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AmeriScan: April 8, 2005

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USAID to Help Asian Countries Contain Bird Flu

WASHINGTON, DC, April 8, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is offering financial and technical support to five Southeast Asian nations to contain and control avian influenza. The agency is working to prevent the spread of a virus that has the potential to cause a global pandemic.

USAID will target its assistance to Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, agency officials said in a briefing Thursday. The highly infectious H5N1 virus has caused the deaths of millions of birds in these five nations and four others in the region.

Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam are the only nations where human cases of this deadly form of influenza have been confirmed, but USAID officials describe the other countries to receive its targeted assistance as “vulnerable.”

The World Health Organization reports 79 confirmed human cases of flu caused by H5N1, and 50 deaths, a high mortality rate that has health officials very concerned.

The majority of these cases can be attributed to direct contact with birds, but disease experts worry that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted from person to person. At that point, the possibility of a global epidemic may become a reality.

Dennis Carroll, USAID’s senior infectious disease adviser, said watching where outbreaks arise and detecting cases as rapidly as possible will be very important in preventing broader spread of the disease.

“We’re suspicious that there may be cases going on there that have been missed,” said Murray Trostle, director of USAID’s infectious disease surveillance group. “This is a good reason for us to strengthen the surveillance system there.”

Carroll said the objective will be to get local health officials more actively involved in the pursuit of avian influenza cases. “We will be specifically talking about training staffs of active case detection teams, providing logistic support, ensuring quality control for sample collections from both animal and human populations.”

USAID will work to create greater awareness and understanding about the disease, Carroll said. Local officials need a better understanding of the importance of transparency and responsiveness in handling reports of disease. Health workers need better technical education on spotting cases and minimizing their own risks.

Another component of the educational campaign will be to convince the public to be wary of contacts with poultry, and USAID officials acknowledge this could be challenging in a region where it is common for families to keep chickens around the house. Trostle said the agency is experienced in health education, having mounted successful campaigns focused on maternal health, HIV/AIDS and other issues in other regions.

“We have developed communications that actually get down to families and individuals in practicing healthy behaviors, and participating more in the health system,” he said. “This is playing to an advantage that USAID has.”

USAID will be investing $1.2 million in the expanded bird flu campaign in Southeast Asia, Carroll said. A proposal is pending in the Congress that could devote more money to the health effort.

In an April 5 statement, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has contributed $5.5 million to the regional and international effort to improve flu pandemic preparedness.

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Energy Secretary Would Expand Nuclear Power Worldwide

WASHINGTON, DC, April 8, 2005 (ENS) - The United States supports making nuclear energy available to all countries in a way that does not undermine efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to terror groups or additional states, according to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

In remarks to an international conference in Chantilly, Virginia on Tuesday, Bodman said that a U.S. proposal on access to fuel for civilian nuclear reactors strengthens the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty rather than contradicts or reinterprets it as some critics claim.

In 2004, President Bush proposed to guarantee access at reasonable cost to such fuel for countries that renounce pursuing uranium enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

Such capabilities are intrinsic to the commercial nuclear sector but can also be used to make nuclear weapons.

Bodman said that now those capabilities are “far too accessible.”

“All of us in the world community, working together, need to take decisive and concrete actions to make sure we establish and enforce sufficiently rigorous international standards to manage the problems and challenges of nuclear proliferation,” he said.

Bodman reaffirmed the U.S. position that restricting access is the most effective way to prevent potential illicit users from acquiring high-risk nuclear materials and technologies.

He said that a U.S. priority is enhancing cooperation with Russia to secure such materials and technologies.

Only by acting collectively with a renewed commitment can countries make sure that international nonproliferation norms and obligations are fully met and enforced, he said. So it is unacceptable, he added, that many countries have not signed relevant international agreements yet.

“Unless all states accept sovereign responsibility for activities under their jurisdiction and control ... we risk some future catastrophic act of nuclear terror,” Bodman said. “This is a future that could set nuclear energy back decades, and it is a future that we have a collective responsibility to avoid.”

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Missouri Ethanol Firm Signs $2 Million Clean Air Settlement

WASHINGTON, DC, April 8, 2005 (ENS) - The Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the state of Missouri today announced a $ 2 million civil settlement with the Golden Triangle Energy, LLC, ethanol plant in Craig, Missouri for alleged Clean Air Act violations.

Detailed in a consent decree filed in the federal court in Missouri, the settlement requires reductions in air pollution, including volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, from this ethanol manufacturing facility.

The federal and state governments allege that Golden Triangle Energy was operating in violation of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review (NSR) provisions. The Clean Air Act’s NSR program requires a source to install pollution controls and undertake other pre-construction obligations to control air pollution emissions when there is new construction. Golden Triangle constructed its facility in 2002.

Ethanol is a corn product used as an automobile fuel alone or blended with gasoline. Ethanol’s high oxygen content allows automobile engines to combust fuel better, resulting in reduced tail pipe emissions.

During the ethanol manufacturing process, dry mills burn off gases which emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide into the air.

The agreement announced today requires the plant to install air pollution control equipment that will reduce air emissions of VOCs and carbon monoxide.

In addition to contributing to ground-level ozone, or smog, VOCs can cause serious health problems such as cancer and other effects. Carbon monoxide is harmful because it reduces oxygen delivery to the body’s organs and tissues.

The settlement will result in annual reductions of 150 tons of VOCs, 12 tons of nitrogen oxides, 20 tons of particulate matter, 70 tons of carbon monoxide, and 15 tons of hazardous air pollutants.

Under the consent decree, Golden Triangle’s Craig plant will install a thermal oxidizer that reduces VOC emissions by 95 percent from the feed dryers and meets new restrictive emission limits for nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and hazardous air pollutants.

In addition to emission control requirements valued at about $2 million, the facility will also pay a civil penalty of $30,000. The penalty amount is similar to the amounts paid by other ethanol companies in previous Clean Air Act settlements.

This is the 16th settlement the Justice Department and the EPA have reached with a company in the ethanol industry.

“This consent decree demonstrates our commitment to the reduction of harmful pollutants from ethanol plants, and shows that we will work to ensure a level playing field within the industry by preventing violators from gaining a competitive advantage,” said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

“Significant air pollution emission reductions will be achieved under this settlement,” said Administrator for EPA Region 7 Jim Gulliford. “The cooperation of the facility and the teamwork among agencies has resulted in an agreement that ensures that human and ecological health are protected.”

The consent decree is subject to a 30-day comment period and final approval by the court.

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California Cities Must Pay Clean Water Treatment Costs

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 8, 2005 (ENS) - California's regional water boards won a clean water victory on Monday when the state Supreme Court ruled that cities must meet strict state standards, regardless of the cost.

The case involves three publicly owned treatment plants that discharge wastewater under National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued by the Los Angeles Regional Board. While this case involves wastewater, the principles defined by the court may also apply to the cost of storm water management.

In the series of appeals that eventually brought them to the Supreme Court, the cities of Burbank and Los Angeles contended that achievement of the Los Angeles Regional Board's requirements would be too costly when considered in light of the potential benefit to water quality.

All three plants, which together process hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage each day, are tertiary treatment facilities. The treated wastewater they release is processed to be safe for use in watering food crops, parks, and playgrounds, and also for human body contact during recreational water activities such as swimming.

The cities of Burbank and Los Angeles appealed to the high court against 1998 permits issued by the Los Angeles Board that specified strict numerical standards for a list of 30 pollutants.

The Board required compliance with the numeric standards before treated water could be discharged into the Los Angeles River. Once a free-flowing river, the Los Angeles River today is a concrete channel, but it still flows into the Pacific Ocean.

The cities argued that compliance with the pollutant restrictions set out in the regional board's NPDES permits would greatly increase their costs of treating the wastewater to be discharged into the Los Angeles River.

The City of Los Angeles said its compliance costs would exceed $50 million annually, representing more than 40 percent of its entire budget for operating its four wastewater treatment plants and its sewer system. The City of Burbank estimated its added costs at over $9 million annually, a nearly 100 percent increase above its $9.7 million annual budget for wastewater treatment.

The cities argued that the numeric pollutant limits in the permits were unnecessary. A lower court agreed and ordered the Los Angeles Regional Board to vacate the contested restrictions.

The Los Angeles Regional Board and the State Board filed appeals in both the Los Angeles and Burbank cases to the state Supreme Court.

A six judge Supreme Court panel ruled unanimously that, "a regional board, when issuing a wastewater discharge permit, may not consider economic factors to justify imposing pollutant restrictions that are less stringent than the applicable federal standards require."

But when a regional board is considering whether to make the pollutant restrictions more stringent than federal law requires, California law allows the board to take into account economic factors, including the wastewater discharger’s cost of compliance.

The court ordered further proceedings to determine whether the pollutant limitations in the permits challenged in this case meet or exceed federal standards.

"The Supreme Court's decision speaks loudly in support of our actions to protect and enhance water quality, public health and the Southern California economy," Susan Cloke, chairwoman of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, told the "Los Angeles Times" newspaper.

"Los Angeles and Burbank are legally obligated to prevent pesticides, heavy metals and other toxic pollutants from entering the Los Angeles River and threatening the health of our residents."

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Ohio EPA Provides $1 Million to Protect Conneaut Creek

COLUMBUS, Ohio, April 8, 2005 (ENS) - The Ohio EPA has provided $1 million to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to protect the plants, animals and water of Conneaut Creek in Ashtabula County, which has been designated as an outstanding state water.

The money will be used to purchase properties and conservation easements along the creek. Landowner participation in the program is voluntary.

The ODNR plans to preserve and manage the forested buffer strips as scenic river lands.

"This is a win-win for the city of Conneaut and for the fragile ecology along Conneaut Creek," said Ohio EPA Director Joe Koncelik. "Both the city's wastewater treatment upgrades and ODNR's protection of buffer strips along Conneaut Creek will help to improve the region's overall water quality."

The Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program (WRRSP) is part of Ohio's Water Pollution Control Loan Fund, which provides low-interest loans to cities for wastewater treatment improvements.

In exchange for receiving a reduced interest rate, the loan's recipient agrees to sponsor an environmental protection project. Ohio EPA evaluates the proposals and awards WRRSP money based on the project's potential to enhance and protect Ohio's water resources.

The Conneaut Creek protection project was sponsored by the city of Conneaut as part of a loan from the Water Pollution Control Loan Fund to modernize its wastewater treatment plant and sanitary sewers. The sponsorship allowed the city to receive a reduced interest rate on a $3.7 million loan and ODNR to receive $1 million for land acquisition and preservation.

Since 2000, Ohio EPA has provided more than $65 million to projects that have enhanced or protected approximately 69 miles of stream corridors and 4,200 acres of wetlands.

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Scientists Recover Rocks from Earth's Crust Under Seafloor

ARLINGTON, Virginia, April 8, 2005 (ENS) - Scientists with the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) have created the third deepest hole ever drilled into the ocean bottom's crust in a search for an elusive boundary between Earth’s brittle crust and its hotter, softer mantle.

According to a statement Wednesday by the National Science Foundation, scientists hoped to drill into Earth's mantle, but found that their efforts had missed the mark, they believe by less than 300 meters (984 feet).

The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program is an international research program involving 18 nations that explores the history and structure of the Earth as recorded in seafloor sediments and rocks.

IODP's initial 10 year, $1.5 billion program is supported by the National Science Foundation and Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.

"This is one of the best efforts to date," said Rodey Batiza, National Science Foundation program director for ocean drilling, "to drill into ocean crust and find mantle. It will provide important clues on how ocean crust forms."

From the ocean drilling vessel, JOIDES Resolution, researchers recovered rocks from more than 1,416 meters (4,645 feet) below the seafloor that will provide information about the composition of the Earth.

Scientists aboard two consecutive oceanographic cruises, known as Legs 304 and 305, drilled into the Atlantis Massif, located at the intersection between the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Atlantis fracture zone. The central portion of this region is made up of a shallower sea floor feature than the area around it. That core, scientists hoped, would turn out to be composed of rocks that make up Earth's lower crust and upper mantle, providing a first opportunity to sample the mantle.

The cored rocks are clearly part of Earth's crust, the scientists said.

Benoit Ildefonse of the Université Montpellier, a co-chief scientist on the expeditions, said, "Deep coring in the ocean crust is a challenging endeavor, and has been a long-term goal for geoscientists since the late 1950s."

“Post-cruise research [on samples recovered by the drilling] will expand our knowledge of processes at slow spreading mid-ocean ridges, a key component of the Earth's dynamics,” said Ildefonse.

More drilling to locate the mantle might take place in the same location. At the end of the expedition, the drill hole was open and in good condition, IODP scientists said, and ready to be drilled more deeply.

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Lava Pouring Into Ocean Water Creates New Hazard

HONOLULU, Hawaii, April 8, 2005 (ENS) - Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory have identified evidence of a new hazard posed by the combination of erupting volcanoes and the ocean seawater. A hydrovolcanic explosion and ash surge caused by the hot molten rock hitting the cold ocean water can blow back onto land, impacting areas that might not have been touched by the original volcanic eruption.

In addition, the impact of the lava striking the ocean has been known to cause a tsunami.

During the July 2003 eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, the collapse of a lava dome generated immense pyroclastic flows, a deadly combination of turbulent magmatic gases and ash. When these flows interacted with the ocean at the mouth of the Tar River, they created a pyroclastic explosion and ash surge that spread back onto the island.

The expanding turbulent cloud of rock, steam and ash flowed back onto land at temperatures of 600 degrees and speeds of about 130 miles per hour. Vegetation was burned and razed to the ground and cows were killed by the dense current.

The ash surge reached 1,050 feet above sea level and flowed nearly two miles inland, devastating an area of nearly three square miles that had not been affected by the main pyroclastic flows from the volcano.

"Luckily, due to prior warning and evacuations, no one was killed by this unexpected ash surge from the sea’s edge," said Marie Edmonds, lead author of the article and USGS researcher. "This interaction between pyroclastic flows and seawater is rarely observed, but presents a very real hazard where populations reside between certain volcanoes and the sea."

The new research identifies a significant additional hazard, because assessments of areas that might be impacted by pyroclastic flows assume that the flow path is away from the volcano, not a blast back from the ocean. The large pyroclastic flows of the July 2003 event also generated a tsunami that was recorded on Monserrat and Guadeloupe.

Such an interaction between pyroclastic flows and seawater to produce a hydrovolcanic explosion and ash surge has been inferred for some prehistoric volcanoes. Relatively explosive volcanoes near coasts pose the greatest risk. Examples include Mount Augustine and many Aleutian volcanoes in Alaska, Caribbean volcanoes such as Mont Pelee, and Unzen in Japan.

Scientists on the ground using real-time monitoring equipment can issue timely warnings and evacuation of communities, and can prevent fatalities during an eruption. The USGS and its partners monitor 49 active volcanoes in the United States and other dangerous volcanoes around the world.

Science is key to reducing risk to lives and property from natural hazards, the agency said, and USGSs strive to prevent natural hazards from becoming disasters.

Richard Herd of the University of Hawaii and USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory contributed to the research and is a co-author of the article in Geology.

Their research will be published by the Geological Society of America’s April edition of the journal "Geology."

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