AmeriScan: October 10, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, October 10, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established a water protection task force that will be charged with helping federal, state and local partners to expand their tools to safeguard the nation's drinking water supply from terrorist attack.

"While EPA already has a strong coordinated partnership program for protecting our drinking water, this task force will have specific duties to expand EPA's service to the community water systems," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.

"The threat of public harm from an attack on our nation's water supply is small. Our goal here is to ensure that drinking water utilities in every community have access to the best scientific information and technical expertise they need, and to know what immediate steps to take and to whom to turn for help," Whitman added.

EPA already has in place a notification system to quickly share information among drinking water providers, the law enforcement community, and emergency response officials. This system, developed through a public/private partnership with the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), alerts authorities and water system officials to threats, potential vulnerabilities and incidents.

This type of notification went out as an FBI alert after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on September 11.

The EPA has given the AMWA a $600,000 grant to continue to improve this notification system with a secure web based virtual center. The Information Sharing and Analysis Center can be accessed by all partners, including wastewater facilities.

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HELENA, Montana, October 10, 2001 (ENS) - Conservation groups have filed a complaint in federal district court to stop a post-fire logging project that would cause environmental damage in the Helena National Forest in Montana.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) had authorized logging on 1,351 acres affected by last summer's Maudlow-Toston fire on the southern end of the Big Belt Mountains. The plaintiffs - the Native Ecosystems Council of Three Forks, the Ecology Center based in Missoula, and the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club - believe the logging plan violates numerous environmental laws and deceives the public by failing to disclose that the timber sale may cost taxpayers as much as two million dollars.

The complaint alleges that the USFS performed an economic analysis riddled with inaccuracies that obscures the losses incurred from implementing the logging.

"Despite the Forest Service's claim that the timber sale would result in returning $800,000 in revenue to the taxpayers, the likelihood is that we will be footing the bill for a loss of nearly two million dollars," stated economist Michael Garrity. "For every dollar the Forest Service would spend there will be a return of about 10 cents. This is an example of extreme fiscal irresponsibility."

Sara Johnson of Native Ecosystem Council noted that, "The 2000 fire reduced habitat security for big game and other wildlife, and in carrying out the logging the Forest Service would further reduce security cover in violation of its own Forest Plan. Furthermore, the Forest Service is pushing to log old growth while admitting they don't know if there is enough in the area to comply with the Forest Plan."

"The Forest Service admits the logging will cause soil erosion into Deep Creek, which was already suffering from logging induced sediment even before last year's fire," added Jeff Juel of the Ecology Center. "Still, they refused to consult with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which had written a cleanup plan as required by the Clean Water Act."

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ST. LOUIS, Missouri, October 10, 2001 (ENS) - Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) confirmed this week that five dead crows found in the St. Louis, Missouri area have tested positive for the West Nile Virus.

On Thursday, USGS biologists announced that a dead blue jay, found near El Dorado, Arkansas, also tested positive for the virus. These most recent cases mark the furthest west the virus has been identified in the United States.

One year ago, USGS scientists said the West Nile Virus was on the move south and possibly west. The virus, considered a special threat to crows and jays, has appeared this year from Florida to Maine and has now crossed the Mississippi River.

"This year has seen a rapid westward expansion of the virus," said Scott Wright, a wildlife disease pathologist at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center where the tests were performed. "We had expected some expansion to the west, but we could not have predicted how fast the virus would move. As the weather begins to cool though, we should see the virus activity slow down in northern parts of the country."

Primarily a wild bird disease, West Nile Virus has been confirmed in 25 humans in 2001, including an Atlanta woman who died. It has been found in more than 80 bird species and nine mammal species since its arrival in this country in 1999.

This summer, the virus has also been identified in 137 horses in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia and in thousands of birds in eastern states.

This year, the virus has been identified in 27 states, the District of Columbia and in Ontario, Canada.

More information is available at:

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WILLISTON, North Dakota, October 10, 2001 (ENS) - A public private partnership including the National Park Service (NPS), the Friends of Fort Union/Fort Buford, and North Star Caviar have cooperated to buy an 11.84 acre parcel along the Missouri River.

Andrew Banta, superintendent of the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, said that "the effort by this diverse group of partners shows how the public and private sector can work together on projects that will benefit future generations."

"Purchasing this parcel of land has been a very high priority for the National Park Service, so that it might screen current agricultural operations, and help set the historic scene for our visitors" added Banta. "The acquisition of this property will enable the park to continue efforts to preserve and protect the historic and cultural landscape of the fort and the Missouri River environment."

Banta went on to say the "buffer provided by this now will help our visitors enjoy a better sense of what the fort and its environs looked when it was in operation during the 19th century."

The Friends of Fort Union/Fort Buford was established in 1984 to promote the preservation, interpretation, and development of Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site and Fort Buford State Historic Site, the Sitting Bull surrender site.

North Star Caviar is a nonprofit community group that uses the caviar from paddlefish caught by local fisherman in the Missouri River. All of their profits are returned to the local community through a grants program.

Superintendent Banta credits the National Park Trust (NPT) for helping to fund the land purchase, while looking towards the long term protection of unique tracts of land adjoining small parks such as Fort Union.

"This is a perfect example of how private organizations, friends groups, and businesses can work together to protect America's national treasures and our park lands," said NPT president Paul Pritchard.

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 10, 2001 (ENS) - The Food and Drug Administration will hold a public hearing to solicit comments on whether and how to strengthen a regulation designed to help prevent the occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in U.S. cattle herds.

Since 1997, when the regulation "Animal Proteins Prohibited in Ruminant Feed" (available at: went into effect, new information on BSE and its human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) has emerged.

This new information needs to be considered for its possible effect on the risk the diseases pose to human and animal health, the FDA says. The agency is requesting information and views from individuals and organizations on the present rule and whether changes in the rule or other additional measures are necessary.

The FDA is interested in soliciting comments and views from individuals, industry, consumer groups, health professionals, and researchers with expertise in BSE and related animal and human diseases.

The hearing will be held on October 30, from 9 am to 5 pm Central time at the Westin Crowne Center Hotel, 1 Pershing Road, Kansas City, Missouri. The hearing will be open to the public, and the FDA will reserve one hour, from 4-5 pm, for oral presentations from those who have not previously registered.

Comments identified with Docket No. 01N-0423, and the statement "Animal Feed Rule Hearing," can be submitted through November 21 to the Dockets Management Branch, HFA-305, Food and Drug Administration 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, Maryland, 20852. Individuals should send one copy of comments, and organizations should send two copies.

Comments can also be submitted to:

More information about the hearing is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 10, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is listing the scaleshell mussel, a freshwater species once found in many rivers in the eastern United States, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

A plant or animal is designated as endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

"Nearly 75 percent of historically known river populations of scaleshells have disappeared," said Bill Hartwig, the USFWS Great Lakes-Big Rivers regional director. "The species once inhabited 55 rivers or streams in 13 states, but now is limited to14 rivers in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma."

"The decline of the scaleshell is an all too common trend in freshwater mussels in the United States," Hartwig said. "Freshwater mussels are valuable members of aquatic ecosystems, and act as excellent indicators of the quality of the water they inhabit - water we all depend upon. Mussels are one of the most endangered groups of animals in the country, and we need to take extraordinary steps, like this endangered designation, to ensure their survival."

Scaleshells now exist in Missouri (Meramec, Big, Bourbeuse, Osage and Gasconade rivers); Arkansas (St. Francis, Spring, South Fork Spring, South Fourche LaFave, and White rivers, and Frog Bayou ); and Oklahoma (Kiamichi River, Little River, and Mountain Fork). Of these 14 populations, 13 are thought to be declining.

Biologists have been able to find no more than 35 individuals in any of these populations and just one individual in most of them.

Threats to the scaleshell, as with many other mussel species, include poor water quality due to pollution and sedimentation, loss and alteration of habitat through damming of waterways, dredging and channelization of rivers, sand and gravel mining, and competition with non-native species like the zebra mussel.

Pollutants from industrial sources, sewage and spills can kill mussels, and sedimentation from dredging and erosion along rivers and streams can cover them and impair respiration and feeding. Mussels are vulnerable because they tend to stay in one place and cannot move away from threats.

For more information on the scaleshell, visit:

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas, October 10, 2001 (ENS) - Of the nearly 340 species of crayfish in North America, more than half are suffering in some way: 65 are endangered, 45 are threatened and 50 are of "special concern," or on watch for changes in their populations.

Researchers at Texas A&M University are looking into why so many crayfish are at risk, and what their problems may say about the health of the nation's waterways.


Dr. Fran Gelwick, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station fisheries researcher, uses a net to track crayfish. Her research examines whether understanding crayfish ecology can be a predictor of the health of our nation's streams (Experiment Station photo by Kathleen Phillips)
"I'm a community ecologist," said Dr. Fran Gelwick, wildlife and fisheries biologist. "I look at everything that pertains to the health of the environment in which an animal lives. By understanding how organisms influence their environment, as well as how environmental changes affect the organisms, we can monitor for symptoms of adverse conditions."

The findings of Gelwick and graduate student Brian Healy, presented at the recent North American Benthological Society meeting, detailed how crayfish cope with the challenges of weather, predators and human intervention.

"The various species have different strategies, in the evolutionary sense, of dealing with situations," Gelwick said. "Each has their own strength and weakness, but those with the better match to the river system are more likely to sustain their population."

The decline of certain species of crayfish is not unlike that of other wildlife, Gelwick said. Many species of crayfish have a limited natural range, their habitat is being lost to urban encroachment, and chemical runoff has polluted many water systems.

Crayfish play an important role in streams. They eat small fish and insects, process debris and are prey themselves for larger fish and people. These roles are important in maintaining healthy ecosystems, Gelwick said.

"They process large pieces of organic matter," she said. "My idea of dirt might be another animal's idea of food. The crayfish take large leaves, algae or dead animals in a stream and process it into smaller pieces that then can be used by the smaller animals in the ecosystem. You can think of them as a conveyor belt through which a product goes in one way and comes out another that is more useful to the next consumer in the food web."

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SAN JOSE, California, October 10, 2001 (ENS) - Delegates to the Communications Workers of America's (CWA) national convention in Minneapolis this summer voted to support the "Electronics Take it Back!" project, which won support from CWA's executive board earlier this year.

The program was launched by the Silicon Valley Toxic Coalition (SVTC) in California. The SVTC executive board includes Louie Rocha, president of CWA Local 9423.

Millions of computers, stereos, video players, televisions and other electronic devices get replaced every year by state of the art models, and are discarded. Obsolete electronics and newer models that break are creating mountains of toxic garbage that are leaking lead and other hazardous waste into soil and groundwater.

This worldwide problem has led to a campaign to pressure manufacturers to build sturdy, clean, upgradeable electronics, and to hold companies responsible for the ultimate disposal of their products. The campaign is well suited to CWA, CWA president Morton Bahr noted.

"As the information age union, it's important to be socially responsible about the equipment we make and use," Bahr said. "The world's rapidly growing mass of obsolete computers and other electronic equipment is a problem that's becoming more critical every day."

Taxpayer funded programs in cities and counties across the country now bear the expense of collecting, managing and disposing of discarded electronics. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition wants manufacturers and distributors to pick up the costs.

"This creates a powerful incentive for manufacturers of electronics to reduce such costs by designing products that are clean, safe, durable, reusable, repairable, upgradeable and easy to disassemble and recycle," SVTC says.

Ted Smith, the coalition's founder and a member of CWA through the United Association for Labor Education, said the project started with a "clean computer" campaign in Europe two years ago and has spread through activist networks.

"In the United States, the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] has taken a hands off approach, and the high tech industry is allergic to regulation," Smith said. "Nevertheless, we have the beginning of a national dialogue."

Smith said Massachusetts and California have passed laws banning the disposal of electronics products in landfills, and requiring that they be recycled. Dismantling electronics, disposing of the chemical waste and recycling the rest now costs more than the salvaged parts are worth. But Smith said that will change once the process becomes more common and efficient.

"Once you get the infrastructure in place, the economies of scale kick in," Smith said. "The way to build this is to start exerting consumer pressure," Smith said. "We're going to have to get states to pass laws, and get consumers to take action based on companies' performances."

More information about Electronics Take it Back! is available at:

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OAKLAND, California, October 10, 2001 (ENS) - U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) wildlife researchers will present studies of fire management and post-fire recovery in California at California's 2001 Wildfire Conference and Public on Thursday.

The conference, to be held October 11 at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland, will feature scientists from the USGS Western Ecological Research Center.

Dr. William Russell will discuss "Vegetation Change and Fire Hazard in the San Francisco Bay Area Open Spaces." Changes in the native vegetation in the urbanized areas of the San Francisco Bay area have resulted in increased fire hazard, Russell's research shows.

Using remote images over time to sample various vegetation types, Russell found that a conversion of grassland to shrubland had occurred on five of seven sites sampled. Computer fire simulations indicated that a higher fire intensity and flame length were associated with shrublands over all other vegetation types sampled.

Dr. Jon Keeley will discuss "Fire Management of California Shrublands." Fire management policies have been influenced by policies designed for coniferous forests, Keeley learned.

Keeley found that in contrast to Western forests, fire suppression has not excluded fire from California shrublands, and in most cases catastrophic wildfires are not the result of unnatural fuel accumulation. Studying historical records, Keeley found that the worst fires occurred when fires happened to ignite at times of extreme weather events, in which high winds drove flames across the landscape.

More information about the conference is available at: