AmeriScan: January 25, 2005

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Radiation Detectors Placed to Catch Nuclear Smugglers

WASHINGTON, DC, January 25, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. customs officials have announced plans to use new high-tech radiation detection devices to stop any attempt to smuggle radiological materials used in nuclear weapons into the United States.

In a statement on Friday, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said that the ground-mounted devices, known as Radiation Portal Monitors, will be used at the California city of Calexico on the U.S.-Mexico border to increase CBP's "already formidable detection capabilities" to screen cars and trucks entering the United States.

The portals are being installed at car and truck lanes at the Calexico border crossing and will start operation at the end of January 2005, the CBP said. The equipment will act as extremely sensitive receiving antennas to detect radiation sources.

Al Miramontes, assistant port director at the Calexico border station, said the portals are "passive devices." This means, he said, that the portals "do not emit any radiation and are completely safe."

He added, "The best way to prevent a terrorist attack is by preventing terrorists or terrorist weapons from entering the nation. These portals now being deployed at the Calexico port will help ensure that our border and our nation is secure."

The CBP said the portal monitors are capable of detecting various types of radiation emanating from nuclear devices, dirty bombs, special nuclear materials, and isotopes commonly used in medicine and industry. The devices will sense any radiation sources as each car and truck passes and alert CBP officers, if necessary.

In addition to the portal monitors, CBP officers currently use hand-held radiation isotope identifier devices and belt-mounted personal radiation detectors at major airport, seaport, and land border crossings in the United States. Together, these devices, when fully deployed, will passively screen each person, car, and truck entering the United States to ensure that any radioactive sources are identified, said the CBP.

Calexico is also where a new express lane for cargo trucks was opened January 17, as part of a U.S.-Mexico bilateral program to counter terrorism and promote trade. Calexico, across the border from the Mexican city of Mexicali, is the sixth U.S.-Mexico border port of entry to dedicate a FAST lane.

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Wireless Oil Well Monitoring Saves Low Flow Operations

TULSA, Oklahoma, January 25, 2005 (ENS) - A new, ultra-low cost method for monitoring marginal oil wells promises to help rescue thousands of U.S. wells that still have small amounts of oil in them.

This inexpensive monitoring-system prototype helps improve the efficiency of rod-pumped oil wells, says the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which funded its development and the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory, which is managing the project.

The ultimate payoff for such an approach could be the recovery of millions of barrels of oil otherwise permanently lost while the United States watches its oil production continue to slide.

More than 75 percent of all oil wells in the United States are classified as "stripper wells," producing less than 15 barrels per day. Despite their small volumes, they add up. The over 400,000 stripper oil wells in the United States produce, in aggregate, nearly one million barrels of oil per day.

These wells also operate on razor-thin economics, and are extremely sensitive to oil price changes or swings in operating costs. From 1993 to 2000, about 150,000 of these marginal oil wells were abandoned, costing the nation more than $3.5 billion in lost economic output and leaving about 150 million barrels of crude in the ground, the DOE says.

So any new idea that boosts efficiency and cuts costs has the potential to keep tens of thousands of wells pumping and improve the bottom line of thousands of small, independent American producers.

The Marginal Expense Oilwell Wireless Surveillance (MEOWS) monitoring system is one such new idea. Many rod-pumped wells produce at stripper rates, and frequent or extreme declines in production efficiencies can mean a choice between shutting the wells down or operating them at a loss.

The MEOWS system allows daily, remote monitoring of wells in real time at a reduced cost, while providing information that helps the operator improve the efficiency of rod pumps controlled by timers. The system entails attaching small, self-contained, wireless vibration sensors to a well’s flow-line check valves and then analyzing the vibration data variations to determine oil-flow conditions.

There are available commercial systems to gather, transmit, and analyze such data, but at a high cost. The challenge in this project was to develop off the shelf wireless surveillance devices and sensor technology that could be adapted to measure and transmit a rod-pumped well’s flow data, or signatures, to a receiver and base-station personal computer.

Vaquero Energy Company of Edison, California, operates about 200 wells in the main area of the aging, shallow, Edison heavy oilfield in Kern County, California. The MEOWS system was installed on three Vaquero wells as a test.

Jim Barnes, project manager with the National Energy Technology Laboratory, liked the system, which he said would cost a couple of hundred dollars per well while providing "very significant value" to a lot of independents.

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Wal-Mart Ordered to Correct Puerto Rico Storm Water Violations

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico, January 25, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Monday that it has taken action against Wal-Mart and its contractor, Constructora Santiago, for violations of its storm water permit.

An administrative order was issued to both Wal Mart and Constructora Santiago for failure to maintain best management practices to control runoff from storm water at Wal Mart's 28 acre Caguas construction site.

The companies did not have a storm water pollution prevention plan, nor did they conduct site inspections as often as required by the Clean Water Act Construction General Permit.

Construction at the site had ceased for several months, leaving much of it bare of vegetation and susceptible to erosion.

"Companies like Wal Mart and Constructora Santiago that fail to comply with the terms and conditions of their permits cause soil to erode into nearby waterways," said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Kathleen Callahan. "This runoff has the potential to kill fish, destroy aquatic habitat and impact drinking water supplies."

In accordance with its permit, Wal Mart and its contractor should have stabilized soil on slopes or other areas to prevent erosion where clearing, grading and/or excavation activities took place. These stabilization measures were not done.

EPA has taken action against Wal Mart for similar violations at sites across the United States, and they resulted in a consent decree between EPA and Wal Mart in 2000.

A second national consent decree between EPA and Wal Mart, also pertaining to storm water pollution from construction sites, was lodged in Federal Court in May 2004. This violation at Wal Mart's Caguas site was not included in these prior EPA actions, so the agency is handling it through this action.

This administrative order requires Wal Mart and Constructora Santiago to bring this site into compliance with Clean Water Act storm water requirements, which will reduce pollutants that run into the Jiminez Garcia Creek and the Rio Grande De Loiza watershed.

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Stormwater System Removes Trash From Urban Runoff

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 24, 2005 (ENS) - SCARBOROUGH, Maine, January 25, 2005 (ENS) - A stormwater treatment company has introduced a unique screening device for the removal of trash and organic debris from urban runoff.

Vortechnics, based in Scarborough, says its new VortCapture(tm), device is engineered to capture all particles greater than five millimeters in size from stormwater flows before they enter the surrounding watershed.

Trash and organic debris such as leaves and lawn clippings carried in stormwater can look unsightly in waterways, and can harbor bacteria, viruses, mosquito populations, and other pollutants.

New state regulations are being drafted that target the accumulation of debris on U.S. coasts and inland waters. In 2002, California became the first to enforce a trash TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) that restricts the discharge of all five millimeter and larger particles into Los Angeles County and Ballona Creek waterways.

"These developing regulations and a growing dissatisfaction with the state of our recreational waters has increased the demand for a better solution to keep trash off our beaches and out of our oceans and rivers," said Vortechnics CEO David Miley.

The VortCapture system is used to clean stormwater that runs off parking lots, roads and other impervious surfaces. If not removed from stormwater runoff, the pollutants can accumulate in surface waters, damaging ecosystems and diminishing habitats for native plant, fish and bird species.

The device uses a tangential inlet that causes stormwater to swirl in the circular treatment chamber. Buoyant debris migrates to the center of the treatment chamber and rises above the screen while nonfloating pollutants are trapped in the sump below.

The vortex action creates high velocities across the face of the screen relative to the normal velocities through the screen. This indirect screening action scours the screen, preventing debris from clogging the apertures and restricting flow. Neutrally buoyant material, such as litter and organic debris swirls across the screen face, then floats or sinks to the bottom.

The specialty screen and other internal components of the VortCapture are housed in a round, concrete manhole. Its lightweight, compact design can fit into tight sites and can be used as a stand alone treatment system or as a pre-treatment device in conjunction with other stormwater Best Management Practices.

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New Jersey, New York Schools Held to Asbestos Rules

NEW YORK, New York, January 25, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a settlement with the Newark Public Schools to resolve violations of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act. The agreement requires the school system to spend $2.25 million to finish identifying and fixing all asbestos related problems that may exist in the schools.

"EPA has been working with the Newark Public Schools over the past several months to help them manage asbestos in schools properly," said Kathleen Callahan, acting EPA regional administrator. "The penalty money will go to good use; it will be used by the school system to correct the violations."

Prior to the beginning of the school year, the EPA worked with the Newark Public Schools to ensure that the school system conducted visual evaluations of some 80 schools with asbestos containing materials to identify damaged building material and repair or isolate areas where damaged material was found.

Newark Public Schools notified parents, teachers and school employees about the potential risk posed by asbestos.

Under the settlement announced Thursday, the Newark Public Schools will submit a plan to the EPA and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services that identifies at least one person in each school who will be trained on the requirements of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA).

In addition, the school system will submit a complete list to the EPA of all its school building inspections by April of this year.

It will conduct all other required inspections, such as those required on a semiannual and triennial basis, develop management plans for all schools, develop an operations and maintenance plan and keep all proper records of all activities at all schools.

The settlement lays out a payment plan in which Newark Public Schools has budgeted the amount of money needed to fund the work.

In December, the EPA regional office reached an agreement with the Yonkers Public Schools system requiring it to spend at least $131,000 to bring all of its 43 schools into compliance with EPA rules on asbestos in schools by September 2005.

AHERA requires local educational authorities to inspect all school buildings for visible damage; develop and implement asbestos management plans; and keep the public, students and teachers informed about asbestos related hazards.

The Clean Air Act dictates how asbestos should be removed. It requires that the materials be kept wet at all times, that areas being disturbed be sealed off and that all materials that are removed be properly stored so that asbestos does not become airborne.

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Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Up for Five Year Review

PHOENIX, Arizona, January 25, 2005 (ENS) - The Mexican wolf reintroduction project has been in existence for nearly five years, and federal, state and tribal officials are ready to undertake the five year review required by law.

The agencies involved in the reintroduction want to receive public feedback on how the reintroduction effort is going so far and view public input as crucial to project operations insuring that wolf recovery and human dimensions are balanced.

The five-year review presents an opportunity for the public to comment on the project and how it is being managed. For that reason, four public hearings will be held next week hosted by members of the Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Oversight Committee, which includes members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services, the U.S. Forest Service, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe are hosting public meetings in New Mexico and Arizona.

The meetings are intended to provide an opportunity for the public to discuss the wolf reintroduction's five year review, history, current status and future goals with program biologists and wolf experts.

The meetings will be conducted in open-house formats from 6 to 9 pm each evening.

More meeting details and site directions can be found at:

The Mexican wolf reintroduction project is a matter of law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says, and this point has been discussed on numerous occasions at a variety of venues. "The courts have clearly and repeatedly affirmed the legality of the reintroduction project and the mandate to pursue it under the Endangered Species Act as a component of wolf recovery.

So, the focus of the five-year review is on objectively identifying specifics about what has worked well and what has not worked well to date in the reintroduction project, and what should be done in terms of law, policy, and/or procedure to improve the project to better address the relevant recovery and social issues.

Documents now available for review include: An outline of the five-year review process, a Technical Component giving background on the project activities, the Administrative Component describing the project management and the Socioeconomic Component describing the impacts of the project. They can be found at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website: or at the Arizona Game and Fish Department's website:

Comments on the Mexican Gray Wolf Reintroduction Project Five-Year Review will be taken through March 15, 2005. Only written comments sent through the U.S. Postal Service and postmarked by March 15, 2005 will be accepted. Submit comments to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Ecological Services Office, 2105 Osuna NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87113

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Clue to Life in Outer Space Found in Yellowstone Microbes

BOULDER, Colorado, January 25, 2005 (ENS) - Microbes living in the brilliant, colored hot springs of Yellowstone National Park use hydrogen, not sulfur, for fuel, as was previously believed, say researchers at University of Colorado-Boulder.

"This work presents some interesting associated questions," said biologist John Spear, lead author of the report, "Hydrogen and bioenergetics in the Yellowstone geothermal system" which appeared this week in the online edition of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

"Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. If there is life elsewhere, it could be that hydrogen is its fuel," Spear said.

"We've seen evidence of water on Mars, and we know that on Earth, hydrogen can be produced biogenetically by photosynthesis and fermentation or non-biogenetically by water reacting with iron-bearing rock."

"It's possible that non-biogenic processes produce hydrogen on Mars and that some microbial life form could be using that," speculated Spear.

There are many examples of bacteria living in extreme environments - including the human body - using hydrogen as fuel, Spear says. "Recent studies have shown that Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which cause ulcers, live on hydrogen inside the stomach," he said. "Salmonella metabolizes hydrogen in the gut. It makes me wonder how many different kinds of microbes out there are metabolizing hydrogen in extreme environments."

The team of CU-Boulder biologists was led by Professor Norman Pace, one of the world's leading experts on molecular evolution and microbiology.

"It was a surprise to find hydrogen was the main energy source for microbes in the hot springs," Pace said. "This project is also interesting in the context of microbiology because it's one of the few times we've been able to study microbes to get information on an entire ecosystem. That's never before been possible."

The study was specifically designed to determine the main source of metabolic energy that drives microbial communities in park features with temperatures above 158 degrees Fahrenheit. Photosynthesis is not known to occur above that temperature.

A combination of three different clues led researchers to conclude that hydrogen was the main source of energy. Genetic analysis of the varieties of microbes living in the hot springs communities revealed that they all prefer hydrogen as an energy source. They also observed ubiquitous H2 in all the hot springs at concentrations sufficient for microbial bioenergetics. Thermodynamic models based on field data confirmed that hydrogen metabolism was the most likely fuel source in these environments.

Instead of relying on traditional techniques of microbiology that utilize cultures grown in the lab, the CU-Boulder team used methodology developed by Pace to genetically analyze the composition of the microbial community as it appeared in the field. "We didn't look at what grows in a culture dish, we looked at the RNA of samples directly from the field," Spear said.

"We've never before known what microbes were living in Yellowstone hot springs, and now we do," Pace said.

Spear explained that the hot springs' colors are the result of interactions between minerals and the microbes living in the pools. Hotter water usually shows colors from minerals, and cooler water plays host to photosynthetic pigments.

"Based on what I've seen in this analysis, I think hydrogen probably drives a lot of life in a lot of environments," Spear said. "It's part speculation, but given the number and kinds of bacteria that are metabolizing hydrogen, it's probably a very old form of metabolism.

That's important because it tells us about the history of life on Earth," he said. "And if it works this way on Earth, it's likely to happen elsewhere. When you look up at the stars, there is a lot of hydrogen in the universe."

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Michigan Earth Day 2005 Poster Contest

LANSING, Michigan, January 25, 2005 (ENS) - The snow may cover the Michigan streets and hills, but staffers at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are thinking ahead to April and Earth Day.


A poster winner from last year. (Photo courtesy Michigan DEQ)
The DEQ invites students to celebrate Earth Day 2005 by competing in a Poster Contest. The DEQ will select one winner in kindergarten through 5th grade from each grade level. The winner will be invited to receive their award at our Earth Day Celebration on Thursday, April 21, 2005.

The judges are looking for posters that celebrate Earth Day - a celebration of the environment - the air, water, land, resources, and ecosystems. The posters must have an Earth Day theme.

For more information, check out:

The DEQ’s Environmental Education website and Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Education website.

Poster size must be 11 x 14 inches, in full color or black and white, and using crayon, pencil, colored pencil, watercolor, pen and ink, or paint.

Send entries to: Tom Occhipinti, Environmental Education Coordinator, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 30473, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7973. Phone: 517-373-2379

All entries must be received by February 17, 2005. Winners will be notified by March 24, 2005.

The winners of the Earth Day Poster Contest will be honored and presented their awards at Constitution Hall in Lansing, Michigan on Thursday, April 21, 2005.