AmeriScan: July 3, 2007

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Boston Ship Traffic Moved to Avoid Endangered Whales

BOSTON, Massachusetts, July 3, 2007 (ENS) - On Sunday, for the first time in the United States, ship traffic lanes were shifted to reduce the risk of collisions between large ships and whales.

As of July 1, ships transiting in and out of Boston Harbor in shipping lanes must travel a different path. The lanes have been rotated slightly to the northeast and narrowed to avoid waters where there are high concentrations of North Atlantic right whales, a critically endangered species with only about 300 animals left alive.

The International Maritime Organization approved the U.S. proposed lane revision last December. Since then, navigational charts have been updated with the revision.

Researchers calculated the density of whales in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to determine if collision risks in the area could be reduced by moving the shipping lanes. The U.S. Coast Guard assessed safety and navigational effects of the shift on commercial ship traffic.

About 3,500 ship transits occur within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary every year, with the vast majority using the lanes. The shift rotated the east-west leg of the lanes by 12 degrees to the north, and lengthened the north-south lane to account for this adjustment. The lanes themselves were narrowed by one-half mile, to a width of 1.5 miles each. The width of the buffer between outgoing and incoming traffic was not affected.

The lane shift adds 3.75 nautical miles to the overall distance and 10 to 22 minutes to each one way trip. It also improves safety by moving large ship traffic further away from areas frequently used by smaller fishing boats, and by reducing chances of damage to large ships owing to collisions with whales or with other ships while attempting to avoid whales.

"This is a large part of NOAA's effort to work with its partners and industry to improve the prospects for endangered North Atlantic right whales. The population is vulnerable since they are particularly susceptible to collisions with ships," said Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.

"We have extensively studied ship traffic and whale behavior and have devised this measure to provide a much safer environment for ships and the whales while at the same time being the least disruptive to the economy," Lautenbacher said.

"This change highlights how the Coast Guard protects people from the sea and the sea from people," said Coast Guard Captain Liam Slein, First Coast Guard District Chief of Prevention.

"Whale collisions with ships pose a significant hazard that we needed to better control. We expect this small change will protect numerous whales while also reducing the damage and hazards such collisions cause," he said.

U.S. Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Democrat, said, "The relocation of the shipping lanes is the culmination of years of research and negotiation. I commend the USCG and NOAA for their hard work. I am hopeful that this action, in concert with our other efforts, will result in a more stable and healthy whale population, and will help prevent the unnecessary ship strike deaths of the very endangered right whales."

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Kentucky Utility Must Spend $650 Million on Pollution Controls

WASHINGTON, DC, July 3, 2007 (ENS) - The East Kentucky Power Cooperative, a coal-fired electric utility based in Winchester, Kentucky, will spend $650 million on pollution controls and pay a $750,000 penalty to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act at its three plants, the federal government said Monday.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, said that as part of a national effort to reduce harmful air emissions from coal-fired power plants, the two agencies have reached settlements with 12 coal-fired power plants since 1999.

The combined effect of these settlements will reduce emissions of air pollutants that cause smog, acid rain and haze by more than one million tons each year, the two agencies estimate.

The utility will install state-of-the-art pollution control equipment to reduce emissions of pollutants by more than 60,000 tons per year.

These actions will reduce annual emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides by approximately 8,000 tons and sulfur dioxide by more than 54,000 tons per year from its Spurlock, Dale, and Cooper plants when the controls are fully implemented.

By installing these pollution control measures, the plants will emit 50 percent less nitrogen oxides and 75 percent less sulfur dioxide as compared to 2005 operations.

In addition, the utility will construct and demonstrate new technology to reduce sulfuric acid mist emissions, a known public health threat.

"Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can cause serious respiratory problems and exacerbate asthma conditions," said Granta Nakayama, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This settlement will improve air quality and protect public health for the residents of eastern Kentucky and surrounding areas."

In 2004, the EPA and DOJ filed a lawsuit against the utility for illegally modifying and increasing air pollution at two of its coal-fired power plants.

The government cited the utility for constructing modifications at its plants without first obtaining necessary pre-construction permits and installing required pollution control equipment, required under the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Without the required permits or pollution control equipment, the modifications allowed the facilities to increase their electricity and steam production rates and therefore emit more pollutants.

Monday’s proposed agreement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

For more information on the East Kentucky Power Cooperative settlement, click here.

Click here for more information on the Coal Fired Power Plant Enforcement Initiative.

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Bee Colony Collapse Mobilizes Federal Rescue Effort

WASHINGTON, DC, July 3, 2007 (ENS) - Two bills now making their way through the U.S. Senate are aimed at reversing the decline in the nation's population of honey bees.

Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, on Friday introduced the Pollinator Protection Act, a bill to increase funding for research on honey bees and native pollinators, whose numbers have been in decline in recent decades.

Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, has introduced the Pollinator Habitat Protection Act, which encourages conservation efforts to improve the health of bees in the United States.

"Managed honey bee colonies have collapsed at alarming rates, 25 percent nationwide, and scientists still have not fully discovered why. But the latest declines are part of a larger trend, with honey bee colonies down 50 percent in the past 50 years," said Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee.

A study released by the National Academy of Sciences, "Status of Pollinators in North America” found similar losses in native pollinator populations and called for increased study to determine the extent of this problem.

"Because native and honey bees pollinate so many crops, this decline, if not stopped, could impact many crops dependent on animal pollination and cause both increased prices and shortages of many food crops including almonds, avocados, cranberries, apples, and soybeans," said Boxer.

Introducing a new set of postage stamps to call attention to the beleaguered bees, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Friday that honeybee colonies have been slowly declining actually since the 1940s. "The honeybee population is absolutely critical to agricultural production, and 90 percent of our apples and blueberries are pollinated by honeybees," Johanns said. "Nearly half our peach crop depends on them, and more than 25 percent of our orange production."

Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, is affecting bees in 35 states, he said. It is characterized by a rapid loss of adult worker bees. Intact stores of pollen and honey are left in the colony but few or no dead bees are found. Some beekeepers reported losses in their colonies as high as 80 to 100 percent.

"If left unchecked, Colony Collapse Disorder has the potential to cause a $15 billion direct loss of crop production and $75 billion in indirect losses," Johanns said.

"CCD is causing terrible losses for beekeepers all over the country. It's a very real threat to honey production here in Montana and to many U.S. crops that need bee pollination," said Steve Park, past president of the American Honey Producers Association.

While the USDA is not sure about the cause or causes of CCD, Johanns said governemnt scientists are investigating four major areas - stress related to nutrition, transportation, and beekeepers' colony management strategy, parasite mites, pathogens like bacteria, fungi, or viruses, and pesticides.

Boxer's Pollinator Protection Act funnels funds to USDA agencies for research. It would hand $28.75 million to the USDA Agriculture Research Service over five years for research, personnel, and facility improvements relating to work on Colony Collapse Disorder, honey and native bee toxicology, pathology and physiology.

The measure would give $50 million to the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service over five years to fund research grants to investigate honey and native bee immunology, biology, ecology, and other factors of pollination biology.

And $11 million over five years would be directed to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to conduct a nationwide honey bee pest and pathogen surveillance program.

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High-Tech Animal Research Facility Dedicated

AMES, Iowa, July 3, 2007 (ENS) – Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and members of Iowa's Congressional delegation helped dedicate a new USDA high-containment large animal facility here today that will host several research facilities in one location. Construction lasted more than three years and cost some $85 million.

The new building encompasses more than 155,000 square feet and will house cattle, bison, elk, deer, reindeer, sheep and hogs.

Employees in the new facility will contribute to the $100 billion U.S. livestock industry by conducting research, diagnostics and training, as well as testing vaccines and evaluating veterinary biological products.

"Construction of this state-of-the-art animal health center is an important milestone in USDA's efforts to provide first-class animal health services," said Johanns. "The work here has generated tremendous benefits for livestock, agricultural workers and consumers."

The high-containment designation means the building is designed for optimal safety and security because the scientists will work with a variety of endemic, zoonotic and foreign animal diseases in what is called Biological Safety Level 3, BSL3, space. This includes features such as airtight walls, filtered air and liquid waste treatment technology.

Research will be conducted on the dreaded transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, such as mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease.

The center consolidates three units within two agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA.

It will be used by the USDA's National Animal Disease Center, which conducts research concerning animal health and diseases with an agricultural impact. This center is part of the USDA's Agriculture Research Service.

The National Veterinary Services Laboratories, which are part of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, will utilize the new building. This lab serves as a national and international reference laboratory and provides diagnostic services, reagents and training.

And APHIS' Center for Veterinary Biologics, which regulates vaccines, bacterins, antisera, diagnostic kits and other biological products for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of animal diseases, will also be housed in the new building.

The new facility is the second component of the multi-phase, $460 million project. A consolidated lab and a low-containment animal facility are still under construction.

By 2009, when the project is expected to conclude, the Ames complex will be one of the largest animal health centers in the world with one million square feet of laboratory and research facilities.

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Roadside Club With a Conscience Marks Fifth Anniversary

PORTLAND, Oregon, July 3, 2007 - The first U.S. roadside assistance and travel club committed to preserving the environment is celebrating its fifth birthday this week.

The Better World Club provides travel and roadside assistance benefits to its members coast-to-coast, including emergency roadside assistance for vehicles and bicycles, leisure travel services, and home and auto insurance, but it is different from its giant competitor AAA.

AAA has said that smog produced by automobiles "does not contribute inordinately to ozone problems in our cities," but Better World Club President Mitch Rofsky does not agree.

His company offers a deep discount to owners of gas-sipping hybrid cars, and imposes a surcharge on the worst gas-guzzling SUVs.

The Better World Club contributes a percentage of its revenues to environmental organizations that seek to reduce fossil fuel use and fight global warming.

Since the business began in 2002, the club has been sponsoring a carbon offset program to neutralize the impact of air travel.

Through the club's travel agency, members can rent electric bicycles and hybrid electric cars. Travelers can choose remote wilderness retreats, world-class eco-resorts and hotels that utilize energy efficient practices.

The Better World Travelers Club is the brainchild of boyhood friends, now business partners, Mitch Rofsky and Todd Silberman.

Silberman serves as Chair and CEO of Better World Travel, the club's parent company, while Rofsky is the president of the company and the club.

Rofsky, a former Ralph Nader staffer in Washington, DC, is the former president of Working Assets Capital Management, where he managed the socially responsible mutual fund, and was the first chair of Business for Social Responsibility.

Silberman, a travel industry attorney, was an early creator of what came to be known as the "inplant" travel industry - travel agencies within large corporations responsible for serving corporate travel needs.

"The Better World Travelers Club is meeting the needs of the environmentally-conscious traveler in a way that has never been attempted before," says Rofsky.

Better World Club is meeting a need in the increasingly environmentally conscious marketplace that is reflected in company revenues. The club is growing at the fastest rate of any national auto club, expanding at a rate of about 10 percent each month.

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Pomegranate Juice May Improve Erectile Dysfunction

LOS ANGELES, California, July 3, 2007 (ENS) - In a small study of 61 men, drinking pomegranate juice has been shown to have beneficial effects on erectile dysfunction, ED. The disorder affects one in 10 men worldwide and 10 to 30 million men in the United States.

"These findings are very encouraging as they suggest there is a non-invasive, non-drug way to potentially alleviate this quality of life issue that affects so many men," said study co-author Harin Padma-Nathan, MD, FACS, FRCS, clinical professor of urology at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.

"For men with ED, it is important to maintain a healthy diet and exercise," said Padma-Nathan. "Drinking pomegranate juice daily could be an important addition to the diet in the management of this condition."

The randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover pilot study examined the effectiveness of pomegranate juice versus a placebo in improving erections in 61 male subjects.

ED can be caused by several factors, said Padma-Nathan, including arterial plaque, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, nerve damage, endocrine imbalance or depression. Ultimately, ED is a condition that affects the blood flow to the penis during sexual stimulation.

To qualify, participants had to experience mild to moderate ED for at least three months; be in a stable, monogamous relationship with a consenting female partner; and be willing to attempt sexual intercourse on at least one occasion per week during each study period.

For the first four weeks of the study, the subjects were assigned to drink either 8 oz. of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice or 8 oz. of a placebo beverage daily with their evening meal or shortly after.

After a two week washout period during which the subjects did not consume any study beverage nor utilize any ED treatment, they were assigned to drink 8 oz. of the opposite study beverage every evening for another four weeks.

At the end of each four week period, efficacy was assessed using the International Index of Erectile Function, IIEF, and Global Assessment Questionnaires, GAQ.

The IIEF is a validated questionnaire that has been demonstrated to correlate with ED intensity. The GAQ elicits the patient’s self-evaluation of the study beverages’ effect on erectile activity.

Forty seven percent of the subjects reported that their erections improved with pomegranate juice, while only 32 percent reported improved erections with the placebo.

Although the study did not achieve overall statistical significance, the authors conclude that additional studies with more patients and longer treatment periods may reach statistical significance.

Researchers believe that the results might be due to the potent antioxidant content of pomegranate juice, which can prevent free radical molecules from disrupting circulatory function. In previously published medical studies, pomegranate juice has been shown to enhance blood flow and to slow or reverse the growth of arterial plaque.

The study is published in the current issue of the "International Journal of Impotence Research."

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Magnetic Fields Make Nano-Crystals Show Brilliant Colors

RIVERSIDE, California, July 3, 2007 (ENS) - Nanotechnologists this week announced a discovery that has potential to enable the manufacture of erasable and rewritable electronic paper and ink that can change color electromagnetically.

The scientists, based at the University of California-Riverside, have succeeded in controlling the color of tiny particles of iron oxide suspended in water by applying an external magnetic field to the solution.

They found that by changing the strength of the magnetic field they were able to change the color of the iron oxide solution.

When the strength of the magnetic field is changed, it alters the arrangement of the spherical iron oxide particles in solution, modifying how light falling on the particles passes through or is deflected by the solution.

The process is similar to adjusting the color of a television screen image, and the scientists say the discovery can eventually be used to improve the quality and size of electronic display screens and can be used to improve telecommunications with fiber optics, sensors and lasers.

"The key is to design the structure of iron oxide nanoparticles through chemical synthesis so that these nanoparticles self-assemble into three-dimensionally ordered colloidal crystals in a magnetic field," said Yadong Yin, an assistant professor of chemistry who led the research.

A nanometer being a billionth of a meter, and a nanoparticle is a microscopic particle whose size is measured in nanometers. By comparison a pinhead is one million nanometers wide.

A colloid is a substance comprised of small particles uniformly distributed in another substance, such as milk or paint.

"By reflecting light, these crystals – also called photonic crystals – show brilliant colors,” Yin said. "Ours is the first report of a photonic crystal that is fully tunable in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum, from violet light to red light.”

The nanoparticles’ spacing dictates the wavelength of light that a photonic crystal reflects.

"This is an elegant method that allows researchers in the field to assemble photonic crystals and control their spacing by using a magnetic field,” said Orlin Velev, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University, who was not involved in the research. "A simple magnet can be used to change the color of a suspension throughout the whole visible spectra."

"What should make the technology commercially attractive is that iron oxide is cheap, non-toxic and available in plenty,” said Yin, adding that the new technology can be used to make an inexpensive color display by forming millions of small pixels using the photonic crystals.

"A different color for each pixel can be assigned using a magnetic field,” he said. "The advantage is that you need just one material – for example, photonic crystals like iron oxide – for all the pixels. You don’t need to generate light in each pixel. You would be using reflected light to create the images – a form of recycling.”

The UCR Office of Technology Commercialization has filed a patent application on the technology. Study results appear in the online issue of the "Angewandte Chemie International Edition" today.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.