AmeriScan: January 3, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2001 (ENS) - Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took steps to protect waters from excessive nutrients and toxic methyl mercury.

Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus can choke waterways and lead to algae blooms, including Pfiesteria and red tide, resulting in fish kills and harmful human health effects. For the first time, the EPA is setting water quality criteria which serve as recommendations to states and tribes for water quality standards for nutrients.

States are expected to adopt or revise their nutrient standards by 2004, based on the new criteria.

In a 1998 water quality report to Congress, nutrients were listed as a leading cause of water pollution. About half of the nation's waters surveyed by states do not support normal aquatic life because of excess nutrients.

Excessive nutrients have degraded almost 3.5 million acres of lakes and reservoirs and more than 84,000 miles of rivers and streams to the point where they no longer meet basic uses such as supporting healthy aquatic life.

EPA is also setting limits on methylmercury contamination in fish. The toxic form of mercury is taken up by plant and aquatic life and accumulates in the fish, which can be consumed by humans. Methylmercury is toxic to the nervous system.

EPA is issuing under the Clean Water Act its first water quality criteria for methylmercury to be used by states in determining methylmercury levels in fish tissue. The new criteria are based on a risk assessment that EPA has developed in response to last summer's recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences.

Additional information is available at EPA's Office of Water website at: and

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COLUMBUS, Ohio, January 3, 2001 (ENS) - In a series of new studies, scientists have uncovered evidence suggesting that the soil in much of Ohio may not be good material in which to bury solid and industrial wastes. Fractures deep underground help contaminated water flow downward and reach water supplies too fast for it to be purified. In such cases, underground water supplies can become contaminated.

Scientists surveyed Ohio soil profiles and found that at least 55 of Ohio's 88 counties have underground fractures that could affect the purity of ground water.

"We once thought that the soils in much of Ohio were so fine grained and tightly compacted that almost no wastes could seep through," said Ann Christy, an assistant professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering at Ohio State University. "Now we're finding that is not true."

While comprehensive studies of this type have not been done outside Ohio, the researchers believe that other states which experienced the same type of ancient glaciation may well be affected in the same way.

Fractures recharge the underground water table, which supplies 800,000 private wells and more than 40 percent of the public water supplies in Ohio. But water that passes through fractures is not purified in the same way as it would be if it traveled through compacted glacial till, Christy said.

The study is reported in the "Ohio Journal of Science," co-edited by Christy and Julie Weatherington-Rice, a doctoral candidate in the School of Natural Resources at Ohio State.

"We've assumed that the soil will dilute and purify contaminated water," Weatherington-Rice said. "But in reality, water will travel through fractures and cracks in the ground, essentially bypassing the compacted sediment and foregoing any purification. Any land areas once covered by glaciers should be screened for fractures, particularly if those areas are candidates for a landfill site, livestock waste facility or other use that could potentially endanger the water supply."

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Research and Development has released a five year research strategy outlining and summarizing the health and ecological risks posed by mercury. The strategy identifies key scientific questions of greatest importance to the agency, and charts a research program to reduce scientific uncertainties that limit EPA's ability to assess and manage mercury risks.

EPA will study mercury issues such as transport and transformation; risk management for power plant combustion and other industrial sources; and human health and environmental effects and exposure.

Mercury exposure has been associated with both human nerve damage and growth impairment. Airborne mercury settles over waterways, polluting rivers and lakes and contaminating fish. In water, biological processes can transform mercury into a highly toxic form called methylmercury that builds up in animal and human tissue.

As a result of their mothers' exposure to methylmercury, as many as 60,000 children are born every year in the U.S. at risk of nervous system damage.

In a 1997 mercury report to Congress, EPA concluded that a plausible link exists between mercury from industrial and combustion sources in the U.S. and methylmercury concentrations in humans and wildlife. The study also estimated that from one to three percent of women of childbearing age eat fish in amounts that could put their fetuses at risk from methylmercury exposure.

The "Mercury Research Strategy, September 2000," (EPA/600/R-00/073) is available at

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2001 (ENS) - In a special report to Congress issued late on Friday, President Bill Clinton opted to keep Japanese whaling under economic review, leaving to the incoming administration the politically difficult issue whether to impose trade sanctions for Japan's expanded whale hunt.

Japan, Clinton wrote to the lawmakers, has authorized "research whaling activities that diminish the effectiveness of the International Whaling Convention (IWC) conservation program." This is the third time since 1988 that Japan's whaling activities have led to a certification by the U.S. that that country's "research whaling activities" would hamper efforts to preserve the world's largest mammals.

In 2000, Japan added 10 sperm whales and 50 Bryde's whales to the harvest quota it set for itself, and harvested in the summer hunt 40 minke whales, five sperm whales and 43 Bryde's whales, Clinton said.

In response, U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta "certified" Japan under the Pelly Amendment to the 1967 Fishermen's Protective Act, setting the legal stage for economic sanctions against Japan and requiring a report to Congress.

"I also remain concerned about Japan's practice of taking whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary north of Antarctica," Clinton said. "I see no justification for Japan's practice and will continue to urge Japan to reconsider its policy, which I believe undermines the effectiveness of whale sanctuaries everywhere."

"The need for decisive U.S. action to contain Japanese whaling is shaping up as the first real environmental test the new president will face," said Richard Mott, vice president of World Wildlife Fund. "Even as George W. Bush takes the oath of office next month, Japan's whalers will be completing a slaughter in the Antarctic, flouting U.S. concerns."

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2001 (ENS) - In advertisements running today in several national newspapers, the Sierra Club called on President-elect George W. Bush to rise above partisan politics and to act as "chief steward of America's environment to protect our air, water and wild lands and wildlife."

"The overwhelming majority of Americans agree that we need to protect our environment," said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director. "We're calling on President elect Bush to recognize this mandate and to deliver on his promise to unite Americans around the shared value we all place on protecting our air, water and wild places."

Bush has been criticized for nominating cabinet members whose records are hostile to the environment, and who support controversial proposals such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

The Sierra Club ad asks Bush to:

"President elect Bush can shape an environmental agenda that gives Americans what we want - clean air to breathe, pure water to drink and wild lands to explore and enjoy," Pope said. "The Sierra Club will trumpet every act of environmental courage by President elect Bush, and we will lay out for judgement every sideways glance at a campaign donor."

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SOUTH POLE, Antarctica, January 3, 2001 (ENS) - A team of scientists will search the South Pole snowpack this January for 100 year old air samples, to investigate what the air quality was like during the last century.

The pockets of air trapped in the snowpack will provide scientists with a historical record of gases that were present in the atmosphere during this period. Researchers will then be able to analyze this record for clues to how human activity has influenced atmospheric processes.

With support from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the six investigators from Bowdoin College in Maine, NOAA's Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory, the University of Wisconsin and Princeton University, will draw air from the snowpack at incremental depths, stopping at about 120 meters, at which point the snow turns to ice.

The air samples will be analyzed at government and university labs in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia.

"It is important that we get these air samples now,"said Jim Butler of NOAA. "Each year we delay, we lose a year of history, as the snow turns to ice at the bottom of the hole. Just a few years from now, we will not be able to obtain air samples that span the entire 20th century, a time of rapid population, agricultural and industrial growth."

Large amounts of the old air will be stored at a NOAA facility in an "air archive." This archive will be available for future analyses, to answer questions that have not yet been thought of, and with techniques yet to be developed.

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HONOLULU, Hawaii, January 3, 2001 (ENS) - The fourth in a series of seven critical habitat proposals covering 255 Hawaiian plant species was released Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). If made final, this proposed rule would establish 28 critical habitat units on the island of Molokai, including 15,227 acres of private, state and federal lands.

"With this proposal, we have met our court ordered deadline to propose critical habitat designations or nondesignations for 100 Hawaiian plant species," said Anne Badgley, USFWS Pacific regional director. "Our ultimate goal is to recover these plants and eventually remove them from the list of threatened and endangered species."

The 28 critical habitat units are concentrated in the eastern and northwestern portions of Molokai. Most of the acreage is on state and private lands.

The proposed rule for Molokai plants addresses 40 species and proposes critical habitat designations for 32 of them. Critical habitat was not proposed for seven species because they only exist on lands protected by The Nature Conservancy in its Moomomi, Pelekunu and Kamakou Preserves.

The USFWS also is not proposing critical habitat for one species of the native loulu palm in order to avoid increased threat to the species from vandalism or collection.

Several of the listed plants have 10 or fewer individual plants remaining in the wild, including five species that only exist on Molokai.

Public comments will be accepted for the next 60 days, via electronic mail to:

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the most far reaching internal guidance ever to assist its employees in analyzing the economic impacts of environmental regulations and policies.

The guidelines will ensure that valuation of costs and benefits are treated consistently in all EPA economic analyses. Entitled "Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analyses," the economic framework will assist EPA policy makers and analysts charged with developing environmental and health standards at the lowest cost.

Recent advances in theoretical and practical work in the field of environmental economics were incorporated into the new framework. The guidelines assess costs and benefits in various segments of the population, focusing on disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. After an extensive peer review, EPA's Science Advisory Board, an independent outside group, approved the new guidelines and confirmed that they represent the best economic analysis available.

The Guidelines address major analytical issues on key topics, including:

The guidelines were developed by the EPA's National Center for Environmental Economics, and are available at: