AmeriScan: May 10, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - Using a lead lowering drug to reverse the IQ damage associated with the lead exposure has proved ineffective, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) announced today.

Dr. Walter Rogan of NIEHS and colleagues from the Treatment of Lead exposed Children Trial (TLC) report the results in today's issue of "The New England Journal of Medicine." The TLC study showed that, as expected, treatment with the drug succimer lowered blood lead faster than a placebo.

Treating lead exposed two year olds, however, did not improve scores on psychological, behavioral and IQ tests when the children were followed until age five years.

Succimer remains the only oral drug labelled for treating children with high blood lead levels. The hope behind the study was that the drug might help otherwise symptom free children exposed to just enough lead to have affected their psychological, behavioral and intelligence tests.

"For more than twenty years, NIEHS has sponsored much of the research showing that lead at these levels was harmful to children's brain function, and that succimer lowered blood lead," said NIEHS director Kenneth Olden. "We had hopes that the treatment would prevent or reduce lead induced damage in these children, who are mostly poor, African American, and living in deteriorated housing in big cities.

"The results of the trial show clearly that treatment after the fact does not undo the damage among five year olds," Olden continued. "We must prevent these children from being exposed in the first place."

About 780 children were enrolled in the study between 1994 and 1997. Half were given succimer and half an identical capsule without active drug. All the children's homes were cleaned of lead dust, they were given a mineral supplement, and their blood lead was followed.

Detailed testing of their cognitive development, neuropsychological function, and behavior was done at three years of follow up. While the children given succimer had more rapid drops in their blood lead, the differences in tests scores were small, inconsistent, and not statistically significant, the investigators said.

The children who participated in TLC are being followed for an additional two years to see if some benefit emerges. In an Australian study, children whose blood leads fell faster without treatment when they were two years old had better IQ test scores when they were seven years old.

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WINDOW ROCK, Arizona, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - The people of the Navajo Nation have filed suit against Attorney General John Ashcroft, accusing the federal government of "coordinated neglect" by the federal government to deny justice to uranium workers.

Dinč Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (CARE), the Eastern Navajo Agency Uranium Workers, the Northern Arizona Navajo Downwinders, the Utah Navajo Downwinders, and other individuals from around the Four Corners Region are all involved in the suit.

"It is a sad chapter in the ongoing legacy of uranium mining in the Four Corners states," said Melton Martinez, director of the Eastern Navajo Agency Uranium Workers.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), as amended in the summer of 2000, is supposed to provide cash payments to former uranium miners, millers and others exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons testing and production - but the RECA fund is out of cash.

President George W. Bush has proposed full funding starting in fiscal year 2002, and Congress is considering an $84 million emergency funding measure. But right now, the government is issuing IOUs instead of money to aging miners, some of whom are dying of lung cancers and other diseases related to their radiation exposure.

Holding an IOU dated December 2000, Navajo elder and plaintiff Bernie Cly said, "RECA was suppose to be an apology payment from the government because they failed to tell us the truth about the harmful effects of radiation when they knew all along."

The lawsuit accuses the government of "coordinated excuses and empty words" that have yet to translate into any action.

"We can no longer stand by and watch their human rights abused, as more elder miners die destitute while the United States government they served fails to provide their just compensation," said Hazel Merritt, president of the Utah Navajo Downwinders, one of the plaintiffs. "RECA was supposed to be about making compassionate payments to our elders who gave their lives for this country," concluded Merritt. "It's time the government stepped up and did it."

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has violated its agreement to protect the threatened desert tortoise, according to a court decision issued this week.

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup declared that the agency violated, "the letter, the spirit and everything about this whole process," when it failed to remove cattle from the tortoise's designated habitat.

BLM had agreed in a lawsuit settlement last fall to have cattle moved from 500,000 acres of federal land by March 1 to protect desert tortoise populations emerging from their winter burrows, but then made no effort to do so.

Last month the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Sierra Club, the plaintiffs in the original suit, filed a contempt of court motion against BLM on the grounds that the agency had failed to implement the protections outlined in the consent decree.

Judge Alsup appeared upset that the same agency that had promised to protect the tortoise in mid-January changed course by February.

"I think this has something to do with the change of administrations," Alsup said in a court transcript. "I think that is all that's going on here, and that's not the way the government should be working."

Alsup gave BLM two weeks to either come up with a plan for compliance or be held in contempt of court.

Overgrazing in the arid Southwest has contributed to the decline of the desert tortoise as livestock trample the animals' burrows and eat the vegetation tortoises rely on as their principal food source.

"Secretary Gale Norton is living down to the low expectations that she will enforce environmental laws only when forced to," said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch. "BLM's failure to follow the consent decree may be a signal that dereliction of duty will become the signature style of resource protection under this Department of Interior."

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - Opponents of a proposed commercial airport at the former Homestead Air Force Base won a victory Wednesday when a judge ruled against developers seeking to overturn an Air Force decision against the airport.

Judge Paul Friedman of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia rejected a request by supporters of the airport, including the Homestead Air Base Developers Inc. (HABDI) and Miami-Dade County, for an injunction that would postpone deadlines set by the Air Force decision.

These deadlines related to when the County must submit its plans for a mixed use commercial and residential development - the Air Force's preferred plan for the former Homestead Air Force Base, 25 miles south of Miami and less than eight miles from Biscayne and Everglades National Parks.

Although environmentalists had requested a direct transfer of the air base to the Department of Interior, the Air Force ruled that Miami Dade County would be given the property for free, but only for mixed use redevelopment. The City of Homestead has already expressed its support for the mixed use project.

The three environmental organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club, and the Tropical Audubon Society, that had intervened in the lawsuit consider the judge's opinion a major victory in the legal battle.

"The airport isn't quite dead yet, but it's only being kept alive by life support," said Bradford Sewell, senior project attorney for NRDC. "It's time for Miami-Dade County to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and abandon the lawsuit, just as the City of Homestead has urged."

"Today's decision is one more victory for common sense. An airport with 600 flights a day over the Everglades was an abomination," said Jonathan Ullman with the Sierra Club. "Now we will need to make sure whatever is developed at Homestead protects the national parks and is consistent with Everglades restoration."

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - The Sierra Club's Youth in Wilderness program will grant $25,000 to The San Francisco Conservation Corps (SFCC) to make up for the money suspended by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E).

Sierra Club leaders challenged the utility's parent corporation to make up for the $7 million in charitable giving that the utility has suspended.

"When PG&E pulled the plug on youth conservation progams, we knew we could re-energize the situation," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "We don't generate electricity, but we do generate support for hands on environmental education of inner city kids. However, we challenge PG&E Corporation to replace the $7 million of charitable giving their bankrupt utliity just pulled. The parent company has millions more than our nonprofit Sierra Club."

The SFCC employs youths for environmental programs in low income areas and provides them job training and counseling. SFCC faced a $25,000 cut to their program when PG&E announced Monday suspension of support for community organizations.

Few charitable organizations anticipated PG&E halting contributions.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the utility, declared bankruptcy this year, while the parent company PG&E Corporation is making millions. According to The Utility Reform Network, the utility transferred $4 billion dollars to the parent corporation between 1997-99 and transferred $632 million dollars in the first nine months of 2000.

The Youth in Wilderness Project, a joint program of the Sierra Club and Sierra Club Foundation, is expanding opportunities for disadvantaged youth to experience the wilderness and nature first hand. The project targets children living in low income neighborhoods across California and provides opportunities for them to learn about the natural world.

More information is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has announced a 20 year plan to make homes more energy efficient and healthy for their occupants and the environment.

The new plan is supported by the building envelope industry, which produces walls, floors and ceilings.

The Building Envelope Technology Roadmap will guide cooperation among researchers, industry and federal and state government to make homes more energy efficient and environmentally healthy. It addresses industry trends, such as increased competition, consumer demands for lower cost and lower maintenance houses, reduced environmental impact, technological developments, and market barriers to new innovations.

"While the Energy Department has invested in technologies that make buildings more energy efficient for many years, this new roadmap reflects a new way of doing business. It is an industry-led effort, created by our industry partners," said Abraham. "This roadmap will help business and government better align our research, development, and deployment priorities and leverage our resources for greater impact."

By 2020, the industry envisions building envelopes that are net producers of energy, with movable walls and rooms that adapt to changing needs and environmental factors. The 2020 building envelope's intelligent features will adjust the interior climate based on the weather and provide natural lighting and ventilation, enhancing overall comfort and occupant health.

Homes and their construction will be resource efficient, and increased durability will reduce maintenance effort and cost. Overall, the amount of construction time, material used, energy consumption, and cost will be less than they are today.

To fulfill this vision, the industry identified 120 joint government and industry research activities in the areas of materials, systems, design and construction process and performance evaluation, and identified strategies to overcome major barriers to technological progress, including consumer and builder acceptance of innovative building envelopes.

The Building Envelope, Windows, Lighting and High Performance Commercial Buildings roadmaps are available at:

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - Florida officials say the state's new scientific approach for identifying and prioritizing impaired surface waters in Florida is more protective than previous rules.

On May 3, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the adoption of a new rule to evaluate whether waters meet their designated uses, which include supporting aquatic life, recreation use, fish and shellfish consumption, and drinking water. Waters verified as not meeting any one or more of their designated uses will be listed on the state's new "303(d)" list.

The rule was designed to establish a scientific basis for identifying and listing impaired waters so that the agency can focus limited resources on impaired waters. Given the costs of restoration actions, the state must prioritize waters and focus restoration efforts on impaired waters.

Some environmental groups have assumed that the new methodology is more lenient and will result in a shorter 303(d) list, the DEP said. However, the agency says the new method is "much more environmentally conservative" than the DEP's old methodology in many ways.

The new method follows the principle of independent applicability, which results in listing waters whenever any designated use is not met. In contrast, the old methodology compiled data into an average score such that impairment of one type could be averaged out by higher scores on other designated uses.

The rule establishes criteria for a planning list of impaired waters, on which the DEP has insufficient information to verify whether they are impaired. The planning list, which has lower thresholds for defining potential impairment, commits the DEP to conducting additional monitoring as needed to determine whether these waters are impaired.

The initial planning list will include about 1340 water bodies, which is almost double the size of the 1998 303(d) list approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and includes more than 850 waters that are new to the list.

The new regulations go beyond the existing requirements of federal law by requiring the implementation of programs and on the ground activities to reduce pollutant loads and restore impaired waters.

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OLYMPIA, Washington, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - BF Goodrich Kalama, Inc. has been fined $10,000 for spilling benzoic acid into the Columbia River in Washington state.

The penalty was issued by the state Department of Ecology (Ecology) for an April 5 incident in which equipment failure and operator error caused about 1.5 pounds of liquid benzoic acid to spill into the river. None of the product was recovered.

BF Goodrich Kalama manufactures specialty and commodity chemicals and produces certain flavor and fragrance compounds and preservatives.

The spill violates an agreed order between the company and Ecology, according to Marc Pacifico of Ecology's water quality program. The maximum $10,000 penalty amount was issued because of the terms of that agreement, he said.

Benzoic acid, manufactured at the facility, is used in small quantities as a food preservative. Even though the chemical is not very toxic, it degrades water quality and should not be allowed to get into the river, Pacifico said.

So far this year, the facility has received three fines, totaling $14,000, for unpermitted discharges - two to the river and one to the ground. The penalties were calculated under the terms of the agreement between Ecology and BF Goodrich.

The agreement, signed in April 2000 and lasting for three years, aims to help avoid costly appeals, provide better reporting, and help protect the environment. The agreement required the company make improvements at the facility to prevent or minimize spills to the environment.

"Spills are happening too frequently at this facility," said Kelly Susewind, a water quality manager at Ecology. "This facility needs to improve its environmental track record. Paying penalties should not be shrugged off as simply the price of doing business."

BF Goodrich Kalama, Inc., formerly known as Kalama Chemical, Inc., "endeavors to maintain quality production in an environmentally sound atmosphere," according to the company's website.

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ITHACA, New York, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - The larvae of Manduca sexta, a moth nicknamed the tobacco hornworn, can become so chemically dependent on one of their favorite foods - the leaves of eggplant, potato or tomato plants - that they would rather starve to death than eat leaves from other plants.

"They can eat anything you put in front of them. But when they grow up eating only the leaves of solanum, or nightshade family plants like potato and tomato, the larvae reject everything else," said Marta del Campo, whose Cornell University doctoral research appears in today's issue of the journal "Nature."

"When the hornworm larva feeds on plants from the nightshade family, its taste receptors become tuned to the plant chemical Indioside D, a steroidal glycoside compound that is made of a steroid unit and the sugars glucose, rhamnose and galactose," del Campo explained. "The receptors increase their responsiveness to this chemical, while maintaining low responses to other plant compounds."

If the larvae grow up eating nothing but nightshade plant leaves, that is all they will eat, the researchers found. When the leaves were taken away, most of the larvae starved to death within two or three days.

If the larvae mature while eating any other food, the addiction does not set in.

"The addiction with the leaves is analogous to a chocolate addiction in humans," said J. Alan Renwick, Cornell professor of entomology and chemical ecology and senior research scientist at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) for Plant Research, which is located on the Cornell campus. Renwick served as the chair of del Campo's graduate faculty committee. "The larvae are absolutely addicted to their host plants," Renwick said.

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DURHAM, North Carolina, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - A Duke University graduate student has discovered that spiny lobsters make sound using the biological equivalent of a violin - the first time such a mechanism has been found in nature.

"Lots of people have tried to explain how these lobsters make sounds, and most of them were wrong," said Sheila Patek, whose research is reported in today's issue of the journal "Nature." "We've never seen this before."

Using an underwater microphone and tiny sensors attached to the lobster's antennal muscles, Patek showed that when a lobster moves its antennae in a certain way, a nubbin of tissue called a plectrum rubs over a file near its eyes, creating frictional pulses of sound.


Graduate student Sheila Patek holds a spiny lobster, the first species shown to use the biological equivalent of a violin (Photo courtesy Duke University)
Unlike crickets and other animals that produce sound by scraping a hard pick over a ridged file, a lobster's plectrum is made of soft tissue, and the file's surface is smooth. Although the sound they produce is not musical - it resembles a cross between a stick dragged across a washboard and a moist finger rubbed on a balloon - the underlying mechanism is similar to a violinist drawing a bow across the strings of her instrument.

Since lobsters cannot hear except at very close range, the sounds they make are probably not used to communicate with each other, Patek said. Instead, she said the sounds serve as a defense against predators, which may be startled long enough for the lobster to escape.

"If you were reaching down to pick up a sandwich, and it squeaked, you might pause," Patek explained.

"Organisms face many mechanical problems," Patek said. "In this case, lobsters are able to make sound without relying on hard parts, and therefore they can make sound when their exoskeleton is softened and they are most vulnerable to predation."