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AmeriScan: July 21, 2005

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Hurricane Emily Weakens Over Mexican Mountains

BROWNSVILLE, Texas, July 21, 2005 (ENS) - Hurricane Emily has weakened to a tropical depression over the mountains of Northern Mexico, but the National Weather Service's Hurricane Center is still warning that a rainfall threat continues for a range of southern U.S. points.

Tornado warnings have been issued in south Texas and isolated tornadoes are possible over southern and south-central Texas today. Flash flood warnings and watches have also been issued.

Hurricane Emily made landfall Wednesday morning about 85 miles south of Brownsville, Texas. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials say they are monitoring the situation in Texas, but a request for assistance has not been received at this time.

In Mexico, where Emily tore a path of destruction across the Yucatan and the resort island of Cozumel last weekend, forecasters say the storm is expected to produce more rain over the next several days.

These rains still could cause life threatening flash floods and mudslides, weather officials say.

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EPA Signs Water Security Pact with Israel

WASHINGTON, DC, July 21, 2005 (ENS) - The United States and Israel signed an agreement July 19 to work together to improve water supply system security in the United States and in Israel. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructures are parties to the agreement and will collaborate on safeguarding the water supplies of both countries.

Joint projects could include work on contamination warning systems, conducting field testing of sensor technologies, water supply risk assessment and management, and emergency response to accidental or deliberate contamination.

"Safeguarding our water supply is vital both for the well-being of our citizens and the preservation of our environment," said Judith Ayres, EPA assistant administrator for International Affairs.

"The statement of intent we have signed will foster greater collaboration between our nations to help protect this precious resource from unintentional or intentional contamination," she said.

The EPA and the Israeli government have enjoyed a strong working relationship on environmental protection since 1991. The Ministry of National Infrastructures has responsibility for land, water, and energy infrastructure development and administration in Israel. The ministry also sponsors research into energy resources and water desalination.

Both nations are members of the United Nations Environmental Programme Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles and the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue initiative.

The EPA collaborates with other Middle Eastern countries on environmental projects, such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative, that includes Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.

This partnership involves training on environmental laws and enforcement, conducting environmental impact assessments, and pollution prevention.

More information on EPA's international environmental efforts is available at: http://www.epa.gov/international/

To learn more about EPA's water security initiatives, visit: http://cfpub.epa.gov/safewater/watersecurity/index.cfm

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Makers of Fluorinated Products to Do Incineration Tests

WASHINGTON, DC, July 21, 2005 (ENS) - The potential health effects of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency is trying to determine the sources of PFOA, the routes of exposure, any potential risks, and what voluntary or regulatory actions, if any, would be appropriate to protect human health and the environment.

This week, the EPA and manufacturers who use the chemical to make their products agreed to test whether incineration of these products are a source of PFOA in the environment.

An Enforceable Consent Agreement (ECA) was signed by the EPA and the fluoropolymer manufacturers to conduct a study on whether PFOA is released from products in the high temperature conditions typical of municipal and medical incinerators.

PFOA is an essential polymerization aid for making fluoropolymers. Technically, PFOA is a surfactant, a water-soluble chemical that can emulsify oils or liquids in water, suspend small particles in water or act as a wetting agent.

APFO is the ammonium salt of PFOA and the chemical form used in fluoropolymer manufacturing. Within the fluoropolymer industry, APFO is sometimes referred to as C8, referring to the number of carbon atoms in its molecular structure. To avoid confusion, the single term PFOA is used throughout these documents.

PFOA is used to help make high performance materials known as fluoroelastomers and fluoropolymers.

Fluoroelastomers are synthetic, rubber-like materials used in gaskets, O-rings and hoses. Their unique properties make these products ideal for high performance aerospace and automotive applications or environments that are extremely harsh and challenging, says the Society of the Plastics Industry.

Fluoropolymers are a super-plastic, unique in the high level of performance they provide. Some types of fluoropolymers can withstand a wide range of high temperatures, from baking ovens to the engine compartments of jet aircraft. Others are flame-resistant and anti-corrosive, and some have non-stick properties, such as the Dupont product Teflon.

About 95 percent of fluoropolymers are used in industrial applications where peak performance is critical, including defense and aerospace, automotive, electronics and semiconductors, telecommunications, chemical processing and power generation.

In automobiles, fluoropolymers contribute to car safety, fuel efficiency and pollution control. They are used in gear lubrication, power steering assemblies, brake assemblies, seatbelt guides and windshield wiper blades, the industry group says.

"The PFOA used to help make fluoropolymers is largely removed during the final steps of polymer production and by the high-temperature processing used when most fluoropolymers are made into finished products. PFOA is not intended to be part of the end-product," the Society says.

Public meetings with EPA continue as part of the enforceable consent agreement process, as industry works with EPA to identify and address remaining research gaps and implement additional testing and monitoring.

The consent agreements are part of the agency's ongoing process with industry and other interested parties to ensure the development of information that will help

The principal test sponsor for the fluoropolymers incineration testing is the Fluoropolymer Manufacturers Group.

The companies within the fluoropolymer group that signed the Enforceable Consent Agreement, committing them to testing, are: AGC Chemicals Americas, Inc., Daikin America, Inc., Dyneon, LLC, and E.I. duPont de Nemours and Company. The principal test sponsor for the fluorotelomer incineration agrewment is the Telomer Research Program, which includes AGC Chemicals Americas, Inc., Clariant GmbH, Daikin America, Inc., and E.I.duPont de Nemours and Company.

The EPA has stated that the agency "does not believe there is any reason for consumers to stop using any consumer or industrial-related products" made with PFOA.

More information on the consent agreements and PFOA is available at: http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/pfoa/

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Solar Cars Race North Towards Canadian Border

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota, July 21, 2005 (ENS) - Four long, low, sleek solar cars are set to cross the Canadian border today with 14 slower solar cars not far behind. It's the fifth day of the North American Solar Challenge – the 2,500-mile cross-country solar car challenge that began in Austin, Texas on July 17 and ends on July 27 in Calgary, Alberta.

The North American Solar Challenge is an educational event in which participants build and drive cars that run on 100 percent solar power. The car with the fastest cumulative time will win the competition.

All of the participating teams are from U.S. or Canadian universities and colleges.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology car took the lead at 5:45 am this morning, overtaking the University of Minnesota.

When the cars pulled in for the night on Wednesday, Minnesota had the overall lead with the lowest cumulative time, having traveled 1,108 miles in 27 hours, 20 minutes and 44 seconds.

Each solar car in the 2005 North American Solar Challenge will be carrying a wireless GPS tracking unit to allow the public, media, and NASC staff to track the teams' progress.

The North American Solar Challenge (NASC) has two classes competing - the open class where teams are allowed to use batteries or solar cells of their choice and the stock class where teams use only lead acid batteries and solar cells approved by NASC officials.

The stock class leader at the end of four days of raycing is CalSol with a time of 31:59:55. CalSol is in ninth place in the overall standings.

Official daily results will be posted at http://americansolarchallenge.org/index.html. Final cumulative times are based on actual time, plus time penalties for rules infractions.

Fans can follow the cars online via the NASC’s GPS tracking system at http://americansolarchallenge.org/event/asc2005/gps/index.php.

The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Natural Resources Canada, DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, TransAlta, University of Calgary, CSI Wireless, AMD and Manitoba Transportation and Government Services.

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Conservation Groups Offer Plan for Colorado River Water

WASHINGTON, DC, July 21, 2005 (ENS) - Six nongovernmental organizations have presented Interior Secretary Gale Norton with a proposal for Colorado River drought management that they say will avoid drastic and uncompensated water shortages.

The proposal establishes a voluntary, compensated water conservation program that minimizes the likelihood of large, uncompensated water shortages.

Colorado River reservoirs are nearly half empty due to the extended drought that started in 2000, and the decline in quantity of water in storage is expected to continue.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts that reservoir levels at Lake Mead could drop quickly towards the elevation at which power generation is compromised if the drought continues. The reservoir level could fall below the elevation of Nevada's upper intakes or remain in a long-term decline that will be difficult to reverse until Lake Powell begins to re-fill.

Despite an April 30 deadline from the Secretary, the Colorado River basin states failed to agree on a plan for how to manage the river during times of shortage. The NGO proposal is submitted in anticipation of the Department of the Interior's first steps toward developing its own plan for sharing Colorado River shortage

Entitled, "Conservation Before Shortage" the policy proposal is based on the principle that shortage criteria should maximize the reliability and predictability of water deliveries on the Colorado River by introducing increased flexibility into the management of river resources when shortage conditions are imminent.

"The states are paralyzed by arguments with each other over water entitlements. They seem unable to craft a practical solution, and in the meantime stored water supplies have dwindled considerably," said Jennifer Pitt, a scientist with Environmental Defense.

"Our shortage proposal offers a proactive approach that protects Colorado River water users and the environment from abrupt reductions in the amount of water available," Pitt said.

"Conservation Before Shortage" addresses shortages before they occur by establishing requirements for water conservation in the Lower Colorado River basin that increase as the stored water supply declines.

"It's hard to reach consensus when someone has to lose," said Peter Culp, an attorney with the Sonoran Institute in Arizona.

"The current deadlock between the states reflects a zero-sum approach to river management, where one state or one water user is expected to shoulder the full burden of a drought by suffering a large, uncompensated shortage while other users are unaffected," Culp said. "Our proposal suggests a more cooperative, evenhanded approach to coping with drought."

The plan is based on a series of lake level triggers so that as Mead elevations lower, the quantity of water to be conserved would increase.

The required amount of water would be conserved by offering to pay Colorado River water users, located anywhere in the Lower Colorado River basin or in Mexico, to voluntarily forbear water use. Funds to pay for forbearance would come from federal appropriations as well as a surcharge applied to Lower Basin water users and consumers of power generated at the Hoover Dam.

The conservation groups say their plan will result in reduced need for new water projects, improved power production, and increased certainty for water users.

It will also result in protection of the environment, the groups say. Fish, wildlife, and natural areas on the Colorado River are "last in line" for water, the groups say, and are the most vulnerable of all water users to drought.

The Conservation Before Shortage plan reduces overall water consumption in dry years, decreasing the risk of shortages that could disproportionately impact environmental uses in the future. Also, by increasing protection against shortage for water users that have inflexible demands, it will allow some water to remain in the river for the wildlife that needs it to survive, while still meeting critical human needs.

The groups offering the conservation plan are Environmental Defense, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, Pacific Institute, Sierra Club and the Sonoran Institute.

They are optimistic that as the Department of Interior considers various shortage alternatives on the Lower Colorado River, the value of the flexible approach in their proposal will be recognized.

The proposal, titled "Conservation Before Shortage" can be downloaded at: http://www.environmentaldefense.org/go/CORiver

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Indiana Utilities Plan to Conserve Endangered Blue Butterfly

FORT SNELLING, Minnesota, July 21, 2005 (ENS) - An federally endangered brilliant blue butterfly could be protected if a draft conservation plan offered by two northern Indiana utility companies is adopted.

But first, the plan must go through its public review and comment procedure, which is now open, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Northern Indiana Public Service Company and Indiana American Water Company have presented the Service with a draft plan that describes ways the companies will manage their lands to conserve the butterfly and its habitat on 86 acres of rights-of-way in Lake and Porter counties. The draft Habitat Conservation Plan, or HCP, includes measures that would offset impacts to the species and its habitat resulting from maintenance and other activities carried out by the utilities on the rights-of-way.

NIPSCO owns and maintains a number of electric transmission lines and natural gas pipeline rights-of-way in northern Indiana, including lands where endangered Karner blue butterflies occur. IAWC owns a corridor for an underground water pipeline in an area where the butterflies live. These areas support wild lupine, a flowering plant that is the sole food source for the butterflies in their larval stage.

The utilities say they will use vegetation management practices – such as mowing or hand-cutting – that result in conditions favored by wild lupine. They promise to maintain a minimum acreage of wild lupine, and in addition to plant wild lupine, as well as other nectar plants used by adult butterflies.

The companies offer permanent conservation and management of 12 acres of land to encourage use by Karner blue butterflies.

If the plan is approved by the Service, the companies will be issued an “incidental take” permit, which allows a limited number of butterflies to be affected by maintenance activities, as long as the companies continue to implement conservation actions contained in the habitat conservation plan.

This provision under the Endangered Species Act is meant to allow activities on private land that might harm or kill endangered or threatened animals, as long as long-term conservation is guaranteed.

The Service has made a preliminary determination that approval of the proposed plan qualifies as a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act and as a “low-effect” habitat conservation plan.

The Karner blue butterfly is found mainly in Wisconsin but also in portions of Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, New Hampshire and Ohio. The butterflies may also occur in Illinois, the Service says.

Karner blue butterflies were listed in 1992 as endangered – a designation under the Endangered Species Act that indicates the butterfly is in danger of extinction.

Threats to the Karner blue butterfly include loss of habitat, and lack of natural processes – such as wildfire – that once helped maintain habitat suitable for lupine. Because of their color and appearance, they are also vulnerable to collection.

The draft habitat conservation plan, incidental take permit application, and an environmental assessment developed under the National Environmental Policy Act are available for review on the Service’s Midwest website at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/NEPA. Email comments by August 18 to [email protected], or by writing to: Peter Fasbender, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056 .

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Diesel Exhaust Hard on New Jersey Residents' Health

TRENTON, New Jersey, July 21, 2005 (ENS) - Unfiltered diesel exhaust is a source of harmful air pollution, adversely impacting the health of residents and increasing health care costs, the New Jersey Clean Air Council says in its latest annual report, issued Tuesday.

The Clean Air Council, created in 1954, is composed of representatives from public, private and nonprofit groups who serve in an advisory capacity to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding air matters.

In its report, the Council says that diesel-powered engines, such as those found in trucks and school buses, are responsible for a significant amount of the particulate air pollution in New Jersey, especially in areas of high traffic and large populations such as urban areas.

The DEP supports legislation passed last month, which requires the use of air pollution control technology to reduce particulate emissions from school buses, transit, buses, garbage trucks as well as publicly owned on-road and non-road vehicles.

"This report validates the economic and public health importance of our initiative to reduce soot emission," said DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell. "All New Jersey residents will play a role on this issue when our soot reduction initiative is presented to voters as a public question."

The adverse health effects caused by air pollution continues to be disproportionately higher in communities of color and low-income communities, the Council found. These communities are often located in urban centers that experience higher levels of pollution because of proximity to traffic and point source pollution such as smokestacks.

"The Clean Air Council is dedicated to improving air quality for all New Jersey's residents, while ensuring a healthy legacy for generations to come," said Leonard Bielory, M.D., Public Hearing Chairman of the Clean Air Council.

The Council notes that scientific research over the past 30 years indicates a direct link between poor air quality and increased incidence of asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature deaths. The health care costs associated with treating conditions caused or aggravated by air pollution are high because of the loss of productivity with time away from school and work and the high number of emergency room visits.

In New Jersey, more than two million people under the age of 65 are without insurance, and rely on hospitals as the only source of medical care. The use of the state's hospitals as primary care facilities burdens taxpayers and increases overall state costs.

Among the many recommendations offered by the Council, the report urges the state to increase its public outreach efforts to alert residents and visitors about the harmful effects of air pollution.

Specifically, the Council is encouraging DEP to join with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to expand existing pollen and mold Health Alerts to include ozone and a pollution index developed by DEP.

"The link between poor air quality and the increased risk of developing respiratory diseases, such as asthma, is a significant public health concern," said Dr. Bielory. "By further reducing harmful air pollution we can improve the health of New Jersey residents, as well as reduce health care costs and alleviate the financial burden that air pollution places on businesses and the state."

The Council is also urging DHSS to support regulation to limit smoking in all public facilities to protect the health and welfare of New Jersey's residents, tourists and workers.

"There would be an immediate impact with lasting benefits for all New Jerseyans if the legislature were to pass a ban on smoking in public places and the workplace," said Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, deputy commissioner and state epidemiologist of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. "The implementation of the Council's recommendations would improve the overall health of the public."

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