AmeriScan: April 4, 2005

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Spike in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Called Temporary

BOULDER, Colorado, April 4, 2005 (ENS) - A jump in the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere between 2001 and 2003 appears to be a temporary phenomenon and does not indicate a quickening buildup of the gas in the atmosphere, according to an analysis by NOAA climate experts.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere by the burning of wood, coal, oil and gas forms a blanket of heat-trapping greenhouse gas.

As measured in air samples collected from more than 60 sites in the NOAA Global Cooperative Observing Network, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increased by nearly five parts per million (ppm) between 2001 and 2003.

The annual increase was higher than the long term average annual CO2 increase of approximately 1.5 ppm.

Included in the global average carbon dioxide measurements are those from the NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii where the CO2 record is the world's longest continuous observations of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, conducted since 1958.

The increased CO2 levels interested scientists who questioned whether some unknown mechanism might be causing the atmosphere to retain higher levels of CO2.

David Hofmann, director of the NOAA Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, says the rate of carbon dioxide increase returned to the long-term average level of about 1.5 ppm per year in 2004, indicating that the temporary fluctuation was probably due to changes in the natural processes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Global combustion of fossil fuels and other materials places almost seven billion tons of carbon, in the form of CO2, into the atmosphere each year. On average, Earth's oceans, trees, plants and soils absorb about one-half of this carbon. The balance remains in the air and is responsible for the annual increase.

Most of the variability in the year to year CO2 uptake is related to natural processes, including droughts and fires as well as such factors as global temperatures, rainfall amounts and volcanic eruptions.

NOAA's Carbon Cycle Research Program, which includes measurements of CO2 and other important atmospheric gases taken at the Earth's surface, above the ocean, and in space, is aimed at developing a comprehensive picture of how CO2 is stored and released. The carbon-cycle studies are a part of NOAA's Climate Program, an integral part of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.

"Reducing scientific uncertainties of carbon sources and sinks is a priority for the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), as carbon dioxide is the single largest forcing agent of climate change," said James Mahoney, NOAA deputy administrator and CCSP director.

NOAA scientists have been tracking CO2 levels around the world for more than 25 years. The oldest record comes from the Mauna Loa Observatory, which is located at the summit of the Mauna Loa volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. There, Charles Keeling began CO2 measurements in 1958.

Following NOAA's formation in 1970, measurements continued at Mauna Loa and began elsewhere.

Mahoney says, "The measurement capabilities established at NOAA's Mauna Loa and other sites around the world demonstrates the importance of observational networks as a contribution to understanding the complexities of the carbon cycle."

There are now more than 60 monitoring sites worldwide. Based on data from these sites, scientists say that each year since global measurements of CO2 began, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased.

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Attorney General Told to Investigate Prison Computer Recycling

WASHINGTON, DC, April 4, 2005 (ENS) - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been directed to investigate a whistleblower complaint that a prison computer recycling operation is exposing prison staff and inmates to harmful levels of toxic materials, according to a letter from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel released Thursday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The computer recycling at issue is conducted by inmate workers at the maximum-security federal penitentiary at Atwater, near Merced, California and at six other federal prisons.

Atwater has operated a computer recycling plant since 2002 but the operation has been plagued by safety problems and shutdowns.

The Office of Special Counsel directed Attorney General Gonzales to conduct an investigation based on the complaint of Atwater's Safety Manager Leroy Smith, a 13 year Federal Bureau of Prisons employee with a spotless record and past performance awards.

Smith filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and sought whistleblower redress with the Office of Special Counsel.

Smith said that inmates using hammers break computer terminals down to components parts for recycling. Particles of heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, barium and beryllium, are released when inmate workers break the glass cathode ray tubes during shipping and disassembling. Containment systems used by the prison for dust particles are not effective.

The factory at Atwater provides an open food service in the contaminated work areas, which Smith said is a hazard to inmate workers and staff.

Smith's complaint names Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR), and alleges that UNICOR and Atwater employees abused their authority, by ordering reactivition of operations in the computer recycling facility without implementation of the safety measures Smith prescribed and without his written authorization.

On Tuesday, more than two months after Smith’s complaint, OSHA entered the Atwater prison to conduct its required inspection. Contrary to its own rules, OSHA negotiated a pre-scheduled time for its inspection with prison authorities.

The Gonzales report to the Office of Special Counsel was due on February 28, 2005. As the whistleblower, Smith has a right to see and comment upon the report before the Office of the Special Counsel decides whether more investigation is needed, and before its release to the public.

“Wipe samples taken off skin, clothing, floors and work surfaces have shown dangerous levels of hazardous dust,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch,

“While the inmates are not going anywhere, staff who go home with toxic dust on their clothing risk spreading contamination to their families,” Ruch warned.

San Francisco attorney Mary Dryovage, who is representing Smith in his whistleblower action, said, “It is a shame that conscientious public servants have to run a gauntlet of retaliation just to do their jobs.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is an agency under the U.S. Department of Justice, headed by the new U.S. Attorney General and former White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales. In his new position, Gonzales oversees one of the largest prison systems in the world.

Read the Special Counsel’s order for Department of Justice review at: http://www.peer.org/docs/ca/05_31_3_smith.pdf

For more on the OSHA complaint filed by the prison safety staff see: http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=490

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New Jersey Wind Panel Spinning Its Wheels, Enviros Warn

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 4, 2005 (ENS) - New Jersey’s largest environmental groups convened Thursday to critique the wide holes in the current plans for the Blue Ribbon Panel on Offshore Wind, and offer up a supplemental plan for an open, unbiased and substantive approach to New Jersey’s energy future.

The organizations called for a rigorous, policy-based process to provide the energy our economy needs without harming New Jersey’s environment.

“Under their current plan, the goal of the Panel - to develop the policies that will govern offshore wind - will not be met in adequate time," said Emily Rusch, energy advocate for New Jersey Public Interest Group. "Knowing our state’s desperate need to reduce air pollution and retire our aging nuclear plants, it is inexcusable not to immediately begin crafting the policies that will best guide its development.”

On December 23, 2004, Acting Governor Richard Codey signed Executive Order #12, creating a nine member Blue Ribbon Panel on Development of Wind Turbine Facilities in Coastal Waters, representing environmental, academic, tourism and local government interests.

The Panel is charged with researching the feasibility of offshore wind turbine facilities as an alternate energy source for New Jersey. The research will include a cost benefit analysis; a comparison to other electric power sources such as fossil, nuclear and renewable fuels; and an assessment of the State's long-term electricity needs.

The executive order prohibits funding and permitting of any offshore windmill projects during the panel’s 15 month study. The Panel will submit policy recommendations to the Governor by March 2006.

New Jersey currently depends on fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil, and nuclear power to meet most of the state's energy needs. The environmental groups point out that burning fossil fuels results in high levels of asthma attacks and other illnesses from air pollution, acid rain threatening ecosystems in the Highlands, and rising sea levels along the New Jersey shore.

New Jersey’s nuclear power plants are growing older, posing safety risks to New Jersey communities. Despite our reliance on unsustainable sources, our energy use is predicted to increase by 14 percent over the next decade.

"We are deeply troubled that they have turned this process into a charade where their minds are made up and they do not want to have a fair a open process. The ones who will suffer from this poor process will be New Jersey and its environment," said Jeff Tittel, Director of the Sierra Club.

In three months, the Panel has only had one meeting, the group say.

While they have scheduled public meetings to discuss the concept of offshore wind, they have overlooked their main task: the nuts and bolts of where, when, and how offshore wind could and should be built. No meetings have been scheduled to discuss the details of permitting wind power, and it is unclear whether agency officials or the panel members themselves will develop those guidelines, and if other experts and stakeholders will be at the table.

The environmental organizations called upon the Panel to start an open, public process with experts to immediately begin to flesh out the appropriate policies to guide the siting and development of offshore wind, and even offered suggestions for useful experts and resources.

The organizations stressed the timeline of the moratorium, which will be lifted next March, and highlighted that the panel should be working to present policies this summer, so that any regulations for offshore wind are in place by March. Under that timeline, technical meetings with outside stakeholders and experts should begin without delay.

“As the Garden State and a coastal state on the front lines of global warming, New Jersey should not be putting up unnecessary road blocks for clean renewable energy like offshore wind. We need a public process to develop the needed policies, and the Panel’s current plan does not get us there,” said David Pringle, Campaign Director for New Jersey Environmental Federation.

NJPIRG recently completed a report, The Environmental Case for Wind Power in New Jersey, which makes a comparison between wind energy and New Jersey’s current energy sources. The report makes several recommendations for an environmental permitting process for wind development on land that could also be relevant to offshore development. The report can be found online at: www.njpirg.org

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New San Bernardino Water System Removes Carcinogens

SAN BERNARDIN0, California, April 4, 2005 (ENS) - The city of San Bernardino and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have completed a $28 million treatment system that will clean up billions of gallons of contaminated groundwater from the Newmark Superfund Site.

The treatment system for the site's Muscoy Operable Unit will prevent groundwater contaminated by volatile organic compounds from spreading to clean drinking water wells. More than 15 million gallons of contaminated water will be pumped and treated at the 19th Street Plant each day, so that the treated water can be used by the 160,000 residents of the area.

"The U.S. EPA is honored to be part of a project that will benefit many families and children for years to come," said Laura Yoshii, deputy regional administrator of the EPA. "Especially in areas of high growth and low rainfall like San Bernardino, we must do all we can to protect and preserve our groundwater resources."

"This system insures that the people of San Bernardino will continue to enjoy safe, clean water from a reliable source for many years into the future," said B. Warren Cocke, president of the Board of Water Commissioners for the City of San Bernardino.

The Newmark and Muscoy areas of the Newmark Groundwater Contamination site cover eight square miles of groundwater contaminated with volatile organic compounds such as perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE).

These industrial solvents used for dry cleaning, metal plating and machinery degreasing are known to be carcinogenic.

When the contaminants were first discovered in the early 1980s, the city of San Bernardino's water supply was severely compromised.

Since 1998, the city has been pumping millions of gallons each day from the Newmark Operable Unit, treating the water with conventional technologies and removing all contamination, and then delivering the treated water to the residents of the city of San Bernardino.

The operating Newmark treatment system has treated approximately 45 billion gallons since 1998. The new Muscoy treatment system will nearly double that capacity.

The city of Riverside, with a population of approximately 250,000, relies on wells downgradient from the contaminated site for about 75 percent of its total water supply. The rapidly growing communities of Colton, Loma Linda, Fontana, Rialto, with some 115,000 people, also use well water unprotected from the contamination. No alternative water sources are available.

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Navy Funds Nanotech Biowarfare Agent Detection

AMHERST, Massachusetts, April 4, 2005 (ENS) - A team of chemists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been awarded a three year, $1.3 million grant by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to develop new, more accurate techniques for detecting the presence of harmful agents.

In their study, professors Richard Vachet, Vincent Rotello and Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan will use a combination of nanotechnology and mass spectrometry to isolate and identify minute amounts of two types of hazardous substances: endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and microcystins, water-borne toxins that are considered potential bio-warfare agents.

“Effective detection of EDCs is important because exposure to these compounds is implicated in breast cancer, weakened immune systems, thyroid dysfunction and reproductive problems in young adults,” says Vachet, the principle investigator on the project. “The Navy needs sensitive ways to check that its waste disposal methods are effective and safe.”

EDCs, a broad class of chemicals found in pesticides, detergents and other industrial products, are increasingly found in water and cannot be completely removed by wastewater treatment systems on land or aboard ships.

Rotello and Thayumanavan will design nanoparticles measuring 20 billionths of a meter that are coated with chemicals to capture the target compounds.

Since the surface area to volume ratio increases as the size of particles decreases, the researchers could increase the capture of the target compounds by as much as 100 times more than currently used methods. “That's a huge jump,” says Vachet.

Once the compounds are gathered on the nanoparticles, they will be controllably assembled into larger super-structures for analysis by Vachet using mass spectrometry.

Using a laser, Vachet will release the captured compounds and use a spectrometer to measure their mass and identify the substances with “unprecedented sensitivity,” he says.

Vachet says much of the grant will support research assistantships for undergrads, grad students and postdoctoral students. The grant will also fund new equipment needed for detection technology as well as specialized chemicals to manufacture the nanoparticles.

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Williamsburg City Council Chambers Cleaned of Mercury

WILLIAMSBURG, Virginia, April 4, 2005 (ENS) - City Council Chambers for the city of Williamsburg, Virginia no longer have unsafe levels of mercury, according to officials from state and federal agencies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Emergency Management and, Virginia Department of Health have given the building a clean bill of health.

EPA officials were called to the scene after mercury was discovered in Council Chambers by a city employee March 7.

EPA contractors performed visual and vapor analysis of the chamber. Visible mercury was observed on carpets and desk chairs and mercury vapors were measured to be at levels of concern using a Lumex mercury vapor analyzer.

EPA contractors wrapped the impacted chairs with polypropeline sheeting and removed them from the building for disposal. The carpets were vacuumed three times before being taken up and removed from the building.

The wood floor was then treated with a material to absorb any mercury and then vacuumed. Three coats of polyurethane were applied to the floor to seal it.

Though these steps were successful, after consultation with technical assistants, EPA’s on-scene coordinators decided to remove the plywood floor, in the possible event that there was mercury trapped under the flooring.

A Lumex mercury vapor analyzer was then used to test the air in the council chambers. All air sampling data results showed mercury levels well below the action level of one microgram per cubic meter. In addition, eight-hour samples taken March 10 confirmed that the council chambers is no longer contaminated.

The cause of the mercury contamination is under investigation.

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Asbestos Removal Started at Grace Vermiculite Plant

DEARBORN, Michigan, April 4, 1005 (ENS) - Beginning Tuesday, the former W.R. Grace vermiculite processing plant in Dearborn, Michigan will be the subject of an intensive cleanup effort to remove waste material containing asbestos.

Grace produced vermiculite at a Henn Street location in Dearborn from the early 1950s until 1989.

Once an investigative effort is concluded, the project may expand to nearby residential properties, according to officials from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5.

The EPA has identified contamination at the former Grace plant, now owned by another business, and is investigating the possibility that some of the material may be in nearby yards or was used as fill in driveways.

Trailers and crews in protective equipment will be working in an area bounded by Chase Road to the west, Schaefer Road to the east, Ford Road to the south and Warren Avenue to the north. A water spray and other engineering controls will be used to reduce dust during the work.

The cleanup will address asbestos containing waste material from W.R. Grace's production of vermiculite, an ingredient used in residential attic insulation and potting soil.

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral compound composed of shiny flakes. Most vermiculite in the United States came from a mine near Libby, Montana, that is also a natural deposit of asbestos.

Asbestos can cause health problems when breathed into the lungs and over time may result in lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.

EPA officials believe the agency has not yet identified all the contamination in the area and would like to speak with residents as well as former Grace employees. Agency representatives will be contacting many residents directly in the weeks ahead.

A public meeting to discuss the work, expected to last several months, will be held April 5, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Fordson High School auditorium, 13800 Ford Road.

EPA officials will be joined by partner agencies including Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Department of Community Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a unit of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Representatives from ACCESS, which serves the Arab-American community, will also attend the meeting and assist with community outreach during the project.

For more information, please contact community involvement coordinator Dave Novak, 312-886-7478, or toll-free 800-621-8431, Ext. 67478, on weekdays.

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