AmeriScan: February 20, 2007

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States, Enviros Sue EPA Over Cement Factory Emissions

ALBANY, New York, February 20, 2007 (ENS) - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo today announced a multi-state legal challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, for adopting a rule that refuses to regulate mercury and other pollutants from existing portland cement plants.

The states seek to have a federal court overturn the rule by finding that it violates the Clean Air Act.

A petition, signed by nine states, was filed today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The states joining New York in the petition are Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Portland cement is the primary cement used in building projects and road construction. It is produced throughout the United States. Collectively, these cement plants are a major source of mercury emissions nationwide.

The federal Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set standards for various hazardous air pollutants, including mercury, based on the performance of the cleanest 12 percent of existing plants.

The EPA’s rule would exempt existing portland cement plants from having to do anything to lower their emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) refusal to set emission standards for portland cement plants leaves a significant source of mercury pollution in the United States unregulated.

Mercury in the environment is blamed for neurological disorders, learning disabilities, and, in certain high dosage cases, even death. Recent studies suggest that mercury exposure may also contribute to adult cardiovascular problems. In addition, mercury contamination in many water bodies has led to the issuance of fish consumption advisories across New York State.

This will be the second time that the EPA has been challenged over its failure to set mercury pollution standards for the portland cement industry. In 2000, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit directed the EPA to set mercury standards. The EPA has since ignored the court’s ruling.

"It is shameful that the Bush Administration’s EPA continues to abdicate its responsibility to protect public health and the environment. This coalition of states is resorting to the federal courts in an effort to compel the EPA to follow the law and establish limits for the most dangerous pollutants," said Cuomo.

"This is just another instance in a long line of examples of the Bush Administration caving to industry lobbyists at the expense of the health concerns of ordinary citizens."

On Friday in the same court, environmentalists brought their own lawsuit against the EPA for its latest refusal to limit cement kilns' mercury emissions.

Earthjustice is representing Sierra Club, the Texas group Downwinders At Risk, the Huron Environmental Activist League from Michigan, Friends of Hudson from New York, California's Desert Citizens Against Pollution, and Montanans Against Toxic Burning in the lawsuit.

"Once again the EPA has failed to put public health first," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director. "The agency ignored the law. They have ignored the courts and they have ignored public health for too long."

The agency estimates that 118 cement kilns emit over 11,000 pounds of mercury each year, making cement kilns one of the largest sources of mercury pollution.

The nation's single largest mercury polluter of any kind is a cement kiln in southern California, which emitted over 2,500 pounds of mercury in 2004.

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Texas Man Pleads Guilty to HazWaste Crimes

EL PASO, Texas, February 20, 2007 (ENS) - Dennis Rodriguez of El Paso, Texas, pleaded guilty today to criminal environmental crimes related to the operation of his company, North American Waste Assistance, LLC, also located in El Paso.

Under the plea agreement, entered in federal district court for the Western District of Texas, Rodriguez admitted to making a material false statement or representations in a manifest used to transport hazardous waste. He also admitted to two counts of transporting hazardous waste to a facility that did not have a permit to take such waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Both Rodriguez and his company were indicted in November 2005 for violations related to the handling and transportation of hazardous waste.

According to the indictment, Rodriguez and his company were hired to dispose of over of 155 gallon drums of construction-related waste. Approximately 75 of the drums contained expired petroleum-based concrete curing compound, which is an ignitable hazardous waste when disposal becomes necessary.

The indictment alleged that on March 27, 2002, Rodriguez and NAWA transported the drums using several Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifests that stated that the drums contained "Non-RCRA, Non-Regulated" waste.

Rodriguez made arrangements to transport the drums for disposal to landfills in Avalon, Texas, and Walterboro, South Carolina that were not permitted under the law to accept hazardous waste.

The drums of hazardous waste were then disposed of at unauthorized facilities.

Rodriguez faces a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a total maximum fine of $250,000 per count.

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Judge Allows Caribou Migration Near Snowmobile Playground

PRIEST LAKE, Idaho, February 20, 2007 (ENS) - The last remaining mountain caribou in the lower 48 states received an extra measure of protection last week from the Eastern District Court in Washington.

The court issued a February 14 ruling that will allow the endangered caribou to migrate from the northern areas to the southern areas of their habitat, while still permitting snowmobiles in much of the Priest Lake region.

The single herd of mountain caribou, recently estimated at approximately 37 animals, is all that remains in the lower 48 states, making these the most endangered large mammals in North America.

"This ruling demonstrates that Idaho is big enough for both snowmobiles and mountain caribou, something we’ve believed all along," said Mike Petersen with The Lands Council in Spokane. "Once a species goes extinct, there’s no bringing it back, so we have to protect the few caribou we have."

Like elk and other wildlife, caribou are most vulnerable in the winter when they are stressed by cold weather and deep snows. Snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles passing through caribou habitat have put additional strain on the herd.

"Judge Robert Whaley’s pivotal decision provides critical protection for the rare mountain caribou in northern Idaho," said Mike Leahy with Defenders of Wildlife. "The protected area is necessary to ensure that historic caribou migration patterns, which are so essential for their survival, can continue."

The ruling allows snowmobiling in areas along the edges of the designated recovery area and several trails within the recovery area, yet prohibits most off-trail use in the most essential caribou habitat. About 90 percent of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest is outside the recovery zone and will not be affected.

Conservation groups originally took legal action against the U.S. Forest Service in 2005 because the agency’s winter recreation policies threatened the endangered caribou.

In November 2006 the conservation coalition reached an agreement with snowmobilers on which play areas and trails needed to be closed off for the species’ protection. Then the Forest Service intervened with a plan of its own, which would have meant far less protection for the caribou and to which the court was sympathetic.

The conservationists asked the court to reconsider, and more land was then closed to snowmobiling - producing a compromise that, though not quite as good for caribou as the original agreement had been, was clearly superior to the Forest Service plan.

"We feel that Judge Whaley’s decision strikes an important balance between allowing access and protecting mountain caribou when they are most vulnerable," said Jonathan Oppenheimer of Idaho Conservation League. "It provides suitable access to recreation areas while still protecting the only remaining caribou habitat in the nation."

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Lavender, Tea Tree Oils May Cause Breast Growth in Boys

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina, February 20, 2007 (ENS) - Repeated topical use of products containing lavender oil and/or tea tree oil may cause a rare condition resulting in enlarged breast tissue in boys prior to puberty, federal government researchers have confirmed.

The scientific name for the condition is prepubertal gynecomastia.

Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIEHS, confirmed in laboratory studies what a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Science Center’s School of Medicine suspected after diagnosing three of his young male patients with prepubertal gynecomastia.

The three otherwise healthy Caucasian boys, ages four, seven and 10 years, had normal hormonal levels when they were diagnosed with gynecomastia by Dr. Clifford Bloch a Colorado physician.

All the boys had either used lavender-scented soap and skin lotions, or shampoos or styling products that contained tea tree oil and lavender oil as ingredients. In each case, several months after the suspected products were discontinued, the gynecomastia had subsided or resolved.

The NIEHS researchers found an association between the use of products containing these oils and the rare disorder, but cautioned more research is needed.

At this point, they said, the findings are only applicable to young males with unexplainable enlarged breasts who are regularly using products containing these essential oils.

"We want to encourage doctors who may be seeing patients with gynecomastia to ask their patients about the products they are using," said Ken Korach, Ph.D., chief, Laboratory Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology at NIEHS and author on the study.

"Patients with prepubertal gynecomastia may want to consider reducing the use of products that contain these oils," he said.

These essential oils might now be considered endocrine disruptors since they appeared to have caused an imbalance in estrogen and androgen signaling. Estrogen functions as the primary female sex hormone, while androgen stimulates or controls the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics.

"The results of our laboratory studies confirm that pure lavender and tea tree oils can mimic the actions of estrogens and inhibit the effects of androgens," said Korach.

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Pollution Prevention Videoconference Links Hospital Staffers

OLYMPIA, Washington, February 20, 2007 (ENS) - Hospital employees across Washington state can learn the most current methods for managing and reducing hospital wastes, especially from disinfection and sterilization processes, at an interactive videoconference broadcast to six locations on March 8, 2007.

Through speaker presentations, question and answer sessions and local roundtable discussions, participants will learn about preventing pollution, decreasing waste, reducing disposal costs, ensuring regulatory compliance, and protecting worker and patient safety.

Speakers include Fred Miller, industrial hygienist with Washington State University Environmental Health and Safety. Miller has worked in hazardous waste and emergency response management for more than 15 years in both private environmental consulting firms and in academic institutions.

"At our campus hospital, we changed to a hydrogen peroxide sterilization method," Miller said. "This allowed us to eliminate over 500 pounds of toxic gases from our campus. Now that we can turn instruments around faster, we no longer need to use cold sterilization during certain surgical procedures. This has lead to a further reduction of hazardous chemical use and exposure."

An agreement between Ecology and the Washington State Hospital Association is guiding projects to eliminate mercury and other wastes.

The primary goal of the agreement is to eliminate mercury waste from Washington hospitals. While mercury has many uses in the health care industry, it is a reproductive and neurological toxin. Hospitals contribute four to five percent of the total mercury in waste water.

Among the goals of the seminar is to reduce the total volume of wastes generated by the health care industry by 30 percent.

The seminar is jointly sponsored by Ecology, Washington State Hospital Association, Washington State University, University of Washington, Department of Health and the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center.

There is no fee for this seminar. Seats are limited in some locations, so registration is required. Find the location nearest you and register online at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/mercury/hospitals/seminar.html

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Built Environment Can Help Prevent Obesity

NEW YORK, New York, February 20, 2007 (ENS) - New York City dwellers who reside in densely populated, pedestrian-friendly areas have lower body mass index levels compared to other New Yorkers, according to a new study by the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

Body mass index, BMI, is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

Placing shops, restaurants and public transit near residences may promote walking and independence from private automobiles, the researchers conclude.

Although previous studies have addressed the relationship between obesity and the urban built environment in smaller, newer cities, this study is the first to evaluate the relationship in older, larger New York City.

"There are relatively strong associations between built environment and BMI, even in population-dense New York City," said Andrew Rundle, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School and lead author.

The researchers looked at data from 13,102 adults from New York City’s five boroughs. Matching information on education, income, height, weight and home address with census data and geographic records, they determined respondents’ access to public transit, proximity to commercial goods and services and BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height.

The authors discovered that three characteristics of the city environment were associated with lower BMI levels - living in areas with mixed residential and commercial uses, living near bus and subway stops and living in population-dense areas.

"A mixture of commercial and residential land uses puts commercial facilities that you need for everyday living within walking distance," Dr. Rundle said. "You’re not going to get off the couch to walk to the corner store if there’s no corner store to walk to."

The study appears in the March/April issue of the "American Journal of Health Promotion."