AmeriScan: February 5, 2007

* * *

Water Levels Fall at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

WASHINGTON, DC, February 5, 2007 (ENS) - The Indian Point 3 nuclear power plant experienced a sudden, unexpected drop in cooling water early this morning, but the event was not severe enough to shut the facility down, officials determined.

An Unusual Event, the lowest of four levels of emergency classification, was declared at the Buchanan, New York power plant in Westchester County in response to reduced water levels at the plant’s water intake structure.

Indian Point 3 is a 1,100-megawatt pressurized water reactor. It is owned and operated by Entergy.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it is closely monitoring conditions at the power plant. The Incident Response Center in the agency’s Region I Office in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, was activated to track developments and determine if plant operators were responding appropriately.

Like all nuclear power plants, Indian Point 3 pumps water from a nearby waterway - in this case, the Hudson River - for cooling purposes. The water, which does not come in contact with any radioactive systems and so does not become contaminated, is pumped back into the river after being used to cool down various systems, such as the plant’s condenser.

At 5:53 am today, plant control room operators received an alarm indicating a problem with the rotating screens that are used to prevent debris in the river from entering the water intake structure.

At 5:57 am, the pumps used to wash debris off the screens, tripped off-line due to low water levels. The tide on the river was going down concurrent with these events. The Unusual Event was declared at 7:07 this morning and was lifted at 10:14 am.

Another concern was icing conditions caused by freezing temperatures in the region. Cold weather conditions are expected to continue throughout the week.

Both Indian Point 3 and the adjoining Indian Point 2 reactors were continuing to operate at full power. Indian Point 2 also experienced reduced water intake levels but on a less significant level than Indian Point 3.

Twenty million people live within the 50 mile "peak injury" zone of Indian Point, located 24 miles north of the Bronx on the banks of the Hudson River, and public confidence in the plant has declined after 9/11. Its critics say it could be the target of a terrorist attack, and that its emergency evacuation plan is not adequate.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose Chappaqua home is just 20 miles from the power plant, said she would press for an Independent Safety Assessment at the plant.

"This latest incident at Indian Point appears to have been resolved. But I believe it underscores the need for an Independent Safety Assessment at the plant" said Clinton, "and I will soon reintroduce legislation to require one."

"Many of my colleagues agree with me that an Independent Safety Assessment is essential and while we have not yet been able to persuade the Bush administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to undertake one, I believe that in this new Democratic Congress we will achieve that goal."

"I think that continued public confidence in the facility will depend on a much closer look at how Indian Point is run, and I will be working to make that happen," Clinton said.

* * *

Pennsylvania Governor Maps Energy Independence Strategy

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, February 5, 2007 (ENS) - Citing the urgent need to cut energy costs, move toward energy independence and stimulate the economy, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell today released his Energy Independence Strategy.

The plan will push Pennsylvania into the top tier of states taking steps to cut consumer energy costs, and expand the alternative fuel, clean energy and conservation sectors.

"This plan will cut Pennsylvanians’ energy bills by $10 billion over the next 10 years," said Governor Rendell. "It will give us the ability to produce enough homegrown fuel to replace every gallon Pennsylvania currently imports from the Persian Gulf.

"With smart policies and aggressive leadership, we have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment and created thousands of new jobs, making us a leader in the clean energy sector. The new policies I am proposing will grow our competitive edge in clean energy even further and move us dramatically closer to energy independence."

The enactment of new laws, regulatory policies and the creation of the $850 million Energy Independence Fund will enable Pennsylvania to achieve two key goals in addition to saving $10 billion in energy costs over the next 10 years.

The plan is expected to reduce Pennsylvania’s reliance on foreign fuels and increase Pennsylvania’s clean energy production capacity.

In addition, it will expand Pennsylvania’s energy production and energy technology sectors to create more jobs, the governor said.

Electric generation rates can swing wildly during the course of the day and at different times of year. A recent study by PJM, the independent electricity grid operator that covers Pennsylvania, showed that cutting power consumption by just three to five percent during peak rate periods saves consumers across the state up to $230 million annually.

"At times of high energy use, such as the hottest days of the summer and coldest days of the winter, energy costs can be five to seven times higher than during times of moderate use," said Governor Rendell. "Today we do not have the tools to cut our energy bills by shifting energy use to times when costs are lower. I want to help consumers save money through smart metering and time-of-day rate structures."

The Energy Independence Strategy would give consumers the right to get smart meters installed in their homes to give them a new tool to reduce energy spending. Utilities would be required to prove they have pursued this strategy before getting approval to build new generating plants.

Rebates would be provided for customers turning in old, inefficient air conditioners and refrigerators - two of the biggest energy using appliances in the home - for new models that use at least 15 percent less energy.

The creation of a Pennsylvania Sunshine program will help residents pay for up to 50 percent of the cost of installing solar panels on their home or small business.

At current electricity rates, the average household could save about $600 a year with a five kW solar system, or solar panels that generate about two-thirds of the electricity consumed in the home.

Power generators and distributors also are required to invest in conservation first initiatives that help customers cut energy consumption rather than in costlier options like building new generation or buying power at peaking rates.

"I think everyone now understands that you cannot deal with energy policy without addressing global warming," said Governor Rendell. "It is the largest environmental problem we face and Pennsylvania needs to do something about it.

"The efforts I am announcing today to save energy and produce more clean energy are a good first step, but they are only a first step. In the next 90 days I will present a comprehensive strategy to make Pennsylvania a leader in addressing climate change."

* * *

Shell Must Fix Leaking Pipelines at Puget Sound Refinery

OLYMPIA, Washington, February 5, 2007 (ENS) - After four oil spills in seven months, the Washington state Department of Ecology has ordered the Shell Puget Sound Refinery near Anacortes to inspect all of its oil transfer lines and related equipment.

Under an administrative order issued January 30, Shell will report back to Ecology on the problems it has identified and how the company intends to fix them.

The need for the inspections became apparent after the refinery reported two small gasoline spills on July 21 and September 6, 2006.

Ecology spill prevention engineers found that external pipeline corrosion had weakened portions of the three mile long oil transfer lines that run between the refinery's tanks and the dock where oil is transferred to and from oil tankers and fuel barges.

About two miles of the transfer lines run above marine waters along the causeway and the fueling dock area.

After the 2006 spills, Ecology issued a notice of violation because of the substantial risk for more fuel leaks. Then on January 27, five gallons of crude oil leaked from one of the refinery's pipeline segments under the loading dock. Ecology determined that that the spill occurred due to internal pipeline corrosion.

"The three oil spills clearly were preventable," said Dale Jensen, who oversees statewide spill prevention, preparedness and response activities for Ecology. "We issued our order out of strong concern regarding Shell's ability to keep spills from reaching the already-threatened Puget Sound. We need to be confident that the company is committed to preventing oil spills."

In fall 2006, Shell started a series of inspections, using advanced technology including mechanical devices that flow through the oil transfer lines searching for weak spots, cracks and other potential problems. Using the "smart pig" robots helps refinery engineers understand the condition of the piping and where to make any needed repairs.

"Our goal is to prevent all oil spills, big and small, from occurring and harming Puget Sound waters," said Sue Krienen, general manager for the Shell Puget Sound Refinery. "We are examining all of our oil transfer lines and related equipment as well as actively identifying and fixing any problems with fuel transfer lines and dock equipment. To accomplish this, we must be able to understand the condition of the two miles of marine piping that runs over water at our facility to prevent spills."

Jensen said Ecology spill prevention inspectors will be checking the condition of similar fuel transfer lines and dock equipment at the state's other five oil refineries located at Ferndale, Anacortes and Tacoma.

* * *

Lawsuit Aims to Speed Phaseout of Three Pesticides

SEATTLE, Washington, February 5, 2007 (ENS) - A government plan allowing six more years' use of a deadly pesticide it admits needs to be banned is being challenged by conservation and farmworkers' groups.

The groups, represented by Earthjustice, reopened a lawsuit in federal district court aimed at speeding up the removal of azinphos-methyl, commonly called AZM or guthion.

The legal actions also take aim at two other deadly pesticides, phosmet and chlorpyrifos. All three were developed from World War I nerve toxins.

AZM is used to kill insects on orchard crops such as apples, cherries, pears, peaches, and nectarines. The highest uses occur in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Chlorpyrifos is used widely on corn and orchard crops. Use of phosmet on orchard crops and blueberries poses particularly serious risks to workers.

Last November the EPA decided that AZM poses unreasonable adverse effects and must be banned but allowed its continued use on fruit crops for until 2012 and on nut crops until 2009.

The conservation groups contend this is too long because of the immediate and severe risks it poses to farm workers and their families.

The EPA found that phosmet and chlorpyrifos pose "risks of concern" to workers for poisonings and to the environment in the form of water contamination and fish kills. However, it did not adopt sufficient mitigation to reduce or eliminate these risks, the lawsuit claims.

"These pesticides put thousands of workers at risk of serious illness every year," said Erik Nicholson of the United Farm Workers of America. "It is inexcusable for EPA to allow AZM to continue poisoning workers for six more years."

Between 1987 and 1998, between 21 and 24 million pounds of chlorpyrifos was applied to more than eight million acres of crops in the United States. The largest use is on corn. Both AZM and chlorpyrfos have led to violations of water quality standards.

Phosmet residue in sprayed fields poses dangers to workers up to four weeks after application but the EPA allows workers to reenter most fields a week or less after application. Chlorpyrifos is commonly showered on fields from open cab tractors, yet EPA did not require closed cabs which could eliminate severe poisonings risks.

All three pesticides are neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides that affect the human brain and nervous system. Exposure can cause dizziness, vomiting, convulsions, numbness in the limbs, loss of intellectual function, and death.

Farmworker families and communities are exposed to organophosphates through take-home exposures on clothing, contamination of cars and drift onto outdoor play areas.

New alternatives have emerged that cost only slightly more and produce the same amount and quality of food crops.

The farmworker groups bringing the lawsuit are the United Farm Workers of America, Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Beyond Pesticides, Frente Indígena Oaxaqueño Binacional, and Arnulfo Lopez, a farmworker in California.

* * *

Scientists: Ridding Homes of Lead Paint Takes Too Long

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina, February 5, 2007 (ENS) - The length of time it can take to rid homes of lead hazards is "unacceptable" according to researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and colleagues in this month's "American Journal of Public Health."

"This is the first study that looks at the time that it takes from a child's first blood lead level, BLL, test to the time when their home is made lead safe," said Kristina Zierold, Ph.D., lead author. "We knew there were a lot of kids with elevated BLLs, but nobody really knew how long it was taking to remove the exposure."

The study was conducted in Wisconsin while Zierold was an epidemic intelligence service officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"While our results apply only to Wisconsin, the fact that this was the first time anyone had studied this issue suggests that the problem may apply to other states," Zierold said.

An estimated 24 million housing units nationwide contain this poisonous material.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in 1995 that 86 percent of all public housing and 83 percent of private homes had some lead-based paint.

The research evaluated 382 Wisconsin children aged six months to six years during a four year period, 1996 - 1999, with BLLs of 20 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or greater.

In Wisconsin, these levels required a lead hazard investigation of children's residences. The median length of time it took to eliminate the lead exposure was 465 days. Overall, only 18 percent of homes were completed within six months, and 46 percent required more than 18 months to be considered lead safe.

The study did show some improvement. The median amount of time it took to remediate a lead problem in 1996 was 828 days, and 347 days in 1999.

Researchers also found that African-American children were almost twice as likely as other races to live in homes taking longer than six months to be made lead safe. Zierold said a possible reason for the difference is that many of the African-American children in the study lived in rental housing. "Rental housing is a big indicator of lead poisoning because it's up to the landlord to take care of the lead hazards in the house and not the resident. And many times, the money is not there to fix up the property," said Zierold.

Children living in pre-1978 housing are also at risk for lead poisoning. Zierold says that to prevent the damage from lead poisoning, the CDC recommends that all at-risk children be screened for lead poisoning at six months of age.

Zierold says the most common form of lead exposure in children is through hand and mouth contact. Lead-based paint flakes off walls, windows and doors, and then children pick up the flakes on their hands while crawling on the floor. "Often you'll see kids chewing on lead paint because it's sweet," said Zierold.

Once ingested, lead can have detrimental effects on a child's IQ and cause cognitive impairments and hearing and behavioral problems. High levels of exposure for long periods of time can cause convulsions, and in extreme cases, lead poisoning can result in death.

* * *

Environmental Toxicants Cause Stem Cells to Shut Down

ROCHESTER, New York, February 5, 2007 (ENS) - Low levels of toxic substances cause critical stem cells in the central nervous system to prematurely shut down, new research shows.

The study, which is the first to identify a common molecular trigger for the effects of toxicant exposure, may give scientists new insights into damage caused by exposure to common chemicals such as lead and mercury and new methods of evaluating the safety of all kinds of chemicals.

"Establishing the general principles underlying the effects of toxicant exposure on the body is one of the central challenges of toxicology research," said University of Rochester biomedical geneticist Mark Noble, Ph.D., senior author of the study. "We have discovered a previously unrecognized regulatory pathway on which chemically diverse toxicants converge and disrupt normal cell function."

While scientists have long understood that certain chemicals like lead and mercury have adverse effects on the body, the precise molecular mechanism by which many of these substances cause harm has not been clearly identified.

This makes it more difficult to link individual toxic substances with specific diseases or determine whether or not a chemical is toxic.

Funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Noble and his colleagues exposed a specific population of brain cells to low levels of lead, mercury, and paraquat, one of the most widely used herbicides in the world.

These cells, called glial progenitors, are advanced-stage stem cells that are critical to the growth, development, and normal function of the central nervous system.

The activity of cells is regulated by molecular pathways normally set off when substances bind to receptors on the cell's surface. Noble and his colleagues found that these compounds turned off specific sets of receptors and set into motion a molecular chain reaction that causes the cells to shut down and stop dividing.

"These toxicants are activating a normal cellular regulatory pathway, they are just activating it inappropriately," said Noble.

"If this disruption occurs during critical developmental periods, like fetal growth or early childhood, it can have a significant impact. Development is a cumulative process, and the effects of even small changes in progenitor cell division and differentiation over multiple generations could have a substantial effect on an organism," he said.

There are tens of thousands of synthetic industrial chemicals, pesticides, metals, and other substances for which toxicological information is limited or nonexistent.

By identifying a molecular target that is shared by toxic substances, all with very different chemical compositions, this research may give scientists a method to rapidly evaluate compounds to determine whether or not they pose a potential health threat.

By identifying a specific molecular pathway that is activated by toxic exposure," said Noble, "we can now begin to look at specific ways to protect cells from this disruption of signaling."

The study was published today in the on-line journal "PLoS Biology."

* * *