AmeriScan: January 8, 2007

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Senators Want Drinking Water Standard for Perchlorate

WASHINGTON, DC, January 8, 2007 (ENS) - U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who serves as the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, has introduced two bills to protect people from drinking water contaminated by the toxic chemical perchlorate.

One bill would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to promptly establish a health advisory, followed by a drinking water standard, for perchlorate. The standard would have to protect the health of pregnant women and children.

The second bill would assure that tap water is tested for perchlorate and that the public be notified when drinking water is contaminated.

Solid perchlorates are very reactive chemicals that are used mainly in fireworks, explosives, and rocket motors. People may be exposed to perchlorate from contaminated drinking water, food, and milk.

High levels of perchlorate can affect the thyroid gland, which in turn can alter the function of many organs in the body. Developing organisms can be especially susceptible, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances.

Perchlorate is found in the drinking water supplies of over 20 million Americans and particularly threatens pregnant women, infants and children.

The EPA reports that perchlorate has been found in 40 of the nation's 1,547 Superfund sites.

“We must do everything within our power to make drinking water safe for every American family,” Senator Boxer said. “Perchlorate threatens the health of those most vulnerable, and these bills will go a long way toward protecting them.”

Senator Boxer was joined in introducing the bills by Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Lautenberg is the incoming chairman of the Water Quality Subcommittee.

"Rocket fuel should be reserved for rockets, not our nation's drinking water," said Senator Lautenberg. "The Bush administration has failed to protect the public's drinking water and warn people of potential health threats. This legislation is an important step forward to provide Americans with the health protections they demand."

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EPA May Allow Carcingenic Chromium as Wood Preservative

WASHINGTON, DC, January 8, 2007 (ENS) - On January 19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, will decide whether or not to allow unrestricted use of the human carcinogen hexavalent chromium in a wood preservative used on lumber sold at hardware and home improvement stores.

Known as acid copper chromate, ACC, contains as much as 65 percent hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6.

Four years ago, the EPA banned nearly all uses of the widely used arsenic and chromium-based wood preservative chromated copper arsenate CCA, a chemical similar to ACC.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forestry Research Lab says ACC "may be more prone to leaching than wood treated with CCA."

Now it appears that the EPA will allow chromium-6 to be used on wood. Millions of children, homeowners, and contractors will be exposed to the compound on decks, play sets, and home improvement projects.

The EPA's decision comes after intense lobbying by the chromium industry, said Wiles, and appears timed to avoid the results of a cancer study on the chemical expected later this year from the National Toxicology Program, NTP.

The NTP study will provide critical information on cancer risks to children who play on play sets decks and other structures made with ACC treated wood.

The chromium industry, and former Republican Senator Bob Dole, the lobbyist for a company that would like to use ACC, are pressuring the EPA to approve a new registration for ACC by January 20, 2007.

There's a legal process for getting this registration, and we've met all the requirements," Dennis Morgan of Forest Products Research Laboratory, the company that Dole represents, told "USA Today" in 2003.

Meanwhile, conservationists and several members of Congress are urging the EPA to keep ACC off the market.

"Everything known about chromium-6 tells us that it is a highly toxic cancer causing compound," said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, DC based research and advocacy group.

"But EPA appears ready to ignore the science and rush this carcinogen to market before the cancer risks to children are fully understood. Putting this carcinogen back into the nation's lumber supply would be a giant step backwards in public health protection," Wiles said.

Environmental Working Group today sent a letter to Jim Jones, director of the EPA's pesticide program, urging the agency not to register ACC until the cancer risks to children who would be exposed to chromium-6 from treated wood, are fully understood.

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Oil Leak in Alabama Contained

MOBILE, Alabama, January 8, 2007 (ENS) - A crude oil storage tank leaked some 300 barrels of oil into a drainage ditch at an oil containment farm here today.

The oil in the drainage ditch has been contained, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which responded to the spill. Crews have deployed a containment boom and are working to recover the oil.

The oil in the storage container, which holds approximately 300,000 barrels of oil, is currently being transferred to a barge and other storage facilities.

The Alabama Bulk Terminal Company notified Coast Guard Sector Mobile of the leak at approximately 3:30 pm, shortly after discovering the leak. The oil released was contained in the spill containment area of the oil farm and heavy rain caused an overflow into the drainage ditch.

The cause of the leak is under investigation.

The Alabama Bulk Terminal Company, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Mobile Police and Fire Departments are on the scene, and have set up a Unified Command Post to respond to the incident.

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Washington Oil Spill Affects Puyallup River

TACOMA, Washington, January 8, 2007 (ENS) - The Washington State Department of Ecology and other agencies are responding to an oil spill that occurred at early Sunday morning on the Puyallup River Bridge overpass in Tacoma.

The spill was reported to Ecology by the state Department of Transportation, DOT, after a vehicle accident on the southbound I-5 Puyallup River bridge overpass.

A semi-truck crashed and spilled 150 gallons of diesel from its tanks, and DOT responders were able to recover 35 gallons of diesel from the roadway. The remaining 115 gallons spilled into the Puyallup River.

The Department of Ecology has sent investigators and responders to the spill site. The Puyallup River is moving quickly due to the high level of rainfall overnight, and officials expect most of the diesel to wash into Commencement Bay and cause an oily sheen.

Oil spilled into water forms oily patches that spread out quickly and can cover many acres of surface water.

Responders are monitoring the Puyallup River for any slow-moving areas that could be treated with absorbent materials to soak up any accumulations of diesel.

Citizens are encouraged to call 1-800-OILS-911 if they spot a large patch of oily sheen in the area.

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New Class of Anti-Cancer Drugs Produced

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, January 8, 2007 (ENS) - Combining synthetic chemistry techniques with a knowledge of the properties and actions of enzymes, scientists have produced a new class of anti-cancer drugs originally isolated from blue-green algae.

This accomplishment is expected to make it possible to produce enough of the promising drugs for use in clinical trials.

In a study featured on the cover of the January issue of the journal "ACS Chemical Biology," a scientific team lead by University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute Research Professor David Sherman and researcher Zachary Beck found the trick to turning the green gunk into cancer fighting gold.

"It was simply too difficult to use the native blue-green algae for high-level production using traditional fermentation approaches," said Sherman.

But the compound, called cryptophycin 1, held so much promise as an anti-cancer drug that organic chemists found a way to make a synthetic form of the compound in large enough quantities for clinical trials.

Sherman's team accomplished this by isolating a set of biosynthetic genes and key enzymes and developing a new, efficient method to manufacture the broad class of cryptophycin natural products, including important analogs with clinical potential.

Sherman, who is also the John G. Searle Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, believes that this approach will allow effective new cryptophycin analogs with low levels of side effects to be created for clinical trials.

"This issue represented an exciting target that offered not only an interesting scientific problem, but the potential to do something of practical importance in creating a promising anti-cancer drug," he said.

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Fast-Growing Plants Adapt Quickly to Climate Change

IRVINE, California, January 8, 2007 (ENS) - Plants with short life cycles can adapt in just a few years to climate change, University of California-Irvine, UCI, scientists have discovered.

This finding suggests that plants that grow rapidly such as weeds may cope better with global warming than slower-growing plants such as redwood trees.

"Some species evolve fast enough to keep up with environmental change," said Arthur Weis, UCI professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "Global warming may increase the pace of this change so that certain species may have difficulty keeping up. Plants with longer life cycles will have fewer generations over which to evolve."

Weis and his team studied field mustard, a weedy plant found throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

In a greenhouse, they grew mustard plants at the same time from seeds collected near the UCI campus in the spring of 1997 - two years before a five-year drought - and seeds collected after the drought in the winter of 2004.

The plants were divided into three groups, each receiving different amounts of water mimicking precipitation patterns ranging from drought to very wet conditions. In all cases, the post-drought generation flowered earlier, regardless of the watering scheme.

This shift in genetic timing was further confirmed with an experiment that crossed the ancestors and descendents. As predicted, the intergenerational hybrids had an intermediate flowering time.

"Early winter rainfall did not change much during the drought, but the late winters and springs were unusually dry. This precipitation pattern put a selective pressure on plants to flower earlier, especially annual plants like field mustard," Franks said. "During drought, early bloomers complete seed production before the soil dries out, whereas late bloomers wither before they can seed."

The technique of growing ancestors and descendents at the same time allowed the scientists to determine that the change in flower timing was in fact an evolutionary shift - not a simple reaction to changing weather conditions.

Today, Weis is the organizing chairman of Project Baseline, a national effort to collect and preserve seeds from contemporary plant populations. Decades from now, plant biologists will be able to resurrect these ancestral generations and compare them to their descendents.

"If we go out today and collect a large number of seeds and freeze them, they will be a resource available to the next generation of scientists," Weis said. "Because of global warming, the evolution explosion is already under way. If we act now, we'll have the tools necessary to determine in the future how species respond to climate change."

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation. The study appears this week in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

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