AmeriScan: September 21, 2000

EPA CONCLUDES BT CROPS POSE NO RISKS

WASHINGTON, DC, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says there are "no unreasonable adverse affects" on human health or the environment from Bt corn, cotton and potatoes. On Wednesday, the agency released a preliminary draft risk assessment for genetically modified crops that produce the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin which makes them pest resistant. The EPA says the release of the risk assessment is part of the agency’s efforts "to ensure that all registration decisions for biotechnology products are based on sound science and extensive public participation." The comprehensive assessment of Bt corn, cotton, and potato plant pesticides evaluates the health, safety and environmental risks for these products, as well as their general benefits.

"EPA believes that significant benefits accrue to growers, the public and the environment from the availability and use of certain Bt plant pesticides," the review says. EPA argues that the crops reduce use of conventional pesticides and increase crop yields per are. Critics say genetically modified genes could be transferred to other plants, and the modified crops could produce pesticide resistance in insect pests. On October 18-20, EPA will conduct a peer review with the Scientific Advisory Panel on the scientific issues in this assessment. After incorporating peer review and public comments, EPA will use the assessment to reach decisions on renewal of expiring registrations for several Bt products and development of any necessary mitigating measures. The materials are available online at: www.epa.gov/scipoly/sap/ or for copies contact the Office of Pesticide Programs public docket at 703-305-5805.

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INTERIOR BUDGET BILL FULL OF CONTROVERSIAL RIDERS

WASHINGTON, DC, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - House and Senate members began conferring Wednesday about the 2001 Interior Department appropriations bill. Contentious issues include funding for fire management, the president's Lands Legacy Initiative, and restrictions on the Columbia River Basin ecosystem management plan. The Congress members hope to finish work on the bill and send it to President Bill Clinton by the end of the week. So far, the bill would increase the Interior budget by about $3 billion over current funding, with most of the increase devoted to replenishing federal firefighting funds depleted by this year’s record wildfire season. Some Western Congress members are pushing for increased harvesting of downed timber in national forests to reduce the amount of fuel available.

President Clinton pleaded with Congress today to fully fund his Lands Legacy Initiative. "We have a unique and profoundly important effort to give people at the grassroots level in America a permanent source of funding to protect our natural resources," said Clinton. The joint House and Senate conference has increased funding to about $400 million, more than was included that either of the original House and Senate bills, but still far less than the $950 million requested by the Clinton administration. Clinton has also pushed to make funding permanent, which many Republicans oppose. Another major Clinton initiative, the Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project, could be blocked by language written by Republican Representative George Nethercutt of Washington state. Nethercutt included his own version of the management plan in the House version of the budget bill, and wants to block implementation of the Clinton project, into which the administration has already funneled more than $50 million. Other amendments that may be attached to the bill would block breaching of four dams to help endangered salmon swim up the Lower Snake River, and provide automatic extensions for grazing permits on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

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DOE RELEASES LIST OF SECRET WEAPONS CONTRACTORS

WASHINGTON, DC, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) plans to release a list today of more than 550 sites where radioactive and toxic materials may have been used in secret for the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Publication of the list was prompted by a "USA Today" investigative report on government use of private companies for nuclear arms work. Earlier this month, "USA Today" uncovered about 300 private contractors that did weapons work. Workers at many of those companies were exposed to radiation and chemicals. Many of these contractors left hazardous waste contamination in and around their work sites, "USA Today" reported.

The U.S. House is now reviewing legislation that would provide federal compensation for workers exposed to radioactive material and other toxics while doing government weapons work. The bill is aimed at workers at government sites, but could also apply to workers at private companies. "USA Today" has posted the full list released by the DOE on its website at: http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20000921/2669030s.htm

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BUSH WOULD OPEN ARCTIC REFUGE TO DRILLING

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush said Wednesday that oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is necessary to avert skyrocketing oil and gas prices. "We need to open up ANWR and Alaska and I am absolutely convinced we can explore ANWR in an environmentally friendly way," said Bush during a "CNN This Morning" interview from Pittsburgh. The Sierra Club released a statement in response noting the Bush's statement ignores the 427 oil spills that occur each year at Prudhoe Bay, ANWR's neighbor - more than one spill a day.

"Governor Bush's comment that oil can extracted in an 'environmentally friendly way' is like talking about 'tree friendly chain saws.' Oil and wildlife don't mix," said Melanie Griffin, director of the Sierra Club's Lands Program. Bush hopes to decrease the price of oil by increasing the supply. There are various estimates of the amount of oil beneath the ANWR, but even the most optimistic studies predict that the Arctic could provide oil supplies for just five to six months of U.S. consumption. "America cannot drill its way to energy independence," Griffin said. "We import more than half of our oil and America contains less than three percent of the world's known oil reserves. We need a long term energy strategy that is based upon conservation, renewable and alternative energy sources, and raising the fuel economy standards for automobiles and light trucks." Today, Vice President Al Gore, Democratic candidate for president, reiterated his own energy policy, saying he would reduce dependence on foreign oil by promoting alternative energy sources, energy efficient vehicles and buildings, and alternative transportation.

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MICROORGANISMS CARRY MERCURY INTO LAKE SUPERIOR

LAKE SUPERIOR, September 21, 2000 (ENS) ­ Microscopic organisms living at the bottom of Lake Superior may hold the answer to why one of the most pristine lakes in the world holds fish carrying dangerous levels of mercury. Researchers from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the University of Wisconsin (UW) Water Chemistry Program, and Lake Superior State University of Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan are looking into how mercury enters the Lake Superior food chain and accumulates in certain fish to levels that can threaten human health. Lead researcher Jim Hurley, a DNR water chemist and assistant director of research for the UW Water Resources Institute, believes that the form of mercury (methyl mercury) that passes up the food chain is entering the lake from wetlands and tributaries rather than by processes in the lake itself.

"Phytoplankton take up the methyl mercury and are eaten by zooplankton, zooplankton are eaten by small fish, and small fish are eaten by large fish," explained Hurley. "Each time the mercury moves up a rung of the chain, there is at least a threefold increase in methyl mercury. Some large fish have enough mercury in them to warrant fish advisories." This mercury conversion, he added, occurs at different rates in different waterbodies. That is why waterbodies with high levels of total mercury, but low rates of conversion to methylmercury, may not carry fish advisories while others do. "We think that bacteria in the watershed, particularly in wetlands, are producing high levels of methyl mercury, even in zones remote from any direct pollution source," said Hurley.

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FLORIDA MAN CHARGED WITH HAZARDOUS WASTE STORAGE

LONGWOOD, Florida, September 21, 2000 (ENS) ­ A Florida man has been arrested for illegally storing more than 300 gallons of hazardous wastes in an abandoned warehouse. Richard Jay, owner and operator of Action Screen Printing, Inc., surrendered to state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Division of Law Enforcement officers on Friday. He has been charged with eight felony counts of illegally storing hazardous waste and one felony count of illegal disposal of hazardous waste. The waste was related to his printing business. DEP special agents began their investigation on June 20 based on an anonymous tip regarding abandoned drums outside of the Forest Avenue warehouse. DEP special agents served a search warrant at Action Screen Printing on July 6. There they found 13 drums, eight of which contained hazardous material. They also found evidence that some hazardous waste had been poured down a drain.

Prior to the investigation, Jay had received numerous certified letters from Florida DEP regulatory officials advising him of the proper testing and disposal requirements for the handling and storage of possible hazardous waste. The criminal investigation began when Jay failed to comply with DEP's requests. Jay posted $4950 bond and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. "Mr. Jay was given plenty of opportunities to correct this matter," said Thomas Tramel, director of DEP's Division of Law Enforcement. "He squandered those opportunities and today he faces the consequences of that choice." The investigation of Action Screen Printing comes as part of a statewide crackdown on polluters who profit from disregarding environmental regulations.

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$440,000 GRANT WILL RESTORE ALABAMA WETLANDS

MOBILE, Alabama, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has been awarded a $440,000 federal grant to help restore wetlands in coastal Baldwin County. The funds are aimed at protecting and restoring wetlands in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Weeks Bay, and Perdido Bay. The effort will focus on the identification of wetland areas in need of restoration or enhancement, the development of a restoration plan for each of the principal wetlands, and monitoring of restoration activities. Another large component of the project is to increase public awareness of wetlands and their importance to the State of Alabama. The state will provide about $160,000 to match federal funds for the project, which is expected to take about three years.

"We are pleased to be able to garner additional resources from the federal government to assess and restore the health of these important wetlands," said Jim Moore, chief of ADEM’s Office of Education and Outreach. "Human activity has impacted some of these wetlands, but we believe we can restore them and protect pristine wetlands. These areas are critical for wildlife health and reproduction and play a major role in our coastal biodiversity," Moore said. The Alabama Forever Wild Program, administered by the State Lands Division of ADCNR, has allocated over $15 million to acquire pristine and impaired wetlands within the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, an area recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the National Parks Service. The majority of these wetlands are associated with the Tensaw River/Lake Watershed. A major portion of the Tensaw was designated by ADEM as an Outstanding Alabama Waterway in 1999.

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CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTS LACED WITH LEAD

GAINESVILLE, Florida, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - Many calcium supplements contain small but detectable levels of lead, boosting consumers' exposure to the toxic heavy metal, shows a University of Florida (UF) study published in this week's "Journal of the American Medical Association." The UF researchers say the lead could cause problems for those who ingest several times the normal daily requirement of calcium. The team wants manufacturers to being showing lead content on their products, so consumers could avoid this risk. "We don't want people to give up on the proven benefits of taking calcium supplements," said Dr. Edward Ross, lead author of the paper, who conducted the study with toxicology experts Ian Tebbett and Nancy Szabo from UF's College of Veterinary Medicine. "The levels of lead we're talking about here are very small and would only potentially be a problem after many years. But we also believe that the less lead anyone is exposed to the better, especially since there are many calcium products on the market without detectable quantities."

The levels found in the tested calcium samples were up to three micrograms in doses up to 1,500 milligrams of elemental calcium - the level recommended for women trying to prevent or treat osteoporosis. Groups with even more significant calcium needs, such as dialysis patients, would be exposed to even higher amounts. "So while people are taking their pills, they should try to find a source with little or no lead," said Ross, director of the UF College of Medicine's End-Stage Renal Disease Program. "And we hope the industry will respond by labeling their products and finding better raw materials for their supplements."

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RADIOISOTOPE COULD TRACE WATER POLLUTION

COLUMBIA, Missouri, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - A radioisotope used in diagnosing various diseases, including cancer, may also be the best way to track pollution in water. A University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) chemistry professor says technetium-99m, a radioactive material with a six hour half life, could be used to safely trace pollution spills. "A dye is not a good tracer if the water is heavily colored, so we were asked to find a good alternative," said professor Silvia Jurisson. "Technetium-99m is a great alternative because it's very easy to track since there's not a lot of background radiation that could create problems, and it has a six hour half life. After 24 hours, this isotope is virtually gone. Dye stays in the water forever."

Working with Edward Landa, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey, Jurisson and MU graduate student James Gawenis were asked to find a compound that could be traced through water containing different types of sediment such as sand, rock, silt and sewage. Following several tests of various radioactive molecules, Jurisson discovered that technetium-99m in the form of pertechnetate was the best. Pertechnetate is used in the medical imaging of organs in the human body. "The molecule is great because it emits a very low energy gamma ray, and water is a great natural shield against radiation," Jurisson said. "In addition, you only need to use a very small amount as a tracer for the pollution, and it eventually decays so that there's nothing left."

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DROUGHT PROMPTS RECORD ROUNDUPS OF WILD HORSES, BURROS

WASHINGTON, DC, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - The numbers of wild horses and burros put up for adoption have almost doubled this year. Grasshopper infestations, severe drought and devastating wildfires have depleted forage and water supplies on the rangelands. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gathers imperiled wild horses and burros for its controversial adoption program. Any individual over the age of 18 years may apply to BLM to adopt wild horses and burros. Applicants must meet specific requirements for the placement and care of the animals they adopt, and pay a minimum adoption fee of $125 per animal.

Critics of the program charge that many of the adopted animals are abused, or even slaughtered for pet food. The BLM counters that adopters are required to provide care and feeding for the animals for at least one year, and then may apply for legal title from BLM to transfer ownership of the animal to them. Before each animal is offered for adoption, BLM provides equine vaccinations, Coggins testing, and a veterinary examination. All wild horses and burros are also freeze marked for identification. Planned annual roundups require the agency to place an average of 6,500 animals into good homes over the course of the next year. The BLM says the roundups and adoptions help in achieving its mandate to establish and maintain healthy herd areas and ecologically balanced public lands in the West. More information is available at: www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov