AmeriScan: July 17, 2007

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La Nina Absent, But Active Hurricane Forecast Persists

MIAMI, Florida, July 17, 2007 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, has predicted that the La Nina weather pattern will be absent for the next two months.

The opposite of El Nino, La Nina is a cooling of Pacific Ocean waters that generally brings a more active Atlantic hurricane season.

But the absence of La Nina does not necessarily mean it will be a quiet summer for tropical storms and hurricanes, said a spokesman for NOAA in Miami.

"There are so many other ingredients that contribute to the development of tropical cyclones, it's not just the fact that we don't have a La Nina that comes into play here," said meteorologist Dennis Feltgen.

There was no La Nina during the 2005 hurricane season, for instance, but the record-breaking season had 28 named storms, including 15 hurricanes, seven of which were major, including the devastating hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

This year, forecasters have predicted an above-average hurricane season, which runs June 1 through November. They forecast 13 to 17 named storms, with seven to 10 of them becoming hurricanes and three to five of those reaching at least Category 3 strength.

We're in an active hurricane cycle, which forecasters say can persist for decades. The last one spanned the 1940s through 1960s. The current one began in 1995 and could last for another decade, NOAA says.

There have been two named storms in 2007 - subtropical Storm Andrea, which formed in May, and tropical storm Barry, which formed June 1, the first day of hurricane season.

Conditions that were warmer and drier than average dominated much of the United States during the first half of 2007, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

The lack of precipitation led to widespread drought, which triggered an early start to the wildfire season, mounting crop losses and local drought emergencies.

Drought in the southern and central Plains gave way to heavy and persistent rains which led to devastating flooding from Texas to Kansas in June.

Meanwhile, the global average temperature was the second warmest on record for the January-June six month period.

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Army Officials Admit Interstate Shipment of VX Nerve Agent

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, July 17, 2007 (ENS) - Two senior Army officials today admitted in federal court in Indianapolis that the VX nerve agent byproducts being shipped from the Newport Army Chemical Depot in Indiana to Port Arthur, Texas are not considered "destroyed" under the definition of the Chemical Weapons Convention, CWC.

The CWC is an international treaty which requires destruction of all chemical weapons by 2012, including those in the United States.

Four groups - the Chemical Weapons Working Group, Sierra Club, Citizens Against Incineration at Newport, and the Community In Power Development Association in Port Arthur - filed suit against the Army and its incineration contractor Veolia Environmental Services.

They allege that the transportation and incineration of the VX liquid byproduct, called hydrolysate, are putting communities at risk.

Judge Larry McKinney, chief federal district judge for the Southern District of Indiana, is hearing testimony on a motion for an injuction to halt shipments of the byproduct through eight states. Shipments are suspended until the judge rules.

The toxic by-product at issue is VX hydrolysate, caustic wastewater created when VX nerve agent is mixed with sodium hydroxide and water at the Newport Depot in an attempt to destroy the VX in accordance with the treaty.

"Until this material is destroyed under the treaty definition, it is considered a declared chemical weapon," said Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group.

Williams pointed out that Public Law 103-337 forbids the interstate shipment of chemical weapons. He said the Army's admission that the VX agent is not destroyed until it is unloaded in Texas means that the shipments are illegal.

Testifying today, Colonel Jesse Barber, project manager at the Newport Chemical Depot who is responsible for neutralization of the VX stockpile, and Jeff Brubaker, a civilian who serves as site project manager for the Army at Newport, admitted that solids from the hydrolysate found in the neutralization reactor showed concentrations of VX at 19 parts per million.

The Army considers hydrolysate safe for transportation if levels of VX agent are 20 parts per billion or less - a level one thousand times lower than what was found in the solids.

Government documents show there are solids in the VX hydrolysate being shipped to Texas.

"The Army only tests the liquid portion of the hydrolysate prior to approval for transportation," said Williams.

Dr. Michael Sommer, a forensic environmental chemist from Houston, Texas testifying for the plaintiffs, said today that the analytical methods the Army is using to determine chemical agent concentrations do not meet EPA standards and are "profoundly bogus."

Plaintiff groups advocate that the Army treat the VX hydrolysate at Newport.

For more ENS coverage of this issue see: U.S. Army Suspends Cross-Country Shipments of VX Wastewater

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Chemicals in Common Products Polluting San Francisco Bay

OAKLAND, California, July 17, 2007 (ENS) - Hormone-disrupting chemicals from consumer products such as plastic bottles and cosmetics are polluting San Francisco Bay, posing risks to marine life and challenges for consumers and utility districts, finds a year-long study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group and the East Bay Municipal Utility District, EBMUD.

The report says that modern sewage treatment processes can address many pollutants, but they were not designed to capture the tons of chemicals in personal care products, tin can liners, and even anti-bacterial hand sanitizers, that constantly flow down Bay Area drains.

The study sampled and analyzed wastewater from residential, commercial, and industrial sites that discharge to the EBMUD wastewater treatment plant.

Eighteen of the 19 samples analyzed contained at least one of three unregulated, common hormone disrupting chemicals – phthalates, bisphenol A and triclosan.

These chemicals are in products like cosmetics, antibacterial soap, perfumes, food and beverage containers and plastic bottles.

"This is the first look at specific sources of hormone-disrupting chemicals that can make their way to the Bay," said Rebecca Sutton, PhD, staff scientist with the Environmental Working Group.

"By tracing these chemicals to particular sources – we can identify simple pollution prevention strategies for people to take to protect the Bay," she said.

Many studies have shown that fish exposed to hormone-disrupting chemicals can develop gender-bending characteristics, such as males with immature eggs in their testes.

Damage to the reproductive health of fish impacts local fisheries and aquatic ecosystems, the report warns, and in addition, "there is concern that people could become further exposed to hormone-disrupting chemicals by eating contaminated fish."

"Ultimately, we need to fix our system of chemical regulations," said Sutton. "The law establishing U.S. regulation of chemicals was created over three decades ago, before the scientific evidence on hormone-disrupting chemicals developed."

"Chemicals should be tested for their potential to impact the water environment, before they are allowed in the marketplace," said Sutton. "In our current regulatory framework, harm must be proven after these chemicals are already in use."

Researchers believe it would be wiser and more effective to keep hormone disruptors out of consumer products in the first place, but since they are there, consumers can protect themselves and the environment with wise choices at the checkout stand.

The Environmental Working Group report suggests that to reduce exposures to phthalates:

To reduce exposures to bisphenol A, and to the epoxy resin made from bisphenol A: To reduce exposures to triclosan: Read the EWG report, "Down the Drain: Sources of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals in San Francisco Bay."

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Oregon Coast Coho Deserve Federal Protection, Judge Rules

PORTLAND, Oregon, July 17, 2007 (ENS) - A federal judge has decided that the Bush administration's decision to remove endangered species protections for Oregon Coast coho salmon should be declared illegal.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart recommended Friday that coho's legal status under the federal Endangered Species Act be reviewed and a new listing decision be finalized within 60 days.

Restoration of the listing would prohibit federal actions that harm the species and require the government to prepare recovery plans.

The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed by fishermen and conservation groups last year. The government has until July 30 to object to Stewart's recommendations before they are approved by a federal district judge.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, has twice proposed to list the Oregon Coast coho salmon as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, but has twice withdrawn the proposed listing at the urging of the state of Oregon.

Today, of 27 salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest and California, the Oregon Coast coho is the only population not listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision to withhold endangered species protections from the coho was based on Oregon’s viability analysis which states that "coho populations are inherently resilient at low abundance."

The judge ruled that this theory did not represent the "best available science" as required by law.

In her decision, Judge Stewart noted that Oregon’s assessment was criticized by an NMFS staff review.

The staff wrote, "The generally poor condition of habitat and water quality calls into question conclusions that habitat limiting factors have been sufficiently addressed for the fish to survive future downturns in ocean survival."

Still, the National Marine Fisheries Service overruled its own scientists and decided to remove protections for the fish.

"This is a victory for good science and for Oregon's future. Restoring protections for these salmon today means a greener and economically vibrant Oregon tomorrow," said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman, who argued the case for the plaintiff groups - Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Pacific Rivers Council, Trout Unlimited, Oregon Wild, Native Fish Society, and Umpqua Watersheds.

Historically, more than two million coho salmon spawned in Oregon's coastal rivers. Due to decades of logging and poorly managed fishing, salmon runs bottomed out at about 14,000 in 1997, a decline of more than 99 percent from historic levels.

Oregon Coast coho were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1998. A slight rebound between 2001 and 2003 prompted the state of Oregon to declare Coast coho sufficiently recovered to be stripped of federal protection.

"For the sake of our fishing families and communities, now is not the time to slack off on habitat protections for coho salmon," said Glen Spain, with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

"With federal habitat protections restored," he said, "coho have a chance to recover and, one day, draconian fishing restrictions can be lifted."

Read the court's decision here.

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Uranium Tailings Pile Near Colorado River to Be Moved

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 17, 2007 - The nuclear services company EnergySolutions has been awarded the U.S. Department of Energy contract to clean up the radioactive Atlas Mill Tailings pile that sits beside the Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

The 16 million ton pile of uranium mill tailings is leaching into the river and into the groundwater of local communities, posing health and safety concerns for 25 million downstream users in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California.

"I'm delighted with this contract and the opportunity to clean up and remove these materials from the banks of the Colorado River," said Steve Creamer, CEO of EnergySolutions, based in Salt Lake City.

"For many years, EnergySolutions has been engaged in environmental clean up projects throughout United States. It is particularly satisfying to be performing this work here at home in Utah," he said.

The contract performance period is through September 2011.

The 435 acre Moab site is located on the west bank of the Colorado River three miles northwest of the City of Moab in Grand County, Utah. About 130 acres contain the uranium mill tailings.

EnergySolutions will perform design and installation of a tailings-removal waste handling system, and initial tailings movement and operations to relocate the Moab tailings and associated wastes to a disposal facility near Crescent Junction, Utah, 30 miles from the Colorado River.

The $98.4 million contract was awarded through a competitive bid process with the Department of Energy's office of Environmental Management under the National Indefinite delivery/Indefinite quantity contract.

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U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Evaluated in "Green" Building

AMARILLO, Texas, July 17, 2007 (ENS) - Sandia National Laboratories Weapons Evaluation Test Laboratory at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, has received the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED, building certification. The award is given by the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED recognizes performance in five key areas of human and environmental health - sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

"This is a significant award," says G. David Jones, manager of the department that operates the facility. "It shows that our building is environmentally friendly, not only in the way that it was constructed, but also in how we’ve maintained it to meet clean environment standards since it was built."

USGBC awards certification after a facility meets stringent requirements that include building design, efficient utility use, and maintenance activity, down to the types of cleaning materials used.

The $22 million facility, designed to conduct systems-level non-nuclear tests on nuclear weapons and components, opened in October 2004, replacing a 40 year old-laboratory at the site.

It houses more than $90 million worth of testing equipment and consists of modern offices and lab facilities for about 20 staff members. The architect for the project was Hays, Seay, Mattern & Mattern, Inc. of Roanoke, Virginia.

The facility, which is operated by Sandia for the National Nuclear Security Administration, NNSA, is associated with NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship program.

Its mission is to support the evaluation of the "state of health" of the U.S. stockpile through subsystem level testing in a laboratory environment in accordance with predefined test plans.

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New Jersey Bans Creosote Treated Wood

TRENTON, New Jersey, July 17, 2007 (ENS) - New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine Friday signed into a law a bill to prohibit the manufacture, sale, use, and burning of creosote and creosote-treated wood products anywhere in the state.

Only railways, which use creosote-treated ties on rail lines, and utilities, which use creosote-treated power poles, are exempt from the provisions of this bill.

Creosote, commonly used as a wood preservative to repel insects and prevent rot and water damage of wood and wooden structures, is a hazardous substance, and is recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogen.

"According to the Environmental Protection Agency, creosote is a carcinogen which poses a serious threat to the health of residents and to the environment," said New Jersey Senator Stephen Sweeney, who sponsored the bill in the state Senate.

"Creosote ingestion can cause serious burns, kidney and liver damage and even death, as well as soil and ground contamination," said sweeney. "There have to be other, safer alternatives that can be used to help preserve wood. We can’t afford to sacrifice the health of our residents."

Regulated as a restricted-use pesticide, creosote is composed of over 300 chemicals known to pose a threat to the environment and human health, the legislation states.

Leakage of creosote from industrial and other hazardous waste sites and seepage from creosote-treated wood have led to the contamination of soil and groundwater of New Jersey.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in creosote are of particular concern because they represent up to 85 percent of its weight composition and many are carcinogenic and degrade poorly.

According to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances, coal tar creosote is the most widely used wood preservative in the United States.

Over 97 percent of coal tar creosote is used for the preservation of wood. While creosote-treated wood is primarily used for railroad ties, it is also used to treat utility poles, pilings, lumber and timber, fence posts, and other wood products.

Workers in wood treatment industries are at particular risk.

People also can be exposed to creosote when reusable rail ties are sold to a secondary market for landscaping and other construction uses. The ties may be sawed by untrained people who are unaware of the hazardous pollutants, and the toxic sawdust lands on their skin or is inhaled.

Over the past decade, composite railroad ties made of recycled plastic and gypsum have become an effective alternative to creosote ties. Both chromated copper arsenate and pentachlorophenol are used as wood preservatives in utility poles in place of creosote and there are non-wood alternatives including steel and cement poles.

Federally, a review of creosote is scheduled by the U.S. EPA for the winter of 2007-2008. The EPA process includes public comment periods, a technical briefing, and conference calls with stakeholders on mitigation measures.

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