AmeriScan: February 23, 2007

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U.S. and Australia Sign Tsunami Warning Agreement

WASHINGTON, DC, February 23, 2007 (ENS) - The governments of the United States and Australia today signed an agreement to promote cooperative technical partnerships in tsunami early warning systems.

As part of this effort, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology expect to launch a new Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART™) buoy station in April to further strengthen the Indian Ocean region's capacity for tsunami warning.

Triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, a tsunami struck without warning on December 26, 2004, killing more than 280,000 people and displacing more than 158 million others in 11 Indian Ocean countries.

"NOAA is pleased to have the Bureau as a partner in the Indian and South West Pacific basins to assist in providing part of a global tsunami warning capability," said USAF retired Brigadier General John "Jack" Kelly, NOAA deputy undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere.

"We expect that Australia and the United States will continue to work together to maintain a robust operational tsunami warning system throughout this region," Kelly said.

"We are creating a structure and network of scientists in both countries to share data and provide technical capabilities," said Geoff Love, Ph.D, director of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. "The agreement fosters a mutual exchange of scientific and technical expertise to the benefit of both countries."

The technical collaboration and partnership strengthens national and regional capacity for tsunami detection, forecast, warning, communication, preparedness and other aspects of an end-to-end tsunami warning system.

It increases the number of in situ and deep ocean sea level observations available in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The partnership also reduces the cost of development, deployment, operations and maintenance for tsunami detection systems that protect Australia, the U.S. and the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

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Illinois Considers E-Waste Recycling Law

CHICAGO, Illinois, February 23, 2007 (ENS) - In Illinois, a bill has been introduced to responsibly deal with electronic waste, usually called e-waste.

SB1583, the Electronic Scrap Recycling Act, sponsored by State Senator Susan Garrett, would create and finance a collection, transportation, and processing system throughout the state for the convenient, safe, and environmentally sound recycling of electronic products. The bill is expected to create more than 20 companies and over 1,800 jobs in Illinois.

"I'm pleased to sponsor what will be a first in the Midwest solution to the growing problem of electronic waste," said Garrett, a Democrat. "The recycling system we're proposing will solve a number of problems - the amount of landfill space electronics takes up, the risk of toxic materials leaking into our groundwater, and the tragic practice of junk computers going to disadvantaged countries, where they rot in piles that become toxic mountains."

By January 2009, manufacturers would be responsible for establishing and funding the program, retailers for consumer education, consumers for turning in their old electronics, and, ultimately, state government for oversight and enforcement.

The program would cover equipment such as computers, monitors, televisions, printers, fax machines, cell phones, calculators and PDAs.

Joe Shacter, senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said, "We're pleased that Senator Garrett's legislation would create a shared responsibility system in which manufacturers fund a recycling system and retailers serve as the primary educators of consumers about how to recycle."

The bill stipulates that by January 2009, any covered electronic devices sold in the state must meet the Restrictions on Hazardous Standards already in force in the European Union regarding allowable amounts of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers used in the manufacturing of electronic devices.

"The more types of waste we can recycle, the better," said Mike Nowak, Board member of the Chicago Recycling Coalition and WGN Radio personality. "This is a perfect complement to the City of Chicago's move to replace the blue bag system with curbside collection of many other types of waste."

Two years after the bill takes effect, in 2011, the bill would make it illegal in Illinois to dispose of any covered electronic in a landfill or incinerator. The extra two years would allow Illinois' recycling infrastructure time to prepare for the extra volume.

Of the 2.6 million tons of obsolete electronics, or E-Waste, generated in the U.S. in 2005, only 330,000 tons were recycled. E-Waste is the fastest growing element in the solid waste stream, and the vast majority of it - 87.5 percent - ends up in landfills, seeping toxic waste into the groundwater.

Despite this, the federal government has taken no action to date and only four states - all on the East and West coasts - have passed legislation to address this growing crisis.

"E-scrap's toxics like mercury and lead are dangerous in minuscule doses," said Max Muller, Environmental Advocate at Environment Illinois. Even well-run landfills can leak, and who's to say these products will even make it to landfills? If we want to ensure these chemicals don't end up in the groundwater Illinoisans drink, then providing convenient, statewide recycling and prohibiting e-scrap in landfills is the way to do it."

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Solar Giant SunTechnics Enters East Coast Market

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, February 23, 2007 (ENS) - Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell Thursday hailed the merger of California solar energy giant SunTechnics with Pennsylvania's Mesa Environmental Sciences, Inc.

He said the move would spark the development of $50 million in new solar energy projects and more than double the number of jobs at the company's new East Coast headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

One of the first projects to be initiated under the acquisition involves installation of a photovoltaic solar array at the building where the merger was announced Thursday - the Friends Center Building in Center City Philadelphia.

The 10 kilowatt system will generate about 12,000 kilowatt hours per year and reduce carbon emissions by 15 tons annually.

Friends Center has been renovating its building to meet the highest "green" building standards, with a vegetated roof that captures and reuses stormwater and a combination of geothermal heating and cooling, photovoltaic solar panels, and purchased wind-generated electricity that will make the center fossil-fuel free.

"We expect continued rapid growth in the U.S. renewable energy market," SAID Florian Edler, CEO of SunTechnics Energy Systems, Inc.

"Backed by our globally proven engineering expertise, we plan to become the market leader not only in Europe and Asia, but also in the US. The acquisition of Mesa Energy is a milestone in this plan, establishing SunTechnics as a leader in Pennsylvania and placing us in an ideal position in New Jersey. By the end of the year, we aim to increase our U.S. sales tenfold," said Edler.

SunTechnics is one of the worldwide leading suppliers of turnkey systems for the utilization of renewable energy with more than 600 employees in 14 countries.

Founded in 1999, Mesa initially specialized in environmental consulting services. Three years later, the company expanded its line of business to include the installation of solar energy.

The team of 16 who surround Mesa's founders, Sarah Hetznecker and Gary Sheehan, has installed numerous photovoltaic and solar thermal energy projects for commercial customers, universities and government buildings, including a 2.8-kilowatt photovoltaic system on the south roof of the Governor's Residence in Harrisburg and a 4.8 kilowatt system on the Department of Environmental Protection's Southeast Regional Office in Norristown.

"The decision to expand our business activities with the globally active SunTechnics Group was a logical step. As SunTechnics, we now have the power to expand much faster in the renewable energy market of the east coast than our regional competitors," said Hetznecker.

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Salvation Army Thrift Store Fined for Asbestos Violations

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, February 23, 2007 (ENS) - An Anchorage Salvation Army thrift store has agreed to pay a $76,906 penalty to settle with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, for alleged violations of the asbestos National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

In response to customer complaints, the EPA conducted an inspection of a thrift store operated by the Salvation Army in Anchorage in September 2005, and found untrained workers removing over 7,500 square feet of asbestos-containing floor tile during business hours.

The EPA’s inspector determined the floor tile was in a deteriorated state and easily crumbled with hand pressure. The store had already disposed of much of the broken floor tile prior to the inspection. Samples collected by EPA’s inspector showed the floor tile contained asbestos.

Upon learning of the asbestos concern, the Salvation Army immediately closed the store, located on Northern Lights Boulevard, and kept it closed until an abatement company was able to clean up the remaining asbestos waste materials and dispose of them properly.

The Salvation Army also disposed of its inventory rather than risk exposing the public further to asbestos fibers.

"Exposure to asbestos dust can have serious health consequences," said Marcia Combes, EPA’s Director of Alaska Operations. "In this case, the Salvation Army was very responsive upon learning of the problem. This dangerous situation could have been avoided if the store had followed the Salvation Army’s established asbestos management program."

EPA regulations require building owners and contractors to survey buildings prior to renovation or demolition projects and to submit advance notice to EPA.

To protect public health and the environment, only trained workers may handle asbestos materials and must be supervised by a person familiar with the regulations. Workers must keep asbestos wet to prevent dust from leaving the work area and dispose of asbestos waste in designated landfills.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber, used extensively in building materials prior to the 1980’s due to its fire resistant properties. Exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to diseases including asbestosis and lung cancer. EPA has regulated asbestos under the Clean Air Act since the early 1970’s.

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Farmers Use New Nonlethal Repellant Against Sandhill Cranes

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, February 23, 2007 (ENS) - The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, DNR, has received temporary approval for the use of the nonlethal bird repellant Avitec from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

New this spring is a liquid formulation to complement use of a powder that was approved last year.

Farmers in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota can use this repellent to treat seed corn in areas where cranes have been damaging corn fields by eating corn seeds shortly after planting.

This approval reduces potential conflicts arising between farmers and the increasing population of sandhill cranes, the state agency said.

The use of Avitec represents a cooperation effort by the International Crane Foundation, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program to prevent damage that cranes cause.

Avitec has an active ingredient of 9,10 Anthraquinone, a naturally occurring substance used by plants to repel birds.

Cranes detect Avitec at very low levels and avoid it. Though treated, planted kernels are not eaten by cranes and the birds continue to forage on waste grains and other foods in those same fields. This benefits the farmers because waste corn and many types of beetle larvae can later cause problems as the crop matures.

This first agricultural application of 9,10 Anthraquinone, approved within the U.S. as a bird repellent, is the result of extensive collaboration among federal, state, and private organizations as well as Arkion, the manufacturer of Avitec.

Applications for longer term use of Avitec are being pursued for the 2008 planting season.

The recovery of Minnesota's sandhill crane population is a conservation success story, the DNR says. From the 1930s, when the state's crane population was estimated at fewer than three dozen birds the population has increased dramatically.

Sandhill Cranes now are the most abundant of the world’s cranes. They are widely, though intermittently, distributed throughout North America, extending into Cuba and far northeastern Siberia, according to the International Crane Foundation.

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Stormwater Capture Project Protects Marin County Creeks

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 23, 2007 (ENS) - A small grassroots community group in Marin County has completed a model stormwater capture project that protects Coho salmon streams, reduces bank erosion, saves water, and educates the local school children about how to protect the Earth.

The project was completed by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, SPAWN, a community-based environmental nonprofit organization in San Geronimo Valley.

The "creek friendly" project was unveiled in November at the Lagunitas School in Marin County.

The rainwater harvesting system, captures rainfall from the roof of a playground lunch-shelter at the school during the stormy winter months and diverts it into a 30,000-gallon cistern that will serve to irrigate the School's Organic Garden Project during the dry summers.

Left un-captured, the runoff would have drained into a 10-inch storm drain that empties out onto an already eroded bank on Larsen Creek, a salmon-bearing creek in the San Geronimo Valley, one of the major tributaries to Lagunitas Creek.

Lagunitas Creek is listed as impaired for sediment, pathogens, and nitrates.

"This project saves precious drinking water, saves the school money on their water bill, and reduces erosion," said Todd Steiner, SPAWN's director.

Excess captured stormwater will be diverted into a vegetated swale where it will be allowed to percolate into the groundwater.

"If this innovative and scaleable project was replicated throughout the watershed," said Steiner, "it could help to re-charge our underground aquifer, reducing the impacts of development that cause our creeks to go dry, stranding baby salmon, in the summertime."

In 2003 SPAWN was awarded a $130,000 grant to do citizen water quality monitoring, nonpoint source pollution awareness outreach, and to implement an on-the-ground project to address nonpoint source pollution. One of the achievements funded by this grant is the rainwater catchment project.

Between October and December 2006, San Geronimo Valley received half of last year’s rainfall, about 12 inches. This resulted in the capture of 11,922 gallons of stormwater runoff from the 1,600 square foot lunch-shelter roof.

Roughly, for every one inch of rainfall, the cistern captures 1,000 gallons of roof runoff.

The project will be used over future years as part of science school curricula - calculating rainfall runoff from roofs and parking lots, and associated physical principles - and a watershed tour to demonstrate methods in creek care, sustainable water use and stormwater runoff mitigation.