AmeriScan: December 20, 2005

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FEMA to Cover 100 Percent of Hurricane Recovery Through June

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, December 20, 2005 (ENS) - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will continue to cover 100 percent of the costs of hurricane emergency response and debris removal through June 30, 2006, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco announced today.

"Getting 100 percent federal cost share was #1 on my agenda when I met with [Department of Homeland Security] Secretary Michael Chertoff and Chairman Don Powell in Washington last week," the governor said.

"I told them that we have already removed 10 times more debris than was removed at the World Trade Center site after 9/11, yet we are not even half way done. And those estimates don't even include housing demolition which has yet to begin in earnest. So we have a long way to go," she said.

"That is why today's news that emergency response and debris removal will continue to be covered at 100 percent through June 30 is such a welcome Christmas present to Louisiana," said the governor. It means that my message got through, and that these federal officials understand the magnitude of the task at hand and the partnership required for success."

In other hurricane recovery news, FEMA is working with Louisiana parishes to help identify and re-inter caskets disinterred by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Five Louisiana parishes have requested assistance from FEMA.

FEMA's Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) has set up a Victim Identification Center in Carville, Louisiana. There, DMORT specialists are working to identify disinterred remains that local parish coroners have been unable to identify.

DMORT estimates approximately 1,300 remains were disinterred as a result of both hurricanes, approximately 800 from Hurricane Rita and 500 from Katrina.

To date, the Victim Identification Center has received more than 280 sets of disinterred remains and re-casketed more than 80. Once an identification is made, the remains are re-casketed in a casket similar to that used by the armed forces and then returned to the parishes.

An estimated 340 caskets and vaults have been disinterred in Cameron, the most severely impacted parish by Hurricane Rita. DMORT teams assisted in the recovery of nearly 275 of these, and expects to receive approximately 200 at the Carville site for identification.

People who have family members missing and disinterred should call the Find Family National Call Center at 1-866-326-9393 between 7 am and 11 pm, seven days a week. This hotline will connect individuals with specialists who will gather information about the missing and use it in an effort to identify and locate missing individuals. All calls to the Find Family National Call Center are confidential.

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EPA Slammed for Allowing Power Plants to Emit Mercury

WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2005 (ENS) - A coalition of conservation groups, Native American tribes, and public health organizations is calling upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stay its decision to remove coal-fired power plants from a list of industries requiring protective emission standards.

EPA agreed to reconsider the decision last month, after the agency received petitions from 14 states, four tribes, and five environmental groups. Groups today called upon the agency to stay implementation of the decision and to "fully and fairly assess all the comments it receives and reevaluate whether the delisting was lawful and appropriate."

"Power plants are a major source of mercury, lead, arsenic and dioxins," said Ann Brewster Weeks, litigation director for Clean Air Task Force. "EPA has failed to protect the public from these harmful pollutants. The agency should suspend its decision to deprive Americans of the protections that the Clean Air Act is supposed to guarantee."

"The bottom line is this: EPA faces a choice between protecting higher profits for electric utilities and protecting children's health," said John Suttles, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center. "So far, EPA has chosen to protect profits over children."

Instead of issuing the protective emission standards that the Clean Air Act requires, the EPA has chosen to require a cap-and-trade regime that critics say will delay mercury reductions from power plants for nearly 20 years.

The EPA intends to establish a mercury credit market, where facilities can trade pollution credits. "Three of the top five dirtiest power plants in Texas will actually be able to increase mercury outputs under this program," the coalition says

"Mercury pollution is poisoning our lakes, rivers and streams and poses a serious health threat to millions of Americans," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation litigation director Jon Mueller. "EPA needs to protect our waters and our health from power plant pollution."

"There are fish consumption warnings for the Chesapeake Bay, thanks to mercury pollution from sources such as power plants," Mueller said. "EPA has done a pitiful job of reducing mercury from power plants with this rule."

Last month, the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials released a model rule that provides a menu of options for states to reduce harmful mercury emissions from power plants.

The model rule was written in response to EPA's decision last March to exempt power plants from the protective emission standards that the Clean Air Act requires for all other major sources of toxic air pollution.

"We want the agency to fulfill its legal obligation to write strong nationwide regulations that will at last provide the public health and environmental protections that the Clean Air Act was enacted to guarantee," said James Pew, an attorney with Earthjustice.

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Local Residents Stop 17,000 Acre Healthy Forests Logging Proposal

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, December 20, 2005 (ENS) - In November, residents of the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque filed an official objection to a U.S. Forest Service proposal to log and burn nearly 17,000 acres of public forests, for "watershed health," under the Bush administration's Healthy Forests law.

Now, the residents say their objection appears to have been heeded. The Deputy Regional Forester in Albuquerque has sent the environmental documentation for the Tajique Watershed Restoration Project back to Cibola National Forest managers to fix defects in the plan.

Joined by the conservation group Forest Guardians, the residents contend the logging would cause increased fire hazard and water quality problems. They say the likelihood of catastrophic fire burning down homes in that location is statistically very low.

“It is reassuring that the Forest Service has acknowledged serious flaws in their analysis and that they will correct the mistakes raised in our objection,” said Paul Davis, a 30 year area resident. “Now we hope the government will work with us this time around on developing a project that meets the Healthy Forest Restoration Act and addresses our concerns in a meaningful manner.”

The Tajique Watershed Restoration Project, located 45 miles southeast of Albuquerque near the Manzano Mountains, proposes "to treat approximately 17,000 acres of overgrown pine, mixed conifer and juniper forest to reduce wildfire risks that threaten the historic land grant villages of Abo, Manzano, Punta de Agua, Tajique and Torreon, as well as the Pueblo of Isleta," according to the Cibola National Forest managers.

Members of these land grants united to form the Las Humanas Cooperative, USDA’s principle partner on the project.

The Tajique project calls for logging 8,983 acres as well as 4,177 acres of thinning, 470 acres of clearcut, 1,100 acres of fuelbreaks, and 1,270 acres of prescribed burning on National Forest lands.

The stated purpose of the fuels treatments is to “reduce fuel loads and restore structure and composition across the landscape.” The net taxpayer cost of the preferred alternative is $365 an acre or an estimated total cost of $5 million, the conservationists and residents point out.

The Cibola Forest managers say there may be "opportunity for private landowners to obtain federal grants to treat their in-holdings in order to further reduce the potential for catastrophic fire within this area."

Decades of tree growth and fire suppression have created stand conditions that are highly susceptible to catastrophic wildfire, the managers say. The Tajique Watershed Restoration project area was identified as a priority watershed on the Forest and the surrounding communities have been identified as communities-at-risk within the National Fire Plan.

The project includes "federal grant money to non-industrial private forest land owners to address watershed issues on non-federal lands," the U.S. Forest Service says. The Watershed Conservation Districts in the Tajique watershed have been receiving grant money for the past several years to assist private land owners in improving rangeland conditions and increase available water. More projects are scheduled for next year as funding becomes available.

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Transgenic Tobacco Produces Cheap, Effective Anthrax Vaccine

ORLANDO, Florida, December 20, 2005 (ENS) - Enough anthrax vaccine to inoculate everyone in the United States could be grown with only one acre of tobacco plants, a University of Central Florida molecular biologist has found.

In his lab at the University of Central Florida Professor Henry Daniell and his team have found a safe and effective method of producing large quantities of vaccine for anthrax, one of the top bioterrorism threats facing the United States. The results of the NIH-funded study are featured in the December issue of the "Infection & Immunity Journal."

"Anthrax vaccine is very much in need, primarily because of bioterrorism concerns," Daniell said. "But in the United States, only one company has the capacity to produce the vaccine, and it is made in very small quantities by fermentation. We can provide enough doses of a safe and effective vaccine for all Americans from just one acre of tobacco plants."

The scientists found that one acre of tobacco plants can produce 360 million doses in a year.

Daniell and his colleagues injected the vaccine gene into the chloroplast genome of tobacco cells, partly because those plants grow much faster than carrots, tomatoes and coffee.

They grew the cells for several weeks in Daniell's laboratory. Tests showed the vaccine taken from the plants was just as potent as the one produced through fermentation but lacks the bacterial toxin that can cause harmful side effects.

Then the researchers injected the tobacco-grown vaccine into mice to immunize them against anthrax. They sent the mice to labs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where the animals survived doses of anthrax several times stronger than the amounts to which humans have been exposed.

The team includes Vijay Koya, a graduate student in Daniell's lab, and Mahtab Moayeri and Stephen Leppla of the Microbial Pathogenesis Section of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH.

Current production of the anthrax vaccine involves an expensive fermentation process that can cause harmful side effects such as inflammation, flu-like symptoms and rashes. This has prompted some people to refuse to be vaccinated.

The next step for the new tobacco-grown anthrax vaccine would involve a company working with NIH to conduct clinical trials. Human subjects would be injected only with the vaccine and not with anthrax itself, and scientists would then check the subjects' immunity levels.

The vaccine later could be mass produced and stockpiled for emergencies.

Daniell conducted his study with part of a $1 million NIH grant and a $2 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that covers research related to genetic engineering in plants as a way to produce therapies for several diseases. His sponsors recognize that this work holds promise for dealing with other diseases such as diabetes and hepatitis, and improving vaccines for plague, cholera and other bioterrorism agents.

Daniell is developing a new technology that would enable vaccines to be administered orally and allow effective and less expensive treatments to be more accessible worldwide. He believes fruits and vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes are the keys to figuring out a way for people to take anthrax vaccines orally in capsules of dried plant cells that contain correct doses of the protective antigen.

If that research is successful, the need for doctors to administer the shots and the need to ship vaccines in refrigerated trucks would be eliminated. Doctors and refrigeration can be especially difficult in poorer nations.

The military now administers the vaccine with three shots in the first four weeks, three more in the next 17 months and then annual booster shots, according to the Pentagon.

Daniell, who is the first UCF Trustee Chair in Life Sciences, began teaching at UCF in 1998. He has formed a biotechnology company called Chlorogen to apply his work in chloroplast genetic engineering. In 2004, he won UCF's Pegasus Professor Award, the top honor given to a faculty member who excels in teaching, research and service. Last year, he also became only the 14th American in the last 222 years to be elected to the Italian National Academy of Sciences.

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Ancient Chinese Remedy May Prevent Breast Cancer

SEATTLE, Washington, December 20, 2005 (ENS) - A plant substance used in China for centuries to fight malaria has been shown to precisely target and kill cancer cells. Today scientists said it also may someday help to stop breast cancer before it becomes established.

Two University of Washington bioengineers have found that the substance, artemisinin, appeared to prevent the onset of breast cancer in rats that had been given a cancer causing agent. The study appears in the latest issue of the journal "Cancer Letters."

"Based on earlier studies, artemisinin is selectively toxic to cancer cells and is effective orally," said Henry Lai, research professor in the Department of Bioengineering, who conducted the study with fellow UW bioengineer Narendra P. Singh, a research associate professor in the department. "With the results of this study, it's an attractive candidate for cancer prevention."

The properties that make artemisinin an effective antimalarial agent also appear responsible for its anti-cancer effectiveness.

When artemisinin comes into contact with iron, the chemical reaction spawns free radicals – highly reactive chemicals that, when formed inside a cell, attack the cell membrane and other structures, killing the cell.

Because they multiply so rapidly, most cancer cells have a high rate of iron uptake. Their surfaces have large numbers of receptors, which transport iron into the cells. That appears to allow the artemisinin to selectively target and kill the cancer cells, based on their higher iron content.

In the latest study, the researchers administered to rats a single oral dose of 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene, a substance known to induce multiple breast tumors. Half of the rats then were fed regular food, while the other half were fed food with 0.02 percent artemisinin added. For 40 weeks, researchers monitored each group for the formation of breast tumors.

Among the rats that did not get artemisinin, 96 percent developed tumors. By comparison, 57 percent of the rats fed artemisinin developed tumors.

The tumors that did develop in the artemisinin-fed rats were both "significantly fewer and smaller in size when compared with controls," the researchers said.

They speculated that the substance may kill precancerous cells, which also tend to use more iron than ordinary cells, before those cells develop into a tumor.

Artemisinin also may impede a tumor's ability to grow networks of blood vessels that allow it to enlarge.

Because artemisinin is widely used in Asia and Africa as an anti-malarial, it has a track record of being relatively safe and causing no known side effects, Lai said. "The present data indicate that it may be a potent cancer chemoprevention agent.

Lai said additional studies are needed to investigate "whether the breast cancer prevention property of artemisinin can be generalized to other types of cancer."

Chongqing Holley Holdings, a Chinese company, and Holley Pharmaceuticals, its U.S. subsidiary, supported the research. The company, located in Chongqing, China, has been in the artemisinin business for more than 30 years farming, extracting and manufacturing artemisinin, its derivatives and artemisinin-based anti-malaria drugs.

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Native American Turtles to Get CITES Protection

WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2005 (ENS) - The alligator snapping turtle and all species of map turtles, which are native to the United States, are being given international protection, effective June 14, 2006, by their addition to Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday.

Some 168 countries, in addition to the United States, are signatories to CITES, which provides for a system of permits and certificates to monitor and regulate international trade in wild animals and plants.

A CITES member nation may include a native species in Appendix III if it determines that cooperation of other CITES countries is needed to monitor and control trade.

The listing, which will allow the Service to work with other countries to regulate exports, marked the first time the U.S. has used Appendix III to protect native species.

The alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in the world, is found in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. The species is protected on State endangered species lists in Indiana and Illinois.

The alligator snapping turtle is a species of concern due to loss of habitat and collection from the wild for human consumption and for export as pets.

There are 12 species of North American map turtles, which range from Florida to Texas, as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and parts of Quebec, Canada. Two species of map turtles are on the federal list of threatened species and a third map turtle is a candidate species for federal listing. Several other map turtle species are on state endangered and threatened lists.

Map turtles are vulnerable to loss of habitat, exposure to contaminants, and collection for the pet trade.

"Wild populations of these turtles continue to decline, in part because of their popularity as both food and pets," said Service Director Dale Hall. "Working in close partnership with the states, we determined that an Appendix-III listing would allow us to reinforce state protections for these species and provide key trade information to better conserve these vulnerable species."

The Appendix-III listing of these species requires a CITES export permit issued by the Service for all shipments of live specimens or products containing the turtle species. An export permit may be issued only for turtles collected in accordance with all federal, state and local laws.

Other CITES countries will only allow imports from the United States when shipments are accompanied by a valid U.S. export permit, and will only allow re-export of certified shipments. The CITES listing has no direct effect on any activities taking place within a State.

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Common Sewage Plant Odor Identified

BLACKSBURG, Virginia, December 20, 2005 (ENS) - Researchers believe they have found the source of a stinking problem that has plagued areas surrounding sewage treatment plants for decades. Much of the "rotten cabbage" smell near these facilities, they say, is likely caused by trace amounts of dimethyl sulfoxide in waste water.

The joint U.S.-German study will appear in the January 1 issue of the American Chemical Society journal, "Environment Science & Technology."

Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a common industrial solvent used in paint stripping, is not odorous or toxic. But bacteria in sewage can transform it into dimethyl sulfide, the chemical that causes a decaying cabbage or corn smell.

Although most industrial DMSO is recycled, some of its residues can enter the waste stream, the researchers say.

In addition, consumers who use household products containing DMSO may unwittingly contribute to the problem by flushing these products down the drain. It is likely, according to the researchers, that this problem affects a significant percentage of sewage treatment plants worldwide.

The study was done by German chemist Dietmar Glindemann of Glindemann Environmental Services in Halle, Germany; John Novak of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia; and Jay Witherspoon of CH2M Hill in Oakland, California.

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