AmeriScan: May 1, 2001

ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT GENES TRACED FROM FARMS TO GROUNDWATER

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - Genes resistant to tetracycline, a common antibiotic, have been found in groundwater as far as a sixth of a mile downstream from two swine facilities that use antibiotics as growth promoters.

The finding shows the potential for spreading antibiotic resistance back into the food chain of animals and people, researchers say.

For more than 50 years, U.S. farmers have used tetracycline and other antibiotics to enhance the growth of livestock. In humans, an overuse of antibiotics is blamed for a growing resistance to many antibiotics, and agricultural use has been suspected in the spread of resistance genes.

The European Union is phasing out such agricultural use, while Sweden banned it in the 1980s.

Researchers from the University of Illinois (UI) and Illinois State Geological Survey used a DNA amplification technique to analyze samples from lagoons, wells and groundwater on and near two Illinois facilities, said Rustam Aminov, a visiting professor of animal sciences at the UI. Their research appeared in the April issue of "Applied and Environmental Microbiology."

"The use of tetracycline on farms is pushing the evolution of these genes," said Aminov. "We found tetracycline resistance genes in soil and groundwater bacteria. The genes are transferred to this type of bacteria, where they can survive and travel long distances in the environment."

"It has been suggested that there is horizontal transfer of antibiotic resistance genes, but we had only seen it in laboratory experiments, not in in-situ studies," added Aminov. "Here, we see such a transfer is occurring in the environment."

The researchers were able to identify the trail taken by the resistance genes. The DNA fingerprints in the samples matched resistance genes previously identified in livestock and feed.

"These genes were found to be predominant in the gastrointestinal tracts of pigs and steers," the authors wrote. "The elevated frequencies of these genes in the environment surrounding the farms were consistent with the hypothesis that this occurrence was the result of gene flow from the animals."

Once resistance genes make their way into drinking water, they will find their way into the guts of the people, animals and wildlife that drink it, Aminov said.

"We are potentially passing on resistance in a continuous gene cycle in the environment," said Aminov.

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BUSH BUDGET CUTS ENVIRONMENTAL ENFORCEMENT

WASHINGTON, DC, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - Buried in the fine print of President George W. Bush's budget plan for the next fiscal year are cuts in the number of inspections, investigations and enforcement actions that could be undertaken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The cuts are revealed in administration records released Monday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Compared with the current fiscal year, the Bush proposed EPA budget would reduce:

Bush's plan offers a dual justification for the cuts:

  1. by focusing on higher priority areas, fewer enforcement actions would be needed; and
  2. shifting greater enforcement authority to the states (embodied in a redirection of $25 million of EPA's operating budget to the states) lessens the need for federal involvement.

"Bush's environmental enforcement plan is a shell game," said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents both EPA and state enforcement professionals. "Cutting inspections makes it harder to track compliance, thus impeding targeted enforcement. At the same time, Bush is also slashing the very scientific staff needed to identify what the priority public health needs are."

The Bush administration documents admit several times that a series of EPA Inspector General reports in 1997 and 1998 found grave problems with the inability of states to identify or prosecute significant environmental violators.

"Despite admitting serious weaknesses with state enforcement efforts, the Bush plan cuts nearly 200 employees from EPA whose jobs are to assure accountability for the federal dollars spent by the states," Ruch added. "Bush's plan allows states to attract industry by pursuing a race to the bottom of environmental protection."

Cited EPA budget documents are posted on the PEER web site at http://www.peer.org/epa_budget.html

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BUSH NOMINATES MONSANTO OFFICIAL AS EPA'S DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR

WASHINGTON, DC, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - President George W. Bush has nominated a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assistant administrator, Linda Fisher, to be the agency's deputy administrator.

Fisher will leave her position as vice president of government affairs for the Monsanto Company, a biotechnology giant, to return to the EPA.

Fisher served for 10 years at EPA in several managerial positions, including chief of staff, assistant administrator for policy, planning and evaluation, and assistant administrator for prevention, pesticides and toxic substances. As Deputy Administrator she would be the top managerial and policy assistant to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.

The President also named a 20 year career EPA employee, Stephen Johnson, to be assistant administrator for prevention, pesticides and toxic substances, and a former White House official, Jeffrey Holmstead, to be assistant administrator for air and radiation. The U.S. Senate must confirm the nominees.

Johnson, the acting assistant administrator, has responsibility for implementing the nation's laws dealing with industrial chemicals, pesticides, pollution prevention and food safety. He has held several senior positions in the same program.

Holmstead is a partner in the environmental department of the Washington, DC law firm of Latham and Watkins. He served in the White House under former President George Bush as associate counsel to the President, focusing on environmental law and policy, and work with EPA on the implementation of the Clean Air Act 1990 amendments.

In his assistant administrator role, Holmstead would be responsible for implementing the federal Clean Air Act, for developing and managing other agency programs designed to protect air quality, and for working with other agencies on issues involving radiation.

Bush also announced his intention to nominate G. Tracy Mehan to be assistant administrator for water. Mehan serves Michigan Governor John Engler as director of Michigan's Office of the Great Lakes, and is a former EPA official.

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TEAM SPAWNS RARE WHITE ABALONE

SACRAMENTO, California, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - A team of university, government and private biologists have succeeded in spawning white abalone, a crucial step in developing a hatchery for the rare mollusk.

Stocking of hatchery reared white abalone is one of the possible strategies that may be used to rebuild the white abalone population, which is being considered for listing as an endangered species.

The spawning produced about six million eggs, which were then fertilized and began normal development. By April 30, at seven days old, the abalone larvae had reached a stage of development where they could be induced to metamorphose into tiny abalone.

"We estimate that a total of 3,000 white abalone may remain in the wild in California," said Dr. Kevin Lafferty, a marine ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Western Ecological Research Center. "It's remarkable to look at six million white abalone larvae, when they represent 2,000 times the number of adults in the wild. Working with larvae smaller than a period is one advantage in marine species conservation. Imagine trying to produce six million condor eggs."

The Abalone Restoration Consortium, a team of biologists from the University of California, Santa Barbara, USGS, Channel Islands Marine Resource Institute, National Park Service, California Department of Fish and Game and National Marine Fisheries Service, is striving to bring the rare abalone back to a self sustaining population.

Before the fishery crashed from intense commercial and sports harvesting in the 1970's, 2,000 to 10,000 white abalone per hectare lived in southern California coastal waters. In 1999, the team surveyed white abalone habitat in U.S. waters and found only 157 live white abalone.

The scientists collected 15 white abalone to serve as a breeding stock. The consortium hopes to grow 10,000 abalone each year, and begin releasing young adult abalone into the ocean.

Channel Islands National Park ecologist Gary Davis, who documented the decline of white abalone at the park, estimates that to find and collect the 200 white abalone needed to launch a large scale captive breeding program would cost $1.2 million or more.

"This is a huge investment to fix what we broke," said Davis. "Still, by comparison, the California condor population was in much worse shape when its recovery program began."

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SHOOTING RANGES POISON CHILDREN, STUDY WARNS

WASHINGTON, DC, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - A new report documents how shooting ranges are poisoning children and polluting the environment with lead, yet remain almost unregulated - exempt from even the newest lead pollution reporting rules.

The Violence Policy Center (VPC) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) today released "Poisonous Pastime: The Health Risks of Shooting Ranges and Lead to Children, Families, and the Environment."

The 71 page study warns that visitors to shooting ranges can transport lead contamination into their homes. Lead exposure can cause debilitating and sometimes fatal effects in children and adults.

"There is no question that the toxic levels of lead at shooting ranges are endangering America's children and families," said VPC senior policy analyst and report author Tom Diaz. "No amount of lead exposure is known to be completely safe for a child. 'Poisonous Pastime' reveals for the first time that the gun industry - through toxic and unregulated ranges - is sacrificing the health of our children for profit."

The study details how outdoor firing ranges put more lead into the environment than almost any other major industrial sector in the U.S. School administrators throughout the country were oblivious to the dangers of lead from school shooting ranges, until students were found to have elevated blood levels, the report notes.

"Every one of the 1,800 firing ranges in the U.S. represents a piece of land so highly contaminated with lead that it would require a massive cleanup effort to be safe for wildlife or any industrial or residential use," said EWG research director Jane Houlihan.

The report is based on records of internal industry meetings and gun industry publications, and includes recommendations for addressing the problem. "Poisonous Pastime" is available at: http://www.ewg.org/pub/home/reports/poisonouspastime/

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PETITION CALLS FOR RESTORING WOLVES TO CALIFORNIA, OREGON

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - Environmentalists have petitioned the federal government to restore gray wolves to the forests of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

"It's time to hear the call of the wild again," in this vast stretch of their historical range, said Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickeisen. The group released its petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to require the agency under the Endangered Species Act to restore and protect gray wolves in their remaining natural habitat in the region.

"Gray wolves have an important role to play in the ecological health and character of Northern California and southwestern Oregon, and the federal government should start getting serious about restoring the species here," said Schlickeisen.

The petition urges the USFWS to establish a Distinct Population Segment for gray wolves in Northern California and southwestern Oregon. This designation would require the agency to develop and implement a plan for restoration and protection of gray wolves in suitable habitat in 16 million acres of federally managed lands - including 1.8 million acres of designated wilderness areas.

The gray wolf is listed as endangered in all lower 48 states except Minnesota, where it is listed as threatened. The species has been reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and reestablished in the Northern Rockies. Still, the gray wolf has been returned to less than four percent of its historical range in the lower 48 states.

The Endangered Species Act requires the federal government to work for the recovery of an endangered species in suitable habitats throughout its historic range, where appropriate habitat remains.

The USFWS has proposed removing the animals from the Endangered Species List in California and listing them as threatened in Oregon, which would eliminate any requirement to reintroduce the species.

"Wolves belong in this region," Schlickeisen said. "Defenders of Wildlife believes that gray wolves can survive here and even thrive here, and that the majority of people in this region favor a well managed program to reintroduce wolves. This can't happen unless the federal government steps up and carries out its role under the law."

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LIMITED FIREFIGHTING FUNDS SHOULD FOCUS ON PROTECTING HOMES

BOISE, Idaho, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) this week will release an updated list of more than 22,000 communities nationwide that are at risk from wildfire.

An initial list of 4,200 communities was published in the Federal Register in January, but after additional input from states, the list now tops 22,000. Protecting lives and homes must be the top priority for firefighting, the Wilderness Society argues.

"Clearly, the fuels reduction work these 22,000 communities represent is more than we can complete in the short term," said Craig Gehrke, regional director of The Wilderness Society's Idaho office. "Yet the families that make up these communities will remain at risk until the areas around homes are 'fireproofed' and a good, solid fire plan is in place. The top priority for federal fire management efforts must be these neighborhoods where homes and forests meet."

The 22,000 communities identified are seeking a share of about $240 million appropriated by Congress for fire management and fuels reduction in the wildland urban interface after last year's fire season. About $1000 per acre is needed for the labor intensive job of treating areas around homes located in or near forests.

"This is a time for clear priorities, not politics," said Gehrke. "Bush administration attempts to open up remote roadless areas by playing on fears about wildfire are misguided at best. More than 22,000 communities across this country have been declared at risk from wildfire, and these areas are where we must concentrate our fire prevention efforts."

Local zoning ordinances can help to determine that homes are not built in hazardous areas and are constructed of fireproof materials. Outreach to communities at risk can help homeowners to protect themselves and their property.

Fires should be allowed to burn out in forests away from human homes, and funds should not be spent altering those forests to prevent the fires that are a healthy and necessary part of their ecosystems, the Wilderness Society suggests.

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RECOMMENDATIONS FOR NUCLEAR REGULATORY RESEARCH PUBLISHED

ROCKVILLE, Maryland, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has made available on its web site the findings and recommendations of an expert panel report on the role and direction of NRC nuclear research.

The report, which can be found at: http://www.nrc.gov/RES/nrc.html, will be discussed at an NRC meeting on May 10 in Rockville.

The 17 member panel of experts, chaired by former NRC commissioner Kenneth Rogers, is made up of congressional, industry, academic, government, international and public interest group representatives. The panel held a series of public meetings in developing the report.

Some of the highlights of the report include recommendations to maintain the necessary infrastructure for the agency's Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research (RES). This would require the establishment of minimum core capabilities and required resources.

For example, the report notes that many RES research facilities are aging and in need of upgrades, and that budget cuts have led to the loss of many technical experts. The report recommends that more experts be hired to keep abreast of technical developments worldwide that might impact regulatory activities.

Other recommendations call for increasing the office's cooperative research efforts with the Department of Energy, the nuclear industry, the Electric Power Research Institute and international organizations. Cooperative efforts can help all the agencies save money, the report notes, while cautioning that the NRC should not rely solely on the advice and guidance of outside organizations.

The Office of Research plans and implements programs of nuclear regulatory research to achieve enhanced safety, efficiency or effectiveness.

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ASTHMA AWARENESS MONTH STARTS TODAY

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - Promoting increased awareness about asthma, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman today kicked off Asthma Awareness Month in Philadelphia.

During her visit, Whitman presented Thomas Jefferson University with a $110,000 grant to implement a comprehensive asthma care project in Philadelphia. Whitman also toured the AsthmaBUS, a double decker British bus refurbished and remodeled as a traveling exhibit to help educate students about asthma.

"Reported cases of asthma have more than doubled in the past 20 years and today, nearly one in every 13 school children suffers from asthma," said Whitman. "Asthma causes ten million missed school days for American children each year and children who live in cities are especially susceptible."

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that asthma afflicts about 17 million Americans, including five million children. This disease is a leading cause of childhood hospitalizations and absences from school, accounting for 100,000 child hospital visits each year, at a cost of almost $2 billion, resulting in 10 million school days missed each year.

EPA is working to raise awareness about the indoor and outdoor pollutants that trigger asthma attacks. Since most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, controlling indoor pollutants such as secondhand smoke, dust mites, mold, cockroaches and other pests, can help prevent asthma attacks.

To reduce outdoor asthma triggers, the EPA is emphasizing reducing emissions that increase ground level ozone, or smog and particulate matter, or soot. Ground level ozone can cause lung inflammation, making asthmatics more sensitive to allergens and increasing the risk of asthma attacks.

Since ground level ozone increases during the summer months, participating in outdoor activities when ozone levels are high can increase risk for respiratory problems. The EPA recommends taking simple steps such as exercising early in the morning or limiting prolonged vigorous outdoor activities when ozone levels are high.

More information is available at: http://www.noattacks.org or http://www.epa.gov/iaq/asthma. To find local ozone levels check the daily Air Quality Index in newspapers, on television or radio stations, or visit http://www.epa.gov/oar/airnow

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PEREGRINE FALCONS WELCOME NEWBORNS ON SEATTLE SKYSCRAPER

SEATTLE, Washington, May 1, 2001 (ENS) - Belle and Stewart, the endangered peregrine falcons nesting atop the Washington Mutual Tower in Seattle, have welcomed their first two newborns of the year, and another one is expected soon.

The first arrived at 11:33 p.m. on April 29 and the second emerged in the early morning hours on April 30. The third is about to hatch, and the fourth is also expected today.

The newborns, called eyasses, will remain in the nest for about six weeks as they develop and prepare to take their first flight. Stewart and Belle, named after nearby downtown streets, have been nesting and raising their young atop the 55 story tower since 1995.

A video camera installed near their nest allows researchers and enthusiasts to monitor and study the falcons. The public can view the falcon family live via television monitors inside Washington Mutual's Tower Financial Center, or on the Falcon Research Group's website at http://www.frg.org.

Washington Mutual has donated $1,000 to the Falcon Research Group to help pay for the organization's costs associated with videotaping the birds for research purposes.

Washington Mutual, Inc. is a national financial services company that operates more than 2,300 consumer banking, mortgage lending, commercial banking, consumer finance and financial services offices throughout the nation.

The Falcon Research Group monitors nesting peregrine falcons throughout northwest Washington state, and places identification bands on young peregrine chicks for research purposes. The group also bands and studies migrating birds of prey.