AmeriScan: June 2, 2005

* * *

Laguna Beach Landslide Smashes Million Dollar Homes

LAGUNA BEACH, California, June 2, 2005 (ENS) - As many as 17 homes worth more than a million dollars apiece were destroyed by a landslide Wednesday morning in Laguna Beach, officials said.

As many as 1,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes as the slow moving slide pushed houses off their foundations in the Southern California community. In the evening, some were permitted to return home.

No fatalities were reported, but five people suffered minor injuries in the incident. Homes cracked in two, streets buckled and split apart, utility poles fell, and cars were smashed.

The cause of the disaster is under investigation, but Ed Harp of the U.S. Geological Survey said it was likely related to the near record winter storms that have pounded the area.

The landslide occurred in Bluebird Canyon, an area of historic slope failures. The same hill that was sheared off yesterday also gave way in October of 1978, when 14 houses were destroyed.

Officials are keeping an eye on other areas of Southern California that could also slide away in delayed reactions to the winter storms. They are watching parts of Laurel Canyon, Culver City and Glendale in Los Angeles County as well as Anaheim Hills and Mission Viejo in Orange County.

Officials are closely observing La Conchita in Ventura County, where a landslide killed 10 people and destroyed 24 homes in January.

* * *

Enviros Permitted to Access Classified Nuclear Information

WASHINGTON, DC, June 2, 2005 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is changing its regulations to expand the categories of people who may seek access to classified information associated with NRC regulated activities to include environmental and public interest organizations.

The categories of facilities that may be authorized to store such information will also be expanded. The regulations will change on July 5, 2005.

An initial version of the revised regulations was published in the Federal Register on December 15, 2004, with an effective date of February 28, 2005. The NRC indicated that if significant adverse comments were received, the revisions would be withdrawn.

Since at least one significant comment was received, the agency withdrew the rule on February 24 to consider the comments, which were contained in a letter from a group of seven national environmental and public interest organizations.

The groups said they were concerned over how the rule would affect members of the public, including environmental and public interest organizations, that plan to seek to intervene in the expected Yucca Mountain licensing proceeding.

As explained in a Federal Register notice published today, the new regulations will allow potential intervenors, such as the environmental and public interest organizations that commented, to seek access authorizations and facility security clearances.

The revisions to the regulations do not affect how information is classified and do not expand the scope of information that can only be obtained by those with access authorizations.

The revisions will allow the agency to process any requests for security clearances from potential intervenors in a hearing for a potential high-level radioactive waste repository and from advanced reactor design vendors.

Before access authorization to classified information is granted, a satisfactory background investigation must be completed, and the individual will be informed that unauthorized disclosure of classified information could result in civil or criminal penalties.

A person seeking access to classified information must, in addition to having a security clearance, have a need to know the particular information being sought, the NRC said.

The amendments also extend the regulations on facility security clearances. Current regulations permit persons and companies associated with NRC-regulated reactors, fuel cycle facilities and independent spent fuel storage installations to seek a facility security clearance to use, store, reproduce, transmit, transport or handle NRC classified information.

The changes allow persons associated with other activities designated by the Commission - such as advanced reactor design vendors - to apply for a facility security clearance.

After considering the public comments, the NRC decided to adopt, without change, the initial version of the revised regulations that was published in the Federal Register on December 15, 2004.

* * *

California, New York, Connecticut Must Use Reformulated Gas

WASHINGTON, DC, June 2, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it will reject petitions made by the states of California, New York and Connecticut to waive the oxygen content requirement for reformulated gasoline (RFG).

Oxygenates added to gasoline makes the fuel burn more cleanly and are required for urban areas that do not meet Clean Air Act standards, by one oxygenate, MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, has contaminated drinking water in many states.

In announcing the action Assistant Administrator of Air Jeff Holmstead explained, "Congress has required the use of oxygenates as part of the clean fuels program and has made it clear that this requirement can only be waived if a state demonstrates that it prevents or interferes with the state's ability to meet national air quality standards. California, New York and Connecticut did not make this demonstration."

The Clean Air Act also requires RFG to contain two percent oxygen by weight. But the law does not specify which oxygenate must be used and most refiners use either ethanol or MTBE. Reformulated gasoline sold in California, New York and Connecticut contains only ethanol, since each state has banned the use of MTBE due to water contamination concerns.

Today's action follows a review of the information submitted by each state in support of its petition. This is the EPA's second response to California, which sued the agency after its denial of the state's original petition in 2001.

Today's decision was made after EPA reviewed new information submitted by California and after EPA scientists and engineers conducted additional analysis to address the 9th Circuit Court's decision to vacate the agency's original denial.

While EPA agrees with California's claim that an oxygen content waiver would lead to a decrease in certain vehicle emissions that contribute to the formation of smog and particulate matter, EPA concludes that the overall impact on emissions is "slight."

The agency found that total volatile organic compound (VOC) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are likely to decrease with a waiver, while carbon monoxide (CO) emissions are likely to increase.

The EPA found that neither New York nor Connecticut submitted the technical data necessary for the agency to determine what impact the waiver would have on emissions and air quality. Without this information, EPA could not evaluate whether the oxygen content requirement prevents or interferes with attainment of the smog or particulate matter standards, and therefore denied their waiver requests.

The Bush administration supports efforts by Congress to remove the oxygen requirement from the RFG program and replace it with a flexible national renewable fuels program.

"This legislation would provide California, Connecticut, New York and other RFG areas the relief they are seeking through these waiver requests without compromising the benefits of clean fuel," said Holmstead.

For more information on this action and the national RFG program, visit: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/rfg_regs.htm#waiver

* * *

Cancer Victim Awarded $3.4 Million in Asbestos Trial

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 2, 2005 (ENS) - A San Francisco jury has delivered a $3.4 million verdict in favor of Ralph Pierce, a 70-year old retired machine operator suffering from colon cancer due to exposure to asbestos on the job. Asbestos is a fibrous mineral commonly used until the mid-1970s in insulation, fireproofing material and in cement pipes.

The amount was for economic and non–economic damages as well as for past and future medical expenses. Judge Mary Wiss presided over the week trial in San Francisco Superior Court.

Pierce was employed with the West Contra Costa County Wastewater District from 1972 through 1997. During this time, he worked with cement pipe containing asbestos manufactured by the defendant, Certainteed Corporation. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003.

Internal company documents showed that Certainteed Corporation knew of the dangers of asbestos since before the mid-1960s when company representatives attended symposia presented by Dr. Irving Selikoff concerning the cancer risks posed by asbestos.

Their knowledge pre–dated Pierce’s exposure to Certainteed asbestos products by more than seven years. Despite this, Certainteed never gave warnings about asbestos until 1985, long after Pierce had been exposed to the asbestos.

The jury found that Certainteed Corporation made defective cement pipe and failed to warn Pierce that it contained asbestos or was hazardous. It concluded that Pierce’s exposure to the pipe was a cause of his colon cancer.

“We are thankful that Mr. Pierce got the opportunity to present his case in court,” said attorney Gilbert Purcell, who represented Pierce in court. “The verdict shows at least two things - that trials work, and that access to courts is essential to achieve and maintain corporate accountability. Without the courts, companies can duck responsibility for their wrongful conduct."

Purcell used the verdict as an opportunity to speak out against legislation making its way through Congress that would shield manufacturers and insurers from asbestos lawsuits.

"The legislative one–size–fits–all asbestos bailout bills that are presently in Congress work injustice in ways that juries can check, as was done in this case," Purcell said. "The public, which is comprised of innocent individuals like Mr. Pierce, wins with access to courts.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee on May 26 approved a bill that would create a $140 billion trust fund to compensate people sickened by exposed to asbestos. Asbestos has tiny fibers that can cause cancer and other illnesses when inhaled. The diseases can take decades to emerge.

As part of the trust fund legislation deal, victims of asbestos-related illnesses would relinquish their right to sue.

* * *

Hawaii to Research Aquifer System Yields

HONOLULU, Hawaii, June 2, 2005 (ENS) - The state of Hawaii is embarking on a research project to monitor how much water is being drawn from aquifers beneath the surface of the islands.

Groundwater basal aquifers currently provide the citizens of Hawaii and the millions of visitors to the state each year with over 90 percent of their drinking water, as well as water for irrigation and other uses.

Most potable groundwater sources do not require treatment. But stream or surface water, because it flows over land making it more susceptible to contamination, requires expensive treatment for potable use.

Department of Land and Natural Resources' (DLNR) Commission on Water Resource Management at its May 25, 2005 meeting, authorized Chairperson, Peter Young, to enter into a research agreement with the University of Hawaii at Manoa for a project to test and apply a model for estimating sustainable yields of 16 aquifer systems on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii and Molokai.

Sustainable yield is defined as the maximum rate at which water may be withdrawn from a water source without impairing the utility or quality of the water source.

Most surface water sources, at one time used for potable purposes and now used mainly for agriculture irrigation, have been replaced by wells.

Over the years, DLNR has drilled 10 deep monitor wells on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii, to observe properties of ground-water basal aquifers. In addition to the DLNR wells, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply and the United States Geological Survey also have deep monitor wells.

These scientific wells provide data about changes within the aquifer and provide the Water Commission with a better understanding of the basal freshwater aquifer, transition zone - the layer mixed with fresh and salt water - and the denser saline zone beneath. The wells allow for a complete profile of the water column from fresh to salt water.

s "As stewards of the State's water resources, we must continually revisit and refine our estimates of ground water availability as new technology and data become available," said Young.

"Having current, accurate information, including data from deep monitor wells, is critical to understanding our ground water supply. It will affect management decisions on land use, population and industry growth for years to come," he said.

The research findings will be used to more accurately determine sustainable yield for aquifers without deep monitor wells.

The new sustainable yield values, upon its adoption by the Water Commission, will be incorporated within the updated Water Resource Protection Plan, which is slated for completion next year.

For more information about DLNR's deep monitor wells and monitoring program, visit their website at: http://www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/cwrm/index.html

* * *

Santa Cruz Fuels Up With an Urban Crop, Waste Cooking Oil

SANTA CRUZ, California, June 2, 2005 (ENS) - A group of business and government organizations in Santa Cruz is using a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to convert restaurant wastes into biodiesel fuel for area transit systems.

The grant went to Ecology Action of Santa Cruz, which has teamed up with city of Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transportation District and the Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Restaurant Association. The project also includes a waste vegetable oil collector and Pacific Biodiesel, Inc. a biodiesel producer and supplier.

Restaurants generate large amounts of waste vegetable oil which can be readily converted into biodiesel fuel suitable for all diesel vehicles. The biodiesel fuel produced by the project will be distributed and sold to local public sector fleets such as Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transportation District.

The group also plans to use the EPA grant to demonstrate the economic viability of a community biodiesel collection, production and distribution chain using locally generated waste vegetable oil – something that is currently underutilized.

“We are excited to be simultaneously encouraging alternative fuel use, reduced air pollution, and increased diversion of wastes from landfills,” said Jeff Scott, director of the Waste Division in the EPA’s Pacific Southwest office. “We hope this community-based project will be a model ultimately replicated across the country.”

While many public diesel fleet operators want to switch to biodiesel, current high costs and low availability limits its market share. This pilot project focuses on places without ready access to an affordable agricultural crop as the primary feedstock for biodiesel.

Project participants will collect local waste oil and process it into biodiesel for distribution and sale to local public sector fleets. Biodiesel and biodiesel blends can be used without modifying existing diesel engines.

Waste minimization will be achieved by recycling the waste cooking oil. Air quality will be enhanced by burning biodiesel in place of petroleum diesel fuel, which will reduce particulate, and carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide emissions.

Water quality will be improved because the increased market value of waste cooking oil decreases the likelihood of its improper disposal into sewers, storm drains and waterways, reducing watershed and storm runoff pollution.

Restaurants and hotels in the United States produce over three billion gallons of waste cooking oil annually, the majority of which is disposed of in sewers and landfills. According to the EPA, waste oil dumped into sewers blocks drains and pipes and causes 40 percent of sewer spills.

* * *

U.S. and Australian Scientists Find New Underwater Volcano

SAN DIEGO, California, June 2, 2005 (ENS) - A team of scientists led by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, has discovered an active underwater volcano near the Samoan Island chain.

During a research cruise to study the Samoan hot spot, scientists uncovered a submarine volcano growing within the summit crater of another larger underwater volcano called Vailulu'u.

Researchers exploring a unique biological community surrounding the site were amazed to find an "Eel City" filled with hundreds of eels.

This new volcano, dubbed Nafanua after the Samoan goddess of war, did not exist fours years ago, according to Scripps geologist Hubert Staudigel and Stan Hart, a geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

With a growth rate of at least eight inches per day, the volcanic cone has rapidly emerged since the scientists' last expedition to this area in May 2001. Nafanua now stands at 300 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet.

"To have a documented case of an underwater volcano that has emerged within a short period of time is very rare. This is one of those cases," said Staudigel.

Within decades, continued growth of Nafanua could bring the summit of this volcano from its current depth of 600 meters to a depth of approximately 200 meters - close enough to the sea's surface that it could provide a potential hazard to ocean navigation and coastal communities.

These hazards may include the explosive reaction of red-hot lava and seawater, or tsunamis that may be caused by the collapse of the newly built volcano.

"It is a good idea for us to keep our eye on this area, but there is no real reason for concern about immediate danger," Staudigel said.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Australian Research Council. The discovery included investigators from oceanographic institutions in the U.S. and Australia.

"This active submarine volcano-within-a-volcano is an exciting find, and will yield a variety of geological and biological discoveries in the future," said Rodey Batiza, program director in NSF's division of ocean sciences, which funded the research.

Existing maps of the seafloor in the area gave little indication that this volcano existed.

Scientists were found the volcano when they profiled the seafloor of the Vailulu'u crater using multi-beam mapping. When sound beams were directed into the crater, they measured an unusually shallow depth.

These results prompted further investigation of the area using the manned submersible Pisces V, which has the capability to dive to depths of more than 6,000 feet and is operated by NOAA's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory.

The water surrounding the volcanic cone is extremely turbid due to hydrothermal activity. The vigorous vents that produce this volcanic "fog" are obscured, according to Staudigel. Although visibility from the submersible was less than 10 feet, the researchers were able to observe the unique biological community surrounding the newly formed volcanic cone.

Much of Nafanua is covered with yellow "fluff," microbial aggregations that are produced by microscopic life feeding on chemical energy from the volcano's hydrothermal system.

As the scientists explored this area, they discovered large communities of eels inhabiting the fragile cavernous rock pillars surrounding hydrothermal vents. As the submarine landed near this area, scores of eels, each approximately a foot long, emerged from the rock caves and crevices.

"At this point we do not know why we found such extensive eel communities surrounding this volcano," said Staudigel. "It's a mystery that we hope to learn more about on future cruises."

* * *