AmeriScan: January 30, 2007

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USA, Dominican Republic Link Sanctuaries to Safeguard Whales

WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2007 (ENS) - The world's first sister sanctuary arrangement protecting an endangered migratory marine mammal species on both ends of its range has been established by the United States and the Dominican Republic.

The agreement between the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts and the Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic 3,000 miles away will provide conservation programs for the same population of humpback whales.

Both sanctuaries provide critical support for the same population of around 900 whales, which spend spring and summer in the rich feeding grounds of Stellwagen Bank before heading south to the warmer waters of the Dominican Republic in late fall to mate and give birth to their young.

The sister sanctuary agreement was designed to enhance coordination in management efforts between the two sanctuaries and help improve humpback whale recovery in the north Atlantic.

"Long-term research tells us that the same individuals that summer off New England spend their winters off the Dominican Republic," said Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary superintendent Craig MacDonald of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, which manages all 13 national marine sanctuaries.

"Coordinating management and research across these habitats moves us several steps closer to ensuring the health of this endangered species," he said.

As sister sanctuaries, the two sites will explore new avenues for collaborative management efforts, including joint research, monitoring, education and capacity building programs. The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program anticipates that the relationship will be crucial to future protection of the north Atlantic humpback whale population, as well as to the development of further cooperative agreements.

Dan Basta, NOAA sanctuary program director, said, "This agreement has the potential to improve our scientific knowledge, enhance our management ability and increase the program's visibility—benefits that extend far beyond the sanctuaries involved."

On the Dominican end of the migration pattern, Silver Bank, located 50 miles northeast of the Dominican Republic coast in the Caribbean Sea, hosts the densest concentration of humpbacks found in the north Atlantic.

Called Santuaria de Mamiferos Marinos de la Republica Dominicana, the sanctuary protects all marine mammals within its 19,438 square mile area, including the three main humpback breeding grounds in Dominican waters.

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Nuclear Plants Need Not Protect Against Airplane Strikes

WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2007 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, Monday turned down a petition to strengthen security at nuclear power plants from Los Angeles-based Committee to Bridge the Gap, which monitors governmental radiation policy.

The commission's new rule defining the kind of threats nuclear power plant operators must address does not require protection against a deliberate hit by a large aircraft, as the group had recommended.

"The NRC has already required its licensees to take steps to mitigate the effects of large fires and explosions from any type of initiating event," the commission said in a statement.

"The active protection against airborne threats is addressed by other federal organizations, including the military," the NRC said.

The commission said it is an active partner with other federal, state and local authorities "in constant surveillance of the threat environment" and will adjust regulatory actions or requirements if necessary.

Bridge the Gap asked the NRC to increase from five to at least 19 the number of attackers each nuclear power plant must be prepared to fight. The organization's number is based on the 19 terrorists who hijacked airliners on September 11, 2001.

The NRC said its new final rule, called a "design basis threat" contains provisions related to "multiple, coordinated groups of attackers, suicide attacks and cyber threats."

The final rule approved Monday is the first of several planned security-related rules that will enhance protection of nuclear power plants, the commission said.

Other rules being developed include proposals that would add security assessment requirements for new power reactor designs, proposals to revise and update requirements for physical protection at existing and new reactors, and proposals to establish how technical requirements, including those related to security, are to be examined in applications for NRC review of new reactor designs and operations.

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Colorado Company Licensed to Strip Uranium from Water

WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2007 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, has issued a license to RMD Operations, LLC, of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, for its system of removing uranium from municipal water supplies to help communities comply with new federal safe drinking water standards.

Water treatment facilities must comply this year with new standards published in 2000 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limiting the amounts of various contaminants in drinking water.

The EPA’s limit for uranium, which occurs naturally in groundwater, is 30 micrograms per liter, or 30 parts per billion. Up to 2,000 treatment facilities nationwide must meet this standard.

But extracting uranium from drinking water could result in these facilities accumulating enough concentrated uranium to require licensing as source material by the NRC or an Agreement State - 34 states thatregulate radioactive materials in their jurisdictions under agreements with the NRC.

Any material consisting of more than 0.05 percent uranium is considered source material, and any entity possessing more than 15 pounds at a time, or 150 pounds over the course of a year, must be licensed.

The license granted to RMD allows the company to contract with water treatment facilities in NRC states to remove uranium from their community water supplies and to take possession of the uranium once extracted.

The program involves storing the collected uranium in RMD’s self-contained uranium removal system for disposal in properly permitted or licensed facilities, either as waste or for use in a uranium mill.

The RMD uranium water treatment program may enable community water systems to remove uranium from drinking water sources to comply with the EPA requirements without the need to develop expertise in handling radioactive materials.

The program may also allow municipal water authorities to remove the uranium permanently from their environments.

The NRC license applies to the 16 states under NRC jurisdiction. At RMD’s request, the agency sent its environmental assessment to Agreement and non-Agreement States for their review before the license was issued. RMD has applied for similar licenses in some Agreement States.

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EPA Staff Recommends Tighter Ozone Pollution Standards

WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, today disclosed recommendations by its career staff on limiting ground-level ozone, or smog.

The recommendations, to be released in detail Wednesday, call for strengthening the current ozone standard of .084 parts per million (ppm) down to a range of 0.080 to 0.060 ppm, with a focus on a level of 0.070 ppm.

The final staff paper recommends that the EPA administrator set a secondary standard to protect against ozone damage to welfare, including damage to plants. This includes damage to natural vegetation, forests and commercial crops.

Staff recommended a standard that is a cumulative, weighted total of daily 12-hour exposures over a three-month period within the growing season. It would give greater weight to exposures at higher ozone concentrations.

Staff also recommended a range for this standard, from 21 parts per million-hours to seven parts per million-hours.

Ozone is a severe lung irritant, linked by health studies to premature deaths, increased risk of asthma attacks, lung damage, and reduction in lung function. Young children and people with lung ailments are at greater risk from ozone pollution that others, and they are warned to limit outdoor activity when ozone levels are high.

Earthjustice attorney David Baron warned that the top EPA official may reject his staff's advice.

"In September, EPA Administrator Steve Johnson rejected a recommendation of his science advisors, the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association, and a host of other public health groups that he strengthen the annual clean air standard for another pollutant - airborne particulate matter, including soot," said Baron. "The stronger standards had been opposed by industry groups."

An EPA scientific panel of 23 experts unanimously recommended last October that EPA greatly strengthen the standard for ozone from its current level of 0.080 parts per million to between 0.070 ppm and 0.060 ppm, Baron pointed out.

EPA is currently reviewing the standards under a court-ordered schedule in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of health and environmental groups, including the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club.

Under the court ordered schedule, EPA must propose action on the ozone standard by June and take final action in early 2008.

The EPA said today in a statement that the assessments, conclusions and recommendations included in the staff paper are staff judgments. They do not represent agency decisions on the ozone standards.

EPA will propose action on the ozone standards by June 20, 2007 and take final action by March 12, 2008.

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American Eels Will Not Be Listed as Endangered

WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today said the American eel does not need protection as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

During its conservation status review, the Service examined information about the American eel population from Greenland south along the North American coast to Brazil in South America and as far inland as the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River drainage.

While the eel population has declined in some areas, the species' overall population is not in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future, the Service decided.

"The eel population as a whole shows significant resiliency. If we look at eels over time, we see fluctuations in the population numbers, so a decreasing number of eels right now does not necessarily forecast an irreversible trend," said Heather Bell, Service fishery biologist.

"Overfishing and hydropower turbines continue to impact eels in some regions, such as Lake Ontario and Chesapeake Bay, although these factors do not fully explain the reduced number of eels migrating up the St. Lawrence Seaway and into Lake Ontario," Bell said.

Several actions have been taken in an effort to conserve eel populations including installation of eel ladders for upstream passage at hydropower projects, implementation of state harvest restrictions, and dam removals that open historic eel habitat.

In addition, Canadian resource agencies have closed the harvest of eels in the Canadian portion of Lake Ontario. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada is considering designating the American eel a "species of special concern."

During the next few months, the Service will prepare suggestions for managing to allow for eel fishery sustainability while ensuring adequate conservation measures for the species.

The Service initiated the status review in 2004 at the request of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, representing 15 states from Maine to Florida.

American eels begin life in the Atlantic Ocean's Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. The larvae ride the Gulf Stream for several months until they make their way to Continental Shelf waters.

Some eels grow to adulthood in the marine environment; some go into freshwater/saltwater estuaries; some migrate up rivers and streams; and some eels move from one habitat to another as they develop.

Biologists believe this adaptability among various environments enhances the species' ability to survive despite threats in one or more environments.

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Heating Homes, Cooking Affects Global Climate

NEW YORK, New York, January 30, 2007 (ENS) - Scientists using satellite data have tracked the path and distribution of aerosols - tiny particles suspended in the air - to link their region of origin and source type with their tendencies to warm or cool the atmosphere. Residential emissions were found to affect the climate more than previously thought.

By altering the amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth's surface, aerosols influence both regional and global climate. Their impact is difficult to quantify because most only stay airborne for about a week, while greenhouse gases can persist in the atmosphere for decades.

In a study published January 24 in the American Geophysical Union's "Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres," researchers investigated the sources of aerosols and how different types of aerosols influence climate.

The industry and power sectors are particularly important in North America and Europe and produce large amounts of sulfur dioxide, while Asia has higher emissions from residential sources, which produce relatively more carbon-containing aerosols, the study found.

"Computer model simulations showed that black carbon in the Arctic, a potentially important driver in climate change, derives its largest portion from Southeast Asian residential sources," said Dorothy Koch, lead author and atmospheric scientist at Columbia University and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

"According to current model estimates, Koch said, "the residential sector appears to have a substantial potential to cause climate warming and therefore, could potentially be targeted to counter the effects of global warming."

The study also showed large amounts of aerosols containing organic carbon - which also tend to cool the atmosphere and partially offset the warming from greenhouse gas emissions - are produced by burning of vegetation.

Most of the world’s biomass burning emissions appear to come from Africa and next, from South America. But, precipitation removes a greater proportion of these aerosols from the atmosphere over Africa than over South America. As a result, more than half the biomass-burning aerosols in the Southern Hemisphere can be traced back to South America.

Koch said, "This study offers details on the aerosol source regions and emission source types that policy makers could target to most effectively combat climate change."

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