AmeriScan: January 12, 2004

Conservationists Sue to Block Navy Landing Field

RALEIGH, North Carolina, January 12, 2004 (ENS) - Conservationists filed suit in federal court Friday challenging the U.S. Navy's plan to build a military jet landing field in the heart of the Atlantic migratory bird flyway and a few miles from a national wildlife refuge.

The Navy intends to build a new F/A 18 E/F Super Hornet jet training field within five miles of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina. Pilots would use the field to practice landing on aircraft carriers.

Officials say the decision is justified by national security concerns, but critics contend the government's environmental impact studies for the landing field downplayed the substantial risk of collisions between jets and the large flocks of tundra swans, snow geese and other birds that winter in the area, and minimized adverse impacts to the wildlife refuge.

The refuge is winter home to 100,000 large waterfowl, including tundra swans and snow geese from Arctic Canada and Alaska.

Experts - including the Air Force's leading authority on bird/aircraft collisions - have described the plan as an ill considered one with a high likelihood of bird and aircraft collisions producing catastrophic results.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), representing the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, filed the lawsuit.

"Siting the landing field near this wildlife refuge puts pilots and birds on a collision course that will be deadly for both," said Derb Carter, SELC senior attorney. "Of all the places to put this kind of facility, the Navy has chosen one of the worst."

The $186.5 million facility would be located on 30,000 acres the Navy plans to acquire in Washington and Beaufort counties. The counties filed their own lawsuit against the Navy on Friday.

A coalition of landowners and other opponents have scheduled a ribbon cutting for a "tent city" near the site of the proposed landing field where they vow to camp out around the clock, seven days a week to protest the project.

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Altamont Wind Operators Sued Over Bird Deaths

LIVERMORE, California, January 12, 2004 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today against parties involved with the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) in the San Francisco Bay area. The organization says the 5,400 turbines at Altamont Pass are killing more than 1,000 birds a year, including species protected by federal and state laws.

The suit was filed against Florida energy producer FPL Group, Inc. and Danish wind power company NEG Micon A/S. Through their subsidiaries and associated entities, the two companies own or operate roughly half of turbines at the APWRA.

"Altamont Pass wind turbines are causing extremely high levels of bird mortality along a major raptor migration route and are likely depleting eagle, hawk, and owl populations not only locally but throughout the western United States," said Jeff Miller, spokesperson for the Center. "We absolutely support wind power, but it is past time for the primary turbine owners, FPL Energy and NEG Micon, to address this problem."

The APWRA was established in 1982 on 160 square kilometers of private cattle ranches in eastern Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

Due in part to the local abundance of raptor populations in the region, wind turbines at APWRA cause more bird deaths than any wind facility in the world. Critics say poor planning allowed the Altamont's wind turbines to be built along a major raptor migration corridor and in the heart of the highest concentration of golden eagles in North America.

Miller says the Altamont wind turbines kill up to 60 or more golden eagles and hundreds of other hawks, owls, and other protected raptors. These bird kills have continued for 20 years, according to the Center, in violation of the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and several California Fish and Game Code provisions.

The lawsuit alleges that these violations and bird kills are unlawful and unfair business practices under the California Business and Professions Code.

"Altamont Pass has become a death zone for eagles and other magnificent and imperiled birds of prey," said Richard Wiebe, attorney for the plaintiffs. "Recent studies have proposed numerous recommendations for mitigating the devastating effect of Altamont Pass wind turbines on birds, yet the industry is blindly charging ahead replacing existing turbines with new and much larger turbines without any requirement of effective preventative measures or remediation for ongoing bird kills."

The Center says the issue at Altamont is not wind power versus birds, but rather whether the wind power industry is willing to take simple steps to reduce bird kills.

Raptor experts have suggested numerous measures to reduce bird deaths, including retiring particularly lethal turbines, relocating turbines out of canyons, moving isolated turbines into clusters, increasing the visibility of turbines to birds, retrofitting power poles to prevent bird electrocutions, discontinuing the rodent poisoning program, and managing grazing to encourage rodent prey away from turbines.

"The wind power industry receives tens of millions of dollars in revenue from California's consumers, as well as enormous tax credits and government subsidies, based on the perception that it provides 'green' energy, yet continues to kill thousands of protected birds annually," said Miller. "The Altamont companies routinely kill rare birds that are the natural heritage of all Californians, and take taxpayer subsidies home to Florida and Denmark."

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Lawsuit Aims to Block Big Bear Lake Development

SAN DIEGO, California, January 12, 2004 (ENS) - Conservationists filed suit last week to block a development project in sensitive bald eagle habitat on the North Shore of Big Bear Lake in the rural town of Fawnskin, California.

The project site is located in the rural area of Fawnskin on the North Shore of Big Bear Lake. Conservationists say the area is the last undeveloped stretch of lakeshore and allege that the county government has not conducted any review for development of the site for over 10 years as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The bald eagle, protected under both the California and federal Endangered Species Acts, winters in the Big Bear Valley each year. The project site and surrounding area is prime foraging habitat for the species.

The lawsuit alleges that the County of San Bernardino and the California Department of Fish and Game failed to conduct the required CEQA environmental review.

"This project has changed so much since it was proposed over 20 years ago that the agencies do not even know what they have been approving," said Sandy Steers, spokesperson for the Friends of Fawnskin, which filed the suit along with the Center for Biological Diversity.

A previous project approval on the site, known as Marina Point, included the construction of 133 condominiums, a marina for approximately 175 boats, and other recreational development.

The plaintiffs say due to the lack of proper review and permitting, it is unclear what exactly the developer currently plans to build on the environmentally sensitive site.

Construction work on the site, including grading, dredging, and road building, commenced earlier this year but was subsequently halted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers due to violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

The suit seeks public review and disclosure of issues related to habitat for endangered and threatened species, air quality, traffic congestion, land use, noise, aesthetics and the cumulative impact of all projects in the area, prior to any development at Marina Point.

"The officials in San Bernardino County have clearly failed to protect Big Bear Valley's wildlife habitat, air quality, and quality of life," said Adam Keats, Staff Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "This action sends a message that ignoring the law will no longer be tolerated."

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Inadequate Water Supplies and Sanitation Can Stunt Growth

BALTIMORE, Maryland, January 12, 2004 (ENS) - A new study finds children living with inadequate water supplies and sanitation are shorter and have more episodes of diarrhea than children who have access to sufficient clean water and sewage disposal. Between April 1995 and December 1998 researchers with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other institutions recruited 230 children at birth a community in Lima, Peru, to assess the effects of water and sanitation on linear growth, diarrheal disease and prevalence of parasites.

Follow up with the children was done once a day for diarrhea and once a month for height measurements. Household water and sanitation levels were obtained at the initial recruitment of the children.

Children, at two years of age, with the worst conditions for water source, water storage and sanitation were found to be one centimeter (cm) shorter and had 54 percent more diarrheal incidents than those children with the best conditions.

A height deficit of 0.9 cm was also associated with a lack of adequate sewage disposal.

The researchers found that a better water source alone did not provide full health benefits. Those children with a water connection, but without adequate sewage disposal, were 1.8 cm shorter than children in households with sewage facilities.

The researchers say the results suggest that more reliable water sources would discourage water storage, which puts the water at risk of being contaminated, and consequently decrease diarrheal occurrences and improve growth in children.

"Better water supply alone does not guarantee full health benefits," said Dr. William Checkley, lead author of the study and an associate in the Department of International Health at the School. "Our findings underscore the importance of adequate sanitation facilities in developing countries to reduce childhood malnutrition and diarrhea.

"We must not fail to recognize that access to safe water and adequate sanitation is not a privilege, but a basic human right," Checkley said.

More than a billion of the world's city dwellers lack access to clean drinking water.

The study is published in the January 10, 2004, issue of the British journal "The Lancet."

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DNA Mutations Could Explain Success of Ancient Migration

IRVINE, California, January 12, 2004 (ENS) - Key mutations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of human cells can make some people more prone to obesity, Alzheimer's disease and the effects of aging - and may hold the key to how early humans who migrated from Africa survive in the colder climates of Europe, Asia and the New World, scientists report.

In research published last week in the journal "Science," researchers from the University of California at Irvine (UCI) report that their findings could ultimately link people with this ancestral history to specific diseases.

Found outside the cell's nucleus, mitochondria are the power plants of cells that are responsible for burning the calories in our diet.

The cellular energy is used for two purposes: to generate heat to maintain our body temperature and to synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a chemical form of energy that permits us to do work such as exercise, think, write, and make and repair cells and tissues.

The mtDNAs are the blue prints for our mitochondrial power plants and determine the proportion of the calories in our diet that are allocated to generate body heat versus work.

The researchers found that after early humans migrated to colder climates, their chances of survival increased when mutations in their mtDNA resulted in greater body heat production during the extreme cold of the northern winters.

"In the warm tropical and subtropical environments of Africa it was most optimal for more of the dietary calories to be allocated to ATP to do work and less to heat, thus permitting individuals to run longer, faster and to function better in hot climates," said Douglas Wallace, one of the coauthors of the report with the UCI.

Wallace said that in Eurasia and Siberia, however, such an allocation would have resulted in more people being killed by the cold of winter. He explains that the mtDNA mutations made it possible for individuals to survive the winter, reproduce and colonize the higher latitudes."

"This explains the striking correlation between mtDNA lineage and geographic location that we still see today in indigenous populations around the world," Wallace said.

It also explains why people with a certain ancestral history may be more susceptible to some diseases.

"When heat and cold are managed by technology, not metabolism, and people from warmer climates are eating the high fat and calorie diets of northern climates, there is a rise in obesity and the age-related degenerative diseases," Wallace said. "The caloric intake and local climate of many individuals are out of balance with their genetic history. Thus, our genetic history is linked to our current diseases, resulting in the new field of evolutionary medicine."

In the study, Wallace and his UCI colleagues Eduardo Ruiz-Pesini, Dan Mishmar, Martin Brandon and Vincent Procaccio analyzed 1,125 human mtDNA sequences from around the world to reconstruct the mutational history of the human mtDNA back to the original mtDNA, known as the mitochondrial Eve.

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"Hot Towers" Can Make Hurricanes Stronger

SEATTLE, Washington, January 12, 2004 (ENS) - National Space and Aeronautics Administration (NASA) scientists have found that "hot tower" clouds are associated with the intensification of tropical cyclones - called hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the West Pacific.

Researchers describe a hot tower as a rain cloud that reaches at least to the top of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere that extends some nine miles high in the tropics.

These towers are called "hot" because they rise to such altitude due to the large amount of latent heat - water vapor releases this latent heat as it condenses into liquid.

A particularly tall hot tower rose above Hurricane Bonnie in August 1998, as the storm intensified a few days before striking North Carolina.

The storm caused more than $1 billion damage and three deaths, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Hurricane Center.

Earlier work by others has already shown hot towers increase the chance a new tropical cyclone will form.

"The motivation for this new research is that it is not enough to predict the birth of a tropical cyclone," said Owen Kelley of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "We also want to improve our ability to predict the intensity of the storm and the damage it would cause if it struck the coast."

Kelley and fellow researcher John Stout studied data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite and found a tropical cyclone with a hot tower in its eyewall was twice as likely to intensify within the next six hours than a cyclone that lacked a tower.

Kelley and Stout say they considered many alternative definitions for hot towers before concluding the nine mile height threshold was statistically significant.

The researchers presented their findings today at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in Seattle.

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Study Shows Ethnicity May Affect Allergies in Kids With Asthma

HARTFORD, Connecticut, January 12, 2004 (ENS) - Puerto Rican and African American children with asthma may be at risk for multiple indoor and outdoor allergies, researchers report.

The study found that Puerto Rican children with asthma were up to three times more likely to be allergic to indoor and outdoor allergens than white children with asthma.

African American children with asthma were two to three times more likely to have allergic reactions to outdoor allergens, according to the study.

"Puerto Rican and African American children are more likely to live in poor housing conditions and, consequently, have an increased risk of exposure to certain allergens," said the study's lead author Dr. Juan Celedón of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. "Not knowing a child is allergic to certain allergens may result in the child being continuously exposed to these allergens, which can ultimately make asthma management more difficult."

The study was published in the January issue of "CHEST," the peer reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Celedón, along with researchers from Connecticut Children's Medical Center and the University of Connecticut Health Center examined the relationship between ethnicity, geographic residence and living conditions, and asthma severity on the prevalence and extent of indoor and outdoor allergens among children with mild to severe asthma living in Hartford.

Results showed that Puerto Rican children with asthma were three times more likely to be allergic to indoor allergens and twice as likely to be allergic to outdoor allergens than white children with asthma. In addition, African American children with asthma were two to three times more likely than white children with asthma to be allergic to outdoor allergens.

"The high frequency of positive allergy test results in Puerto Rican and African American children with asthma suggests that these groups should be tested for allergies more often," said Celedón. "However, historically, these minority groups have had limited access to skin testing."

When compared with white children, Puerto Rican and African American children were more likely to live in an urban area, to be insured by Medicaid, to have severe persistent asthma, to have a dry skin condition known as eczema, and to be exposed frequently to cockroaches and rodents in their homes.

Overall findings showed that children with more severe asthma had more severe allergies.

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USGS Picks New Science Advisor for Earthquakes

WASHINGTON, DC, January 12, 2004 (ENS) - Dr. David Applegate has been selected as the Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Applegate will lead the Geologic Discipline's Earthquake Hazards Program and will also provide coordination for geologic hazards across the Bureau.

"The USGS looks forward to Dave's strong leadership of our Earthquake Hazards Program, which provides the science needed to ensure our safety and economic security," said USGS Director Chip Groat.

The USGS is the only federal agency with responsibility for recording and reporting earthquake activity nationwide.

Applegate be leaving his post as director of Government Affairs at the American Geological Institute (AGI), a nonprofit federation of 42 geoscience societies.

Prior to joining AGI in 1995, Applegate served with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as the American Geophysical Union's Congressional Science Fellow.

Applegate holds a B.S. in geology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he did his dissertation on the tectonic evolution of the Funeral Mountains in the Death Valley region of California.

He currently serves on the steering committee of the National Research Council's Disaster Roundtable, co-leads the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus Work Group and chairs the International Union of Geological Sciences Task Group on Public Affairs.

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