AmeriScan: November 11, 2002

* * *

Red-Legged Frog Habitat Protections Overturned

WASHINGTON, DC, November 11, 2002 (ENS) - A federal court has thrown out a critical habitat designation that would have helped protect four million acres in California for the threatened California red-legged frog.

In a decision filed November 6, Judge Richard Leon of the Washington DC circuit court ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to retract and review a March 2001 regulation designating critical habitat for the vanishing frogs. Developers had challenged the land use restrictions that the regulation would have created in parts of 28 of California's 58 counties.

"It's a sad day for California's natural heritage," said Mike Sherwood, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case on behalf of several environmental organizations. "The builders got exactly what they wanted - carte blanche to continue to destroy the habitat of a species already reduced to living on a small fraction of its historic range."

Critical habitat for this amphibian species, believed to be the basis for Mark Twain's short story about the "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," was established in 2001 after a series of lengthy public hearings and scientific review. Environmental groups had litigated for years to gain this protection for the red legged frog under the Endangered Species Act.

But three months later, the Home Builders Association of Northern California and other development interests filed suit in Washington, DC to overturn the designation, which protected watersheds in 28 counties and many of the remaining freshwater streams and wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coast Ranges. The frog's critical habitat also included some of the last remaining wetlands in California, 90 percent of which have already been destroyed.

Judge Leon's ruling approves a deal reached between the Home Builders and the USFWS without input from conservationists which suspends all but 200,000 acres of critical habitat protection for the frog until a new study of the designation's economic impacts is completed.

"As far as our frogs are concerned, the Home Builders may be better described as the home wreckers," said Dr. Robert Stack, of the Jumping Frog Research Institute. "Shouldn't we be seeking to balance the need for human homes with the need to provide the same for our beloved frog?"

Earthjustice intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of several conservation groups including: the Jumping Frog Research Institute, the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, the Pacific Rivers Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club.

"We do not believe this decision reflects the intent of Congress when it passed the Endangered Species Act," said Sherwood, who represented the coalition at the October 2002 hearing before Judge Leon. "The court has decided to put the economic interests of California's developers ahead of protection for a threatened species, which runs counter to the Act. Without critical habitat protection, the frog is at the mercy of developers. One day, the only place left to see this famous frog may be the zoo."

Conservationists plan to press the USFWS to reestablish adequate critical habitat upon completing the new economic analysis. The red legged frog is now found on just 30 percent of its historic range due to loss of habitat and threats from introduced predators.

A copy of the court decision is available at: http://www.earthjustice.org/news/documents/rlfchdecision.pdf

* * *

Caviar Smuggler Headed for Prison

WASHINGTON, DC, November 11, 2002 (ENS) - Victor Tsimbal, a Russian national, has been sentenced to 41 months in federal prison and two years of supervised release for his role in a caviar smuggling scheme.

The U.S. Attorney in Miami and the federal Justice Department charged Tsimbal with paying couriers to bring caviar filled suitcases into the United States after new international restrictions were announced in 1998 to protect sturgeon. Smugglers were paid about $500 for each trip and were provided airline tickets, pre-packed luggage filled with black market caviar and apartment and hotel rooms in Europe and Miami, according to papers filed in court.

Tsimbal, president and owner of Miami based Beluga Caviar, Inc., was sentenced on November 6 by U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering. Tsimbal also admitted to using false documents to smuggle more Beluga caviar from Russia into the United States via Poland in 1999 than the entire Russian export quota for that year.

Caviar valued at about $860,000 was seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) during the course of the investigation. Tsimbal also forfeited $36,000 found in his possession upon his arrest at Miami International Airport.

"Smuggling and money laundering are serious crimes that will not be tolerated," said Marcos Daniel Jiménez, United States attorney for the southern district of Florida. "We will use all the legal tools at our command to deter those who place their own profit before environmental concerns and violate the laws intended to protect wildlife."

The investigation was conducted by the USFWS's division of law enforcement with assistance provided by the U.S. Customs Service and Food and Drug Administration. Tsimbal's sentencing is the ninth case in Miami involving caviar smuggling over the past two years. In each case the individuals convicted have received jail sentences, with the exception of Mikhail Kovtun, who was convicted Wednesday in Miami after a jury trial and whose sentencing has been scheduled for January 30, 2003.

"Recent prosecutions have shown that the caviar trade is rife with corruption and this is having a devastating impact on the future of this species of pre-historic origin," said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division. "The Justice Department is dedicated to enforcing the laws designed to protect and preserve them from the threat of extinction."

Sturgeon, an ancient fish species that can live up to 100 years, is threatened by caviar poaching because the time necessary to reach egg bearing age can be up to 20 years, and the fish is killed in the process of obtaining the roe that is salted to make caviar. A major threat to the survival of the sturgeon is the trade in black market caviar smuggled from Russia and other Caspian Sea nations.

As of April 1, 1998, the protection accorded to sturgeon was enhanced by the listing of all species as protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Prior to importing caviar into the United States from a foreign country, a valid foreign export permit issued by the country of origin or a valid foreign re-export certificate issued by the country of re-export must first be obtained.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it unlawful for any person subject to United States jurisdiction to engage in trade or to possess any specimens traded contrary to the provisions of CITES. Effective October 22 of this year, the USFWS prohibited any import of beluga sturgeon caviar from the five countries bordering the Caspian Sea in order to implement a CITES Authority decision recognizing a zero export quota for those countries.

* * *

Anacapa Island Blanketed With Rat Poison

VENTURA, California, November 11, 2002 (ENS) - Despite public opposition, the National Park Service (NPS) air dropped rat poison on the West and Middle Islets of Anacapa in Channel Islands National Park on November 1, conservation groups have confirmed.

Legal counsel for The Fund for Animals and Channel Islands Animal Protection Association (CHIAPA) has confirmed that the NPS conducted the planned 2.4 million dollar poisoning in defiance of growing opposition from a growing list of environmental and wildlife organizations including Surfrider Foundation, Californians for Pesticide Reform, and the Humane Society of the United States.

Opponents charge that the project was conducted under false premises, and note the heavy death toll to non-target species and the long term consequences to the ecosystem.

"The American public has entrusted this jewel of an island to the National Park Service," said Scarlet Newton, spokesperson for CHIAPA. "The NPS has violated that trust. Not even a commercial developer on private land would have gotten away with such a wicked scheme."

The poisoning is part of the Anacapa Island Restoration Project, aimed at killing non-native black rats, which the environmental groups say have been established on the islands for two centuries. The NPS says the rats are harming a rare seabird called the Xantus' Murrelet, which nests on Anacapa.

Critics of the project say that published government and scientific documents reveal that the black rat is one of the few species on the island that does not prey upon the murrelet, and that the real threat to this seabird's population is human disturbance. Xantus' Murrelet is also declining on Santa Barbara Island where the black rat is absent, the groups note.

Last December, the NPS poisoned the East Islet of the three that constitute Anacapa, an island located 11 miles off the Southern California coast. The NPS bombarded the island with food pellets laden with the poison brodifacoum, which causes slow death by internal bleeding to all birds and mammals exposed to the pellets.

The death toll last year included at least 12 species of federally protected migratory birds, among them every burrowing owl on the islet.

Also poisoned was one fourth of the world's population of the Anacapa deer mouse, a rare creature found only on Anacapa. The NPS proceeded with the November 1 poisoning despite an emergency petition filed October 29 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list this unique rodent for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

"The National Park Service has intentionally caused the greatest environmental disaster since the Exxon Valdez, simply because of its religious fervor to kill non-native animals," said Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals.

"Whether animals are native or not, they don't deserve to die slow deaths over three to ten days due to internal bleeding," Markarian added. "This poisoning was both inhumane and ecologically reckless."

* * *

Researchers Look at Contaminants in Human Milk

HERSHEY, Pennsylvania, November 11, 2002 (ENS) - An international panel of 30 experts met at the Penn State College of Medicine last week to develop a plan for a nationwide effort to discover what, if any, environmental chemicals transfer from mothers to their babies through human milk.

The meeting was part of an effort to determine which chemicals may pose risks to breastfeeding newborns. The effort is detailed in the November issue of the "Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health," released this week and devoted to the "Technical Workshop on Human Milk Surveillance and Research for Environmental Chemicals in the United States."

"The workshop on environmental chemicals in breast milk was designed to gather data to support the safety of breastfeeding for women in the United States and Canada," said Dr. Cheston Berlin, a Penn State professor of pediatrics and professor of pharmacology, and the host and co-director of the workshop.

"The symposium focused on methods for obtaining human milk, detecting the presence of environmental chemicals in those samples and interpreting and communicating the information found," Berlin added.

Although the panel supports the scientific and public health value of studies on environmental chemicals - such as mercury, lead or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - in human milk, Berlin and all of the panel experts are quick to point out that women should continue to breastfeed, as that is the best nutrition for newborns and infants.

"We strongly emphasize that the mere presence of an environmental chemical in human milk does not indicate that a health risk exists for breastfed infants," Berlin said. "The accumulated data overwhelmingly supports the positive health value of breastfeeding infants."

Panel member Dr. Lawrence Gartner, chair of the executive committee of the Section on Breastfeeding of the American Academy of Pediatrics, agreed. "In fact, to date, only acute massive intakes of contaminants by breastfeeding mothers have been associated with infant disease," he said.

While the benefits of breastfeeding to mother and child are well recognized and publicized, there have been claims made about the risk of environmental chemicals like PCBs and heavy metals passing to babies through human milk. However, there is very little data available that connects environmental chemicals to adverse effects in breastfeeding babies.

Gartner said many more systematic, large scale studies of human milk using the best epidemiologic, chemical and physical methods in different areas of this country and throughout the world are needed.

"Human milk feeding is of such critical importance to infant, child and even adult health that every effort must be made to assure its safety and purity," Gartner said. "Only with this knowledge will we be able to give accurate guidance to breastfeeding mothers and, more importantly, make efforts to eliminate chemical contaminants from our environment."

The next step is to secure funding for pilot studies to assess the feasibility of a large scale project.

"Ultimately, the goal is to respond to questions of concern, and get the facts about the presence or absence of environmental chemicals in human milk," Berlin concluded.

* * *

Oil Contaminates Marsh 30 Years After Spill

WOODS HOLE, Massachusetts, November 11, 2002 (ENS) - Thirty years after an oil spill near West Falmouth, Massachusetts, residues of the oil can still be found in salt marsh sediments.

In September 1969, about 175,000 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil spilled from the barge FLORIDA in Buzzards Bay near West Falmouth. A report to be released November 15 by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and colleagues at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy provides evidence that oil from such spills persists in the marine environment for a long period of time even though the surface sediments recover and appear healthy.

Lead study author Christopher Reddy, an assistant scientist in the Institution's Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department, and colleagues collected a 36 centimeter (14 inch) sediment core from the West Falmouth site in August 2000. No evidence of petroleum residues were detected in the top six centimeters (just over two inches) or the lower eight centimeters (about three inches) of the core.

However, the central section of the sediment core, from six to 28 centimeters (two to 11 inches from the top of the core) contained petroleum hydrocarbons in similar concentrations to those observed just after the 1969 spill.

Using new analytical methods not available in prior studies at the site, the team found that compounds consistent with No. 2 fuel oil were still present in the sediments and may remain there indefinitely.

The West Falmouth oil spill site is a considered a baseline for studies of the long term fate and effects of petroleum hydrocarbons in marine sediments. Scientists have been studying the site ever since the spill occurred and have found similar results each time.

A 1989 study, for example, confirmed the presence of oil residues in the sediments, attributed to the heavy contamination of the area by the oil spill, the high organic carbon content, and anoxic conditions in the salt marsh sediments that hindered microbial degradation.

Reddy and his department colleagues Timothy Eglinton, Aubrey Hounshell, Helen White and Li Xu have begun a major effort to revisit the spill site and to investigate the fate of the spilled oil using new analytical approaches that were not available in prior studies.

"Petroleum residues from the spill continue to occur in Wild Harbor sediments after 30 years and will likely remain there indefinitely," Reddy said. "Even after all these years, concentrations of some compounds are similar to those observed immediately after the spill and reflect the persistent nature of No, 2 fuel oil in coastal salt marsh sediments."

"The long term biological effects of oil contamination at this site is unknown since animals burrowing into these sediments can be exposed to high levels of some of these compounds," Reddy added. "It is clear from this study that oil spills can have a long term impact on a coastal environment."

The study appears in the journal "Environmental Science and Technology."

* * *

Universities Fined for Hazwaste Violations

NEW YORK, New York, November 11, 2002 (ENS) - Columbia University, Long Island University and New Jersey City University face a total of $1.1 million in penalties for alleged violations of hazardous waste regulations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure the protection of those working at and attending institutions of higher learning, has issued civil enforcement actions against the three universities alleging violations of federal and state laws that provide for the safe handling and disposal of hazardous wastes.

"These complaints and penalties highlight the real benefits of the self audit and disclosure programs that EPA is promoting at colleges and universities," said EPA regional administrator Jane Kenny. "EPA encourages colleges and universities to take advantage of these programs, but they should also keep in mind that we will continue to inspect institutions that are not taking part in them."

The civil complaints, the basis for the proposed penalties, charge the universities with violations of state laws and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which ensures that hazardous waste is managed in an environmentally sound manner from "cradle to grave". All three complaints include orders requiring the universities to address the alleged deficiencies and to comply with all appropriate federal and state hazardous waste laws.

The complaint against Columbia University carries a total penalty of $797,029. Most of the penalty, $584,158, is the result of charges that Columbia failed to minimize the risk of fire, explosion and/or the release of hazardous chemicals into the environment.

Long Island University's $219,883 penalty is the result of a civil complaint charging the university with violations of federal and New York State laws that govern the identification and storage of hazardous wastes. The complaint charges that Long Island University failed to determine whether several solid waste streams it generated were hazardous wastes; stored hazardous wastes without a permit; failed to adequately respond to EPA's requests for information about its hazardous wastes; and did not minimize the risk of fire, explosions or release of hazardous waste into the environment.

New Jersey City University faces a penalty totaling $88,344 for violations of state hazardous waste and tank regulations. The complaint alleges that New Jersey City University failed to determine if wastes generated at its facility met the criteria for being hazardous; did not minimize the possibility of a fire, explosion or any unplanned release of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents; failed to keep release detection records for two underground storage tanks (which have since been removed); and did not train mployees in proper hazardous waste management and emergency procedures.

The EPA continues to encourage participation in its Colleges and Universities Initiative, which has been in place since 1999. As part of the initiative, EPA sent letters to 365 colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York, and Puerto Rico; held free workshops to help colleges and universities comply; set up a Web site that provides information about their duties under the law; and warned them that EPA inspections of their facilities - with the risk of financial penalties - were imminent.

To date, 48 colleges and universities in the region have come forward to disclose violations to EPA. More than half of those schools have been granted a 100 percent waiver of certain penalties while the other cases are still under review.

* * *

NIEHS Director Wins Public Health Award

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, November 11, 2002 (ENS) - Dr. Kenneth Olden, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, will receive the prestigious Calver Award from the American Public Health Association at its annual meeting today.

The award is named for Homer Calver, a World War I medic, modern public health official, showman and environmental journalist. Calver was executive secretary of APHA and editor of its "American Journal of Public Health," and also established and edited what became the popular "Environmental News Digest."

As recipient of the Calver Award, Dr. Olden will deliver the keynote address at the APHA's environmental section's program at the annual meeting, focusing on his leadership of an institute and toxicology program which are pioneering environmental and genetic studies of individual susceptibility to disease and on better testing of chemicals.

Since his appointment as director of the federal National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in 1991, Dr. Olden has become a national spokesperson for improved public health through environmental health sciences, with special emphasis on partnerships with grassroots organizations and patient advocacy groups in charting programs of environmental research.

He initiated environmental NIEHS sponsored town meetings throughout the country that have been public sounding boards focusing both on regional environmental health concerns and on health disparities caused by exposures to environmental pollutants which often surround minorities and those with lower socioeconomic status.

Dr. Olden has also taken a leading role in founding the Environmental Genome Project to study people's varying susceptibility to chemicals and diseases and the National Center for Toxicogenomics, which applies advances in genetic technology to the testing of chemical and the study of environmentally related diseases.

"The APHA's environmental section is pleased to recognize the tremendous accomplishments of Kenneth Olden over his more than 10 years as director of the NIEHS and NTP, and over his decades in biomedical research," said APHA chair for the environmental section Captain Patrick Bohan, retired from the U.S. Public Health Service. "He has deepened the science of his agency at the same time he has broadened its relevance to public health. The recognition is richly deserved."

The Homer Calver award was established in 1970, the year that Earth Day was first observed and Calver died. He had served as executive director of APHA and as editor of the "American Journal of Public Health."

Prior recipients of the annual Calver award have included U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, Representative Edward Porter, an Illinois Republican who helped spur the recent increases in the federal health research budget, Thomas Burke of the Johns Hopkins school of public health, and Michael McCally, then with Mt. Sinai school of medicine in New York and now with the Oregon Health and Sciences University.

Dr. Olden has also been selected by the Cincinnati Area Lead Advisory Committee as the first recipient of the Cincinnati Children's Environmental Health Award. The award acknowledges Dr. Olden's leadership role in addressing children's health issues, particularly lead poisoning, and recognizes the role of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in a number of children's health initiatives that have enhanced children's health in the Cincinnati area.

The CALAC is working with the local CLEARCorps, or Community Lead Education and Reduction/AmeriCorps program to increase community awareness of lead hazards and for passage of a local lead hazard control ordinance. The award presentation this month will be a part of a reunion of families who have participated in local lead studies.

* * *

Grant Funds New York City Environmental Education

NEW YORK, New York, November 11, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given an $80,000 grant to the New York City parks department to support the agency's new environmental education program, The Natural Classroom.

The program, which is conducted by Parks' Urban Park Rangers in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, is a response to new more stringent academic performance requirements in the city. It will serve about 50,000 students from kindergarten through grade 8 this school year.

The Natural Classroom program is underway at Parks' nature centers in flagship parks - such as Central Park in Manhattan and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx - throughout the city. The EPA's funding will build capacity for The Natural Classroom by helping the Parks Department expand the program to smaller neighborhood parks such as Fort Greene in Brooklyn and Kissena in Queens.

To celebrate the grant, Kenny and Benepe joined a 6th grade class - in Central Park as part of The Natural Classroom program - and waded into the 59th Street Pond to net a variety of aquatic animals.

"Students need to know that the New York City environment is more than concrete canyons and streams of traffic," said Jane Kenny, EPA regional administrator. "The Natural Classroom program will show them that you don't have to go to the Amazon to find an exotic beetle or a strange looking bird. You just have to know where to look."

New York City public school teachers who participate in The Natural Classroom can choose from as many as nine one-day programs for their students: Ecology, Conservation, Botany, Entomology, Ichthyology, Ornithology, Native Americans, Explorers and Historic Houses. These hands on programs are designed to meet federal, state and city mandated curriculum requirements, and were written by Parks' Urban Park Rangers in partnership with the New York City Department of Education and the National Geographic Society.

Teachers who sign up for the program are sent a curriculum packet that helps them tie the lessons learned during their park based experience to their classroom curricula, both before and after the park visit. During the park visit, participating children might determine whether a particular park is suitable for the reintroduction of screech owls, investigate a salt marsh to learn what kinds of plants and animals call it home, or navigate through a park forest using a map and compass as a guide.

"The Natural Classroom represents the most creative programming the city has to offer," said New York City parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. "As our Urban Park Rangers teach students about the natural world around them we hope they will grow up to become more conscious and protective of New York City's parks and green spaces. This grant will help us reach a larger audience of schoolchildren across the city."

The annual cost of The Natural Classroom is about $500,000. EPA's $80,000 grant will enable Parks to hire a coordinator to reach out to additional neighborhoods, publish promotional material and lesson plans and create multi-media presentations for the students.