AmeriScan: January 16, 2007

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Two Kentucky Train Wrecks Release Hazardous Chemicals

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky, January 16, 2007 (ENS) - In the second fiery train crash in Kentucky in two days, a number of train cars, at least three carrying liquid propane gas, derailed and exploded south of Louisville this morning.

The explosion closed Interstate 65 in both directions for 18 miles and forced evacuations of homes, businesses and a school, Kentucky officials said.

The Bullitt County Emergency Management Agency issued a Hazardous Materials Warning for the entire county.

The agency said dangerous chemicals released by the explosion could present a major inhalation hazard as the smoke plume moves off to the southeast.

"Close all windows and doors, block out all outside air, turn off furnaces and bring in your pets. Turn on your tv or radio for more information," the agency warned.

Five people were taken to hospital for treatment of chemical inhalation.

At the request of the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is responding to the tanker fire with air monitoring from a small plane fitted with an emergency response sensor package.

CSX spokesman Gary Sease reports the train consisted of four locomotives and 80 cars headed from Birmingham, Alabama to Louisville.

WAVE 3 television reports the railcars may contain the chemicals cyclohexane and aniline.

Cyclohexane is a colorless and volitile liquid with a slightly pungent odor resembling that of chloroform or benzene. Cyclohexane is used as a solvent for the chemical industry.

Aniline is an oily, poisonous benzene derivative used in the manufacture of dyes and pharmaceuticals.

The Kentucky National Guard has mobilized soldiers and airmen to check air quality.

On Monday, four runaway CSX rail cars struck two parked locomotives in central Kentucky's Estill County, catching fire and spilling a chemical that forced evacuation of area homes.

That crash released about 30,000 gallons of butyl acetate, a flammable liquid, from a burning tanker car, authorities said. Black smoke billowed high into the air and fuel or chemicals spilled into the Kentucky River caught fire.

The incident started when four CSX rail cars jumped their track just before noon and careened onto a main rail line, traveling several miles before hitting the parked CSX locomotives, Sease said. CSX had placed the locomotives in the path of the tankers to halt their run.

The tanker car fire was extinguished by mid-afternoon. No injuries were reported. The causes of both crashes are under investigation.

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Snow Storms Blanket Midwest, But East Has Little Snow

CHANHASSEN, Minnesota, January 16, 2007 (ENS) - Severe winter storms swept across Missouri beginning Friday, causing moderate to heavy damage across the state. On Monday, President George W. Bush declared a major disaster for the state and as of Monday evening Missouri reports about 279,000 customers without power.

Skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers in the central and eastern United States have been left without much snow this season as the El Nino sea surface warming pattern in the Eastern Pacific Ocean influences the nation's winter weather pattern.

The daily snow analysis issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, shows snow covers only 26 percent of the lower 48 states.

Nationally, the current 26 percent snow coverage is on par with snow coverage on this day last year, but is much less than the 43 percent in 2005 and 33 percent in 2004.

The greatest snow coverage and depths lie across the higher elevations of the West and with relatively paltry amounts in the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

"The distribution of snow across the country so far this season has been uneven, to say the least. While some areas have been inundated with snowfall, others are lacking," said Don Cline, PhD, acting director of the NOAA National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center in Chanhassen.

Even NOAA's snow scientists in Chanhassen are walking on bare ground with a seasonal snowfall currently 20 inches below average.

So far this season, the jet stream - the river of fast-moving air in the upper levels of the atmosphere - has largely flowed in a west to east "zonal" direction near the northern tier of the country. This has escorted milder Pacific air across the country while locking Arctic air in Canada.

The Northeast had extensive snow cover in December and January during the past three seasons with 90 percent to 100 percent snow coverage much of the period and occasional decreases to around 50 percent.

This year, snow cover in the Northeast has been much lower - down to 10 percent to 15 percent through much of December, and topping out at less than 80 percent.

In the northern Great Lakes region, December started with close to 90 percent snow cover but then dropped down to about 30 percent by mid-December. Currently, the Upper Midwest has a little less snow cover than this time over the past three seasons.

By contrast, much of the West has been experiencing frequent snow storms resulting in extensive snow cover. The central Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming currently have 90 percent to 100 percent snow cover, compared to 50 percent to 80 percent snow cover at this time during the past three years.

"This is still a young winter season, and it takes just a single storm to drop a fresh blanket of snow and chip away at mounting snowfall deficits," Cline said.

He recalled the light amount of snow in January of last year in parts of the East, which was followed by an early February storm that dumped up to 28 inches of snow from the Carolinas to New England.

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California Coastal Commission Limits U.S. Navy Sonar Use

LOS ANGELES, California, January 16, 2007 (ENS) - The California Coastal Commission has decided to approve two years of naval exercises off Southern California but only if the U.S. Navy puts in place measures to protect marine mammals from potentially lethal effects of noisy mid-frequency sonar.

The vote taken Thursday represents the first time the Navy had sought the Commission’s approval for mid-frequency sonar training, and the first time California has imposed safety conditions for such exercises.

The exercises will take place in waters off the continental United States that host blue whales, humpbacks, gray whales, dolphins, porpoises and other sensitive species.

“We don’t have to choose between naval training and the protection of whales and other marine life,” said Cara Horowitz, a project attorney with the Marine Mammals Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC. “When held to sound standards, the Navy has shown again and again that it can train effectively while minimizing risk to the marine environment.”

Whales around the world have been found dead or dying following encounters with mid-frequency military sonar that fills the water with loud pulses of sound.

The Coastal Commission will now require the Navy to avoid key marine mammal habitat, such as the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the gray whale migration route.

In the longest migration of any mammal, the California gray whale swims 10,000 miles each year, spending about one third of its life migrating from the cold, nutrient-rich waters of Alaska, to the warm, shallow lagoons of Baja California. The peak of the southern migration usually occurs in mid-January and that of the northern migration in mid-March.

The Navy must now power down at night and in other conditions of low visibility, when whales are hard to spot and establish expanded safety zones around haval vessels to keep from blasting nearby whales.

Last July, with ships of several nations off Hawaii, poised to begin one of the Navy's largest international training exercises, a federal judge in Los Angeles temporarily halted the use of mid-frequency sonar.

The Navy was allowed to proceed with the exercises only when it agreed to stay away from the newly designated Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument.

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Illinois Must Buy Flex Fuel Vehicles for State Fleet

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, January 16, 2007 (ENS) - Building on his efforts to support Illinois farmers and expand the use of clean and renewable energy, Governor Rod Blagojevich Friday signed legislation requiring state agencies to purchase flexible fuel vehicles.

These gasoline powered vehicles can run on E-85, an 85 percent blend of ethanol and gasoline. Diesel powered vehicles can run on B-5, a blend of five percent biodiesel and regular diesel fuel.

The bill also encourages state agencies to purchase fuel efficient gas-electric hybrid vehicles.

“This bill will help further the progress we’ve made in recent years in building one of the largest green fleets in the nation. By using biofuels to fuel state cars and trucks, we’re helping the environment and supporting our farmers,” said the governor.

The state will purchase E-85 flex fueled or biodiesel compatible vehicles and hybrids whenever they are available to fit the business use - only certain exemptions will be granted for special agency needs.

To increase the number of large vehicles on Illinois roads powered by biofuels, this bill also allows consumers to purchase large alternative fuel vehicles out of state, if not available in-state, and be able to qualify for a rebate program administered by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

The rebate program offers up to $4,000 per vehicle to convert a conventional vehicle to a vehicle using alternative fuels, such as natural gas or propane. Current law requires that vehicles over 8,500 pounds must be purchased in Illinois to be eligible. Details on this rebate program can be found at

“Renewable fuels help reduce our dependence on foreign oil while decreasing the pollutants in our air,” said Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, chairman of the Illinois Green Government Coordinating Council and the Biofuels Working Group.

Last August, Governor Blagojevich introduced a long-term energy plan to replace Illinois’ dependence on foreign oil with homegrown alternatives. The plan sets a goal of meeting 50 percent of the state’s transportation fuel needs with homegrown fuels by 2017. Illinois would be the first state in the nation to reach this level of energy independence.

The plan is expected to stabilize energy prices, give Illinois farmers new markets for their crops, and create 30,000 new jobs.

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Kansas Issues Fish Warnings for Mercury, PCBs, Perchlorate

TOPEKA, Kansas, January 16, 2007 (ENS) - Kansas has issued fish consumption advisories for 2007 that set guidelines for mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, in fish, perchlorate in fish and other aquatic life, and lead and cadmium in shellfish.

With the advisories, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks identify species of fish that should be eaten in limited quantities, or in some cases, avoided altogether because of contamination found in tested fish.

Kansas recommends not eating specified fish or aquatic life from the Kansas River from Lawrence, below Bowersock Dam, downstream to Eudora at the confluence of the Wakarusa River for bottom-feeding fish because of PCB levels. Bottom-feeding fish include carp, blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, freshwater drum, bullheads, sturgeons, buffalos, carpsuckers and other sucker species.

People should not eat any form of aquatic life from Horseshoe Lake located in units 22 and 23 of the Mined Lands Wildlife Area because of high levels of perchlorate, a chemical used in explosives.

Shellfish such as mussels, clams, and crayfish should not be eaten from the Spring River from the confluence of Center Creek to the Kansas-Oklahoma border because of lead and cadmium levels.

Lead and cadmium levels in Shoal Creek from the Missouri-Kansas border to Empire Lake are also too high for shellfish consumption, the agencies warn.

In addition, Kansas recommends a limit of one eight ounce serving per month, or 12 eight ounce servings per year, on the consumption of bottom-feeding fish due to PCBs in the Arkansas River from the Lincoln St. dam in Wichita downstream to the confluence with Cowskin Creek near Belle Plaine, and also from Cow Creek in Hutchinson and downstream to the confluence with the Arkansas River.

Due to the average levels of mercury, Kansas recommends a limit of one eight ounce serving per week for adults or one four ounce serving per week for children 12 years of age or younger of any species of fish from the Little Arkansas River from the Main Street Bridge immediately west of Valley Center to the confluence with the Arkansas River in Wichita, and also from the main stem of the Blue River from U.S. 69 Highway to the Kansas/Missouri state line.

Kansas counties with current fish consumption advisories include: Cherokee, Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, Reno, Sedgwick and Sumner counties. Those that no longer have fish consumption advisories are Crawford, Lyon and Wyandotte counties.

In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a national fish consumption advisory for mercury which recommends eating no more than one eight ounce serving per week of locally caught fish.

Trend data from most Kansas long-term monitoring sites show a decrease in mercury and PCBs, the agencies said.

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Dead Bird Mysteries

AUSTIN, Texas, January 16, 2007 (ENS) - A week after a rain of dead birds closed two main streets in the Texas capital of Austin, animal health officials are no closer to identifying what killed them.

On January 8, the day the state Legislature opened, some 60 grackles, sparrows and pigeons fell to the ground.

Preliminary tests for pesticides and other harmful chemicals have come back negative, said Dr. Adolfo Valadez, the medical director for Austin and Travis County Health and Human Services, who said it might be weeks before any conclusive results were known.

"We certainly take these kinds of thing seriously, especially following 9/11," said Valadez. "It may be a matter of time before we know what happened and why it happened. There is no threat to public health."

Halfway around the world, in Australia, thousands of dead birds fell out of the sky within the past 30 days - and again, animal health officials have no idea why.

Around 5,000 nectar and insect-eating birds have been found dead in Esperance, Western Australia, since mid-December, according to Nigel Higgs, spokesman for the state's Department of Environment and Conservation.

Pathologists at the Western Australia Department of Agriculture have ruled out the H5N1 bird flu virus and other infectious diseases, but they have not positively identified what is causing the bird deaths.

Dr. Fiona Sunderman, chief veterinary officer of the Department of Agriculture and Food, suspects the cause of death is some form of toxic poisoning, but no one is sure.

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