AmeriScan: July 28, 2006

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Car Carrier Disabled, Leaking Fuel South of Aleutians

KODIAK, Alaska, July 28, 2006 (ENS) - The Singapore flagged vessel Cougar Ace remains disabled and listing at 90 degrees 230 miles south of the Aleutian Islands.

The 654 foot car carrier Cougar Ace sailed out of Japan on July 22, carrying 4,813 vehicles en route to The Port of Tacoma, Washington, and The Fraser River Port near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


The car carrier Cougar Ace lists at 90 degrees in the waters south of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, while a U.S. Coast Guard vessel keeps watch. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)
A crewmember contacted the Coast Guard North Pacific Search and Rescue Coordination Center and reported that their vessel was listing at 80 degrees and taking on water at 11:09 pm Sunday.

The 23 crew members who were rescued Monday by the Coast Guard and the Alaska Air National Guard first were airlifted to Adak, Alaska, but were later flown to Anchorage. One crewmember suffered a broken leg, there were no other injuries.

The U.S. Coast Guard will remain on the scene until a commercial tug arrives to take the vessel in tow and will continue actively participating and monitoring the scene for pollution concerns throughout the salvage process.

The Coast Guard is working to identify harbors of safe refuge for the vessel.

The Cougar Ace is carrying 430 metric tons of fuel oil and 112 metric tons of diesel fuel. According to the Coast Guard, the fuel sheen seen trailing the vessel about 4,000 yards long and 70 yards wide appears to be light oil, not heavier bunker oil.

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines officials have contracted the salvage company Crowley Marine. Titan Maritime LLC, a unit of Crowley, will assist in towing the vessel to an appropriate port.

Titan's tug, the Sea Victory, departed Seattle on Tuesday at 9:40 pm and is projected to arrive at the Cougar Ace's location on August 2.

Coast Guard officials said they will not be conducting an investigation at this time because the incident occurred in international waters outside of U.S. jurisdictional boundaries. "Having succeeded in the primary mission of preventing loss of life and injury, the next immediate concern will be the successful salvage of the Cougar Ace," the Coast Guard said.

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Louisiana Sues Feds to Stop Oil Lease in Gulf of Mexico

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, July 28, 2006 (ENS) - Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has filed a lawsuit against the Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the U.S. Department of the Interior to stop the sale of an oil and gas lease for the protection of the Lousiana coast.

Filed July 20, the complaint alleges that the MMS has violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in moving forward with Lease Sale 200 in the western Gulf of Mexico.

The sale is scheduled for August 16. It will make available millions of acres of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for exploration and production.

"As on leases throughout the Gulf, the production resulting from this lease sale will require the essential onshore support of coastal Louisiana. As in the past, this support does impact our fragile coastal landscape," Governor Blanco said.

The state is alleging that the environmental assessment of the impacts of Lease Sale 200 is inadequate and does not account for the changed environmental and social circumstances in Louisiana in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane season.

The proposed Lease Sale has the potential to adversely affect socioeconomic, infrastructure and wetland resources in Louisiana’s coastal zone to an unacceptable degree and is not consistent with the enforceable policies of the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program and is a violation of the CZMA, the state claims.

"In spite of the persistent and dramatic land loss in coastal Louisiana and the devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on our coast, MMS has chosen to proceed with the lease sale over my objections," the governor said. "This action shows a callous disregard for the serious concerns the state has articulated in letters requesting the lease sale be postponed."

"The state of Louisiana has historically been the federal government's number one partner in providing our nation its domestic offshore energy supply," said the governor. "However, we cannot continue future OCS leasing until the state receives a Federal commitment to ensure its ability to protect these national assets, both environmental and economic."

This is about ensuring the viability of a sustained domestic energy supply. It is ironic that MMS would disregard such a notion."

MMS’ Consistency Determination required under the CZMA fails to analyze and incorporate the changed circumstances after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the continuing cumulative land loss occurring in coastal Louisiana, the state alleges.

By failing to take a hard look at the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of Outer Continental Shelf activities, the federal agency's actions are in violation of NEPA, the state claims.

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First in the Nation, Massachusetts Perchlorate Rule Takes Effect

BOSTON, Massachusetts, July 28, 2006 (ENS) - Massachusetts today became the first state in the nation to promulgate drinking water and waste site cleanup standards for the chemical perchlorate, setting the standard at 2 parts per billion (ppb). The new regulations require most public water systems to regularly test for perchlorate.

Since perchlorate was first detected in the aquifer under Bourne in 2002, the chemical has been detected in 10 other public water systems across the state.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) says the wide-scale production of perchlorate for use as a solid rocket propellant has led to the use of perchlorate compounds in common products, including airbag inflators, industrial chemicals, explosives, and fireworks.

Released into the environment by blasting contractors and fireworks operations, military operations or industrial processes, perchlorate is highly water soluble. Carried by runoff, the chemical can travel significant distances in groundwater, the state agency says.

The new standards are being adopted to protect public health, including sensitive populations such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and individuals with low levels of thyroid hormones.

Perchlorate has been found to interfere with thyroid function, which could lead to impaired human development and metabolism.

"Our goal from the beginning of this effort was to protect the health of our citizens, especially pregnant women and children, who could potentially be exposed to perchlorate in their drinking water," said Robert W. Golledge, Jr., commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). "Massachusetts' new standards ensure that the water is safe to drink, and the monitoring requirement protects water supplies into the future."

Perchlorate is a chemical that can be found in blasting agents, fireworks, military munitions and other manufacturing processes, and can be generated in small amounts within existing water treatment processes.

No federal standards regulating perchlorate levels in drinking water currently exist.

Besides the requirement for regular testing, the new regulations also require parties responsible for perchlorate contamination to notify MassDEP of the contamination and conduct appropriate environmental assessment and cleanup, and for all drinking water supplies to contain no more than 2 ppb of perchlorate.

The regulation and the response-to-comment document are available online at:

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Washington Will Remove Oil From Ocean Shores Shipwreck Catala

OLYMPIA, Washington, July 28, 2006 (ENS) - Road-clearing activity will start this week on the sand spit at Damon Point State Park at Ocean Shores to allow construction equipment to reach the shipwreck Catala found in June to hold thousands of gallons of oil.

The Washington Department of Ecology spill-response program is overseeing the project. Ecology quickly obtained all necessary environmental permits after designating the project an emergency threat to the environment.

The agency will pay for the effort using funds from the state's Oil Spill Response Account. The account comes from a tax on oil that passes through Washington marine terminals.

In early August, cleanup contractors hired by Ecology will bring in cranes and start constructing vertical metal sheet piling walls around the three seaward sides of the ship. These containment walls will allow workers to remove sand and water from deeply buried portions of the ship. The walls also will contain any oil that may be released during the cleanup activity and minimize possible harm to the environment.

The project plan calls for workers to cut away structures of the ship to expose the tops of oil tanks so oil can be removed. Since the oil is old, it may need to be heated.

Ecology received an assessment report in June that estimated the ship has 4,500 gallons of oil in two of its five tanks. The report said three other inaccessible tanks may also contain oil.

The state is timing the oil removal and cleanup project to minimize any disturbance to threatened and endangered birds that may be nesting on the Damon Point sand spit. Ecology is consulting with state and federal biologists to track where Western snowy plovers and streaked horned larks are located in the Damon Point area.

The state has not made a determination whether or not the shipwreck will be removed from the beach, according to Jim Sachet of Ecology's spill response program, who is managing the project. The funding Ecology has obtained can only pay for work necessary to remove oil and contaminated sand, dispose of it and assure that the old hull is clean, he said.

Washington's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is trying to identify the owner of the vessel, and is looking for funding to remove the rest of the hulk from the beach. DNR is steward of 2.4 million acres of state-owned aquatic lands, which include the Damon Point sand spit.

Sachet asked beach walkers to respect construction signs and stay away from the area, which will be unsafe for the public.

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Oswego River Comes Off U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern List

OSWEGO, New York, July 28, 2006 (ENS) - The once degraded lower Oswego River on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario is the first U.S. area to come off the list of the Great Lakes Areas of Concern, which originally included 43 severely degraded geographic areas in the United States and Canada.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its state, local and international partners say that cleanup efforts have improved conditions enough for the area to be taken off the list of the most polluted areas in the Great Lakes Basin.

The EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), with the Oswego River Remedial Action Plan Remedial Advisory Committee and the International Joint Commission made the announcement at a ceremony Tuesday in the city of Oswego.

“Today’s removal of the Oswego River from the list of the most degraded areas in the Great Lakes Basin is a first,” said EPA Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg. “This is truly a historic moment, which demonstrates how much progress we’ve made in improving the environmental health of this area since it was listed as an Area of Concern in 1985."

The former Oswego River/Harbor Area of Concern is centered in the City of Oswego. The Oswego River watershed includes the Finger Lakes, industries, municipalities, and extensive areas of farmland and forest that extend over 5,000 square miles.

The Oswego River is second only to the Niagara River in size as a tributary to Lake Ontario.

DEC Commissioner Denise Sheehan said, “The health of the Oswego River is integral to New York State’s environment, economy, history and recreation. This delisting announcement is a tremendous achievement both for our state and for our region.

The lower Oswego River was placed on the Areas of Concern list because excessive phosphorus from wastewater treatment facilities discharges, and urban/rural runoff in the watershed contributed to undesirable algae.

A diversion of the river’s water by a power dam resulted in degradation of fish habitat and populations in an area below the dam.

Since then, pollution reduction activities, watershed best management practices, cooperation by local municipalities, industry, power utilities, the Port of Oswego and other positive improvements have all contributed to a healthier watershed.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s re-licensing agreement for the power dam includes specific provisions for maintaining the minimum flows necessary to provide conditions for spawning and development of fish.

Sheehan pledged to continue to improve water quality, clean up contamination, and enhance natural resources in Oswego.

The original 43 Areas of Concern were designated for special attention because they contained contaminated sediment, inadequately treated wastewater, runoff from diverse sources, inland contaminated sites or degraded habitat to a greater degree than the rest of the Great Lakes.

With the delisting of Oswego River, 25 of the remaining sites are solely in the United States, 10 are solely in Canada, and five are bi-national. Two sites in Canada were previously delisted.

The agreement directs Canada and the United States, working with state and provincial governments, to develop remedial action plans to restore and protect ecosystem health so that the water is suitable for fishing, swimming, boating and other uses.

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EPA Acquires Staten Island Tidal Wetlands From Exxon/Mobil

NEW YORK, New York, July 28, 2006 (ENS) - A 16 acre tract of tidal wetlands in northwest Staten Island will be preserved as the result of a 2002 legal settlement with the former Mobil Oil Corporation negotiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

Located on the west shore of Staten Island at the intersection of the Arthur Kill and Neck Creek near Meredith Avenue, the wetland is across the West Shore Expressway from Meredith Woods Park.

The City of New York will take over responsibility for protection of the wetland and eventually the land will be accessible to the public.

Wetlands serve as a natural filter to protect waters from toxic chemicals. They provide storm protection and erosion control, as well as food and habitat to fish and other wildlife.

About 80 percent of the New York-New Jersey Harbor's tidal wetlands and underwater lands have been lost to filling, dredging, and other human activities.

The EPA calls the acquisition of this property "a key incremental step in the preservation of the remaining ecologically important sites."

The action is consistent with the goal set in 2003 by the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program, a multi-stakeholder program authorized by the Clean Water Act, that aims to acquire or preserve 2,700 acres of habitat by 2009.

EPA Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg said, “Acquiring this particular marsh in the New York City Harbor area is a smart investment for the local ecology and the citizens of Staten Island.”

“Staten Island’s tidal wetlands are referred to as the Everglades of New York City,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “They serve as feeding ground for 40 percent of the wading birds, such as herons and egrets in the region. This acquisition brings us closer to completely protecting the entire tidal wetland system in the area.”

The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization that negotiated and facilitated the real estate transaction, selected the wetland from a list of desirable sites compiled by federal, state, local government and environmental groups. The land trust identified the site as a critical acquisition priority in its 2001 study, “An Islanded Nature,” a joint publication with the NYC Audubon Society.

The $1 million used to purchase the tract of wetland is part of a 2002 Consent Decree between the federal government and the Mobil Oil Corporation, now Exxon/Mobil, involving a hazardous waste case.

In that case, the United States alleged that the Mobil Oil Corporation illegally stored and disposed of wastes contaminated with toxic benzene at Port Mobil, a petroleum product storage and distribution terminal in the Arthur Kill section of Staten Island.

In addition to requiring that Exxon/Mobil acquire or restore environmentally sensitive lands associated with the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary, the settlement required that Exxon/Mobil admit liability and pay a penalty of $8.2 million.

Exxon/Mobil is obligated to spend an additional $2 million on the acquisition or restoration of land associated with the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary for purposes of preservation.

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Low Cost Laser Light System Detects Bacteria Quickly

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, July 28, 2006 (ENS) - Researchers at Purdue University have developed a system that analyzes scattered laser light to quickly identify bacteria at one-tenth the cost of conventional technologies.

The scientists see immediate applications in medicine, food processing and homeland security.

"Unlike conventional methods, we don't have to do any biochemical staining, DNA analysis or other types of manipulation," said Bartek Rajwa, a staff scientist at the Bindley Bioscience Center in Purdue's Discovery Park, the university's hub for interdisciplinary research.

Particles of light, called photons, bounce off of the colony, and the pattern of scattered light is projected onto a screen behind the petri dish. This "light-scatter pattern" is recorded with a digital camera and analyzed with sophisticated software to identify the types of bacteria growing in colonies.

"There are potentially thousands of applications for this new technology, from identifying stem cells to drug-resistant staph infections to pathogens on the battlefield," said J. Paul Robinson, a researcher at the Bindley Center and a professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and the School of Veterinary Medicine.

The work was initiated by Arun Bhunia, a professor of food microbiology in the Purdue Department of Food Science; and E. Daniel Hirleman, a professor and William E. and Florence E. Perry Head of Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering. Findings are detailed in a research paper appearing this month in the "Journal of Biomedical Optics."

Hirleman has specialized in research to develop new types of sensors that work by analyzing light scattering off objects for applications such as detecting impurities on silicon wafers in computer chip manufacturing and measuring the size and speed of fuel droplets in jet engines.

"We adapted some ideas from that research to build a scatterometer for food safety, and now we're using the second generation of that instrument," Hirleman said.

A major motivation for the research is to reduce the time it takes for industry to identify harmful organisms in food processing. Scientists in food-processing plants routinely grow cultures to test for dangerous pathogens.

"The dairy industry, for example, grows bacteria on petri dishes to make sure products are safe, but industry is trying to develop technologies that will very quickly identify organisms," Robinson said.

"With our light-scattering method, it takes less than five minutes to identify harmful organisms after they have grown in a petri dish," he said. "The analysis is faster than any other methods in existence, and it’s simple."

The technique might be used to identify staph infections that are resistant to antibiotics. "This is an extremely dangerous infection, and you want to catch it as early as possible," Robinson said.

A mass produced system based on the technology would consist of inexpensive, off-the-shelf hardware, such as red lasers and low-resolution digital cameras available at consumer electronics stores, and Hirleman said it likely would cost less than $1,000.

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