AmeriScan: June 17, 2003

* * *

Washington State Sues to Force Smelter Cleanup

BELLEVUE, Washington, June 17, 2003 (ENS) - The Washington Department of Ecology has sued copper producer ASARCO seeking a court order to direct the company to remove the most highly contaminated soil at the site of the company's former Everett smelter.

The old Everett smelter, which was closed in the early 1900s, is near the intersection of Route 529 and East Marine View Drive in Everett, Washington. The suit was filed by the Attorney General's Office in Snohomish County Superior Court.

"Some material at the site has arsenic concentrations that are immediately dangerous to life and health if people come in contact with it - which is a distinct possibility, since we have heard about children trespassing on the site," said Tim Nord, a cleanup manager for the state's Department of Ecology. "This contamination should have been removed years ago, and we can not let another construction season slip by."

The site's soil is a source of arsenic contamination to underground water that flows toward the Snohomish River and to storm water that flows to Everett's water treatment works, Nord said.

Ecology approved an ASARCO proposal for a more extensive cleanup of the fenced area and several nearby yards in June 2002. Ecology also required ASARCO to stick with the April 30 start work date for the fenced area, regardless of how the alternative plans proceed. A work plan was agreed upon earlier this year.

The order covers a five acre fenced area that was part of ASARCO's lead smelter a century ago. Ecology is requiring ASARCO to remove soil with 3,000 or more parts per million (ppm) of arsenic from the fenced area as an interim measure.

Arsenic concentrations as high as 760,000 ppm have been reported by ASARCO within the fenced area, mostly within the top four feet of the surface. All this soil is to be removed by October 2004.

ASARCO, which closed the smelter and sold the land in the early 1900s, purchased homes on the site in the 1990s, fenced the area and demolished the houses, but the company has not conducted a cleanup.

Ecology has used state funds to remove contaminated soil from 47 nearby homes and has sampled 10 more in anticipation of cleanup if additional funds become available.

* * *

Louisiana Firm Out to Lunch on Radioactive Device

WASHINGTON, DC, June 17, 2003 - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has proposed a fine of $6,000 against a Louisiana company for violating administrative and radioactive material handling requirements.

During an inspection conducted in offshore federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspector found that the company Nondestructive and Visual Inspection of Harvey, Louisiana had failed to “control and maintain constant surveillance over an industrial radiographic exposure device in an unrestricted area.”

Radiography is a nondestructive method which uses a sealed radiation source to make X-ray images of heavy metal objects like pumps, valves and pipes.

In a letter to the company, Thomas Gwynn, acting administrator of the NRC regional office in Arlington, Texas, said the agency determined that the company violated NRC requirements associated with the control of radioactive materials.

“Our review found that the radiographer and his assistant were eating lunch, and neither were in direct visual sight of the device when the inspector arrived on the platform,” Gwynn said.

The radiographer and his assistant “stated that, on the day of the inspection, they got distracted and forgot to put the device into the dark room when they went to lunch.”

The company has taken corrective actions, the agency said, including discussing the incident with other radiographers, stressing the importance of security and of following radiation safety requirements. The company disciplined the radiographer, and has made sure that all dark rooms have a storage area for the device.

The agency noted that the company was also discussing with its clients the importance of having the darkroom on the same platform where work is being performed or of having a storage box available for securing the device, and is increasing onsite surveillance of the safety practices of its radiographers.

The violation is classified as Severity Level III, which carries a $6,000 fine. The agency uses a four level severity scale in which Severity Level I is the most serious. The company has 30 days from receipt of the letter to either pay the civil penalty or to challenge the proposed fine.

* * *

EPA Urged to Stand Firm on Dirty Diesel Rule

LOS ANGELES, California, June 17, 2003 (ENS) - A coalition of public health and environmental groups spoke out in favor of a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to lower pollution from heavy diesel equipment by 90 percent and to clean up the fuel used in those engines.

The Environmental Protection Agency today conducted a public hearing in Los Angeles to seek input on the draft rule that would require so-called nonroad diesel equipment, like farm and construction vehicles, to meet emission levels comparable to highway vehicles over the next decade.

The rule also would cut the sulfur level in diesel fuel for all types of nonroad engines, including ships and trains.

Diesel emissions are a major concern in the Los Angeles area, where the largely unregulated diesel nonroad sector accounts for 38 percent of the soot emitted from all mobile sources, according to a report issued last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The EPA has estimated that, by 2030, controlling these emissions would prevent 9,600 premature deaths, more than 8,000 hospitalizations and almost a million work days lost annually.

"The dirtiest diesels are not necessarily the trucks and buses on LA's streets," said Patricia Monahan, author of the Union of Concerned Scientists report, "Cleaning Up Diesel Pollution: Emissions from Off-Highway Engines by State."

"Whether you are downtown or down on the farm, off-highway engines, such as bulldozers, tractors, and ships, are major polluters," she said. "One typical nonroad dump truck emits more soot than 2,000 average cars."

The current EPA proposal would require oil refiners nationally to reduce the sulfur in the diesel fuel used in heavy equipment from its current uncontrolled level of 3,400 parts per million (ppm) to 500 ppm in 2007 and 15 ppm in 2010.

The sulfur level in diesel fuel for ships and trains would be reduced to 500 ppm, and EPA is considering lowering that level to 15 ppm as well.

The agency estimates increased fuel costs of 4.8 cents per gallon to reach the lower standard but also expects the cleaner fuel to result in lower maintenance costs equal to a 3.3 cents per gallon savings.

Sulfur poisons emission controls for diesel engines just as lead in gasoline disabled catalytic converters.

Once the sulfur in the fuel is reduced to minimal levels, the rules would require most new engines to be equipped with state of the art emission control technologies that reduce particulate soot and smog forming nitrogen oxides by about 90 percent. This would make them largely consistent with standards for trucks and buses.

These pollution controls would be phased in between 2011 and 2014. Equipment costs will vary, but they are expected to add one to two percent to the retail cost. Similar requirements already were adopted for highway vehicles such as trucks and buses.

"If we can clean up the nation's big rigs on the road, we can do the same for bulldozers, farm tractors, and heavy port equipment. The EPA has an opportunity and an obligation to bring these cleaner technologies to a sector that is responsible for so much of California's air pollution - and to do it faster than this rule currently requires," said Julie Masters, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"The breathing public cannot afford any more delay in cleaning up the nation's belching diesel equipment," she said.

Noting the huge pollution challenges posed by California's ports and rail yards, environmental and public health groups also have called for the EPA to strengthen the proposal by including all engine sizes - not just the bigger engines that the EPA proposes - and by developing stronger emissions standards for railroad locomotives and marine vessels.

"To understand why EPA needs to adopt a tough nonroad diesel rule, one only needs to breathe the air in the ports, airports, transportation corridors, and construction sites in the Los Angeles area," said Todd Campbell, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air.

"Our region experiences cancer levels 1,500 times above acceptable cancer risk limits, and there are plans to triple the volume of heavy duty diesel nonroad equipment and infrastructure to meet international, national and regional trade demands by 2025. It is not a question of want," Campbell said. "This rule is a must have policy for California air quality."

* * *

Plant Diversity Weakened by Greenhouse Gases

PALO ALTO, California, June 17, 2003 (ENS) - In ecology, species diversity is necessary to the smooth operation of the ecosystem. A three year scientific study has found global environmental changes, including increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and elevated nitrogen levels show negative effects on plant diversity.

Scientists from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology and Stanford University published their findings in the June 16-20 "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

"We examined plant diversity responses in a California annual grassland to manipulations of four global environmental changes, singly and in combination: elevated CO2, warming, precipitation, and nitrogen deposition," the authors write.

"After three years, elevated CO2 and nitrogen deposition each reduced plant diversity, whereas elevated precipitation increased it and warming had no significant effect," they continue. "Our results show that climate and atmospheric changes can rapidly alter biological diversity."

The finding is significant for understanding what can happen to ecosystems when confronted with the interrelated climactic and atmospheric changes that are observed today and that presage larger changes in the future.

"We were surprised at how quickly some environmental changes can alter the complexion of an ecosystem," said Erika Zavaleta, the study's lead author and a faculty member at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The three year study was conducted in the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve - a California grassland where the 43 plant species are a mixture of grasses and wildflowers.

"Over the last century we have witnessed a 30 percent increase in atmospheric CO2, an overall global warming of about one degree Fahrenheit, increases in nitrogen pollution from human activities, and changes in rainfall patterns," said Zavaleta.

"We are in the process of determining how the interactions among these components are affecting the health of the planet," she said. "This study and others like it can provide some sorely needed answers."

* * *

Poll: U.S. Voters Oppose Commercial Whaling

CAPE COD, Massachusetts, June 17, 2003 (ENS) - At a time when Japan and Norway are escalating their whale hunts and seeking to reopen the international trade in whale meat, a new national poll indicates that 80 percent of American voters are opposed to commercial whaling.

The poll, carried out last month by Republican pollster Fred Steeper of Market Strategies on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, indicate that 80 percent of U.S. voters also want the Bush administration to take political action against these nations until they end their commercial whaling. Sixty-six percent would support trade sanctions against the two countries.

After the International Whaling Commission (IWC) instituted a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling that took effect in 1986, Japan elected to continue whaling in the Southern Hemisphere under the IWC provisions for "scientific whaling."

Japan has claimed that the stomach contents of whales must be examined to understand predator-prey relationships in the ocean ecosystem and to collect evidence relevant to the Japanese hypothesis that whales eat too many fish and are causing major declines in fish stocks.

In 1994 Japan expanded its whaling activities to the North Pacific. Japan now takes a self-imposed quota of 440 minke whales in the Southern Ocean, and another 440 in the North Pacific. In addition, Japan has begun taking sperm, sei, and Bryde's whales during the past two years.

The products of this research program are sold to Japanese consumers in accordance with IWC regulations on scientific research whaling.

The United States, many IWC member countries, and the IWC's scientific committee dispute the Japanese claim that lethal whaling is needed. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, fisheries management organizations, and scientific bodies have stated that the decline of world fish stocks is primarily due to overfishing by humans.

Norway has ignored the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, and both countries are currently hunting whales at a rate of more than 1,000 each year. More than 20,000 whales have been taken since the 1986 moratorium too effect.

After a 15 year whaling hiatus, Iceland has stated that it will resume whaling in 2006.

The issue of international commercial whaling is being debated this week at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Berlin, Germany.

"Japan and Norway have flouted the spirit and intent of the IWC for more than a decade," said IFAW President Fred O'Regan. "Seemingly, they will do anything to reopen the whale trade. The United States must maintain its longstanding leadership role in whale protection and take strong and immediate action to stop Japan and Norway from whaling and encourage Iceland to continue its observance of the IWC moratorium."

* * *

Another Log Thrown Onto Tree Sitting Fire

GRIZZLY CREEK, California, June 17, 2003 (ENS) - The longstanding battle over logging in northern California flared up Monday when Pacific Lumber Company removed several platforms and climbing gear that tree sitters have been using to protest the company's logging practices.

Pacific Lumber Company owns some 220,000 acres of forestland in Humboldt County. Activists have been protesting the company's actions for years, with accusations hurled from both sides about intimidation and other illegal tactics.

Monday's removal action by the company included platforms near an area that activists call the Tree Village, where stands an old growth redwood known to activists as Aradia.

"We were not attempting to remove any tree sitters, even though they are breaking the law," Mary Bullwinkel, director of public relations for Pacific Lumber told ENS.

"We removed a number of items, including numerous platforms, as well as some substandard climbing gear, like ropes and carabiners, which were not designed to carry the amount of weight they are using it for," she said.

Bullwinkel said that the removal was not related to actions the company took in March and April, when it removed a number of sitters in the Freshwater area of the company's property. "It is not connected to that. This is near a small community along Highway 36."

The Aradia tree, a 600 to 1,000 year old redwood, has been a touchstone for activists after the death of David "Gypsy" Chain, who was crushed to death by a falling tree on Pacific Lumber land near Grizzly Creek State Park in 1998. Activists claim that Chain was killed by an angry logger. The Humboldt County Sheriff's Department issued findings that concluded that his death was accidental.

The site of Chain's death is near the location of Monday's removal action.

"Aradia and the grove that surrounds her have a unique significance for those that knew him and those who respect what he stood for," said Farmer, a sitter who uses only one name, as many sitters do. "I am deeply worried that the continuing reckless behavior on the part of Pacific Lumber may lead to the death of another forest activist."

Annie, a sitter who helped build the tree sitters' platforms, said information has been twisted to make tree sitting seem more dangerous now than it really is. "The irony of the matter is that the platform in Aradia is probably the most structurally sound of any existing tree sits in Humboldt."

Pacific Lumber did not remove any sitters, even though it could have, Bullwinkel said. "We were just after the equipment and personal items. It makes their activities more dangerous than they already are."

* * *

Kit Protects Against Hazardous Materials Release

WHEELING, West Virginia, June 17, 2003 (ENS) - Two West Virginia organizations have formed a partnership to bring products and services to market to help protect the public in the event of a hazardous materials release.

The National Technology Transfer Center, located on the campus of Wheeling Jesuit University, and the National Institute for Chemical Studies in Charleston have signed an agreement to develop Shelter in Place kits. The kits would contain information and materials needed to protect people at home, school and work.

The National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC) will establish an independent small business to produce and market the Shelter in Place products and services. The National Institute for Chemical Studies will serve as technical adviser to the NTTC for product development.

The NTTC's Emergency Response Technology program has identified a need within the emergency response community for an effective way to reduce risks to the public from an accidental or intentional chemical release. Since 1985, NICS has undertaken projects and activities to promote the use of Shelter in Place as a protective action option during such events.

"We are focused on bringing a small business on board to make Shelter in Place available to protect us all in the event of such a scenario," said NTTC president Joseph Allen. "

Research shows a well sealed structure can protect a person from exposure to a toxic vapor cloud until the txoic concentration within the vapor cloud outside the structure has decreased to a safe level. The Shelter in Place concept would provide a central location for accurate information and training, kits to be used when sheltering, customized guidance to meet individual needs, and an outreach tool for emergency responders.

Shelter in Place has been encouraged by emergency managers to protect people from chemical accidents. Recent concerns about terrorism have raised public interest in when and how sheltering might be used if chemicals are intentionally released in a community.

"This is an opportunity for our organizations to continue to play a key role in keeping families and communities safe, while at the same time generating economic development opportunities in the region," said Mark Scott, president and CEO of the National Institute for Chemical Studies.

* * *

Would You Believe Green Junk Yards?

ORLANDO, Florida, June 17, 2003 (ENS) - After completing an industry program that offers skills and techniques for protecting the environment, three Florida automotive recyclers were certified by the state's Department of Environmental Protection as Florida Green Yards.

Big Al’s Auto Parts and B&T Auto Parts of Orlando as well as Cheap Dave’s Auto Salvage in Apopka have joined the list of certified Green Yards in central Florida. The state now recognizes five Green Yards.

"The Green Yards program is getting environmental results and protecting our natural resources," said Allan Bedwell, the department's deputy secretary for regulatory programs. "By using common sense solutions to environmental challenges, these auto facilities are demonstrating their commitment to Florida’s environment and serving as models to the entire industry.”

The Green Yards pilot program helps automotive recyclers understand and comply with environmental regulations. Automotive recyclers that achieve Green Yards designation demonstrate environmental compliance with over 35 best management practices that range from proper container labeling to developing and implementing a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan.

After attending an educational workshop, facility operators are required to submit a series of six modules documenting compliance. Of the 69 salvage yards in Orange County, 55 have signed up for the Green Yards program, and 25 have completed all the compliance modules.

“The Green Yards program benefits both business and the environment,” said Department of Environmental Protection Central District Director Vivian Garfein. “By completing the Green Yards program, these facilities have proven they are leaders within their industry and communities.”

The partnership and program has been beneficial to the industry, said Mike Gagle, president of Florida’s Automotive Dismantlers and Recyclers Association. “We want to make sure that all automotive recyclers in the state operate in a manner that is safe for the environment.”

* * *