AmeriScan: December 7, 2005

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Earth's Ozone Hole Slightly Larger Than Last Year

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2005 (ENS) - NASA researchers, using data from the agency's Aura satellite, have determined the seasonal ozone hole that developed over Antarctica this year is a little larger than it was in 2004 but smaller than in previous years.

This year's ozone hole measured 9.4 million square miles at its peak between September and mid-October, which was slightly larger than last year's peak.

The size of the ozone hole in 1998, the largest ever recorded, averaged 10.1 million square miles.

For 10 of the past 12 years, the Antarctic ozone hole has been larger than 7.7 million square miles. Before 1985, it measured less than 4 million square miles.

NASA's 2005 assessment of the size and thickness of the ozone layer was the first based on observations from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on the Aura spacecraft. Aura was launched in 2004.

hole

The ozone hole over Antarctica, shown in dark blue, was a little larger than last year at its peak. It has now begun to break up and will fade away between now and next year's peak. (Photo courtesy NASA)
The protective ozone layer over Antarctica annually undergoes a seasonal change, but since the first satellite measurements in 1979, the ozone hole has gotten larger. Human-produced chlorine and bromine chemicals can lead to the destruction of ozone in the stratosphere. By international agreement, these chemicals were banned in 1995, and their levels in the atmosphere are decreasing, NASA said.

Another factor in how much ozone is destroyed each year is the temperature of the air high in the atmosphere. As with temperatures on the ground, some years are colder than others. When the stratosphere is colder, more ozone is destroyed.

The 2005 ozone hole was approximately 386,000 square miles larger than it would have been in a year with normal temperatures, because it was colder than average. Only twice in the last decade has the ozone hole shrunk to the size it typically was in the late 1980s. Those years, 2002 and 2004, were the warmest of the period.

Scientists also measure how much ozone there is in the atmosphere from the ground to space.

The thickness of the Antarctic ozone layer was the third highest of the last decade, as measured by the lowest reading recorded during the year. The level was 102 Dobson Units, the system of measurement designated to gauge ozone thickness - about one-half as thick as the layer before 1980 during the same time of year.

The Ozone Monitoring Instrument is the latest in a series of ozone observing instruments flown by NASA over the last two decades. This instrument provides a more detailed view of ozone and is also able to monitor chemicals involved in ozone destruction.

The instrument is a contribution to the mission from the Netherlands' Agency for Aerospace Programs in collaboration with the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute is the principal investigator on the instrument.

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Toxic Sludge Pervades Hurricane Struck Gulf Coast

NEW IBERIA, Louisiana, December 7, 2005 (ENS) - Arsenic, heavy metals, dioxins, salmonella, staphylococcus, mold, and E. coli bacteria are among the toxic substances found in tests on soil samples taken in Mississippi and Alabama communities hit by Hurricane Katrina.

The tests, conducted by award winning chemist Wilma Subra, president of the Subra Company, Inc. of New Iberia, Louisiana, showed that many of the pollution problems found in New Orleans are prevalent throughout the Gulf Coast region.

"The sediment sludge carried on the land by the storm surge is contaminated by heavy metals and a host of microorganisms, all of which are known to cause acute and chronic impacts on public health," said Subra.

"There is a need to determine extent of that contamination and establish a plan to remove the contaminants in order to prevent residents and workers from being harmfully exposed," she said.

The independent testing was funded by a grant from the Jennifer Altman Foundation and processed by Altamont Environmental Inc. of Asheville, North Carolina.

The results showed high levels of arsenic at nearly every site tested with the highest levels at the Bay Bridge in Alabama more than 90 times higher than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems safe.

The highest arsenic levels in Mississippi were at Moss Point on Elder Ferry Road near the site of the former Rohm & Haas chemical plant, Big Lake in Gulfport, and Pearlington in Hancock County. All three sites were 27 times over the EPA arsenic limits.

There were also unsafe levels of arsenic near the DeLisle Elementary School near the DuPont chemical plant in Mississippi's Harrison County. Testing also showed unsafe levels of dioxin, barium, chromium, lead and mercury at the school and immediately outside the chemical plant.

Local concerns about pollution from the DuPont DeLisle facility before the hurricane worsened after Katrina buried the plant in at least seven feet of floodwaters, but the EPA has not done any testing at the plant itself or at the schools and residences nearby.

"There are around 1,200 students at DeLisle Elementary, many of them brought in from other schools that were damaged or destroyed by Katrina," said Becky Gillette, co-chair of the Sierra Club's Mississippi Chapter.

"The EPA and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality should step up to protect the safety of these children by conducting additional testing to determine if exposing the students to these soils causes long-term health hazards," Gillette said.

The test results were made public Tuesday during a press teleconference hosted by the Sierra Club together with Subra, Dr. Peter deFur of Environmental Stewardship Concepts, and Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN).

Dr. deFur expressed concern that "once the sludge dries, it can become airborne dust, carrying with it the metals and pathogens." Those at greatest risk of dust exposure are children, who are lower to the ground, and people, such as cleanup workers, who are exerting themselves and breathing hard, he warned.

"We tested a layer of sludge that was not there prior to Hurricane Katrina. The sludge was dry, but the organisms were still viable," said Subra. "Some government officials feel that once the sludge dries up, the organisms are dead. But that isn’t the case here. When people are out walking in their yards and streets, they are inhaling these particles that contain microorganisms that are still unsafe."

The Sierra Club is urging the EPA to conduct additional testing outside the fence line of the DuPont chemical facility, in residential areas and in schools. Air conditioning filters inside schools that have not been replaced since Katrina should be analyzed then replaced with new ones.

Experts at LEAN say residents returning to these neighborhoods must avoid contact with the contaminated sludge and they caution seniors, small children and pregnant women to stay away from these areas. It is also recommended that residents obtain recovery kits that include Tyvek suits, respirators, gloves, smocks and other protective equipment before returning to these areas.

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FutureGen Coal Gas Plant Could Produce Clean Power By 2012

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2005 (ENS) - Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced Tuesday that the Department of Energy has signed an agreement with the multinational FutureGen Industrial Alliance to build FutureGen, a prototype of the fossil-fueled power plant of the future.

The nearly $1 billion coal fired government-industry power plant will produce electricity and hydrogen with zero-emissions, including carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

At the core of the project will be coal-gasification technologies that can eliminate air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides and convert them to useable by-products such as fertilizers and soil enhancers. Mercury pollutants will also be removed.

The announcement marks the official launch of the FutureGen Project. Over the next year, site selection, design activities, and environmental analyses will lay the groundwork for final project design, construction, and operation.

“This agreement places the Alliance members among the world’s most responsible and forward-thinking coal and energy companies,” Secretary Bodman said. “The prototype plant will be a stepping-stone toward future coal-fired power plants that not only will produce hydrogen and electricity with zero-emissions, but will operate with some of the most advanced, cutting-edge technologies.”

The FutureGen Industrial Alliance will contribute $250 million to the project.

Current Alliance members are: American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio; BHP Billiton of Melbourne, Australia; CONSOL Energy Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Foundation Coal of Linthicum Heights, Maryland; China Huaneng Group of Beijing, China; Kennecott Energy of Gillette, Wyoming; Peabody Energy of St. Louis, Missouri; and Southern Company of Atlanta, Georgia.

The Industrial Alliance plans to issue a site selection solicitation in early 2006, to develop a short list of the most qualified candidate sites by mid-2006, and to make a final site selection in mid to late 2007.

FutureGen will initiate operations around 2012 and virtually every aspect of the prototype plant will be based on cutting-edge technology. The project will integrate testing of emerging energy supply and utilization technologies as well as advanced carbon capture and sequestration systems.

Technologies planned for testing at the prototype plant could provide future electric power generation with zero-emissions that is only 10 percent higher in cost than today's electricity.

Coal will be turned into a highly enriched hydrogen gas, which can be burned more cleanly than directly burning the coal itself. The hydrogen also can be used in a fuel cell to produce ultra-clean electricity, or fed to a refinery to help upgrade petroleum products.

FutureGen will be designed to capture carbon dioxide and sequester it in deep underground geologic formations. No other power plant in the world has been built with this capability. The initial goal will be to capture 90 percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide, but capture of nearly 100 percent may be possible with advanced technologies.

Once captured, the carbon dioxide will be injected as a compressed fluid deep underground, perhaps into saline reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface of much of the United States. It could be injected into oil or gas reservoirs, or into unmineable coal seams, to enhance petroleum or coalbed methane recovery. Once trapped in these formations, the greenhouse gas would be permanently isolated from the atmosphere.

The project will include a measurement and monitoring effort to verify the efficacy of carbon sequestration.

The FutureGen plant will be sized to generate approximately 275 megawatts of electricity, which is roughly equivalent to a medium-size coal-fired power plant and sufficient to supply electricity to approximately 275,000 average U.S. households.

The ultimate goal for the FutureGen plant is to show how new technology can eliminate environmental concerns over the future use of coal and allow the nation to tap the full potential of its coal reserves. Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel in the United States with supplies projected to last 250 years or more and is the workhorse of the United States’ electric power sector, supplying more than half of the electricity the nation consumes.

The FutureGen Initiative was initially announced by President George W. Bush in February 2003. The project is being funded through the Department’s Office of Fossil Energy and will be managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

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$2.7 Billion for Voluntary Agricultural Conservation Released Early

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2005 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has released nearly $2.7 billion earmarked for fiscal year 2006 for voluntary conservation programs on working lands. "The early release of these funds will give producers time to develop effective conservation plans and help them to improve their land," Johanns said.

States will receive their allocations much earlier than in the past. The funds' early release ensures farmers and ranchers in the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Basin have more time to make sound decisions regarding their conservation practices, the secretary said.

"Conservation on private lands is an important priority for USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture], said Johanns. "We are fulfilling that commitment by responding to the needs of agricultural producers to provide more certainty and predictability in their environmental stewardship decisions before planting season begins."

Fiscal year 2006 allocations include nearly $1.3 billion in technical assistance and about $1.4 billion in financial assistance for NRCS voluntary conservation programs and other activities. A total of more than $2.3 billion will be distributed to the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Basin.

With financial and technical assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency that is part of the USDA, farmers, ranchers and other landowners will address resource concerns on agricultural working lands, promote environmental quality, address challenges in water quality and quantity, protect prime farmland and grazing lands and protect valuable wetlands ecosystems and wildlife habitat.

Key voluntary conservation programs and allocations include:

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Users of Radioactive Materials Must Implement Stricter Controls

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2005 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and state regulators have issued legally binding requirements to licensees to implement increased controls over radioactive materials in certain “quantities of concern.” The licensees use radioactive materials in medical, industrial and academic applications.

The requirements are the first part of a cooperative effort, announced in September, between the NRC and the 33 Agreement States to enhance controls of radioactive materials that could potentially be of use to terrorists.

Agreement States are those that regulate the medical, industrial and academic uses of radioactive materials under agreements with the NRC.

The NRC’s Order to its licensees was published December 1 in the Federal Register. As of December 2, the Agreement States have issued the increased controls to their licensees. Approximately 2,200 licensees nationwide have received the requirements.

“This effort demonstrates close cooperation between federal and state agencies toward the common goal of protecting public health and safety in the productive use of radioactive materials,” said Jack Strosnider Jr., director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Materials Safety and Safeguards.

"The 33 Agreement States have done a tremendous job in rapidly issuing increased controls that were essentially identical to NRC’s requirements,” said Janet Schlueter, director of the NRC’s Office of State and Tribal Programs.

"Like the NRC, the states recognize the critical importance of enhancing control of certain radioactive materials," said Schleuter.

Licensees must complete implementation of the required measures within 180 days of receiving them, or the first day they possess quantities of concern, whichever is later.

The effort is consistent with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Code of Conduct for the Safety and Security of Radioactive Materials, which is the internationally recognized standard for categorizing and protecting radioactive materials.

Additional information about the increased controls, including guidance to licensees, is available from the NRC’s electronic document database, ADAMS, by entering ML053130241 at this address on the agency’s Web site: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams/web-based.html.

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Two Oil Companies Settle New Jersey Groundwater Damage Claims

TRENTON, New Jersey, December 7, 2005 (ENS) - The state of New Jersey has concluded separate agreements with Chevron U.S.A. Inc. and ConocoPhillips Company to preserve four land parcels covering nearly 450 acres in Morris and Sussex counties as compensation to the public for groundwater pollution at several hundred gas stations and oil processing facilites.

“These settlements continue a trend of major firms voluntarily resolving their natural resource damage liabilities in New Jersey,” said Acting Governor Richard Codey. “Today’s land conservation victories help preserve our water supplies for future generations as we reverse pollution trends of past decades.”

What state officials call “resource-to-resource” form of compensation avoids costly litigation and instead focuses on restoration and land preservation projects.

DEP uses this method for companies that voluntarily approach the state willing to settle natural resource damage liability. In the resource-to-resource compensation model, settling companies must protect an area of land with a high aquifer recharge rate that is equivalent to the acreage of groundwater polluted.

“New Jersey’s success in pursuing natural resource damage claims can be measured by the more than 4,600 acres of watershed and wildlife habitat preserved,” said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell, making the announcement today. “These agreements illustrate our strong preference for restoration rather than monetary settlements.”

At 200 sites, Chevron’s liability covered 282 acres of injury to groundwater. Chevron also had partial liability at several other sites involving groundwater contamination.

Chevron will be donating a 200 acre property in Hackettstown to DEP and will be funding the purchase of a 165 acre property in Franklin Township through the Green Acres program.

The Hackettstown property is in the Highlands and adjacent to Allamuchy and Stephens state parks. The land, which contains forested wetlands, grasslands and streams, contains the highest ground water recharge rates in the state.

Chevron also will restore and deed restrict 11 acres of salt marsh along Woodbridge Creek in Perth Amboy, as well as pay the department's assessment costs.

ConocoPhillips’ liability at 43 sites statewide involves contaminating 73.6 acres of groundwater. ConocoPhillips will fund the purchase of two properties that total 73 acres through Green Acres program in Sparta and Vernon townships in Sussex County. Both properties have high ground water recharge value.

ConocoPhillips also will pay DEP's assessment costs for this settlement.

DEP is working with the two companies to remediate discharges of hazardous substances to groundwater at their sites throughout the state that were impacted by various underground storage tank and fuel processing activities.

The proposed natural resource damage settlements with Chevron and ConocoPhillips will appear in the December 19, 2005 issue of the "New Jersey Register" and will be subject to a 30 day public comment period.

DEP’s preferred voluntary settlement track has resulted in the settlement of natural resource damages at 1,200 hazardous sites. The total preserved wildlife habitat and aquifer recharge area is more than 4,660 acres, Campbell says. In addition, the DEP and the Attorney General’s Office have recovered approximately $30.5 million since 2002.

Natural resource damage claims are separate from the costs associated with cleaning up contamination. New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act makes any entity that has discharged hazardous substances onto the land or into the waters of the state liable for both cleanup and for natural resource injuries.

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Hawaii Army Bases to Feature 3,000 Homes With Solar Power

HONOLULU, Hawaii, December 7, 2005 (ENS) - Solar panels will power 3,000 new homes as part of a U.S. Army family housing project in Hawaii. United Solar Ovonic of Auburn Hills, Michigan signed an agreement on Monday to provide seven megawatts of thin-film solar modules to Actus Lend Lease for the project on Oahu. When complete, the development will be the world's largest solar powered residential community.

According to United Solar Ovonic, the grid-connected solar power systems will reduce dependence on fossil fuels by 30 percent for the complex of 7,894 new and renovated Army homes. The solar energy also will help power 11 community centers and maintenance offices that will be built among the new and renovated homes.

Actus Lend Lease announced in May that it had earned the Army contract for the project, which involves upgrading the housing and community services at seven different Army bases on the island.

“As of today, no other solar-powered residential community comes close to the size and scope of Army Hawaii,” said Chris Sherwood, senior vice president of development for Actus Lend Lease. “We selected United Solar Ovonic because of their superior product and ability to service a project of this scale.”

“Our collaboration with Actus fits with our overall strategy to develop long-term agreements with partners who are leaders in the housing/roofing market,” said Qudrat Delawari, United Solar Ovonic's vice president of sales.

Compared to conventional solar technology utilizing single crystal or polycrystal silicon, United Solar Ovonic’s thin-film solar cells are 100 times thinner, do not use crystalline silicon material and, therefore, are unaffected by the worldwide scarcity of silicon. The products, unlike conventional glass-based PV products, are lightweight, flexible and rugged.

In addition to its existing 25MW photovoltaic manufacturing plant, United Solar Ovonic broke ground in July 2005 for its second state-of-the-art solar module manufacturing plant in Auburn Hills, to double its solar cell and solar module manufacturing capacity. Occupancy of the new facility is scheduled for May 2006, and company officials anticipate that the plant will begin manufacturing products in the fall of 2006.

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