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AmeriScan: April 5, 2004

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Hazmat Drivers Subject to Terrorist Background Checks

WASHINGTON, DC, April 5, 2004 (ENS) - The federal government is planning to conduct background checks on all 3.5 million commercial truck drivers who transport hazardous materials. Hazardous items include gasoline, explosive cartridges, radioactive and infectious substances, propane, chlorine, acids, ammonia and other poisonous gases.

The Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration Friday announced plans for conducting what the agency called "name-based terrorist focused" background checks to determine whether any drivers present a potential terrorist threat.

Drivers will also undergo an FBI fingerprint based criminal history check to begin no later than January 31, 2005, a delay of eight months beyond the previously scheduled date for this program to begin, April 1, 2004. TSA is providing states additional time to make the significant changes to their existing commercial driver safety and testing programs.

When the program begins, states will be required to collect fingerprints and provide them to the FBI.

The Transportation Security Administration developed this plan to protect against the threat posed by terrorists transporting hazardous materials (hazmat), and to maximize flexibility for the states so the issuance of hazardous materials endorsements is not impeded by security requirements.

The USA Patriot Act requires background checks for all commercial drivers who apply for, renew or transfer a hazmat endorsement. Drivers must renew a hazmat endorsement every five years, although a state may require more frequent renewals.

The act gives the Transportation Security Administration responsibility for collecting and transmitting fingerprints and other information from applicants for hazmat endorsements to the FBI.

The Transportation Security Administration will notify the states of the results of the background checks, and states will either issue or deny hazmat endorsements based on that information.

If a hazmat endorsement is denied, a driver can appeal on grounds of mistaken identity or inaccurate court records.

Drivers who do not wish to transport hazardous materials do not need an endorsement, and drivers who surrender an endorsement will not be subject to a background check.

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Capital District Neighborhood Polluted by Cleaning Chemical

WASHINGTON, DC, April 5, 2004 (ENS) - Residents of the Lamond-Riggs Park section of northeast Washington, DC are about to become familiar with a state-of-the-art mobile air quality lab. It looks like a large white RV, but it carries instruments so sensitive that they can read pollution down to parts per quadrillion.

The TAGA - trace atmospheric gas analyzer – bus will draw indoor air from homes through a hose and into the analyzer inside the TAGA lab for screening.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be using the TAGA bus to conduct soil vapor, indoor air, and groundwater sampling in the Lamond-Riggs Park area from Tuesday through April 20.

This sampling is part of an EPA investigation of tetrachloroethylene (PERC) in subsurface soils. PERC, which is used primarily in the dry cleaning industry, was discovered by Chevron in the fall of 2002 while investigating a gasoline leak. Since then, EPA has undertaken an investigation to identify the source, possible effects, and the extent of PERC contamination.

High concentrations of PERC, particularly in closed, poorly ventilated areas, can cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death, according to the federal agency responsible for hazardous substances, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The Department of Health and Human Services says that PERC may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen. It has been shown to cause liver tumors in mice and kidney tumors in male rats.

As many as 40 homes in the Lamond-Riggs Park areas will be sampled. Homes previously sampled in the summer of 2003 will be resampled to learn if there are seasonal variations between the summer samples and the samples being taken now - in spring 2004. Samples will be taken at homes on Eastern Avenue, Riggs Road, Oglethorpe Street, Nicholson Street, Eight Street, and Kensington Place.

EPA will also sample groundwater from wells previously installed for the PERC investigation in the neighborhood. Drinking water will not be sampled because it is not a part of this investigation.

Results from this round of sampling will not be available for a least two months after the last sample is collected.

Websites have been created so citizens can track the progress of both the PERC and gasoline investigations at: http://www.epaosc.net/chillumgas and www.epaosc.net/chillumperc.

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DC Concrete Firm Admits Contaminating Anacostia River

WASHINGTON, DC, April 5, 2004 (ENS) - Super-Concrete Corporation, which operates a cement manufacturing plant in northeast Washington, DC, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of negligently discharging pollutants into the Anacostia River.

Super-Concrete, which has a permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discharge processed wastewater from its plant, admitted that on nine different days in June of 2000, it discharged wastewater that exceeded allowable acidic readings, despite warnings from law enforcement and EPA officials.

The guilty plea subjects Super-Concrete to a possible fine of $200,000 per count, but under a plea agreement filed with the court, the government and Super-Concrete have agreed to recommend a total fine of $100,000 when the corporation is sentenced by United States Magistrate Judge John Facciola, on June 25.

According to a statement of facts submitted with the plea agreement, Super-Concrete was responsible to control three pollutants in its wastewater - suspended solids or particles that have the potential to cloud public water sources; oil and grease; and the pH level of the wastewater, which in concrete wastewater can register as high as 14 standard units, but must be kept down to about half of that.

Super-Concrete admitted that law enforcement officers, testing their discharge in June 2000, discovered high pH levels and issued warnings to the company that they were not in compliance with their permit.

The company admitted that despite this warning, on nine occasions later that month, the discharges from the Fort Totten plant again exceeded permissible limits.

The Anacostia River and its watershed is populated by over 800,000 people and drains 176 square miles of Washington, DC and Maryland. The river suffers from overall poor water quality due to intense development, and due to a high percentage of impervious surface and high stormwater runoff volumes, it receives large amounts of pollutants including sediment, excess nutrients, toxics, trash, and debris.

With almost every rainfall, it receives sewage and other pollutants from combined sewer and stormwater overflows, which discharge directly into the river. Many of these factors contribute to both chronically low dissolved oxygen levels that frequently violate water quality standards and threaten aquatic life and high bacterial levels which make water contact activities such as swimming and wading unsafe.

"This successful enforcement of federal environmental laws gives notice that the District of Columbia waterways must and will be protected. People who use, enjoy, and benefit from them will be accountable for their actions and they will not be allowed to ignore environmental regulations and put the quality of our environment at risk," said U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard, Jr.

Many community groups contribute to cleaning up the Anacostia. On April 17, the Anacostia Watershed Society is hosting its annual Earth Day cleanup event. Visit: http://www.anacostiaws.org/earthday2004.html for more.

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Mayors, DuPont Give $90,000 in Lead-Free Awards

WASHINGTON, DC, April 5, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Conference of Mayors and DuPont have announced the distribution of $90,000 in awards to cities with outstanding strategies to become lead safe. These awards are the second in a series called the USCM-DuPont Spotlight on Excellence Awards.

The $35,000 first place award in this series goes to Detroit, Michigan, the mayors and DuPont announced on Friday.

Detroit plans to use the money to prevent lead poisoning, particularly within the Hispanic population The city will institute a pottery exchange program to provide families with lead free cookware, recruit health workers in Hispanic communities, institute a door-to-door canvassing campaign, and develop a Mobile Lead Museum.

Detroit city officials will target preschools and Head Start programs to provide lead education using age appropriate materials that will also assist Spanish speaking children in learning English.

The $25,000 second place award goes to Macon, Georgia which proposes to partner with public and private community organizations to conduct a direct, culturally sensitive outreach campaign targeting Head Start families.

The city will work with Bibb County public school nurses and the Teen Parent Center to inform parents of the dangers of lead poisoning, as well as convene an interagency task force to track lead screening tests and screening results.

Two cities will share the $30,000 third place prize money.

East St. Louis, Illinois will be given $15,000 to create a lead poisoning curriculum for pregnant women. The course will include basic knowledge of where lead can be found in the environment, how they can protect themselves and their unborn children from the effects of lead poisoning. An additional course will be developed to train local health professionals to introduce the information to pregnant women.

With its $15,000 share of the prize, Salt Lake City proposes to increase awareness of lead poisoning among property owners to assist them in making properties lead safe. The program will include the development of a brochure to educate landlords about lead poisoning, a mass mailing of the brochure to a minimum of 7,000 property owners, distribution of the brochures to venues frequented by landlords and newspaper ads.

In addition, Salt Lake City will conduct an outreach campaign to churches and organizations that serve minority populations to increase their awareness of lead poisoning and lead based paint hazards.

"By inviting cities to share their creative approaches to educating residents on the importance of lead-safety, CUSP has accumulated a wide array of strategic lead-safety best practices," said DuPont Public Affairs Manager Mary Kate Campbell.

"Dupont looks forward to continuing to serve as a resource to cities by providing a sounding board of winners, as well as launching future grant programs," said Campbell.

The third competition of the USCM-DuPont Spotlight on Excellence Awards will be announced at the upcoming U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting in Boston in June. The Spotlight on Excellence Awards will hand out $500,000 throughout 2004 to highlight outstanding strategies to make cities lead safe.

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Clean Cruise Ship Bill Prohibits Coastal Dumping

WASHINGTON, DC, April 5, 2004 (ENS) - Cruise ships will not be permitted to dump any sewage, graywater or bilge water within 12 miles of the U.S. coast, under new legislation introduced in both houses of Congress Thursday by Congressman Sam Farr, a California Democrat and Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Deocrat.

"Every week a typical 3,000 passenger cruise ship generates over a million gallons of raw sewage, gray water and oily bilge water and at the moment it is legal for them to dump this waste almost anywhere in the ocean," said Farr during a press conference to announce the bill.

The legislation, known in the House as H.R. 4101, the Clean Cruise Ship Act, closes existing loopholes in federal law. The legislation would also require ships to treat their wastewater wherever they operate and authorize broadened enforcement authority. Whistleblower protections for employees who report employers' noncompliance with the legislation are also included.

California Senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxers, both Democrats, support the legislation.

"As the residents of the Central Coast know from experience," Farr said, "voluntary agreements with cruise ship operators aren't enough to guarantee cruise ships will not dump in sensitive marine environments."

"Some states like California have already enacted legislation to protect their own waters, and our bill takes the next step of extending that protection to the entire nation's coastline. The ocean is a public trust and it deserves protection by the federal government," said Farr.

An increasing number of cruise ships is moving through U.S. waters, not leaving them cleaner than they found them. In 2003, nearly 200 cruise ships carried 8.3 million passengers on nearly 4,000 cruises to and through America's most beautiful and sensitive marine ecosystems.

The industry has been growing by an average of 10 percent per year in recent years, and will have introduced 62 new liners between 2002 and 2004, many of which can carry more than 5,000 people.

But today, most cruise ship waste can be legally dumped into coastal waters as close as three miles from shore, or even in port. Cruise ship wastewater discharges are exempt from key parts of the Clean Water Act that regulate other industries and municipalities that discharge waste into U.S. waters. Cruise ships are also exempt from laws that prohibit the dumping of sewage sludge into the ocean.

"One of the many roles I play in the House is to serve as co-chair of the House Travel and Tourism Caucus, said Farr, "and it should be clear that this bill is not an anti-tourism bill. What we're doing here is protecting the beautiful coastlines and ocean waters that draw tourists and thereby ensuring a sustainable future for cruise lines and other tourist businesses."

Environmentalists are pleased with the measure. “The time to bring these pleasure polluters under control is long overdue,” said Kira Schmidt, campaign manager for Bluewater Network, a national environmental group that drafted key provisions in the bill after waiting four years for US EPA to respond to its petition to reduce cruise pollution. The group is also sponsoring two California cruise bills. “This bill provides a simple solution to a very messy problem.”

Cruise ships are floating cities, carrying up to 5,000 people and producing lots of waste. A typical cruise ship on a one-week voyage can generate more than 1.5 million gallons of graywater, which is wastewater from sinks, showers, galleys, and laundry facilities, as well as 200,000 gallons of sewage, and 35,000 gallons of oil contaminated water.

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National Youth Corps for Public Lands Proposed

WASHINGTON, DC, April 5, 2004 (ENS) - A national youth corps that would partner with public land management agencies to restore and protect public lands and engage disadvantaged young people with their communities sounds like a good idea to at least four U.S. Senators from both sides of the aisle.

Legislation to create such a youth corps was introducted in Congress on Thursday by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican.

Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer of California, and Mark Dayton of Minnesota are cosponsors.

The bill would authorize $25 million for the program for Fiscal Years 2005 through 2009, a cost that Senator Feinstein is will worth the cost.

When she was mayor of San Francisco, Senator Feinstein said, she helped found the first urban youth corps in 1983. It is a model for this new corps which would operate on the national level. "In the 21 years since the program began," she said, "it has given thousands of corps members a sense of personal pride, helped to connect them with their community and see for themselves that hard work pays off."

“For years, we have been working to find better ways of improving forest health so we can try to avoid the catastrophic fires that have ruined millions of acres, said Domenici, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"Allowing youth corps to be more proactive in healthy forest work is something we should have already done. There are multiple benefits for the kids and also for the ultimate goal of making our forests safer,” Domenici said.

The youth corps would allow young people - particularly those who are minorities, low income, or at risk of dropping out of high school - to connect with their communities and to learn skills that could lead to jobs or encourage interest in higher education.

The bill would allow the Agriculture and Interior secretaries to enter into agreements with existing state, local, and non-profit youth conservation corps to carry out land management initiatives on public lands.

The secretaries would be able to give priority to projects that will reduce hazardous fuels on public land, rehabilitate land affected or altered by fire, work to address land where trees have been blown down or are at high risk of reburn, restore land located in near municipal watersheds and municipal waters supplies, assess lands afflicted or imminently threatened by disease or insect infestation, provide emergency assistance and disaster relief to communities.

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Energy Department to Enforce Higher Air Conditioner Standard

WASHINGTON, DC, April 5, 2004 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) said today that it will enforce a higher seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER) of 13 for residential central air conditioners. This standard will apply to central air conditioners starting in January 2006, increases by 30 percent the SEER standard that applies to models sold today.

The SEER rating is the official energy efficiency descriptor for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps in the United States. A rating of 13 SEER provides a 30 percent energy efficiency increase over 10 SEER.

The Energy Department had issued a 12 SEER standard in 2002, but earlier this year, a federal appeals court ruled that the department had done so improperly.

Carrier, several other air conditioner manufacturers and the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute originally challenged the 13 SEER standard published by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2001.

In releasing the 13 SEER standard in January 2001, the Department of Energy indicated it would save the nation 4.2 quads of energy by 2030, or the equivalent of all the energy used by 26 million American households in a single year.

In January, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the 13 SEER standard as originally promulgated by the Department of Energy in 2001 should go into effect in 2006.

On March 12, Carrier Corporation, the world's largest manufacturer of heating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems, withdrew its support of a legal challenge to the 13 SEER standard in the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court in Virginia.

"A 13 SEER standard is the right environmental choice," said Geraud Darnis, president of Carrier Corporation. "It provides significant energy savings for the country while reducing energy bills for homeowners."

"While this increase in efficiency represents a significant challenge for the industry, Carrier will be prepared to meet that challenge to support our customers," said Darnis. "The nation, the industry and the public need certainty on the new standard, so we encourage the industry to embrace 13 SEER."

"At this point, all parties have had their day in court," said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Garman. "DOE will enforce the 13 SEER standard. In the interest of giving consumers and industry the regulatory certainty they need, it is time for the government and for private parties to stop litigating, and start working towards complying with the 13 SEER standard."

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Don't Dump on Hawaii Campaign Kicks Off

HONOLULU, Hawaii, April 5, 2004 (ENS) - For Earth Day 2004, the City and County of Honolulu are undertaking a month-long public education campaign during April to mobilize communities against illegal dumping.

The campaign started Saturday with television and radio spots, print ads, media partnerships, and islandwide events.

During one of the events, 3,000 children will be sworn in as Earth Protection Agents and given cameras to capture incidents of illegal dumping around Oahu as they conduct cleanups. On Sunday, April 24 the effort culminates with an Earth Day celebration at Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park.

“Like many communities, Honolulu is plagued with illegal dumping,” said Mayor Jeremy Harris. “We know we can’t fight the battle alone. The City is leading a collaborative effort with the Department of Health, local EPA officials, the Attorney General’s office, Honolulu Police Department and individual communities to address this islandwide problem.”

“Illegal dumping is a particularly challenging environmental issue,” said Frank Doyle, city director of the Department of Environmental Services. “It requires more than a change of behavior. Communities and agencies have to be consistent in their collaboration. From the Oahu resident who’s sick of seeing dump sites to the judge who tries the dumpers, zero tolerance has to be the message.”

Ninety-one percent of Oahu residents surveyed via telephone by Ward Research in March described illegal dumping as “somewhat or very serious.”

The survey also indicates changing attitudes. While 91 percent said they had never reported an incident of dumping in the past, 86 percent said they would in the future.

The City’s Environmental Concern Line, 692-5656, operates as clearinghouse for reporting illegal dumping. City staffers work with callers to identify dumpsites, coordinate the appropriate agencies, work with offenders if they can be identified, and manage cleanups. The 692-5656 number will be highlighted throughout the campaign. Reports can also be made online at: http://www.opala.org



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