AmeriScan: February 9, 2005

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Vieques Navy Bombing Area Added to Superfund List

NEW YORK, New York, February 9, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the formal listing of the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area (AFWTA) - Vieques on the Superfund list of the nation's most hazardous waste sites.

Due to 100 years of U.S. Navy operations including target practic bombing runs, land and water are contaminated with mercury, lead, copper, magnesium, lithium, perchlorate, TNT, napalm, depleted uranium, PCBs, solvents and pesticides.

The listing is the next step in a process that began in June 2003 with a request from former Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderon to list this site as the Commonwealth's highest priority facility on the Superfund list.

"The listing is a critical step in the cleanup of this magnificent island, so important to Vieques residents and visitors alike," said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Kathleen Callahan. "EPA will work with Puerto Rico and the Navy to ensure that the cleanup is performed properly and conducted with full public input."

The AFWTA facility includes land areas, waters and cays in and around the islands of Vieques and Culebra impacted by 100 years of military operations by the U.S. Navy.

The Navy used the eastern portion of Vieques for training from the 1940s until it ceased operations there on May 1, 2003 after more than a year of civilian protest encampment. Areas of Culebra were used for military exercises between 1902 and July 1975.

Today's listing includes areas of Vieques, but postpones a final determination on areas of the AFWTA on Culebra pending the development of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Commonwealth and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), which is currently responsible for the areas on Culebra.

The MOA will govern the actions necessary to protect human health and the environment on Culebra. Puerto Rico and the Army have agreed to pursue this alternate arrangement. If an agreement can be reached, it will not be necessary to list Culebra on the NPL.

The government of Puerto Rico and the Army have begun discussions with the goal of reaching an agreement on the timely investigation and cleanup of Culebra through the Army's Formerly Utilized Defense Sites program. The Army, through the Corps, executes this program in accordance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, known as CERCLA, and its National Contingency Plan.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico may request that Culebra be listed on the Superfund list. Notice of the listing will appear shortly in the Federal Register.

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Bill Would Halt Commerce in Trophy Animals for Canned Hunts

WASHINGTON, DC, February 9, 2005 (ENS) - Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, has introduced legislation that would help combat the unsporting and inhumane practice of canned hunts.

Senate Bill S. 304 would prohibit the interstate commerce of exotic animals intended to be killed for trophies at canned hunting facilities.

"The idea of a defenseless animal meeting a violent end as the target of a canned hunt is, at the very least, distasteful to many Americans," said Lautenberg. "In an era when we are seeking to curb violence in our culture, canned hunts are certainly one form of gratuitous brutality that does not belong in our society."

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) praised the senator and announced its support for the measure.

There are about 1,000 hunting ranches scattered across more than 25 states, offering "no kill, no pay" opportunities to kill confined exotic animals, the HSUS estimates.

The animals are bred in captivity, purchased from animal dealers, or, in some cases, retired from zoos and circuses, so they do not fear contact with humans and make easy targets.

Advertised under a variety of names such as "hunting preserves," "game ranches," or "shooting preserves," canned hunts violate the hunting community’s standard of "fair chase" by confining animals to cages or fenced enclosures, the Humane Society says.

The types of exotic animals killed can include zebras, Corsican rams, blackbuck antelope, and water buffalo.

"Canned hunts are a disgrace, and it is time for the federal government to crack down on the practice of moving exotic animals in interstate commerce for the purpose of being shot for a trophy in a confined setting," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "Here is an issue that rank-and-file hunters and animal activists can agree is worthy of an aggressive public policy response."

Exotic animals confined in high density clusters at canned hunts also contract diseases more readily than free-roaming, widely dispersed species, according to The HSUS. Exotics interact with native species through fences, contributing to the spread of chronic wasting disease and other illnesses that jeopardize the health of deer, elk and other native species.

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PCBs, Fungicide Pave the Way for Parkinson's Disease

ROCHESTER, New York, February 9, 2005 (ENS) - University of Rochester scientists investigating the link between PCBs, pesticides and Parkinson's disease have discovered intricate reactions that occur in certain brain cells, making them more vulnerable to injury after exposures to these toxics.

In two papers published in the journal "NeuroToxicology" in the December 2004 and February 2005 issues, the group describes how polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) disrupt dopamine neurons, which are the cells that degenerate during the course of Parkinson's disease.

Researchers also show that low levels of maneb, a fungicide commonly used in farming, can injure the antioxidant system in those same types of cells.

Environmental contaminants might make dopamine cells more vulnerable to damage from normal aging, infection, or subsequent exposure to pollutants, researchers say.

The investigation is part of a nationwide effort to better understand every aspect of Parkinson's disease, which affects up to one million Americans.

Parkinson's is a progressive neurological disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells die or can no longer produce the brain chemical dopamine. A lack of dopamine is what causes patients to experience tremors, stiffness in the limbs and trunk, and impaired movement or balance.

In the 1990s scientists reported that the brains of Parkinson's patients contained elevated levels of PCBs and certain pesticides. While researchers believe that genetics, the aging process and exposure to toxicants all play a role in the development of Parkinson's, the group led by Lisa Opanashuk, Ph.D., is focused on environmental exposures. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is funding the work.

"If we can identify the mechanisms by which PCBs or pesticides perturb dopamine neuron function, it may lead to the development of therapies that can prevent, slow or stop the progression of Parkinson's," says Opanashuk, an assistant professor of environmental medicine.

PCBs trigger the body to produce free radicals, which leads to a process known as oxidative stress - thought to be one of the main causes of cell degeneration.

Normally, antioxidants can balance the damage done by oxidative stress. But toxic pesticide exposure, combined with the normal aging process, shifts the equilibrium toward oxidative stress and neurodegeneration.

The Rochester studies demonstrate, for the first time, the intricate oxidative stress and antioxidant responses to PCBs in dopamine neurons.

PCBs, used as industrial coolants and lubricants, were banned in 1977 but remain widespread in the environment due to their improper disposal. They linger in the food chain, particularly in wild and farmed salmon and other fish. PCBs accumulate in the body in fat and brain cells and other tissues.

The potential adverse health effects of PCBs are dependent on levels of exposure, the toxicities of individual chemicals present in any given mixture, and their interactive properties.

Pesticides such as maneb remain in farmed soil for 20 to 75 days following application and can be found on produce for more than three weeks, even after washing, according to researchers. Until now, the effect of maneb on oxidative stress responses in dopamine neurons was unknown.

Opanashuk's group shows that cells treated with low levels of maneb also undergo changes that disturb the balance in the antioxidant defense system. Another concern is whether maneb causes more damage when people are exposed in combination with other pesticides, which occurs in rural communities.

The University of Rochester also houses the Parkinson's Disease Data and Organizing Center, a nationwide network of 12 institutions directed by Roger Kurlan, M.D. and the Parkinson Study Group, a consortium of experts founded and headed by neurologist Ira Shoulson, M.D.; as well as the Parkinson's Disease Gene Therapy Study Group, a national effort involving researchers from seven institutions.

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Lawsuit Filed to Safeguard Coastal Cutthroat Trout

PORTLAND, Oregon, February 9, 2005 (ENS) - Four conservation groups are suing the federal government to force protection for the small remnant populations of coastal cutthroat trout that still exist in Oregon and Washington.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal district court in Portland, Oregon on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council and WaterWatch.

"The coastal cutthroat trout is one among many fish and other species now threatened by unwise development of land and water in the West," said Dr. Chris Frissell, aquatic ecologist with the Pacific Rivers Council. "Protection of the coastal cutthroat trout and restoration of their natural habitat should benefit many species, helping to save the web of life in fresh waters of the Columbia River and beyond."

Based on a status review produced by the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries, the Clinton administration proposed to list coastal cutthroat trout in the Columbia River and southwestern Washington as threatened on April 5, 1999, but did not finalize protection before leaving office.

On July 5, 2002, the Bush administration reversed the proposal, even though, Earthjustice argues, there was no new information indicating the trout was faring any better.

"We're taking steps to bring some balance to how our natural resources are managed, so we don't wipe out native species in the process," said Earthjustice attorney Michael Mayer, representing the plaintiffs.

Coastal cutthroat have evolved a unique strategy for survival, with some fish spending their entire lives in small tributary streams, while others become anadromous, migrating to the ocean and returning to spawn similar to salmon.

The greatest concern is for ocean-migrating populations, which are losing habitat along their migratory corridors to logging, grazing, hydropower, and other land and water uses.

"Generations of Oregonians grew up fishing for coastal cutthroat trout in rivers like the Sandy and the Hood," said John DeVoe, Executive Director of WaterWatch of Oregon. "We need to protect these fish from extinction, and restore them, so that they can remain a vital part of Oregon's natural heritage."

"The coastal cutthroat trout is near extinction in the Columbia River," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Coastal cutthroat need the safety net provided by the Endangered Species Act to survive."

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Maine's First Drug Take Back Keeps Waterways Cleaner

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine, February 9, 2005 (ENS) - In an effort to encourage proper disposal of household prescription drugs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with the Northeast Recycling Council, Maine DEP, CVS pharmacy, and the South Portland Police Department, conducted Maine's first prescription drug take back program Saturday at South Portland's Mill Creek CVS pharmacy.

The pilot program allowed citizens the opportunity to bring in unwanted or outdated medications for proper disposal. The drugs collected through the program will be incinerated in order to prevent them from entering waterways.

By the end of Saturday's event, 52 people from 17 Maine communities brought in 50 gallons of medications for proper disposal. This included almost 1,300 medications that were controlled substances, with an estimated street value of over $5,000.

The public brought in more than 700 containers of medicine overall. Included in the list of substances collected were antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-cancer drugs, tranquillizers and estrogen.

These medicines may not be destroyed by sewage treatment plants, so they are increasingly found in streams and drinking water supplies.

A study conducted four years ago by the U.S. Geological Survey found that 80 percent of 139 streams sampled across 30 states detected very low concentrations of chemicals commonly found in prescription drugs.

"Maine is at the forefront of addressing this serious environmental issue as more and more studies confirm that expired and unused pharmaceuticals should be properly destroyed to prevent them from reaching our nation's waters," said Robert Varney, EPA's regional administrator. "The importance of this complicated problem is just coming to light - this pilot demonstrates that successfully tackling this issue will require the collaboration and cooperation of many parties."

"This one day event prevented more than 55,000 pills from making their way into our waters and helped educate consumers about the importance for proper disposal of medical waste," said Lynn Rubinstein, executive director of the Northeast Recycling Council. "We are hopeful that the success of this pilot will pave the way for similar projects in the future."

Response was enthusiastically positive, Varney said. Maine legislation this session will address this environmental problem by considering turn-in, mail-back, and proper disposal mechanisms for unneeded pharmaceuticals.

"CVS was pleased to support the Northeast Recycling Council and the EPA by hosting the nation's first-ever drug take-back program in a retail pharmacy setting," said Eileen Howard Dunn, vice president of corporate communication and community relations at CVS pharmacy. "There is potential for this type of program to have a real impact in educating the public about environmentally safe disposal of medication."

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Oil and Gas Industry Expands in Deepwater Gulf of Mexico

WASHINGTON, DC, February 9, 2005 (ENS) - A major expansion of the oil and gas industry is taking place in the deepwater portion of the Gulf of Mexico, according to federal officials.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) says that there were 14 new deepwater startups and 12 new deepwater discoveries in 2004.

According to Chris Oynes, Gulf of Mexico MMS regional director, "These 14 new deepwater startups and 12 deepwater discoveries show once again that the Gulf of Mexico is alive and well, helping America meet her energy needs. This 10th year of sustained expansion of deepwater production adds further to the success of previous years."

Six of these 14 starts are floating production facilities that can act as hubs for future subsea development projects.

Two of the startups broke offshore records in 2004 - ConocoPhillips’ Magnolia set the world record for tension-leg platform (TLP) water depth at 4,674 feet, and BP’s Holstein is the world’s largest producing spar.

"Some of these new deepwater discoveries are opening up new areas for natural gas development in the eastern Gulf," said Oynes.

"The discoveries of Atlas and San Jacinto in the Eastern Gulf have helped bring economic viability to the Independence Hub facility now being planned."

Oynes also observed that "ChevronTexaco’s discoveries at Tiger, Silvertip, and Jack located in Alaminos Canyon and Walker Ridge respectively, and Unocal’s discovery at Tobago in Alaminos Canyon added new excitement to the Paleogene in this area."

MMS, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, oversees 1.76 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf, managing offshore energy and minerals.

The Outer Continental Shelf provides 30 percent of all oil and 23 percent of natural gas produced domestically, and provides sand used for coastal restoration.

MMS collects, accounts for, and disburses mineral revenues from federal and American Indian lands, with fiscal year 2004 disbursements of around $8 billion and more than $143 billion since 1982.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which pays for acquisition of state and federal park and recreation land, gets nearly $1 billion a year from these revenues.

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National Wildlife Federation Commends New Jersey's Mercury Efforts

TRENTON, New Jersey, February 9, 2005 (ENS) - In its 2005 Mid-Atlantic Mercury Report Card released this month, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) recognized New Jersey's achievements in regulating mercury contamination, awarding it the highest grades in four of seven categories among the Mid-Atlantic states and noting that "New Jersey stands out as the leader in addressing emissions of mercury."

"Protecting public health from toxic mercury emissions has been a high priority for New Jersey and we will continue to lead the nation in this effort," said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell.

The DEP passed stringent new regulations for controlling mercury emissions from power plants in November 2004. These regulations are the most comprehensive mercury standards in the nation, reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, iron and steel melters, and solid waste incinerators by up to 90 percent by the end of 2007.

"We are pleased that the NWF has recognized our efforts to protect the public and our wildlife from the dangers of mercury. We hope this recognition will prompt the legislature to complete work on the bill by Senator Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman John Burzichelli to remove mercury switches from the waste stream."

This is the first year NWF has released a mercury report card in the Mid-Atlantic region, but a partnership with the New England Zero-Mercury Campaign that produced similar reports for the New England region proved to be an effective method of promoting further action from the states.

New Jersey received top marks, an A, for its efforts in reducing state mercury air emissions within the state by the maximum extent possible.

New Jersey also received an A for advocating strong federal policies on mercury. Campbell has repeatedly challenged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed mercury standards as inadequate, while seven of the state's 13 U.S. representatives and both senators have signed letters encouraging strict federal regulations for mercury emissions from power plants.

New Jersey also received the highest grades in the Mid-Atlantic region for reducing mercury exposure through public education and outreach, as well as improving understanding of mercury sources, impacts, and cycling.

New Jersey is the only state in the region that has passed legislation requiring the state to provide information regarding mercury-contaminated fish to high-risk populations and to post such information in public places.

The DEP has also initiated a Mercury Task Force to research the sources of mercury and its impacts on the environment and to develop a mercury pollution reduction plan for the state.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that, in humans, harms the development and function of the central nervous, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems. In wildlife, increased levels of mercury contamination can decrease ability to reproduce, impair growth and development, and cause abnormal behavior and death.

For the full analysis of the Mid-Atlantic states' progress in addressing mercury pollution and exposure, including all grades for all states, see "Mercury in the Mid-Atlantic: Are States Meeting the Challenge?" online at:

For more information on DEP's mercury regulation initiatives and research, visit the DEP website at:

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Auto Scrapyard Ruined by Environmental Noncompliance

TRENTON, New Jersey, February 9, 2005 (ENS) - Leaving auto parts heaped and scattered around its property leaking fluids onto the ground has cost Coach Auto Parts in Monroe Township, Gloucester County its business and left it with a heavy fine.

The company has been penalized $65,000 for improperly storing automotive parts that can pollute soil, groundwater and surface water. After ignoring repeated orders from the state environmental authorities for compliance with the company's storm water discharge permit, Coach Auto Parts has been evicted from the property and is no longer operating.

Emphasizing the importance of protecting New Jersey’s water resources, DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell said the fine was a last resort after the agency has tried for years to persuade Coach to deal with its auto parts in accordance with the law.

During a May 23, 2003 inspection, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff found that Coach Auto Parts improperly stored automotive materials including engine blocks, transmissions, batteries and gasoline tanks outdoors without taking required steps to prevent these items from leaking into the ground. Coach Auto Parts also failed to submit to DEP annual self-inspection compliance certification.

The DEP required Coach Auto Parts to properly store its automotive materials within 60 days and issued a compliance evaluation to encourage the facility to comply with the terms of its Stormwater Discharge permit.

But inspections in September 2003 and January and February 2004 found that the facility continued to improperly store automotive fluids and drained automotive fluid directly from vehicles onto the ground. This places storm water at risk by allowing pollutants found in automotive fluid to contaminate the soil and water beneath the vehicles.

In response to the facility’s continued noncompliance, DEP fined Coach Auto Parts $65,000.

"After numerous attempts to compel the scrapyard to comply with DEP orders, the department was left with no recourse other than the imposition of this $65,000 penalty," said Campbell. "DEP will vigilantly protect New Jersey’s water resources and prosecute those who expose our water to hazardous substances found in auto parts."