AmeriScan: December 9, 2005

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Legal Experts Ask Congress to Reject Sale of Parklands to Miners

BOULDER, Colorado, December 9, 2005 (ENS) - Nineteen natural resource law professors are urging Congressional leaders to strip controversial mining provisions from a massive deficit reduction bill when House and Senate conference committees meet next week to reconcile competing versions of the bill.

The mining section of the budget bill, advanced by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo of California and Congressman Jim Gibbons of Nevada, both Republicans, allows mining companies to purchase mining claims - even if they are within a protected area such as national parks or wilderness areas.

In a letter sent to Congress on December 6, the law professors warned that the mining provisions could lead to widespread liquidation of public lands across the West, threatening America’s western heritage and the health of rural western communities.

“Simply put, these proposed changes in federal law are fundamental and far reaching, and if enacted, could have devastating effects on federal land management and policy,” stated the legal experts from 15 universities in their letter to Congress.

Referring to the bill’s mining section, they wrote, “It is so loosely worded and its standards are so relaxed that it could open a large proportion of the federal lands - potentially hundreds of millions of acres - to purchase.”

The law professors join six western governors and more than a dozen high-level former federal and state land managers, including three formers chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service and several Bureau of Land Management directors, who have recently announced their opposition to the Pombo-Gibbons provisions.

More than 100 sportsmen, taxpayer, retail business, conservation, and Native American groups oppose measure, which they call a "land grab."

The legal scholars’ letter was accompanied by a 15 page analysis of the proposed public lands sell-off, which contradicts many of the assertions by Pombo and Gibson about how much public land would be affected and what the potential impacts would be.

“In short, this program could promote a new rush to privatize the nation’s public lands, an undertaking not seen for a century or more,” concluded the law professors’ letter to Congress. “Such far-reaching changes to federal law and policy should not be enacted as part of a last-minute addendum to complex budgetary legislation.”

On November 18, the House passed the Budget bill containing Pombo's mining provision. The bill next moves to the House-Senate conference committee. The Senate version of the Budget bill does not include the mining subtitle, so the advocacy group Westerners for Responsible Mining and the law professors say keeping the mining language out of the conference report, which must be passed by both the House and Senate before being signed into law by the President, is crucial to preserving western public lands.

For text of the letter and the legal analysis, visit Westerners for Responsible Mining at: http://www.bettermines.org/pombo.cfm

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Microsoft to Eliminate PVC Packaging by Year End

REDMOND, Washington, December 9, 2005 (ENS) - Those polyvinyl chloride (PVC) clamshell packs that protect new copies of Microsoft Office Excel, PowerPoint, Word and other products fall short when it comes to protecting the environment and human health, said Microsoft on Wednesday, announcing that the company is phasing out the popular but potentially hazardous PVC in favor of more eco-friendly alternatives.

Microsoft announced Wednesday that it will have eliminated PVC from all packaging by the end of 2005, and said the company already has replaced 361,000 pounds of PVC since July.

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) of Falls Church, Virginia and a national coalition have been working with Microsoft and other companies toward eliminating PVC voluntarily, which helps build markets for safer substitutes.

The environmental advocates warn that chemicals are released and used during the PVC lifecycle which studies show can cause cancer, reproductive damage, and asthma.

"Long term environmental effects of PVC are well known," said Pamela Passman, vice president of corporate affairs for Microsoft. "Together with partners such as CHEJ, we have achieved this important step toward protecting our natural resources."

Joan Krajewski, Microsoft’s environmental attorney, said this effort began in 2003 when "a few of our customers brought their PVC concerns to our attention through letters to the company."

"In addition, we knew that countries other than the United States had begun to evaluate the use of PVC in consumer packaging and had developed concerns about it," Krajewski said. "As Microsoft began evaluating the issue, we decided in 2003 that removing PVC was the right thing to do, especially since at that time there were viable alternatives."

"PVC, a combination of plastic and chlorine that we call the poisonous plastic, is the worst plastic from an environmental health perspective," said Krajewski. "It’s dangerous throughout its entire life cycle of production, use and disposal. When produced or burned, it releases dioxins, which are the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested and can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems."

"Studies have shown plasticizers such as phthalates have migrated out of PVC consumer products, exposing people to toxic additives linked to reproductive defects and other health problems," the Microsoft attorney said.

"PVC cannot be effectively recycled due to the many toxic additives used to soften or stabilize it which can contaminate the recycling batch," she said. "There are many safer alternatives to PVC, such as a plastic without chlorine called PET that’s commonly used in recyclable milk cartons and soda bottles."

Other large corporations such as the personal care products company Crabtree and Evelyn, and healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente also are phasing out polyvinyl chloride, (PVC) the second highest selling plastic in the world.

Health Care Without Harm and the Healthy Building Network led campaigns to transition away from PVC in healthcare institutions and building materials.

Crabtree & Evelyn is phasing out PVC in packaging and developing a total PVC elimination timeline.

Kaiser Permanente, the largest U.S. non-profit healthcare system, will phase out PVC in new construction over the next decade.

"We are seeing a new trend. Major corporations are phasing out PVC and switching to safer materials," said Lois Gibbs, the successful Love Canal activist who founded the Center for Health, Environment & Justice. "We applaud Microsoft and these other innovators."

Gibbs says other companies too have backed away from using PVC in recent months. Catholic Healthcare West awarded a major contract for PVC-free intravenous systems in November. Hewlett-Packard announced last month that it will eliminate PVC as safer alternatives emerge. The Computer Take Back Campaign worked with HP to replace the vinyl in its products and packaging.

Wal-Mart announced in October that it will phase out PVC in private label packaging within two years. Earlier this year, Firestone Building Products Company closed its PVC line, switching to safer materials. Shaw Industries stopped making PVC carpet backing, and Johnson and Johnson announced its goal of eliminating PVC in primary packaging.

The Vinyl Institute (VI), a U.S. industry association, says, "The vinyl industry is committed to operating its manufacturing facilities in a manner that protects the earth and its inhabitants, including our workers and neighbors."

"The value that vinyl products add to society is not enough," the Institute said. "Our industry also must continue its vigilant efforts to improve its environmental, health and safety performance. As just one example of how that performance has improved, although vinyl production increased about 65 percent from 1987 to 2001, air emissions of VCM [vinyl chloride monomer] from VI member company sites have decreased about 56 percent during this time."

Vinyl chloride has been associated with tumors of the liver, brain, lung.

For more information see http://www.besafenet.com/phaseout.htm

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Greenpeace Confronts Hewlett-Packard Over E-Waste

PALO ALTO, California, December 9, 2005 (ENS) - Workers at Hewlett Packard headquarters in Palo Alto were greeted Tuesday by a 30 foot long, bright orange blimp floated above the entrance by Greenpeace as a protest against electronic waste, or e-waste.

Hanging from the blimp was an image of a Chinese girl clutching an HP keyboard surrounded by an e-waste scrapyard with the slogan - "HP = Harmful Products."

Greenpeacers on the street and a repeating pirate radio broadcast urged workers and passers-by to contact HP CEO Mark Hurd and tell him that HP should be making cleaner products.

Greenpeace is calling on the electronics industry worldwide to take responsibility for the lifecycle of their products and start producing products that are cleaner, safer, longer lasting and that do not end up in Chinese and Indian scrapyards.

The message was also delivered by phone to some 4,000 employees working at the headquarters.

“HP is a prime example of a dirty electronics company,” said Greenpeace International toxics campaigner Iza Kruszewska. “It has done little to eliminate hazardous materials in its products, and it is lagging behind some of its competitors.”

Also Tuesday, Greenpeace activists in China delivered postcards to the employees at HP headquarters in Beijing along with e-waste components recovered from the Guiyu, e-waste dump site in the Guangdong Province of China.

The activists, wearing boiler suits bearing the words "HP = Harmful Products," urged HP employees to work from within and call for hazardous substances in computer manufacture to be phased out.

In an effort to forestall negative publicity, HP executives said in a conference call Monday that the company has made progress in removing unwanted materials, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), from its products. The company began removing ozone-depleting chemicals from its products and factories in the 1980s.

"There are technical barriers to removing this from our entire product line," said David Lear, HP vice president of corporate, social and environmental responsibility. "You have to balance with science behind it and the costs."

Lear pointed to the company's efforts to reduce e-waste through recycling obsolete equipment. The company pledged last year to recycle one billion pounds of electronics by the end of 2007.

But these recycling efforts have created new problems because of dangerous work conditions at many overseas recycling plants, Greenpeace says. The group issued a report earlier this year condemning environmental contamination and health hazards at sites where obsolete electronics are disassembled.

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Iron Pipe Maker Mcwane, Executives Sentenced for Enviro Crimes

WASHINGTON, DC, December 9, 2005 (ENS) - Cast-iron pipe manufacturer McWane Inc. and company executives James Delk, Michael Devine, and Charles Barry Robison were sentenced Monday in federal court for environmental crimes connected with the operation of McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company in Birmingham, Alabama.

Judge Robert Propst sentenced McWane to pay a fine of $5 million and serve a period of probation for five years. McWane, Inc. is also ordered to perform a community service project valued at $2.7 million.

Judge Propst ordered Delk to serve probation for three years, including six months of home detention and a fine of $90,000. Devine received two years of probation, including three months of home detention and a fine of $35,000. Robison received two years of probation and a fine of $2,500, and was ordered to do 150 hours of community service work.

After a six week trial in June, McWane as well as Delk, a former vice president and general manager; and Devine, a former plant manager and current employee of McWane in New Jersey, were found guilty of conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act by discharging industrial process wastewater into Avondale Creek in Birmingham through storm drains, in violation of their permit.

McWane and Delk also were convicted of 18 counts of discharging hydraulic oil and sludge containing zinc and lead into Avondale Creek and eventually Village Creek, which runs into Bayview Lake, between May 1999 and January 2001.

Devine was convicted of seven counts of discharging pollutants into Avondale Creek between May 1999 and January 2000.

In a related count, McWane and Robison, the company's vice president for environmental affairs, were convicted of making a false statement to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by misrepresenting that various locations relating to wastewater management were acceptable when this was not an accurate description of those locations. Many inspections the company said were held, in fact, had not been conducted.

“The evidence at trial depicted years of illegal discharges and concerted efforts by company officials to hide those discharges from state and federal regulators,” said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Another McWane employee, Donald Harbin, pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging him with conspiracy to violate environmental laws connected with the operation of McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company. Harbin oversaw maintenance activities at the company during a time when it was discharging processed waste water into Avondale Creek in Birmingham in violation of a federal permit. Harbin is scheduled to be sentenced on December 19.

“Discharging of untreated or improperly treated industrial wastewater and pollutants are primary contributors to the impairment of water quality in our nation,” said Granta Nakayama, the EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.

“This jury found a conspiracy between McWane, Inc. and its highest positioned employees at the McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company to violate the Clean Water Act and to make false statements to the EPA,” said U.S. Attorney Alice Martin. “It is critical that we enforce criminal environmental laws against corporate wrongdoers and their employees, so that Birmingham residents are protected from the harm caused by a company putting pipe and profits above the public’s welfare.”

“The FBI is fully committed to investigating environmental matters that pose a significant risk to public safety. We are very pleased with the outcome of this case, the interagency cooperation involved, and the strong message sent that environmental crimes will not be tolerated, ” said Carmen Adams, special agent in charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The case represents the third conviction of a McWane company in the past year.

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EPA Outlines Nanotechnology Risks, Benefits in Draft White Paper

WASHINGTON, DC, December 9, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a Draft Nanotechnology White Paper, defining the document as a road map that identifies critical questions of risk that must be addressed in order for the United States to reap the potential environmental and economic benefits of nanotechnology.

A nanometer is one billionth of a meter - about one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair, a thousand times smaller than a red blood cell, or about half the sizeof the diameter of DNA. Nanotechnology is the science of creating or modifying materials at the atomic and molecular level to develop new or enhanced materials and products.

In December 2004, the EPA's Science Policy Council created a cross-agency work group to identify and describe the issues the EPA must consider to ensure protection of human health and the environment as this new technology is developed. The draft white paper on nanotechnology is the product of the work group.

The work group is jointly led by co-chairs Jeff Morris of the EPA Office of Research and Development and Jim Willis of the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

In its draft white paper, the work group advises that the EPA should engage resources and expertise to encourage, support, and develop approaches that promote pollution prevention, sustainable resource use, and good product stewardship in the production and use of nanomaterials.

Additionally, the agency should draw on new, “next generation” nanotechnologies to identify ways to support environmentally beneficial approaches such as green energy and green manufacturing.

Nanotechnology has the potential to improve the environment, both through direct applications of nanomaterials to detect, prevent, and remove pollutants, as well as indirectly by using nanotechnology to design cleaner industrial processes and create environmentally friendly products and electricity, the paper states.

As an example, the study points to researchers who have extracted photosynthetic proteins from spinach chloroplasts and coated them with nanofilms that convert sunlight to electrical current, whichone day may lead to films and coatings that generate electricity.

Global sales of nanomaterials could exceed $1 trillion by 2015, the paper says, quoting a presentation given by Dr. M.C. Roco, program director, Directorate for Engineering of the National Science Foundation to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March.

However, there are unanswered questions about the impacts of nanomaterials and nanoproducts on human health and the environment, and the EPA says it has an obligation to ensure that potential risks are adequately understood to protect human health and the environment.

Along with presenting the anticipated benefits of nanotechnology, the paper also deals with risk management of possible negative impacts of the new technologies.

"No single overall effect can be described for the sorption of chemicals to nanomaterials based on their size or chemical makeup alone. In air, aerosolized nanoparticles can adsorb gaseous or particulate pollutants. In soil or sediments, nanomaterials might increase the bioavailability of pollutants, thereby increasing the pollutants' availability for biodegradation," the paper states.

The white paper identifies data gaps that need to be filled and the research that EPA will need to conduct to fully grasp the applications and the implications of nanotech. Those research results will inform the appropriate regulatory safeguards for nanotechnology, the work group says.

The latest nanotechnology and potential environmental benefits of nanotechnology are detailed in the paper. Risk management issues and the agency's statutory mandates are outlined, following an extensive discussion of risk assessment issues. The white paper concludes with recommendations on next steps for addressing science policy issues and research needs.

Already, products containing nanomaterials are available in U.S. markets, including coatings, computers, clothing, cosmetics, sports equipment and medical devices. A survey by EmTech Research of companies working in the field of nanotechnology has identified some 80 consumer products, and over 600 raw materials, intermediate components and industrial equipment items that are used by manufacturers.

The EPA says this document is an external review draft. The agency said it has not been formally released and should not at this stage be taken to represent the agency's position.

The EPA will accept public comments on the draft white paper until January 9, 2006, and then provide those comments to external reviewers for their consideration.

Following the expert review, EPA will issue a final white paper on nanotechnology in early 2006. The draft white paper is online at: http://www.epa.gov/osa/nanotech.htm

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One Hour Lab Test for Anthrax Approved

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, December 9, 2005 (ENS) - A new test for anthrax has been approved that yields lab results in less than one hour. The current method of growing, isolating and identifying a culture can take as long as several days for results.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared Idaho Technology’s Joint Biological Agent Identification and Diagnostic System (JBAIDS) for use as an aid in the laboratory diagnosis of anthrax.

The JBAIDS Anthrax Detection System can detect the gene components of the deadly organism Bacillus anthracis in a variety of environmental sample types, and also clinical blood samples as well as cultured organisms.

The JBAIDS was selected by the U.S. Department of Defense as the platform for use in rapid identification of over 10 deadly pathogens associated with bioterrorism and diseases of military interest.

The FDA clearance allows testing of blood and laboratory culture samples to aid in the laboratory identification of B. anthracis, with results in less than one hour.

Todd Ritter, Idaho Technology’s chief corporate development officer, said, "This is a great example of how private industry and the government can work as partners to protect our nation and those who defend it."

"Working closely with the FDA Office of In Vitro Diagnostic Evaluation and Safety, our team consisted of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, and our scientists and staff at Idaho Technology," said Ritter. "The team worked extremely hard and effectively to get the system cleared, providing a capability to make our military personnel safer."

“We would also like to thank the Army, Navy and Air Force laboratories that performed the clinical trials and helped with the pre-clinical evaluations, as this was truly a Joint effort,” Ritter said.

Idaho Technology, Inc. is a privately held biotechnology company based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Founded in 1990, Idaho Technology worked together with the University of Utah to develop rapid PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, technology and other innovative technologies for nucleic acid detection and analysis.

Through funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Department, the company has created many commercial instruments and reagents for use in research and applied fields. Researchers, medical technicians, law enforcement officers, and soldiers in the field use the company's devices to detect or study human genetics, disease causing organisms or biothreat agents.

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A World Without Snow

MADISON, Wisconsin, December 9, 2005 (ENS) - If all the snow on Earth were to melt away, the planet would be around eight-tenths of a degree Celsius warmer, according to Stephen Vavrus, an associate scientist at the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That increase represents as much as a third of the warming that climate change experts have predicted, should levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases double.

In a study reported in the current issue of the journal "Science," Vavrus generated computer simulations of a snow-free world to assess snow's impact on several climatic variables such as temperature and atmospheric circulation.

"This was not just a what-if question," says Vavrus, whose work comes as many reports on the steady melt of Arctic ice are being published. "I wanted to quantify the influence of global snow cover on the present-day climate because that has relevance for the type of climate changes we are expecting in the future."

Vavrus reported the results of his study on Tuesay at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California that concludes today.

Vavrus, a climate modeling specialist, digitally simulated a snow-free world, and measured the impact of missing snow cover on a range of climatic variables including soil temperatures, cloud cover, atmospheric circulation patterns and soil moisture levels.

Aside from his temperature-related projections, Vavrus also made the counterintuitive finding that in the absence of snow, total regions of permafrost-the permanently frozen soil of the cold north-are likely to expand in area.

Without the insulating effect of snow, he found, soils in colder regions of the world are in fact likely to get much colder. The finding has implications for the health of permafrost-associated ecosystems, and may influence decisions in the field of construction in cold areas.

Already, permafrost changes have triggered structural problems in Alaskan buildings and roadways, says Vavrus, and "there's every reason to think we'll see even stronger effects in the future."

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