AmeriScan: July 16, 2007

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White House Blocks Ship Speed Limits Meant to Protect Whales

WASHINGTON, DC, July 16, 2007 (ENS) - A government plan for ship speed limits to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales is being held up by White House officials due to opposition by foreign shipping interests, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national organization of workers in natural resource agencies.

In an unusual move, the White House Council of Economic Advisors is now reviewing the causes of right whale deaths, a task already done by marine experts, who have all concluded that ship strikes and entanglement with fishing gear are the principal causes of right whale mortality.

Last year, there were six known right whale deaths four from collisions with ships.

On June 26, 2006, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, proposed speed limits of 10 knots (11.5 miles per hour) for shipping along the eastern seaboard during migrations of right whales between Florida and New England.

Since the public comment period on the NOAA plan ended in October 2006, the plan has been stalled by the White House Office of Management and Budget, OMB, past the normal 90 day review period, PEER has determined.

Foreign shipping companies are lobbying the OMB, which, in turn has asked another arm of the White House, the President's Council of Economic Advisors, to review both the need for and costs of speed limits.

It is not clear what expertise the Council has on the rule's biological impacts.

As recently as May 3, the World Shipping Council submitted a letter reiterating opposition to speed limits to Susan Dudley, who heads the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The Council points out, "The data indicates that the threat from vessel strikes associated with military vessels and vessels less than 20 meters in length, both of which are exempt from the proposed rules, is substantially greater than any threat from containerships."

"There is virtually no evidence to indicate a correlation between vessel speed and the severity of injury in the event of a collision," the Council argues.

Of the 27 companies that signed the letter, almost all are foreign owned. One of the foreign firms, the Mediterranean Shipping Company, was cited for intentionally dumping oily waste into Boston Harbor.

"Of course, foreign shippers want no environmental restrictions on how they use and sometimes abuse American waters," said New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former federal biologist who has campaigned for speed limits and other ship strike reduction measures. "But our government is supposed to be protecting our national interests, which include our endangered wildlife."

"Speed limits are the indispensable ingredient in a winning recovery strategy for the right whale," said Bennett. "The current official Potential Biological Removal level for the right whale is at zero, meaning that the premature loss of even one more whale could tip the species into a tailspin toward extinction."

Only about 300 North Atlantic right whales remain today after commercial whaling wiped out most of the huge creatures in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A worldwide total ban on right whaling was agreed in 1937.

In spring, summer and autumn, these whales feed in areas off the Canadian and northeast U.S. coasts from New York to Nova Scotia. In winter, they head south towards Georgia and Florida to give birth.

On July 1, for the first time in the United States, ship traffic lanes were shifted to reduce the risk of collisions between large ships and whales.

Shipping lanes in and out of Boston Harbor have been rotated slightly to the northeast and narrowed to avoid waters where there are high concentrations of North Atlantic right whales.

The International Maritime Organization approved the lane revision last December and navigational charts have been updated with the revision.

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Virginia Turkeys Test Positive for Mild Avian Flu

WASHINGTON, DC, July 16, 2007 (ENS) - Turkeys from a farm in Shenandoah County, Virginia farm carried antibodies indicating possible past exposure to a mild form of H5N1 avian influenza virus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, has confirmed.

Virginia's agriculture department had announced July 9 that samples collected during routine preslaughter testing initially showed the birds had antibodies to an H5 virus.

"There have been no signs of illness or death in the birds, indicating that this is not the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus that has spread through birds in Asia, Europe, and Africa," said John Clifford, the USDA's chief veterinary officer.

The National Veterinary Services Lab will run further tests to better identify the virus the birds may have been exposed to, Clifford said.

So far, tests suggest that the antibodies detected correspond to the low-pathogenic North American strain of H5N1, which usually causes only minor illness or no noticeable signs in birds, Clifford said.

Several thousand poultry samples collected from other poultry operations near the affected Shenandoah Valley turkey farm have all tested negative for avian influenza, which further suggests that the antibodies found in the turkeys involve a common avian flu virus that poses no threat to humans, Clifford said. When the USDA expanded its avian flu testing program for wild birds beyond Alaska in 2006, several birds, such as a green-winged teal in Delaware and mallard ducks in Illinois and Michigan, tested positive or were presumed positive for the mild North American H5N1 strain. In a fact sheet on the low-pathogenic H5N1, the USDA said the strain was detected in apparently healthy wild birds as long ago as 1975. In 2002, antibodies to the same strain were found in samples from Michigan turkeys, but the virus could not be isolated. After Virginia officials announced the antibody findings, state veterinarian Dr. Richard Wilkes canceled all bird sales and exhibitions throughout the state at least until July 30 and restricted the application of poultry litter on fields in 17 counties.

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California Tackles Heavy Metals in Consumer Packaging

SACRAMENTO, California, July 16, 2007 (ENS) - That zippered plastic wrapping around a new comforter, or the plastic packaging on new cosmetics, toys or pet supplies may contain illegal amounts of heavy metals, finds a new report by the national Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse. In response, California officials are enforcing a new law that sets limits on heavy metals in packaging.

A coalition of state and industry members, the Clearinghouse conducted a screening project between October 2005 and February 2006 for the presence of four restricted metals - lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium - in various packaging materials.

The most heavy metals were found in flexible polyvinylchloride heavy-duty plastic packaging. Sixty-one percent of samples tested contained excessive levels of cadmium and/or lead.

Historically, these metals were used as inexpensive stabilizers to retard the degradation of plastics exposed to heat and ultraviolet light.

Inks and colorants used on plastic shopping and mailing bags were the next most frequent materials found to be over the legal limits. Lead was most often found in the shopping bags that failed the screening test, but mercury and chromium were also detected.

High levels of the restricted metals were found most often in packaging of products imported from Asia.

Overall, 16 percent of the packages tested exceeded the national screening threshold of 100 parts per million, ppm, and may be in violation of state laws.

Nineteen states, including California, have laws against the sale or distribution of packaging containing intentionally added cadmium, lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium, and set limits on the concentration of these materials in packaging.

The laws attempt to prevent toxic heavy metals from entering landfills, waste incinerators, and recycling streams where the contaminants are released, posing a threat to air, soil, and groundwater.

Equipped with a new law, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, DTSC, Thursday announced a Toxics in Packaging Outreach Program.

"Our new program goal is to help manufacturers eliminate heavy metals in consumer packaging by adjusting their production process," said DTSC Director Maureen Gorsen.

The program will provide information and resources to help more than 3,400 California suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors comply with state limits on toxics in packaging.

Under The Toxics in Packaging Prevention Act enacted in January 2006, consumer products in packages cannot be sold in California if the total concentration of metals in the packaging exceeds 100 ppm by weight.

"We plan to work with manufacturers, provide scientific testing, listen to concerns, and develop strategies and screening criteria specifically designed for our state's needs," Gorsen said.

The agency will offer public workshops, website postings and informational mailers. The DTSC will provide presentations at conferences, trainings, and workshops for manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers.

DTSC will randomly screen packaging materials, and the agency will take enforcement action against California retailers who cannot demonstrate compliance.

"Companies can be expected to undertake action to eliminate heavy metals in their packaging," said Gorsen, "or face more aggressive enforcement of California's Toxics in Packaging Prevention Act."

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Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder Action Plan Agreed

WASHINGTON, DC, July 16, 2007 (ENS) - A working group of industry, university, state, and federal government researchers has finalized an action plan for dealing with colony collapse disorder, CCD, of honey bees.

On Friday, the plan was announced by a CCD Steering Committee chaired by Kevin Hackett, the U.S. Department of Agiculture's national program leader for bees and pollination.

Under the plan, scientists will attempt to identify the underlying cause for this new disease that leaves hives with few or no adult honey bees but no dead bees either. Often there are still honey and immature bees in the stricken hives.

Colony collapse disorder, CCD, became apparent as a problem beginning in the winter of 2006-2007 when some beekeepers reported losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives.

While colony losses are not unexpected during winter weather, the magnitude of loss suffered by some beekeepers was unusual.

"This action plan provides a coordinated framework to ensure that all of the research that needs to be done is covered in order to get to the bottom of the CCD problem," said U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Gale Buchanan.

"There were enough honey bees to provide pollination for U.S. agriculture this year, but beekeepers could face a serious problem next year and beyond," Buchanan said.

Pollination is a critical element in agriculture, as honey bees pollinate more than 130 crops in the United States and add $15 billion in crop value annually.

Four possible causes for CCD are identified in the plan - new or reemerging pathogens, new bee pests or parasites, environmental and/or nutritional stress, or pesticides.

Research will focus on determining which of these factors are contributing causes of CCD, either individually or in combination.

Scientists will collect data, analyze samples, conduct controlled experiments to analyze the potential causes of the disease, and develop new methods to improve the general health of bees to reduce their susceptibility to CCD and other disorders.

Dennis van Engelsdorp, acting state apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and a member of the Steering Committee, says initial studies of dying colonies revealed a large number of disease organisms present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit.

Ongoing case studies and surveys of beekeepers experiencing CCD have found a few common management factors, but no common environmental agents or chemicals have been identified.

To read the action plan online, click here.

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New York Funds Dredging of Storm-Ravaged Federal Waterway

ALBANY, New York, July 16, 2007 (ENS) - Governor Eliot Spitzer has signed legislation allowing the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation to access $7.5 million for the dredging of Jones Inlet and the rebuilding of beaches on Long Island's south shore.

"By signing this legislation, we are facilitating the necessary dredging of Jones Inlet and the rehabilitation of Point Lookout's beaches, which have been ravaged by years of erosion and storms," said the governor.

"Despite the dogged advocacy of local officials, the federal government has ignored its responsibility to dredge Jones Inlet, leading to a sand buildup that threatens the long-term sustainability of these natural treasures. This project will provide the area with the funding necessary to reverse these disturbing trends and salvage the inlet and beaches for years to come."

The state legislation provides funds for the dredging, and it is still possible that the federal government could reimburse the state if the federal funding is approved.

On June 28, 2007, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, both New York Democrats, announced that the 2008 federal Senate Energy and Water Appropriation Bill will include $3 million for the Jones Inlet dredging project.

State officials have been informed that the House Energy and Water Appropriation Bill will also include an appropriation for these purposes and any differences between the bills will be resolved in a conference committee this fall.

Governor Spitzer said, "I thank Senators Schumer and Clinton, Congressman King and other members of New York's Congressional Delegation for working tirelessly to secure federal funding for this project. Their advocacy is critical, for we cannot allow a dangerous precedent to be set by the state covering the cost of dredging a federal waterway."

The Point Lookout dredging had been linked for years to a larger project that would have required almost $100 million in dredging for Point Lookout and Lido Beach, Town of Hempstead beaches and the city of Long Beach.

But the Long Beach City Council voted that proposal down in May 2006, leaving Point Lookout to fend for itself.

The dredging will make it easier for boats to navigate the inlet, and also provide sand to buttress the shoreline, protecting homes in the community of 1,500 people on the eastern tip of Long Beach Island.

The inlet should be dredged every four or five years, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but it was last dredged in 1995.

Under federal and state law, the dredging of Jones Inlet may not begin until October 1.

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Contamination Threatens Tucson Drinking Water

TUCSON, Arizona, July 16, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Friday ordered the Raytheon Company and the U.S. Air Force to clean up a migrating plume of contaminated groundwater at the Tucson International Airport Area Superfund Site.

Under the order, Raytheon, formerly Hughes Aircraft, and the U.S. Air Force are required to treat two solvents, trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,4-dioxane (DX), in groundwater coming from the 1,365 acre Air Force Plant 44 facility at the southern end of the Superfund site.

TCE, a volatile organic compound, is a non-flammable liquid widely used in the past as an industrial solvent. The EPA considers TCE a probable human carcinogen, which affects the liver, kidney, immune and endocrine systems, and DX a probable human carcinogen.

The federal agency says the extraction and treatment system at the Air Force Plant 44 is not effectively containing the contaminated groundwater plume from the facility, allowing TCE and DX to migrate north and into a drinking water treatment plant operated by the city of Tucson.

The treatment plant, located at the northern end of the plume, serves some 50,000 Tucson residents.

The EPA's order requires Raytheon and the USAF to install and operate an advanced oxidation process system to treat the solvents in the plume.

Currently, the city-operated drinking water plant treats TCE and is able to safely blend DX so that the water is safe to drink.

"Ensuring the safety of our drinking water is one of the EPA's top priorities," said Alexis Strauss, the EPA's Water Division director for the Pacific Southwest region. "We are focused on reducing the impact of past and present contamination, and ensuring Tucson will continue to have a clean drinking water source while protecting groundwater."

Sampling data from 2006 detected TCE in groundwater as high as 3,400 parts per billion and DX up to 298 parts per billion. The company and the Air Force are required to treat contaminated groundwater to below 5 parts per billion for TCE and 3 parts per billion for DX.

Raytheon and the Air Force face penalties of up to $32,500 per day, per violation if they fail to comply with the order.

The Tucson International Airport Area Superfund Site, listed in 1983, has a 50 year history of chemical contamination due to its aircraft and electronics facilities and unlined landfills. Raytheon used and disposed of metals, chlorinated solvents and other substances at the Air Force Plant 44 facility since 1951.

The company used TCE in several degreasers and as a general-purpose solvent from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. As part of its operations, Raytheon used DX as a stabilizer to enhance the life of the solvent bath for degreasing manufactured parts.

The company collected waste solvents from the manufacturing area and disposed of them in drums, which were then put into uncontrolled landfills, and also discharged liquid solvent wastes into unlined drainage channels and pits at the facility.

The waste solvents and other substances migrated from disposal areas into groundwater.

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CDC Travel Health Book Advises on Hazard Prevention

ATLANTA, Georgia, July 16, 2007 (ENS) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, has released an updated version of the "Yellow Book," the agency's biennial guide to healthy international travel.

The newest edition of the "Yellow Book" provides information on preventing health risks from the ordinary, such as sunburns, auto accidents and travelers' diarrhea - to the extraordinary, such as avian flu and natural disasters - to the environmental such as harmful algal blooms that can be toxic both to fish and to people who eat the fish or swim in the water.

New features include an expanded section on preventing injuries and life-threatening blood clots that develop while sitting for hours on a plane, as well as the latest recommendations for immunizations and malaria prevention.

"More than 63 million Americans travel abroad each year. This book can help prepare travelers for their trips, or help them learn how to stay safe and healthy while overseas," said Dr. Christie Reed, team lead for CDC's travelers' health group.

"The Yellow Book serves as the gold standard of travel health recommendations. We want travelers, health care providers and those in the travel industry to have the best information and health care recommendations for traveling abroad."

Because injuries and auto accidents are the greatest risk to travelers, the Yellow Book stresses the importance of wearing seatbelts when driving in foreign countries.

The book advises people how to prevent deep vein thrombosis on long international flights. "Travelers should stay hydrated, wear loose-fitting clothing, and make efforts to walk and stretch legs and arms at regular intervals.

And it has information that can help the more than 10 million people who take cruise vacations each year protect themselves against norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness that causes 23 million illnesses a year in the United States.

"Risk of norovirus infection is present anywhere where food is prepared unhygienically or drinking water is inadequately treated. Of particular risk are ready-to-eat cold foods, such as sandwiches and salads. Raw shellfish, especially oysters, are also a frequent source of infection," the Yellow Book warns.

The 2007-2008 Yellow Book includes for the first time health risks and recommendations for humanitarian workers.

"This book contains must-have information for the traveling public including families, students, missionaries and volunteers, multinational corporations, the travel industry, as well as for doctors, nurses and pharmacists," Reed said.

The new Yellow Book is now available free online at: http://www.cdc.gov/travel/.

The website lets travelers look up specific information by travel destination and view or print custom reports based on individual travel plans. The CDC continually updates the site as travel health threats emerge and new information becomes available.

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