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AmeriScan: July 19, 2005

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South Texas Battens Down the Hatches for Emily

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas, July 19, 2005 (ENS) - Hurricane Emily has blown up into a dangerous Category 3 hurricane packing winds of 125 miles per hour. A hurricane warning is in effect for the Lower Texas coast from Port Mansfield south to the Texas-Mexico border. Forecasters say Emily could become an even stronger Category 4 hurricane before it makes landfall.

Most visitors have piled into their RVs and left southern Texas for safer inland locations. Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa declared the Texas county a disaster area hours before Hurricane Emily’s first rain bands reached the coast this afternoon.

The declaration is a formality, which allows the judge to open the county’s Emergency Operations Center in preparation for the storm. If the storm strikes as predicted, the judge will request that Texas Governor Rick Perry declare it a disaster.

The Coast Guard Captain of the Port of Brownsville, Capt. John Korn, has declared hurricane conditions for the port and the surrounding area in response to Hurricane Emily. All cargo handling operations are suspended and the port is closed to all commercial vessel traffic including movement within the port.

As the first band from Hurricane Emily hit Corpus Christi, a Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued a man with a life threatening illness delivered him to Coast Guard Station Port O'Connor where his family was waiting for him. The man was on a 36-foot boat that ran aground about four miles east of Port O'Connor.

But the Coast Guard warns that the extremely high seas, heavy rains and damaging winds that accompany tropical storms and hurricanes present serious dangers to mariners. "Rescue and assistance by the Coast Guard and other agencies may be severely degraded or be unavailable immediately before, during and after a devastating storm," the Coast Guard says.

In Mexico, a hurricane warning remains in effect for northeastern Mexico from south of the border to La Cruz, and a tropical storm warming is in effect south of La Cruz to Cabo Rojo.

Emily is moving toward the west-northwest, and a gradual turn to the west is expect late tonight or early Wednesday, bringing the storm center near the northeastern coast of Mexico by Wednesday morning.

On the weekend, the island of Cozumel suffered more damage from the brunt of the storm than the mainland of Mexico, and the resort destination is expected to take longer to recover. Some hotels are closing for extensive repairs. Management of the Iberostar Cozumel says the hotel will be closed until November for repairs to the gardens, pools, restaurants and public areas.

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Higher Cancer Rate Found at Omaha Lead Refinery Site

ATLANTA, Georgia, July 19, 2005 (ENS) - The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has found that the rates of new cancer cases in the Omaha Lead Site are slightly higher than new cancer rates in Douglas County and Nebraska for stomach, lung and kidney cancer.

The Omaha Lead site in the city of Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska has been contaminated with lead from air emissions from lead refining operations and other sources. The site covers about 8,840 acres and includes residential properties, childcare facilities, and schools. The Omaha Lead site was added to the Superfund List on April 30, 2003.

The review sought to determine if the rates of new cancer cases in the Omaha Lead Site, or East Omaha, were higher or lower than the rates in Douglas County as well as the state.

Using information provided by the Nebraska Cancer Registry (1990-2001), ATSDR compared the cancers that may be associated with lead exposure - bladder, brain, kidney, lung and stomach.

The agency found that cancer rates within the site, Douglas County and Nebraska are similar for bladder and brain.

"The findings from this analysis are insufficient to conclude that lead is the cause for cancer in residents of East Omaha," the agency found, while at the same time noting higher cancer rates for stomach, lung and kidney cancers.

Other factors, including smoking, occupation, diet, length of residency and industrial exposure in Omaha Lead Site residents, could not be controlled or accounted for the agency said.

The Cancer Data Review is an addendum to the public health assessment released this May, which found that ongoing exposure to lead in children six years of age and younger living in or near the Omaha Lead site is a public health hazard.

The report is available online at: www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/omahalead

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MTBE Contamination Concentrated in Northeast

WASHINGTON, DC, July 19, 2005 (ENS) - The presence of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), a component used to add oxygen to gasoline to meet federal Clean Air Act standards, has been detected as a contaminant in ground water supplies underlying urban areas, particularly in the northeastern United States.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey examined the occurrence of MTBE and gasoline hydrocarbons in ground water throughout the United States and found that nationwide, MTBE was detected as frequently as some other chemicals that have been used for longer periods of time.

MTBE was detected more frequently in urban areas compared to other land use types, such as agricultural areas, putting shallow ground water supply in these areas at risk for contamination. The chemical occured most frequently in the northeastern states.

"It is not known if contamination of shallow ground water in urban areas will reach deeper aquifers that are generally used for supplying drinking water," says lead researcher Michael Moran, Ph.D.

A geological engineer specializing in ground water quality, Moran has worked as a ground water hydrologist for the National Water-Quality Assessment Program of the U.S. Geological Survey for the past 10 years.

Moran says that there may be "unforseen health consequences" that result from the ingestion of water contaminated with MTBE, even when the water has no unusual taste or odor.

"Few concentrations of MTBE in ground water exceed the current USEPA Drinking-Water Advisory," said Moran. "This means that most MTBE concentrations in ground water will not cause taste and odor concerns. However, low concentrations of MTBE in drinking water may have unforeseen health consequences."

Past research has shown that possible human health consequences as a result of MTBE contamination in drinking water include carcinogenesis and detrimental reproductive and developmental effects.

Researchers say determining the factors related to the occurrence of MTBE, as in this study, may help to reveal the sources and pathways of MTBE to ground water, and the vulnerability of aquifers to MTBE contamination.

Dr. Moran's findings are published in the July-August issue of the journal "Ground Water."

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Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Smaller This Year

WASHINGTON, DC, July 19, 2005 (ENS) - A team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting that the low oxygen Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana and Texas this summer should be much smaller than its average size since 1990.

This summer's Dead Zone is predicted to be less than 1,400 square miles, an area the size of Rhode Island. The average annual hypoxia-affected area since 1990 has been approximately 4,900 square miles.

The forecast is based on nutrient loads from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers in May and June. The nutrient loads were lower than average this year, probably due to a dry year with below average precipitation across much of the Mississippi River Basin.

The nutrient data is provided by the U.S. Geological Survey. NOAA funds research cruises to track development of hypoxia, or a low oxygen condition. These cruises have been conducted monthly since January and will be completed by the end of July.

"This prediction is an example of an innovative environmental service - known as ecological forecasting - that we believe will become an important tool in coming years for both decision makers and the public," said Richard Spinrad, Ph.D., assistant administrator of NOAA's National Ocean Service.

"Ecological Forecasting is a great example of NOAA's efforts to use an ecosystem based management approach to protect and restore the use of coastal and ocean resources, which is one of the goals of the strategic plan," Spinrad said.

The Dead Zone is an area in the Gulf of Mexico where seasonal oxygen levels drop too low to support most life in bottom and near-bottom waters. It is caused by a seasonal change where algal growth, stimulated by input of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, settles and decays in the bottom waters.

The decaying algae consume oxygen faster than it can be replenished from the surface, leading to decreased levels of dissolved oxygen.

Research indicates that nearly tripling the nitrogen load into the gulf over the past 50 years has led to the lack of oxygen in the Gulf.

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19 States Receive $92.5 Million to Weatherize Homes

WASHINGTON, DC, July 19, 2005 (ENS) - Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced Monday that $92.5 million has been awarded to 19 states to improve the energy efficiency of low-income family homes.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program makes improvements such as plugging air leaks, improving insulation and tuning air conditioning and heating systems, which reduces energy waste and lowers energy bills. Through DOE’s weatherization program, approximately 92,300 homes will be upgraded this year.

"The Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program helps thousands of low-income families by installing energy efficiency measures in their homes," Bodman said. "High energy costs can really pinch low income families. Through this program we are helping Americans identify simple ways to reduce home energy use and save money on their energy bills."

On Monday, Secretary Bodman, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson kicked off the Partnership for Home Energy Efficiency, aimed at reducing household energy costs by 10 percent over the next decade.

Through this partnership, the three federal agencies have consolidated energy saving information on one convenient website: www.energysavers.gov.

DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program gives priority to low-income households with elderly members, people with disabilities and children. Low-income families spend an average of 14 percent of their income on energy. It is estimated that weatherization can reduce an average home’s energy costs by $237 a year.

The program is administered by states, tribes and 970 local agencies. Every state, the District of Columbia, the Navajo Nation and the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona will receive weatherization grants this year. The awards announced today are for the 19 states that began their weatherization program year on July 1.

The weatherization assistance program performs energy audits to identify the most cost-effective energy upgrades for each home. These typically include adding insulation, reducing air infiltration, servicing heating and cooling systems and providing health and safety diagnostic services.

For every dollar spent, the Department of Energy estimates that weatherization returns $1.40 in energy savings to American families.

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California Tiger Salamander Protection Costly to Developers

SACRAMENTO, California, July 19, 2005 (ENS) - Protecting critical habitat for the California tiger salamander could result in the loss of development opportunities worth $367 million over 20 years, according to an economic analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The draft economic analysis projects an expected loss of $367 million due to lost development opportunities over the next 20 years, according to the analysis prepared by Charles River Associates, an Oakland-based consulting firm. The projected impacts occur almost entirely in urbanizing areas, with six counties accounting for 94 percent of the impact.

Critical habitat was proposed for the threatened species on August 10, 2004 for 382,666 acres in 20 California counties, from Yolo to Kern.

Alameda County impacts alone are projected at $131 million, or 36 percent of the total. The South Pleasanton-South Livermore census tract, where housing prices average $1.9 million, is where the study predicts the highest impact on housing prices, projecting an increase of $27,623.

The other high impact counties, according to the study are Contra Costa ($91 million), Monterey ($67 million), Santa Clara (23 million), San Benito ($18 million) and Fresno ($15 million).

The Service advises that it is considering excluding portions of Alameda, Contra Costa and Monterey counties from critical habitat because of potentially disproportionate impacts on them.

The California tiger salamander, a stocky terrestrial amphibian with a broad rounded snout, is threatened by a variety of factors.

As part of the endangered listing for the salamander 11 months ago, the Service also established a special rule under the Endangered Species Act to protect ranchers from jeopardy for incidental harm to salamanders that occurs in the course of normal ranching operations.

In the economic analysis, no costs are ascribed to impacts of critical habitat designation on ranching operations. The rule was established because ranch stock ponds have become valuable breeding area for salamanders.

The special rule helps ranchers preserve rangeland that is critical to the California tiger salamander?s survival. The rule conserves salamander habitat by keeping compatible uses such as ranching economically viable.

The Central population of the California tiger salamander includes populations throughout the Central Valley, the Central Coast and the San Francisco Bay Area.

A distinct population of salamanders in Santa Barbara County had been listed as endangered in 2000. Critical habitat for that area was designated on November 24, 2004.

Areas proposed as critical habitat for the salamander species may be found here.

A public comment period is still open; it closes August 3. The final critical habitat rule is due to be completed by August 10, 2005.

Comments on the proposed critical habitat and/or the draft economic analysis may be submitted to: [email protected] or by fax to: 916/414-6710, or by mail to: Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2800 Cottage Way, Suite W-2605, Sacramento, CA 95825.

Copies of the analysis and the Federal Register notice may be obtained by downloading it from http://sacramento.fws.gov.

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Porous Parking Lots Ease Storm Water Damage in Pennsylvania

NORTH EAST BOROUGH, Pennsylvania, July 19, 2005 (ENS) - A new parking area paved with a permeable covering has replaced an impervious surface municipal lot where oil and other residue from vehicles would accumulate and then wash into Baker Creek when it rained or snow melted.

Kelly Burch, Northwest regional director with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, visited the new municipal parking lot in North East Borough last week. The project was financed through a $150,000 Growing Greener grant from the state of Pennsylvania.

“Paved surfaces like parking lots interrupt the natural recharging of groundwater,” Burch said. “That can lead to contamination, erosion and the muddying of streams when we have heavy rainfalls that cause a lot of runoff. This project will significantly cut back on urban-related pollution entering Baker Creek, which runs alongside the parking lot.”

Growing Greener has helped to develop five porous pavement parking lots in Erie County, providing examples for future pavement projects with the goal of reducing storm water runoff and eliminating or reducing the need for stormwater detention.

The Baker Creek Watershed Association received the grant to create 320 feet of new streamside buffer, nearly 8,000 square feet of green space, 340 square yards of infiltration galley and 1,350 square yards of pervious parking service in the center of the downtown.

In addition, roof runoff from surrounding business building was captured and redirected into infiltration galleys to eliminate the surface flushing effect.

In addition to the permeable surface that will allow precipitation to be filtered as it percolates into the ground, native plants and a bioretention area are being installed to further improve the ecological functioning of the area.

Baker Creek Watershed Association Chairman John Hallenburg said, “We took a situation where 100 percent of the downtown urban runoff in this area was being discharged directly into Baker Creek - both at point and nonpoint sources. This project enables us to capture nearly all of it, drastically reducing peak storm discharges and urban nonpoint pollution.”

North East Borough, the North East Chamber of Commerce, the Northeast Shade Tree Commission, the North East Garden Club and downtown North East businesses contributed funds and in-kind services to complement the state's Growing Greener funding contribution.

In addition to the Growing Greener grant, the Great Lakes Commission contributed $98,000 under its program to control erosion and sedimentation within the Great Lakes Basin; the DEP Coastal Zone Management Program provided $10,640 for parking lot planning and design; and the Environmental Fund for Pennsylvania offered $5,000 for riparian buffer vegetation.

The other permeable pavement lots in Erie County are at the Asbury Woods Trail Head, the Erie County Conservation District, Unitarian Church and Bayfront Center for Maritime Studies.

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