Explosion, Fire Hit New York Fuel DepotSTATEN ISLAND, New York,
February 21, 2003 (ENS) - A massive explosion and fire rocked a petroleum storage facility on Long Island this morning, prompting memories of the September 11 terrorist attacks and drawing new attention to the vulnerability of such facilities to terrorist actions.
The explosion, which officials said was not linked to terrorism, left one worker dead and one in critical condition with third degree burns. Another man was still missing late this afternoon.
Fire Department chief William Van Wart said the accident when an explosion on board a fuel barge ignited a gasoline fire near the Port Mobile fuel depot at around 10 am today.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the incident a "tragic industrial accident." Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) said terrorism "did not appear to be a factor" in the accident, but added that the FBI will take a close look at what triggered the explosion as fuel facilities are believed to be potential targets for terrorists.
The explosion was heard for miles around, and the smoke and flames were visible from both sides of New York Harbor. Local witnesses said they thought at first there had been another terrorist attack in the region hardest hit by the September 11 attacks.
"I've been working on Staten Island for the last 16 years, and they've never had anything like this," witness James Sugrue told MSNBC TV. "Things have changed a little since 9/11. The first thing you thought of was terrorist activity."
Residences closest to the fuel facility were briefly evacuated, and Staten Island residents were advised to keep their windows closed against the dense oily smoke.
The barge, which contained about 110,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline, was being offloaded when the accident occurred. The fire department said none of the oil tanks at the storage facility caught fire, and the fire was contained within two hours.
Mayor Bloomberg said the fire involved fuel floating on the surface of the water and two barges, including the one on which the explosion occurred, which has now sunk to the bottom of the harbor.
"The fire has basically been burning itself out," Bloomberg said. "There is absolutely no evidence and no reason this think at this moment that this is anything other than a tragic accident."
The 200 acre fuel depot is owned by ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil company.
"Our focus now is on putting the fire out and ensuring the safety of the public and our employees," ExxonMobil said in a release. "Once we have achieved this objective, we will begin a thorough investigation of the cause of this unfortunate event."
A contract company, Clean Harbors, has been sent to the scene by ExxonMobil, and will begin cleanup work after the fire has been extinguished and the authorities give authorization.
Wild Condor Shot and KilledLOS ANGELES, California,
February 21, 2003 (ENS) - A poacher has shot and killed one of the last surviving California condors born in the wild.
Adult Condor 8 (AC-8) 8 was found dead on February 13 in a remote area of southern Kern County, California, and a necropsy determined that the bird died of gunshot. AC-8 was believed to be more than 30 years old.
No arrests have been made, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the California Department of Fish and Game are investigating the shooting.
AC-8 was the last female condor captured in the 1980s for captive breeding programs, and one of the first of the original wild birds to be released in April 2000. She was considered a matriarch of the breeding program, spending 14 years in captivity where she produced 12 offspring.
"The death of this majestic bird is a great tragedy and a tremendous loss," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "While we have had great success in our condor recovery efforts to date, we cannot accept the needless loss of any of these great birds. We are actively pursuing a full investigation of this matter."
With the death of AC-8, just 79 birds remain in the wild. Another 118 are in captivity at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo.
"This unnecessary death at the hands of a poacher marks a sad day for California," said California Resources secretary Mary Nichols. "We have lost one of the last wild condors, but we remain committed to bringing back these magnificent birds from the edge of extinction. I call on the public to support us in that effort, and also help us find the poacher responsible for this senseless killing."
The California condor is listed as an endangered species and is protected by both federal and California law. Violation of the Federal Endangered Species Act carries a maximum penalty of one year confinement and a fine of $100,000.
"We will not let the tragic death of AC-8 slow the forward momentum of condor recovery," said Marc Weitzel, project leader of the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the California Condor Recovery Program. "AC-8's legacy will carry on. Condors are exhibiting breeding behavior in the California and Arizona populations and we fully anticipate wild-born condors again in the near future."
Anyone with information regarding the shooting of AC-8 is encouraged to call the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement at 916-414-6664. The USFWS will pay a "substantial" reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons involved. The amount of the award will be determined by the value to the investigation of the information provided.
Those with information can also call the Department of Fish and Game's CalTIP Program line at 1-888-DFG-CALTIP.
Much of U.S. Facing Flooding This WeekendSILVER SPRING, Maryland,
February 21, 2003 (ENS) - Heavy rainstorms, coming on the heels of this week's massive snowfalls throughout the mid-Atlantic and New England, could lead to flooding, forecasters warn.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service are eyeing the possibility that another round of storms will dump heavy rain from Texas into the Tennessee Valley, the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions beginning today. Localized flooding is possible in Texas, parts of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Serious flooding is a concern in parts of Kentucky and Tennessee. Forecasters said the risk of flooding is probably greater there than in the Mid-Atlantic region.
"At this time, we do not expect a repeat of the disastrous river flooding of late January 1996," said Frank Richards, a senior NOAA hydrologist at the National Weather Service. "However, where storm drains are now snow clogged, serious urban flooding could be a problem unless concerted efforts are made to open storm drains."
Last weekend, a major storm swept though upper portions of the Tennessee Valley and the southern Ohio River Valley, the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. The storm led to widespread flooding in northern Alabama, portions of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
Another storm system this weekend could produce an additional two to three inches of rain that could cause flooding in streams that are already running high. The potential exists for serious flooding in Kentucky and Tennessee starting on Friday.
Forecasts for the weekend suggest that as much as two to three inches of rain could fall over areas of the Mid-Atlantic with lesser amounts in coastal New England. While this could cause flooding, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic, major river flooding is not anticipated at this time, Richards said. The deep, fresh snow pack will act like a sponge, absorbing an inch or more of rain, reducing runoff and mitigating river flooding.
"Significant urban flooding may cause serious damage because it will affect areas with high population density and susceptible infrastructure, for example, basement flooding, increased weight on snow covered roofs," said Richards.
In 1996, warm, heavy rains following a major snowfall led to catastrophic flooding across much of the mid-Atlantic. This weekend, snow melt is expected to be less of a problem.
Current forecasts indicate the rainstorms will move faster than in 1996, and cooler air will reduce snow melt once the storm moves out.
Invasive Species Conference Open to PublicWASHINGTON, DC,
February 21, 2003 (ENS) - A national conference on invasive plants hopes to draw public attention to the problems created by non-native weeds.
The fourth annual National Invasive Weeds Awareness Week conference will be held in Washington DC, from February 24-28. Hosted by the Invasive Weeds Awareness Coalition (IWAC) and a variety of state, federal and private organizations, the week long series of events and activities is designed to raise awareness and increase the understanding of invasive plant management issues in the United States.
States across the country are losing wildlife habitat and native plants as invasive plant species overrun public and private lands. Invasive plants already infest an estimated 100 million acres, displacing native species by eight to 20 percent each year.
The invasion is costing landowners and the government billions of dollars in lost revenues and control costs.
The IWAC conference will feature displays at the National Botanical Garden designed by state and federal agencies that will highlight successful partnership projects to eradicate invasive plants and restore ecosystems, and demonstrate how to identify the most harmful invasive plants. The public is encouraged to attend this display.
Some of the threatening weeds on display include:
IWAC's goal is to educate people on what they can do to protect land, such as recognizing plants that are out of place, alerting the appropriate local agencies, and asking questions. The coalition hopes to teach people how to select noninvasive plants for landscaping, and techniques to prevent transporting seeds of invasive species to new areas.
For more information, visit: http://ficmnew.fws.gov/iwac/niwaw%20iv/
Hunter Guilty of Killing Endangered SheepSPRINGFIELD, Illinois,
February 21, 2003 (ENS) - An Illinois man faces up to $100,000 in fines and a year in prison after pleading guilty to killing a protected stone sheep in Canada.
Darren Leggett pleaded guilty on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Springfield to transporting a protected wild sheep he illegally killed in British Columbia in 1999. This violation of the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits transport of wildlife killed or possessed in violation of state or foreign laws, could send Leggett to jail when he is sentenced later this year.
According to special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Leggett traveled to British Columbia in August 1999 and on August 18, killed a trophy male stone sheep without the hunting licenses and permits required by British Columbia law. Leggett's Canadian guide tagged the sheep as his own but gave the hide and horns to Leggett, who returned to the United States.
The sheep was later mounted by a taxidermist and displayed at Leggett's residence.
Special agents with the USFWS Law Enforcement program were asked by the British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection to assist in the investigation of several U.S. hunters who were believed to have unlawfully hunted trophy animals in Canada, including mountain goat, stone sheep, moose, cougar and grizzly bear.
Special agents from Illinois and Florida initiated the investigation. In March 2002, Illinois agents executed a search warrant at Leggett's residence and confiscated the mounted sheep. Further investigation revealed that Leggett had booked the illegal hunt with a Canadian guide for a fraction of the cost of a legal hunt.
Stone sheep are rare and prized by trophy hunters. Big game hunters often pay more than $15,000 to undertake challenging hunts for them.
The animals occupy a small range in the Yukon in northern Canada but occur throughout much of northern British Columbia and in the southern part of the province. The sheep cling to the sheer faces of mountains, and males do not develop large horns until they are five to seven years old.
Ford Fined for Hazwaste Violations at Auto PlantsCHICAGO, Illinois,
February 21, 2003 (ENS) - Ford Motor Company has agreed to pay a $244,000 penalty to settle allegations of hazardous waste violations at 14 U.S. auto assembly plants.
Under the settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ford will also bring all of its plants into compliance with EPA requirements.
The EPA had issued an administrative complaint against Ford under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to the Ford facility in Avon, Ohio. The EPA later added Ford painting and waste storage systems in eight other states to the complaint.
The agency cited the automaker for not monitoring for leaks from the equipment used to paint vehicles and for not keeping records of monitoring practices. Ford was also cited for not assessing and inspecting the integrity of equipment and secondary containment systems.
Ford officials argued that they had misinterpreted EPA regulations, leading them to believe they were not obligated to monitor hazardous wastes until they arrived at disposal sites. But the EPA said the company was required to monitor the wastes as soon as they were removed from the areas where paint was applied.
Besides the Avon plant, the settlement affects Ford plants in Hapeville, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; Dearborn, Wayne and Wixom, Michigan; St. Paul, Minnesota; Claycomo and Hazelwood, Missouri; Edison, New Jersey; and Norfolk, Virginia.
The EPA regulates the safe handling, transportation, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste, from its origin to its final disposal.
Bt Toxin Could Combat Parasitic RoundwormsSAN DIEGO, California,
February 21, 2003 (ENS) - Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) - a bacterium that produces natural protein insecticides that have been used by organic farmers for five decades - can also produce similar natural proteins that kill parasitic roundworms.
Biologists at the University of California at San Diego say the discovery could pave the way for the development of an inexpensive and environmentally safe means of controlling the parasitic roundworms that each year destroy billions of dollars in crops, cause debilitating diseases in farm animals and pets, and now infect a quarter of the world's human population.
Major parasitic roundworm diseases in humans include ascariasis, which affects 1.5 billion people worldwide; hookworm, which infects 1.3 billion people; and elephantiasis, which affects 120 million people. Other parasitic nematodes are major agricultural pests, affecting crops such as corn, soybeans, potatoes and tomatoes. They are also a problem in horses, livestock and pets.
Scientists have become concerned about parasitic nematodes developing resistance to the drugs now being used to treat or prevent their infestations. But an even larger impediment to the widespread use of those drugs is that they are expensive, as any pet owner who must purchase a heartworm preventative knows.
Bt toxins are much less expensive, have already played a role in controlling insects, such as mosquitoes that carry disease, in third world countries and are now being used in genetically modified cotton, corn and other crops to control caterpillars and beetles - though this use has generated controversy.
"Not only are Bt toxins relatively easy to make, but they are extremely safe to humans and vertebrate animals," said Raffi Aroian, an assistant professor of biology at UCSD who headed the study. "All of the data show that these crystal proteins are non-toxic to animals with backbones. What our discovery suggests is the potential for preventing not only billions of dollars worth of agricultural damage from parasitic roundworms each year, but also the potential for preventing some important and debilitating forms of human and animal disease."
The discovery was made by a team of biologists working in Aroian's laboratory. The UCSD biologists sought to investigate the potential for Bt toxins - which attack and dissolve the intestines of their insect hosts - as an anti-roundworm agent after determining that a specific Bt crystal protein they were studying destroyed the intestines of the common laboratory nematode.
They also found in previous experiments that two other Bt crystal proteins had the ability to reduce the ability of the common nematode to produce young.
The UCSD discovery represents the first time scientists have verified that Bt toxins can affect most nematodes.
"Our finding that there is a family of crystal proteins that can kill nematodes is the first in the scientific literature," said Aroian. "The most important part of the discovery is that we can kill at least one nematode that is a mammalian parasite, which suggests that these crystal proteins can be used against nematode parasites in humans."
Whether such Bt crystal proteins can harm some or all of the many species of beneficial soil dwelling nematodes that control insect pests will require further study before they can be used on agricultural crops, Aroian cautioned. The Bt strains that produce these crystal proteins, which multiply in the intestines of nematodes, suggest to the scientists that soil dwelling nematodes may have contributed to the evolution and spread of the Bt bacterium.
"It seems plausible that a soil bacterium might take advantage of the fact that soil nematodes use bacteria as a food source and evolve crystal proteins to help it propagate inside the host nematode once its spores and crystals are ingested," the scientists write.
The scientists' findings appear in the March 4 issue of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," which is making their paper available this week in its early online edition.
For more information about Bt crystal proteins and their use, visit: http://www.btcrystal.org
Pennsylvania Volunteers Benefit Parks, ForestsHARRISBURG, Pennsylvania,
February 21, 2003 (ENS) - Individuals and groups volunteered more than 500,000 hours to improve Pennsylvania's natural resources last year.
From a youngster devoting a day to cleaning up a state forest roadside, to 20 retirees camped for a week at a state park, volunteers made a big difference to the state's environmental resources, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced Thursday. For the fourth consecutive year, volunteer workers tallied a record commitment of service in the state's 116 state parks and 2.1 million acres of state forestland.
A total of 561,487 hours of volunteer work was tabulated by DCNR last year. This marked the highest amount contributed to the agency's Conservation Volunteer Program since its inception in 1997.
"The spirit of volunteerism is not only alive in our state parks and forests, it is growing year after year," said John Plonski, DCNR's executive deputy secretary for parks and forestry. "Whether a lone Scout project on a remote forest trail, or a mass cleanup at a busy state park beach, the invaluable contributions of thousands of Pennsylvanians are everywhere."
"This commitment by state park and forest visitors, their demonstrated willingness to improve and enhance, is a windfall for both the environment of Pennsylvania and its taxpayers," Plonski added.
Plonski said the state park with the leading annual attendance - Presque Isle in Erie County - again led the 116 state parks and 20 state forest districts in reporting volunteer hours.
"Not surprisingly, the state park drawing over four million visitors annually to Lake Erie also draws its fair share of volunteer helpers," Plonski said. "More than 29,800 hours were recorded by volunteers participating in the 'Adopt-A-Beach' cleanup and maintenance programs, working on park pontoon boats and at the acclaimed Stull Interpretive Center."
Other volunteer leaders included the Tiadaghton State Forest District, which led the Bureau of Forestry's 20 districts with a 2002 tally of 10,678 hours.
"With five major multi-use, hiking and cross country skiing trails stretching more than 220 miles, Tiadaghton is blessed with a dedicated corps of outdoors enthusiasts working hard to improve and protect the trails and other district resources," Plonski said.
At Black Moshannon State Park in Centre County, volunteers tallied 8,075 hours, maintaining 18 miles of trails and overseeing two major festivals. At Delaware Canal State Park in Bucks and Northampton counties, volunteers offered 21,445 hours, including Friends of the Delaware Canal's 60 mile cleanup of Delaware Canal from Easton to Bristol.
Volunteers at Codorus State Park in York County gave 16,673 hours cleaning up park buildings, renovating gardens and sprucing up park grounds.
Individuals and groups can volunteer for a variety projects throughout the state. Conservation volunteers are paired with projects that match their skills and interests, including trail building and repair, forest fire prevention, environmental education, park maintenance, and natural history research.
People interested in becoming a Conservation Volunteer can contact any state park or forest district office; or visit the PA PowerPort at: http://www.state.pa.us
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