Groups Seek Ban on Arsenic Laden FertilizerWASHINGTON, DC,
June 12, 2002 (ENS) - Public health and environmental advocates are calling on home improvement stores to stop selling a fertilizer made from mining waste that is contaminated with arsenic.
On Tuesday, 23 groups sent a letter to Home Depot, Lowes and Target asking them to put the safety of their customers first, and stop selling a product called Ironite.
Ironite is a fertilizer produced from the mine tailings of a proposed Superfund site in Humboldt, Arizona and sold to consumers as a lawn and garden fertilizer. Testing by government agencies has found levels of arsenic high enough to classify the fertilizer as a hazardous waste.
Although federal law requires that hazardous waste be disposed of in regulated landfills, a legal loophole called the Bevill Exemption excludes the mining industry.
"It's an outrage that the mining industry, through legal loopholes, can dispose of its toxic mine waste by selling it to unwitting gardeners," said Bonnie Gestring of the Mineral Policy Center. "If it's toxic enough for Superfund consideration, it doesn't belong in anyone's vegetable garden."
A 1997 expose by "The Seattle Times" charged that many industries dispose of their toxic waste by turning it into fertilizer. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency compiled data on heavy metal contamination of fertilizer, it found that Ironite contains - by a wide margin - the highest levels of arsenic of all fertilizer products surveyed. Ironite also contains high levels of lead.
Ironite has the potential to raise the amount of arsenic in lawns and gardens. A soil scientist in Minnesota found that levels in his garden rose to 100 parts per million after he applied Ironite - an amount 100 times background levels in that state.
"Arsenic and lead have no nutritional value to people or plants. They don't belong in fertilizer, and they don't belong in our lawns and gardens," said Jackie Hunt Christensen, co-director of the Food and health Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "Retailers should make sure the products that they sell don't endanger the health of their customers."
"State and federal agencies have known for years about the high levels of arsenic in this product, and their failure to take action is mind boggling," said Laurie Valeriano of the Washington Toxics Coalition. "We need retailers like Home Depot to take matters into their own hands and get this product off their shelves."
Other fertilizers besides Ironite also contain toxic waste. Retailers can obtain information about the levels of heavy metals in fertilizers at: http://www.wa.gov/agr/pmd/fertilizers/index.htm
Smart Urban Design Reduces Auto UseSAN FRANCISCO, California,
June 12, 2002 (ENS) - A new study suggests that better urban design can reduce auto use and relieve the traffic congestion and pollution that come with it.
The researchers' analysis of the San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago metropolitan areas found a direct link between the amount people drive and city attributes like neighborhood density, transit access, and pedestrian and bicycle friendliness. According to the authors, those attributes measure an area's "location efficiency" - the more efficient the location, the less people drive.
"We now have empirical evidence that smart growth works," said David Goldstein, a coauthor of the study and director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "This study shows that people who live in more convenient communities are less dependent on cars. These communities are not only more convenient, they're also more livable because they tend to have cleaner air and water and more protected open space."
The study examined auto ownership and driving patterns in almost 3,000 neighborhoods in the three metropolitan areas. The authors used the results to construct mathematical models that allow the average number of autos owned and miles driven to be calculated for a household of any given income and size, as long as the neighborhood's density, transit access and pedestrian friendliness are known.
The authors said their findings offer intriguing suggestions for how to design cities to reduce dependence on driving, traffic congestion, energy use, and air and water pollution.
"Over the years, sprawl development has forced us to drive more and more," said John Holtzclaw, the study's lead author and consultant to the NRDC. "Not surprisingly, smarter, more convenient cities resemble the pedestrian and transit oriented cities of our grandparents, which were built before the car dominated our zoning laws and transportation projects."
The study, "Location Efficiency: Neighborhood and Socio-Economic Characteristics Determine Auto Ownership and Use - Studies in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco," appeared in the March 2002 issue of the journal "Transportation Planning and Technology."
The authors note that, after housing, transportation is the second biggest expenditure in the average household budget. This fact can be leveraged to encourage smart growth through a new mortgage product called a Location Efficient Mortgage® or LEM®.
The LEM® allows a homebuyer who purchases a home in a convenient area to qualify for a larger loan. For example, a potential buyer who would avoid $500 in auto costs by living in a convenient area could qualify for a larger mortgage.
"The homebuyer who qualifies for a Location Efficient Mortgage® can invest their auto savings in house payments," said Peter Haas, study co-author and analyst with the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. "That means they get more house for their money in a more livable community."
For more information about the Location Efficient Mortgage®, visit: http://www.locationefficiency.com
Lakeshore Development Affects BirdsANN ARBOR, Michigan,
June 12, 2002 (ENS) - Lakeshore housing development affects breeding bird communities in subtle ways that conventional surveys may miss, suggests a study by researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Property owners can take steps to lessen the effects, the scientists say, writing in the September issue of the journal "Biological Conservation," now available online.
The researchers surveyed breeding birds over a two year period in an area of northern Wisconsin where lakeshore housing development has boomed in recent years.
"The idea was to compare bird communities between pairs of lakes, with one member of each pair being developed and the other undeveloped," said Alec Lindsay, a U-M doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology who collaborated on the work with Sandra Gillum and Michael Meyer of the Wisconsin DNR.
The 16 developed and 16 undeveloped lakes studied were paired due to their similarity in size, amount of shoreline, water chemistry and water source.
The researchers counted birds at six sites around each lake. They also classified each survey site into habitat categories such as open upland, upland forest, forested lowland, upland rural residential or upland rural commercial.
Lindsay and his colleagues assessed the differences in bird communities in a unique way. Instead of classifying the birds they saw and heard by species, they also categorized them by "guilds" or ecological groups.
In this scheme, birds can be classified by how they feed - on the wing or by poking their beaks into bark, for example - where they nest and what they eat. This analysis of guild structure revealed differences between bird communities of developed and undeveloped lakes.
The study showed that insect eating and ground nesting birds were less common around developed lakes, while seed eaters were more prevalent. Birds such as loons that are sensitive to disturbance also were scarcer on developed lakes.
Using more traditional methods of assessing bird communities, such as numbers of birds and numbers of species, the researchers found no differences in bird communities around developed and undeveloped lakes.
"We were surprised that the coarse descriptors [abundance, richness, diversity] were unable to discern the significant impact lakeshore development had on bird communities," said Lindsay. "Had we not done more detailed analyses that considered the ecological significance of birds in these habitats, we would have missed these important but subtle effects of development."
Lindsay speculates that lakeside homeowners' habits of clearing brush, planting lawns, and stocking feeders with birdseed contribute to the differences. Other studies have shown that development leads to increasing numbers of raccoons and domestic cats, which also threaten ground nesting birds and their eggs.
While there is no harm in luring seed eating birds to lakeside property, the loss of insect eaters could cause problems, Lindsay said. Without birds to keep them in check, plant eating insect larvae, such as gypsy moths and tent caterpillars, could cause serious damage to trees.
Lindsay suggested that lake dwellers keep their lawns small, encourage native vegetation, and keep pets away from areas where birds may be nesting or feeding.
Beached Sperm Whale Headed for MuseumNEW BEDFORD, Massachusetts,
June 12, 2002 (ENS) - A 48 foot sperm whale found beached in Nantucket is slated to become a new permanent exhibit at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
The 45 ton whale, discovered last week near Great Point, Nantucket, was emaciated and suffered from widespread joint disease before it died, said Dr. Michael Moore of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the project's director.
"I am not ready to put a name to it, until we have confirmed pathology results and scans," Moore said, "But at this point we now know why it died."
The male sperm whale was towed 65 miles from Nantucket to New Bedford by a tugboat, arriving late Sunday night after a nine hour journey. It then was transported via a large flatbed truck from Hudon Crane and Rigging to the Shawmut Landfill in New Bedford - a town built more than a century ago on the then lucrative whaling industry.
On Monday, scientists began a necropsy in an attempt to determine the cause of death. The soft tissue is being removed and will be buried in the landfill. Moore and his team were hoping to have all of the bones removed from the carcass by late Tuesday, leaving the skull resting on a blubber mattress.
The whale's jaw will be transported to Maritime International, Inc., in New Bedford to be frozen and preserved.
"Until we decide how to treat the jaw and teeth in the next phase of the project, we are stabilizing the gum," said New Bedford Whaling Museum executive director Anne Brengle. Brengle also is contacting St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford to obtain permission to have the whale's flippers X-rayed.
The museum has received tentative permission from the School of Marine Science and Technology of the University of Massachusetts to submerge the skeletal bones off their pier on Clark's Cove in New Bedford. There, ocean creatures such as plankton will clean the bones over the next six months to a year.
"There is more tidal and current action in those waters and therefore it will reduce the number of barnacles that attach to the skeleton," Brengle said.
The skeleton will then put back together and hung in the museum, joining the skeletons of a humpback whale and a blue whale. The New Bedford Whaling Museum, which merged with the Kendall Whaling Museum last year, has been called one of the most comprehensive whaling museums in the world.
Tomato Based Chemical Repels InsectsRALEIGH, North Carolina,
June 12, 2002 (ENS) - A substance produced by tomatoes repels mosquitoes and other insects better than DEET - the chemical most commonly used in insect repellents - says a North Carolina State University scientist.
Work by Dr. Michael Roe, an NC State entomology professor, showed that the natural compound found in tomatoes is so effective at repelling insects that the university has patented the substance. The patent describes how the substance may be used to repel insects.
The university has since licensed the right to produce the substance as an insect repellent to Insect Biotechnology Inc., a Durham company that specializes in developing and marketing biochemical insecticides. Funding for the research was provided in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the NC Biotechnology Center, the NC Agricultural Research Service, and Insect Biotechnology.
Roe and Insect Biotechnology Inc. officials believe the substance, which Insect Biotechnology is calling IBI-246, has the potential to replace DEET as the active ingredient in most insect repellents. It has been shown to repel mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, cockroaches, ants and biting flies, as well as insects that are agricultural pests such as aphids and thrips.
"People have been looking for a competitive product to DEET for 20 years," said Dr. John Bennett, chair and CEO of Insect Biotechnology. "I think this is it."
DEET (short for N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a common chemical developed for the Army in 1946 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered about 230 products containing DEET, and the EPA estimates that one third of the U.S. population uses DEET each year.
While the EPA has found that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population, the use of products containing DEET has been associated with rashes, swelling and itching, eye irritation and, sometimes, slurred speech, confusion and seizures. Products with high concentrations of DEET are considered hazardous to children, and the EPA no longer allows claims on labels of products containing DEET that the product is safe for children.
Recent research at Duke University with rats showed that frequent and prolonged use of DEET caused brain cell death and behavioral changes in the animals.
Roe said the tomato based compound is already used to make cosmetics, so its toxicity has already been studied.
"What this means is that the toxicology has been done, which is a big step toward commercialization," Roe said. "It's found in tomatoes, it's natural, it can be obtained organically, it's safe and it's at least as effective as DEET, all features that the public would want for a new generation insect repellent."
Devil's Canyon Ranch Protected in WyomingLOVELL, Wyoming,
June 12, 2002 (ENS) - The 11,000 acre Devil's Canyon ranch in north-central Wyoming will be protected through an agreement between its owners and the Trust for Public Land (TPL).
The property on the western slope of the Big Horn Mountains is surrounded by public lands, including the Big Horn National Forest, the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, and the Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area. TPL signed an agreement with the owners of the 11,000 acre Devil's Canyon ranch that will preserve the area's natural and historic features and allow recreational access to adjacent federal properties.
The purchase, which will depend on public funding and private contributions, was announced in conjunction with Senator Craig Thomas, a Wyoming Republican. The land will be conveyed to the Bureau of Land Management, said Alan Front, senior vice president of TPL.
"Our goal is to conserve land for people to improve their quality of life and to protect our natural and historic resources for future generations. The Devil's Canyon is an excellent example of that mission," said Front. "This is a nationally significant opportunity to secure and enhance public access to one of Wyoming's most spectacular recreational treasures, conserve habitat for big game animals, and protect some of the state's most awesome scenery."
The property is located about 20 miles northeast of Lovell, Wyoming, in the scenic Little Mountain area.
"The Trust for Public Land, working closely with the Big Horn County Commissioners, have helped develop a positive plan for protecting and enhancing access to one of the most significant parcels of land in the area," said Senator Thomas. "Not only will this acquisition be good for Devil's Canyon, it will also solve a dispute that has kept the sporting public from accessing thousands of acres of adjacent federal properties."
Bacteria Toxin Kills Zebra MusselsITHACA, New York,
June 12, 2002 (ENS) - A common soil bacterium has been shown to produce a toxin that kills non-native zebra mussels.
Research funded by the New York Sea Grant program suggests that the bacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens, could be used to control infestations of zebra mussels in U.S. waterways.
Zebra mussels first were identified in June 1988 in Lake St. Clair, having arrived in the ballast water of ships from Europe. The Sea Grant National Aquatic Nuisance Species Clearinghouse estimates there has been about $1 billion in damages in North America related to the spread of the nonnative mussel, which can cause major problems at electric power generation stations, water treatment plants, in irrigation systems, and other industrial and recreational facilities.
Since 1991, researcher Daniel Molloy has led a Sea Grant supported effort to identify predators, parasites and infectious microbes that can kill zebra mussels. In small trials, Molloy says the bacterium has eliminated 95 percent of the mussels in pipes at a hydropower facility.
The bacterium destroys a digestive gland within the mussel, leading to their death. Because even dead Pseudomonas cells kill zebra mussels, Molloy suspects that the bacterium contains a toxin within its cell walls.
He and his colleagues have conducted preliminary tests indicating that the microbe does not harm untargeted species, including fish and native mussels. They are now working to identify and purify the toxin.
Molloy says the big challenge will be to find a way to produce enough of the bacterium or its toxin for commercial uses.
"This research is the next logical step in the path toward commercialization of the bacterium as an innovative, ecologically safe, and effective zebra mussel control agent," Molloy said.
Zebra mussels have invaded lakes and rivers in 22 states across the U.S. Adult zebra mussels and their larvae can be transported from one body of water to another on boats, trailers and fishing equipment. They can attach to any surface that is not toxic, including rock, metal and other mussels.
Once established, zebra mussels can damage boat motors, clog intakes of water systems, and filter out lake nutrients that feed other organisms. They also drive out native mussels, altering the ecology of freshwater lakes and streams.
Recreational boaters play an important part in keeping bodies of water free from zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species. The Michigan Sea Grant has developed a list of tactics boaters can use to reduce the spread of zebra mussels, including:
Flooded Fields Benefit Ducks, Rice FarmersDAVIS, California,
June 12, 2002 (ENS) - Ducks can help control weeds in flooded rice fields, boosting harvest yields, finds research from the University of California at Davis.
While waterfowl and rice farmers are longtime competitors for areas that once were wetlands, a new study shows that foraging waterfowl in winter flooded rice fields helped control weeds and increase the decomposition of rice straw from the previous season's crop.
"Our results demonstrate that there are instances in which wildlife and agriculture not only can co-exist, but are actually of mutual benefit," said lead researcher Chris van Kessel, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Agronomy and Range Science. "This is a welcome departure from the previous line of thinking that waterfowl and rice farming interests could not equitably share wetland habitats."
In rice fields that were flooded during the winter and open to foraging waterfowl, the researchers found that rice straw decomposed more than 30 percent faster, and grassy weeds in the next growing season decreased by more than 50 percent, compared to flooded rice fields where wildfowl were fenced out. Grain yield was not reduced by the foraging ducks, the study showed.
The report is the first on farm study of the impact of waterfowl on winter flooded rice fields. The study was conducted on 15 winter flooded rice fields along a 65 mile stretch of farmland in the Sacramento Valley. It confirms findings of a study conducted two years ago by UC Davis researchers in experimental plots rather than actual farm fields.
Rice is grown on about 617,500 acres in California, replacing natural wetlands. Since the 1780s, California has lost 90 to 95 percent of its wetlands.
The Sacramento Valley's natural wetlands provide winter habitat for up to 20 percent of all of the waterfowl in North America and up to 60 percent of the wintering waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. The decline in the size of the wetlands has threatened the vitality of those wild populations.
For years, rice farmers burned their fields each fall to get rid of the rice straw left behind after the grain was harvested. Air pollution concerns led to state legislation that now limits rice straw burning to 25 percent of California's total rice acreage, so many farmers have turned to winter flooding as an alternative.
The study, funded by Ducks Unlimited and the USA Rice Federation, is scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal "Agriculture, Ecosystems and the Environment."
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