AmeriScan: September 22, 2000

TROPICAL FOREST LOGGING, HUNTING SPREAD HUMAN DISEASES

BALTIMORE, Maryland, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have found that the combination of forest hunting and current tropical logging practices may play a central role in the emergence of new diseases. "Diseases have always passed from wild animals to human hunters, but dramatic increases in tropical logging, complete with new trucks and access roads, have allowed local disease outbreaks to have potentially global consequences," said Nathan Wolfe, ScD, Cameroon country director for Johns Hopkins Program in Ecology and Health. An international team of scientists led by Dr. Wolfe found that the hunting and butchering of wild animals, particularly monkeys and apes, provides an important mechanism for the cross-species transmission of novel diseases such as Ebola, monkeypox, and possibly HIV.

When combined with the transportation provided by logging companies operating in tropical ecosystems, isolated outbreaks resulting from the hunting and butchering of wild animals have a new potential for global spread. Other activities discussed by the authors, such as ecotourism, veterinary research, and exotic pet ownership may also play a role. "Modern industrialized societies are characterized by high population density, substantial geographic mobility, and close contact with large numbers of other humans," said Donald Burke, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Immunization Research. "The connection of these societies to traditionally isolated rural hunting cultures, which have been greatly facilitated by modern logging, provide an ideal recipe for microbial emergence." The study is the first to examine the connection between modern logging, hunting practices, and the emergence of infectious diseases. The study appears in the inaugural issue of the journal "Global Change and Human Health."

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SENATE PASSES BEACH ACT

WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000 (S 522) on Thursday. The bill will protect beach goers by requiring all coastal states to adopt health based standards for beach water quality and notify the public when high bacterial levels make beach water unsafe for swimming, surfing and similar activities. "The future is looking brighter for America's beach goers," said Ted Danson, founding president of American Oceans Campaign (AOC). "By passing the BEACH bill, the Senate has taken a major step toward ensuring that future trips to the beach are healthy ones for millions of Americans. After all, a day at the beach should not end with a trip to the doctor. We hope the House will move swiftly to give final approval to the BEACH bill and send it to the President for his signature."

Sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, the BEACH bill calls for national minimum water quality criteria for beach waters and authorizes $30 million in new grants each year to help coastal states develop and implement effective water quality monitoring and public notification programs. The House passed a similar version of the bill (HR 999) in April. The bills have enjoyed strong bipartisan support, as they foster a community based approach to protecting the health of beach visitors and coastal waters. Current beach water monitoring practices vary from state to state. Many coastal states do not test their beach waters on a regular basis. The states that do test their waters do not always alert the public when waters are unsafe for recreation.

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EPA OFFERS CHEMICAL MANUFACTURERS A PACKAGE REGULATION DEAL

HOUSTON, Texas, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued its first consolidated air pollution regulation. Speaking in Houston at a national meeting of the American Chemistry Council on Thursday, EPA deputy administrator W. Michael McCabe said this rule stems from President Bill Clinton's initiative to streamline environmental regulations without sacrificing environmental protection. The final rule combines 16 existing federal air rules applying to synthetic organic chemical manufacturers, reducing monitoring, record keeping and reporting burdens for industry - without reducing any environmental protection.

The new regulation is voluntary: manufacturers can continue to do what they do now, complying with up to 16 rules separately, or choose to comply with the new rule. Synthetic organic chemical manufacturing entails the production of hundreds of high volume organic chemicals made from certain petrochemical raw materials. Some of the chemicals produced by this industry are final products; others are used in the production of other chemicals or in synthetic products such as plastics, fibers, pharmaceuticals, synthetic rubber, dyes and pesticides. Like the original rules, the consolidated rule continues to require stringent reductions in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and air toxics. VOCs contribute to the formation of ground level ozone, or smog. Air toxics are pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health problems such as birth defects or reproductive effects. The final rule is available at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/ramain.html.

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CRITICAL HABITAT PROPOSED FOR ENDANGERED FAIRY SHRIMP

VENTURA, California, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - Responding to a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed to designate critical habitat on about 12,060 acres for the endangered Riverside fairy shrimp, a small vernal pool crustacean unique to southern California. Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that fill with water during fall and winter rains. Not all areas within the broad boundaries outlined in the proposal will be considered critical habitat because some of these areas - such as shopping centers, homes or roads - do not contain habitat considered essential to the conservation of the Riverside fairy shrimp. The USFWS is not proposing critical habitat on non-federal lands that are already protected by an existing, operative Habitat Conservation Plan.

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The Riverside fairy shrimp lives in vernal pools, which only hold water after winter and spring rains (Drawing courtesy USFWS)

"Vernal pools were once abundant throughout most of the Central Valley and coastal areas of southern California but have declined significantly," said Michael Spear, USFWS California-Nevada operations manager. "As vernal pools have disappeared, populations of Riverside fairy shrimp and other species that depend on them have declined," Spear said. The pools have been destroyed or disturbed by urban development and agricultural conversion, alterations of vernal pool hydrology, off road vehicle activity, livestock overgrazing and other land uses. The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit to force the USFWS to propose critical habitat for the shrimp, and won a court order in February. The USFWS will accept comments on the proposed rule until November 20 by email: fw1rvfs@fws.gov. Include "Attn: RIN 1018-AG34," your name, and return address in the email message.

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FEDERAL AGENCIES RELEASE CAPTIVE BREEDING POLICY

WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - A new joint policy released by the USFWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) says captive breeding programs are an essential tool in preserving some endangered species. The policy is intended to provide guidance and consistency in "controlled propagation" programs that involve captive reproduction of endangered and threatened animals and plants. "Captive propagation has been vital to the recovery of animals such as black-footed ferrets, Karner blue butterflies, and California condors and a number of plant species such as the Hawaiian silverswords," said USFWS director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "This policy represents another step in ensuring that the endangered species program is grounded in the best available science."

The joint policy states that controlled propagation may be used to prevent extinction, maintain genetic health, and hold plants and animals on a temporary basis until threats to their habitats are removed. Controlled propagation is also a useful tool for establishing new, self sustaining populations, supplementing or enhancing wild populations and holding offspring of listed species for part of their development if suitable natural conditions do not exist, the agencies said. "This policy clarifies the agency's position on controlled propagation as a recovery and conservation tool for native listed species, emphasizing the need to take a cautious approach when considering its use," said NMFS director Penny Dalton. The policy will help direct captive breeding by zoos, botanic gardens and other private institutions.

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CONGRESSIONAL REPORT CRITICIZES STATE WATER QUALITY SPENDING

WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - A new report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) suggests that state water programs do not spend enough to ensure safe drinking water, despite the availability of federal funds. In addition, these programs may need more money in the future to meet new federal requirements. Congress asked the GAO, its investigative arm, to look at funding for drinking water programs in light of the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. These amendments will require states to implement new standards for certain contaminants, and ensure that drinking water systems have the financial, managerial and technical ability to comply with these rules.

The GAO found that states have had enough available funds so far, but have often not accessed these funds or used them to best effect. Actual state spending fell short of what was needed to ensure safe water as determined by the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. The shortfall was not due to a lack of federal funding, the GAO found, but to state imposed spending constraints. States set staffing and funding levels too low in some cases, the report says, spending funds on structural and equipment improvements instead. States also offered inadequate salaries to attract and retain qualified staff in some cases. Hiring freezes prevented the states from filling positions in other cases. But GAO interviews with state officials suggest that current staffing and funding levels will be inadequate to meet new regulatory requirements in the future. The full report is available at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/rc00298t.pdf

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BEE FEET BRING FUNGICIDE TO FLOWERS

COLUMBUS, Ohio, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - Using bees to deliver a biological fungicide to strawberry blooms is more effective and uses less fungicide that mechanical sprayers, say researchers from Ohio State and Cornell universities. The study involved placing a tray filled with the fungicide - composed of an anti-fungal microorganism - in front of bee hives. The bees walk through this "foot bath" while exiting the hive and deposit the fungicide on strawberry flowers. Using the procedure to dispense a natural fungicide that prevents gray mold - a common rotting disease in strawberries - researchers were able to reduce infected strawberries by 72 percent as compared to 40 percent when the same fungicide was sprayed on plants.

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Bees do a better job than mechanical sprayers at delivering fungicide to flowers (Photo courtesy Ohio State University)

The bee delivered natural fungicide was also as effective at preventing gray mold as a commercial chemical fungicide sprayed on plants. "Since bees carry the fungicide specifically to the flowers, they are more effective than sprays," said Joseph Kovach, associate professor of entomology at Ohio State's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio. "Sprays cover both leaves and flowers, though the target is only the flowers." The study appeared in a recent issue of the journal "Biological Control." Kovach said growers would prefer the bee delivery technique to spraying, which is a labor intensive process involving the mixing and measuring of pesticides and wearing personal protection clothing. "Let the bees do the work," Kovach said.

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FLORIDA POLL SHOWS OPPOSITION TO HOMESTEAD AIRPORT PLAN

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - Florida residents want to protect their state’s national parks from a planned commercial airport at the former Homestead Air Force Base, shows a new survey by national pollster Mark Mellman. By overwhelming margins, Floridians across the state oppose a plan to locate a major airport adjacent to the Everglades. The proposed billion dollar commercial airport would be built on the edge of Biscayne National Park, the Everglades and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Commercial airport developers argue that an airport is necessary because of heavy travel traffic in South Florida. The poll reveals that just one in five people believe a new airport is necessary to relieve crowding at Miami International Airport.

"The new poll confirms results of polling earlier this year" said Alan Farago, of the Everglades Defense Council that commissioned the Mellman poll. "The people in Florida place a tremendous value on protecting world treasures such as the Everglades. The plan to put a big polluting airport next to the Everglades, the focal point of a $7.8 billion state and federal investment, is one of the most shameful untold stories in America today." Mellman’s poll reveals that Floridians statewide as well as in South Florida oppose the airport almost three to one. By a 66 percent to eight percent majority, Floridians believe protecting the environment is more important than building a new commercial airport at Homestead Air Base. About two thirds believe that building such an airport will threaten the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, and will increase air and water pollution. More than half believe the development will cause an increase in sprawl.

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NATIONAL PUBLIC LANDS DAY OFFERS VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - Saturday is National Public Lands Day, a nationwide event when families and groups of all ages volunteer to "give something back" to America's millions of acres of public lands. Sponsored by Toyota, National Public Lands Day is the largest nationwide volunteer workday for U.S. public lands, including parks, forests, refuges, lakeshores, grasslands and historic sites. This year, the 7th annual National Public Lands Day will include more than 250 sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and will involve more than 50,000 volunteers. Coordinated by the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF), National Public Lands Day is managed by federal agency partners including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the National Park Service; the USDA Forest Service; the Department of Defense; Tennessee Valley Authority; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"National Public Lands Day is an excellent opportunity for Americans to take care of our public lands for future generations, just as past generations have passed them on to us," said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. "I urge all Americans to get involved with their public lands, both on National Public Lands Day and everyday." The BLM will sponsor events through all of its state organizations for the first time. "National Public Lands Day is a terrific opportunity for Americans to experience first hand their public lands and give something back to their country," said BLM Director Tom Fry. "This year will be the best ever, as the BLM prepares to host thousands of volunteers in all of our states."

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EPA HONORS CLEAN AIR EXCELLENCE

WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2000 (ENS) - The EPA has awarded its first Clean Air Excellence Awards to 26 local and state governments, industries and citizens groups that have made outstanding and innovative efforts in helping clean the nation's air. Their accomplishments ranged from cost effective approaches to housing design that reduce energy and minimize overall environmental impact, to a program integrating electric vehicles into the average American's lifestyle. This new awards program was established at the recommendation of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee (CAAAC), an independent group of advisors established by EPA in 1990 to advise the Agency on implementation of the Act. The CAAAC also picked today's winners out of 117 entries.

Awards were given in four categories, including Clean Air Technology, Community Development, Education/Outreach, Regulatory/Policy Innovations and Transportation Efficiency Innovation. Most categories included several awardees, while others found just one program award worthy. In the Community Development category, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs was the sole honoree. The city of Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department was the sole winner in the Transportation Efficiency Innovation category. A separate award, the Thomas W. Zosel Outstanding Achievement Award, went to an individual, environmental consultant Michael Walsh. More information is available at: http://www.epa.gov/oar