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AmeriScan: April 6, 2004

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Polls: Bush Environmental Record of Little Concern

PRINCETON, New Jersey, April 6, 2004 (ENS) - This year's Gallup Environmental Earth Day poll finds Americans worry less about environmental issues than they did before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. "The same can be said for crime, drugs, energy, race relations, and poverty," wrote Gallup Scholar for the Environment Riley Dunlap, in an analysis of the poll released Monday.

The poll was conducted March 8 through 11 using a randomly selected national sample of 1,008 adults, aged 18 and older.

Sixty-two percent of those surveyed say they worry "a great deal" or a "fair amount" about the quality of the environment; down from 77 percent in March 2001. Most of this drop - 11 out of 15 points - happened between March 2001 and March 2002, in the months before and after the terrorist strikes.

After a small increase in 2003, the measure of worry dropped another six points over the past year.

Still, Dunlap writes, "the 2004 poll suggests that Bush's environmental image has suffered somewhat, particularly over the past two years."

The data show a continued decline in the percentage of Americans saying that President Bush is doing a good job of "protecting the nation's environment."

As a result, for the first time, slightly more Americans (46%) say the president is doing a "poor job" than a "good job" (41%) on environmental protection.

This represents a 10 percentage point decline in the President's positive rating and an eight point rise in his negative rating on environmental protection since March 2001, shortly after he took office.

When the question was first asked in 2001, respondents were asked to predict what kind of job Bush would do.

The President has lost an even greater percentage of support over his handling of energy issues, according to the Gallup survey. Over the past three years, from March 2001 to March 2004, the percentage saying the president is doing a good job of "improving the nation's energy policy" has declined from 58 percent to 34 percent.

Next to this 24 percent decline, the 10 decline in support of Bush's environmental protection policies seems small.

A majority (53%) continues to believe that environmental protection policies policies under the Bush administration are about the same as in prior administrations.

In February, the Union of Concerned Scientists coordinated the release of a statement signed by 60 eminent scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, declaring, "The current Bush administration has suppressed or distorted the scientific analyses of federal agencies to bring these results in line with administration policy."

The Gallup poll found two-thirds of those polled say they have heard either nothing at all (26%) or not much (40%) about the scientists' charges. But when asked whom they tend to believe in the matter, a majority (59%) say they believe the scientists, while 32% say they believe the Bush administration.

Dunlap has a warning for environmentalists and Democrats who think they will make President Bush's environmental record a reason to vote for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and his pro-environmental record. "Environmentalists should know they are swimming upstream. Historically, the environment has been a relatively minor issue in presidential elections," Dunlap says.

A Zogby poll released Monday also shows that voters do not place the environment high on their list of election day concerns. Of 1,035 likely voters surveyed April 1 through 4, nearly one in three (32%) identified jobs and the economy as top issues facing the country, following by the war on terrorism (18%), the war in Iraq (14%), health care (7%) and education (5%).

In a Zogby poll last November, the latest in which the environment was surveyed, Bush rated 34% positive and 60% negative in his job performance on environmental issues.

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Impact of Toxics on Children Little Known

WASHINGTON, DC, April 6, 2004 (ENS) - Scientists know very little about how environmental agents and toxins affect children, according to a new study billed as the most comprehensive, authoritative publication ever published on the subject of children's environmental health.

The 200 page study features contributions from more than 40 leading pediatric experts and was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The most significant finding from this research is that we now realize how very little we know about how environmental factors affect children, and that is a major concern," said study coordinator Dr. Michael Weitzman, executive director of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Center for Child Health Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

"Even when we are talking about lead – the most studied neurotoxin in the history of mankind – we do not know if there are certain ages when children are more vulnerable to its effects," Weitzman said.

The study is a “terrific first step,” he said, “but we need to carry the momentum forward. Hopefully, these findings will serve as a springboard for the national research agenda regarding children and environmental exposure."

The study finds that researching the effects of environmental factors on children's health can be a frustrating process filled with obstacles.

When trying to determine whether environmental agents in housing are affecting the health of children living there, it can be difficult to conduct the study before gut instinct tells researchers that the family should move to protect their children.

The dilemma is such that the Institute of Medicine – which advises the federal government about numerous health related topics – recently convened a committee charged with examining the ethics of research involving housing and children.

"People are just starting to address the environmental contaminants that are present, said Dr. Gary Myers, a pediatric neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who was co-author of a supplement paper titled “Mercury exposure and childhood developmental outcomes."

“The issue has not been looked at very carefully until now, but during the past few years, it has been a growing concern for a lot of people," Myers said.

What is known about the affects of environmental factors on children is good reason for more than just additional study, according to Dr. Lynn Goldman, chair of the Children's Environmental Health Network (CEHN) and professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

For example, children are known to be more susceptible to health risks from environmental exposure because their bodies and systems are growing and developing.

Because children have a longer life expectancy than adults, they have more time to develop diseases with long latency periods. Nor do children have control over their environment or over what they are exposed to.

On Monday, CEHN released a report that finds the Bush administration is failing to protect the nation’s children from environmental health hazards.

The report card by CEHN give the administration a failing grade for its overall performance. In 11 of the 16 areas investigated in the report, the administration received an “F” – the other five areas received a “C.”

"This report illustrates how this administration's track record is toxic to our children. In choice after choice, they have lessened protections for children and missed opportunities to keep toxicants out of our children's environment," Goldman said. "Children are losing out to other priorities of this administration."

Check out the CEHN report card online at: http://www.cehn.org/cehn/reportcard2004.html

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California on the Road to Smog Free Air

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 6, 2004 (ENS) - The San Francisco Bay Area has attained the federal air quality standard for ozone over the past three consecutive years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday. The Bay Area had been out of compliance with the federal air quality standard since 1998.

Ground level ozone is the primary ingredient of smog and is harmful to public health. Exposure, even at relatively low levels, can cause respiratory symptoms such as reduction in lung function, chest pain and cough.

"Significant air quality improvement has been made in the Bay Area and we commend that effort," said Deborah Jordan, the EPA's air division director for the Pacific Southwest region. "We must now build on this progress in order to further improve air quality for Bay Area residents and their downwind neighbors."

With this action, Clean Air Act sanctions, including a highway funding freeze, continue to be deferred as long as the area continues to meet the federal one hour ozone standard.

This action does not constitute a formal redesignation of the Bay Area into the attainment category, the EPA said. The next step is for the California Air Resources Board to submit a plan showing how the area will continue to maintain the clean air standard for 10 years.

Once the plan is submitted the state can request the EPA to redesignate the Bay Area as attaining the federal one hour ozone standard.

The one hour ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard is 0.12 parts per million (ppm), not to be exceeded on average more than one day per year over any three year period.

All of California will be breathing cleaner air by 2008 due to a new policy adopted late last month by the California Air Resources Board (ARB). The Board approved a plan to accelerate upgrades of emission control software that reduce excess smog and particulate forming nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from most heavy duty diesel trucks, buses and recreational vehicles built between 1993 and 1999.

ARB Chairman Dr. Alan Lloyd said, "These trucks have been emitting unnecessarily high emissions for too long, and neither hard working California truckers nor the rest of our citizens deserve to be exposed to this pollution any longer. There are steps that can be taken now to reduce this pollution, and the plan we adopted today will do just that."

The unique rulemaking stems from a 1998 legal settlement between the ARB, the EPA and the nation's six biggest diesel manufacturers - Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Mack/Renault, Navistar and Volvo.

The state and federal agencies showed that those manufacturers used defeat devices, software that caused high emissions under certain modes of operation.

One provision of the settlement required engine manufacturers to develop low emission software that could be installed to reduce the emissions of these trucks. The new software has no effect on a vehicle's operation.

The ARB's new plan will result in low emission software installed much sooner than is occurring under the legal settlement. Engine manufacturers agree to pay for the software and its installation any time a truck visits a dealership.

The goal of the voluntary plan is to increase the percentage of California vehicles using low emission software from the current level of 10 percent to 35 percent by November 2004, 60 percent by June 2005, 80 percent by February 2006 and 100 percent by 2008. If those targets are not met, the ARB will implement a regulation requiring the upgrades.

According to ARB data, more than 60,000 heavy duty vehicles still operating with defeat devices are licensed in California, with another 300,000 to 400,000 vehicles from other states operating part time in California each year. Fewer than 10 percent of all eligible vehicles have been upgraded since 1998.

Combined, those vehicles emit more than 30 tons of excess NOx daily, the pollution equivalent of over one million cars.

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Recent Drought in Maine the Worst in 50 Years

AUGUSTA, Maine, April 6, 2004 (ENS) - The four year long drought of 1999-2002 was the most severe to hit Maine in more than 50 years, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Maine District.

Although the dry conditions varied in severity throughout Maine, the report, prepared by the USGS in cooperation with the Maine Governor's Drought Task Force, calls the drought "widespread" during the four year period and "severe" in 2001-2002.

"Central Maine was the hardest hit part of the state," said Bob Lent, USGS Maine District Chief. "Record low monthly precipitation totals, stream flows, and groundwater levels recurred for several months at some sites in Central Maine throughout the four year duration," he said.

"On a statewide scale, this drought is the most severe since 1947-50. By 2002, we were observing record lows for ground and surface water in much of the state, making it the driest year on record," said Lent.

The dry conditions disrupted daily life for many Mainers, and had an economic impact that reached beyond state borders. State officials noted that the drought affected 35 public water supplies severely. Eight of those provide service to large communities.

About 17,000 private wells went dry in the nine months prior to April 2002. The state's agricultural industry lost more than 32 million dollars in crops in 2001-2002 and some growers of wild blueberries lost 80 to 100 percent of their crop.

Significantly dry conditions also occurred from 1963-69, particularly in northern and southern Maine. But the report cites that drought as "more remarkable for its duration." It is the only one on record lasting seven years.

The complete report "Drought Conditions in Maine, 1999-2002: A Historical Perspective" USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4310, is online at: http://me.water.usgs.gov/newreports.html

A fact sheet, "The 1999-2002 Drought in Maine? How Bad Was It?" summarizes the report. Read it online at: http://water.usgs.gov/pubs/fs/2004/3021/

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Washington State Moves to Protect Its Orcas

SPOKANE, Washington, April 6, 2004 (ENS) - The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Saturday to add the state's orca population to the list of the state's endangered species. Known also as killer whales, the orcas will receive special management attention and will be given priority for species recovery in Washington state.

"This is one of the most important things we will do this year," said Commissioner Russ Cahill of Olympia. “Washington state's role in this may be small, and many of the factors in the decline of killer whales are beyond our control, but someone has to speak up when there's a problem."

The nine member commission, which is comprised of Washington citizens and sets policy for the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, voted unanimously to add the population – known as Puget Sound’s southern resident killer whales.

“Killer whales are a treasure, not just for tourists to watch but as an integral part of our community and social structure in the Pacific Northwest," said Commissioner Lisa Pelly. "Growing up in the Puget Sound area, I can not imagine life without them."

Scientists believe the population is genetically isolated. It has declined by 18 percent – to 84 individuals - since 1995 and is threatened by water pollution, decline in salmon prey and human disturbances from vessel traffic and noise,

The state endangered designation is given to native Washington species that are seriously threatened with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the state.

Canadian officials have already listed the southern resident killer whales as an endangered species.

In addition, the whales have protection under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, and federal officials, who have designated the southern resident population as a "depleted stock" under the act, are currently reviewing their decision to not list them under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In December a federal judge ordered that review after ruling the Bush administration used outdated science when it determined that Puget Sound's Southern resident killer whales are not a distinct population.

Conservationists say the population needs to be protected under the Endangered Species Act because that law is the only one that would require federal agencies to take actions to protect habitat for the killer whales.

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Nonmarine Mollusks in Steep Decline

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama, April 6, 2004 (ENS) – Nonmarine mollusks may be the world’s most endangered group of animals, a team of 16 international experts report in the April 2004 issue of “BioScience.”

The World Conservation Union-IUCN lists in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species a total of 1,930 threatened nonmarine mollusks. This figure is nearly half the number of all known amphibian species, more than twice the number of shark and ray species, and nearly seven times the number of turtle species.

In addition, nonmarine mollusks have the dubious honor of having the highest number of documented extinctions of any major taxonomic group.

Some 42 percent of the 693 recorded extinctions of all animal species since the year 1500 are mollusks - 260 gastropods and 31 bivalves.

The researchers note that nonmarine molluscan extinctions go largely unnoticed by the general public, most biologists, and many conservation agencies, which focus their resources and energy on more charismatic vertebrate species.

The staggering decline of nonmarine mollusks is due directly to habitat destruction and disruption of natural ecosystem processes. The researchers say that as an integral component of healthy ecosystems, molluscan diversity is valuable both for its own sake and as an indicator of conditions that may affect other species, including our own.

Nonmarine mollusks are members of the second most diverse group of animals, the phylum Mollusca, which includes snails, slugs, clams, mussels and others.

There are approximately 24,000 terrestrial and 7,000 freshwater mollusk species for which valid descriptions exist.

The researchers say there is probably 11,000 to 40,000 undescribed terrestrial species and 3,000 to 10,000 undescribed freshwater species.

Even the lower estimates exceed the number of all known species of birds, and the higher figures exceed the number of all known species of vertebrates.

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Endangered Nevada Fish Keeps Listed Status

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, April 6, 2004 (ENS) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife has withdrawn a proposal to weaken federal protections for the Pahrump poolfish, a small fish species historically found at only one location in Nevada.

The species was listed as endangered in 1967, but in 1993 the agency proposed changing its status to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

At that time the federal agency said it appeared that the species’ status had improved enough for it to be reclassified as threatened, but the Fish and Wildlife Service has since learned of new developments that were adversely affecting the species.

Recovery goals for the small fish have not been met, and the species is still in danger of extinction, said Robert Williams, supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Nevada.

“We would like to recover this endangered fish, and we will continue to work with our partners to accomplish that goal, but there are still threats to this species,” Williams said. “Withdrawing this proposal is primarily an administrative measure. It is the logical thing to do until we can ensure the long term viability of the Pahrump poolfish.”

The Pahrump poolfish is native to a warm alkaline spring on private land at the Manse Ranch in southern Nye County, and it is found nowhere else on Earth.

In anticipation that ground water pumping would cause the natural spring to dry up, biologists transplanted poolfish in the early 1970s to three locations in Nevada managed by federal and state agencies. By 1975, the spring went dry and poolfish living in the native spring died off, leaving only the three transplanted populations.

By 1993, the three transplanted populations were stable and recovery objectives were being met, prompting the Fish and Wildlife Service to proposed to reclassify the species as threatened. But shortly after issuing the proposal, the federal agency has learned habitat modifications at the state managed site would adversely impact the species.

This finding halted the proposal while actions were taken to secure that population.

By the late 1990s, the population was secure at the state managed site, but the poolfish at a federal site were decimated by the illegal introduction of crayfish, a nonnative aquatic predator.

An isolated pool was recently built at this federal site and a small number of poolfish were reintroduced in the summer of 2003. Surveys at another federal site in 2003 indicate that there has been a significant decrease in the poolfish population at this transplanted location.

The cause for the decline is unknown and is currently being investigated.

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Lead Burden to be Lifted From Diamond Head

HONOLULU, Hawaii, April 6, 2004 (ENS) - The famous Diamond Head Crater, the extinct volcano at the end of Waikiki beach, is about to receive an environmental lift. The federal government is planning to spend $3.4 million to remove lead remaining in the soil inside the crater from the days when it was used as a training range for pistol and rifle fire by the National Guard.

The lead is not considered a danger to visitors today. The Hawaii Army National Guard sampled the air for dust along visitor trails and near the rifle and pistol ranges on a hot, dry day, July 24, 2003. It was found that dust is not a concern in the crater at this time.

The concern is that as the bullets left in the soil degrade over time, there may be a risk to human health, said the Hawaii Army National Guard in a new report on the soil cleanup project. The fine soil that can be carried by wind as dust and breathed in by people is of particular concern because that is the most likely way that people would be affected.

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body. The most sensitive is the central nervous system, particularly in children. Lead also damages kidneys and the reproductive system. The effects are the same whether it is breathed or swallowed.

The soil reclamation project, a joint effort that includes the Department of Land and Natural Resources, will begin in August and will use a soil washing technique similar to gold mining that uses gravity to separate the lead from the rest of the soil.

The Hawaii Army National Guard has determined that this technique will be more efficient and less costly than the other alternatives considered such as excavating all the soil and taking it to a landfill or putting down a layer of clean soil to cover the pistol and rifle rangers.

Six to 12 inches of soil will be taken off the range floor and up to two feet off higher land forms called berms. The removal of this material will be done at times that provide the least impact to visitors. In all, it is estimated that about 21,000 tons of soil will be collected, stockpiled, and processed.

The soil washing plant will be located at a location within the crater away from visitor areas and is expected to have a minimal noise and visual impact. The entire operation is expected to last three to four months. Once completed, the soil washing machinery will be removed and range areas will be restored and replanted with grass.

Historically, one endangered species, a flowering plant called pu’uka’a sedge, Cyperus trachysanthos, and one rare species, kiilio’opu sedge (Torulinium odoratum), are known to occur in a seasonal wetland area located east of the former rifle range. No rare, threatened or endangered species were observed during the biological reconnaissance survey conducted on January 8, 2004.

The soil washing is one in a long series of projects undertaken by the state and federal governments that aim to return Diamond Head to its natural state.



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