Lab Test Detects Human Infections With Bird Flu in Four HoursWASHINGTON, DC, February 6, 2006 (ENS) - A new laboratory test to diagnose H5 strains of influenza in patients in four hours instead of the three days previous tests took was announced Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
If the presence of the H5 strain is identified, then further testing is conducted to identify the specific H5 subtype such as the H5N1 bird flu virus.
Since December 2003, more than 160 human cases of avian flu caused by the H5N1 strain of influenza have been reported in Thailand, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Turkey and Iraq. More than half of the people infected with the H5N1 virus have died. Nearly all of these cases are believed to have been caused by exposure to infected poultry. The concern is that H5N1 will evolve into a virus capable of human-to-human transmission and lead to an influenza pandemic.
The test, called the Influenza A/H5 (Asian lineage) Virus Real-time RT-PCR Primer and Probe Set, was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and approved by the FDA with an expedited review process.
"This laboratory test is a major step forward in our ability to more quickly detect cases of H5 avian influenza and provides additional safeguards to protect public health," said Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.
"Thanks to the expeditious and collaborative efforts of CDC and FDA, the availability of this new test gives us one more tool to keep up with the ever changing nature of influenza viruses," said Leavitt.
"Preparing for a possible flu pandemic is a top priority for our nation, and FDA acted quickly to evaluate and expedite CDC's request for approval of this test," Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach said.
A flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity and for which there is no vaccine. In an influenza pandemic, the disease spreads easily from person to person in a sustained manner, causes serious illness, and can sweep across the country and around the world in very short time. It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur or how severe it will be.
"Using flexible regulatory authorities, FDA was able to prioritize this expedited approval based on the clear critical need without compromising the quality or integrity of the FDA review process."
Starting this week, the test will be distributed to the 140 labs in all 50 states designated by the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) to enhance early detection and surveillance activities as well as increase laboratory response capacity associated with a potential pandemic.
LRN labs have special experience and training in molecular testing methods, special bio-safety facilities and containment procedures as well as communication networks connected to public health programs across the country.
"The use of this test by laboratories that are part of the LRN, in conjunction with other laboratory testing and clinical observations, may enable earlier detection of influenza cases caused by this specific virus and allow public health agencies to investigate sources of infection and more quickly respond with control and prevention activities," said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding.
CDC has also shared the test technology with the World Health Organization and its collaborating centers around the world.
Information obtained from this test will be used to track cases of illness with an H5 strain of virus. Testing for this virus is indicated when a patient has symptoms of severe respiratory illness and a risk of exposure such as direct contact with sick, dead or infected poultry in a country with outbreaks of influenza H5N1 among poultry.
CDC recommends that testing for bird flu should be considered on a case-by-case basis in consultation with local or state health departments.
If clinicians suspect a patient may be infected with a bird flu virus, they should contact their state or local health department. CDC's full recommendations are available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm55e203a1.htm.
For information on pandemic influenza, state summits and preparedness activities go to: http://www.pandemicflu.gov.
Oil Spills From Asphalt Factory Into Passaic RiverPASSIAC, New Jersey, February 6, 2006 (ENS) - The Passaic County Sheriff's Department estimates as much as 9,000 gallons of industrial oil spilled into the Passaic River from a leak in an aboveground tank at an asphalt factory discovered Sunday.
State environmental officials estimate the amount spilled at 2,000 gallons.
The company whose aboveground tank in Totowa leaked said in a statement that only 500 gallons entered the river.
Whatever estimate is eventually proved correct, the oil has formed an eight mile long slick from Totowa to Paterson.
The West Nyack, New York based materials company, Tilcon New York Inc., said in a statement today that vandals were to blame for causing a rupture to the tank at its Totowa asphalt factory.
"We believe that this was an act of vandalism and we are cooperating with law enforcement officials who have already begun an investigation," said Ticon spokesperson Joyce Watson.
But investigators from the New York State Attorney General's Office said a partially open valve on a tank holding oil used to heat furnaces leaked into a cracked containment area. Then the oil flowed into a storm drain and out into the Passaic River.
Authorities are using floating booms and vacuum trucks to remove oil from the river.
At least two water companies stopped withdrawing drinking water from the Passiac River after the spill. About two million people in Paterson, Passaic and Clifton get their drinking water from the section of the river affected by the spill.
Tilcon New York Inc., a division of Oldcastle Materials, serves New York City, the lower Hudson River Valley, Long Island, central and northern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania with stone quarries, asphalt sites, recycling plants, a soil remediation facility, highway construction and paving services division and six marine facilities with a fleet of 225 barges.
Port of New York Goes Green, Staten Island Ferry Emissions CutNEW YORK, New York, February 6, 2006 (ENS) - Riding the Staten Island ferry is free, and from now it also will be cleaner as part of a regionwide effort to clean up the ports in the Northeast, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The federal agency has joined the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the New York City Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in highlighting the cleanup of diesel emissions from one of the ferries that transports 19 million people to and from Staten Island each year.
Retrofitting the ferry Alice Austen has cut emissions of 16.5 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per year and reduced particulate matter by 25 percent through the installation of selective catalytic reduction and diesel oxidation catalysts.
These pollutants may trigger asthma, lead to serious respiratory illnesses and other harmful health effects. Reducing emissions from diesel engines has been identified as a national priority by the EPA and is key to improving air quality.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New York City Department of Transportation announced that they will retrofit more ferries in the fleet. The Port Authority agreed to sign a Memorandum of Agreement with the New York City Department of Transportation to set a timeline to retrofit other Staten Island ferries. By 2007, three more ferries will be installed with equipment to cut NOx.
Port Authority Port Commerce Director Richard Larrabee said, "We take our role as environmental stewards of the port very seriously, and we believe it is very important to balance our port redevelopment with pro-environment programs. Since we began our 50-foot channel deepening program in 2004, we have launched the pilot program with the Staten Island ferries and the replacement of the tugboat engines, we have purchased environmentally sensitive land in the region for preservation, and we have worked with our port tenants to install modern, cleaner, electric-powered cranes."
"In an effort to become a model green port," said Larrabee, "we have embarked on a voluntary Green Port Program that includes implementing an Environmental Management System for our public berths and establishing a Green Practices Task Force with our tenants to identify initiatives to improve air and water quality, reduce waste and conserve energy. We will continue to explore areas where we can improve upon our strong environmental record."
"New York and New Jersey Harbor provides the perfect venue to demonstrate ways to accelerate the pace of environmental protection while preserving a competitive economy," said Alan Steinberg, EPA regional administrator. "Cleaning up the port will dramatically cut pollution and spur investments in technology. Our lungs and our pocketbooks will thank us!"
To encourage more such partnerships and creative approaches, EPA hosted a conference on Wednesday, as the first major effort of the Northeast Diesel Collaborative, a partnership of private, non-profit and government groups in New York, New Jersey and the six New England states working to reduce diesel emissions. The Northeast Diesel Collaborative will develop strategies to reduce diesel emissions from cars, trucks, buses, trains, boats and construction equipment.
Tomorrow's ports workshop is part of a broader effort by the Northeast Diesel Collaborative to expand and develop regional partnerships to reduce diesel emissions and protect public health. Diesel exhaust releases into the air particulate matter, ozone-forming nitrogen oxides and other gases such as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
The Northeast Diesel Collaborative is found at: http://www.northeastdiesel.org.
Tennessee Governor Asks $10 Million for Land ConservationNASHVILLE, Tennessee, February 6, 2006 (ENS) - Governor Phil Bredesen today presented a budget proposal to the General Assembly that includes $10 million for strengthening Tennessee's land preservation efforts.
The legislators are aksed to increase the state's land-buying power with $10 million in funding for the Tennessee Heritage Trust Fund, the public-private foundation Bredesen established in September 2005.
"Some of God's most beautiful spaces are located right here in Tennessee, and this new money will help our state become a faster, stronger competitor for these lands," Bredesen said. "If we are diligent, our children and grandchildren will have hundreds of thousands of acres of protected land for their use and enjoyment with their own families."
The group has established a board of directors, a statewide prioritization plan and an initial $10 million investment, and this new money will help the Trust Fund strengthen the conservation efforts it makes on Tennessee's behalf, Bredesen said.
"As we continue to strengthen the fiscal stability of our state, it's time to make critical investments, like today's conservation announcement, that will benefit generations of Tennesseans," Bredesen said.
Bredesen's proposed budget also includes the elimination of access fees at the 23 Tennessee State Parks that currently charge them. The access fee program was established in 2001 when several state parks were also closed to the public by the previous administration due to the budget crisis it faced at that time.
One-Third of Michigan Solid Waste is Imported
LANSING, Michigan, February 6, 2006 (ENS) - Solid waste imported into Michigan made up 29 percent of all waste disposed of in Michigan landfills in Fiscal Year 2005, according to The Report of Solid Waste Landfilled in Michigan released Friday by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The largest source of waste imports into Michigan continues to be from Canada, with total imports of 11,878,091 cubic yards, up three percent from FY04.
Waste disposed of by Michigan residents decreased by about one percent, to 45,437,244 cubic yards, while waste imported from other states and Canada increased 354,018 cubic yards, about two percent.
"It is discouraging to see the amount of waste being brought into Michigan from outside of our borders continue to increase," said DEQ Director Steven Chester. "This fact must call attention to the need for real action on solid waste issues in the Legislature."
The DEQ proposed a comprehensive solid waste strategy in 2005 to address solid waste issues that included raising the cost of using Michigan's landfills in order to provide funding to local communities to increase recycling, expanding the Bottle Bill to control litter and reduce the amount of recyclable material going to landfills, and ensuring disposal capacity for waste generated in Michigan while reducing excess capacity attractive to out-of-state waste generators.
While no action was taken on these initiatives, recent research conducted in Wisconsin has demonstrated the benefits of such programs, Chester said.
Wisconsin added a $3 per ton recycling surcharge to landfill tipping fees in 2002, providing funding support for Wisconsin's state recycling program and resulting in a decrease in waste imports by approximately 17 percent from 2001.
The Wisconsin report noted that an increase in Wisconsin's surcharge of $7 per ton could provide a 50 percent reduction in out-of-state waste disposal in Wisconsin while providing increased revenue to fund a comprehensive state recycling program.
Pennsylvania, which increased its surcharge to $7.25 per ton, has also experienced a reduction in solid waste imports.
Based on the capacity used during FY05, it is estimated that Michigan landfills have approximately 17 years of remaining disposal capacity.
Energy Star Building List Grew by 2,500 Last Year
WASHINGTON, DC, February 6, 2006 (ENS) - More than 2,500 office buildings, schools, hospitals, and public buildings won Energy Star status from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for superior energy and environmental performance in 2005.
Energy Star buildings are found in every state and the District of Columbia. The most Energy Star buildings are located in California, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, and Ohio.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson congratulated the owners of the Energy Star buildings, saying, "together we are defining a new generation of environmentally preferable buildings that make sense for our environment and the bottom line."
Commercial buildings account for more than 17 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.
Energy Star qualified buildings generally use up to 40 percent less energy than typical buildings. Building owners earn the Energy Star by scoring in the top 25 percent on EPA's energy performance rating system. Scores are based on actual energy use.
Among the top performing buildings are 1007 office buildings, 501 public schools and 834 grocery stores. More than 200 hotels, hospitals, medical offices, and other buildings also earned the Energy Star.
Food Lion leads the list as owner of the most Energy Star buildings.
The 2005 buildings, representing 482 million square feet, are saving an estimated $349 million annually in lower energy bills while meeting industry standards for comfort and indoor air quality.
The buildings are preventing 900,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to emissions from 540,000 vehicles, the EPA said.
Energy Star is a government-backed program helping businesses and consumers protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. More than 7,000 organizations partner with EPA in the Energy Star program. For more information and a complete list of buildings and their locations, visit: http://energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=news.nr_news#2500
LEED Green Design Contest Open to Students, Young ProfessionalsWASHINGTON, DC, February 6, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Green Building Council's annual design competition is going local. The Natural Talent Design Competition for students and young professionals has been hosted at the national level in past years, but this year's competition will be administered through the Council's regional chapters to increase its impact on and relevance to local communities.
Students and young professions are encouraged to submit building designs that demonstrate the principles of the LEED Green Building Rating System, such as integrated design, sustainability, innovation, and social consciousness.
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, to provide a guideline for the design and construction of sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings.
"This is an exciting change for the Natural Talent Design Competition," said Joe Snider, chair of the USGBC's Emerging Green Builders Committee. "Contest entrants will be even more invested in the design and development of the project as it will focus on their own region and community. Taking the competition to the local level will spur the development of even more diverse, creative and exciting green building designs."
The goal of the competition is to broaden environmental education in the building professions within the university system, empowering students and young professionals to become future leaders within the green building movement.
The competition connects students with professionals from the USGBC community and green building industry. It is intended to raise awareness of future designers and recognize students and emerging green builders for their dedication, creativity, innovation, and commitment to sustainable design.
Participating USGBC Chapters include: Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Diego, California; Colorado; Iowa; Massachusetts; New York; Ohio; Pennsylvania; Washington, DC and Canada. Each chapter will have a local program, schedule and requirements.
Interested participants should enroll in the competition that is geographically closest. The local winners will be showcased in a Best-In-Show at Greenbuild, USGBC's annual conference and expo to be held this November in Denver. Registration deadlines vary by chapter; for more information visit www.usgbc.org.
The LEED Green Building Rating System is a voluntary third party rating system in which building projects earn credits for meeting specified green building criteria.
Projects are evaluated within six environmental categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality.
Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels of green building certification are awarded based on the total credits earned.
The LEED Rating System has been adopted nationwide by federal agencies, state and local governments, and private companies as the industry standard of measurement for green building.
The U.S. Green Building Council is a coalition of corporations, builders, universities, government agencies and nonprofit organizations working to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work.
Since its founding in 1993, the Council has grown to nearly 6,000 member companies and organizations; a 60 person professional staff; a broad portfolio of LEED products and services; extensive educational offerings; the industry's popular Greenbuild International Conference & Expo; and a network of more than 60 local chapters, affiliates and organizing groups.