AmeriScan: July 31, 2007

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San Diego to Spend $1 Billion for Sewage System Upgrades

SAN DIEGO, California, July 31, 2007 (ENS) - The city of San Diego will spend $1 billion over the next six years to upgrade its sewer system under a comprehensive settlement filed in federal court today by the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The consent decree settles a lawsuit over sewer spills filed in 2001 by The Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper. The EPA joined the lawsuit in 2003

This is the third and final settlement that addresses current violations. San Diego entered into two partial consent decrees with the environmental groups and EPA in 2005 and 2006, but due to fiscal constraints, a long-term settlement was not signed.

With the recent increase in wastewater rates, the city is now able to enter into an agreement that will allow continued investment in sewage infrastructure.

"San Diego will spend over $1 billion to improve its aging sewer system and prevent future spills of raw, untreated sewage into local streams, the ocean, and city streets," said Granta Nakayama, EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.

"When this suit was initiated, the city was averaging a sewage spill a day and gaining national notoriety for massive spills like the 34 million gallon spill into Adobe Creek and the San Diego River," said Coastkeeper Executive Director Bruce Reznik.

Sewage spills, which contain bacteria, viruses and parasites, pose a serious public health threat. The elderly, children, and people with compromised immune systems are the most at risk.

Sewage spills also pose an environmental threat to San Diego waters by releasing large quantities of nutrients which feed algae growth and reduce oxygen levels, causing fish kills.

San Diego's Municipal Wastewater Collection System serves 1.2 million residents over 330 square miles. The system has 2,800 miles of sewer lines and 84 pumping stations.

The settlement, which will be submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California for approval, will require the city to repair, replace or rehabilitate 250 miles of pipeline by 2013.

It has already repaired or replaced 200 miles of pipeline under the earlier settlements.

The city will upgrade and repair pump stations, secure all 5,800 manhole covers throughout the city, implement a sewer pipeline cleaning program, conduct a sewer capacity assessment. and reduce sewer spills caused by cooking oil and grease.

On February 26, the San Diego City Council voted to increase wastewater rates by 8.75 percent beginning May 1, 2007. A further increase of 8.75 percent will be charged May 1, 2008, while increases of seven percent will become effective on May 1 in 2009 and again in 2010.

The revenue generated by the increases is being used for the upgrades that will settle this lawsuit.

The Metropolitan Wastewater Department says there has been a 77 percent reduction in wastewater spills since 2000 when there was an average of one wastewater spill per day. In 2006, there were 84 spills with 10 spills reaching public waters.

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Tall Towers Fitted to Track CO2 Emissions

BOULDER, Colorado, July 31, 2007 (ENS) - A new sensor in what will be a nationwide network for tracking carbon dioxide is now monitoring the air over Colorado's Front Range. A 1,000 foot tall tower east of Erie is one of 12 such towers that are being fitted with instruments by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, to capture the regional ebb and flow of atmospheric carbon.

This network of sensors monitors the natural carbon cycle and fossil fuel emissions, which help drive climate change.

In Boulder, NOAA's Earth System Research Lab, ESRL, is developing the tower network across the nation as part of its global observations of carbon cycle gases.

"Boulder and other cities are spending money to reduce their fossil fuel emissions. They need accurate data to know what is working and what is not," says ESRL scientist Arlyn Andrews. "With this new regional information, decisionmakers will be able to see if their emissions reductions have an impact on the atmosphere."

Cities and states have relied on proxy data, such as point-source inventories and gasoline sales records to estimate fossil fuel emissions, but there has been no objective way to verify exactly what is released into the atmosphere.

Instruments on the towers are expected to give scientists detailed information on how the region's carbon dioxide is affected by forests, crops, or an upwind city.

Finding carbon monoxide in an air sample, for example, is a clue that the carbon dioxide source is a high-traffic urban area, since carbon monoxide is produced through combustion.

For the U.S. network, NOAA rents space on television broadcast towers up to 2,000 feet high - tall enough to capture air from several hundred miles upwind and give a regional view of atmospheric carbon levels.

The Erie tower is an exception. NOAA built it in the 1970s to gather wind, temperature, humidity and other weather data for research and forecasting, and it still collects those data. Known as the Boulder Atmospheric Observatory, the steel-scaffold structure supports two elevators that carry people and instruments to the top.

The carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide sensors sit in a six-foot metal frame at the base of the tower. They draw in air through tubes from three different levels along the tower.

Next year, ESRL scientists will begin gathering air in metal flasks, which will be sent to the Boulder lab for analysis. The flask samples will provide greater detail on sources of Front Range carbon emissions.

To date, the NOAA network includes active towers in Park Falls, Wisconsin; Moody, Texas; Argyle, Maine; and West Branch, Iowa.

Seven other sites are planned in Illinois, California, South Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Alabama, and Ohio.

As other towers in the network collect regional details, the data will be fed into ESRL's online Carbon Tracker site in Boulder. Now geared to scientists, Carbon Tracker will ultimately provide local and regional information for policymakers, business leaders, teachers and the public.

"Eventually we'll be able to measure all of these effects natural and human," Andrews says. "Nature has been giving us a break on carbon storage. If that starts to change, we need to be able to see it."

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Drug-Resistant Bacteria May Reside in Pets

COLUMBIA, Missouri, July 31, 2007 (ENS) - A new University of Missouri-Columbia study is investigating whether pets could be reservoirs for infections of multi-resistant bacteria in humans.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria are a growing problem in the medical profession as doctors are prescribing second and third choice medicines when common antibiotics do not work. In many cases, these medicines might be less effective or cause more side effects than the antibiotics of choice.

While the drug resistant infections are most often found in patients after hospitalization, there is an increasing occurrence among prison populations, sports teams, military personnel and the general public.

One bacterium, Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, which can be fatal in humans, is the focus of a new research project led by University of Missouri, MU, veterinarians Stephanie Kottler, Leah Cohn and John Middleton.

"We used to think of these antibiotic resistant infections as a healthcare issue that appeared in post-operative or long-term patients," said Kottler, a resident at the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

"However, we have been seeing more of these infections that have been acquired throughout the general population, or community acquired infections. It's important to know what environmental factors might be encouraging or prolonging these infections."

Kottler believes that pets might be an important factor. MRSA bacteria can live in the noses or on the skin of humans and animals where they might not produce any symptoms. The bacteria become dangerous when they enter the tissue through a cut or puncture, producing a serious infection. In some cases, the bacteria can cause life threatening problems, such as bloodstream infections or pneumonia.

Currently, the MU researchers, aided by J. Scott Weese, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College in Canada, are taking samples from 750 to 800 pairs of owners and pets. They have collected about 500 samples and are sorting them into three groups - human healthcare workers and pets, veterinary healthcare workers and pets, and non-healthcare professionals and pets.

"This study will help us evaluate the various risk factors associated with this problem," said Middleton, an associate professor of food animal internal medicine. "Are pets a risk factor? This study will help us track where the disease started and determine what questions the physician should be asking if a patient is diagnosed with MRSA."

In 1974, MRSA infections accounted for two percent of the total number of staphylococcal infections; in 1995 it was 22 percent, and in 2004, it was 63 percent, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Fear of Wolves Allows Aspen Recovery in Yellowstone

CORVALLIS, Oregon, July 31, 2007 (ENS) The wolves are back, and for the first time in 70 years, young aspen trees are growing again in the northern range of Yellowstone National Park.

New research published in the journal "Biological Conservation," shows that since a process called "the ecology of fear" is at work, a balance has been restored to the Yellowstone ecosystem, and aspen trees are surviving elk browsing for the first time in decades.

"This is really exciting, and it's great news for Yellowstone," said William Ripple, a professor in the Oregon State University College of Forestry. "We've seen some recovery of willows and cottonwood, but this is the first time we can document significant aspen growth, a tree species in decline all over the West."

After an absence of 70 years, wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone Park in 1995, and elk populations began a steady decline, cut in half over the past decade.

The presence of a natural predator appears to have altered the behavior of the remaining elk, which in their fear of wolves tend to avoid browsing in certain areas where they feel most vulnerable.

The two factors together have caused a reduction in elk browsing on young aspen shoots, allowing the trees to survive to heights where some are now above the animal browsing level.

The study found that many aspen in streamside zones have grown from tiny shoots in the past decade to heights of more than seven feet placing their crowns above the height easily browsed by elk and other animals.

Before wolves were re-introduced, scientists found many small sprouting aspen shoots and large trees older than 70 years but practically nothing in between. High populations of elk had grazed on theshoots at leisure with little fear of attack.

The ecological damage, researchers say, went far beyond just trees. The loss of trees and shrubs opened the door to stream erosion. Beaver dams declined. Food webs broke down, and the chain of effects rippled through birds, insects, fish and other plant and animal species.

"When I first looked at these degraded ecosystems in the mid-1990s in Yellowstone, I had doubts we would ever be able to bring the aspen back," said Robert Beschta, a professor emeritus of forestry at Oregon State and co-author of the study. "There were so many elk, and the stream ecosystems were in such poor shape. The level of recovery we're seeing is very encouraging."

The OSU researchers say elk populations now are actually higher than they were in the mid-1960s, when aspen trees were still in decline. The major change is the presence of wolves.

"In riparian zones, where wolves can most easily sneak up on elk, and gullies or other features make it more difficult for elk to escape, we've seen the most aspen recovery," Ripple said.

"We did not document nearly as much recovery in upland areas, at least so far, where elk apparently feel safer," he said. "But even there, aspen are growing better in areas with logs or debris that would make it more difficult for elk to move quickly."

"The issue of aspen decline in the American West is huge, and their recovery will depend on local conditions and issues in many areas," Ripple said. "In northern Yellowstone, we finally have some good news to report."

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Lead Bullet Ban Urged to Protect Endangered Condors

PHOENIX, Arizona, July 31, 2007 (ENS) - Four conservation groups are asking the Arizona Game and Fish Commission to prevent further lead poisonings of California condors in Arizona by amending state hunting regulations to require the use of non-lead ammunition.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, the Sierra Club and the Arizona Zoological Society, say Arizona's two year old, well received, voluntary lead reduction program and hunter education campaign is not enough to remove the lead threat.

"The commission must act immediately to protect Arizona's magnificent condors from further lead poisonings and to safeguard public health," said Peter Galvin, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "If we want condors to survive, we must stop using ammunition that contaminates their food supply with toxic lead."

The California condor is one of the world's most endangered species. Condors were so close to extinction in the mid-1980s that the last 22 wild condors were captured and a captive-breeding program was begun.

By the mid-1990s wildlife managers began releasing captive-bred condors into the wild. There are currently 140 condors in the wild, with more being added by the captive breeding program every year. The first fledging of a wild-hatched condor chick since reintroduction began occurred in 2003 in Arizona.

The goal of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's condor recovery program is to restore at least two self-sustaining wild populations of 150 each.

Since the condor reintroduction program began in 1996, lead poisoning has been the leading cause of death for the Grand Canyon's condors.

At least 12 condors have died of lead poisoning in Arizona. In 2006, 95 percent of all Arizona condors had lead exposure. There have been about 100 lead poisonings of condors requiring emergency treatment since 1992.

Condor experts conclude that as long as lead ammunition is used in the condor range, recovery of the species is unlikely.

"Condors, eagles and other birds of prey are a cherished part of the Grand Canyon experience and an important part of the ecosystem," said Kim Crumbo, conservation director of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. "Immediate conversion to non-lead ammunition is practical, affordable, and overdue."

Lead pellets and bullet fragments have been found in the digestive tracks of lead-poisoned condors, and condors have abrupt increases in blood-lead levels corresponding with feeding in deer-hunting areas on the Kaibab Plateau.

In 2006, condor experts and toxicologists published a study titled "Ammunition is the Principal Source of Lead Accumulated by California Condors Re-Introduced to the Wild."

The study found blood lead levels of wild condors were tenfold higher than in captive raised condors, and the lead isotope signature of commonly used ammunition exactly matched the isotope of the lead found in poisoned condors in California.

Ingestion of lead ammunition fragments threatens bald and golden eagles, and poses a human health risk to hunters who handle or inhale lead from ammunition, or eat meat from game tainted with lead ammunition fragments.

The use of non-lead ammunition would not restrict hunting in Arizona, and conservation groups agree that ammunition regulations should be tailored to minimize adverse consequences for the state's hunters.

In California, a coalition of conservation, American Indian and health organizations, as well as individual hunters, petitioned and filed litigation to change hunting regulations in California to protect condors.

In May, the California Assembly passed a bill requiring the use of non-lead ammunition for hunting in the condor range by January 1, 2008. The California State Senate is currently considering the bill.

The California Fish and Game Commission recently proposed amendments to California's hunting regulations to require non-lead ammunition.

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Nominations Open for Affordable Green Chemistry Award

WASHINGTON, DC, July 31, 2007 (ENS) The American Chemical Society has established a new Award for Affordable Green Chemistry. Green chemistry products and processes reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.

The award recognizes discovery of new eco-friendly chemistries with the potential to yield products or manufacturing processes that are less expensive than existing alternatives.

Supported by an endowment from the Rohm and Haas Company, it recognizes outstanding scientific discoveries that lay the foundation for environmentally friendly products or manufacturing processes at a cost comparable to or less than current technologies.

The first presentation of the award in 2009 will coincide with the celebration of Rohm and Haas Company's 100th anniversary.

The company has been committed to green chemistry and eco-friendly technologies since it launched a revolutionary discovery in 1953 the first water-based acrylic emulsion for house paint.

With its Green Chemistry Institute (www.greenchemistryinstitute.org), American Chemical Society attempts to advance the implementation of green chemistry and engineering.

Most recently, ACS supported legislation introduced in Congress aimed at improving federal coordination, dissemination and investment in green chemistry research (HR 2850).

Each year, the ACS provides experts who judge nominations for the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Award for Affordable Green Chemistry will be among the more than 60 other national awards the ACS presents annually to members of industry, academia and government. The award consists of $5,000, a certificate and a plaque.

Nominations are now open with an application deadline of November 1, 2007. For additional details and nomination criteria, and to apply for the award, click here.

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American Buffalo Wiped Out to Serve European Market of the 1880s

CALGARY, Alberta, Canada, July 31, 2007 (ENS) - European demand for bison leather was the driving force behind the near-extinction on the Great Plains buffalo, suggests new historial and economic research conducted for the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research.

In the paper, University of Calgary environmental economist Dr. M. Scott Taylor argues that the buffalo slaughter on the Great Plains began in 1871 after Europeans developed a way to tan the tough buffalo hides.

Once the tanning innovation was in use, Taylor says the slaughter of some 30 million buffalo took only a decade and was driven by European demand for buffalo hides to use for leather shoe and boot soles and for industrial machine belting.

In the 16th century, North America contained 25 to 30 million buffalo; by the late 19th century fewer than 100 remained.

Removing the buffalo east of the Mississippi took settlers over 100 years, but "the remaining 10 to 15 million buffalo on the Great Plains were killed in a punctuated slaughter in a little more than 10 years," Taylor writes.

While Native Americans had always been able to tan the thick haired buffalo hides taken in winter months into buffalo robes, Taylor explains, their process was laborious and required ingredients from buffalo themselves - the brain, liver, and fat or tallow.

A cheap simple commercial process was unknown before 1871, so the hides were worthless. "It appears the innovation was made in England and Germany at roughly the same time in 1871," writes Taylor. "Importantly, U.S. tanners were unable to tan buffalo hides at this time."

He argues that three conditions are jointly necessary and suffcient to explain the time pattern of buffalo destruction witnessed in the 19th century.

"These are: (1) a price for buffalo products that was largely invariant to changes in supply; (2) open access conditions with no regulation of the buffalo kill; and (3), a newly invented tanning process that made buffalo hides into valuable commercial leather."

He uses theory, data from international trade statistics, and first person accounts to show that the buffalo slaughter on the plains was initiated by a European tanning innovation and fueled by a foreign demand for industrial leather.

Taylor writes, "Ironically, the ultimate cause of this sad chapter in American environmental history was of European, and not American origin."

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