AmeriScan: January 14, 2005

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Ten Dead in La Conchita Slide, Oil Spilled on Coast

SANTA BARBARA, California, January 14, 2005 (ENS) - Officials have called off the search for survivors of a mudslide that buried the tiny town of La Conchita Monday when they had accounted for all residents. Ten people are confirmed dead, four children from one family, lost under the tons of rain soaked earth that broke loose without warning and inundated their homes.

Ventura County officials are still keeping evacuees away and say the slide may just be left in place as it is too difficult and dangerous to remove.

La Conchita families have lost family members and all of their possessions. Donations are being collected for the survivors in separate memorial funds and through the Montecito Bank & Trust into a general memorial fund for all victims' families. Visit to find out more.

Elsewhere along the coast between Santa Barbara and Venice, the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) is responding to an oil spill or spills of unknown origin. The source is unknown, but officials presume the oil is related to the recent floods, road wash-outs, submerged motor vehicles, and mudslides.

Over 500 oiled seabirds, mostly western grebes, have been observed in this area. About 100 have been seen on the shoreline of Ventura Harbor, and another 100 were observed at Port Hueneme. Smaller numbers were counted at Channel Island Harbor and Point Mugu.

OSPR has established an incident command post at Ventura Harbor. A mobile oiled bird care and recovery trailer has been dispatched to Ventura for wildlife rescue and collection.

California's Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) has been activated, and their wildlife veterinarians are on-scene. The OWCN's Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro already has approximately 100 oiled seabirds in-house.

Members of the International Bird Rescue Research Center wildlife rescue team - under direction of the OWCN - are en route to the site, to work with OSPR's wildlife operations staff.

To avoid injury, officials are advising the public not to touch or approach oiled or injured wildlife. Anyone seeing an animal in distress is asked to report it by phone to 562-342-7222, and provide the animal's exact location and condition. Trained wildlife handlers will be dispatched with the appropriate equipment to capture and transport the animal to the nearest care center.

Two University of California-Davis veterinarians who are experts in treating oiled birds and other animals have begun supervising the care of at least 130 birds injured in the Southern California oil spill. Birds are the only injured animals treated so far.

Veterinarians Dr. Michael Ziccardi and Dr. Greg Massey will evaluate the medical needs of each bird, treat it and supervise its cleaning and recovery. The veterinarians said Thursday that most of the birds are weak and suffering from hypothermia. Some are so ill that they are being euthanized.

The center in San Pedro is one of a series of coastal rescue centers and programs that are collectively called the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. The network is the world's most advanced system of emergency centers for wild animals hurt in oil spills.

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is managed by the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, which is part of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

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EPA, Eight Groups Dig In to Fix Septic System Performance

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator for Water Ben Grumbles, along with officers from eight organizations that focus on septic systems, pledged Wednesday to improve wastewater treatment for 25 million homes nationwide.

The three year agreement addresses how septic systems are maintained. These decentralized systems are the second greatest threat to U.S. groundwater quality, second only to leakage from underground storage tanks, the EPA said.

Septic systems are used in nearly 25 percent of homes across the country and used in about one-third of all new housing and commercial development. When properly sited, designed and maintained, these systems are capable of producing high quality wastewater.

But the EPA estimates that nationwide 10 to 20 percent of decentralized systems are not properly treating wastewater due to inadequate site location, design and maintenance.

"This agreement will help solidify our national partnership to protect drinking water supplies and local water quality through promoting change in the way these waste water systems are managed,” said Grumbles. “I am pleased to formally recognize the contributions these partners make to achieve results in protecting public health and improving water quality.”

The memorandum of understanding formalizes the ongoing relationship between the federal agency and the eight national organizations that represent septic system practitioners and the public. They are:

The pact commits the EPA and signatories to develop a one year action plan that integrates their activities. Each year of the three year agreement the action plan will be updated to reflect upcoming plans.

The agreement focuses on better planning, and septic system design, as well as they long term operation and maintenance of septic systems.

For more information about the effort or the decentralized wastewater treatment system program, visit EPA’s website at:

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Aggregates Giant Seeks Permits for New Ohio Quarry

COLUMBUS, Ohio, January 14, 2005 (ENS) - The nation's second largest producer of construction aggregates has applied for storm water and discharge permits in Ohio in connection with a new quarry site in Wilson Township, Clinton County.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has received applications from Martin Marietta Materials, Inc. to construct a new quarry and also to discharge 1.2 million gallons of water per day from a proposed sedimentation pond at the quarry site.

In addition to receiving permits to construct a sedimentation pond and discharge from it, the company will need a storm water permit as Ohio law requires that anyone who disturbs more than one acre of soil for a use other than agricultural, must obtain a storm water permit to ensure that excess soil does not move off of the site into area streams.

The agency says that Martin Marietta's proposed discharges would not exceed chemical-specific water quality standards that protect aquatic life and human health.

But there would be "a change from current water quality conditions" in Anderson Fork and Caesar Creek Lake, therefore, the agency said it is required to consider technical, economic, social and environmental aspects of the proposed project.

The company also is required to receive an air permit which would govern how it will manage fugitive dust emissions caused by material handling, blasting and from unpaved roadways. The company received its air permit on July 10, 2003 as well as a one-time extension under the air permit to begin work until January 10, 2006.

The Clinton County Commissioners, Wilson Township Trustees and local environmentalists are keeping a close watch on any permits that may be granted for Martin Marietta's new quarry.

Clinton StreamKeepers, a grassroots organization affiliated with the Clinton County Environmental Preservation Association, was formed in 1997 out of concern because the aggregate quarry is located directly over or adjacent to an underground aquifer and on some of the best farmland in the United States.

Don Spurling of Clinton StreamKeepers says the community coalesced around this issue. "After hiring attorneys, enlisting experts to testify in court, attending countless hearings in Columbus and spending thousands of dollars, an agreement was finally reached," he says. The 2002 agreement, which is on file in federal court, was signed by Martin Marietta, the Clinton County Commissioners, Wilson Township Trustees, and interested private parties.

Clinton County will receive at least $1 million from Martin Marietta for the mining of limestone and gravel at the site, and the county will be able to reclaim the quarry land for park use when the useful materials have been extracted.

Martin Marietta had previously sued the county for the right to operate the quarry, and U.S. Magistrate Jack Sherman, Jr. approved a settlement that allows Martin Marietta to mine one of the three sites it had planned to mine in Wilson Township. The value of the reclamation and payments by Martin Marietta in a 22 year period will be worth more than $2 million.

The community has an interest in making sure Martin Marietta adheres to the agreement. Early in 2003, the County Commissioners formed a committee for the purpose of ensuring Martin Marietta lives up to the agreement. The committee met twice in 2003 and has not met since.

Since the committee last met, Martin Marietta has built a berm around the quarry, improved nearby roads, installed seismic sensors, has done some blasting, and has asked for the permit to discharge water across private land.

Martin Marietta Materials is the nation’s second largest producer of construction aggregates, supplying crushed stone, sand and gravel for roads, sidewalks and foundations. The company has more than 300 aggregates facilities in 28 states, Nova Scotia, and the Bahamas, including six existing quarries in Ohio.

The public may request a hearing regarding the permit applications to build a sedimentation pond and discharge from it by contacting Susan Aman, by telephone at (614) 644-2160 or in writing at Ohio EPA, Public Interest Center, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, Ohio 43216-1049.

The applications are available for review at Ohio EPA's Southwest District Office, 401 East Fifth Street, Dayton and can be made available by calling Sally Brown at (937) 285-6357.

Anyone may submit written comments or request to be placed on a mailing list for information by writing to: Ohio EPA, Division of Surface Water, Permits Processing Unit, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, Ohio 43216-1049. Ohio EPA will accept written comments on these applications until January 20, 2005.

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EPA Extends Permit Deadline for Stormwater Discharges

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2005 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to extend until June 12, 2006, the regulatory deadline that would require stormwater permit coverage for oil and gas construction activities that disturb between one and five acres of land.

The agency needs additional time to consider comments raised by stakeholders and to consider the economic, legal and procedural implications related to controlling stormwater discharges from these sites.

During the next 15 months, EPA intends to complete an economic impact analysis and evaluate several regulatory options for addressing these stormwater discharges.

The agency said it will evaluate practices and methods used to control stormwater discharges from these sites.

During this extension, the EPA intends to hold at least one public meeting with stakeholders to exchange information on current industry practices and their effectiveness in protecting water quality.

The public may provide comments on the proposed extension for 30 days upon publication in the Federal Register. A copy of the proposed extension and information about EPA’s stormwater program is available at: .

The proposed extension also outlines the EPA’s intent to develop and propose a regulation that would address stormwater discharges from these oil and gas construction sites.

This proposal, to be made by September 12, 2005, will be made available to the public for review and comment.

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States Adopt 18 New Appliance Efficiency Standards

BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 14, 2005 (ENS) - From light bulbs to ice-makers, new state appliance energy efficiency standards could save consumers and businesses billions of dollars, improve electric system reliability, cut pollution, and ease pressure on high energy prices, says a report released Thursday by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP).

"The states are leading the way," said Andrew deLaski, executive director of ASAP and co-author of the report. "With consumers and businesses getting hammered by high energy prices, persistent worries about energy security, and the memory of the Northeast blackout still fresh, state policy-makers are looking to energy efficiency. It's the cheapest, fastest, and safest way to meet our energy needs."

California, Connecticut, and Maryland each put in place new efficiency standards in 2004. Legislation pending in New Jersey is expected to be made final this month and other states are likely to advance similar legislation in 2005.

"Advances in technology keep on yielding new opportunities to cut energy waste," said Steven Nadel, Executive Director of ACEEE and lead author of the report. "Standards that improve the energy efficiency of consumer products and commercial equipment are a cornerstone of a balanced energy policy, for a state or for the nation."

Nadel and deLaski recommend state efficiency standards covering external power supplies for electronics, commercial refrigerators; ice-makers; certain residential and commercial lighting products; commercial clothes washers; natural gas unit heaters; exit signs; traffic lights; swimming pool pumps; and electric distribution transformers.

The authors also say that states should set standards for home furnaces and boilers because the federal government has failed to keep national standards up-to-date.

"We're recommending the low-hanging fruit, said Nadel. "In nearly every case, products meeting these standards pay back the added cost to make them more efficient in one to three years."

According to deLaski, standards are a "proven successful" way to curtail energy waste. States first set appliance and equipment efficiency standards in the 1970s and 1980s, leading eventually to federal standards for more than two dozen products.

Based on U.S. Department of Energy data, these already existing standards will cut U.S. electricity use by nearly eight percent by 2020. The new report provides details on each of the new, additional products for which state standards make sense.

"Leading the Way: Continued Opportunities for New State Appliance and Equipment Efficiency Standards" is available online at

State-by-state energy, economic, and environmental benefits from adopting the recommended standards can be found on the ASAP Web site at:

For more information, contact ACEEE Publications, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 801, Washington, D.C. 20036-5525, 202-429-0063 phone, 202-429-0193 fax, or at:

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U.S. Navy Orders Officers to Avoid North Atlantic Whales

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Navy has ordered its vessel commanders to exercise greater caution when operating in the migratory corridors of the North Atlantic right whale, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has learned. This temporary measure follows the death of four endangered right whales, including two pregnant females, in little more than a month.

One of those pregnant females, whose unborn calf was almost at full term, was rammed by a Navy ship outside the entrance to Chesapeake Bay., PEER said Thursday. The single biggest known source of whale strikes is U.S. Navy ships, which are more numerous and travel faster than commercial vessels.

In an email to PEER, Lieutenant Commander Charlie Brown, the public affairs officer for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, wrote that the Navy had adopted “amplified guidance [that] does include information to raise awareness of right whale migration in the mid-Atlantic during certain times of the year, and provides specific operational direction designed to increase vigilance and enhance caution exercised by naval vessels in the areas of concern.”

Brown did not release the specific operational details.

Hunted almost to extinction before a whaling moratorium was established in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission, only 300 North Atlantic right whales remain alive today.

In mid-December, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, which oversees right whale recovery, announced that the Navy had agreed to take certain measures to reduce its ship strikes on right whales but was unsure if and when the Navy actually implemented those steps.

“This action suggests that the Navy was not previously exercising due caution,” said New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former federal biologist, noting that the Navy has released no information about the latest right whale strike by its vessel.

PEER accuses the Navy of refusing to consult with NOAA on naval operations in the mid-Atlantic that may affect right whale survival.

“The Navy’s belated concessions, while welcome, may be inadequate because so long as the Navy remains the sole arbiter of the adequacy of its actions, we will continue to see more tragic accidents,” Bennett said.

This spring, NOAA announced it would consider adopting ship speed limits, rerouting and channel restrictions to avoid or minimize ship traffic in sensitive calving, mating and migratory areas. But since then NOAA has urged only voluntary cooperation.

PEER has sent a letter to Commerce Secretary-designate Carlos Gutierrez urging him to adopt the proposed NOAA measures as one of his first acts of office following his confirmation.

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Studies of Sea Lion Health May Benefit Human Health

SAUSALITO, California, January 14, 2005 (ENS) - The Marine Mammal Center has received funding from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to advance the study of infectious diseases and conditions that impact marine mammals. The knowledge can contribute to the understanding of human health, center and NOAA officials said.

Dr. Frances Gulland, director of veterinary science at the Center, said, "For 30 years, we have been documenting illnesses and conditions harming marine mammals. This funding will help us further our research around these diseases, and better determine how they signal changes in ocean and human health."

This funding comes as a result of NOAA's Oceans and Human Health Initiative established in 2003 that is focused on better understanding the relationship between the health of oceans and the Great Lakes and the health of humans.

The Marine Mammal Center was awarded two grants, which total more than $500 thousand, because of its expertise in marine mammal health and because marine mammals are considered sentinels of the ocean, sharing prey and habitat with humans.

The first grant of $430 thousand will fund a study on the sub-lethal effects of domoic acid toxicity in sea lions. Approximately 21 percent of sea lion patients at The Center each year are treated for domoic acid toxicity, a poisoning caused by algal blooms that have been increasing in the ocean.

Domoic acid toxicity can cause seizures and even death in affected animals. The Center has recently put satellite transmitters on several sea lion patients treated for domoic acid toxicity and released them to better understand their survival and to document any long-term effects of the toxicity.

This study will focus on those long-term effects, such as damage to the brain, heart or other key organs. Collaborators in this study include the University of California at Santa Cruz ad ornia Department of Health Services.

The second grant of $100,000 supports the first year of a collaborative effort with NOAA's West Coast Center for Oceans and Human Health, which is based at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

This grant will fund a study using California sea lions that will focus on two areas. First, the distribution of animal diseases that can spread to humans and the development of antibiotic resistance in these bacteria.

And, second, the effects of human-caused contaminants and biotoxins on sea lion health.

Collaborators in this multi-year study include the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, and the University of California, Davis.

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Eating Habits of Sardines Prevent Toxic Gas Formation

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2005 (ENS) - New research from the Pew Institute for Ocean Science concludes that to prevent toxic gas eruptions from under the sea, prevent the overfishing of sardines.

Sardines can devour large quantities of phytoplankton - the microscopic plant life that drifts through the ocean. When they are overfished and few sardines remain, the uneaten phytoplankton dies, sinks and decays, releasing toxic gases, the researchers found.

In an article published in the November issue of "Ecology Letters," authors Andrew Bakun and Scarla Weeks compare several areas around the world where strong offshore winds cause an upwelling of nutrients in the ocean and a population explosion of phytoplankton results.

Off the coast of Namibia, the scientists found that excess phytoplankton died and sank to the bottom, and the decaying organic matter released methane and poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas smelling like rotten eggs.

As methane traps 21 times more of the Sun's heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the resulting climate change may intensify this upwelling process and the possibility of even larger and more plentiful eruptions of phytoplankton, the scientists suggest.

"The region in question formerly hosted a large population of sardines that have been overfished," says Bakun, a member of the Pew Institute and professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "It is at least encouraging that a minor resurgence of sardine abundance coincided with a noticeable temporary hiatus in eruption frequency off Namibia in 2002."

Bakun and Weeks warn that the areas around Cape Mendocino, California, and Cape Sim, Morocco, may be dangerously close to the "tipping point," possibly ripe for phytoplankton population explosions followed by their gaseous demise.

"This study demonstrates that overfishing one species of fish, such as sardines, can profoundly alter an entire marine ecosystem in ways that may be difficult or impossible to reverse," says Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Sciences and an expert on fishery science and management.