AmeriScan: August 6, 2007

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Western Forests Go Up in Smoke

HELENA, Montana, August 6, 2007 (ENS) - Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer declared a state of emergency Sunday to release resources that will help firefighters combat the 15 large fires burning across the state. A total of 227,729 acres has been consumed.

Several of the fires have rousted people from their homes and evacuation orders remain in effect for many of the large fires, and even some of the smaller ones are dangerous.

Structures, power lines, petroleum pipelines, and communication towers remain threatened by the Mile Marker 124 burning 19 miles southeast of Missoula in grass, mixed conifer forest, and open pine stands. The 6,230 acre fire is one of the smaller blazes, but it is believed to be human-caused, and an investigation is pending.

An emergency temporary closure is in place that encompasses the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area and parts of the Missouri River. The Montana National Guard is assisting with area security. The fire remains contained on the east shore of the Missouri River.

Fire officials are taking the most aggressive action possible given the red flag warning, difficult terrain, fire behavior, fuel and ground conditions, and limited resources on this 38,685 acre fire.

100 KV powerlines located east of the Gates of the Mountains fire remain a concern and have been prepared by Northwest Energy crews for a possible burnout. This lightning-sparked fire is considered to be 33 percent contained.

"Last year in Montana over one million acres burned," Governor Schweitzer wrote in an open editorial on his website. "With current conditions as grim as they are, the 2007 wildfire season is shaping up to be even more challenging. Given almost a decade of drought, our forests are extremely dry. Hot weather continues, and small, dry weather systems make fire activity unpredictable."

"The wildfires this summer are resisting control, more so than experts have ever experienced," said the governor. "I have already authorized state officials and the National Guard to spend money for aggressive initial early attack on fires. In many cases, even getting resources mobilized within an hour of detection isn't enough to keep these fires small."

Under these conditions, the governor asked Montanans to create defensible spaces around their homes, maintain a ready source of water from a supply that does not rely on electricity, and gather valuable and irreplaceable personal items in one place in case of evacuation. "Have an emergency plan," said the governor, "and be sure to have escape routes mapped out for your family, pets, and livestock."

Idaho has 12 large fires burning a total of 318,104 acres. Firefighters continue to mobilize to help with the western fire situation.

In California, a 63,350 acres wildfire about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles in Santa Barbara County has cost $50.3 million to fight since it started July 4 in the Los Padres National Forest. Fire officials say it was caused by human activity.

Known as the Zaca Fire, this blaze is burning in steep terrain covered with chaparral, oak, conifer woodland, and brush. The fire is considered 68 percent contained, and fire officials estimate it will not be completely contained until September 7.

Mandatory evacuations are still in effect for surrounding communities, and much of the Los Padres National Forest is closed. More than 2,300 people are fighting this fire.

Fire managers said Sunday, "The lack of access and rugged terrain require a long term strategy of both direct and indirect attack with contingency planning that is being implemented over a five to six week period."

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TXU to Cut Mercury at Coal, Nuclear Power Plants

DALLAS, Texas, August 6, 2007 (ENS) - TXU Power has partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of mercury at its Comanche Peak Steam Electric Station, a two-unit nuclear power plant about 80 miles southwest of downtown Dallas, Texas, the company and the EPA announced Friday.

The nuclear plant's managers have pledged to complete mercury reduction measures at the facility, located near Glen Rose, Texas, as part of the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities program.

Comanche Peak will replace instruments that contain mercury with mercury-free alternative products.

Mercury is a toxic chemical designated as one of 31 priority chemicals that the EPA wants to reduce in U.S. products and wastes. Exposure to mercury can cause serious health problems. Impacts on thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to mercury in the womb.

In June, TXU Power announced plans to install new activated carbon sorbent injection systems at all of the company’s existing coal-fueled generation units to reduce mercury emissions. TXU Power operates nine coal-fueled generation units at four plant locations.

The same sorbent injection systems are included as part of the Best Available Control Technology used in the three new units planned for Oak Grove and Sandow, Texas.

“TXU Power will install new mercury emissions controls on every coal-fueled generation unit in its system – the largest voluntary program ever undertaken in the nation,” said Mike Greene, chairman and CEO of TXU Power. “The reduction will start well ahead of the recently finalized federal rulemaking schedule.”

The mercury reduction plan meets with the approval of TXU Corp's new owners.

TXU Power, a subsidiary of TXU Corp., and Texas Energy Future Holdings Limited Partnership, the holding company formed by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Texas Pacific Group, as well as other investors are in the process of acquiring TXU Corp.

“After hearing directly from people across Texas, including elected officials and consumer and environmental groups, we reviewed TXU’s proposed mercury emissions controls program, and we encouraged TXU to move forward with this progressive program,” said William Reilly of Texas Pacific Group.

Reilly, a former EPA administrator, will join the board of directors of TXU after the sale closes.

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High Polonium-210 Levels Found in Nevada Wells

RENO, Nevada, August 6, 2007 (ENS) - Today, the U.S. Geological Survey is releasing to the public documents showing elevated levels of cancer-causing, radioactive polonium—210 in 17 wells in Lahontan Valley, near the town of Fallon, Nevada.

The study covers a rural area centered around the town of Fallon. Most of the 25 wells included in the study provide water for human and/or domestic animal consumption.

The public water supply for Fallon and the Fallon Naval Air Station are known to be safe and are not part of this study.

"All indications are that the elevated levels stem entirely from natural geologic causes within the Lahontan Valley," the USGS said. "There is no indication of any kind that this problem stems from any human activity."

The fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with Po-210 in 2006 has made the public aware that Po-210 can be acutely toxic. The amount of Po-210 that is thought to have killed the Russian dissident, writer and former FSB official was hundreds of millions of times greater than the amount that the public would be exposed to by drinking any well water in the Lahontan Valley, the USGS says.

This study, conducted in cooperation with the University of Nevada-Reno follows up on a previous study in support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, investigation of a cancer cluster identified by CDC in the late 1990s.

The USGS study assessed excess radioactivity in groundwater and confirmed that the excess radioactivity was due to polonium—210, Po—210.

The USGS study did not investigate linkages between the occurrence of Po—210 and the cancer cluster.

The USGS has a policy of informing the appropriate health officials and potentially affected individuals about findings that could impact public health, as soon as the USGS has full confidence in the quality of the data.

Each sampled well owner was sent a letter on August 2, with the results for their well or wells, directing them to the Lahontan Valley Information Line at 775-684-4256 and to the USGS for questions and concerns.

Full analysis and a final report on these findings are anticipated to be completed within a year.

At this time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has not established a drinking water standard specifically for Po-210 in public water supplies.

Po-210 is regulated only by the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level for gross alpha radioactivity, which is 15 pCi/L. Most of these samples had more than this gross alpha level from Po-210 alone.

The USGS is working with federal, state and local agencies to provide citizens of the Lahontan Valley with this new information about groundwater and guide them to the best possible advice about steps they should take to protect their health.

Except for a well in Louisiana, another well in Virginia, and about 35 wells in Florida, Po-210 concentrations exceeding the values in the Lahontan Valley wells have not been documented elsewhere in the United States.

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Army Staves Off Chemical Weapons Transport Challenge

TERRE HAUTE, Indiana, August 6, 2007 (ENS) - Citizens groups who sued to stop the shipment of VX chemical weapons disposal by-products from the Army's Newport, Indiana chemical weapons disposal facility to Port Arthur, Texas were denied the relief they sought.

Indiana federal judge Larry McKinney denied their motion for preliminary injunction in a 57-page decision handed down Friday.

"Needless to say, we're disappointed," said Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group based in Berea, Kentucky, one of the plaintiff organizations in the suit. Other plaintiffs were the Sierra Club as well as Indiana and Texas local groups.

The citizens groups plan to seek an immediate reconsideration by the judge on several issues, including the his apparent lack of a ruling on the claim that shipping such material is prohibited by federal law.

The U.S. Army agreed to temporarily suspend the shipments from Indiana to Texas while the federal court heard evidence in the lawsuit.

The toxic by-product at issue is VX hydrolysate, caustic wastewater created when VX nerve agent is destroyed by mixing it with sodium hydroxide and water at the U.S. Army's Newport Indiana Chemical Depot.

During the proceedings in Indianapolis, two government witnesses admitted that the material being shipped to Port Arthur was not considered "destroyed" under the international treaty, to which the United States is party. According to the treaty, if the material is not "destroyed" then it is still considered a chemical weapon.

"A 1994 federal statute forbids the interstate transportation of chemical weapons, therefore the shipment of this material is in violation of the law," said Williams. "And the judge did not specifically address this issue," he said.

"Other flaws in the ruling will require more in-depth consideration," said Williams, "but based on a preliminary read we feel numerous portions of the ruling are incorrect."

The citizens groups hope to have a motion for reconsideration before the judge early next week. If denied, they plan to appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

On April 5, 2007, the Army signed a $49 million contract with Veolia Environmental Services of Lombard, Illinois to provide final treatment of the caustic wastewater by incineration at its plant in Port Arthur, Texas.

The Army says that because the wastewater from the VX neutralization process is being transported to Veolia for final treatment, the United States receives credit for destruction of the Newport stockpile under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"Once the VX hydrolysate is offloaded from the intermodal transport containers into the mixing tanks at Veolia, it is credited towards the U.S. agent destruction totals," the Army said in a statement.

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Canned French Cut Green Beans Recalled for Botulism

WASHINGTON, DC, August 6, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, is warning consumers not to eat certain brands of French Cut Green Beans in 14.5 ounce cans manufactured by Lakeside Foods Inc, of Manitowoc, Wisconsin because the product may not have been processed adequately to eliminate the potential for botulism toxin.

The canned green beans may cause botulism if consumed. The botulism toxin is very potent, and botulism is a life-threatening illness.

Lakeside Foods has informed the FDA that it is voluntarily recalling all of the potentially contaminated products.

This warning is not related to another recent warning for botulism and canned beans and chili hot dog sauce.

FDA is providing this warning to make consumers aware of the possible risk of serious illness from eating these products. As of August 1, 2007, FDA had not received reports of illnesses related to the product.

The affected Lakeside cut green beans are sold nationwide under the following labels: Albertson's, Happy Harvest, Best Choice, Food Club, Bogopa, Valu Time, Hill Country Fare, HEB, Laura Lynn, Kroger, No Name, North Pride, Shop N Save, Shoppers Valu, Schnucks, Cub Foods, Dierbergs, Flavorite, IGA, Best Choice and Thrifty Maid.

The specific codes (top line of can code) involved are: EAA5247, EAA5257, EAA5267, EAA5277, EAB5247, EAB5257, ECA5207, ECA5217, ECA5227, ECA5297, ECB5207, ECB5217, ECB5227, ECB5307.

Consumers who have any of these products or any foods made with these products should dispose of them immediately, the FDA says. If the code on an affected can is missing or unreadable, consumers should throw the product out.

Symptoms of botulism can begin from six hours to two weeks after eating food that contains the toxin. The symptoms may include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness that moves progressively down the body, affecting the shoulders first then descending to the upper arms, lower arms, thighs, and calves.

Botulism also may cause paralysis of the breathing muscles, which can result in death unless mechanical ventilation is provided. Individuals who show these symptoms and who may have recently eaten the product should seek immediate medical attention.

Lakeside Foods recommends that consumers with any questions or concerns about the recall should call the company at 800-466-3834 ext. 4090.

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Feds Raise the Bar for Energy Star Refrigerators

WASHINGTON, DC, August 6, 2007 (ENS) – Refrigerators carrying the federal government's Energy Star® energy efficiency label are going to have to be more efficient in the future.

The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, announced Friday that in order to qualify for the label now, full-size refrigerators must be a minimum of 20 percent more efficient than current standards, an increase from the existing 15 percent minimum.

The new criteria, drafted with input from stakeholders and two rounds of public comments, will go into effect on April 28, 2008. Freezers and compact refrigerators are not included in these new criteria.

“More stringent Energy Star criteria for refrigerators means more consumers can make smart energy choices and help further the Nation's goal of increasing efficiency, resulting in real and significant energy savings,” said DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner.

The DOE projects that 2.2 million Energy Star qualified refrigerators will be sold in the first year after the criteria take effect next April.

As a result, the DOE estimates families will save up to $23.5 million annually on their electric bills, and over 230 million kilowatt hours of energy - enough to light every household in Washington, DC, for more than five months.

Current Energy Star qualified refrigerators use 65 percent less energy than refrigerator models in 1980.

DOE estimates that any increase in product price for an Energy Star qualified refrigerator would be offset within three to five years from the time of purchase by reduced electricity bills.

Energy Star is a joint DOE-EPA program, formed in 1992 as a voluntary, market-based partnership that seeks to reduce air pollution through increased energy efficiency.

The Energy Star label appears on more than 40 kinds of consumer products. To learn more about Energy Star, and to view the revised program requirements, visit the Energy Star website or call 1-888-STAR-YES.

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Cleaner Cargo Trucks Coming to Port of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, California, August 6, 2007 (ENS) - The mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach joined shipping industry executives Friday to jump-start a 12 month program that will replace dirty diesel freight trucks with a “green port fleet." The new fleet will initially include 20 new Kenworth trucks powered by liquid natural gas, LNG

Sponsors of the event, staged at the Yusen container terminal at the Port of Los Angeles, were Target Stores, NYK Steamship Lines, and Total Transportation Services, TTSI.

TTSI President Vic La Rosa announced his company’s commitment to create a “totally green truck fleet” over the next year to support major shippers, including Target, the second largest goods importer to the United States.

La Rosa explained that funding grants from the San Pedro Bay Ports and the South Coast Air Quality Management District will help offset the cost of the new trucks.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, “Forty-three percent of all cargo entering the United States comes through the international gateway of the San Pedro Bay Ports - cargo valued at hundreds of billions of dollars. Los Angeles reaps the economic benefit of this, but emissions from dirty diesel drayage trucks are a major source of hazardous pollution which must be addressed.”

He commended private industry representatives on hand at the event for their commitment to help clean the air by removing dirty diesel trucks from their fleets.

Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster recapped key provisions of the San Pedro Bay Ports’ landmark Clean Air Action Plan, with its goal of deploying 5,300 clean-burning LNG-powered drayage trucks over time. “This will go a long way to help us reduce the negative health effects of diesel pollution in our community," he said.

Mayor Foster thanked the publicly traded natural gas provider Clean Energy for building the fueling stations and the infrastructure to fuel the new LNG trucks.

Clean Energy has committed to build and supply three new natural gas fueling stations that will be conveniently accessible to Port cargo container trucks powered by LNG.

Clean Energy says 14,000 natural gas vehicles are now fueling at its locations across the United States, including refuse, transit, shuttle, taxi, trucking, airport and municipal fleets.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.