AmeriScan: October 17, 2001

WORLD'S LARGEST MEATPACKER TO RESOLVE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS

WASHINGTON, DC, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - IBP Inc, the world's largest meatpacker, has agreed to pay the United States $4.1 million in penalties for violating the nation's environmental laws.

Under the settlement, IBP will construct additional wastewater treatment systems at its Dakota City, Nebraska plant to reduce its discharges of ammonia to the Missouri River, and will continue to expand operational improvements ordered last year that will reduce hydrogen sulfur air emissions.

The agreement filed by the Justice Department on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) resolves charges that IBP violated the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental laws at its 200 acre complex of facilities near Dakota City, as well as additional violations at IBP facilities in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Texas.

Each day, some 5,000 head of cattle are slaughtered and between 4,000 to 5,000 hides are tanned at the facility. About four million gallons of contaminated wastewater are treated at the plant and then discharged into the Missouri River.

"This agreement secures IBP's future compliance with our nation's environmental laws and penalizes its past violations," said John Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources at the Justice Department. "The right of the people to clean air and water cannot be compromised."

IBP's discharge of large quantities of ammonia in its wastewater violated its state issued Clean Water Act permit, and could have harmed aquatic life in the Missouri River. The government found evidence of an ongoing and persistent toxicity problem stemming from the ammonia in IBP's discharges, dating to 1988.

The United States also charged that IBP failed to install required air pollution control equipment as the company expanded its complex from 1989 to 1995. IBP failed to report its releases of hydrogen sulfide in excess of 100 pounds per day, as required by law.

IBP also improperly disposed of spent stun gun cartridges containing lead.

Under the agreement, IBP will pay $4.1 million in civil penalties, and also will spend about $10 million in improvements to resolve its violations at the Dakota City facility and for additional projects to reduce its discharge of pollutants to the air and water.

"IBP's Dakota City facility has been the source of persistent environmental problems for many years," said Mike Heavican, U.S. attorney for the District of Nebraska. "We look forward to the company becoming a better neighbor to Nebraska citizens in the future."

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STERILIZERS COULD KILL ANTHRAX IN MAILROOMS

BOSTON, Massachusetts, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - With America reeling under the threat of anthrax and other spore forming bacteria, Consolidated Machine Corporation may have discovered a way to ease the nation's fears.

The small Boston company, which builds steam sterilizers for hospitals, research laboratories and medical facilities in more than 60 countries around the world, has confirmed their machines are capable of killing spore forming bacteria, such as anthrax, present in mail. The key to this system is the combination of an old technology, steam sterilization, and a new technology, Consolidated's patented "Bug Buster" filtration device.

"We've been making water stills and sterilizers in our little factory here for more than 50 years," said William Barnstead, who founded his company in 1946 after serving in World War II. "We're not the biggest but I think we make the best machines you can buy."

After reading the weekend's news accounts of the anthrax scare, Barnstead and his director of research and development Arthur Trapotsis met on Monday morning to see if they could use their experience to help.

"We took our mail and contaminated it with a spore forming bacteria just like anthrax. Then we ran it through one of our sterilizers. The moist heat destroyed the bacteria and the 'Bug Buster' filter prevented the spores from escaping the sterilization vessel into the surrounding room," Trapotsis said. "The mail was completely clean. We were thrilled. We think this system can be the answer for companies and government agencies who are concerned about anthrax."

"People don't necessarily need to be worried about their mail. All they have to do is run their mail through one of these sterilizing machines every morning, just as hospitals run their medical instruments through everyday," Trapotsis added. "These machines are very efficient and they will make all mail and packages free of bacteria."

While the Federal Bureau of Investigations announced yesterday that they had received more than 2000 reports of anthrax since October 1, Barnstead said there is no reason to panic.

"Good old American know how can solve this or just about any problem,'' Barnstead said. "If we stay calm and think our way through, we can work out anything."

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CORAL REEF ACT PASSED IN THE HOUSE

WASHINGTON, DC, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - The House has passed the Coral Reef and Coastal Marine Conservation Act of 2001, a bill that boosts protections for the world's coral reefs.

The Coral Reef Coastal Marine Conservation Act of 2001 (HR 2272) amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to provide for debt relief to developing countries who take action to protect critical coral reef habitats. The bill authorizes debt for nature swaps, debt buy backs, and debt restructuring instruments to help protect coral reefs.

The funds derived from these debt reduction instruments will be deposited in locally managed funds that will support coral reef conservation efforts throughout the world. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing the Act will cost $37 million over the 2002-2006 period.

Each country that enters into a coral reef related debt reduction agreement with the U.S. must establish a Coral Reef and Other Coastal Maine Resources Fund to provide grants to groups that will conserve, maintain and restore its coral reefs and other coastal marine resources.

Covering less than one percent of the planet's surface, coral reefs and their associated mangrove, seagrass, and other habitats are the world's most diverse marine ecosystems. Coral reefs provide food, jobs, protection from storms and billions of dollars in revenues each year to local communities and national economies.

Coral reef ecosystems are now being degraded and destroyed worldwide by a variety of human activities. Their destruction threatens the survival of these valuable and ancient marine ecosystems, and the communities and economies that depend on them.

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OZONE HOLE STILL BIG, BUT STABILIZING

WASHINGTON, DC, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - Satellite data show that the area of the Antarctic ozone hole peaked at about 26 million square kilometers (about 10 million square miles), making this year's ozone hole the same size as North America, and similar in size to those of the past three years.

Over the past several years the annual ozone hole over Antarctica has remained about the same in both area and minimum total ozone amount, say scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

"This is consistent with human produced chlorine compounds that destroy ozone reaching their peak concentrations in the atmosphere, leveling off, and now beginning a very slow decline," said NOAA scientist Samuel Oltmans.

ozone hole

Level of ozone on September 17, 2001, the maximum levels for this year (Photo courtesy NASA)
In the near future (barring unusual events such as explosive volcanic eruptions) the severity of the ozone hole is expected to remain similar to what has been seen in recent years, with year to year differences associated with variations in the weather. Over the longer term (30-50 years) the severity of the ozone hole in Antarctica is expected to decrease as chlorine levels in the atmosphere decline.

The total area of the ozone hole is one measure of its severity. The ozone hole area is defined as the size of the region with total ozone below 220 Dobson units. A Dobson unit is a unit of measurement that describes the thickness of the ozone layer in a column above the location being measured.

Prior to the springtime period in Antarctica, when ozone depletion occurs, the normal ozone reading is around 275 Dobson units.

"Last year the ozone hole was of record size, but it formed very early and then collapsed quickly," said NASA scientist R.D. McPeters. "This year the hole was about 10 percent smaller."

Each spring when the sun rises over Antarctica, chemical reactions involving chlorine and bromine from manmade CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and bromine containing compounds occur in the stratosphere and destroy ozone, causing the "ozone hole." Measurements of this year's ozone hole made at the South Pole and above the Antarctic show that atmospheric ozone depletion reached the low levels typical of the past 10 years.

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EPA URGES SMOKERS TO TAKE IT OUTSIDE

WASHINGTON, DC, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman has unveiled a new environmental health campaign, the Smoke-Free Home Pledge Initiative, designed to protect millions of America's children from the risks of secondhand smoke in their own homes.

Every day, 12 million children are exposed to secondhand smoke in their home, leading to potential serious health consequences ranging from ear infections and pneumonia to asthma. Whitman announced a national television and print media campaign and a major outreach effort cosponsored by key medical, consumer, and community organizations, and released a new brochure and other outreach materials to help families protect their children.

The goal of the program is to motivate millions of parents to pledge to keep their home smoke free.

"Because children have unique vulnerabilities - they absorb greater concentrations of smoke than adults do from the same exposure - we must use greater caution in protecting them from environmental threats to their health," said Whitman. "One of the ways parents and caregivers can do this is by taking the Smoke-Free Home Pledge - simply choosing not to smoke, and not letting others smoke, in your home or anywhere children are present. Of course, we encourage people to quit smoking entirely. We realize that is difficult, so until they can take that step, we ask that they smoke outside."

Throughout the month of October, Whitman has been focusing on environmental risks to children's health. Secondhand smoke is an environmental trigger of asthma, the cause of an estimated 10 million missed school days for children in the U.S. It is estimated that up to one million children have aggravated asthma symptoms due to secondhand smoke.

The pledge campaign is a collaborative effort with thousands of local partners, each with their own specific activities to get the word out. The pledge brochure will be distributed by hundreds of local public health and tobacco control groups. More than 300,000 of these brochures have been sent for distribution to such groups.

Doctors who are members of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) will be asking parents to make their homes smoke free and will provide them with EPA's new pledge brochure. The AAAAI is sending pledge materials to all of its 6,000 members (physicians and pediatricians).

EPA has established a smoke free hotline, 1-800-513-1157, to take pledges from parents and reinforce their commitment with a certificate and supporting materials.

More information is available at: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/ets

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SOY PRODUCTS COULD CAUSE HEALTH PROBLEMS

BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - Health conscious Americans have long accepted the benefits of tofu, infant formula and other food products made from soybeans and soy extract, but their assumption is now being called into question.

Jill Schneider, associate professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, performed a study on hamsters with student Jamie Swanson. They found that a component of soy beans - isoflavones - accelerated the onset of puberty in the rodents.

These findings, which are similar to the results reported by labs that have experimented with rats, might be relevant to humans, Schneider said. She pointed out that many babies who are allergic to cow's milk are fed soy based formulas that contain isoflavones.

Isoflavones, Schneider said, can act like estrogen, a natural hormone important in the development of both male and female humans.

Besides triggering early puberty in hamsters, Schneider and Swanson found that exposure to soy isoflavones also influenced the sexual behavior of the rodents, long after they had stopped eating the isoflavones.

"The sexual behavior of the soy isoflavone treated animals was much more pronounced," Schneider said. "They showed much more sexual receptivity and more interest in mating. Like estrogens, these isoflavones can work early in development and change how an animal acts later."

The experiments "provide evidence that isoflavones might have far reaching effects on behavior. People should be concerned about giving these formulas with isoflavones to infants," said Schneider. "They should not necessarily jump on the bandwagon to consume these products."

Scientists do not yet know whether there is a safe dose of isoflavones for infants, Schneider noted. Infants who are fed soy formula containing containing isoflavones should be monitored later in their lives to see if they experience accelerated onset of puberty, she suggested.

Schneider is also concerned about how soy products might increase the risk of breast cancer and accelerated aging in the brain. Estrogen stimulates cell division and growth in some types of breast cancers. Isoflavones, which bind to estrogen receptors, can mimic estrogen in some cases, Schneider said.

Naturally occurring soy products like soy beans or tofu, Schneider says, do not concern her as much as the isoflavone pills or concentrated soy powders, which contain larger quantities of isoflavone than those contained in the the beans or curd. Schneider, who will present her findings in a paper before the Society for Neuroscience in August, says investigators have asked the FDA not to allow soy manufacturers to claim their products are good for health.

"I would not feed infants soy products. I would breast feed," Schneider said. "If for some reason a woman can't breast feed, I would not recommend feeding infants foods that are high in isoflavones."

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FOREST CERTIFIERS NOT CREATED EQUAL

WASHINGTON, DC, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - On Tuesday, the Meridian Institute released a study of the two major competing systems for certifying forest management - and found that they differ in almost all areas.

The study compared the "Sustainable Forestry Initiative" (SFI) of the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), the wood products industry's principal trade association, with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading independent, third party forest certification system. The differences found by the study include SFI's failure to include many of the FSC's forest management and conservation standards, and continued heavy influence over SFI by the AF&PA and the wood products industry.

By contrast, the FSC is an independent, nonprofit organization governed by a balanced membership of economic, environmental and social interests, the Institute said.

"Green labeling can be very confusing," said Randi Spivak, director of the environmental group American Lands. "The Meridian study clearly shows that the Forest Stewardship Council and the AF&PA SFI are fundamentally different. The SFI fails to meet very basic criteria that consumers should expect from certified wood such as protecting old growth, not harming endangered species and minimizing use of toxic chemicals. The FSC meets those criteria. I think consumers will want to know this."

The study by Meridian, an independent, DC based think tank, notes that the AF&PA SFI often assumes that environmental and social concerns are addressed by existing laws. But forest conservationists charge that most states' forestry rules fail to protect imperiled species, old growth, water quality and other values.

The Meridian study also notes that the AF&PA SFI lacks a consistent chain of custody system to ensure that labelled products come from certified forests. The system also has multiple logos, making it difficult for consumers to know what they are purchasing.

"There's a reason why many environmental groups support the FSC, but not SFI," said Bill Barclay of Greenpeace. "SFI just represents the 'Same-old Forest Industry.' Virtually any timber company could meet SFI's weak standards."

The Meridian study was sponsored by Home Depot, the FSC, and the AF&PA SFI. The study examined the two competing systems' documentation and official requirements, and Meridian notes that comparisons of the systems' on the ground results still need to be conducted.

The study is available at: http://www.fscus.org and: http://www.merid.org

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YUCCA MOUNTAIN COMMENT PERIOD ENDS FRIDAY

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - Midnight this Friday is the deadline for the public to comment on a proposal to build a permanent high level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that the Las Vegas Science Center's hours will be extended on Friday to accommodate those persons who would like to submit comments on the Yucca Mountain site recommendation. The comment period, which began May 4, 2001, was extended to October 19 to provide citizens with additional time to comment.

The Las Vegas Science Center, located at 4101-B Meadows Lane (across from the southeast end of Meadows Mall) is open this week on Tuesday through Thursday from 10 am to 6 pm and on Friday from 10 am until midnight.

Since September 26, 2001, the Las Vegas Science Center has served as an extended hearing facility to receive official testimony from Nevada citizens. A DOE official and a court reporter have been available to record public comments.

Citizens are encouraged to reserve time slots to offer testimony by calling 1-800-967-3477. Oral testimony will be limited to 10 minutes, in order to provide proper consideration to all individuals wishing to testify.

Walk in testimony will be accepted as the schedule permits, with priority given to those citizens who have reserved time in advance.

Under normal hours, citizens also can visit DOE Science Centers located in Pahrump, 1141 South Highway 160, and Beatty, 100 North E Avenue, to submit comment cards on the project, until the close of the comment period.

The DOE is also accepting comments via electronic mail (YMP_SR@ymp.gov), fax (1-800/967-0739) and mail submitted to: Carol Hanlon, U.S. Department of Energy, Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Office (M/S#25), P.O. Box 30307, North Las Vegas, Nevada 89036-0307.

Letters should be marked with "Possible Site Recommendation for Yucca Mountain." There also is a comment form on the Yucca Mountain Project's website at http://www.ymp.gov

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WHOOPING CRANES BEGIN HISTORIC MIGRATION

WASHINGTON, DC, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - A small flock of young whooping cranes led by three ultralight aircraft lifted off from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin near dawn today in an effort to restore migrating whooping cranes to eastern North America.

The cranes will be taught a new 1,250 mile migration route to wintering grounds at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. As in last year's study using sandhill cranes, the young whoopers are expected to return to Wisconsin on their own next spring.

"This is an exciting day for North American conservation." said Marshall Jones, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). "Today, we began the first ultralight led migration in history with only whooping cranes, which is itself a milestone. The outcome of any experiment is uncertain, but we start this migration with an expectation of success."

The reintroduction is part of an ongoing recovery effort for the imperiled species, which was on the verge of extinction in the 1940s and today numbers only about 260 birds in the wild. The continent's only migratory population of whooping cranes winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast and is vulnerable to a catastrophic event such as a major hurricane, disease or oil spill.

This reintroduction would not only restore the whooper to part of its historic range but also provide another distinct migratory population that could lead to downlisting and eventual recovery.

In 1998, a coalition of state and federal governments and the private sector formed the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to coordinate and fund last year's sandhill crane study and this year's whooping crane study. More than 35 private landowners have volunteered their property as stopover sites for the cranes and migration team.

A temporary pen keeps the cranes safe from predators between each morning's flight. The migration is expected to take from five to seven weeks.

"We started training ten birds in April." said Joe Duff, lead pilot, trainer and cofounder of Operation Migration Inc. "Those remaining in the study were selected for their overall suitability in terms of strength in flying and successfully following the aircraft. We are prepared for the possibility that not every bird will complete the full migration."

For daily updates on the cranes' journey, visit: http://www.bringbackthecranes.org

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STRESSED? TAKE A HIKE!

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, October 17, 2001 (ENS) - Researchers at Texas A&M University have conducted a detailed study of challenging outdoor activities and how they can often reduce stress and improve self confidence and create a positive mental outlook.

Camille Bunting and Homer Tolson, researchers in health and kinesiology, along with colleagues at Duke University, tested groups of volunteers performing various outdoor tasks. Some of the participants were in good physical shape, while others were classified as low fit.

Their results, published in the "Journal of Leisure Research": Those who were in good condition could not only handle the rigorous physical demands placed on them, but were also better equipped to tackle the mental and emotional stress associated with such activities.

"The bottom line is this: If you are in good physical condition, you can probably overcome challenging activities because you will have less anxiety and stress than someone who is not in good shape," said Bunting.

The researchers tested volunteers - ages 20 to 49 - before they engaged in such activities as rope courses, backpacking with 40 to 50 pound packs, off trail hiking, white water canoeing and rock climbing. They again tested them once various activities had been completed.

Urine tests confirm that epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol - hormones associated with human stress - were much higher in persons who were not in good physical condition.

Those who were classified as low fit had the greatest difficulty of overcoming the stress associated with the most challenging activities, which were white water canoeing and rock climbing, Bunting said.

Those individuals who were not in good shape responded with much higher levels of epinephrine, a hormone related to psychological stress, and norepinephrine, a hormone associated with physical stress.

"Stress confronts us on two levels - an emotional level and a physical level," Bunting explained. "The study shows that people who are in good physical condition can handle unexpected challenges better than those who are low fit"

Cortisol, a hormone found when a threat exists with physical or emotional tasks, was also found to be higher in low fit persons.

"The lesson appears to be that the better shape you are in, the better your body is able to handle stress," Bunting said. "But a lesson might also be that fitness training through a variety of activities is not only better for the muscular system, but also for our stress response system."