AmeriScan: June 24, 2003

* * *

No Need for Plutonium Trigger Plant, Groups Warn

WASHINGTON, DC, June 24, 2003 (ENS) - A letter initiated by communities located near U.S. weapons sites was delivered today to members of Senate and House policy and appropriations committees asking them to block Department of Energy (DOE) plans to construct a new plant to manufacture plutonium triggers, known as pits, for the nation's arsenal.

Public hearings on a Modern Pit Facility begin this week. The DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Defense, and Congress have highlighted the lack of long term pit production capability as a national security issue requiring timely resolution.

Five possible sites for the facility have been selected - Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico; Nevada Test Site; Carlsbad Site, New Mexico; Savannah River Site, South Carolina; and Pantex Site, Texas.

Represented by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, the communities attracted more than 120 national and grassroots organizations that monitor the U.S. nuclear weapons complex to sign the letter jointly with them. "There is no need for such a facility," the groups write.

The letter concludes that a Modern Pit Facility would, "waste billions of taxpayer dollars, threaten global nuclear non-proliferation efforts and create further environmental contamination and health risks for workers and community members."

Large groups who signed the letter include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Council for a Livable World, and Greenpeace International.

The proposed plant could produce in excess of 500 plutonium pits per year, a level the letter said was "simply not needed given the recently ratified Moscow Treaty" which limits deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons to 2,200 by 2013.

According to the Energy Department, the Modern Pit Facility will cost between $2 and $4 billion to construct and $300 million per year to operate, money the signers say, "might otherwise be devoted to cleaning up the Cold War legacy of environmental contamination from the nuclear weapons complex."

The letter to Congress expressed concern that the United States will "signal to the rest of the world that it is walking away from its commitment under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treat to continue taking steps toward nuclear disarmament" by producing more plutonium bomb and warhead triggers.

The signers warn that the pit facility will pose risks to public health and the environment. A DOE draft Environmental Impact Statement indicates normal operations will cause several cancer deaths among its workers.

The previous U.S. plutonium pit manufacturing plant at Rocky Flats, Colorado was closed in 1989 after the discovery of severe radioactive contamination throughout the facility.

DOE will hold public hearings on the potential impacts of the new plant near the five sites targeted for Modern Pit Facility construction beginning Thursday near DOE's Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas.

Signers of the letter to Congress promised to mobilize speakers for the Amarillo meeting and others scheduled for: Carlsbad, New Mexico on June 30; Los Alamos, New Mexico on July 1; the Nevada Test Site near Las Vegas on July 2; Savannah River Site, South Carolina on July 7 and at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. on July 16.

The Modern Pit Facility letter to Congress along with a list of signers is posted at: http://www.ananuclear.org/Congressmpflttr.html

The DOE's website on the Modern Pit Facility: http://www.mpfeis.com

* * *

NRC Inspects Reactor Damage at Quad Cities

WASHINGTON, DC, June 24, 2003 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is conducting a special team inspection at the Quad Cities Nuclear Power Station to review cracks found in one of the Unit 2 reactor components.

The two unit facility, located in Cordova, Illinois, is operated by Exelon Generation Company.

On June 12 the utility found cracks in a portion of the Unit 2 steam dryer, which is located inside the reactor vessel above the steam separator and the reactor fuel.

The plant had been shut down to investigate the cause of moisture in the steam piped to drive the turbine generator. The function of the steam dryer is to remove moisture from the steam before it leaves the reactor.

There was no release of radioactivity associated with the steam dryer problem and no hazard to plant workers or the public, the agency said. There has been no evidence of cracks in the Unit 1 steam dryer, and Unit 1 remains in operation.

The NRC team will review the causes of the dryer cracks and evaluate the utility’s repair plans. It will also consider the potential for the cracking problem to occur at similar nuclear plants.

The inspection team will issue a report about 30 days after the completion of the inspection. It will be available from the Region III Office of Public Affairs or on the NRC web.

* * *

Forest Service Concedes Whistleblower Was Right

ATLANTA, Georgia, June 24, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service has admitted that its own ecologists and experts agree that the historic data uncovered by a Cherokee National Forest whistleblower are credible and support his claims that substantial portions of the Southern Appalachian forests should not be subject to large scale logging and prescribed burns.

But the agency says in a statement that roughly 1.5 million acres of public land in five states will continue to be intensively managed for at least the next 10 to 15 years.

On June 13, Quentin Bass, a 20 year agency archaeologist, filed a federal whistleblower disclosure charging that the Forest Service illegally ignored its own ecological records from nearly a century ago that contradict the intensive logging and burning proposed for vast areas in forests in Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina and Alabama.

"The point is that the Forest Service suppressed its own records, not whether those records fit into the government's idea of the scientific mainstream," said attorney Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, who is representing Bass.

"The Forest Service is legally obligated to reflect all valid viewpoints and not select the one it likes best."

In a statement issued June 19, the Southern Regional Office of the Forest Service said that half of the forest acreage covered by the five draft management plans - approximately 1.5 million acres - would be subject to "intensive forest management."

In defending its actions regarding the Bass disclosure, the agency says that it used only "widely accepted, peer reviewed science" in formulating the plans.

The records unearthed by Bass show the Southern Appalachian forests were once dominated by tall, old trees, some 300 years old or more, indicating a relatively stable ecosystem. This information counters the Forest Service's longstanding assertion that these forests require large scale logging and prescribed burns to mimic natural conditions that generate an even aged forest.

The agency only briefly mentions the historic information in the draft plan for the Cherokee National Forest, and ignores it entirely in the draft plans for four other Southern Appalachian forests. Bass' disclosure states this exclusion violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Data Quality Act and the agency's own procedures.

The public comment period on the Forest Service plans for the Southern Appalachian forests closes on July 3.

* * *

Canada, U.S. Launch Air Quality Pilot Projects

WASHINGTON, DC, June 24, 2003 (ENS) - Canada and the United States will join together to reduce air pollution by undertaking three major pilot projects that enable greater opportunities for coordinated air quality management between both countries.

Identification of the pilot projects fulfills a pledge made by the two countries under the Border Air Quality Strategy in January 2003.

Canada and the United States have cooperated on clean air initiatives for more than 20 years. In 1980, the two governments signed a memorandum of intent on air pollution along the border that eventually led to the signing of the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement in 1991.

In that agreement, Canada and the United States committed to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide to address acid rain and began working together on acid rain research and monitoring in order to report to the public on progress every two years. In 2000, the Agreement was amended to address ground level ozone, an important component of smog.

"I am pleased we have been able to move forward so quickly on the development of joint projects in airsheds of mutual concern," said David Anderson, Canada's Environment Minister.

"This work is of great importance, since air pollution does not respect international boundaries. We need this kind of cooperative effort so that residents in our border regions can benefit from cleaner air," Anderson said.

The joint projects will be completed in cooperation with provincial, state and other stakeholders

"These pilot projects will serve as a foundation for improving air quality and addressing transboundary air pollution of concern to our two countries," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman.

"I am pleased that we are able to announce progress in this important effort, which shows that protecting the public health of our border communities while promoting economic growth is certainly possible."

Three pilot projects will be launched:

* * *

California Classrooms Can Make Students Sick

OAKLAND, California, June 24, 2003 (ENS) – California's 80,000 plus portable classrooms are more likely to contain harmful levels of toxic chemicals than is found in permanent classrooms, according to a report from state health officials.

Almost two million students use the portable classrooms daily in California.

By sampling the air in 1,000 classrooms, the California Department of Health Services and the Air Resources Board found that indoor air quality at school can be unhealthy for students and teachers in both portable and permanent classrooms. But levels of formaldehyde and other toxics are higher in portables.

The state's findings confirm studies in 1999 and 2000 by two environmental organizations, Environmental Working Group and As You Sow, who found that construction materials commonly used in portables emit elevated levels of formaldehyde and other toxics that can cause or worsen respiratory illnesses, including asthma, and also increase lifetime cancer risk.

In one part of the state study, air in half of the portable classrooms tested exceeded health guidelines for eight hour indoor exposure to formaldehyde.

Compared to permanent classrooms, the air in portables was 10 times more likely to exceed health guidelines for one hour exposures to formaldehyde.

The one hour and eight hour guidelines, or reference exposure levels, are defined as levels that will protect sensitive individuals against eye irritation and effects on the respiratory and immune systems resulting from acute, short term exposures.

"These results indicate that a small but substantial percentage of both portable and permanent classrooms have formaldehyde levels that may cause short term irritant effects," the report states.

"Nearly all classrooms have formaldehyde levels that may cause long term irritation and contribute to cancer risk,” according to the report, "because a higher percentage of portables have building materials known to emit formaldehyde, including pressed wood furniture, wallboard, and carpets."

Almost one-third of California classrooms are prefabricated portable buildings. They have been used in California and the rest of the nation for decades, but their numbers have grown exponentially in recent years, due to state mandated class size reduction policies coupled with shrinking school construction budgets.

The report notes that some progress has already been made. In 2000, As You Sow sued the manufacturers of portable classrooms sold in California under Proposition 65, the state's main toxics law. Proposition 65 requires that any product that contains chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm must carry a consumer warning label.

In a settlement endorsed by the California attorney general, the portables manufacturers avoided labeling by agreeing to use a less toxic form of formaldehyde in their building materials, make other changes in materials and construction methods, improve ventilation systems and ensure that school districts know how to air out the units before use.

The state's report says that it may take three to five years for formaldehyde levels in new portables to drop to relatively low levels.

Read the report at: http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/pcs/pcs.htm.

* * *

Human, Marine Mammal Doctors Investigate Whale Disease

FORT PIERCE, Florida, June 23, 2003 (ENS) - On Wednesday, scientists will meet at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution to study and discuss a deadly heart disease affecting pygmy and dwarf sperm whale populations. The workshop will bring together human and marine mammal researchers in an effort to better understand causes of the heart defect using medical techniques normally applied to humans.

The focus of the workshop will be a disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy, which appears to be the cause of death of most of a recent increase in pygmy sperm whale strandings in Florida, though the causes of the disease itself have been elusive.

Dilated cardiomyopathy involves enlargement of and subsequent weakening of part or all of the heart, and can leave whales more susceptible to environmental stresses and ultimately death.

Dr. Gregory Bossart, director of the Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Division, who has studied both clinical marine mammal medicine and pathology and human pathology, will lead the workshop.

Other experts involved will include Dr. George Hensley, a human and comparative pathologist from the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital; and marine mammal researchers from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), as well as other Harbor Branch experts.

"We want to try to determine what's causing the cardiomyopathy because right now we only have a list of possibilities," says Dr. Bossart, who was the first, with colleagues, to describe the disease in 1985. The list of possibilities ranges from nutrient deficiency and environmental toxins to genetic mutations and infection.

From January to March of this year there were 20 dwarf and pygmy sperm whale strandings in the southeast. Typically there are only about 12 in the region in a year. The NMFS is deciding whether to call for a formal investigation into the cause of the increase.

One human version of the same disease is responsible for the sudden death of many young athletes, leading to a surge in research to determine causes and ways to diagnose the defect in its early stages. Scientists at the workshop hope to apply that knowledge to understanding the whale condition.

"This is another way of borrowing from humans and applying to marine mammals," says Dr. Bossart, who is also studying a disease in manatees related to the virus that causes human cervical cancer.

The workshop will be held in the Harbor Branch necropsy lab - the only one of its kind on the east coast of Florida. The facility is the marine mammal version of a human autopsy lab, but includes special equipment for examining large mammals. At the facility, the workshop group will study at least 12 hearts collected from recent fatal pygmy sperm whale strandings to develop a systematic protocol for dissecting the whale hearts, which Dr. Bossart hopes will reveal the cause of the disease.

The Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Division at Harbor Branch recently released the new "Protect Florida Whales" license plate to help fund this research. Proceeds from the sale of the new plate will be used to support Harbor Branch's efforts to study and protect more than a dozen species of whales that can be found in Florida's coastal waters. This will include work now underway to build the world's first marine mammal teaching hospital and rehabilitation center on Harbor Branch's campus.

* * *

Birds Eat Insects to Protect Neotropic Trees

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, June 24, 2003 (ENS) - High in the canopy of a neotropical Panamanian forest, American researchers have discovered that birds, especially native ones during the rainy season, protect trees by reducing the numbers of leaf eating insects.

The finding was a mild surprise, said researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That birds help crops and low lying plants in temperate forests by devouring insects had been known. But many scientists had theorized that the rich diversity of life in tropical forests would diffuse any significant contributions by birds.

Neotropical forests stretch southward from the Tropic of Cancer and include southern Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies.

Worldwide, but especially in Neotropical forests, bird populations are declining amid forest fragmentation as areas are cleared for ranching, farming or housing.

The yearlong research project, the first to study interactions between birds and arthropods in a neotropical forest canopy, was carried out by Sunshine Van Bael, a doctoral student in animal biology at Illinois and a research fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

"We found that birds were indirectly defending trees by consuming their herbivore pests," said Van Bael, who studied bird activity on 44 canopy branches of three tree species on 18 individual trees and 38 saplings.

The 31 species of birds observed, while preferring smooth to spiny caterpillars, ate enough to drastically reduce damage to leaves in comparison to damage done to leaves in specially built exclosures where access by birds was limited.

Where the birds could not reach, the densities of leaf eating insects were much higher. Average damage levels by the end of the rainy season increased by 86 percent where the foliage was not reached by the birds.

* * *

Citigroup Chooses Recycled Copy Paper

NEW YORK, New York, June 24, 2003 (ENS) - Citigroup and Environmental Defense announced today that all of Citigroup's Citibank, Global Corporate and Investment Bank, and Global Investment Management locations in the United States have adopted 30 percent postconsumer recycled copy paper. The new paper will cost the same or less than the virgin paper the company had been using.

"This initiative shows that companies can improve paper practices without increasing costs," said Iris Gold, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Citigroup. "We are hopeful that our work with Environmental Defense sets an example for other companies looking to incorporate more environmental practices into their paper purchasing."

"Switching to recycled copy paper may seem like a simple step, but the environmental benefits are real," said Jackie Cefola, project manager, Environmental Defense. "Citigroup is the world's largest financial services firm and at its rate of annual paper use, this change alone will result in potential savings of 6,700 tons of wood each year, enough to build 500 average single family homes in the United States.

Environmental Defense and Citigroup now are calling on other financial service firms to reduce the environmental impacts of their paper use.

Virgin copy paper is currently the norm in the paper-heavy financial services industry. By working with Environmental Defense to improve purchasing practices, Citigroup successfully increased the recycled content in the copy paper it uses and secured recycled paper at price parity to virgin paper from two paper suppliers.

The combined efforts of Citigroup and Environmental Defense will generate annual savings of 1,000 tons of solid waste, 19 million gallons of wastewater pollution, and 2,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the two organizations said today.

* * *