AmeriScan: January 26, 2005

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Bill Would Close Loopholes in Mad Cow Animal Feed Rules

WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2005 (ENS) - Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, Monday introduced legislation to help prevent the spread of mad cow disease by banning the riskiest material from the nation's supply of animal feed.

Cantwell's Animal Feed Protection Act of 2005 would strengthen current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules by putting in place a comprehensive ban on the use of specific risk materials in all U.S. animal feed, and banning the import of feed that may contain these tissues.

Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, such as mad cow disease and its human form, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), are spread by prions - abnormally shaped proteins. They are not cellular organisms or viruses but originate as regular components of neurological tissues in the brains and spinal cords of animals.

Mad cow disease spreads from one animal to another by consumption of feed that has been contaminated by these proteins, such as blood or meat meal, that contains nervous system tissue from an infected animal.

This nervous system tissue is known as specified risk material (SRM).

Cantwell's legislation contains a comprehensive ban and definition of SRM, including the skull, brain, trigeminal and dorsal root ganglia (nerve tissue), eyes, tonsils, spinal cord and the vertebral column of cattle and bison 30 months of age and older; and sheep, goats, deer and elk 12 months of age or older.

Existing bans in the U.S. and Canada only prohibit the use of SRM in certain types of animal feed, rather than all of the feed that has been linked to the spread of mad cow disease, Cantwell points out.

In February 2004 an international review team commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended that specified risk materials be eliminated from all animal feed after the discovery of a mad cow case in Mabton, Washington the previous December.

“There are obvious steps we can take to improve the safety of our domestic beef supply and protect ourselves from the spread of mad cow disease,” Cantwell said. “It's important for both American families sitting around the dinner table and our international trading partners. If we want to gain the confidence of Asian markets for U.S. and Washington state beef, we've got to follow the science and plug the loopholes in our animal feed rules.”

Just this month, two more cases of mad cow disease were discovered in Canada - just after the Bush administration proposed reopening the U.S.-Canadian border to beef imports, beginning on March 7.

Unlike previous cases, the most recently discovered mad cow was born after Canada's 1997 ban on cattle feed containing specified risk materials went into effect.

Earlier this month, Cantwell joined a bipartisan group of Washington state legislators and ranchers in urging the USDA to complete a thorough investigation of the latest Canadian mad cow incidents before reopening the border. The U.S. has sent a technical team from USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to evaluate the circumstances surrounding the most recent detections of infected cows.

On Monday, the new Agriculture Secretary, Mike Johanns, told reporters that he is watching the Canadian mad cow situation very closely. "We appreciate the cooperation of Canadian officials on this issue. We're going to delve into it. I've asked for personal reports in terms of what they're finding out, and I expect to receive those in the not too distant future."

"We're jumping on this," Johanns said in his first news conference. "And we're going to do everything we can to figure out what that's about. This animal was post-feed ban. So needless to say that's on everybody's radar screen. It definitely is on mine."

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Chicago Canal Reopened After Oil Spill

CHICAGO, Illinois, January 26, 2005 (ENS) – The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was re-opened to vessel traffic on Tuesday, six days after an explosion onboard a tank barge resulted in the presumed death of a crewmember and the closure of the waterway.

The tank barge that exploded and sank was carrying approximately 588 thousand gallons of clarified slurry oil, some of which contaminated the waterway.

The Coast Guard has verified that dry cargo inland river barges may transit safely past the sunken EMC423 barge and the oil containment boom positioned on the left descending bank. As a result, the Coast Guard Captain of the Port decided to open the canal to commercial barge traffic.

The Illinois River Carriers Association, in coordination with the Coast Guard and the on scene salvage supervisor, will implement a vessel traffic management system to ensure an organized and efficient return of commercial vessel traffic to the canal.

The Coast Guard, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers will continue to closely oversee all salvage and recovery operations until the threat of pollution has been eliminated and the barge has been removed from the channel.

Marine Safety Office Chicago has initiated an investigation to determine the cause of this accident. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) is assisting the Coast Guard with this investigation and is providing significant technical and investigative expertise.

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Delaware Environmental Official Pleads Guilty to Wetland Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2005 (ENS) - A former official with the Delaware Department of Natural Resouces and Environmental Control has pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act by dumping oily water into a wetland.

William Daisey of Milton, Delaware, 53, entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court before the Honorable Sue Robinson. He could go to prison for a maximum of three years and have to pay a $250,000 fine, although he will not be sentenced until April 28.

In his plea, Daisey admitted that in 2000 and 2001, while he was chief of operations at the Delaware Department of Natural Resouces and Environmental Control facility in Lewes, Delaware, he regularly directed a DNREC employee to discharge oil-contaminated water from a 350 gallon sump pit into wetlands.

DNREC’s Lewes facility serves as the base of operations for its Division of Soil and Water Conservation program, which is responsible for dredging the state’s waterways and replenishing its beaches.

The wetland in question is connected through a series of mosquitos ditches to the Broadkill River. At no time did DNREC or its Division of Soil and Water Conservation have a Clean Water permit to discharge from its facility into the wetlands or the Broadkill River.

"It is inexcusable that someone in charge of a Natural Resouces and Environmental Control facility would illegally pollute the environment,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Sansonetti of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We took this matter very seriously and are pleased with today’s guilty plea.”

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DC Yellow Cab Company Settles Fuel Tank Violations

WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2005 (ENS) - The Yellow Cab Company of D.C., Inc. has settled a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) complaint alleging violations of environmental regulations designed to prevent fuel leaks from underground storage tanks.

In a consent agreement with EPA, Yellow Cab agreed to pay a $34,190 penalty.

The alleged violations involved three 12,000 gallon underground storage tanks at the company’s facility at 1636 Bladensburg Road, N.E., Washington, DC.

EPA’s complaint cited Yellow Cab for not adequately being able to detect fuel tank releases, not providing corrosion protection on metal piping, and not demonstrating its financial responsibility for cleanup and compensation if there was a fuel leak.

The violations were discovered in an October 8, 2003 EPA inspection, and through the company’s responses to followup information requests.

Yellow Cab removed and permanently closed the three tanks at its facility. The District of Columbia’s underground storage tank management division issued a letter of permanent closure to Yellow Cab on August 31, 2004.

As part of the settlement, Yellow Cab neither admitted nor denied liability for the alleged violations, but it has certified that it has removed and permanently closed the three tanks at the facility, in accordance with the federal and District requirements.

With millions of gallons of gasoline, oil, and other petroleum products stored in underground storage tanks throughout the United States, leaking tanks are a "major source of soil and groundwater contamination," the agency said.

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Dredger Pays for Violations By Building Up Artificial Reef

NEW YORK, New York, January 26, 2005 (ENS) - A company that allegedly twice dumped dredged rock outside designated artificial reef disposal areas has reached a settlement with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Bean Stuyvesant LLC agreed to pay $16,000 in penalties and undertake an environmentally beneficial supplemental environmental project (SEP) valued at $104,000 to place materials into a federally authorized New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection artificial reef site located 6.5 miles offshore of Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

The company allegedly violated the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), usually known as the Ocean Dumping Act.

"EPA keeps a close eye on improper ocean disposal operations to make sure material is placed where it is supposed to go. This settlement will provide material needed to create artificial reefs that will enhance the fisheries and diversity of species in New Jersey's coastal waters," said Kathleen Callahan, EPA acting regional administrator.

This SEP involves placement of 1,300 tons of hollow concrete material, or 2,600 tons of solid concrete material into a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) artificial reef.

The first violation took place in December 2003, when a barge loaded with 3,600 cubic yards of dredged rock departed from Bergen Point in the Kill an Kull headed for the NJDEP's Shark River Artificial Reef site. Rough seas and high winds were forecast at the time of departure but the decision was made by Bean Stuyvesant to proceed.

On the way to the reef, bad weather forced the crew to attempt a return to the NY/NJ Harbor. According to the company, rock shifted within the barge, eventually causing it to flip and dump the rock into the ocean at an undesignated site. Placement of the rock outside the Shark River Artificial Reef was a violation of the Ocean Dumping Act.

In the second incident, also in December, Bean Stuyvesant dumped 3,600 cubic yards of dredged rock material a half mile north of the Shark River Reef. As the barge approached the site, the tug captain noticed that it was rapidly leaning to one side. To avoid possible sinking or flipping, he dumped the rock. An inspection of the barge, once it returned to harbor, revealed that the hull had been punctured, most likely when the rock was loaded.

Bean Stuyvesant is already working closely with NJDEP artificial reef coordinators on the proper placement of the reef materials. Bean Stuyvesant is required to submit a final report to the EPA, detailing its completion.

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Model Nail Salon Aims to Cut Chemical Risks to Workers

BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 26, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is providing $100,000 in funding to help build a model nail salon in Springfield, Massachusetts, which will address the health risks from chemical exposure to Vietnamese nail technicians.

The funding is being awarded under a cooperative agreement with the Pioneer Valley Project, Inc., a multi-racial community organizing group working to improve quality of life and environment in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.

Nail technicians often work 10 to 12 hours in poorly ventilated rooms with hazardous and volatile chemicals. Common health ailments associated with these chemicals range from skin irritation and fungal, bacterial and viral infections to respiratory problems like asthma.

Long term exposure to these chemicals can result in damage to the nervous system, reproductive disorders and even cancer.

Vietnamese-owned nail salons are a major source of employment for low income Vietnamese women in the Springfield area, and there are an estimated 300 salons in and around Springfield, half of which are owned by Vietnamese people.

The model nail salon will feature safe and affordable chemical management and reduction practices and will be used to provide hands-on training for the Vietnamese nail community.

The Pioneer Valley Project will develop training materials for salon workers; create educational programs on chemical risk protection; and teach health care providers that service the Vietnamese community how to identify and treat symptoms of chemical exposure.

"The project is very helpful for nail businesses because it is important for them to learn about chemical safety and protect the health of employees, owners and customers," said Elizabeth Vo, the executive director of the Springfield Vietnamese American Civic Association.

"This is an exciting opportunity for the community, health care providers, state regulators and other partners to work collaboratively to address the environmental and public health concerns of Vietnamese nail salon workers potentially exposed to the hazardous chemicals found in nail care products," said Barry Hill, director of EPA's Office of Environmental Justice in Washington, DC.

The $100,000 will be distributed over three years under the EPA's Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program, which was established in 2003 to help community organizations work to improve the environment in communities that are burdened by environmental or health hazards.

The Pioneer Valley Project is one of two organizations in New England and one of 30 organizations nationally that received the funding to support environmental justice activities through this program.

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San Francisco May Place Fee on Disposable Grocery Bags

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 26, 2005 (ENS) - With the aim of reducing the environmental and public costs associated with disposable grocery bag litter, pollution and waste, the San Francisco Commission on the Environment Tuesday night moved one step closer to implementation of a 17 cent waste reduction fee on one-time use disposable grocery bags.

San Francisco would be the first city in the United States to enact such a policy.

Following hours of supportive testimony, the Commission vote was unanimous in recommending that the city enact the disposal fee concept.

Consumers could avoid the fee by bringing their own bags.

The reasons for imposing the fee are given right in the resolution itself. "In 1999, more than 14 million trees were felled to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans; and, in the U.S. alone, an estimated 12,000,000 barrels of oil are required to produce the 100 billion plastic bags used annually.

Bags create significant litter problems for San Francisco’s streets, beaches, sewer system and the marine environment, says the measure, "In every square mile of ocean it is estimated that there are over 46,000 pieces of plastic, of which plastic bags are a component; and, over 100,000 marine animals die every year from plastic entanglement..."

Similar waste reduction fee policies are already in place throughout Europe. Ireland‘s enactment of a 15 cent bag policy two years ago, reduced plastic bag generation by over 90 percent.

“Once again, San Francisco leads the state and the nation in taking steps to curtail environmental pollution," said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

"This measure, similar to one imposed in Ireland which has reduced plastic bag use by 90 percent, will set the stage for other cities and the state as a whole to take action to reduce the use of one-time use plastic bags," said Murray.

Tossed in the wind and clogged in storm drains, grocery bags cost local governments millions of dollars a year in litter abatement and cleanup. Billions of them find their way to the sea where they are responsible for millions of deaths of sea creatures, ranging from whales to turtles to sea bird species.

"In the long run, this ordinance will not cost consumers more — it will cost them less," Murray said.

The final ordinance is expected to go before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for a vote in the next few weeks.

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Whales, Hippos Close Cousins, Fossil Record Reveals

BERKELEY, California, January 26, 2005 (ENS) - A group of four-footed mammals that flourished worldwide for 40 million years and then died out in the ice ages is the missing link between the whale and its nearest relative, the hippopotamus.

According to a January 24 press release from the University of California at Berkeley, the conclusion by post-doctoral fellow Jean-Renaud Boisserie and French colleagues puts to rest the long-standing notion that the hippo is related to the pig or to its close relative, the South American peccary.

The finding reconciles the fossil record with a 20 year-old claim that molecular evidence points to the whale as the hippo’s closest relative.

"The problem with hippos is, if you look at the general shape of the animal it could be related to horses, as the ancient Greeks thought, or pigs, as modern scientists thought, while molecular phylogeny shows a close relationship with whales," said Boisserie.

"But cetaceans – whales, porpoises and dolphins – don't look anything like hippos,” he said. “There is a 40 million year gap between fossils of early cetaceans and early hippos."

Boisserie and colleagues from France and Chad fill this gap by proposing that whales and hippos had a common water-loving ancestor 50 to 60 million years ago that evolved and split into two groups: the early cetaceans, which eventually became totally aquatic; and a large, diverse group of four-legged beasts called anthracotheres.

Pig-like anthracotheres, which blossomed over 40 million years into at least 37 distinct genera - a group of species with similar characteristics - died out less than 2.5 million years ago and left only one descendent, the hippopotamus.

This proposal puts whales in the large group of cloven-hoofed mammals known collectively as the Artiodactyla – the group that includes cows, pigs, sheep, antelopes, camels, giraffes and most large land animals.

In 1985, UC-Berkeley's Vincent Sarich, a pioneer of the field of molecular evolution and now a professor emeritus of anthropology, analyzed blood proteins and saw a close relationship between hippos and whales. An analysis of mitochondrial, nuclear and ribosomal DNA solidified this relationship.

Though most biologists now agree that whales and hippos are first cousins, they continue to clash over how whales and hippos are related, and where they belong within the even-toed ungulates, the artiodactyls. A major roadblock to linking whales with hippos was the lack of any fossils that appeared intermediate between the two.

This new analysis finally brings the fossil evidence into accord with the molecular data, showing that whales and hippos indeed are one another's closest relatives. "This work provides another important step for the reconciliation between molecular and morphology based phylogenies, and indicates new tracks for research on emergence of cetaceans," Boisserie said.

"Our study is the most complete to date, including lots of different taxa and a lot of new characteristics," Boisserie said. "Our results are very robust and a good alternative to our findings is still to be formulated."

Work on the study was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, and the Mission Paléoanthropologique Franco-Tchadienne.