AmeriScan: September 12, 2000


SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - An Arkansas based bakery company has agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle charges that it violated the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday. The settlement agreement with Meyer's Bakery represents the largest settlement in the history of the EPA's stratospheric ozone protection program. Meyer's Bakery, located in Arizona, Florida, Arkansas, Kansas and Texas, released thousands of pounds of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) through unrepaired appliance leaks. Operators did not conduct leak checks, complete service records or develop a retrofit or replacement plan for leaking systems.

"These enforcement actions reflect the Agency's commitment to protect human health and the environment and ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act," said Amy Zimpfer, the director of the EPA's air division for the Southwest region. "It is imperative that businesses using refrigerants manage them responsibly so that the ozone layer will continue to protect us from harmful ultraviolet radiation." Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general for the environment at the Justice Department, said, "This penalty marks the largest civil fine to date under the government's program to control emissions that destroy the earth's ozone layer." Refrigerants like CFC's and hydrochlorofluorocarbons are restricted by international accords because they deplete the ozone layer, which protects the earth from ultraviolet (UV-B) radiation. Depletion of the ozone layer increases the risk of skin cancers, damage to plants and aquatic organisms, and other problems due to UV-B radiation exposure.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, acting on behalf of the American Lung Association (ALA), filed a brief Monday in the U.S. Supreme Court opposing industry attempts to require national air quality standards to be set through cost-benefit analysis. "The Clean Air Act requires standards to be based on health, not costs of compliance," said Howard Fox of Earthjustice, attorney for ALA. "It is crucial that standards be an accurate reflection of what health requires, and that costs not be used as a pretext for weak standards that falsely tell the public that dirty air is clean." Though not relevant to health standards, costs are considered at other points in the process - by the states in determining how to meet standards, and by Congress in deciding whether to extend deadlines for meeting standards.

The EPA first announced this approach twenty-nine years ago - four months after the Clean Air Act of 1970 was enacted - and has not since wavered from it. The ALA brief presents extensive analysis of the history and evolution of the Act, showing that EPA's interpretation reflects Congress's intent. "Industry has repeatedly tried to persuade Congress to amend the Act to allow cost-benefit analysis, but Congress has refused," said Fox. "Industry is now trying to obtain from the unelected judiciary what it has been unable to obtain from the elected members of Congress." The case, along with a related appeal which was briefed by Earthjustice in July on behalf of ALA, will be heard by the Court on November 7, 2000.

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SANTA CRUZ, California, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - The use of lead as a gasoline additive was phased out years ago in California, but huge deposits of lead contaminated soils and river sediments will continue to contaminate the waters of San Francisco Bay for decades to come, shows a study published in today’s issue of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." The findings by researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), are based on an analysis of lead in water samples collected over a 10 year period in San Francisco Bay and the mouths of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Although there is no evidence that lead pollution in San Francisco Bay threatens the health of humans or marine organisms, the study has implications for the persistence of a range of toxins, said Russell Flegal, professor and chair of environmental toxicology at UCSC.

"We can use this as a model for other contaminants, and it shows that many contaminants simply don't go away once you stop polluting the environment," Flegal said. "We're seeing lead contamination from the 1960s still coming into the bay, and our calculations indicate it will be another 50 to 100 years before all the lead from gasoline emissions in the Central Valley is washed into the bay." Even after lead stops entering the bay, lead contaminated sediments may remain there forever, he added. These findings contrast with those of other researchers who have reported significant reductions of lead contamination in other types of environments. Since the phase out of leaded gasoline, lead concentrations have fallen in urban air, ocean surface water, polar ice and snow, and even human blood. But the UCSC researchers now show that contaminated rivers and estuaries can retain pollutants like lead for long periods.

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - Jobs involving the use of common solvents can put people at risk for earlier and more severe symptoms of Parkinson's disease, reveals a study in today’s issue of "Neurology," the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology. From a study of 990 Parkinson's patients, Italian researchers found that those exposed to hydrocarbon solvents, found in common petroleum based products such as paints and glues, were an average of three years younger at first sign of disease symptoms. The severity of disease symptoms was found to be related to the amount of hydrocarbon exposure that was experienced.

Researchers identified nine occupations within the study group that accounted for more than 91 percent of the hydrocarbon solvent exposure. The most common occupations of those exposed were petroleum, plastic and rubber workers. Other occupations found to have frequent hydrocarbon exposure were painters, engine mechanics and lithographers. "These findings raise serious questions about specific occupational risk," said study author Gianni Pezzoli, MD, of the Parkinson Institute in Milan, Italy. "This study more than merits further investigation into job-related Parkinson's risk factors." The research also found that most of those with hydrocarbon exposure were male and less educated than those who were not exposed. Parkinson's disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease caused when a small group of brain cells die that control body movement. Symptoms include tremor in arms and legs, rigid muscles, slowness of movements and impaired balance. Parkinson's disease affects more than 500,000 Americans.

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ALBANY, New York, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki has signed a law requiring all new spark ignition engines used in personal watercraft, or "jet ski" engines manufactured or sold in New York state to meet California air emissions and labeling regulations, the most stringent in the nation. "New York State leads the nation in the fight to protect our natural resources and provide a cleaner, safer and healthier environment for ourselves and future generations," Pataki said. "By reducing emissions that harm our air and water, we're again taking the lead in protecting public health and the environment, preserving the quality of our waters, and ensuring that recreational use doesn't harm our natural resources."

Adoption of the California standards will result in engines that are three times cleaner than those required under federal emissions standards. The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will issue regulations to require new personal watercraft registered in New York to comply with the new standards. The standards, which apply only to new engines, will reduce emissions by 70 percent in 2002, 90 percent in 2005 and 96.5 percent in 2009. Jet ski engines produce hydrocarbons, which are a key component in the formation of ground level ozone or smog, which poses a significant public health threat. "In just seven hours on the water, a two-stroke, personal watercraft engine emits as much pollution as a new car driven 100,000 miles," said DEC commissioner John Cahill.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - Saying the livelihoods and safety of Alaska fishermen are at stake, Governor Tony Knowles has announced three state actions in response to a decision by a federal judge, and inaction by a federal agency. Knowles announced Monday he will join fishermen appealing a Seattle, Washington judge's decision to ban most trawl fishing within 20 miles of shore in order to protect endangered Steller sea lions. Knowles also announced he was seeking President Bill Clinton's personal intervention to help overturn an injunction in the case, and he is naming a team of scientists and stakeholders to find an alternative strategy to restore sea lion populations while protecting fishermen and coastal communities.

The actions come after Seattle federal Judge Thomas Zilly last month prohibited all trawl fishing in areas designated as critical habitat for Steller sea lions until the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) produces a required biological opinion. Intended to protect sea lion populations, the injunction forces small boat fleets in Kodiak and other coastal communities to fish more than 20 miles from shore where weather and sea conditions are some of the worst and most dangerous on earth. "In his decision, the judge refused to consider the impacts of lost fishing opportunities and the dramatically increased risks to the local fishing fleets and their communities," Knowles said. "The impacts of this decision are being felt right now in terms of the personal safety of the Alaska small boat fishermen and the economic viability of the communities that depend on these fisheries."

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MONTEREY, California, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) director Robert Hight signed an order Monday restricting the set-gillnet fishery for halibut along the central California coast. Hight’s order bans gillnet fishing in waters less than 60 fathoms from Point Reyes to Yankee Point in Monterey County. As most gillnet fishing for halibut occurs in waters less than 60 fathoms, the closure bans gillnet fishing in most of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Hight’s order comes in response to an April 25 formal notice of intent to sue filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network. The groups threatened to sue the DFG for violating the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) by allowing the killing of California sea otters in the state managed halibut fishery in the Monterey Bay area.

The California sea otter, listed as "threatened" under the ESA, has declined in numbers over the past four years. Drowning in gillnets has been identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of the probable causes of the decline. In addition to sea otters, the fishery, located within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, killed numerous harbor porpoises, elephant seals, California sea lions and common murres each year. Commercial fishing is not regulated within National Marine Sanctuaries. "We applaud DFG’s action in closing the fishery," said Brendan Cummings, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "It’s criminal that commercial fishing, particularly fishing that kills protected species, is allowed to occur in a Marine Sanctuary. This closure is an important first step in making the Monterey Bay sanctuary a true sanctuary for marine mammals and seabirds."

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CROOKSTON, Minnesota, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - The Minnesota Chapter of The Nature Conservancy has closed on the option to purchase almost 25,000 acres, one third of which is tallgrass prairie. The property, outside of Crookston, harbors sandhill cranes and dozens of other waterfowl and upland bird species. The project is being billed as the "largest northern tallgrass prairie restoration opportunity in history", and is home to a diversity of species from moose to butterflies. Several prairie dependent plants also reside on the site, including the threatened western prairie fringed orchid. "The Glacial Ridge property represents an unequalled opportunity to conserve and restore a unique landscape," said Rob McKim, state director and vice president of the Conservancy.

Less than one percent of Minnesota's 15 million acres of historic native prairie still exists today. "This is certainly one of the largest prairie reconstructions in the country, and important because it links together more than a dozen state and federal lands, as well as the Conservancy's existing 1,650-acre Pembina Trail Scientific and Natural Area," said McKim. The Glacial Ridge property, known as "Tilden Farms," was purchased from a Missouri based group of investors. The Conservancy had been interested in the property since the late 1970's. Most of the property will be leased for ranching, agriculture or aggregate mining while the Conservancy works to develop compatible management and prairie reconstruction strategies with surrounding landowners. A number of tracts will be enrolled in the federal wetland reserve program, and others may be placed under conservation easement.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - After spending weeks on an island in the South Asian Sea, Survivor Colleen Haskell says she understands the value of a clean beach. Haskell was voted America's "favorite" Survivor after the end of the popular television show of the same name. This week she is teaming up with the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC) and Brita Products Company to encourage young and old alike to participate in the 15th Annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) on Saturday. More than three quarters of a million people are expected to descend on beaches all over the world to help tackle the problem of marine debris. Volunteers in more than 100 countries will help to clean up the trash that has made its way to our beaches. Last year, Cleanup volunteers scoured 11,361 miles of beaches, oceans, and waterways collecting almost 8.5 million pounds of trash.

"After experiencing first hand how humans interact with Nature and seeing how important our role can be in preserving it, I feel this is a great way for me to get involved, give back and help recruit others to do the same thing," said Haskell. "No matter where you are, you're probably close to a body of water and cleaning up on lakes and rivers this weekend is going to help not only your area but eventually our oceans and beaches as well." Roger Rufe, president of the CMC, said, "We couldn't do the International Coastal Cleanup without the help of people like Colleen, people who care about our environment. Each year the number of people volunteering, miles covered, and pounds retrieved grows. This amazing amount of effort ensures that our oceans and waterways are cleaner and safer for people and wildlife and provides us with information that makes it possible to solve some of these debris problems at the source."