AmeriScan: September 6, 2000


CHICAGO, Illinois, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - Shoddy replacement of gas regulators in 200,000 homes in northern Illinois left many homes contaminated with toxic mercury - and the company responsible is not moving fast enough to clean them up, officials charge. Illinois state and county attorneys filed suit against Nicor Gas on Tuesday, charging the company with violating environmental laws and endangering the public through inadequate cleanup efforts. The suit seeks a court order to speed up the cleanup and provide oversight of Nicor and its two contractors. "This is a growing problem, not a narrowing problem, and that concerns me," said Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan. "Every time we turn around, there's another problem. We think we have to take the next step." Ryan noted that Nicor said at first that the mercury spills were confined to 53 homes. Later reports put the number of contaminated homes at 66, out of just 618 screened so far.

For more than 10 years, Nicor has been removing mercury filled gas regulators and meters from inside homes where they were installed prior to 1961. Besides spilling mercury in homes, Nicor and its contractors also disposed of old regulators in at least five junkyards and four Nicor service centers, where mercury contamination has also been confirmed. Exposure to mercury can damage the brain and kidneys. In a statement, Tom Fisher, Nicor chairman, president and CEO said the company is "disappointed" that the suit has been filed. "We have been cooperating fully with these authorities and relying on their expertise and efforts to assist us in the development and implementation of our review program," Fisher stated. "Our primary concern is to act as quickly as possible to inspect all customer premises that may be affected, and take appropriate steps to restore them where traces of mercury are found, in order to give our customers the peace of mind they deserve."

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NEW ROCHELLE, New York, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - The Sierra Club has endorsed First Lady Hillary Clinton in her bid to become the next U.S. Senator from New York. Citing her commitment to fighting air and water pollution, cleaning up toxic waste and protecting America's spectacular wildlands, the environmental organization urged New Yorkers to vote for Clinton to protect the environment for New York families. "The Sierra Club wants Hillary Clinton to be the next Senator from New York because we know she'll fight to protect our environment for our families and for our future," said the Sierra Club's national president, Dr. Robert Cox. "We're standing with Hillary Clinton because she'll battle to halt air pollution, clean up our polluted rivers and protect the spectacular lands we love."

Clinton accepted the endorsement at a press conference Tuesday at Five Islands Park in New Rochelle. "This endorsement is extremely important. I know I was not alone in seeking it," said Clinton. Her rival, New York Republican Representative Rick Lazio, had the Sierra Clubís support in 1996, but lost it in 1998 after a series of votes against environmental issues. "We know that we will be able to count on Hillary. We can't count on Rick Lazio," said Cox. Clinton promised to be " a reliable vote and an environmental leader on behalf of the issues people have talked to me about. I am determined to make a difference." Today, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also endorsed Clintonís campaign. Kennedy is an environmental lawyer and the chief attorney for Riverkeeper, a nonprofit conservation group.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced Tuesday that Alaska salmon is the first U.S. fishery to be certified as sustainable. The MSC certified fisheries that meet strict, peer reviewed standards of sustainability. The label allows consumers to identify the best environmental choices in seafood - fish that have not been "overfished" or harvested in ways that harm the ocean ecosystem. Alaska Governor Tony Knowles welcomed the news. "In Alaska, fishing is an inseparable part of our history and culture and it is critical to us that our fish stocks remain in good supply," Knowles said. "Consumers have long loved Alaska wild salmon for its wonderful flavor and heart-healthy omega-3 acids, now they can appreciate it as the best choice for healthy oceans, too. When consumers buy MSC labeled salmon, they are supporting a sustainable future for fishing in Alaska."

"The MSC is delighted that Alaska salmon has received certification," said Brendan May, chief executive of the MSC. "With its high profile and international market penetration, it is the perfect product to carry our eco-label, telling consumers that it is the best environmental choice in seafood. This is a triple victory for Alaska, for the marine environment, and for seafood consumers everywhere." Fisheries must meet three main principles to get the MSC certification. First, the fishery must be conducted in a way that does not take more fish than can be replenished naturally or kills other species through harmful fishing practices. Second, the fishery must operate in a manner that ensures the health and diversity of the marine ecosystem on which it depends. Third, the fishery must respect local, national and international laws and regulations regulating responsible and sustainable fishing.

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DENVER, Colorado, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - The Wilderness Society is hosting Wilderness 2000, a conference designed to celebrate wilderness, identify challenges, and create opportunities for protecting the nationís remaining wild lands. The three day conference begins Friday and runs through Sunday. Panels and workshops will explore the intricacies of wilderness designation and management, from past to present, and the implications of building a broader base of public support for protecting wild lands. The Wilderness Society hopes this will allow participants to create a vision for wilderness protection in the 21st century.

Through the involvement of individuals such as Democratic National Committee senior advisor Katie McGinty, U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, author T.A. Barron, and photographer John Fielder, as well as many traditional and non-traditional organizations, the conference hopes to accomplish three goals:

On Friday, Doug Scott of the Pew Wilderness Center will moderate a session on "An American Wilderness Vision," a broad look at the history and scale of the nationís National Wilderness Preservation System. McGinty will speak on "Building a Living Legacy" in the afternoon. On Saturday, Dombeck will speak about the current administrationís perspective on "Protecting Roadless Lands." Bill Meadows of the Wilderness Society will moderate a morning session on a "Conservation Vision for Future Federal Land Management." Texas Governor George W. Bush has been invited to speak at Saturdayís lunch. In the afternoon, the conference will honor U.S. Democratic Representatives Bruce Vento of Minnesota and George Miller of California, named as wilderness champions.

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PHOENIX, Arizona, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - Two environmental groups have filed suit to protect the northern goshawk by halting logging in old growth ponderosa pine forests in Arizona and New Mexico. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club charge that a 1996 U.S. Forest Service (USFS) forest management plan, designed to protect the rare goshawk, in fact threatens the birdsí survival. The groups say the USFS ignored available scientific studies in making their final decisions on guidelines for goshawk management and forest planning. These studies indicate that fragmenting the forest into small habitat patches is "likely to be a detriment" to the goshawk. State and federal wildlife agencies, university scientists, and even USFS biologists voiced concerns about the lack of solid scientific basis for the goshawk management guidelines prior to their formal adoption in 1996. New studies now indicate declines in the number of goshawks around the West, the groups said.

"It is outrageous that the Forest Service ignored the wishes of the public and the best available science and now continues to log the last of these historic and ecologically significant ponderosa pine trees, while at the same time harming the goshawks," said Sharon Galbreath, conservation chair for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "The Forest Service should follow the law, protect the goshawk, and protect the remaining old growth ponderosa pines." About 95 percent of the Southwest's original old growth forests have been cut down in the past century. Under USFS guidelines, the percent of old growth trees being logged on the Kaibab National Forest, a goshawk stronghold, has increased. "Continued logging of old growth just can't continue," said Kieran Suckling, science and policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Neither science or ethics can condone the damage done to our pubic forests in the name of private profits."

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - More than 200 physicians and other health professionals signed a letter urging Congress to continue to support America's protection of children from harmful pesticides. The signers oppose "Regulatory Fairness and Openness Act" (HR 1592 or S 1464), which they say would gut provisions of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) which authorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect newborns and other children from pesticides. "These individuals, who have no vote, need and deserve your protection," the letter reads. "At crucial points during a child's development, pesticide exposure could have lifelong adverse consequences, while the same exposure may have little or no effect on an adult."

The letter, circulated by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), explains that children are more susceptible to harm from pesticides because "pound for pound, children consume more food, drink more water, and breathe more air than do adults." This means that their developing systems may be exposed to massive doses of pesticides. "Pesticides may cause cancer, affect brain development and interfere with the hormone system," says Dr. Barry Johnson, former Assistant Surgeon General and member of PSR's environment committee. "These bills would strip children and infants of the protection from pesticide exposure afforded to them in the FQPA." Robert Musil, Ph.D., executive director and CEO of PSR, said, "Lawmakers who support this piece of legislation are doing worse than letting an industry set public policy for the country. They are letting an industry interfere with the health of our children, our most precious asset."

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SEATTLE, Washington, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - The Eighth Annual Salmon Homecoming Celebration and Forum 2000 started today in Seattle. The event features workshops and keynote speakers to help Native Americans, state and federal regulators and fishers connect and communicate on salmon recovery. The Homecoming is "dedicated to building bridges between tribal and non-tribal communities, celebrating the significance of salmon in our lives and working together to ensure Pacific salmon survive," say conference organizers. The event is hosted by The Seattle Aquarium, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and the Muckleshoot Tribe.

The homecoming forum was held today, with presentations by Indiana state Representative Jim Buck, a Republican; Ron Allen, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal chair and National Congress of American Indians vice-president; Billy Frank, Jr., chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; and Chuck Clarke, Seattle deputy mayor of utilities and environment, among others. A banquet tonight features keynote speaker Professor Charles Wilkinson, the Moses Lasky Professor of Law at the University of Colorado School of Law, author of "Messages from Frank's Landing." This weekend, a Northwest Coastal gathering, Native pow wow, salmon forum, salmon run and walk, native crafts, storytellers, musicians and more are expected to draw thousands of visitors each year. Most outdoor events are free. More information is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - A jet fuel distribution company pleaded guilty today to dumping spent fuel into a waterway at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, the Justice Department announced. In a plea agreement entered today in federal court, Ogden Aviation Fueling Company of Virginia said that it illegally spilled about 7,300 gallons of used jet fuel into a drainage ditch that connects to the Potomac River. Under the plea agreement, Ogden will pay a $200,00 fine.

From 1988 to 1998, Ogden operated the fuel storage and distribution system at Dulles. As part of that operation, the company collected storm water contaminated with jet fuel and stored it in a large onsite tank. Another company would remove spent fuel from the tank before discharging treated wastewater into a drainage ditch. On October 11, 1996, workers left the pumping system unattended, and the system began dumping jet fuel into the waterway along with the wastewater. Dissolved fuel from the spill was detected as far away as Broad Run, a tributary of the Potomac River. Ogden was able to recover most of the spent fuel during cleanup operations. The company no longer operates the fuel distribution system at Dulles.

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OLYMPIA, Washington, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - Antiquated wastewater treatment plants, irrigation districts needing to keep pollution out of rivers, and other serious water pollution problems will be addressed by about $94 million in loans and grants that are being awarded by the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology). Ecology has selected 82 projects that will get money this year to improve water quality in communities all over Washington state. "This is very good news to communities that need to improve their water quality so itís safe for their citizens and for fish," said Tom Fitzsimmons, Ecologyís director. "We only wish there was more money to go around, because there are hundreds more water quality needs in our state."

This year, local governments and Indian tribes requested funding for 221 projects totaling $268 million. Ecology reviewed those proposals and also solicited comments from the public about which projects should get the money. After considering the comments, the agency selected the projects that met the following criteria: existing or potential water-quality problems, the effectiveness of proposed projects to solve pollution problems, and local community coordination. "We have some very good and creative projects that will move forward with this money," said Megan White, who manages Ecologyís water-quality program. "As an example, we will be funding a project to provide information about irrigating and protecting water quality in both English and Spanish to Hispanic landowners in Grant County." More information is available at:

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HOUSTON, Texas, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - Large and widespread forest and marsh grass fires in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana over the past few days have resulted in periodic heavy smoke in the Houston and Beaumont areas. On Tuesday, winds from the east and northeast blew a smoke plume about 100 miles long and 10 miles wide across these metropolitan areas. Other fires burning in Montgomery County north of Houston have also contributed to the accumulation of smoke. Prolonged dry weather conditions and record breaking temperatures across much of Texas have significantly increased fire risks. A large mass of regional haze has drifted from the Midwest into southern states, including Texas. This haze is a mixture of ozone and smoke from industrial activities, cities and fires in rural areas.

One particulate matter monitor in Galveston measured a 24 hour average level considered unhealthy for sensitive individuals, including children, the elderly and people with respiratory or heart conditions. There are occasional short term pollutant concentrations at levels that could be irritating to anyone exposed, including individuals engaged in strenuous activities. Prevailing winds are expected to help dissipate the smoke today, which should reduce the health risk, but fires could flare up again late Wednesday. The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) and local and state health authorities will continue to monitor the situation. Smoke is one form of air pollution the TNRCC tracks. Like soot or dust, smoke contains microscopic particulate matter that can irritate the throat and lungs. If smoke is visible, TNRCC advises people to stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise.