AmeriScan: February 27, 2002


LIBBY, Montana, February 27, 2002 (ENS) - Asbestos contamination caused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to propose listing Libby, Montana as a Superfund site this week.

The EPA proposed adding Libby to the National Priorities List (NPL), a published list of U.S. hazardous waste sites that are eligible for extensive, long term cleanup under the Superfund program. Listing on the NPL makes the site eligible to receive federal funds for cleanup while the EPA seeks to recover costs from the responsible parties.


Excavating asbestos contaminated soils at the former screening plant (Photo courtesy EPA)
Placing the site on the NPL also allows the EPA to use Superfund money for cleanup when there are no responsible parties who can pay for the work. If the trust fund is used, the state of Montana must assume 10 percent of the clean up costs.

In January, the EPA received a formal written request from Governor Judy Martz requesting that Libby be added to the NPL. Martz used Montana's one time privilege of naming a site as its highest priority for designation to the NPL.

The Libby Asbestos site includes an inactive, 70 acre vermiculite mine located on Vermiculite Mountain in northwestern Montana, and portions of the town of Libby. Large scale mining at Vermiculite Mountain was initiated by the Zonolite Company in the 1920s. W.R. Grace acquired the Zonolite Company in 1963 and continued mining operations until September 1990.

Vermiculite is a volcanic mineral compound that expands when wet. It is used in agricultural, construction, gardening and industrial applications.

The ore at the Libby mine, which closed in 1990, was contaminated with tremolite, a rare form of asbestos. Tremolite asbestos consists of sharp needle like fibers which can penetrate the linings of the lungs, causing lung disease and cancers.

Processing of the vermiculite ore released of fine asbestos fibers, which have been found in processing plants, residential yards, and school yards in the town of Libby and between the mine and the town.

The EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will continue to study and identify the asbestos distribution in Libby, stepping up their investigation of residences and businesses in Libby. The agencies will examine the possible cleanup options and begin designing appropriate clean up actions.

Funding for this year's work is already approved and does not hinge on the final listing. Final priority list status must be determined, however, before the EPA can use the Superfund Trust fund to pay for long term cleanup.

The announcement begins a 60 day period during which citizens comment on the proposed listing.

More information on the site and the proposed listing are available at:

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EUGENE, Oregon, February 27, 2002 (ENS) - Thirteen environmental and fishing groups today sought to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the protected status of coho salmon in the Klamath River basin.

The lawsuit, filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation in federal court, asks the court to strip Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from coho along the Southern Oregon and Northern California coast. It mimics earlier litigation that argued salmon born and raised in hatcheries must be included with wild salmon when considering endangered species status.

"It's absurd to say we don't need to protect wild salmon simply because hatcheries can churn out millions of fish in concrete tanks," said Michael Mayer of Earthjustice, representing the conservation groups. "Just as we want grizzlies in Yellowstone and not just in zoos, we want salmon to thrive in the wild."

Intervenor status would allow salmon advocates to present arguments in the case, and to ensure that needed salmon restoration efforts continue. Conservationists and commercial fishers seek to intervene on the side of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the defendants.

The groups worry that the Bush Administration, which oversees NMFS, will not mount a vigorous defense of the coho on its own.

"Our intention is to inject some actual science and salmon context into a situation clearly being fueled by politics and misinformation," said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited. "We can't allow wild salmon and the protections they need to be used as pawns in a broader political game, in the Klamath, the courts or anywhere."

The lawsuit would dismantle protections for coho salmon in coastal rivers and streams stretching from Cape Blanco, Oregon, to Punta Gorda, California, including the Rogue and the Klamath Rivers. Coho salmon throughout this region have suffered as their birth streams have been degraded by excessive water use, dams, poor logging practices and water pollution.

"This delisting lawsuit is just a thinly veiled attempt by industrial agribusiness to throw out protections for salmon so they can continue to pollute streams and dry up rivers with impunity." said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "Fishing communities have a right to exist. We also have a right to rivers with both water and fish."

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 27, 2002 (ENS) - More than 1,200 senior leaders of major religious denominations have written to every U.S. Senator with specific proposals for "energy conservation, fuel efficiency and alternate energy development to protect God's creation and God's children."

Signatories on the letter include leaders of such major faith communities as: United Methodist, Presbyterian, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Greek Orthodox, Episcopal, American Baptist, Lutheran and Catholic bishops of major metropolitan areas.

Against the backdrop of efforts against terrorism, the 1,200 leaders stressed "the intimate link between the safety of our people and the reliability of our energy system."

"We're telling the Congress that energy conservation is necessary for homeland security as well as environmental protection and justice," said the Reverend Dr. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. "Lives are at stake here."

"The President's energy plan would have us drill in the Arctic, increase nuclear power and subsidize big polluting energy companies," added Dr. Edgar. "There are safer, more sustainable strategies."

In preparation for almost two years, "Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaigns" have now been established in 21 states, from auto manufacturing Michigan to coal mining West Virginia to energy producing Texas.

"When we reflect upon 'Let there be light' in Genesis (Gen 1:3)," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, "we realize that God has given us sources of clean energy: sun, wind, water and the human ingenuity to devise clean, safe technologies."

The 1,200 leaders and 21 state campaigns called upon the Senate to pass legislation that would:

"From our pulpits and in our pews, we will preach and pray the message of creation care and energy conservation," said Bishop Thomas Hoyt Jr., Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. "And we hope, this week, that our Senators will be God's stewards."

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 27, 2002 (ENS) - Three conservation organizations are urging Congress not just to spend more on water treatment plants, but also to increase its investment in efforts to reduce pollution by protecting natural areas along water bodies nationwide.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding hearings this week on the Water Investment Act of 2002, introduced last week. The bill intends to boost federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act funding.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, federal spending in recent years has been less than 15 percent of the $23 billion needed each year to replace aging water treatment infrastructure.

"Thirty years of effort towards cleaner water has taught us that more and better treatment plants are only part of the solution," said Nancy Stoner, director of the Clean Water Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "To continue to make progress towards to cleaner water, we need to reduce the amount of polluted runoff entering rivers and streams from cities, suburbs, and farms."

Under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, the federal government gives money to states for "State Revolving Funds," (SRFs) from which local governments can take out loans for wastewater and drinking water treatment projects.

The conservation groups applauded efforts to increase investment in SRFs, but urged the Senate to reform the funds to ensure that local governments will use more of this money to plant stream buffers, protect wetlands, acquire land, and implement other natural stormwater treatment strategies, in addition to upgrading traditional treatment plants.

"The Water Investment Act is a good start, but the bill still needs some work," said Betsy Otto, director of the Community Rivers program at American Rivers. "Congress should pass some reforms to the revolving loan funds to ensure that states lend the money for projects that maximize human health and environmental benefits."

The groups called for several reforms to SRF funding, including more emphasis on natural techniques of reducing polluted runoff, a ban on the use of SRF funding for the construction of new systems, and a focus on the highest priority projects.

"This bill holds out the promise to fund the solution to many needed public health and environmental problems, said Paul Schwartz, Clean Water Actions' national campaigns director. "However, without better accountability and public participation processes, many critical drinking water needs will not be addressed, and many tax dollars will be wasted."

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GREENBELT, Maryland, February 27, 2002 (ENS) - The Aqua spacecraft, a project of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will be shipped to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sunday to begin launch preparations.

Aqua will arrive at Vandenberg on Monday, where it will undergo final tests and integration with a Delta II rocket for launch in April.

Aqua, the latest in the Earth Observing System series, will collect measurements of rainfall, snow, sea ice, temperature, humidity, vegetation, soil moisture and clouds as part of NASA's long term, coordinated research study of changes in the global environment.

Aqua's instruments will gather important data about global energy and water cycles, enabling scientists to monitor climate variations and trends.

"The entire Aqua team is very excited as we are approaching our launch date," said Phil Sabelhaus, Aqua project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. "We're excited to see all our efforts come to fruition and look forward to a successful launch."

Aqua fulfills part of NASA's commitment to studying the Earth as a global system and represents a key contribution by NASA to the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Aqua carries six state of the art instruments to observe the Earth's oceans, atmosphere, land, ice and snow covers.

Aqua gets its name because it will collect a large amount of information about the Earth's water cycle.

The Aqua spacecraft is part of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, a long term research effort being conducted to determine how human induced and natural changes affect the global environment.

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POINT REYES, California, February 27, 2002 (ENS) - Point Reyes National Seashore has acquired a former communications site owned by AT&T.

The 522 acre parcel is surrounded by existing park lands.

"This land was critical to the park unit," said Paul Pritchard, president of the National Park Trust (NPT). "It is physically at the heart of the park and played an important role in America's history. Both of these factors meant that it was one of the most critical properties in the acquisition program of this park."


Point Reyes National Seashore (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
NPT learned that the property was obsolete, but was still owned by AT&T. Working with the National Park Service and California Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, NPT was able to open the door of communication with AT&T that lead to the eventual sale.

"Senator Boxer has always been a champion of the parks. She played a critical role in moving the transfer along," said Pritchard.

The site is covered by a series of wire devices, antenna and a communications building. The National Park Service is in the process of taking down the antennas to prevent birds from flying into the support wires. The entire area is being photographed and documented for historical records.

An interpretive exhibit features AT&T's high seas radiotelephone station, which provides two way communication between ships on the high seas or aircraft and telephones on land, sea or in the air.

Point Reyes was considered the best receiving station of the West Coast. It was at this location that the word was first received in the mainland U.S. that Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was under attack. Other important information was also processed at the center.

The National Park Trust is the only private land conservancy dedicated to preserving America's national system of parks, wildlife refuges and historic monuments.

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EL CENTRO, California, February 27, 2002 (ENS) - A Zero Tolerance policy at the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (ISDRA) in California this past President's Day weekend helped slash environmental violations.

The Imperial Dunes is one of the most popular off highway vehicle (OHV) recreation areas in the country. A recent increase of law breakers have threatened the safety of visitors at the Dunes during the past two years, which prompted new BLM law enforcement directives at the Dunes during major holiday weekends.

An estimated 108,000 people enjoyed the Dunes under an increased multi-agency law enforcement presence that monitored activities throughout the Dunes and responded rapidly when needed. Several large signs stating, "Break The Law - Go To Jail," were posted in the Dunes area along Highway 78 in both directions that re-enforced the "Zero Tolerance" policy in effect.

"This past weekend saw an unprecedented law enforcement presence that demonstrated our commitment to a zero tolerance policy," said Greg Thomsen, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) El Centro field office manager. "Continued assistance from the Imperial County Sheriff's Department along with our solid inter-agency partnership ensures that future visitors to the Dunes will be provided a safe environment."

More than 600 law enforcement violations were enforced, compared to more than 2,000 violations during the past Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Law enforcement officials said that arrests and DUI violations were down while medical service staff observed a decrease in medical actions.

Using checkpoints and barricades, the Competition Hill and Sand Drag areas saw a more visible patrol presence that monitored items such as vehicle registration, open container laws and safety violations.

More than 150 law enforcement personnel were on duty, and worked with the BLM through an inter-agency command and control system which provided immediate capabilities to handle incidents throughout the Dunes.

"We successfully brought over 10 agencies together under the Incident Command System that had a tremendous effect on the overall mission of providing a safe environment for recreation enthusiasts and agency personnel," said Dick Franklin, BLM incident command director for the President's Day weekend.

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, February 27, 2002 (ENS) - Millions of square feet of building materials used for Winter Olympic Games will now be donated to Habitat for Humanity International to build homes with families in need in Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) for the Winter Olympic Games 2002 decided to donate most of the materials to Habitat, the world's largest nonprofit home building organization, to help a good cause.

"We're pleased it's going to a place where it will be used so well," said Grant Thomas, the senior vice president of venues/transportation for SLOC. "It's going to create opportunities for people to have homes of their own and to have adequate shelter."

The donation was the brainchild of the organizing committee and Salt Lake City businessperson Ken Lamé. "I saw a need and I tried to do something about it," Lamé said.

The building materials being donated include hundreds of thousands of square feet of plywood, pre-hung windows and doors, along with countless 2x4s and 2x6s. Statistics show more than 57,000 people live below the poverty level in Salt Lake City.

Habitat for Humanity's Utah affiliate is planning a 16 home neighborhood, with construction slated to start next month in Magma, Utah. It will be called Millard Cove.

"The Olympics is all about competition and winning," said Millard Fuller, founder and president of Habitat for Humanity International. "With a plan like this, everybody will win, especially the families who need a simple, decent, affordable place to live."

Habitat for Humanity is an ecumenical Christian ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing. Founded by Millard Fuller, along with his wife, Linda, Habitat for Humanity International and its affiliates in more than 2,000 communities in 83 nations have built and sold more than 100,000 homes to partner families with no profit, zero interest mortgages.