- AmeriScan: August 21, 2003 Environment News Service (ENS)
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AmeriScan: August 21, 2003

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Anniston PCB Cases Settled for $700 Million

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, August 21, 2003 (ENS) - Monsanto and its spin off Solutia agreed Wednesday to pay $700 million to settle lawsuits over polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) pollution in Anniston, Alabama. The deal, announced Wednesday in federal district court in Birmingham, Alabama, settles two cases involving some 20,000 plaintiffs.

If the parties enter final agreement on August 26, the settlement will require the two companies to pay $600 million in cash payments and more than $100 million for cleanup, prescription drugs and other programs to aid the Anniston communities.

Monsanto produced PCBs at its plant in Anniston from the 1929 to 1971. The company released tens of thousands of pounds of the dangerous chemical into local creeks and buried millions of pounds in a hillside landfill during production.

PCBs were banned in the United States in the 1977 and are among the "dirty dozen" chemical contaminants slated for global phase-out under the United Nations treaty on persistent organic pollutants. PCBs are highly persistent, and they have been linked to cancer and impaired fetal brain development.

Attorneys in the federal case said they uncovered internal company documents from the 1930s that indicate Monsanto was aware of the health hazards of PCBs but did not share these with Anniston residents.

The plaintiffs - some 17,000 in a federal case and 3,500 in a state case - were primarily homeowners and residents of the west Anniston neighborhood near the plant.

Solutia was spun off in 1997 and took on liability for PCB litigation.

Under the settlement agreement, Solutia will provide $50 million over time, commercial insurance will provide approximately $160 million of the cash settlement, and Monsanto will provide approximately $390 million in cash.

"We are glad to have this litigation behind us as it removes a burden for the company, its employees and stakeholders - and the community of Anniston, Alabama," said Solutia Chief Executive Officer John Hunter. "This settlement puts the company in a better position in the coming months to refinance its bank facility and to address upcoming bond maturities, pension funding obligations and other legacy liabilities."

Solutia executives said the settlement may allow the company to avoid bankruptcy. The company settled a previous federal case for its PCB contamination in Anniston and a case involving waterway pollution for some $44 million.

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Judge Upholds Permit for Cape Wind Data Tower

BOSTON, Massachusetts, August 21, 2003 (ENS) - A federal judge has rejected an appeal of opponents to invalidate a permit for a scientific data tower that is being used to gather information for a proposed wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod.

Cape Wind Associates, which has proposed building a 130 turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound, received a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August 2002 to build a 197 foot test tower some five miles from the coast. The tower became operation in May 2003.

Opponents of the project sued to invalidate the federal permit, arguing that Cape Wind needed a state permit to build the tower because the state of Massachusetts controls all fisheries in Nantucket Sound.

In a ruling made late Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro said the law did not support that claim.

Cape Wind President Jim Gordon hailed the ruling and says his company is working hard to provide as much objective scientific evidence about the project as possible.

"Attempts like this failed lawsuit of our opponents represent an effort to stifle scientific research and informed debate on the merits of this important project," said Gordon.

Opponents to the wind farm are expected to appeal Tauro's ruling and the controversy over the project shows little sign of disappearing. There is a pending lawsuit by opponents who say the Army Corps had no authority to grant the permit without imposing strict guidelines on the construction of the tower.

The proposed wind farm could generate half of the total energy needed to power Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. But opponents believe the 400 foot turbines would ruin some of the nation's most spectacular coastal views and would cause irreparable harm to the sea floor and to wildlife.

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West Nile Found in California

DAVIS, California, August 21, 2003 (ENS) - The California Department of Health Services announced Wednesday the first evidence of West Nile virus in the state this year.

Tests conducted by the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) showed that mosquitoes collected in Imperial County near the Salton Sea were carrying the virus. The mosquitoes were collected by UC Davis staff researchers in the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area, on the southeast rim of the Salton Sea, a 376 square mile lake in the southeastern corner of California.

They were tested by laboratory staff members at the UC Davis Center for Vectorborne Diseases.

The state health department also said that preliminary tests at state laboratories showed that flocks of sentinel chickens from the same region are likely infected with West Nile Virus.

The blood tests indicate that the chickens, which are kept in flocks outdoors, were bitten by mosquitoes infected with West Nile or a closely related virus, the health department said.

"During the 2003 season we have tested more than 5,000 groups of 1 to 50 mosquitoes each, as well as tissue samples from birds and other animals, for the presence of West Nile virus," said John Edman, director of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases and a UC Davis professor of medical entomology. "All were negative until Tuesday, when we discovered West Nile virus in this group of 27 Culex tarsalis mosquitoes we collected near the Salton Sea."

According to UC Davis scientists, Culex tarsalis is the species of mosquito found in the United States that transmits West Nile virus most effectively. There are some 200 mosquito species in the United States.

West Nile virus first appeared in the United States in 1999. The disease is most prevalent during the peak mosquito season which is expected to begin in July and end in October.

While the virus often presents as a mild infection that clears without further treatment, some patients develop severe infection resulting in neurological disease and even death.

Last year more than 4,000 cases were reported with the virus reaching 44 states, including California.

Some 715 human cases of illness from West Nile have been reported in the United States this year with 14 deaths. Colorado has been hit hardest by the virus this year, with 264 confirmed cases and six deaths.

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Space Research Could Offer Mercury Solution

GAINESVILLE, Florida, August 21, 2003 (ENS) - Efforts to reduce mercury pollution from coal fired power plants and other industrial sources may benefit from a new approach to removing the toxic metal that was pioneered as part of research for the space program.

A team of environmental engineers at the University of Florida (UF) says they have found a way to use ultraviolet light and silica to sponge mercury from smokestack emissions.

The technology was developed as part of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sponsored project to engineer a better way to treat and reuse water aboard the International Space Station.

"The system we developed for the space station was working well, so we started to question if it would serve other applications," said David Mazyck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering. "That is when we discovered the application for mercury."

The UF team believes the process is potentially more efficient and less costly than the current technology for reducing mercury pollution, which relies on activated carbon.

Mazyck and two UF colleagues have authored a paper on their innovation, which has been accepted for publication in the "Journal of Nanoparticle Research." A publication date is not yet set.

Mercury pollution from coal fired power plants has emerged as an important part of the ongoing debate over the nation's clean air laws. The nation's 1,140 coal-fired power plants release some 50 tons of mercury each year and the toxic metal is proven to pose a health risk to humans, in particular children.

Coal fired power plants currently emit some 48 tons of mercury each year - the Bush's administration's air pollution plan, known as "Clear Skies," sets industry caps of 26 tons in 2010 and 15 tons in 2018.

Critics of the plan say that the current regulatory process, which calls for the EPA to develop a regulation using most available control technology would call for a 90 percent reduction in emissions by 2007.

Industry representatives are more supportive of the President's plan, but contend that technology to reduce mercury pollution is not commercially available and is too costly.

The technology developed by the UF team could alter that. It relies on silica particles implanted with a photocatalyst, a chemical that reacts with ultraviolet light. When the light shines on the catalyst, it causes a chemical reaction that produces molecules called hydroxyl radicals. These molecules "clean" the water and regenerate the silica. That allows reuse of the silica to remove more toxins, which can be used again several more times.

Tests of a small, experimental mercury control system show the technology also works to cut mercury pollution in airborne emissions, Mazyck said, and reveal that silica adsorbs 10 times more mercury than activated carbon.

The UF researchers have a patent pending on the process and have formed a company, Sol-gel Power Technologies, to develop the technology.

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Florida Men Sentenced for Leopard Skin Smuggling

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, August 21, 2003 (ENS) - Two men arrested for conducting a leopard skin smuggling operation were sentenced this week in the U.S. District Court for North Florida. The two men - Roderick Richardson of Tallahassee and Josue Fekwa of Cameroon, Africa - were arrested after a package containing the leopard skins was intercepted by the Tallahassee Police Department.

According to law enforcement officers, Fekwa smuggled the leopard skins into the United States from Africa and eventually agreed to sell them to Richardson.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Mickle sentenced Richardson to six months house arrest, three years probation, and a $500 fine, for purchasing and receiving wildlife illegally smuggled into the United States in violation of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Richardson had pled guilty to a felony Lacey Act charge for receiving, acquiring, and purchasing wildlife knowing it had been unlawfully taken and imported into the United States. He also pled guilty to a misdemeanor ESA violation involving the unlawful receipt of endangered species during the course of a commercial activity

Fekwa was sentenced to six months house arrest, three years probation, and a $750 fine after being convicted of selling the illegally smuggled leopard skins in interstate commerce in the course of a commercial activity.

"This smuggling case illustrates how cooperation between federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other law enforcement agencies, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Tallahassee Police Department's Narcotics Interdiction Team, can uncover interstate and international criminal operations," said Andrew Aloise, a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Wildlife cases are often linked with other types of crime."

Leopards and other species are protected under the ESA through an international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The United States is one of 163 nations currently party to the CITES treaty.

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Mother Nature Shows the Way to Better Fiber Optics

MURRAY HILL, New Jersey, August 21, 2003 (ENS) - A deep sea sponge contains optical fiber that is remarkably similar to the optical fiber found in today's state of the art telecommunications networks, according to scientists from Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs.

And the sponge's glass fiber, designed through the course of evolution, may possess certain technological advantages over industrial optical fiber, the scientists report in today's issue of the journal "Nature."

"We believe this novel biological optical fiber may shed light upon new bio inspired processes that may lead to better fiber optic materials and networks," said Joanna Aizenberg, the Bell Labs materials scientist who led the research team. "Mother Nature's ability to perfect materials is amazing, and the more we study biological organisms, the more we realize how much we can learn from them."

The sponge in the study, Euplectella, lives in the depths of the ocean in the tropics and grows to about half a foot in length.

Commonly known as the Venus Flower Basket, it has an intricate cylindrical meshlike skeleton of glassy silica. At the base of the sponge's skeleton is a tuft of fibers that extends outward like an inverted crown. Typically, these fibers are between two and seven inches long and about the thickness of a human hair.

Experiments showcased how the biological fibers of the sponge conducted light beautifully when illuminated, and used the same optical principles that modern engineers have used to design industrial optical fiber.

"These biological fibers bear a striking resemblance to commercial telecommunications fibers, as they use the same material and have similar dimensions," said Aizenberg.

Though these natural bio-optical fibers do not have the high transparency needed for modern telecommunication networks, the Bell Labs researchers found that these fibers do have a big advantage in that they are extremely resilient to cracks and breakage. One of the main causes for outages in commercial optical fiber is fracture resulting from crack growth within the fiber.

The sponge's solution is to use an organic sheath to cover the biological fiber, Aizenberg and her colleagues discovered.

"These bio-optical fibers are extremely tough," she said. "You could tie them in tight knots and, unlike commercial fiber, they would still not crack. Maybe we can learn how to improve on existing commercial fiber from studying these fibers of the Venus Flower Basket."

Aizenberg notes that another advantage of these biological fibers is that they are formed by chemical deposition at the temperature of seawater. By contrast, commercial optical fiber is produced with the help of a high-temperature furnace and expensive equipment.

"If we can learn from nature, there may be an alternative way to manufacture fiber in the future," Aizenberg said.

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An Unsettling View of Deep Earth

ROCHESTER, New York, August 21, 2003 (ENS) - The deep Earth may be more unsettled than long believed, according to a new study from scientists at the University of Rochester.

The study, based on results from an expedition to the sea floor near the Hawaiian Islands, suggests that the long chain of islands and seamounts was formed in part by a moving plume of magma. This upsets the prevailing theory that plumes have been unmoving fixtures in Earth's history, according to the study, which will be published in the August 22 issue of "Science."

"Mobile magma plumes force us to reassess some of our most basic assumptions about the way the mantle operates," said John Tarduno, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University. "We have relied on them for a long time as unwavering markers, but now we'll have to redefine our understanding of global geography."

The islands were thought to have formed as the massive Pacific plate - the largest single section of Earth's crust - moved sluggishly between the Americas and Asia. A plume, or "hot spot," brought super heated magma from deep in the Earth to close to the crust, resulting in concentrated areas of volcanic activity.

As the Pacific plate moved across this hot spot, the plume created a long series of islands and subsurface mountains. Though this chain of seamounts seemed like a perfect record of Pacific plate movement, a strange bend in the chain, dated at about 47 million years ago, raised questions.

Tarduno and an international team spent two months aboard the ocean drilling ship JOIDES Resolution, retrieving samples of rock from the Emperor-Hawaiian seamount chain miles beneath the sea's surface. Rocks retrieved in 1980 and 1992 hinted that the seamounts were not conforming to expectations.

The team started at the northern end of the chain, near Japan, and worked their way south. They discovered that the magnetism of the cores did not fit with conventional wisdom of fixed hotspots.

The magnetization of the lavas recovered from the northern end of the Emperor-Hawaiian chain suggested these rocks were formed much farther north than the current hotspot, which is forming Hawaii today.

The scientists explain that if the Hawaiian hot spot had always been fixed at its current location of 19 degrees north, then all the rocks of the entire chain should have formed and cooled there. This would have preserved the magnetic signature of 19 degrees even as the plate dragged the new stones north westward.

But Tarduno's team found that the more northern their samples, the higher their latitude. The northern most lavas they recovered were formed above 30 degrees north about 80 million years ago, nearly a thousand miles from where the hot spot currently lies.

"The only way to account for these findings is if the Pacific plate was almost stationary for a time while the magma plume was moving south," says Rory Cottrell, research scientist and coauthor of the paper. "At some point about 45 million years ago, it seems that the plume stopped moving and the plate began."

At the mysterious bend in the chain the magnetite latitude readings level off to 19 degrees, suggesting that for some reason the magma plume stopped dead in its tracks.

"Why the hot spot stopped moving south, and whether this is related to the Pacific plate suddenly moving, is something we would all like to discover," says Tarduno. "There has been a quiet controversy about hot spot motion for 30 years because some people thought the accepted theory was not adding up. This study answers a lot of questions."

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USDA Dedicates New Vegetable Laboratory

CHARLESTON, South Carolina, August 21, 2003 (ENS) - Vegetable research took center stage Wednesday at the dedication of a new vegetable research facility in Charleston, South Carolina. The center will afford scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Clemson University new tools to study and develop new varieties of vegetables for farmers and consumers.

The new complex provides research and office space for 20 scientists - 13 from USDA's Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) U.S. Vegetable Laboratory located here, and seven from the university. The ARS is USDA's chief in house scientific research agency.

"Combining the regional USDA and Clemson research staffs into one facility will optimize the use of equipment and other resources, and will stimulate cooperative interaction between the department and the university," said Rodney Brown, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, during a dedication ceremony with state and local officials.

"The Clemson Center and the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory are already internationally recognized for their distinguished research programs on important vegetable crops," Brown said. "The new facility will further expand scientists' capabilities to perform excellent studies that will have a significant impact on agriculture worldwide."

Researchers with the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory include plant geneticists, physiologists, pathologists, entomologists, nematologists and weed scientists.

According to the USDA, this laboratory has developed and released more than 160 improved vegetable varieties and breeding lines. The Clemson Center has developed and released more than 40.

Many of these improved vegetables have gained recognition and acceptance, including Charleston Gray and Congo watermelons, Planter's Jumbo cantaloupe, Goldcoast snap bean, and the Homestead tomato.

The new facility replaces many of the old buildings housing the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory and Clemson University's Coastal Research and Education Center.

Containing all the offices, laboratories and other physical plant requirements to support the two research staffs and allow for some expansion, the complex represents the first phase of a new research facility.

The project has cost $20.5 million thus far - another phase to add 55,8000 square feet of headhouse and greenhouse area is planned.

The laboratory is one of 17 research facilities in ARS' South Atlantic Area, which includes Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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