AmeriScan: July 26, 2007

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Diesel Exhaust + Cholesterol = Cardiovascular Disease

LOS ANGELES, California, July 26, 2007 (ENS) - Exposure to a combination of diesel exhaust and high blood cholesterol increases the risk for heart attack and stroke far more than exposure to either factor alone, new research reveals. The results indicate that controlling air pollution may prove to be a powerful tool for preventing cardiovascular disease.

Published in today's edition of the online journal "Genome Biology," the study is the first to explain how fine particles in air pollution work with artery-clogging fats to switch on the genes that cause blood vessel inflammation and lead to hardening of the arteries and cardiovascular disease.

"When you add one plus one, it normally totals two," said principal investigator Dr. André Nel, chief of nanomedicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a researcher at UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute.

"But we found that adding diesel particles to cholesterol fats equals three. Their combination creates a dangerous synergy that wreaks cardiovascular havoc far beyond what's caused by the diesel or cholesterol alone," he said.

The researchers investigated the interaction between diesel exhaust particles and the fatty acids found in low-density lipoprotein, LDL, cholesterol - the "bad" type of cholesterol that leads to artery blockage.

The team was interested in how oxidation, cell and tissue damage resulting from exposure to molecules known as free radicals, contributes to inflammation and artery disease.

Free radicals enter the body through small particles present in polluted air and are also byproducts of normal processes, such as the metabolic conversion of food into energy.

"Diesel particles are coated in chemicals containing free radicals, and the fatty acids in LDL cholesterol generate free radicals during metabolism in the cells," said co-author Ke Wei Gong, a UCLA cardiology researcher. "We wanted to measure what happens when these two sources of oxidation come into contact."

The scientists combined the pollutants and oxidized fats and cultured them with cells from the inner lining of human blood vessels. A few hours later, the team extracted DNA from the cells for genetic analysis.

"We saw that the diesel particles and oxidized fats had worked in tandem to activate the genes that promote cellular inflammation — a major risk factor for atherosclerosis," said Dr. Jesus Araujo, UCLA assistant professor of medicine and director of environmental cardiology at the Geffen School of Medicine.

"The interaction left a genetic footprint that reveals how interaction between the particles and cholesterol accelerates the narrowing and blockage of the blood vessels," Araujo said.

The UCLA team then exposed mice with high cholesterol to the diesel particles and saw activation of some of the same gene groups in the rodents' tissues.

"Exactly how air pollutants cause cardiovascular injury is poorly understood," Nel said. "But we do know that these particles are coated with chemicals that damage tissue and cause inflammation of the nose and lungs. Vascular inflammation in turn leads to cholesterol deposits and clogged arteries, which can give rise to blood clots that trigger heart attack or stroke."

The researchers will now attempt to create a biomarker that will enable doctors to easily evaluate air pollution's effect on cardiovascular disease.

"Once a biomarker is developed," Araujo said, "we'd simply need to test a blood sample in order to measure a person's exposure to particulate matter and determine whether it has reached levels that require medical intervention."

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Fuel Fire Runoff Fouls Spokane River

SPOKANE, Washington, July 26, 2007 (ENS) - A spectacular fire that destroyed a fuel warehouse in North Spokane late Monday has spilled oil into the Spokane River that crews from the state Department of Ecology now are working to contain.

"We have no idea how much oil escaped," said Ecology spokeswoman Jani Gilbert.

The warehouse is owned by Whitley Fuel LLC, Spokane's largest Shell distributor. Gasoline, diesel fuel, racing fuel, motor oil, hydraulic transmission oil, and heavy lubricant oil were stored there. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

An estimate of how much oil was spilled will take several more days because drums full of petroleum products at Whitley Fuel are still exploding, each burst releasing more fuel into the storm drains.

Ecology officials on a helicopter fly-over Wednesday said they saw an oily sheen in a wetland upstream of Nine Mile Dam on the Spokane River.

Sheen was visible from the air in several other areas, with the heaviest patches observed near the Nine Mile Dam. One ribbon of sheen three yards wide runs from Plese Flats Park to Seven Mile Bridge.

Crews in boats are checking for pockets of petroleum along the shoreline and determining whether it can be recovered from the water.

Ecology officials say the 360 gallons of fire-fighting foam used to douse the fire Monday night is starting to biodegrade, allowing petroleum products to surface.

The Spokane Regional Health District is evaluating the public health risk from the petroleum and cleanup products in the environment.

Initially, the risks appear to be "low" but health officials said, "People should avoid exposure to breathing petroleum vapors and any contact with oily residues associated with this incident."

The Spokane City Water Department is testing nearby wells for groundwater contamination in an attempt to ensure that city water meets drinking water quality standards.

Petroleum products in a grassy swale near the Whitley Fuel site have been excavated to protect a nearby city drinking water well. The swale will be covered today to keep rain from pushing remaining contamination into the groundwater.

The Spokane Wastewater Management Department is in the second day of a week-long process of "hydro-cleaning" the stormwater system. Large vacuums are sucking water out of the pipes and a de-greasing agent will be used to wash them down.

Barrier tape has been placed around the stormwater outfall at T.J. Meenach Bridge to keep people away from the spill in case more oil is flushed to the outfall and into the Spokane River.

People can protect the river by not using power-washing equipment or washing cars in their yards to keep water out of North Spokane storm drains, said wastewater management officials.

"The current risk to public health from petroleum and cleanup products entering the city's stormwater system and the Spokane River appears to be low; however, we are still investigating the situation," the health district said.

Meanwhile, people are advised to avoid swimming, fishing or other water recreation below the outfall until further notice.

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Conservationists Sue to Keep U.S. Forest Service Legal

SAN FRANCISO, California, July 26, 2007 (ENS) - A coalition of 14 conservation groups filed suit in federal court Wednesday to block the U.S. Forest Service from implementing rules a federal court decided had been adopted illegally.

The agency's actions follow a recent federal court decision that the Forest Service also illegally adopted new regulations in 2005.

At stake is the protection of wildlife and natural resources throughout America's national forest system, according to attorneys representing the groups.

Regulations written by the Forest Service in 1982, under the National Forest Management Act, provided substantive, mandatory protection for forest resources on national forests such as fish, wildlife, and water quality.

The agency revised those regulations in 2000, but in a case brought by conservation groups, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the revision violated the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, so the 1982 version remained in force.

The Forest Service again revised the regulations in 2005, but again the conservation groups sued. A federal court found earlier this year that in its revision the agency had violated not only NEPA, but also the Endangered Species Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act.

On April 27, in response to the court's rejection of the 2005 regulations, the Forest Service issued national direction to all regions to revert to the 2000 regulations — even though these regulations had also been found to be illegal by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now the conservation groups are suing to overturn the Forest Service's April 27 direction.

"The Forest Service keeps digging itself further into a hole," said Marc Fink, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, a plaintiff in the suit. "If the agency wants to plan and implement projects on national forests, it must do so legally, under the 1982 regulations."

"The Forest Service refuses to reinstate the only rules that were adopted legally, and that protect our forests," said Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center, who represents the other 13 conservation groups.

The 14 plaintiff groups are - Citizens for Better Forestry, Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Wild West Institute, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Idaho Sporting Congress, Friends of the Clearwater, Utah Environmental Congress, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, The Lands Council, and Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.

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Off-Roaders Lose Death Valley National Park Lawsuit

FRESNO, California, July 26, 2007 (ENS) - A federal court has rejected an attempt by off-road vehicle enthusiasts to reopen a rare desert stream in Death Valley National Park to vehicles.

The off-road group had sued the federal government, claiming rights to the stream bed in Surprise Canyon under a repealed law from the Civil War era known as R.S. 2477.

District Court Judge Lawrence O'Neill dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction.

"It's a great day for Surprise Canyon and Death Valley National Park," said Ted Zukoski, an attorney for Earthjustice, representing six conservation groups involved in the case. "This place is a miracle - a gushing stream running through the desert."

Chris Kassar, wildlife biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said, "The unique character of this desert oasis becomes more and more apparent with each step. Cool water fills your shoes, flycatchers flit from branch to branch and thick stands of willows and cottonwoods sway in the breeze against a backdrop of steep multi-colored cliff walls."

The suit is one of a number of claims by local governments and private groups in the West, hoping to prove that obscure trails and tracks are theirs to use under the R.S. 2477 law, which grandfathered in existing rights-of-way up to the time of its repeal in 1976.

In the 1990s, modified 4-wheel drive vehicles began to scale the walls of Surprise canyon. To do this, the drivers cut down plants and trees, filled in portions of the stream bed with rocks and used winches to pull vehicles up near-vertical waterfalls. A number of vehicles overturned when trying to negotiate the waterfalls and other steep terrain, dumping oil and other pollutants into the stream.

In 2000, conservation groups sued the Bureau of Land Management for failing to evaluate the impact of off-road vehicle use and other management policies on endangered wildlife.

As a result of a 2001 settlement, the BLM closed the route through Surprise Canyon, pending such analysis. The National Park Service closed the upper portion of the canyon to vehicles in 2002.

"We are thrilled," said Deborah DeMeo, program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "The dismissal of this suit means that Surprise Canyon Creek in Death Valley National Park, and the habitat and wildlife that it supports, will be preserved for future generations to enjoy."

The conservation groups, who sought to intervene in the lawsuit on the side of the federal government, argued that Off-road vehicle use would have damaged the canyon's unique character, including waterfalls, cottonwoods and willows that provide habitat for desert bighorn sheep, endangered birds, and rare species found nowhere else on Earth.

The groups involved are the National Parks Conservation Association, Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Sierra Club, California Wilderness Coalition, and The Wilderness Society.

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Commercial Disposal Urged for Chemical Weapons' Secondary Waste

WASHINGTON, DC, July 26, 2007 (ENS) - In an effort to speed up the ongoing destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile it would be a good idea for the U.S. Army to use commercially run hazardous waste management facilities to dispose of secondary waste that results from destroying the chemical agents, says a new report from the National Research Council.

The United States is destroying all of its chemical weapons stockpile in accordance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Over 182 countries are now members of the treaty.

The committee that wrote the report reviewed the waste disposal practices at all of Chemical Materials Agency operating incinerator facilities, located in Anniston, Alabama; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Umatilla, Oregon; and Tooele, Utah, as well as the chemical neutralization facility in Newport, Indiana.

For this U.S. Army sponsored study, the committee reviewed six waste streams that result from the destruction of chemical agents - spent activated carbon, brine solutions and salts, wood such as pallets, scrap metal, plastics, and spent decontamination solutions.

"The Army's incinerators are destroying the United States' stockpiled chemical weapons, but the on-site capacity is just not enough for treating high volumes of secondary wastes such as carbon, wood dunnage, or protective gear," said committee chair Peter Lederman, retired executive director of the Hazardous Substance Management Research Center, Newark, New Jersey.

"Destroying the secondary waste concurrently at off-site locations whenever appropriate will dramatically improve closure operations," Lederman said.

The Chemical Materials Agency estimates that there will be 5,000 tons of secondary wastes at the completion of the chemical weapons destruction operations.

In addition to secondary wastes, the report examines the regulatory requirements for trial burns at the incinerator facilities.

Trial burns are used to ensure that 99.9999 percent of the deadly chemical agents will be destroyed during regular operations.

The committee said the time required to complete a trial burn, submit results, and obtain authorization for full operation can be very lengthy.

"However, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act which governs the disposal operations, these trials can potentially be avoided through the submission of data from a trial burn conducted in a sufficiently similar incinerator burning the same agent," the committee said.

The United States failed to meet its April 29, 2007 deadline for destroying 100 percent of chemical weapons stocks and has asked that the deadline be moved to April 29, 2012. However, Ambassador Eric Javits, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons at The Hague, said the 2012 date was only mentioned "because that is the latest date the treaty allows us to ask for."

"Based on our current projections, we do not expect to be able to meet that deadline," Javits said.

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Red Color No Longer Means Fresh Meat

WASHINGTON, DC, July 26, 2007 (ENS) – A majority of consumers think treating meat with carbon monoxide to make it look fresh is deceptive and several supermarkets have taken it off the shelves, yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, has failed to withdraw approval of the practice.

As a result, Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, has introduced legislation that would require labeling of carbon monoxide treated meat.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, who introduced a bill banning the use of carbon monoxide in fresh meat packaging in the last Congress, is a co-sponsor.

"Blasting meat with carbon monoxide makes spoiled meat appear to be red, wholesome and healthy when it's really dangerous to eat," said Stupak.

"Although it is well-known that consumers rely heavily on color to evaluate the freshness of meat, the FDA has not required the use of carbon monoxide in the packaging of meat to be labeled," he said. "Consumers, therefore, have no way of knowing that the meat has been treated, and that they can no longer rely on color to judge the freshness and safety of the meat."

A September 2006 Consumer Federation of America poll revealed that 78 percent of consumers felt that the practice of treating red meat with carbon monoxide is deceptive and 68 percent would support mandatory labeling.

In July 2006, Consumer Reports found unacceptable levels of spoilage organisms in meat samples treated with carbon monoxide even before the use-by or freeze-by date.

The regulation of fresh packaged meat is handled by the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, both of which allowed the process in 2004.

"Congress seems to be as frustrated as we are about FDA's continued silence on the matter," said Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch. "It's crazy that Congress has to get involved when the FDA and USDA each have the authority and more than enough information necessary to put a stop to this practice now."

The FDA considers carbon monoxide treatment of meat to be "Generally Recognized as Safe" and says the treatment helps to maintain the characteristic color of fresh meat. The carbon monoxide is not intended to affect microbial growth and will not extend the shelf life of the product, the agency says.

The Safeway chain has announced that it will no longer carry carbon monoxide-treated beef or veal and would exhaust existing inventories by July 27.

This action is in response to a June letter to the chain from Stupak and John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat. The national supermarket chain joins a long list of supermarkets that have declared they will not carry meat treated with carbon monoxide.

In 2006, several supermarket chains indicated they thought the practice deceives consumers.

"The evidence is overwhelming - treating meat with carbon monoxide is deceptive and potentially unsafe," said Hauter. "There's no reason why this practice shouldn't be immediately stopped."

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Food and Drug Administration Considers Nanotech Rules

WASHINGTON, DC, July 26, 2007 (ENS) - The risks and benefits of drugs and medical devices using nanotechnology should be subject to guidance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, recommends a new internal report by the agency's Nanotechnology Task Force.

The report recommends that the FDA consider development of nanotechnology guidance for manufacturers and researchers. Draft guidance documents would be open to public comment before being finalized.

"Nanotechnology holds enormous potential for use in a vast array of products," said Commissioner of Food and Drugs Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, who endorsed the Task Force report and its recommendations on Monday.

"Recognizing the emerging nature of this technology and its potential for rapid development, this report fosters the continued development of innovative, safe and effective FDA-regulated products that use nanotechnology materials," said von Eschenbach, who initiated the Task Force in 2006.

Scientists and researchers increasingly are working in the nanoscale, creating and using materials and devices at the level of molecules and atoms—1/100,000th the width of a human hair.

Today, there are over 500 company-identified nanotechnology consumer products on the market.

The Task Force reports that nanoscale materials could be used in most types of products regulated by the FDA.

The report finds that "the emerging and uncertain nature of nanotechnology and the potentially rapid development of applications for FDA-regulated products highlight the need for ensuring transparent, consistent, and predictable regulatory pathways."

Anticipating the potential for rapid development in the field, the report says the FDA should work to assess data needs to better regulate nanotechnology products, including biological effects and interactions of nanoscale materials.

The agency should develop in-house expertise and should evaluate the adequacy of current testing approaches to assess safety, effectiveness and quality of nanoscale materials, says the report.

FDA and 22 other federal agencies are part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a federal research and development program established to coordinate the multi-agency efforts in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology.

Outside of federal circles, nanotechnology is the subject of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, PEN, column at Nanotechnology Now! PEN is a joint initiative between the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Over the past few years, PEN has collaborated with academia, government, industry, and nongovernmental organizations to look long-term at the development of nanotechnology, to identify gaps in knowledge and regulatory processes, and to develop strategies for closing them.

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