AmeriScan: July 10, 2007

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Pennsylvania Back to Work Without Renewable Energy Fund

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, July 10, 2007 (ENS) - Late last night Governor Edward Rendell announced that a tentative budget agreement was reached with Republican legislative leaders that brings nearly 25,000 furloughed state employees back on the job after one day off work without pay.

The pact addresses some of Rendell's energy and transportation initiatives but will not impose the surcharge on electricity use the governor had sought, said Senator Vince Fumo, ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

The governor wanted a legislated $5.40 annual surcharge on residential electric bills to support an $850 million fund for alternative and renewable energy.

"I am pleased to announce that as a result of earnest and sometimes difficult negotiations, we have achieved an important agreement that will allow Pennsylvania’s government operations to be restored and all furloughed employees to return to work," Governor Rendell said. "While I regret that we were not able to reach this accord earlier, I am gratified that we have agreed in principle to a spending plan that will continue to move Pennsylvania forward."

State Senate Republicans blocked the governor's Energy Independence Strategy that he promised would "help our families and businesses cut their electricity bills, conserve energy, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and bring new economic development opportunities to the state."

"And all it will cost the average household is the price of about five cups of coffee a year," the governor said July 2.

He cited a recent statewide poll by Susquehanna Polling and Research that found that more than two-thirds of the public is willing to pay 45 cents per month to grow the state's economy while developing clean and renewable energy from home-grown sources.

In February, Rendell announced the Energy Independence Strategy which he said would save consumers $10 billion in energy costs over the next 10 years, increase Pennsylvania’s alternative and renewable energy production capacity, reduce the state’s dependence on foreign fuels and create more jobs.

Included in the strategy is an $850 million Energy Independence Fund that will be financed by a "systems benefits charge" on electric power consumers. Such a charge is already in place in 15 other states and Washington DC. Pennsylvania’s charge would have been lower than all but two of these jurisdictions.

But Republican legislators viewed the systems benefits charge as a tax, and they would not approve it.

State Senator Ted Erickson, a Republican, said Monday the General Assembly needs more time to consider the complex energy plan that covers everything from minimum content standards on ethanol produced in Pennsylvania, to green building requirements for construction involving state funds.

"The Senate has held hearings and work is continuing on refining the proposals, said Erickson, who is also sponsoring legislation providing the framework for a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Rendell said the Legislature would convene a special session on September 17 to address the energy topic.

While the governor did not get the energy legislation he wanted, he was pleased with the negotiated transportation package, calling it "historic."

"With this agreement, there will about $950 million a year for transportation in Harrisburg, Erie, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre, Altoona and everywhere else for the next 10 years," Rendell said. "It should put transportation systems in good shape for the next 15 to 20 years.

Members of the legislature are expected to begin considering the budget legislation this week.

The administration had previously said furloughed workers will not be paid for the time off, but Monday night Rendell said "options that we have to lessen the impact" are under consideration and he plans to make an announcement shortly.

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Fire Danger Extreme Across the West

BOISE, Idaho, July 9, 2007 (ENS) - The severity of the western fire season jumped in the last three days, as lightning strikes ignited 1,500 new fires over a widespread geographic region. Firefighters contained most of these new starts during initial attack over the weekend. Right now, 41 large fires are burning in 11 western states, according to the National Fire Information Center in Boise.

Hot temperatures will continue across the West with widespread thunderstorms this week. Isolated dry thunderstorms will develop in California today, with lingering thunderstorm potential in central Arizona and Utah.

Thunderstorms will spread into the Northwest, Great Basin, and across Arizona on Tuesday and Wednesday.

High temperatures are forecast to reach 110 in the deserts of Arizona and California with triple-digit readings as far north as northwest Nevada.

Wet thunderstorms will continue along the Continental Divide into southeast Arizona. Offshore winds will develop today west of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon.

A Fire Management Assistance Grant was approved on Sunday for the Alabaugh Canyon fire near the town of Cascadean and three subdivisions, in southwestern South Dakota. At least 5,000 acres are burning. Smoke and ash is filling the air over the city of Hot Springs, five miles away, and people with respiratory problems are asked to stay indoors.

The Fall River County Sheriff's Department has reported that there has been one civilian fatality as a result of the fire. The Sheriff's Department is in the process of notifying next-of-kin.

Just after midnight Sunday, two U.S. Forest Service firefighters, employees of the Black Hills National Forest, were injured as they deployed fire shelters during suppression action on the Alabaugh fire.

The fire is zero percent contained, while 110 homes, a transmission line, and a wild horse sanctuary are threatened. Twenty homes have been destroyed.

Another grant was approved on Sunday for the Easy Street Fire near the community of Wenatchee in Chelan County, Washington. While only 250 acres are ablaze and the fire is 20 percent contained, 300 residences are threatened and 300 people have been evacuated.

Cooler weather today is helping firefighters in their battle against California's largest wildfire in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Officials are predicting full containment of the Inyo Complex blaze by Wednesday.

A lightning storm moved quickly through the Eastern Sierra Friday afternoon, igniting 10 fires, which are being managed as the Inyo Complex. The fire has burned over than 37,400 acres but is about 55 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service said.

On Saturday, the western portion of the Town of Independence was evacuated for several hours. Some 200 residents fled as the town was immediately threatened. Three firefighters sustained burns while on the fire line and were transported to a burn center for evaluation and treatment.

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New Jersey Agency Fails to Warn Families About Toxic Waste

TRENTON, New Jersey, July 9, 2007 (ENS) - Hackettstown children played baseball and rode bicycles for years on mounds of toxic waste, but state officials who knew of the danger did nothing to warn or protect them, according to records released Friday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national association of workers in natural resources agencies.

For more than four years, officials of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, and Bergen Tool, Inc. have been negotiating cleanup requirements for a closed factory in Hackettstown while residents walked and played on the toxic waste piles. No warning signs were posted and no fences were erected to prevent people from entering the site.

The soil at the former Bergen Machine & Tool factory contains dangerous levels of a human carcinogen called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs, as well as polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, volatile organic compounds, lead, chromium, arsenic and other pollutants at levels above the DEP’s soil cleanup criteria.

The site is adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and children routinely enter to play on a ball field and ride bikes on the waste piles. Children can enter abandoned buildings on the site which is honeycombed with underground storage tanks and pipes.

"What part of environmental protection does DEP not understand?" asked New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, who brought the status of the site to light. "I wish this sort of debacle was an anomaly but it is one of a parade of horror stories showing how our toxic cleanup laws and policies are broken."

Wolfe’s file review and June 23, 2007 site visit revealed that there were no hazard warnings or fences, and the DEP has taken no enforcement action to compel cleanup or informed the community about what is on the site.

The company claims that DEP approved "no further investigation" for the ball field.

For the past century, the site has been used for various heavy industrial manufacturing purposes. Since 1950, Bergen Machine & Tool operated its factory until it closed in 2003. Under state law, the company is supposed to submit a cleanup plan to DEP. But, after four years, the company has yet to complete a site characterization report – the first step in the cleanup process.

"Incredibly," said Wolfe, "DEP let the company claim the toxic mounds were only ‘sand piles' and that the PAHs were 'due to the use of motorbikes on the piles.'"

In a letter, New Jersey PEER called upon DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson to take immediate steps to post warning signs and erect fences, test the ball field and other recreation areas, sample nearby residents’ yards and homes for off-site migration and begin to enforce toxic pollution laws so that the company conducts a full and permanent cleanup.

In response, a DEP case manager verbally informed Wolfe Thursday that DEP had ordered the company to post signs and put up fences.

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Being Born in the USA Bad for Hispanics’ Health

LOS ANGELES, California, July 9, 2007 (ENS) - Being born Hispanic in the United States may pose greater health risks than Hispanic immigrants experience.

A new study from the University of Southern California finds that Mexicans-Americans born and raised in the United States are more likely to suffer from conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol than those who emigrate from Mexico.

"One possible explanation is that people who immigrate are healthy to begin with and they may also have come here with better health habits," said Eileen Crimmins, lead author of the study and professor of gerontology at USC.

"The generation born here has adopted American traits such as smoking and eating at fast food restaurants that were not as accessible in more traditional parts of Mexico," she says.

In a comparison of risk factors across ethnic groups in adults aged 40 years and older, researchers from the USC Davis School of Gerontology and the UCLA School of Medicine found the only group at greater risk for disease than the U.S.-born Mexican-American community is the black population.

The research appears in the current issue of the "American Journal of Public Health" and addresses a contradiction found in other studies known as the "Hispanic Paradox," a claim that Hispanics in the United States are healthier than whites despite being poorer and less educated.

Instead, this study shows that U.S. born Mexicans-Americans are less healthy than whites of the same socioeconomic background.

Only foreign-born Hispanics match their white counterparts. These fit immigrants tip the scales for the Hispanic population, skewing numbers that would otherwise indicate an unhealthy Hispanic population.

The findings refute the "Hispanic Paradox" and support the idea that people who are not healthy tend to stay in their home country and some immigrants living in America who become sick may return home.

"By gaining the healthiest of émigrés from Mexico, the U.S. Hispanic population appears to be a healthy community, one that rivals the white population in low mortality rates and positive health factors," said Crimmins.

Crimmins says the distinction is significant because a misperception of a robust Hispanic population may affect policy decisions.

"Health promotion organizations and the government may allocate resources differently if they conclude there is no need to improve health conditions of the native born Hispanic population," said Crimmins.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey, NHANES, conducted between 1999 and 2002 were analyzed for populations of whites, blacks, U.S.-born Hispanics, foreign-born Hispanics and Hispanics of Mexican origin.

The study is published as the largest and oldest Hispanic membership organization in the United States, the League of United Latin American Citizens, LULAC, meets in Chicago for its 78th annual convention.

The 15,000 delegates will tackle health care among other topics. One seminar will review the health care challenges facing newly retired Latinos. LULAC says the rapidly rising cost of health care and insurance means that some seniors will be unable to afford the medical care they need.

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Recycling with FundingFactory Helps Fight Cancer

ERIE, Pennsylvania, July 9, 2007 (ENS) - Teams participating in the 2007 Breast Cancer 3-Day Race have found an environmentally friendly way to raise money - they are recycling used printer cartridges and cell phones.

Breast Cancer 3-Day is a national event supporting breast cancer research and community outreach. The event takes place in 12 cities nationwide, beginning in Boston, August 3-5, and ending in San Diego, November 9-11.

Organizers ask participants to walk an average of 20 miles a day and to raise a minimum of $2,200. To help meet this goal, more than 60 groups have signed on with FundingFactory to collect used printer cartridges and cell phones - those that can be refurbished or resold are turned into the FundingFactory's Recycling Program in exchange for cash.

"We love this fundraiser," said Danielle Gibala who is a member of the Boa Babes Breast Cancer 3-Day Team from Michigan. Her team has raised over $350 just since January with FundingFactory.

"Our group goal was to raise a couple hundred dollars," she said. "We had no idea how easy and fast it would be to achieve."

The team has several methods of getting the cartridges and phones.

"We have two collection boxes set up; one is at Central Michigan University's Extended Learning Center and the other is at an Impressions Salon," said Gibala.

"Another way we collect is through a bowling league. Fellow bowlers have been very generous in bringing cartridges. We also have put the word out to family and friends."

Eighty-five percent of the net proceeds of the nationwide 3-Day events will be given to a non-profit organization called Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Founded in 1982 by Nancy G. Brinker, based on a promise made to her dying sister, it is the world's largest grassroots organization of breast cancer survivors and activists, and the world's largest source of non-profit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer.

Fifteen percent of the net proceeds will go to the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund, one of the 150 largest charities and among the 35 largest grantmaking institutions in the United States.

According to the 3-Day website, more than 200,000 women and men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will lose their lives to the disease this year.

For Breast Cancer 3-Day Race schedules and information, please visit http://www.The3Day.org, or call 1-800-996-3DAY.

For information about recycling used printer cartridges and cell phones as a fundraiser, visit http://www.FundingFactory.com or call 1.888.883.8237.

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USDA Adds $11 Million to Fight Emerald Ash Borer

WASHINGTON, DC, July 9, 2007 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns Friday announced an additional $11.3 million in emergency funding to combat an invasive insect from China that is killing ash trees across eastern and midwestern states.

The emerald ash borer has been responsible for the death and decline of more than 25 million ash trees in the United States.

Johanns said, "The emerald ash borer funding is for enhanced early detection efforts and strict quarantine enforcement."

USDA will provide the emergency funding to states with established emerald ash borer programs and quarantines to support pest detection, control, regulation of host material that will mitigate the risk of further spread of the pest, as well as outreach and education to the general public.

A portion of the funding will be provided to targeted uninfested states at risk for the emerald ash borer for additional survey and response if a detection of the pest should occur.

Early detection of new infestations is critical to enhancing USDA's ability to eradicate such incursions and contain the pest within quarantine areas.

The emerald ash borer is a wood-boring beetle native to China and eastern Asia that targets ash trees in North America.

It was first detected in July of 2002 in southeastern Michigan and has since been found in Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Illinois and most recently in Pennsylvania.

More than 177,934 square miles are currently quarantined due to infestations of this beetle.

Emerald ash borer larvae feed in the phloem and outer sapwood of ash trees, eventually killing the branches and entire trees. Trees can die within two to three years of becoming infested.

Ash trees are important to wildlife species because of their seed production and are important to the nursery, landscaping, timber, recreation and tourism industries.

Ash wood is used for flooring, furniture and sports equipment, in addition to is important role in the culture and heritage of Native Americans.

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Engineered Viruses vs Biofilm Contaminants

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, July 9, 2007 (ENS) - In one of the first potential applications of synthetic biology, researchers are engineering viruses to attack and destroy the surface "biofilms" that harbor harmful bacteria in the body and on industrial and medical devices.

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University have already successfully demonstrated one such virus. They have what they call a "plug and play" library of "parts" and say that many more could be custom designed to target different species or strains of bacteria.

Synthetic biology is an emerging field that aims to design and build useful biomolecular systems. The research was reported in the July 3 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our results show we can do simple things with synthetic biology that have potentially useful results," says first author Timothy Lu, a doctoral student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

Bacterial biofilms can form almost anywhere. When they accumulate in hard to reach places such as the insides of food processing machines or medical catheters, they become persistent sources of infection.

These bacteria excrete a variety of proteins, polysaccharides, and nucleic acids that together with other accumulating materials form what Lu calls a "slimy layer," that encases the bacteria.

Traditional remedies such as antibiotics are not as effective on these bacterial biofilms as they are on free-floating bacteria. In some cases, antibiotics even encourage bacterial biofilms to form.

Lu and senior author James Collins, professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, aim to eradicate these biofilms using bacteriophage, viruses that attack bacteria. Phage have long been used in Eastern Europe and Russia to treat infection.

For a phage to be effective against a biofilm, it must attack the strain of bacteria in the film and degrade the film itself.

Recently, a different group of researchers discovered several phages in sewage that meet both criteria because, among other things, they carry enzymes capable of degrading a biofilm's slimy layer.

This discovery led Lu and Collins to consider engineering phages to carry enzymes with similar capabilities.

Engineering is necessary because finding a good naturally occurring combination for a given industrial or medical problem is difficult. Plus, "people don't want to dig through sewage to find these phages," says Lu.

Though phages are not approved for use in humans in the United States, recently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a phage cocktail to treat Listeria monocytogenes on lunchmeat.

This makes certain applications, such as cleaning products that include phages to clear slime in food processing plants, more immediately promising. Another potential application is phage-containing drugs for use in livestock instead of or in combination with antibiotics.

This work is supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

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