Halliburton Iraqi Overcharges Top $212 MillionWASHINGTON, DC, April 12, 2005 (ENS) - Defense Department audits of Halliburton's Iraqi oil reconstruction work have found that the amount of Halliburton's overcharges and the extent of the information withheld from auditors at the International Advisory and Monitoring Board are nearly double those previously known. Vice President Dick Cheney headed Halliburton before he was elected to his current position in the administration of President George W. Bush.
Congressman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who is the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, Monday said the National Security Subcommittee has obtained additional audits of Halliburton's Iraqi oil reconstruction work that show overcharges and question costs of $212.3 million, doubling the total amount of known overcharges under Halliburton's Iraq oil contract.
The contract, obtained without competition in a "no-bid" award, is to restore Iraqi oil capacity by repairing the country's oil facilities.
"In one case," said Waxman, Halliburton overcharges "exceeded 47 percent of the total value of the task order."
The reports reveal that, as with the withholding of a previous audit, "extensive additional information has been withheld by the Administration" from the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB).
"A review of these audits shows that references to overcharges and other questioned costs were blacked out over 450 times in the versions of audits sent to the IAMB," Waxman said.
Although Halliburton was paid "in significant part" from Iraqi oil proceeds in the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), Waxman alleges that the Bush administration, acting at Halliburton’s request, concealed these overcharges from the international auditors charged by the United Nations with monitoring the expenditures from the DFI.
In a letter sent Monday to National Security Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, Waxman renewed his request that the subcommittee hold hearings on the administration's mismanagement of the Development Fund for Iraq.
Instead, Shays today will chair an oversight hearing of the panel to examine United Nations management of the Iraq sanctions regime and its humanitarian aid component, the Oil-for-Food Program, the DFI's predecessor.
In his letter to Shays, Waxman says that "congressional oversight of the expenditure of oil proceeds has been marred by a double standard."
"There have been 11 congressional hearings to date on the U.N. oversight of the Oil-for-Food program, but no hearings on whether the United States itself mismanaged the DFI, the succcessor to the Oil-for-Food program," Waxman wrote.
Weapons Grade Uranium Removed From University ReactorsWASHINGTON, DC, April 12, 2005 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) has begun to convert research reactors at the University of Florida and Texas A&M University from using highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium fuel (LEU).
Highly-enriched uranium is weapons-grade nuclear material that can be used to make a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb that can spread radioactive contamination with a non-nuclear explosion.
This effort, by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, are the latest steps under the Global Threat Reduction Initiative’s Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors program.
As part of the program, the NNSA is minimizing the use of HEU in civilian nuclear programs by converting research reactors and radioisotope production processes to the use of LEU fuel and targets.
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said, “These research reactors are secure and used for peaceful purposes, but by converting them to use low-enriched uranium, we are taking a significant step forward to ensure that weapons-usable nuclear material does not fall into the wrong hands.”
The Global Threat Reduction Initiative, announced in May 2004, aims to identify, secure, remove, and facilitate the disposition of high-risk, vulnerable nuclear and other radiological materials and equipment that pose a threat to the international community.
DOE has targeted 25 research reactors in the United States for conversion, and of those 25, eleven have already been converted to the use of LEU fuel.
The planned completion date for the conversions of the University of Florida and Texas A&M University reactors is in late 2006. DOE’s goal is to complete all remaining conversions by 2014.
CFC Disposal Violations Cost Detroit Firm $500,000DETROIT, Michigan, April 12, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 has reached an agreement with Strong Steel Products LLC on alleged violations of EPA regulations to protect stratospheric ozone at the company's scrap metal processing plant in Detroit.
The EPA assessed a $500,000 penalty against the company for failing to remove ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants from the air conditioning systems of junked motor vehicles and small appliances, or to get verification that its scrap-metal suppliers had removed the refrigerants before disposal.
Chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, allowing dangerous amounts of cancer causing ultraviolet rays from the Sun to strike the Earth. Production of some of these chemicals was stopped in 1995, and federal law strictly controls their use and handling.
To remedy the problem, Strong Steel has built an auto processing facility to remove fluids, including CFCs, from incoming scrap cars and has revised its supplier verification statements.
The EPA estimates that over the past year the processing facility recovered at least 1,250 pounds of CFCs.
EPA Acting Deputy Regional Administrator Norman Niedergang said the settlement is part of an EPA scrap-yard initiative in the Detroit area that is expected to reduce the release of CFCs there.
Enviros, Developers Agree to Conserve California Vernal PoolsSACRAMENTO, California, April 12, 2005 (ENS) - Defenders of Wildlife and the Butte Environmental Council Monday announced an agreement with federal agencies and local developers that the groups say will ensure protections for rare vernal pool wetlands in Placer County.
Vernal pools and surrounding grasslands fill with water during fall and winter rains, providing habitat for plants and animals that often exist nowhere else in the world. Vernal pools were once found throughout California's Central Valley and southern California coastal areas, but scientists now estimate that more than 90 percent of this habitat has been destroyed.
Much of the remaining habitat, including the land at issue in this case, has been designated under the Endangered Species Act as critical habitat for two endangered species found nowhere else in the world - vernal pool fairy shrimp and vernal pool tadpole shrimp.
The settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and development companies 1600 Placer Investors and Roseville/Fiddyment Land Ventures sets what the environmental groups hope will become a precedent for construction projects in the Central Valley.
The agreement establishes a system for ensuring that for every acre of vernal pool critical habitat that is developed, two are purchased for conservation purposes.
The developers are required to purchase mitigation properties prior to development, including three key Placer County parcels totaling 1,084 acres within the area designated as critical habitat and directly in the path of future development.
The developers must provide funds to the Placer County Land Trust for acquisitions and easements of at least 1,000 acres of vernal pool grasslands within the next five years.
And in the future the developers must acquire an additional 3,835 acres of wetlands and grasslands critical habitat within Placer County.
"Today's agreement signifies just how successful we can be when local stakeholders work together to achieve a common goal," said Kim Delfino, director of California Programs for Defenders of Wildlife. "We hope that future developers will look at this agreement as an example of how local stakeholders should be working together early in the development process to preserve and protect our national wildlife and wild lands."
The Westpark/Fiddyment Ranch project is part of the West Roseville Specific Plan, which was challenged earlier for violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) due to air, water and traffic concerns.
The parties to that suit announced a settlement in August 2004 in which a community benefit fee program was created to secure future land protection.
The settlement announced Monday comes after Defenders and Butte Environmental Council filed a federal lawsuit against the project under the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act because it would have eliminated thousands of acres of vital habitat, an issue not addressed in the CEQA litigation.
Alaska Permits Hunters to Lure Grizzly Bears with BaitJUNEAU, Alaska, April 12, 2005 (ENS) - To provide more moose for Alaska hunters, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Friday began issuing permits for hunters to use bait to lure and kill grizzly bears near Tok.
This is the first time the state agency has allowed hunters to bait grizzly bears and the first time the state has allowed the killing of grizzly bears rather than wolves in its predator control program.
"If we can help more moose survive the first year, the moose population may be able to increase and provide more harvest for people," said Jeff Gross, Tok area biologist with the state agency.
An estimated 135 grizzly bears inhabit the portion of Game Management Unit 20E where the program is being conducted. The state has set a quota of up to 81 bears for the first year.
The control program requires that 54 bears be allowed to remain in the area. Permits will be good from April 1 to June 30 or until the quota is reached. Cubs and sows accompanied by cubs may not be taken under the permit.
The average harvest in the 20E area for the past 15 years has been 14 grizzlies a season, although regulations permitted hunters to take one bear a year until 2004, when the Game Board decided to allow hunters to kill two bears a year.
Roma Tomatoes Linked to Salmonella Outbreaks
ATLANTA, Georgia, April 12, 2005 (ENS) - Three outbreaks of salmonella infections associated with eating Roma tomatoes were detected in the United States and Canada in the summer of 2004, the Centers for Disease Control said Friday.
In the three outbreaks, 561 salmonella related illnesses from 18 states and a province in Canada were identified. No deaths were reported.
Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most patients recover without treatment.
In one multistate outbreak during June 25 - July 18, 2004, multiple Salmonella serotypes were isolated, and cases were associated with exposure to Roma tomatoes from multiple locations of a chain delicatessen. The deli chain was not identified.
Each of the other two outbreaks was characterized by a single Salmonella serotype - Braenderup in one multistate outbreak and Javiana in an outbreak in Canada.
Although a single tomato packing house in Florida was common to all three outbreaks, other growers or packers also might have supplied contaminated Roma tomatoes that resulted in some of the illnesses, the CDC said. Environmental investigations are continuing.
Approximately five billion pounds of fresh market tomatoes are eaten annually in the United States, and so the potential for large outbreaks of Salmonella infections is a concern, the CDC said.
Tomato associated salmonella outbreaks reported to the CDC have increased in frequency and magnitude in recent years and caused 1,616 reported illnesses in nine outbreaks during 1990-2004, representing approximately 60,000 illnesses when accounting for the estimated proportion (97.5 percent) of unreported illness.
Salmonella can enter tomato plants through roots or flowers and can enter the tomato fruit through small cracks in the skin, the stem scar, or the plant itself. But whether Salmonella can travel from roots to the fruit, or whether seeds can contaminate subsequent generations of tomato plants, is unknown.
Understanding the mechanism of contamination and amplification of contamination of large volumes of tomatoes is critical to prevent large-scale, tomato-associated outbreaks. Contamination might occur during multiple steps from the tomato seed nursery to the final kitchen. Eradication of salmonella from the interior of the tomato is difficult without cooking, even when treated with highly concentrated chlorine solution.
Because current knowledge of mechanisms of tomato contamination and methods of eradication of salmonella in fruit is inadequate to ensure produce safety, the agency said, further research should be a priority for the agricultural industry, food safety agencies, and the public health community.
Portable Sensor Can Identify Biowarfare Agents
BERKELEY, California, April 12, 2005 (ENS) - Homeland security experts may soon be getting a new tool for identifying the chemical constituents in suspicious substances. A portable device makes it possible for the first time to take high-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy - one of the main tools for chemical analysis - out of the laboratory and into the field for use on samples of any size.
This portable NMR sensor was developed by a collaboration of researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California at Berkeley and the Institute for Technical Chemistry and Macromolecular Chemistry in Aachen, Germany.
"There are many applications, besides homeland security, where you can’t bring samples from the field to the laboratory, including medical diagnosis, archaeological analysis, or the exploration of objects in space, like planets or moons,” said chemical engineering graduate student Vasiliki Demas, co-author of a paper describing the portable device, which appears in the April 8 issue of the journal "Science."
Until recently, high resolution NMR spectroscopy could only be done by placing a sample inside the bore of a very large stationary magnet that produces a strong, uniform magnetic field.
Portable NMR systems with open, single-sided probes, have been built, but the lack of uniformity in their magnetic fields limit them to low resolution.
The new technology uses precisely pulsed radio frequencies to compensate for this lack of uniformity.
“Eventually, we think we can attain a better than one part per million resolution, that is our goal for when this device becomes commercially available,” said Demas, who recently returned from Germany where she had been participating in tests of the new NMR sensor.
In the proof of principle testing, Demas and her colleagues were able to acquire high resolution NMR spectra of fluorine nuclei in several types of liquid fluorocarbons.
This research was funded the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and by the Deutsche Forschunggemeinshaft.
Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California. Find the lab online at: www.lbl.gov