AmeriScan: September 29, 2000


WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - Pollution from traffic congestion is getting into waterways, where it can poison animal and other aquatic life, shows research presented in the current issue of the journal "Environmental Science & Technology." The study blames increased traffic from urban sprawl for high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, in lakes and reservoirs around six metropolitan areas, including Washington, DC; New York, New York; Newark, New Jersey; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Dallas, Texas; and Seattle, Washington. Effects due to vehicle traffic included PAH concentrations in reservoir sediments up to 100 times greater than pre-urban conditions, said Peter Van Metre, lead author of the study from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The compounds are unlikely to get into the drinking water supply and affect human health because they stick to the sediments in water supplies, he said. In addition, it is safe to eat fish or crabs - because the substance does not accumulate in animals - but the substances can kill aquatic life due to their toxicity and mutagenic effects, the researchers noted. PAHs are made of a host of substances that are considered both known and suspected human carcinogens. Pollution from PAHs may pose a bigger threat to aquatic life in urban waterways than other better known contaminants, such as lead, the pesticide DDT or PCBs, Van Metre said. "People realize that cars and traffic cause air pollution, but they are not aware that they also cause water pollution," Van Metre said. "Increased traffic is frequently linked to degraded air quality, but its effect on aquatic sediment is not as recognized."

* * *


WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - Citing major health threats from air pollution, the Sierra Club is calling on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner to reclassify metropolitan Washington from "serious" to "severe" for smog pollution. Reclassification would trigger requirements for additional actions to reduce air pollution in the metro area, including reducing emissions from cars, trucks, buses and industrial sources. "Childhood asthma is an extraordinary problem in the District," said Mark Wenzler, Sierra Club spokesperson. "The dirty air we breathe in metropolitan Washington can cause asthma attacks. Moreover, even healthy children and adults can suffer lung damage from breathing the dirty air in this region."

The call for reclassification to "severe" came in a letter sent on behalf of the Club by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. The Earthjustice letter says metro D.C. belongs in the higher pollution category because the area missed a November 15, 1999 for meeting federal health standards for ground level ozone, or smog. The letter threatens suit if EPA does not reclassify the area within 60 days. Ozone is a severe lung irritant that damages lung tissue, reduces lung function and causes symptoms such as chest pain, nausea and pulmonary congestion. The elderly, young children, and persons with asthma are all vulnerable. "Healthful air is a necessity, not a luxury," said David Baron, Earthjustice attorney. "Regional leaders and EPA need to acknowledge that metro DCís air is severely polluted, and take effective action now to protect area residents."

* * *


LOS ANGELES, California, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - Greenpeace activists intercepted an oil tanker on Wednesday en route to the port of Long Beach this week. Activists in Zodiac inflatables with banners reading "OIL FUELS CLIMATE CHAOS," followed the 890 foot Pecos as it headed toward the dock at a British Petroleum (BP) oil terminal. Greenpeace said activists intend to continue their protest until they get a commitment from BP that it will channel a small portion of its investment dollars into a large scale solar panel factory. Global financial analysts KPMG says such a factory would cost $660 million, a fraction of the $89 billion spent on new oil and gas production by U.S. oil companies in 1998.

Greenpeace is calling on BP, as well as other oil companies around the world to assume responsibility for the increased severity and frequency of weather disasters that scientists have linked to the burning of oil and other fossil fuels. The fires that scorched western states this summer, the droughts and heat waves that baked the south, and excessive rains that drenched the eastern states are all part of climatic patterns predicted in a warming world, fueled by oil. In California, worldwide warming temperatures have triggered more intensive heat waves, wildfires, floods and landslides. "Climate change is happening now and Americans are paying for it," said Melanie Duchin, aboard the Greenpeace boat MV Arctic Sunrise. "The oil industry must clean up its act - starting now."

* * *


WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - Coastal advocates are cheered the Senateís unanimous passage of a bill to reauthorize the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), which includes designated funding to control polluted runoff. Coastal states and citizens are now calling on House lawmakers to pass identical legislation. Representative Jim Saxton, a New Jersey Republican, said in a statement following the Senate passage, "I hope the House will fast-track the Senate bill in order to get it through this year. Itís an improvement over current law. I encourage the House leadership to expedite the bill and get it to the Presidentís desk."

"We urge the House leadership to do the right thing, and give states the money they need to address nonpoint source pollution," said the Coast Allianceís Catherine Hazlewood. "Time is running out, not just for this Congress, but for the continued health of our coasts." Nonpoint source pollution, or polluted runoff, is considered the leading source of water quality impairment in U.S. coastal areas. "Runoff pollution affects our environment, our recreation and our health," said Faith Weiss of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It causes beach closures, threatens our drinking water supplies and the health of our fisheries and coastal ecosystems." The CZMA controls nonpoint source pollution through the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program, which provides funding to states which have enforceable policies to control runoff as part of their CZMA coastal management plans. Twenty nine coastal states and territories are now participating in the Coastal Nonpoint Program.

* * *


WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has passed the Great Ape Conservation Act of 2000 (HR 4320), a bill to provide funding for conservation programs designed to protect chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. The committee approved the bill Thursday by unanimous voice vote. "We are now one step closer to providing much needed protection for these extraordinary species that are so important to our world, yet so close to extinction," said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The bill now heads to the floor for approval by the full Senate, after which it will be ready for the President's signature into law.

The legislation, was introduced in the House by Representative George Miller, a California Democrat, where it passed in July by a unanimous voice vote. The legislation calls for $5 million in annual U.S. aid to support conservation and protection of the great apes by allocating grants to local wildlife management authorities and other organizations in Africa and Asia dedicated to protecting the apes and their habitat. The measure has received strong international support from chimpanzee expert Dr. Jane Goodall and a number of animal protection groups including The Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, The Fund for Animals and the Doris Day Animal League. "Primates are the most highly endangered mammal group," Pacelle said. "This legislation will help prevent the demise of these species that are in great peril due to poaching and habitat destruction."

* * *


SACRAMENTO, California, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - California is getting some new funding to manage the 31 millions of used tires discarded by motorists every year, more than in any other state. Governor Gray Davis has signed into law a bill that expands the state's waste tire pile cleanup and enforcement program. It will fund removal of tire piles such as the Westley pile in Stanislaus County which caught fire last year burning five million tires, and the Tracy tire fire which burned seven million, as well as any other illegal tire piles left in the state. Tire fires release toxic smoke, and pollute the soil and water with the oil released from the burned tires. The new cleanup will be funded by a five year long increase in the waste tire disposal fee to $1 per tire from the $.25 now charged. On January 1, 2007, the fee drops to $.75 per tire.

Davis has also signed a new law permitting the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to acquire conservation easements from willing landowners to conserve, or prevent the conversion of, old growth forests and other private forest lands. This bill also permits federal and state agencies, local governments and nonprofit land trust organizations to hold conservation easements acquired by the state under this program. The bill creates the $5 million California Forest Legacy Fund to implement the program. "Californiaís old growth forests and other forest lands are among our most valuable natural resources," Davis said. "The Forestry Legacy Program Act will help restore and protect this important part of our stateís natural heritage by offering significant incentives to landowners to promote better forestry practices."

* * *


SACRAMENTO, California, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - Seeking to prevent the loss of farmland and agricultural water supplies, the California Farm Bureau Federation and three Farm Bureau members filed suit today against the Cal-Fed Bay-Delta Program. The lawsuit seeks an immediate halt to land and water purchases by Cal-Fed, a group of state and federal government agencies. The suit says Cal-Fed has not addressed the program's significant negative environmental impacts on the state's agriculture, nor does it recognize the contributions to wildlife and habitat that are already a part of many working farms. Plaintiffs in the suit are the California Farm Bureau Federation and Fresno County Farm Bureau members Ted Sheely of Lemoore and Debbie Jacobsen and Don Laub of Fresno.

The Cal-Fed program was created to find long term solutions to environmental and water problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay. "California farmland is an environmental resource with worldwide importance," said California Farm Bureau President Bill Pauli. "Cal-Fed seeks to acquire approximately a million acres of farmland and hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water. Both actions will cause significant environmental impacts in our state's rural areas, often with very few positive contributions to the preservation of endangered species." The lawsuit says both federal and state environmental laws require government agencies to consider significant impacts on agriculture, but that Cal-Fed has not done so. The lawsuit also points out that agricultural land and water are critical environmental resources which produce food and fiber, and that they have a value at least equal to those of open space land and wildlife habitat.

* * *


WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - The Energy Department (DOE) has awarded $24 million to renew 31 research projects which may help solve the nation's most complex environmental cleanup challenges. These awards are a result of the first renewal competition conducted under the department's Environmental Science Program. "The renewal of these research projects will provide critical knowledge to help us understand how to clean up sites in a safe and efficient manner," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. Researchers at 12 universities, six Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, and three additional research institutions, will use the funding to conduct scientific studies focusing on environmental problems across the DOE complex.

Almost half of the research will focus on solving subsurface contamination problems. For example, researchers from the department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in collaboration with researchers at Stanford University, will seek a better understanding of how metal reducing bacteria work to eliminate toxic metals and radionuclides from water and soil. This research could provide the fundamental understanding necessary to stop or slow the movements of contaminants through the vadose zone - the unsaturated zone of soil that lies beneath the land surface and extends to groundwater. One Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researcher will work on improving existing technologies for strontium and actinide removal at the Savannah River Site. The materials could also be employed for strontium removal from acidic waste at Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and to isolate contaminants in groundwater and soil. Other projects address a variety of problems in deactivation and decommissioning, mixed waste and spent nuclear fuel.

* * *


GARLAND, Texas, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - Raytheon Company has won a $34 million contract from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a new high performance computing system to be used to improve understanding of weather and climate. The total value of the contract, inclusive of all options, is about $67 million. The high performance computing system will be provided to NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, a leader in the field of climate and weather research and modeling. "The potential economic benefit is enormous," said Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta. "This new weather computer system should improve hurricane predictions and other seasonal forecasts, reduce costs, and help us gain more insight about our weather and climate."

The Raytheon system will help the Laboratory achieve its goal of expanding the scientific understanding of the physical processes that govern the behavior of the atmosphere and the oceans as complex fluid systems. The systems are modeled and studied using complex computer simulations. The computer simulations will help improve storm forecasts and regional projections of climate change. NOAA hopes to investigate the effects of deep ocean circulation on climate models and analyze the processes controlling the El NiŮo events. "NOAA's GFDL needs this new computing power to make progress in climate and weather forecasting and to support research collaborations within NOAA and with other government agencies," said NOAA administrator D. James Baker. Silicon Graphics, Incorporated will develop the computational hardware and supporting software and StorageTek will supply the equipment for GFDL's data archive.

* * *


WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - Researchers studying reef habitats will have a new early warning monitoring system to alert them of episodes of coral reef bleaching. Coral Reef Watch, a new NOAA program, will develop a long term coral reef monitoring system with the ability to predict coral bleaching episodes in all major U.S. coral reef areas. The project is a collaborative effort among NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, and the National Undersea Research Program.

"Bleaching" refers to the loss of color in ailing coral. Bleaching can be caused by a variety of events, such as change in water temperature or a change in nutrient composition. "We need long-term in-situ monitoring of reefs, which is essential to understanding the increasing stresses on these unique but fragile ecosystems," said Dr. Jim Hendee of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. The first step is the installation of meteorological and oceanographic monitoring stations in the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Near real time data from these stations will be used to confirm satellite data about sea temperature, and analyze conditions that may lead to coral bleaching. Scientists will also use an artificial intelligence technique called the Coral Reef Early Warning System or CREWS. When CREWS detects conditions that could stress corals, an alert will be sent to researchers and sanctuary managers, and posted on a Web site: