AmeriScan: April 10, 2006

* * *

Deadly Tornadoes Rip Through Tennessee Twice in One Week

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, April 10, 2006 (ENS) - “We’ve weathered the storm,” said Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, visiting rural Dyer and Gibson counties damaged by tornadoes and storms on Sunday, April 2 that claimed 27 lives across the Midwest and South, 24 of them in Tennessee.

But the governor spoke too soon.

Less than a week later, on Friday, another wave of tornadoes and storms spun across the central portion of the state, killing 12 people and smashing more than 1,000 homes and buildings in heavily populated Sumner and Warren counties.

The governor met with local officials and citizens who lost everything. He toured the stricken areas by air and on the ground. Storms in Dyer and Gibson counties seemed to be more intense, he said. But the damage was more severe in the more populated areas hit Friday.

Damage in a five mile area of Sumner County from Volunteer State Community College to south Gallatin indicated an F3 tornado had struck the area, packing winds of 158-206 miles per hour. A separate tornado that hit Goodlettsville also was an F3 on the Fujita scale of tornado strength, which runs from F0 to F5.

Other tornadoes across the Midwest were rated F1 storms, with winds of 73-112 mph, a lower rating, but still dangerous.

This week's weather should be calmer, the National Weather Service predicts.

As the Red Cross continues responding to the April 2 tragedy in northwestern Tennessee, its Nashville Area chapter has opened three shelters in the affected central part of the state – in Goodlettsville, Gallatin, and Hendersonville. Each shelter has a 150 person capacity. The Red Cross says it will open more shelters as needed. Mental health counselors are available in all three shelters to provide mental and emotional support and help people cope with the tragedy.

Crews worked to repair utilities and clear roads of downed power lines, as a Red Cross emergency response vehicle threaded its way through the hardest-hit areas, delivering meals, snacks, soft drinks and lemonade along the way.

“This is great because I can’t cook right now,” Joyce Fowler, 73, of the Millsfield community said over the hum of a generator. “I really, really appreciate it,” she told the Red Cross crew.

Fowler sat inside the small pink living room of her white wood-frame house on Harness Road and recalled how she and her husband Troy had survived Sunday night’s tornado.

“We had not been home from church but 20 or 30 minutes, when we heard a roaring noise,” she said. The Fowlers grabbed a quilt and huddled together under the kitchen table.

“It seemed like that tornado just sat down on our house," she told Red Cross workers.

Harness Road overlooks rolling hills, where tall pines now lay strewn, twisted and bowing at the root. Some homes, such as the Fowler’s, suffered only minor damage and utility outages, while others were swept off their foundations.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said Friday that federal disaster aid has been made available for Tennessee to help people and communities recover from the effects of severe storms and tornadoes during the period of April 2 to 3. Federal disaster aid also has been made available for Missouri to help people and communities recover from the effects of severe storms, tornadoes and flooding beginning on March 30, 2006 through and including April 3.

Storm victims should call FEMA’s teleregistration number immediately to get the assistance process started at 800-621-FEMA. Those with hearing impairment should call 800-462-7585. Or register online at www.fema.gov.

* * *

New Jersey Parks Police Investigated in Shooting at ATV Event

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 10, 2006 (ENS) - Expressing concern for Emil Mann, his family and the Ramapough Mountain community, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson says the state Attorney General's Office has agreed to conduct an internal investigation into the April 1 incident involving members of the Division of Parks and Forestry's State Park Police working at Ringwood State Park in Mahwah.

Authorities have released few details in their investigation of the shooting at the Ramapough Valley Reservation in Bergen County after a fight broke out between Native Americans riding all-terrain vehicles and the police officers.

Emil Mann, 43, from Monroe, New York, was shot twice in the leg, state environment authorities said, after the officers confronted the riders. ATVs are prohibited in the Mahwah park.

Local media say tension between police and the ATV riders escalated after a parks policewoman sprayed a 14 year old girl with the chemical Mace and slapped her.

Mann, who works for a municipal parks department in Rockland County, New York, is now fighting for his life at Hackensack University Medical Center.

People at the scene have been reluctant to come forward with information, according to police investigating the incident.

The action that took place was not on state property, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli told "The Record" newspaper. The property where the incident took place is part of the county, so Bergen County Police would have had jurisdiction along with Mahwah, who came to the scene but made no arrests.

Park police would not have had jurisdiction, Molinelli said.

The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office is continuing its criminal investigation into the shooting and the circumstances surrounding it. Anyone who witnessed the incident at Ramapo Valley Reservation is asked to call the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office Major Crimes Unit at (201) 226-5552.

"The officers who patrol our state parks are held to the highest standards of professional conduct," Commissioner Jackson said. "The Attorney General's office and the DEP are working in earnest to establish whether department procedures and policies intended to protect the public were followed."

"Should the investigation determine that any department protocols - including those that guide our work with other law enforcement agencies - are not as effective as they can and should be, I will take immediate action to rectify those deficiencies," Commissioner Jackson said.

All four park police officers involved in the incident are on leave with pay.

* * *

Livestock ID Tracking System to Start Next Year

WASHINGTON, DC, April 10, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its plan to put an National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in place by 2007 with full livestock producer participation by 2009. The new database system is considered necessary to combat mad cow disease and other animal diseases.

The animal tracking databases will record and store information on animal movement that will be available to state and federal animal health officials to query for animals of interest in a disease investigation.

"Developing an effective animal identification system has been a high priority for USDA and we've made significant strides toward achieving a comprehensive U.S. system," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Thursday. "We recognize that this represents one of the largest systematic changes ever faced by the livestock industry and we have welcomed suggestions from stakeholders to ensure that we continue to gain momentum."

To date, the USDA has developed of premises registration systems in each state and has issued guidelines for the manufacture and distribution of animal identification numbers. More than 235,000 premises are currently registered.

Together with the plan released Thursday, the USDA issued the general technical standards for animal tracking databases that will enable integration of private systems with the NAIS. Private database owners are invited to submit applications for system evaluation to USDA and offer feedback as the final technical requirements are established. USDA will then enter into cooperative agreements with owners of databases that meet the standards.

The application for system evaluation and a draft cooperative agreement are available on the NAIS web site at www.usda.gov/nais.

By early 2007, USDA expects to have the technology in place, called the Animal Trace Processing System or commonly known as the metadata system, that will allow state and federal animal health officials to query the NAIS and private databases during a disease investigation.

Training sessions will be offered to organizations interested in distributing animal identification number (AIN) tags as either a tag manager or tag reseller. TheUSDA is sponsoring two web conferences about the administration of AIN tags and a demonstration of the AIN Management System on Thursday, April 13 at 1 pm, and Wednesday, April 26 at 1 pm, Eastern Time. Details of the web conferences are available on the NAIS website, www.usda.gov/nais.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will award $3 million to a number of states and tribes to conduct field trials that will focus on the evaluation of new technologies for animal identification and automated data collection.

APHIS will fund an economic study focusing on the cost of NAIS implementation within a state; the development of procedures to measure the performance of identification devices and a bi-state study to develop recommendations for livestock exhibitions to achieve compatibility with the NAIS.

To date, APHIS has awarded $27 million in funds to states and tribes that has been used for identification and registration of premises. APHIS is updating a summary report detailing what has been accomplished through previously funded field trials and pilot projects.

* * *

Pennsylvania Files Criminal Hazwaste Charges Against Texas Company

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, April 10, 2006 (ENS) - Agents from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Section have filed criminal charges against Texas-based Trinity Industries, which operated a facility in Mercer County, along with a former maintenance supervisor at that plant, for hazardous waste violations.

Attorney General Tom Corbett says charges were filed against Trinity Industries Inc., headquartered in Dallas, Texas and John Bindas of Hadley, Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

The charges center on the alleged illegal disposal of contaminated soil at a railroad car manufacturing and repair facility located in Greenville, Mercer County.

Trinity Industries operated the facility from 1985 until December 2000, when it was closed. Trinity transferred ownership of a portion of the facility, known as the North Plant, in 2004 and continues to own the other portion, known as the South Plant.

Members of the public alerted the Mercer County District Attorney's Office to the illegal waste disposal at the Trinity facility. The Attorney General presented evidence and testimony to a statewide investigating grand jury, which recommended the criminal charges be filed.

The grand jury found that during the course of manufacturing and repairing railroad cars, Trinity employees applied various solvents to the sides of the railroad cars. Solvents were also used to clean stencils were used to paint the cars.

The grand jury found that excess solvent was allowed to drip or run onto the dirt and gravel floor of the facility without any effort to contain or collect the solvents. The activity allegedly took place in a building known as the "Old Erie Shop," located on the North Plant property.

Corbett said the grand jury found that the Old Erie Shop was demolished in 1994 to make room for construction of a new paint shop facility. During that construction project, contaminated soil from the floor of the Old Erie Shop was allegedly excavated, removed from the site and dumped at a remote corner of Trinity's nearby South Plant property known as the "Old Ballfield."

The grand jury found that John Bindas, who at that time was a maintenance supervisor at the Trinity facility, directed others to dump the potentially contaminated soil at the Old Ballfield location.

On January 31, 2006, agents from the Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Section, assisted by investigators from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, conducted a search of the Old Ballfield section of Trinity's South Plant facility. Numerous soil and soil gas samples were taken, revealing the presence of xylene, naphthalene and 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene.

According to the grand jury, Trinity Industries had never been issued a permit to treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste at their Greenville facilities.

Trinity Industries Inc. and Bindas are each charged with three felony counts of unlawful management of hazardous waste under Pennsylvania's Solid Waste Management Act, including the unlawful storage, transport or disposal of hazardous waste, unlawfully owning or operating a hazardous waste storage or disposal facility and transporting hazardous waste without a license. Each of those counts is punishable by a term of two to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $100,000 per day, for each violation.

Trinity Industries and Bindas also are charged with misdemeanors, including unlawfully dumping solid waste, unlawfully transporting solid waste and dumping solid waste without a permit. Each of those counts is punishable by up to one year in prison and fines of up to $25,000 per day for each violation. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 9.

* * *

Ants 40 Million Years Older Than Previously Thought

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, April 10, 2006 (ENS) - Ants originated 140 to 168 million years ago, much earlier than previously believed, according to new research in this week's issue of the journal "Science."

To date the origin of ants, Harvard University biologists reconstructed the ant family tree using DNA sequencing of six genes from 139 representative ant genera, encompassing 19 of 20 ant subfamilies around the world.

Based on estimates drawn from numerous fossil records, the study shows that modern-day ants arose at least 40 million years earlier than previous estimates.

Led by biologists Corrie Moreau and Naomi Pierce of Harvard University, the researchers found that ants began to diversify only about 100 million years ago as flowering plants evolved along with plant-eating insects.

"Our results support the hypothesis that ants were able to capitalize on the ecological opportunities provided by flowering plants and the herbivorous insects that co-evolved with them," said Pierce. The herbivorous insects that evolved alongside flowering plants provided food for the ants.

"Ants are a dominant feature of nearly all terrestrial ecosystems, and yet we know surprisingly little about their evolutionary history: the major groupings of ants, how they are related to each other, and when and how they arose," said Moreau. "We now have a clear picture of how this extraordinarily dominant - in ecological terms - and successful - in evolutionary terms - group of insects originated and diversified."

Moreau, Pierce and colleagues used what they call a "molecular clock" calibrated with 43 fossils distributed throughout the ant family tree to date key events in the evolution of ants, providing a well-supported estimate for the age of modern lineages.

"This study integrates numerous fossil records and a large molecular data set to infer the evolutionary radiation of ants, which have deeper roots than we thought," said Chuck Lydeard, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research. The study was also supported by the Green Fund.

The researchers found that the poorly known ant subfamily Leptanillinae is the most ancient, followed by two broad groups known as the poneroids - predatory hunting ants - and the formicoids, that include species such as pavement ants and carpenter ants.

Other co-authors of the Science paper are Charles Bell at Florida State University and Roger Vila and S. Bruce Archibald in Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology.

* * *

Value of Insect Services in U.S. Tops $57 Billion Annually

ITHACA, New York, April 10, 2006 (ENS) - Think twice before you swat, stomp, curse or ignore insects, says Cornell University entomologist John Losey.

His research, published in the current issue of the journal "BioScience" shows that the dollar value of just four services provided by insects is worth more than $57 billion in the United States each year.

"Most insects tirelessly perform functions that improve our environment and lives in ways that scientists are only beginning to understand," Losey says. "Don't let the insects' small stature fool you - these minute marvels provide valuable services."

The study found that native insects are food for wildlife that supports a $50 billion recreation industry, provide more than $4.5 billion in pest control, pollinate $3 billion in crops and clean up grazing lands, which saves ranchers some $380 million a year.

And these are "very conservative" estimates that probably represent only a fraction of the true value, says Losey, associate professor of entomology at Cornell.

Losey co-authored the study with Mace Vaughan, a Cornell graduate, who now serves as conservation director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. The Xerces Society works to protect native insect habitats through education and research.

Insects are an integral part of a complex web of interactions that helps put food on our tables and remove our wastes. Humans, and probably most life on Earth, would perish without insects, Vaughan said.

"We know how to repair roads and other components of our physical infrastructure, but our biological infrastructure is vulnerable to degradation too," said Losey, an applied insect ecologist. "If we do not take care of it, it will break down and could seriously impact the economy."

"In fact in many places - crop pollination, for example - the cracks in the infrastructure are already showing," says Vaughn.

Using published data, the scientists compared the values of each service at current levels of function to theoretical levels if these serves were absent.

The analysis did not include such insect services as decomposing carcasses, garbage and trees - thereby decreasing the likelihood of forest fires. Also omitted from the study were the insect functions of producing honey, shellac, dyes and other products.

* * *

HBO Global Warming Documentary Set for Release on Earth Day

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, April 10, 2006 (ENS) - HBO will host a special premiere screening of the HBO global warming documentary "Too Hot Not to Handle" in Cambridge on Tuesday evening. The film will be shown on HBO on Earth Day, April 22.

The one hour documentary illustrates the effects of global warming in the United States and some of the solutions that are already taking place across the country.

The film features contributions from MIT and Harvard scientists. Both schools are based in Cambridge.

Guests at Tuesday's premiere include Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, who is featured in the film.

Daniel Schrag, professor of earth and planetary sciences and director of the Center for the Environment at Harvard University, will also attend the premiere as a special guest. Recipient of multiple scientific awards, Schrag, including a MacArthur genius grant, specializes in developing new ways of extracting information about past climates.

Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, will attend the premiere and discuss the global warming crisis and its effects on the United States.

The film's executive producer Laurie David says in an interview posted on the HBO website, "What's happening is that the scientists, who are the most cautious people on the planet, have now said that we have less than ten years to slow global warming down or else."

David said the motivation driving the project was "to try to reach as many people as possible with the urgency of what's going on, and how we're impacting our climate."

"A lot of misinformation has been spread about global warming, and it's been spread by special interests that have an agenda to keep the status quo," David said. "And I'm referring to the oil industry, the auto industry, the coal industry. It's been well-documented now that they've spent a lot of money to try to confuse people, to pose global warming as a theory rather than a fact."

"So a lot of people are either in complete denial, or they're in complete and total despair and they feel like, well, nothing can be done, it's too big a problem. But neither is true. The exciting thing about this problem is that all the solutions already exist to start solving this. And in 'Too Hot Not to Handle' we spend a lot of time talking about the solutions and showing what corporations are doing and individuals are doing and mayors are doing to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

HBO explains the reason for its interest in the documentary, saying, "Global warming is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, leading to problems such as melting glaciers, rising sea levels, catastrophic storms, migrating viruses, and population displacement. Over the past 100 years, the mass consumption of fossil fuels has contributed to a dangerous warming of the earth that has and will continue to adversely impact the way we live."

"It's more than an environmental issue; it's about our national security, it's about our public health," HBO warns. "It's an urgent matter of survival for everyone on the planet."

* * *