AmeriScan: April 1, 2003

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Chemical in Plastics Causes Birth Defects in Mice

CLEVELAND, Ohio, April 1, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists have discovered that a common ingredient used to make plastics causes birth defects in mice. The discovery, which is the product of laboratory accident, has prompted a call for further investigation of the possible health risks from bisphenol A, one of the most commonly used plastic materials. It is found in baby bottles, food and beverage containers, helmets, compact discs and an array of other items.

The finding, outlined in the April 1 issue of the journal "Current Biology," was the product of an external factor influencing a laboratory experiment unrelated to bisphenol A (BPA.)

According to first author Patricia Hunt, she and her colleagues, who were studying the processes of cell division, noticed a higher than normal increase in abnormalities in developing egg cells in a control group of female mice.

Some 40 percent of the cells examined had evidence of aneuploidy, a misalignment of chromosomes. The finding made little sense within the context of the experiment and Hunt eventually determined that an alkaline detergent used to clean the cages had deteriorated the plastic and released small amounts of BPA.

The researchers then deliberately exposed mice to the chemical and found similar evidence of abnormalities in the mice's developing eggs. Aneuploidy is the leading cause of miscarriage, congenital defects and mental retardation in humans.

Chemical groups have said low levels of BPA are not harmful to humans, but this study gives reason to question this belief, Hunt said.

"We don't know what the effects, if any, may be on humans at these low levels," said Hunt, a researcher with the Department of Genetics at Case Western University. "But a study in Germany indicates pregnant women are exposed to similar levels of BPA, which is used in food and beverage containers. Certainly we should be concerned enough to carry out extensive further study."

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Communities Oppose Pentagon Exemptions

WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2003 (ENS) - Dozens of local organizations voiced their opposition Monday to the Pentagon's effort to get broad exemption from five of the nation's key environmental laws. Seventy local groups sent a joint statement to the U.S. Congress outlining their opposition.

Congressional hearings on the Pentagon's plan are scheduled for today and tomorrow. The plan would give the military broad exemptions from federal laws governing hazardous waste, clean air, marine mammal protection and endangered species.

Communities affected toxic contamination and environmental degradation caused by the Department of Defense (DOD) have been excluded from all Congressional hearings on these proposals to date, according to the Military Toxics Project (MTP), a national network of communities affected by military contamination and pollution.

"The people directly affected by DOD operations have a right to be heard," said Tara Thornton, executive director of the MTP. "In three years of hearings on military training and environmental laws, not one affected community has been asked to explain to Congress how military contamination has harmed their community or why independent regulation of DOD's environmental practices is important to their community's health and safety."

"Yet we have heard from a parade of Pentagon officials demanding that the military be placed above the law," Thornton said. "Congress needs to hear from the people in these neighborhoods who are affected."

The Pentagon's proposals were rejected by Congress in 2002. Several reports from the General Accounting Office have found that the DOD has not provided adequate evidence that environmental laws are affecting readiness operations and have questioned the department's ability to even measure its state of readiness.

The five environmental laws the Pentagon is seeking broad exemptions from each contain case-by-case waivers that the military has so far declined to use.

"Exempting military operations and lands from fundamental public health and environmental laws will make our communities second class citizens, stripping us of protections provided at private sector facilities," the letter states.

"Our families and our water, land, and air will bear the cost of the toxic contamination and destruction of natural resources that will result if DOD's proposals become law."

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Colonial Pipeline Fined $34 Million for Oil Spill

WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. government announced a $34 million settlement today with Colonial Pipeline Company, which violated the Clean Water Act on seven separate occasions. The company spilled 1.45 million gallons of oil from its 5,500 mile pipeline in five states.

The $34 million settlement is the largest civil penalty a company has paid in the history of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Colonial has also agreed to spend an estimated $30 million to upgrade environmental protection on its pipeline.

The Atlanta based company is the largest volume pipeline transporter of refined petroleum products in the world.

The settlement is part of the EPA's "smart enforcement approach," according to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.

"Maintaining the integrity of our nation's industrial infrastructure, such as oil pipelines, is a critical priority for the Justice Department," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "Today's settlement sends the message that we will vigorously pursue violations of environmental laws that subject our citizens and our environment to potentially catastrophic consequences."

Colonial moves an average of 83 million gallons of petroleum products daily through an underground pipelined that stretches from Texas to New Jersey. Along the way the pipeline passes through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The government says that pipeline corrosion, mechanical damage, and operator error in seven recent spills resulted in the release of approximately 1.45 million gallons of oil and other petroleum.

One spill caused the release of more than 950,000 gallons of diesel fuel into South Carolina's Reedy River in 1996. This killed some 35,000 fish and other species of wildlife and dispersed more than 34 miles downstream.

The other spills occurred in Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana and North Carolina.

The company's $34 million civil penalty will go to the U.S. Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which underwrites oil spill cleanup activities nationwide.

The settlement agreement is subject to a 30 day public comment period and final court approval.

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Government Sued Over Scallop Management Efforts

BOSTON, Massachusetts, April 1, 2003 (ENS) - Oceana, an international ocean advocacy group, filed suit in federal court Monday against the U.S. National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) for its scallop fishery management efforts in New England and the Mid-Atlantic waters. The organization believes the NMFS scallop policy does not safeguard against the impacts of scallop dredging, and fails to protect sensitive marine habitats and endangered sea turtles.

The suit targets the government's Framework Adjustment 15 regulations, which have governed the management of the scallop fishery for the past five years. Oceana contends these regulations fail to protect sensitive cod nursery grounds or reduce bycatch, including threatened and endangered sea turtles.

"We are concerned that NMFS has not adequately evaluated the threat that scallop dredging and trawling has on sea turtle populations," said Charlotte Gray, marine wildlife scientist for Oceana. "Basically, NMFS only estimated the number of sea turtle takes in two small areas in the Mid-Atlantic. NMFS cannot ignore that the same fishing gear in similar areas may also capture sea turtles and must account for these impacts."

Sea scallops are considered the second most lucrative fish for the New England fishing industry, with some 250 full time boats expected to land 54 million pounds this year. They contend that scallop dredging does not do significant damage to marine ecosystems.

But according to Oceana, recent studies show that scallop dredging removes some 80 percent of most marine life at the ocean bottom in just one pass of a scallop dredge.

And a report from NMFS concluded that scallop gear is a threat to sea turtles and the agency said its estimate that scallop fishers would take only 97 sea turtles this year is an underestimate.

"Last summer, NMFS observers reported over 25 scallop dredge interactions with sea turtles-about half were killed in dredges-as they migrated up the eastern seaboard," said Gib Brogan, Oceana's New England Field Representative. "But only about 56 trips were observed. NMFS must report on and address the turtle catch in the thousands of other unobserved scallop dredge trips in the Mid-Atlantic."

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Conservationists Seek Input to Wild Steelhead Lawsuit

FRESNO, California, April 1, 2003 (ENS) - A coalition of conservationists and recreational fishing groups asked for intervenor status Monday in a federal lawsuit that aims to remove federal protection for wild steelhead in California's Central Valley. The lawsuit, brought by a group of irrigation districts, aims to include hatchery born and raised steelhead with wild steelhead when considering endangered species status.

The groups seeking intervention in the irrigation districts' case are the Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, the Federation of Fly Fishers, the Delta Fly Fishers, Trout Unlimited, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Woodbridge Rivers Company, and Pacific Rivers Council.

"We've seen this same legal claim by other interests that want to ignore the problems facing these runs and turn back the clock on protection for these fish," said Steve Mashuda of Earthjustice, which represents the groups in the suit. "Instead what we need, and what the law requires, are sustainable populations of wild steelhead in these rivers."

If granted intervenor status, the groups would be able to present arguments in the case. The coalition is seeking to intervene on behalf of the defendant in the lawsuit, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), because they are concerned the Bush administration will not mount much of a defense of wild Central Valley steelhead on its own.

"The irrigation districts are pushing junk science to advance an agenda that spells the elimination of these fish from the Central Valley," said Jeff Miller, with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Their position is unsupported by science, the law, and common sense."

Irrigation efforts, dams and habitat destruction have caused a serious decline of wild steelhead in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems of California's Central Valley. In February 2003, NOAA released a report that cited heightened concern over decline Central Valley steelhead populations.

"People need to realize the steelhead are like a canary in a coalmine. When our rivers will not support them any longer there is something terribly wrong," said Kaitlin Lovell of Trout Unlimited. "We are getting into this lawsuit to bring a little common sense and balance back to the table, two things in very short supply when the pave-and-plough group are allowed to run roughshod."

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Endangered California Frog In Regulatory Purgatory

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 1, 2003 (ENS) - Conservationists filed suit in federal court today to challenge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's protection efforts of the Sierra Nevada population of the mountain yellow-legged frog. The plaintiffs charge the government is delaying listing the species on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The suit was filed today by the environmental law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Pacific Rivers Council. Both organizations petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species under ESA in February 2000.

In January 2003, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a "warranted but precluded" decision. This means the government agreed that the species warrants listing as an endangered species, but contends that listing is precluded by "expeditious progress" being made on listing of other species.

The decision by the government is "an obviously political and callous delaying tactic that is a recipe for extinction of the frog," said CBD spokesman Jeff Miller. "Considering their terrible track record on Endangered Species Act enforcement - not a single species listed that wasn't a result of environmental lawsuits or petitions - the Bush administration can hardly point to 'expeditious progress' in protecting endangered species."

The mountain yellow legged frog lives in the Sierra Nevada's high elevation lakes, ponds and streams.

Once the most abundant frog in the Sierra Nevada, conservationists believe the species survives in only 10 percent of its original range.

Non native trout, which feed on tadpoles and young frogs, is a leading contributor to the decline of the mountain yellow legged frog, which is also threatened by degraded habitat and other environmental factors. Pesticides from California's vast agricultural areas have also taken a toll on frog populations.

By not moving forward with listing, the Fish and Wildlife Service has placed the frog in "regulatory purgatory," Miller explained. The "warranted but precluded" listing offers not legal protection and there is no limit to how long a species can remain in the list, he said.

"How much more endangered does a species have to become before the Fish and Wildlife Service will take action? The intent of the Endangered Species Act is being subverted through administrative delay, sentencing the mountain yellow-legged frog and other species in need of immediate protection to extinction through inaction," said Deanna Spooner, spokeswoman for the Pacific Rivers Council.

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Wisconsin Frogs and Turtles Suffer Extreme Cold

MADISON, Wisconsin, April 1, 2003 (ENS) - Wisconsin state officials are concerned that a winter of extreme cold and little snow could have significant impact on the state's frogs and turtles.

The state has experienced a lack of snow cover during some periods of extreme cold, officials explained, and they fear a significant number of frogs and turtles may not have survived the winter, or may die yet this spring from the effects of the cold.

"In a normal winter, several species of frogs like the spring peeper, literally freeze solid, but a glycol-like antifreeze produced by the frog just prior to freezing usually protects their cells from freezing," explained Bob Hay, a herpetologist with the state's Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Endangered Resources.

"These frogs stop breathing and have no heart beat while in a frozen state but thaw in spring and 'restart their engines,'" Hay said. "The harsh winter may have caused severe cell damage and many of the frogs may have died prior to thawing."

Frogs have a high reproductive potential and populations could recover in a few years if conditions return to normal or are wetter in the coming years. But turtles are not so fortunate, Hay said.

"Turtles may have also experienced frostbite, especially of their rear extremities, or mortality due to low water levels during the fall and winter and very thick ice that penetrated pond bottoms and shallow lake beds," Hay explained.

Turtles that survive with frostbite are likely to die from infection or be easy prey for predators, according to Hay. With very low reproductive rates, turtle populations take a long time to recover from a significant die-off.

Wisconsin officials have asked the public to report any die-offs of 10 or more turtles or frog die-offs involving dozens of specimens they observe.

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New Jersey to Tighten Water Use Regulation

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 1, 2003 (ENS) - New Jersey state officials announced today the first in a series of enforcement alerts to all of the state's regulated water users, who will now be subject to increased state inspections and stricter enforcement of water allocation permits.

The stricter measures are part of a statewide effort to help reduce the frequency and severity of the state's future drought emergencies, according to New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell.

New Jersey was under a drought emergency from March 2002 to January 2003. The drought declaration in March 2002 came on the heels of the state's driest six month period since 1895.

"We can no longer address drought emergencies on a crisis-to-crisis basis, but must proactively conserve and protect our water supplies for the future," Campbell said. "This alert was issued to warn the regulated community of stepped up inspections and enforcement, providing them advance notice to improve compliance with water supply laws and possibly eliminate our need to take corrective action."

There are some 750 water allocation permit holders in the state.

These water allocation permits authorize the use of ground and surface water for public drinking water supplies, industrial processing and cooling, golf courses, irrigation, sand and gravel operations, remediation activities, and power generation.

The state promised increased inspections as well as Notice of Violation (NOV) to all permit holders who fail to submit quarterly monitoring reports or exceed their water withdrawal limits.

Campbell explained that today's enforcement alert issued is the first released under a new, comprehensive advisory system created by the DEP's Compliance and Enforcement Program to improve outreach to the regulated community.

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