AmeriScan: January 23, 2005

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Popular Sushi Fish Loaded With Mercury

FOREST KNOLLS, California, January 23, 2006 (ENS) - Revised data just released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that bigeye tuna, called ahi, is high in mercury, averaging 0.639 ppm of mercury. The highest mercury test result in ahi exceeded the FDA’s 1.0 ppm action level. Sushi and tuna steaks of bigeye tuna are commonly sold as ahi in restaurants and stores.

The FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) already warn women and children to restrict their consumption of albacore tuna (0.357 parts per million, or ppm, or mercury) because of the dangers of methylmercury, a powerful neurotoxin, but currently fail to do so for bigeye. Ahi has nearly twice as much mercury as albacore on average.

"The only responsible action for the FDA is to revise their warnings and alert the public. At this time, the FDA has failed to post a press release about the new data on their web site," said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network and its GotMercury.org program.

"The updated FDA data shows that the FDA should immediately revise its March 2004 mercury in seafood advisory to include ahi as a fish for women and children to avoid," said Eli Saddler, attorney and public health analyst for GotMercury.Org.

By comparison, the FDA and EPA warn women and children not to eat king mackerel (0.730 ppm), swordfish (0.97 ppm), shark (0.988 ppm), and tilefish (1.45 ppm).

Bigeye tuna, Thunnus obesus, is one of the two species known as ahi in Hawaii and is a popular seafood item, especially in sushi restaurants. Consumers are at risk from eating ahi - usually as fresh tuna steaks and in sushi - and should be aware of the risks of consuming too much ahi, especially women who are or intend to become pregnant and children.

Children are especially vulnerable to methylmercury, the toxic organic form found in fish, because it can harm neurological development – resulting lower IQ, heart irregularities, and motor skill problems.

"GotMercury.Org is updating our mercury-in-seafood calculator today so that consumers will have the best available, latest data for calculating their risk from methylmercury in ahi and other fish," said Saddler.

"Eating tuna is like playing Russian Roulette because the FDA does not test and remove individual fish determined to have mercury levels above the action level of 1 ppm, like Canada and the European Union do," said Saddler. "Without regular testing and action by the FDA, there is no way to know how much mercury you are ingesting with the individual fish you purchase."

"While affordable, rapid testing of fish for mercury exists, neither the government nor most seafood retailers are using it yet in the U.S., but GotMercury.Org and Turtle Island are calling upon both the FDA and large retailers to start using the new technology immediately to protect public health," said Steiner.

GotMercury.Org, a free, online mercury-in-seafood calculator will be revised to reflect the FDA’s updated mercury in tuna data. GotMercury.Org educates consumers on healthier seafood choices by using the EPA and FDA data to calculate how much seafood is safe to eat in a week.

For example, a 130 pound woman who ate just one eight ounce ahi steak this week would exceed her EPA safe level of mercury by about 350 percent. A child of 40 pounds, eating the same ahi steak this week, would exceed the EPA safe level of mercury by about 1,139 percent. Such a level in the child would far exceed the uncertainty factor used in calculating the FDA’s level.

The FDA's revised Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish chart is online at: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-mehg.asp

GotMercury.org is a project of the Mercury Education and Response Campaign of Turtle Island Restoration Network online at: www.seaturtles.org

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Supercomputing Time Offered for Gulf Coast Levee Restoration

ROBINSONVILLE, Misissisppi, January 23, 2006 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman Friday announced three Department of Energy (DOE) initiatives to help the people in the Gulf coast region recover from the hurricanes in 2005, as well as prevent loss of life and damage in the future.

During his speech to the Energy Leadership Forum, Bodman announced that DOE will donate 400,000 hours of supercomputing time at its National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NRESC) to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assist with the rebuilding of levees.

"The Department of Energy is so much more than gasoline and coal, we’re Americans who saw our neighbors devastated by the hurricanes - and we’re finding ways to help," Bodman said. "In addition to strengthening our nation’s energy infrastructure and improving our department’s response to natural disasters, our goal is to help those affected in every way that we can."

The DOE Office of Science has allocated 400,000 processor hours of supercomputing time at NERSC at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, California, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This will allow the Corps to run hurricane simulations to help model hurricane-induced storm surge elevations so coastal levees can be strengthened and offer more protection to low-lying areas.

"We’re proud to lend our resources to help strengthen the levees that will protect the people of the Gulf region," said Director of DOE’s Office of Science Dr. Ray Orbach.

Running the 400,000 supercomputer hours of simulations on a single-processor personal computer would take about 46 years. But by tapping NERSC’s supercomputers, which include a 6,080-processor IBM supercomputer, an 888-processor IBM cluster computer and a 640-processor Linux Networx cluster, the simulations are expected to be completed within a month.

The DOE is also offering hurricane affected residents free rebuilding workshops providing expert advice on the latest energy efficient products and techniques, in addition to donating 200 pieces of used furniture to a Louisiana school.

In partnership with Entergy New Orleans, The Home Depot, and the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH), the DOE is offering free home repair workshops in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, as residents begin to repair and rebuild.

Workshop attendees will receive hands-on instruction on how to improve home energy efficiency and durability when repairing storm-damaged roofs, ceilings, walls and floors, and when installing windows, doors and hurricane shutters. In effort to help homeowners make use of their training right away, The Home Depot is donating discount coupons worth 10 percent off customers’ purchases and will give away gift cards valued at up to $1,000 to workshop participants.

For more details, visit: http://www.eere.energy.gov/buildings/.

In addition, Bodman announced that, in accordance with a Department of Education initiative to help re-supply schools affected by the hurricanes, DOE will donate 200 pieces of furniture to Belle Chasse High School in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. The school is about 10 miles from downtown New Orleans and only three blocks from the Mississippi River. Each of the desks, bookcases, credenzas and filing cabinets has been approved for donation by the General Services Administration and the Department of Education.

The Energy Leadership Forum brought together local energy utility representatives, government officials, and other key players in the hurricane recovery effort. During the two-day forum, participants discussed disaster response, lessons learned from the hurricanes of 2005, and how best to strengthen America’s energy infrastructure.

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Washington State Agencies Urge Ban on Toxic Flame Retardant

OLYMPIA, Washington, January 23, 2006 (ENS) - The Washington State Departments of Ecology and Health called Friday for a legislated ban on all forms of the toxic flame retardants called PBDEs, as part of a state plan to eliminate the chemicals.

PBDES are used in many consumer products from furniture to televisions. These chemicals are linked to memory and learning impairment like PCBs, which were banned over 30 years ago. Numerous studies show that the levels of PBDEs are rapidly rising in people and the environment.

Nurses, doctors, and environmental health advocates have teamed up to pass a state law in 2006 to ban PBDEs.

"We want to keep our children safe, but we can't do it unless the state legislature does its part to enact a ban on PBDEs," said Judy Huntington, MN, RN, and executive director of the Washington State Nurses Association. "It is critical that the legislature take this opportunity to protect our children and stop this toxic trend of PBDE contamination of our bodies, homes, and environment."

The state agency plan raises particular concern about the most widely used form of PBDEs called deca-BDE (deca) and calls for a ban as long as safer alternatives are available.

After a two-year scientific review, the agencies concluded, "deca is likely to breakdown in the environment into more toxic and bioaccumulative forms of PBDEs." These more toxic forms include ones found in penta, the form already banned in numerous states and in Europe. Deca is primarily used in plastic television casings.

"This is another nail in the coffin for deca," said Laurie Valeriano, Policy Director for the Washington Toxics Coalition. "It's time for the legislature to lay the issue to rest and pass the ban."

The recommendations in the plan are consistent with a bill currently before the state legislature, sponsored by Representative Ross Hunter and Senatpr Debbie Regala, both Democrats.

"The agencies have done their job to study the science and have concluded that the evidence warrants action to prevent additional PBDE contamination," said Hunte. "It's now up to us to pass this bill and protect children's health in Washington state from PBDEs."

The legislation would:

Safer alternatives to deca and the other PBDEs are available and in widespread use. Many companies, including Sony, Ikea, and Dell have abandoned PBDEs because of environmental and health concerns.

Ecology's analysis of alternatives to deca found "...sufficient data to conclude that promising alternatives exist, ones which are already in use and meet fire protection standards..." In addition, there are also numerous design changes companies can make to avoid the use of chemicals to meet fire safety standards.

"Taking these actions to phase out all forms of PBDEs is a vital step to protect children's health," said Dave Heywood, MD, board member of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. "With safer alternatives available, it is essential to eliminate these toxic chemicals from products, and protect our children's health and futures from these harmful exposures."

There is broad support for a PBDE ban from the public health and medical communities. The legislation is one of the environmental community's priorities for this session.

Washington state legislators who are registered nurses also sent a letter to their colleagues today urging support for the bill, saying, "The action we take this session to ban these toxic chemicals will greatly benefit Washington's children now and for years to come."

The Ecology/Health plan is online at: http://www.flameretardants.org

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California Engine Certification Violations Draw $762,400 in Fines

SACRAMENTO, California, January 23, 2006 (ENS) - The California Air Resources Board (ARB) says it has reached settlement agreements with American Power Products, CSK Auto Inc., California Auto Dealers Exchange, LLC, and Homelite Consumer Products for selling engines or vehicles that do not comply with ARB certification standards.

"These enforcement actions assure that we achieve the maximum reductions possible from our regulations," said ARB Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon on Thursday. "With public health in the balance we must continue to be vigilant."

The ARB originally cited CSK Auto Inc. (CSK), in September, 2003, for selling motorized scooters equipped with engines that were not certified by the ARB. After recalling and replacing the non-certified scooters that were being sold in Kragen Auto Parts stores throughout California, CSK was also cited in May, 2004, for selling non-certified, gas-powered, portable generators. American Power Products supplied CSK with the non-compliant parts in both cases.

CSK settled its case with a payment of $100,000 to the California Air Pollution Control Fund (APCF). American Power Products will pay four quarterly installments of $25,000 to the Fund starting in August.

The California Auto Dealers Exchange, LLC, paid $62,416 to the APCF for selling off-road vehicles with non-certified engines at a dealer-only, auto auctions throughout California, in April of 2004.

In February of 2005, ARB staff visited the Homelite certification emissions test facilities in South Carolina. They concluded that the group of new engines tested did not comply with certification requirements. In addition to halting shipment of further engines from their facility, Homelite paid $500,000 to the APCF.

The APCF is used to mitigate various sources of pollution through education and the advancement and use of cleaner technology.

The Air Resources Board is a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency. ARB's mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare, and ecological resources through effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy. The ARB oversees all air pollution control efforts in California to attain and maintain health based air quality standards.

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Century of Contamination at General Color Almost Over

CAMDEN, New Jersey, January 23, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg Friday joined state and city officials and members of the Camden community to highlight the final phase of cleanup work at the General Color hazardous waste site.

Recently, through a public-private partnership, a private developer demolished buildings on the site, and the EPA is now removing lead-contaminated soil from the locations where the buildings once stood.

When this phase of work is completed, the EPA will have spent over $9 million to clean the site.

"Our work at General Color is really an example of Superfund at its best," said Steinberg. "We partnered with nonprofit and private organizations within the community, as well as local and state government, to clean up a century of contamination and make the property safe for redevelopment."

The General Color site is an abandoned pigment and dye manufacturing facility located at 31st and Lemuel Streets in Camden. In March 1998, at the request of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, EPA inspected the site. The agency discovered tanks, vats, cylinders and thousands of containers of hazardous substances located throughout the site, and also found that it was easily accessible by the public.

EPA began to remove hazardous chemicals from the site shortly after the inspection, and by the end of the year the agency had removed all containers of hazardous substances.

In 2000, EPA discovered that the soil at the site was contaminated with lead, and that large areas of the site contained buried hazardous waste. The agency excavated more than 70,000 tons of contaminated soil and hazardous waste, and removed it from the site.

The EPA used a special treatment process on the excavated material before it was shipped off-site. This allowed the agency to dispose of the material as a non-hazardous waste, and to save almost $3 million in waste transportation and disposal costs.

In March 2004, the EPA entered into an agreement with a developer, Westfield Acres Urban Renewal Association II, LP, to redevelop the site. The agreement allows construction of affordable housing on the site after the demolition of the buildings by the developer and removal by EPA of the contaminated soil and buried hazardous waste located in the building footprints. EPA anticipates completing its cleanup activities this spring.

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Trapping of Endangered Bobcat Subspecies Opposed

TUCSON, Arizona, January 23, 2006 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity has filed comments with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in opposition to removing the Mexican bobcat from the list of endangered species, a course sought by the National Trappers Association.

Since 1903, Lynx rufus escuinapae has been acknowledged as the southernmost subspecies of the more widely distributed bobcat. Limited to a portion of central and southern Mexico, the Mexican bobcat is imperiled by habitat destruction and illegal trapping and shooting. It has been listed as an endangered species since 1976.

In 1989, almost 1,000 illegally transported bobcat furs from Mexico were confiscated by the Fish and Wildlife Service, but many more may be imported undetected. In November, in response to the trappers’ petition, the Bush administration proposed delisting the Mexican bobcat.

According to Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, there is no biological justification for delisting the Mexican bobcat. The Center submitted an initial set of comments on the proposal in 2003, which helped delay removal of protections, and again at the end of 2005. The Center is now preparing for possible litigation to ensure that the Mexican bobcat will not be legally trapped into extinction.

Mexican bobcats are distinguished taxonomically in part by their short and coarse hair which the scientist who identified the subspecies described as "immensely different from the long, soft, silky coat" of the next nearest subspecies.

Their original range included the entirety of the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Nayarit, and portions of the states of Sonora, Jalisco, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Hidalgo, Morelos, Puebla, Mexico, Tiaxcala, Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Oaxaca. But an indeterminate extent of that range is no longer occupied by bobcats.

They do not occur in the United States, and most of the habitats they evolved in - including Sinaloan thornscrub and Sinaloan deciduous forest – differ from those of other North American bobcats.

That different habitat is likely to influence prey selection. Mexican bobcats also occupy overlapping ranges with ocelots and jaguarundis, which are not found in the ranges of northern subspecies. This likely influences spatial, temporal and other behavioral attributes of all three species, but no research has been conducted on the interactions of these three carnivores of similar size.

The Mexican bobcat’s differences from other bobcats are likely to grow in the future because of increasing development of the U.S.-Mexico border with infrastructure such as roads, motorized patrols, lights and fences that will likely reduce movement and interaction between bobcats on either side of the border, pushing each group further apart genetically.

Plans by the Bush administration to fence off much of the border threaten the future viability of the bobcat population in Mexico, exacerbating threats from habitat loss and human persecution.

Such a wall similarly imperils a multitude of other wildlife, including endangered jaguars that are beginning a comeback in Arizona and New Mexico, warned the Center.

"The little-understood Mexican bobcat needs additional research into its status and survival strategies, and U.S. assistance to Mexican authorities to aid its conservation," said Robinson. "Instead, our government proposes to remove protections and allow import of Mexican bobcat pelts. This would unleash unlimited trapping of this unique and beautiful animal."

Robinson warned, "The National Trappers Association and the Bush administration won’t do this without a heck of a fight."

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Ecotourism Training Program Targets 34 Biodiversity Hotspots

WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2006 (ENS) - Conservation International and The George Washington University have entered into an agreement to develop and implement a program that will provide a set of tools, knowledge and standards to help communities create ecotourism destinations that successfully attract tourists while protecting the natural environment and improving their welfare.

The Ecotourism Learning Program targets government and nongovernmental staff working in tourism within 34 biodiversity hotspots, major tropical wilderness areas, wetlands and key marine areas of the world where ecotourism is increasing or will be implemented.

"Increasingly governments and local communities are looking to tourism as a way to create needed jobs with a softer impact on the environment," said Eileen Gutierrez, ecotourism advisor at Conservation International.

"However, capacities are limited and developments often end up failing, causing more harm than good," Gutierrez said. "For this reason, it is important that a professional training program is made available that will provide the tool and approaches for designing and implementing ecotourism that truly benefits local communities and helps protect the environment."

The biodiversity hotspots are 34 regions worldwide where 75 percent of the planet's most threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians survive within habitat covering just 2.3 percent of the Earth's surface - an area roughly equivalent to the combined areas of the five largest U.S. states.

This habitat originally covered 15.7 percent of the Earth's surface, an area equivalent in size to Russia and Australia combined. New hotspot analysis shows that an estimated 50 percent of all vascular plants and 42 percent of terrestrial vertebrates exist only in these 34 hotspots.

Since 1972, George Washington University has worked to improve tourism management, education, research and technical assistance. The new program will build on already existing ecotourism training and workshops developed at the university, and will add enhancements that include a greater emphasis on conservation.

Core training course topics to be covered are: sustainable tourism, parks and protected areas, ecotourism assessment, tourism product development, tourism marketing, ecotourism project design and management, and fundraising.

In addition, the program will focus its efforts on helping local educational institutions and organizations build their capacity to teach others within the tourism arena. This will allow local institutions to offer ecotourism training on an on-going basis and at an affordable level.

"Our partnership with CI will help to build capacity, knowledge and create a professional program for those wanting to implement ecotourism programs," said Kristin Lamoureux, director of the International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University.

The program's first course will be available early this year. For more information on the partnership, visit: http://www.ecotour.org/xp/ecotour/.

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