AmeriScan: September 25, 2000


TAMPA, Florida, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - Freshwater mussels in at least one west Central Florida lake - and perhaps several others - may contain elevated amounts of radioactive radium. The contamination is the result of maintaining the lake's levels with water from the Floridan Aquifer, says a University of Florida (UF) lake specialist. Radium occurs in the limestone surrounding the aquifer and dissolves into the water. Although humans rarely eat the lake mussels, the radium levels are considered high enough to pose a health risk. The radium could also make its way up the food chain, starting with animals like raccoons and otters that do eat the mollusks, said Mark Brenner, an assistant professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.


Mark Brenner, left, and Joseph Smoak, researchers with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, examine a freshwater mussel from Crystal Lake (Photo courtesy University of Florida)
Brenner found that mussels are capable of storing radium in their tissues in large quantities. For example, a gram of tissue from mussels in Round Lake near Tampa contained almost 100,000 times the radium contained in a gram of lake water. Researchers are now testing mussels from six augmented lakes with plans to test more of the 50 lakes and wetlands in the Southwest Florida Water Management District's 16 county region that are recharged from the underground aquifer. "It was a real shock to find extremely high radium levels in the tissues of mussels," said Brenner, who also directs the UF's Land Use and Environmental Change Institute. "A risk assessment completed as part of this project concluded that long term consumption of mussels with high levels of radium could result in an increased cancer risk in humans." Brenner said researchers will be looking at radium levels in all aspects of the lake environment.

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SACRAMENTO, California, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - California Governor Gray Davis has signed two new laws - one designed to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency conservation, and another to help the Sacramento and San Joaquin regions comply with federal air quality standards. "The energy legislation signed today will help California meet its increasing demand for energy in an environmentally safe and cost effective manner," said Governor Davis on Thursday. "It is critical that we accelerate the contribution of solar energy and other renewables, and continue to focus on energy conservation, to provide affordable, reliable energy."

One piece of legislation extends until January 1, 2011 the expiration dates of two California Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission programs that provide revolving loans for energy efficiency. This new law also creates a $1 million grant program run by the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission to offset the cost of solar energy systems. Governor Davis also signed into law a bill to provide $75 million in the Governorís Transportation Plan to help the Sacramento and San Joaquin regions reduce vehicle emissions. About $50 million is targeted to Sacramento and $25 million to San Joaquin. The legislation will assist the regions to meet federal air quality standards.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - With the nation's automakers and fuel suppliers facing tight new federal emission standards later this decade, the Department of Energy (DOE) has selected eight teams it believes will help pioneer a new generation of ultra-clean transportation fuels and tailpipe emission controls. The U.S. Army will also join the Ultra-Clean Transportation Fuels Initiative, the DOE said Friday, and provide a portion of funding for the new projects in return for project data it can use for fueling future military vehicles. "President [Bill] Clinton has challenged America's transportation sector to make dramatic cuts in air pollutants over the next seven years," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said. "Now, the Energy Department is preparing to put federal research dollars into future fuels that can meet the President's goal and perhaps go beyond it."

Three of the winning project teams propose to use natural gas, rather than crude oil, as the starting point for making the low polluting fuels. The teams propose to transform the gas into liquid fuels that could substitute for conventional diesel fuel or be used as a clean burning fuel additive. Converting natural gas to liquid form allows it to be delivered and used without major changes in today's existing fuel systems. Three other teams will lead development efforts on new refining processes that remove sulfur pollutants from crude oil. A seventh team has an technique to convert coal and petroleum coke into clean fuels. The eighth project will focus on a new type of emission control system for future automobiles and trucks. The system will employ a chemical process that captures smog forming nitrogen oxides from the exhausts of internal combustion engines. More information is available at:

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TOOELE, Utah, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - The Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste has authorized the Army to restart the Deactivation Furnace System (DFS) at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility. The DFS, a rotating kiln type incinerator designed to destroy explosive weapons components, was shut down in May after GB or sarin nerve gas was released from its main emissions stack. This was the first such environmental release from the facility. The Armyís Chemical Weapons Demilitarization Program says nobody was hurt or exposed to chemical agent, nor was there any harm done to the environment.

To ensure maximum protection to workers and the public, the TOCDF has resumed chemical weapons destruction operations in a step by step process. In July, limited operations were begun using incineration systems not related to the May 8 release. The DFS could not be restarted until all safety measures recommended by government oversight agencies were completed. "Destroying the chemical weapons stockpile will never be an easy process; but doing it safely is, and always will be, our top priority," said Michael Rowe, general manager of EG&G Defense Materials, Inc., the contractor that operates the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility. "The corrective measures we've made ensure our operations are conducted with maximum protection for our workers and the community." Rowe said equipment modifications, procedural changes and better trained workers have made Tooele a safer plant. By international treaty, the U.S. and all other nations must destroy their entire stockpiles of chemical weapons by 2007.

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PORTLAND, Oregon, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - State and federal fishery managers have finalized an agreement with Native American Tribes to raise and release, rather than destroy, two million excess spring chinook salmon eggs at federal and state hatcheries in Washington state. The two million eggs are from returning hatchery produced fish known as Carson stock. The agreement is contingent upon funding promised by Washington Senator Slade Gorton, a Republican. Gorton has promised $184,000 to implement the agreement. "We're thrilled to have reached an agreement that avoids destroying any eggs - and meets Endangered Species Act requirements and our tribal trust responsibilities," said Anne Badgley, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Pacific region.

The agreement will result in experimental releases of spring chinook into two Washington streams where they have been extirpated: the Walla Walla River and Omak Creek, a tributary of the Okanogan River. A total of two million excess salmon eggs will be raised at Winthrop, Leavenworth and Entiat national fish hatcheries. Some of the fish will be marked and released into the Methow River and Omak Creek. The majority of the marked fish will be sent to Ringold State Hatchery, where they will be reared and released as juvenile fish. Returning adults from Ringold will be transferred to the South Fork of the Walla Walla River and allowed to spawn. The remaining eggs will be sent to Big White Salmon Ponds on the Lower Columbia River where they will be reared and released as tiny fingerlings. Some biologists have expressed concern over releases of hatchery raised salmon, which could interfere with wild salmon stocks.

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THREE LAKES, Wisconsin, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - A Wisconsin man will pay more than $240,000 for illegally constructing a road in northern Gogebic County, said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) director Russell Harding. The DEQ took enforcement action when William Wykoski built a 3.5 mile long road without the necessary state permits. The illegal work resulted in blockages, severe erosion and significant impacts to valuable fish and aquatic insect habitat in 14 streams. At least two streams are home to the coaster brook trout, a species that has almost disappeared from Lake Superior.

"The DEQ is serious about protecting Michiganís water resources," Harding said. "Timely and persistent action by our DEQ district staff resulted in a strong enforcement case, as well as the complete restoration of these streams. This settlement should serve notice that our lakes and streams will not be compromised." Wykoski will pay almost $28,000 in fines during the next two years. He has accrued expenses of over $200,000 in restoring and stabilizing the disturbed area. He also is liable for more than $10,000 in expenses incurred by the state during the investigation of the case and restoration of the site, and $4,000 to neighboring landowners for trespass issues. The DEQ administers sections of the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which requires permits for stream crossings and other construction projects to ensure that they do not impact Michiganís natural resources.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - A new book by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) historian examines the twentieth century evolution of radiation protection standards and efforts to ensure radiation safety for nuclear workers and the general public. "Permissible Dose," by J. Samuel Walker, covers the political and scientific debate on radiation risks caused by fallout from nuclear bomb testing, exposure from medical or manufacturing procedures, effluents from nuclear power, and radioactivity from manmade and natural sources. It shows how scientific research and political controversy have led to revisions in the "maximum permissible dose" and why exposure standards have been tightened since the 1930s.

The book focuses on the programs and roles of the federal agencies - the Atomic Energy Commission, the NRC and the Environmental Protection Agency - established to provide protection for those exposed to low level radiation from activities under their jurisdictions. The book does not represent an official position of the NRC nor should its conclusions be viewed as policy statements of the agency. It is the third in a series of publications on the history of nuclear regulation sponsored by the NRC. The previous two volumes by the NRC historian are "Controlling the Atom: The Beginnings of Nuclear Regulation, 1946-1962" and "Containing the Atom: Nuclear Regulation in a Changing Environment, 1963-1971." All three books have been published by the University of California Press.

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SACRAMENTO, California, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - Toxic mold in two California office buildings last year led to employee illnesses, evacuations, and now, dozens of lawsuits against a real estate company. The problems for "California Job Journal," a Sacramento newspaper publishing business, started in November of 1999, when their landlord at Sacramento Commerce Park refused to make quick repairs to a ruptured plumbing pipe. The pipe flooded offices leased from Pacific Gulf Properties (PGP), a Newport Beach real estate investment trust. Mold grew in the damp offices, and 26 of the Job Journal's 30 employees experienced mold related health problems, including spontaneous nose bleeds, intestinal distress, sinus and lung infections, migraine headaches, skin rashes and chronic flu like symptoms. The Job Journal was forced to evacuate its offices and production facility on December 31, 1999. But the new property, also owned by PGP, turned out to have a history of chronic leaks and was also contaminated with toxic mold.

Last week, "California Job Journal" filed suit against PGP. The lawsuit alleges that PGP engaged in "unfair business practices" by performing inadequate repairs; leasing commercial office space that suffered from chronic roof and plumbing leaks resulting in the growth of toxic mold; and untrue and misleading advertising to tenants. The Job Journal has brought this lawsuit on behalf of itself, as well as all other PGP tenants in California. About two dozen current and former Job Journal employees are filing separate personal injury lawsuits against PGP as well. PGP is reported to be in negotiations with CalPERS - California Public Employees' Retirement System - to sell the Sacramento Commerce Park as part of a $929 million deal to divest itself of all of its industrial holdings.

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - At a real estate auction last week, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) bid against developers to purchase the 105 acre Mori Point property in Pacifica as an eventual addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. TPL's successful bid of $3.3 million protects the property from future development threats. The minimum starting bid was $2.5 million - equal to the recent appraised market value of the property. "TPL is very exciting to purchase and protect the Mori Point property for the people of Pacifica and the rest of the Bay Area," said Tim Wirth, TPL Bay Area project manager. "We will now work with the National Park Service to see that this exceptional property, with its sweeping views and tremendous recreation opportunities, is protected forever for the public to enjoy."

At the request of the National Park Service (NPS), TPL acquired the property and will convey it to the NPS as an addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area once public funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund is available for the purchase. The property is a coastal headland located in Pacifica and the NPS's top priority for acquisition on the San Mateo coast. Home to several threatened and endangered species including the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog, the property also has tremendous recreational value because it links the city of Pacifica's beach promenade trail to the Sweeney Ridge National Recreation Area. TPL completed the Sweeney Ridge project in 1987. TPL, a national nonprofit land conservation group, used funds from private donors, the Pacifica Land Trust, and its own capital to purchase the property.

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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - Wildfires in western states may push migrating hummingbirds farther east than usual, offering a bonus to people who maintain nectar feeders for them. Most years, maintaining nectar feeders for hummingbirds in eastern states is an April through September affair, during which just one species of hummingbird - the ruby-throated hummingbird - can be seen. But this year could be different, says Jim Wilson, an ornithologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. He says birdwatchers in Kansas have reported an unusual number of sightings of calliope, broad tailed, broad billed and rufous hummingbirds this summer.

Bird experts speculate that a few of these western birds may wander eastward each year. An eastward jog through Missouri is not significant on a trip that stretches from Montana to the Texas coast and then 1,000 miles across the Gulf of Mexico to wintering grounds in Central America. The abundance of fall flowers and nectar feeders might make Missouri and other eastern states attractive stopover for hummers after crossing the Great Plains. Wilson says the upswing in exotic hummingbird sightings may be related to drought and wildfires that have swept western states this year. "A severe drought affects nectar supplies in these species' normal range and forces them to search for food elsewhere," said Wilson. "Add to that the loss of millions of acres of habitat blackened by fires, and you're looking at an enormous number of displaced birds. They have to go somewhere, so we shouldn't be surprised to see some of them here."