanup funds if the properties are found to be contaminated.

In his fiscal year 2003 budget, President George W. Bush announced that he would more than double current brownfields funding to $200 million.

More information about EPA's brownfields program is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2002 (ENS) - Senator Harry Reid is calling on pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily comply with a government proposed ban on antibiotics similar to those used in fighting off human diseases that could be used in terrorist attacks.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has written a letter to the Bayer Corporation asking them to "do right by public health" and stop administering the drug Baytril at chicken farms, or face action in the Senate. In October 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moved to ban two antibiotics for use on animals, saying that the drugs make humans susceptible to food borne pathogens that have developed a resistance to the products.

The antibiotics a class known as fluoroquinolones, considered to be one of the most valuable antimicrobial drug classes available to treat human infections, including anthrax. There are two fluoroquinolone based antibiotics approved for use on poultry.

The first product, known as SaraFlox, is manufactured by Abbott Laboratories. Abbott withdrew SaraFlox from the market in 2000 in response to the FDA's request. The other product, Baytril, is made by the Bayer Corporation, which has refused to withdraw the drug.

"The FDA has realized that allowing Baytril to be given to chickens was a big mistake," Reid said. "This is overkill. Using one of America's best medical treatments for bio-terrorist attack, on chickens, is unacceptable."

"The rate at which resistance to antibiotics has increased in America is alarming," Reid added. "As long as evidence shows that using this drug could compromise public health, I'll fight it. I hope the men and women at Bayer will listen to common sense and change what they are doing."

Baytril is almost identical to Ciprofloxacin, a drug used to treat anthrax and other serious diseases in humans. By giving Baytril to chickens raised for human consumption, farmers may be making people immune to the Cipro and similar drugs.

"The continued sale and use of Baytril increases the likelihood that bacteria will develop resistance to this important class of antibiotics," noted Karen Florini of the conservation group Environmental Defense.

Reid promised to introduce legislation to ban the use of Baytril in poultry if Bayer refuses to cease the use of the drug.

"We applaud Senator Reid for his leadership on this vitally important public health issue," said Tamar Barlam, an infectious disease specialist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a coalition member of Keep Antibiotics Working: The Campaign to End Antibiotic Overuse. "Bayer should put people before profits and follow the American Medical Association's advise to immediately withdraw Baytril from the poultry market."

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SANTA BARBARA, California, February 13, 2002 (ENS) - The composition of forests and other plant communities will change as a result of global warming, argues new research published in the journal "Ecology."

Based on a study of the fossil record, University of California, Santa Barbara post doctoral fellow John Williams and his coauthors said climate change will alter which plants can survive in which areas.

Over the past 25,000 years, climate change was responsible for different and changing assemblages of types of trees, said lead author Williams, based at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at UC Santa Barbara.

"A lot of trees are dying right now - oaks in California, chestnut, elm and spruce in the East - and while the direct causes are pests and fungal attacks, the indirect cause could be climate change, making the trees more stressed out," said Williams. "It becomes harder for them to defend against other causes of mortality."

In developing his report, Williams and coauthors analyzed data from computerized data sets accessible through the Internet. Using the North American Pollen Database, a collection of fossil pollen records collected from lake sediments over the past 30 years, and climate model simulations, the authors were able to track vegetation change and climate change in Eastern North America during the past 25,000 years.

Using fossilized lake sediments, scientists have been able to match up the assemblages of trees that were present during a variety of climatic periods. The results showed short lag times and large changes in vegetation in response to rapid climate change.

Plant communities that are unlike any today grew under climates also unlike any today, suggesting that future climate change may also produce novel plant communities.

The authors note that vegetation composition has changed rapidly in the past 100 to 200 years - the life span of a single tree - and may change just as fast in the future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a rise in temperature of 2.7 to 9.9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century which would cause major changes in trees and other vegetation.

"The implications of change are large. They include things like water availability, habitat for endangered species and use of recreational areas," said Williams. "There is the potential for very rapid changes in forest composition."

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2002 (ENS) - Washington DC has unveiled a fleet of 164 new natural gas fueled buses and a fueling station to serve them.

"This is the year of the bus," said Richard White, general manager of the capitol's mass transit provider, Metro, at a gathering to celebrate the new buses. "It's time to push this bus system into the 21st century."

Several members of Congress attended the official launch at a Metro bus garage, along with other federal and local officials, and members of several environmental groups.

The buses, which run on compressed natural gas (CNG), emit about 90 percent fewer air pollutants than traditional diesel fueled buses. Metro spent $53.3 million for the new CNG buses and an additional $15.4 million for a fueling station and repair facility at its Bladensburg bus yard.

"We applaud Metro for doing the right thing to protect our health," said Elliott Negin, a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which campaigned for two years to promote the use of cleaner fueled buses in the nation's capitol.

"We live in one of worst areas in the country for ozone pollution, and replacing dirty diesel buses with CNG buses will help remove nitrogen oxides - a major cause of smog - from our air," added Negin.

A recent study found that smog may cause asthma, Negin noted, and the District asthma rate is more than twice the national average. Metro has made a commitment to someday retire its diesel fleet and replace it with cleaner technology. But the biggest obstacle is funding.

"We have a tremendous opportunity to clean up our air," said Mark Wenzler of the Sierra Club's DC chapter. "We call on our elected officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia to do their part to secure the necessary funding to make it possible."

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, was instrumental in securing the funds for the new buses, and is seeking additional federal money to expand the District's CNG fleet.

"There's no question that these buses are going to help the almost 32,000 residents of DC who have asthma," said Norton.

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 13, 2002 (ENS) - The new Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC) aims to promote reductions in mercury use in eight Northeastern states, environmental officials announced Tuesday.

The umbrella organization will assist the states in implementing mercury reduction laws and programs aimed at getting mercury out of consumer products, the waste stream and the environment.

Launched under the auspices of the Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA), the new clearinghouse will coordinate regional mercury reduction efforts and assist state environmental agencies in developing and implementing specific legislation and programs for notification, labeling, collection and eventual phase out of products that contain mercury.

"For several years all of the Environmental Agencies in the Northeast have been working aggressively to eliminate mercury from waste and products as part of a larger effort to reduce mercury in the environment," said commissioner Chris Recchia of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. "By forming IMERC, we are aiming to build on already successful efforts to reduce emissions from waste combustion facilities, collect and recycle mercury added products, help hospitals and schools eliminate and safely manage stockpiled fever thermometers and elemental mercury, and educate the public."

Mercury poses serious environmental problems in the Northeast, and exposure to mercury by breathing its fumes and eating mercury contaminated fish can damage the nervous system, kidneys and immune system. All of the Northeast states have fish advisories in place warning people, particularly pregnant women, to avoid or limit their consumption of certain types of fish due to contamination by mercury.

"State agencies sometimes hear complaints from the public and industry about the lack of coordination among states that adopt similar regulations and programs," said Dana Bisbee, assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. "The states in the Northeast have made a major commitment to avoid this kind of problem by creating IMERC to facilitate interstate cooperation on mercury reduction programs. I believe that this will make it easier for industry to comply with the states' requirements and for the public to gain access to important information."

More information is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is offering almost $10 million to more than a thousand communities across the country to help protect children from the dangers of lead.

The assistance is part of HUD's strategy to help communities comply with the nation's new Lead Safety Regulation covering federally subsidized housing. HUD will provide states and local governments up to $150 for each housing unit cleared of lead hazards.

"This funding is an investment in our children and the future generation of America," said HUD Secretary Mel Martinez. "We are committed to joining local communities across the country in a national campaign to eliminate childhood lead poisoning."

HUD's transition assistance provides the first comprehensive lead based paint risk assessment of federally supported housing developments that were built before 1978, the year lead based paint was banned for residential use. The funds will help defray the cost of clearance testing - the process used to ensure that cleanup work was done properly and to declare housing lead safe.

"This $10 million is part of $104 million dedicated to help communities conduct lead testing in federally assisted, low income housing," said HUD assistant secretary Roy Bernardi. "The money will also help train additional inspectors and other workers, including maintenance and renovation specialists."

HUD's lead safety regulations address the latest scientific evidence that shows most children who suffer from lead poisoning are exposed to invisible lead dust that is released when paint is peeling, damaged or disturbed. Lead dust settles on floors and other surfaces where it can come into contact with children.

Lead poses a serious health risk, particularly to children, and can cause permanent damage to the brain and other organs. In the U.S., almost a million children under the age of six suffer from lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning has been linked to juvenile delinquency and behavioral problems. Research shows that children with elevated blood lead levels are seven times more likely to drop out of school and twice as likely to lose a few years in language acquisition.

HUD is also providing training in communities where there is a need for more inspectors and workers who are skilled in the proper handling of lead.

More information is available at:

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, February 13, 2002 (ENS) - Cambodia's Prime Minister has awarded Dr. Suwanna Gauntlett, a U.S. conservationist working in Cambodia, the Gold Medal for National Reconstruction and Rehabilitation for her work in stopping wildlife crime.

The Gold Medal is the highest award that can be conferred upon an individual in Cambodia.

In partnership with the Cambodian Department of Forestry, Dr. Gauntlett created a groundbreaking special Mobile Unit designed to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade throughout the country. After just six months of operation, the program detained or warned 92 wildlife traders, rescued more than 5,000 live animals and released 95 percent of these animals back into their natural habitats.

Released wildlife ranged from eagles and a variety of other endangered birds to pangolins, civets, snakes, turtles, monitor lizards and other species protected under the laws of Cambodia. Dr. Gauntlett's Mobile Unit is considered a model for combating the black market trade throughout South East Asia.

The gold medal recognizes the contribution made by Suwanna Gauntlett and WildAid in 2001 for the preservation of Cambodia's wildlife by combating wildlife crime through wildlife law enforcement, educating the public.

In 2001, thanks to WildAid's partnership with the Department of Forestry, educational banners were erected in the streets of Phnom Penh, billboards were built along the roads to the provinces, government declarations were posted in all the restaurants, new regulations were issued by the Mayor of the city, and WildAid's television series appealed to villagers to participate in wildlife protection.

WildAid also assisted the government last year in setting up a core team of rangers to conduct anti-poaching patrolling in Bokor National Park. The organization conducts close monitoring of results and produces monthly reports.

Over the last 12 months, the rangers have detained or warned more than 200 poachers and loggers, and confiscated 74 chainsaws and 8.234 snare traps. The rangers cannot arrest poachers outside of the park boundaries, so they cooperate with the Mobile Unit to stop hunters operating in villages around the park.

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 13, 2002 (ENS) - Science developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is helping to clean up contaminated groundwater in the Cape Cod aquifer.

Since 1911, activities by numerous occupants at what is now known as the Massachusetts Military Reservation (MMR) have contaminated billions of gallons of ground water in the Cape Cod aquifer with fuels, solvents, treated sewage, landfill leachate and explosive compounds from ordinance. Groundwater is the only source of drinking water for the residents of Cape Cod.

USGS research hydrologist Denis LeBlanc will describe the scientific, engineering and political challenges of this massive and expensive cleanup this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

"The long history, variety of compounds, permeable soils, and sheer size of the problem have made this an ideal field laboratory for learning about the transport of contaminants and how to clean them up," said LeBlanc. "What we learned at the MMR has been successfully applied at cleanup sites around the world, in some cases by scientists not involved in the work at the MMR."

Defense Department contractors and the USGS have done intensive drilling and sampling of the site since 1978, discovering more than 15 contaminant plumes, some moving as fast as several feet per day. The investigation and cleanup of the plumes by the military will cost more than $1 billion when completed.

"A project of this scope, complexity, cost, and importance to the public requires action based on sound scientific information," said LeBlanc. "Reliable and unbiased information on the hydrogeology of the Cape Cod aquifer has been essential to the development and implementation of a successful, publicly acceptable cleanup strategy."

Armed with information on the location, size and rate of movement for the plumes, the scientists were able to construct computer models and design a strategy to contain and clean up the contamination. The plan minimizes changes in water levels that could harm the environment.

At the end of 2001, treatment systems at eight plumes were pumping almost 12 million gallons per day and returning the treated water to the aquifer.

The USGS's Cape Cod work is part of the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, which provides scientific information on the behavior of toxic substances in the nation's water environments. The information is used to improve characterization and management of contaminated sites, to protect human and environmental health, and to reduce potential future contamination problems.

More information on the Toxics Program is available at: