AmeriScan: January 4, 2005

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Arkansas Hazwaste Incinerator Explodes, Burns

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, January 4, 2005 (ENS) - About 2,600 residents and more than 100 prisoners were evacuated on Sunday morning when a hazardous waste incineration plant in El Dorado, Arkansas, exploded and caught fire. Local responders closed nearby highways and streets and imposed an evacuation. El Dorado is about 15 miles north of the Arkansas border with Louisiana.

The plant that exploded, Teris LLC, operates rotary kilns for solid incineration and thermal oxidation for liquid incineration. At least two regulated chemicals are on-site - ethyl chloride and trimethylamine - both flammable.

The facility reported that an employee attempted to extinguish a small fire that quickly burned out of control in one of two waste storage warehouses at Teris. The warehouse stored about 4,500 drums of hazardous waste.


Explosions at the Teris hazwaste facility rocked El Dorado, Arkansas. (Photo courtesy EPA)
The fire continues to burn in the part of the warehouse that stored lithium and magnesium waste. Numerous drums containing magnesium have exploded continually. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Teris was reluctant to fight the fire with water due to the potential water reactive nature of the metal waste.

The facility concentrated on keeping structures and adjacent buildings cool to prevent further escalation in the fire. Local responders supported this strategy and were willing to allow the fire to burn out.

There was a noticeable air plume emitting from the fire going north to northwest. The EPA was requested to provide air monitoring support to the local and state responders, and sent up its Airborne Spectral and Photographic Environmental Technology (ASPECT) plane to monitor the air as the fire was allowed to burn itself out.

"Preliminary review of the ASPECT data collected shows low concentrations of triethylamine in the immediate downwind plume," the EPA said, a finding consistent with what the Teris facility reported. "No other significant compounds were detected," the agency said.

The EPA monitored air in the surrounding community, focusing on the areas downwind of the fire, and found that the data "indicates safe air quality levels at all locations monitored."

Teris contracted for additional air monitoring from the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, LLC.

Approximately 600 residents have still not been allowed to return home. The cause of the explosions and fire is under investigation.

The two warehouses on the site were permitted for storage of containerized hazardous waste, as well as several agitated tanks for the storage of liquids awaiting incineration. The materials are "characterized as waste because there is no longer any economical use for them," the EPA said. "Incineration has been determined to be the most cost effective and environmentally sound method of disposal for this waste."

The EPA said the materials stored for incineration include petroleum products and other organic and inorganic chemicals in varying degrees of purity.

"The majority of the products are completely reacted, diluted, or mixed with dirt and debris," the agency said. "All products brought into the facility are profiled and analyzed by technical chemists to determine the proper disposition. The waste products are then subjected to extreme heat which breaks the chemicals down into its basic molecular structure, eliminating its hazardous components."

Teris' El Dorado plant is permitted to process a wide range of "hard to handle" material. It is the first commercial waste treatment company in the United States to be certified as compliant with the ISO 9002 standard, an internationally recognized quality system designed by the International Organization for Standardization.

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Human Relations, Equipment Failures Plague Nuclear Plant

WASHINGTON, DC, January 4, 2005 (ENS) - Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff will meet with representatives of Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG) on Wednesday to discuss the results of an NRC special inspection conducted at the Hope Creek nuclear power plant.

The inspection was performed at the power plant operated by PSEG in Hancocks Bridge, New Jersey, in response to a steam line failure and shutdown with complications that occurred there on October 10, 2004.

But there are concerns about communication between staff and management at the plant, that could have led to the steam line failure and other equipment problems with a recirculation pump and with exhaust piping for a high-pressure coolant injection pump.

While the NRC says the special inspection "did not identify any serious safety violations," the agency concluded that "there were numerous indications of weaknesses in corrective actions and management efforts to establish an environment where employees are consistently willing to raise safety concerns."

The Hope Creek nuclear plant is located 18 miles southeast of Wilmington, Delaware, the nearest large population center which is home to some 74,000 people. It remains shut down.

The NRC explains that, "Some PSEG staff and managers felt that the company had emphasized production to a point that negatively impacted the handling of emergent equipment issues and associated operational decisionmaking."

"Additionally," the agency said, "management has not been consistent in its support of station staff identifying concerns and providing alternate views."

"We found examples of unresolved conflicts and poor communication between management and staff, as well as underlying staff and management frustration with poor equipment reliability. The equipment issues stemmed, in part, from weaknesses in implementation of station processes such as work management and corrective action," the NRC said.

Following the October 10 steam line failure and shutdown, an NRC team of five full-time and four part-time members was asked to evaluate the circumstances surrounding it.

The review included an assessment of whether the steam pipe failure could have been prevented and an independent evaluation of equipment and human performance issues that complicated the shutdown of the reactor.

The Wednesday meeting to address these issues will be open to the public for observation. It is scheduled to begin at 7 pm at the Holiday Inn Select Bridgeport, located off Exit 10 of Interstate 295 in Swedesboro, New Jersey. Before the session is adjourned, NRC staff will accept questions and comments from the public.

“PSEG made a commitment to meet with us and discuss the results of our special inspection and the key technical issues facing the Hope Creek nuclear power plant before it returns to service,” said NRC Region I Administrator Samuel Collins. “This meeting adheres to that pledge and affords us an opportunity to delve into these issues in a public setting.”

Although the units have been operated safely, the NRC says it is "concerned that if the work environment issues are left unaddressed, these issues could have a negative impact on plant safety, particularly as it relates to the handling of emergent equipment issues and associated operational decisionmaking."

In addition to a discussion of the special inspection results, Wednesday's meeting will include a review of the issues associated with the plant’s “B” reactor recirculation pump and exhaust piping for the high-pressure coolant injection pump.

The NRC staff expects to complete its assessments of those issues by Wednesday, but if they are not finished by the time of the meeting, the agency would either delay the session or, more likely, conduct a subsequent management meeting with PSEG to discuss them.

That meeting, which also would be open to the public for observation, would take place before the Hope Creek plant can return to service from its current refueling and maintenance outage.

The special inspection team will document its findings and conclusions in a report to be issued within 45 days after the January 5 meeting.

The operating license for Hope Creek was issued on July 25, 1986, and expires on April 11, 2026.

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America The Noisy

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina, January 4, 2005 (ENS) - Chainsaws, snowmobiles, weed wackers, leaf blowers, barking dogs - secondhand noise, experienced by people who did not produce it, is becoming a public health problem as well as an environmental problem in the United States, according to several new articles in the current edition of "Environmental Health Perspectives," a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a federal government agency.

"Noise is detrimental to health in several respects," editorializes Wolfgang Babisch, a noise specialist with the German Federal Environmental Agency. It causes "hearing impairment, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, psychophysiologic effects, psychiatric symptoms, and fetal development. Furthermore, noise has widespread psychosocial effects including noise annoyance, reduced performance, and increased aggressive behavior."

Another article in the publication quotes Les Blomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, an anti-noise advocacy group based in Montpelier, Vermont, who says that the effect of secondhand noise on people is similar to that of secondhand smoke. "Secondhand noise is really a civil rights issue. Like secondhand smoke, it's put into the environment without people's consent and then has effects on them that they don't have any control over."

The article, "Decibel Hell" by South Carolina writer Ron Chepesiuk, details what happened to the 1970s attempt to control excessive noise by law.

The Noise Control Act of 1972 empowered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine noise limits to protect the public health and welfare, and to establish a noise control office.

Under that law, Congress did establish the Office of Noise Abatement and Control, as well as federal standards for business, industries, and communities, and it began researching the effects of sound exposures, Chepesiuk writes, but the office lost its funding in 1982 during the Reagan administration.

"We are no longer doing research on noise," Kenneth Feith, a senior EPA scientist and policy advisor, told Chepesiuk. "We just don't have the money or staff to do it."

New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey has tried repeatedly to pass the Quiet Communities Act, Chepesiuk writes, but it has failed to gather support in the House. "More and more communities are being affected by airports, trains, and railways," Lowey said. "We need a national office to coordinate policy. That's common sense to me."

Mark Huber, communications director for Noise Free America, is quoted as saying that lobbyists are responsible for exposing the public to secondhand noise. "By using paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and in state legislatures, the automobile and entertainment industries are quietly removing obstacles protecting the public against noise," he said.

Not everyone agrees. Chepesiuk quotes Stephen McDonald, vice president of government affairs for the Specialty Equipment Market Association, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and installers of specialty automotive equipment, including boom car equipment, who denies that any powerful lobby exists and is working against the best interests of society.

In the same issue, Charles Schmidt writes in a separate article, "Noise that Annoys: Regulating Unwanted Sound," that establishing causal links between sounds and health risks is challenging, if not impossible. He quotes Sanford Fidell, a noise expert with a California consulting firm for airports, communities, and government agencies who points out that unlike drugs or chemicals, noise pollution leaves no residue in the body. That makes it tough to measure the cumulative effects of noise or to distinguish noise impacts from similar stress producers.

Schmidt explores local and state versus federal noise regulations and concludes that either the federal government should take over noise regulation or leave the field to local governments to regulate.

Read the noise articles at:

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Hutchinson Salt Mine First to Take Biodiesel Underground

HUTCHINSON, Kansas, January 4, 2005 (ENS) - The Hutchinson Salt mine in Hutchinson, Kansas is the first mine of any kind in the United States to use 100 percent biodiesel fuel called B100 to power its machines underground.

Biodiesel is a renewable, alternative fuel to petroleum diesel and is made from soybeans grown in the United States as well as other fats and vegetable oils. It burns cleaner, reduces emissions like particulate matter by 47 percent and cuts carcinogens 80 to 90 percent. Biodiesel is sulfur free, non-flammable and biodegrades faster than sugar.

“We use B100 biodiesel in everything underground that runs on diesel,” said Max Liby, vice president of manufacturing for the mine. “The main benefit is we’ve cleaned up soot in the air and have cut particulates."

"Workers, particularly the operator of the loaders, like the soy biodiesel much better because they say particulates do not get in their nostrils and the air is noticeably cleaner," said Liby.

"Also, lubricity is much greater than if we used regular diesel fuel, so the injector pumps and injectors work more efficiently. The soy biodiesel actually cleans the injectors,” he said.

The Hutchinson Salt Company’s main product is highway salt for icy weather. Clients include the states of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Illinois, and the city of Chicago.

The salt mine is one of more than 500 fleets using biodiesel fuel. That number is expected to continue to rise, in part due to a biodiesel tax incentive bill that became law on January 1. The tax incentive is expected to make biodiesel more accessible to the general public as it will narrow the cost gap between biodiesel and regular diesel fuel.

“Biodiesel is a great fuel for use inside mines,” said Harold Kraus, soybean farmer and a director of the National Biodiesel Board, an industry association. “It is made from a natural product, so the air mine workers breathe from B100 is also natural. Besides cutting emissions, biodiesel also has a pleasant odor when it burns,” he said.

“Soybeans are important to Kansas not only for the vegetable oil biodiesel comes from, but also for the animal industry, as Kansas is the largest producer of packed beef in the United States,” Kraus said.

“The animal industry is the largest user of soybean meal, for its feed, plus the waste fat from animals can be made into biodiesel,” he said.

Other biodiesel users include the Missouri Department of Transportation, all four branches of the military, NASA, Harvard University, the National Park Service, U.S. Postal Service, and L.L. Bean. About 300 retail filling stations make various biodiesel blends available to the public, and more than 1,000 petroleum distributors carry it nationwide.

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Texas Hands Air Quality Grants to Corporations, Universities

AUSTIN, Texas, January 4, 2005 (ENS) - Foods giant Frito-Lay will be testing hybrid electric delivery trucks in the Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston-Galveston areas of Texas as the result of an air pollution reduction grant courtesy of the state legislature.

FedEx will also be testing and certifying medium-duty hybrid electric delivery vehicles and demonstrating them in Texas with another state grant.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has announced the award of $12.4 million in air pollution reduction grants under the New Technology Research and Development program developed by the Texas Legislature.

The program provides financial incentives to encourage and support research, development and commercialization of technologies to reduce pollution in Texas, particularly to achieve cost-effective reductions of nitrogen oxide, one of the primary components that form ground level ozone, or smog.

The program is currently focusing on projects to commercialize technologies that could receive funding under the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) incentive grants program.

During the TERP program's second round of funding for the 2004 fiscal year, the TCEQ awarded more than $65 million in incentive grants, and the TERP program will provide at least $127 million in grants in Fiscal Year 2005.

The TCEQ selected 22 projects to receive grants for this round of funding.

With one of the grants the County of El Paso will work towards development of a natural gas hybrid electric transit bus to be demonstrated in El Paso.

The Gas Technology Institute will develop a small scale hydrogen fuel cell refueling station and fuel cell powered delivery truck to be developed and tested in Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

Lamar University won a grant to develop a new stationary source emissions control technology.

WOW Energy, Inc. will use its grant to demonstrate emissions control technology for cogeneration plants, demonstrating the results in the Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston-Galveston areas.

And Railpower Hybrid Technologies Corporation will use its grant to extend application of hybrid electric switcher locomotive technology and demonstrate it in Texas.

Other projects includes studies at The University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Valparaiso University to study and improve the understanding of smog in Texas.

Most of the projects demonstrate technology that should be offered for sale in the state within five years. For more information on NTRD and TERP grants, go to

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Federal Prisoners to Recycle Government Computers

WASHINGTON, DC, January 4, 2005 (ENS) - Federal prison inmates are going to be used to recycle U.S. government computers under a contract made between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and UNICOR last month.

UNICOR is a self-sustaining corporation that uses prison laborers and is part of the Justice Department's Federal Bureau of Prisons. UNICOR was awarded one of eight contracts to dispose of some of the 10,000 computers the federal government discards each week.

The U.S. government buys seven percent of all computers sold in the world. When they are replaced by more modern models, the U.S. EPA is making an effort to keep some of them and other used electronic equipment out of landfills and warehouses.

In December 2004, the agency has awarded its first contracts to dispose of the unwanted computers in an "environmentally responsible" manner.

Called Government Wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) for Recycling Electronics and Asset Disposition (READ) services, the contracts provide federal agencies with a method of recycling and disposing of excess or obsolete electronic equipment.

UNICOR says its electronics recycling program provides inmates with valuable skills and processes the equipment in a responsible way. If a computer cannot be reused, it is broken down into component parts that are recycled. The glass from all CRT monitors is recycled in a glass-to-glass process.

But critics say the program exposes prison laborers to dangerous chemicals while they labor for 20 cents to $1.26 per hour.

Electronic equipment contains toxic materials such as lead, mercury, chromium, cadmium, and beryllium, which, if mishandled, could be released into the environment, the EPA said. "This complex waste stream poses challenging management issues and potential liability concerns for federal facilities," the agency said.

"We scream bloody murder when other countries use prison labor, yet here we are under our own noses seeing this becoming one of the fastest growing industries," said attorney Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition last year when a commercial computer company gave UNICOR a contract to recycle its computers.

Including the one with UNICOR, the EPA has awarded eight contracts - three nationwide, three in the eastern United States and two in the west.

The other contractors are Molam International of Marietta, Georgia, Supply Chain Services of Lombard, Illinois, Asset Recovery Corp. of St. Paul, Minnesota, Hesstech of Edison, New Jersey, Liquidity Services Inc. of Washington, DC, Global Investment Recovery of Tampa, Florida, and Hobi International of Batavia, Illinois.

The basic contracts approved December 16, 2004 run for one year with up to four possible one year extensions, with a combined potential value of up to $9 million.

Contractors must maintain an audit trail to the equipment's final destination to ensure that reclamation and recycling efforts are documented.

In fiscal year 2005 alone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects federal agencies to spend almost $60 billion on information technology equipment, software, infrastructure and services.

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Poll: Majority Rejects Arctic National Wildlife Drilling

UTICA, New York, January 4, 2005 (ENS) - Americans oppose opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling by a solid 55 percent to 38 percent margin, according to the latest Zogby poll, taken just before Christmas 2004.

Their opposition is even stronger, 59 to 25 percent, to what Zogby pollsters called a proposed "backdoor maneuver" that would use the annual Congressional budget process to let the oil industry into the Refuge.

In addition, 80 percent of those polled say that conservation, improved fuel efficiency and the development of renewable energy alternatives are the best ways to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Only 17 percent say that more drilling on America's public lands is the solution.

From December 13 through the 15, 2004 Zogby International conducted interviews of 1,203 likely voters chosen at random nationwide for The Wilderness Society and other national conservation groups.

Eight out of 10 of those surveyed said that conservation, more fuel-efficient cars, and development of renewable energy sources are preferable to drilling on public lands as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

By contrast, only one in six voters, 17 percent, say that drilling for more oil and gas in the United States, including areas within wildlife refuges and other public lands, is the best way to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

Instead, the vast majority of voters are evenly divided between "conserving more, wasting less, and developing more fuel-efficient cars so we use less oil and gas" (41%) and "relying less on oil and gas and expanding development of alternative forms of energy like wind, solar, and ethanol" (39%).

There are no demographic subgroups where the drilling option comes within 10 points of either the conservation/fuel efficiency or development of alternatives options.

Even among Republicans (65%) and Bush voters (68%), nearly two-thirds favor conservation or alternatives over drilling, Zogby pollsters report. Independent voters supported conservation or alternatives over drilling by an overwhelming 89% - 8% margin.

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Playa Lakes Radio Series Illuminates Jewels of the Plains

DENVER, Colorado, January 4, 2005 (ENS) - A new radio series about playa lakes is making its debut this Friday on six stations in Texas. Playas are shallow, depressional wetlands that are generally round and small, averaging 17 acres in size. They have basins lined with clay and naturally fill with water periodically from rainfall and runoff.

The Playa Lakes Radio Series will air on radio stations heard by hundreds of thousands of farmers, ranchers and other rural residents in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and eastern New Mexico. The series is a weekly report on conservation issues and efforts in the high plains, focusing on the people and partnerships that conserving wetlands, water and prairies, and particularly playa lakes.

The Playa Lakes Radio Series is created by independent radio producer Larry DeSha, founder of DeSha Agrimedia and Debbie Slobe, communications team leader for the Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV).

The PLJV is a partnership of state and federal wildlife and agricultural organizations, conservation groups and private industry dedicated to the protection of playa lakes, other wetlands and prairies for the benefit of birds, other wildlife and people in the High Plains.

Since its inception in 1989, the PLJV has raised nearly $50 million for more than 350 habitat conservation, research and outreach projects.

Slobe says the first program will be a curtainraiser. On the second Friday, conservation of playas will be front and center with an examination of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Wetlands Restoration Non Floodplain Initiative.

A later show will highlight a traveling playa lakes exhibit which is touring the playa lakes region and has been on the road for about two years. "We'll talk with the creators and also the author and photographer who served as the inspiration behind the exhibit with their award-winning book, "Playas, Jewels of the Plains," said Slobe.

The show will air every Friday afternoon at 12:50 pm local time on the following stations:

The show will also be archived on the PLJV website at:

The group plans to distribute the series to dozens of other radio stations throughout the High Plains, eventually covering all of eastern Colorado and New Mexico, western Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska and the Texas Panhandle.