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AmeriScan: April 13, 2004

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Savannah River Workers Radiated, Records Falsified

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2004 (ENS) - Violations of nuclear safety rules that exposed three workers at the Savannah River Site to radiation and the later falsification of radiation dose records to cover up that exposure have earned the nuclear site's primary contractor a notice of violation from the Department of Energy (DOE).

The Westinghouse Savannah River Company (WSRC) received the notice from the Energy Department Monday, proposing a civil penalty of $206,250.

Two of the workers intentionally recorded radiation doses below those which were actually received. This falsification of radiation dose records was done "at the urging of a WSRC supervisor," the Energy Department states.

The Price-Anderson Amendments Act of 1988 authorized DOE to undertake regulatory actions against contractors for violations of its nuclear safety requirements. The enforcement program is designed to have contractors correct procedural violations to prevent more serious events from occurring.

In a letter to WSRC's Robert Pedde dated April 6, Stephen Sohinki, director of the Office of Price-Anderson Enforcement, explains that the radiation exposures occurred at the FB-Line facility during material repackaging activities on the morning of July 29, 2003.

The FB-Line handles highly radioactive materials left from the manufacture of nuclear weapons at the Rocky Flats site near Denver, Colorado.

The main function of FB-Line is to convert plutonium nitrate recovered from irradiated natural and depleted uranium in another part of the Savannah River Site to plutonium oxide or metal. Workers on the FB-Line stabilize and package nuclear materials for storage and characterize materials for disposition.

In its notice of violation, the DOE says work processes on the FB-Line were not properly planned or adequately controlled by WSRC management and shift turnover was "severely lacking." In addition, the pre-job briefings that workers received failed to address key safety issues, the DOE said.

Workers failed to use lead jackets to reduce radiation exposure, and known radiological hazards were not fully analyzed or controlled, the DOE said, and workers failed to wear required devices to check the levels of radiation they received.

There was a failure to sustain corrective actions associated with a 1999 event on the FB-Line during which seven workers received high doses of radiation, the DOE said.

Both events involved deficiencies in the areas of conduct of operations, radiological controls, hazard recognition, and response to alarms. DOE is concerned that corrective actions taken in response to the 1999 event, which were initially viewed as effective, were allowed to degrade or be modified to the point that they were no longer effective in preventing a recurrent event.

The July 2003 violations did not result in radiation exposures in excess of regulatory limits. But the DOE says it served notice of violation because of the number of personnel protective barriers that were overcome and the potential this has for additional radiation exposures of personnel.

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California Central Valley Air Extremely Smoggy

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 13, 2004 (ENS) - The air in California's San Joaquin Valley is officially in "extreme" violation of federal ozone, or smog standards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took final action Thursday to downgrade the air basin from "severe" to "extreme" non-attainment under the federal one-hour ozone standard.

Ground level ozone, also known as smog, can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation or a burning sensation in the airways. It can reduce lung function, and cause feelings of chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath.

The California Air Resources Board recently requested that the EPA downgrade the Valley's air quality classification from severe to extreme because the Valley could not attain the standard by 2005 as required by law.

Ground level ozone air quality in the San Joaquin Valley has generally improved over the past several decades, but not as quickly as required by federal law. The Valley exceeded the national ozone standard 37 times in 2003.

The reclassification results in stricter federal air quality requirements on sources of pollution in the air basin. Major pollution sources will be subject to federal permitting requirements if their emissions of ozone precursors exceed 10 tons per year (tpy), lowered from 25 tons per year, and modifications at existing major sources of pollution also will be subject to permitting requirements if any increase of an ozone precursor occurs at 10 tpy, also lowered from 25 tpy.

Emission offset ratios also are increased for major new or modified sources of smog precursors.

Some of the pollution sources in the Valley are lime kilns, boilers and steam generators, refineries and chemical plants, and can coating operations.

"This action recognizes that stronger tools and more time are necessary to achieve national clean air standards in areas with the worst air quality challenges," said Deborah Jordan, the director of the EPA's air division in the Pacific Southwest Region. "Downgrading the Valley's air to extreme will not delay air quality improvements."

Upon becoming effective, the ozone classification action stops the federal air pollution sanction that has been in place in the Valley since mid-March. The federal highway funding freeze that would have become effective in September is also suspended.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District must submit a plan to the EPA by November 15, 2004 showing how the Valley will attain federal air quality standards by 2010.

The District must also submit updated rules within a year that incorporate the more stringent air quality requirements, including reducing the permitting level for stationary air pollution sources from 25 to 10 tons per year.

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Appeals Court Keeps Vehicles Off New Mexico Wilderness

DENVER, Colorado, April 13, 2004 (ENS) - Four-wheel drive clubs that sought to turn 10 miles of trails in a proposed wilderness area into public highways for dirt bikes and jeep tours have failed to make their case in federal appeals court.

The ruling from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals protects the Robledo Mountains Wilderness Study Area north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and will prevent similar claims that public highways crisscross some of America’s most pristine public lands.

The Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association, and the Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club sued to overturn the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to close to off-road vehicle use more than 10 miles of trails in the heart of the Robledo Mountains wilderness study area. The appeals court Wednesday affirmed a lower court ruling dismissing their lawsuit.

The BLM closed the routes to vehicles in 1998 because increased and illegal off-road vehicle abuse was degrading the area’s wild character and destroying wildlife habitat.

The ruling is a victory for The Wilderness Society and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. Conservationists have been fighting for decades to protect the Robledo Mountains.

“This is a victory for those who love New Mexico’s wildlife and wild places,” said New Mexico Wilderness Alliance Executive Director Dave Parsons. “It means that our kids and grandkids may still be able to find some beautiful, unspoiled areas for hiking, hunting, and peace and quiet in the future.”

The clubs claimed that the trails should remain open under a repealed 19th century highway law known as R.S. 2477. The law provided that rights-of-way would be granted where public highways were constructed over public lands.

The Tenth Circuit rejected the clubs’ claim that public highways exist within the roadless Robledo Mountains on the grounds that only states or counties can claim to own public highways under the Quiet Title Act, the federal law governing attempts to take property away from the United States.

The ruling sets a clear precedent that private groups attempting similar claims to public trails will not be successful in the Tenth Circuit, said Ted Zukoski, staff attorney at the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, who represented the groups in court.

“National parks, wildlife refuges, and other treasured public lands across the West are safer today because this court ruled that off-road groups can’t use an ancient, repealed law to claim exclusive use of lands that belong to all Americans,” said Zukoski.

Zukoski noted that when the Forest Service and other agencies try to protect public lands by limiting destructive off-road use, off-highway groups across the West often challenge them by claiming little-used trails are public highways under the outdated law.

The Robledo Mountains WSA contains high limestone peaks, deep canyons, caves, streams, significant prehistoric archeological sites, and habitat for bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and mule deer. These are true desert mountains, where yucca stalks sometimes rival the height of trees.

Pam Eaton, a deputy vice president of The Wilderness Society, also praised local Bureau of Land Management officials who made the decision to protect the area’s special values by closing the trails to off-road vehicle use, and fought the four-wheel clubs in court.

“BLM staff stood up to protect this part of the wild New Mexico and stuck to their decision. We applaud those folks for looking out for future generations of Americans who will treasure this natural legacy.”

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Bay Area Aquifer Cleanup Paid by 10 Firms

SAN JOSE, California, April 13, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached an agreement with 10 companies and the U.S. Navy for reimbursement of cleanup costs at a federal Superfund site in San Jose atop a major source of drinking water for the San Francisco Bay Area.

A total of $4.2 million will be paid to the EPA for past and future clean up costs at the Lorentz Barrel and Drum Superfund site. Owned by the Lorentz family, the site on nearly seven acres at 1515 South 10th Street was used as a barrel and drum recycling facility from 1947 until it closed in 1987.

In late 1987 and 1988, 26,000 abandoned drums and 3,000 tons of highly contaminated soil were removed from the site, and part of the property was fenced and covered to temporarily stabilize the contamination.

While fewer than 1,000 people live near the site, Lorentz Barrel and Drum sits directly on top of an aquifer that is a major source of drinking water for the San Francisco Bay area, and three public water supply well fields are located within a mile of the site.

The soil at the site is contaminated with volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, pesticides, herbicides, polychorinated bipheynls (PCBs) and inorganic compounds such as heavy metals. Groundwater at the site is also contaminated with volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds.

Besides the Navy, the 10 private parties participating in this settlement are Aervoe Industries, Inc.; D.A. Stuart Company; Ford Motor Company; General Mills, Inc.; Golden Gate Petroleum Company; K-M Industries Holding Company, Inc.; Pennzoil-Quaker State Company; Salz Leathers, Inc.; Sunsweet Growers Inc.; and Textron.

The EPA has previously settled with over 200 other parties who sent waste to the site.

In 1988, groundwater cleanup remedies were selected that included building an on-site groundwater extraction and treatment system. The groundwater treatment system still operates today.

In 1993, the EPA selected soil cleanup remedies for the site that include a vapor extraction system to clean contaminated soil and an asphalt-concrete cap. Construction of the soil vapor extraction system was completed in 1998 and the system continues to operate today.

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Ohio Hazwaste Incinerator Fails Emissions Limits

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio, April 13, 2004 (ENS) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 has imposed interim operating requirements for Von Roll WTI's hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool. The requirements cover seven hazardous air pollutants included in new Clean Air Act regulations.

The world's largest hazardous waste incinerator, Von Roll WTI is located 370 yards from an elementary school in East Liverpool's low income East End neighborhood along the Ohio River, 30 miles west of Pittsburgh. Only 320 feet from the nearest home, it has been the focus of safety and health concerns since it opened in 1993.

The EPA imposed the interim requirements because tests done in December 2003 showed that the incinerator did not show compliance with lead and cadmium emission limits set by the new regulations. On March 18, Von Roll agreed to temporarily stop feeding these semi-volatile metals to the incinerator.

A more recent test done in March showed that Von Roll WTI can meet the new emissions limits if the lead and cadmium feed rate to the incinerator is less than an upper limit of 10.07 pounds per hour.

The EPA specified this upper limit in its approval of an interim operating feed rate for lead and cadmium. Lead can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system. Breathing high levels of cadmium severely damages the lungs and can cause death, according to the federal agency responsible for toxic substances.

EPA's approval also includes interim operating requirements to meet emission standards for dioxin and furans, mercury, low-volatile metals, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, hydrochloric acid and chlorine gas, and particulate matter.

The approvals are part of new Clean Air Act regulations requiring maximum achievable control technology for hazardous waste incinerators. The new regulations set September 30, 2003, as the date for facilities to comply with the seven emission standards, unless an extension is granted. They also establish monitoring, testing, reporting and recordkeeping requirements, including a requirement to demonstrate compliance by testing.

In tests done last year before the compliance deadline, the Von Roll WTI facility failed to meet limits on four pollutants: dioxins and furans, particulate matter, semi-volatile metals and mercury.

Dioxins, a group of 75 chemically related compounds, include a chemical - 2,3,7,8-TCDD - classified by the World Health Organization as a known human carcinogen. People are exposed to dioxins by living near incinerators releasing the chemicals.

Several studies suggest that exposure to 2,3,7,8-TCDD increases the risk of several types of cancer in people. This dioxin also causes skin and liver damage and hormonal changes.

Further tests done last December showed Von Roll WTI was in compliance with all but the semi-volatile metal standard. Von Roll had 90 days from the December test to report results to the EPA.

Von Roll WTI management has told the EPA that it plans to conduct a re-test of its performance test for lead and cadmium during the week of April 19. The company must submit a revised notice of compliance no later than 60 days after completion of the test.

Von Roll WTI provides about 60,000 tons of incineration capacity annually. The company's employees accept, store and incinerate bulk solids, bulk liquids, various drums and containers, and lab packs.

Originally permitted to Waste Technologies Industries, the facility was sold to the European company Von Roll America, Inc., a subsidiary of Swiss based Von Roll AG in 1990.

In 2001, the Indianapolis based Heritage Environmental Services, LLC, North America's largest privately held environmental services company, obtained a majority ownership position in the facility.

In 1998, the company received ISO 14001 registration for environmental management. It was a first for the commercial hazardous waste incineration industry.

Typical hazardous wastes received at the facility include spent solvents, paints, and off-specification commercial chemical products. Wastes generated at the facility consist primarily of treatment residuals from the incineration process, which are sent off-site for disposal at a licensed hazardous waste landfill.

The facility is located in the floodplain of the Ohio River where air contaminants are trapped by inversions for extended periods of time. The site is above two aquifers, one is the only source of drinking water in the area other than the Ohio River.

Critics say that proximity of the site to residences, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and day care centers is incompatible with the operation of a hazardous waste management facility.

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Pennsylvania Firm Charged in Multi-State Water Pollution

VALLEY FORGE, Pennsylvania, April 13, 2004 (ENS) - The PQ Corporation of Valley Forge was charged on March 25 and 29 with violating the Clean Water Act at its plants in St. Louis, Missouri; Chester, Pennsylvania; and Baltimore, Maryland. The charges were filed in three courts: U.S. District Court in St. Louis, U.S. District Court in Philadelphia and the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

A privately held global enterprise operating in 19 countries, with annual revenues over $500 million, PQ is a producer of silicate, zeolite, and other materials serving the detergent, pulp and paper, chemical, petroleum, catalyst, water treatment, construction, and beverage markets.

PQ's facilities use high heat to manufacture sodium silicate from soda ash and sand. The company allegedly discharged waste water in violation of Clean Water Act pretreatment requirements from its St. Louis facility between January 1997 and November 1999 into the metropolitan St. Louis sewer system. The company is alleged to discharged waste water from its Chester facility between December 1998 and April 2000 into a Delaware County sewer system.

The defendant also allegedly discharged waste water from its Baltimore facility between 1995 and 2000 into waters of the United States without a Clean Water Act permit.

Discharging improperly treated wastewater into sewers can damage sewage treatment equipment and prevent sewage being properly treated. Wastewater discharge into surface waters without a permit can harm fish and wildlife and can make the waters unsafe for recreational or drinking water purposes.

If convicted on all charges in all courts, the company faces a maximum possible fine of up to $1.5 million.

Protection of the environment for continued sustainability is a core value at PQ, the company says on its website. "Products like zeolite replace phosphates in detergents reducing nutrient loading to our nation’s waterways, sodium silicate is a waste stabilizer, used to help prevent acid mine drainage and replace chlorine in the paper bleaching process and our zeolite catalysts are used to make cleaner burning gasoline."

The company says its concern for the environment continues into the manufacturing process. "PQ is committed to continuous progress toward no accidents, injuries or harm to the environment. Waste and emissions reduction, employee training, energy efficiency, and community involvement are ongoing activities that are the path to realizing the vision," the company says.

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Redford Voices Anti-Bush Environmental Ad

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2004 (ENS) - Robert Redford, actor, director and founder of the Sundance Film Festival, is on the air as a spokesman for the movement to defeat the Bush administration in the November elections.

In the nationwide radio campaign, the ad, entitled "Listen," describes the harmful effects of pollution and how Bush administration policies threaten the environment and public health.

"America is facing many tough environmental challenges in states all across the nation," said Redford. "Because of pending Bush administration policies, we all need to pay attention and take action to protect what we have, including our health and safety. If this ad can call attention to the facts, I'm proud to be part of the project."

The campaign is a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) which is seeking to call public attention to the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President George W. Bush is weakening efforts to clean up mercury emissions from the nation's 1,100 coal fired power plants, the largest unregulated industrial source of mercury.

The agency wants to allow coal fired power plants to emit seven times more mercury for at least 15 more years than allowed by current law, the NRDC warns. Mercury pollution from power plants and other sources pollutes water and contaminates fish. When eaten by pregnant women and children, mercury can damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus.

"After decades of progress, America is now moving backwards on the environment," said Greg Wetstone, NRDC's advocacy director. "The Bush administration is making the problem worse by again and again siding with corporate polluters at the expense of American families' health and our natural resources."

The EPA also has weakened enforcement of water protections and want to legalize the dumping of inadequately treated sewage into lakes, rivers and underground wells, Wetstone says, threatening drinking water supplies for millions of Americans.

The radio ads are a key part of a broader national NRDC education outreach effort in several states.

The Redford ads began airing on April 6 in New Mexico and began a three week long run on Monday in Michigan and Florida.

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The Little Penny That Could

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2004 (ENS) - A penny on the sidewalk, a penny in the change jar, a penny earned at a bake sale - together they can create a heap of help for the planet. With pennies, the World Wildlife Fund is involving kids in Earth Day and funding protection for the lands, waters and creatures on three continents.

Hundreds of kids have raised $15,000 in the past five months in the Pennies for the Planet campaign, while learning about wildlife and wild places.

"Participating in Pennies [for the Planet] is a great way for kids to do something meaningful and fun for Earth Day," said Judy Braus, World Wildlife Fund's education director. "The bottom line is that kids can help the Earth, whether they are restoring their local environment, or collecting pennies for on-the-ground conservation in priority areas around the world."

Every penny raised this year goes to three WWF programs:

  • the Rivers and Streams of the American Southeast - stretching from Virginia south to Florida and west to Tennessee - which contain more kinds of freshwater creatures than anywhere else in North America. Pennies will go to help scientists raise endangered and threatened fish species, and reintroduce native fish to areas where they once lived. They will help school groups, scientists, and others restore streamside habitat by planting trees and other vegetation that protect waterways from pollution.

  • the Madagascar Dry and Spiny Forests, where lemurs and other creatures live in a part-forest, part-desert landscape. Pennies will be used to create educational materials about this ecoregion for local communities. They will also be used to create protected areas to benefit ring-tailed lemurs, baobab trees, radiated tortoises, and traditional communities.

  • the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas of Southeast Asia - one of the richest coral reef systems in the world and home to six of the world's eight turtle species. Pennies will be spent to help local people study and learn about sea turtles and other wildlife of the area with monitoring stations, school snorkeling training, environmental clubs, and educational materials.

More than 10,000 Coinstar machines at supermarkets now accept donations on behalf of World Wildlife Fund, making it easy to give a direct contribution to Pennies for the Planet. After designating WWF as the beneficiary, pour loose change into the machine. It will be automatically counted, and a tax-deductible receipt for the amount of the donation will be dispensed.

"Our wildlife and wildlands need the support of all Americans to help conserve our natural world for future generations," said Coinstar CEO Dave Cole.

"We know that Americans on average have approximately $30 of loose change at home," said Cole, "and by making it easy to convert this change, we hope that people will choose to donate a handful to this respected organization."

At the WWF Pennies for the Planet website at: http://www.worldwildlife.org/windows/pennies/sending.html, a zip code lookup shows locations of Coinstar supermarkets.



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