AmeriScan: June 8, 2005

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EPA Sued Over Million Farm Kids Exposed to Pesticides

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 8, 2005 (ENS) - A coalition of farm workers, environmental and public health groups filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday, charging the agency with ignoring the special risk to children growing up surrounded by chemical poisons on farms.

"Children of farm workers breathe pesticides that drift from the fields, and they often live, play, and go to school right next to pesticide-treated orchards," said Erik Nicholson of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, which represents tens of thousands of farm workers whose families can be exposed to pesticides. "It’s common sense to protect our kids, but EPA is ignoring them."

The plaintiffs charge that the EPA has failed to consider farm kids’ heightened exposure risks when setting allowable pesticide standards for food.

More than a million children of farm workers live near farms in this country, and more than 300,000 farmers’ children under the age of six live on farms. These children are exposed to hazardous pesticides, from their food, the air, soil and water, and from the clothes of their parents, according to a growing body of scientific evidence.

Children are especially vulnerable to toxic effects of pesticides on their developing brains, and bodies.

The plaintiffs say the EPA is ignoring scientific evidence that farm children face increased health risks because of pesticide exposure.

The groups point to scientific studies that find children are more vulnerable to pesticide exposure than adults, in part because their bodies and brains are still developing.

They also eat more fruits and vegetables and drink more water for their size, and have more hand-to-mouth contact with dust, dirt and floors. They come into contact with pesticides that drift from fields into their homes, play areas and schools.

When parents return from fields, their children are exposed to hazards simply from touching their clothing, hair and skin. Farm children often play near recently sprayed fields and sometimes swim in irrigation canals filled with water contaminated with pesticides.

Pesticide exposure is linked to neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, reduced cognitive functioning and reduced coordination; developmental delays in infants and children; reproductive harms, such as infertility, stillbirths, birth defects and musculoskeletal defects; and cancer, including brain tumors, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sarcoma and Wilm’s tumor, the groups point out.

In October 1998, the plaintiffs petitioned EPA to identify farm children as meriting special consideration. The groups are suing the federal agency for failing to respond to the petition within a reasonable amount of time.

"We can no longer wait patiently while we hear every day from communities and individuals directly affected by toxic pesticides," said Margaret Reeves, Ph.D., senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America. "It’s time to light a fire under EPA to force it to act to protect farm children’s health."

The lawsuit is being filed against EPA and its administrator, Stephen Johnson, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The plaintiffs are Pesticide Action Network North America; United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO; the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Clean Water Action; and Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.

Farmworker Justice Fund and NRDC are serving as co-counsel for the plaintiffs who are asking the court to rule that the EPA’s failure to respond to their 1998 petition was unlawful and to compel the agency to respond within 90 days.

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Weakened Mine Safety for Diesel Fumes Angers Miners' Union

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, June 8, 2005 (ENS) - The United Steelworkers, representing the majority of unionized metal, mineral and stone miners in the United States, criticized the U.S. Department of Labor Tuesday for weakening the Mine Safety and Health Administration's 2001 standard for diesel fumes underground.

"Diesel fumes cause cancer and lung disease," said United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard. "Without good controls, working in an underground mine can be like working in the tailpipe of a bus. We thought we were making progress under the 2001 standard. But this revision threatens the health of miners."

In a final rule published May 23, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) changed the standards for diesel particulate matter exposure in underground metal and nonmetal mines, a term that includes all mines other than coal. Coal mining is subject to a different standard.

The final rule increases flexibility of compliance for mine operators, but retains the prohibition on rotation of miners for compliance.

The rule requires the agency to consider economic as well as technological feasibility in determining if mine operators qualify for an extension of time in which to meet the final diesel particulate matter limit, and it deletes the requirement for a control plan.

A key part of the revision makes the union especially angry, where the new standard expands situations under which mine operators are allowed to use respirators, instead of engineering controls.

The MSHA removes the 2001 prohibition against use of respiratory protection without approval by the Secretary of Labor and clarifies that use of administrative controls other than rotation of miners is allowed.

"This final rule does not include provisions for written procedures for administrative controls, a written respiratory protection program, medical examination of miners before they are required to wear respiratory protection, and medical transfer of miners who are unable to wear respiratory protection for medical and psychological reasons," the rule states.

The union says MSHA did not require operators to test workers for their ability to use a respirator safely, although such testing is required by federal health standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This testing is recommended by every major industrial hygiene and occupational medical organization and by the National institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the union points out.

"Miners with undiagnosed heart or lung problems can be severely harmed by the extra breathing resistance from respirators," the union warns.

"MSHA standards are supposed to save lives," said Gerard, "not threaten them."

The union said it will challenge this part of the rule in court.

Mike Wright, the United Steelworkers's director of health, safety and environment, said that a miner who was tested and found unable to safely wear a respirator, would be entitled to a job transfer at full pay.

"That's why the Department of Labor doesn't want medical testing," he said. "It's just a gift to their supporters in the mining industry. It's entirely political, and I suspect the decision was made over the objections of the MSHA health staff, who certainly know better."

At the same time, Wright said, "MSHA found engineering controls to be feasible in almost every circumstance. On that issue, they got it right. We will insist that they back up that finding with vigorous enforcement."

The United Steelworkers represents 850,000 workers in the United States and Canada, and is the largest industrial union in North America.

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Oil Firms Pay $1.32 Million for Fouling Wind River Reservation Water

DENVER, Colorado, June 8, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have reached a settlement with three businesses for violations of environmental laws on tribal lands in Wyoming.

BP America Production Co., CamWest, Inc. and CamWest Limited Partnership allegedly violated the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and Oil Pollution Act on the Lander and Winkleman Dome Oil Fields in Fremont County, within the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes.

Violations included underground injection, oil containment, and surface water discharges that contaminated tribal drinking water. The settlement obtained penalties and supplemental environmental projects totaling $1.327 million.

The consent decree was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming last week, with CamWest paying a fine of $487,352 and initiating supplemental environmental projects worth $429,621.

BP, formerly known as Amoco Production Co., was fined $115,138, and will pay for supplemental environmental projects worth $295,335.

“The EPA is gratified that everyone involved in the negotiations focused on solutions and settlement,” said Carol Rushin, Region 8 assistant administrator, Office of Enforcement, Compliance and Environmental Justice. “The supplemental environmental projects will provide significant environmental improvements to the tribal drinking water systems.”

The supplemental environmental projects involve the purchase and installation of piping and other equipment to upgrade water treatment facilities, providing better quality and quantity of drinking water to tribal members on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal governments, utility organizations, tribal attorneys, and the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission provided cooperation and input on the supplemental environmental projects, the federal agencies said.

Through the course of the negotiations, CamWest achieved nearly complete compliance at the Lander and Winkleman Dome Oil Fields, the EPA said. CamWest transferred operation of the oil fields to a group of companies and individuals in conjunction with the settlement.

“Today’s outcome demonstrates what we can accomplish when both sides come to the table and create a settlement that is good for area citizens and their environment,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kelly Johnson.

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Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Focus of Conservation Lawsuit

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, June 8, 2005 (ENS) - , June 8, 2005 (ENS) - Two conservation groups have filed suit in U.S. District Court in Louisiana challenging a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) management plan for Gulf of Mexico red snapper.

The Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) and the Ocean Conservancy alleged in their suit, filed Friday, that after seven years in the making, the plan does nothing to restore red snapper.

The groups say red snapper have suffered for many years in the Gulf of Mexico due to government delays and an inadequate management regime. The plan does not end overfishing of the species nor does it help to rebuild the species’ population to healthy levels as required by federal law, they charge.

“Approval of the red snapper do-nothing plan marks an all-time low for NMFS. It is apparent the agency is not focused on conserving and managing red snapper for the long-term,” said Aaron Viles, fisheries campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network. “This shows that NMFS will continue to allow as much red snapper as possible to be caught, even if that means putting the species at risk.”

"The Gulf species was first identified as depleted back in 1989. The law required NMFS to end overfishing and start rebuilding red snapper many years ago; it has failed to do so,” said Earthjustice attorney Steve Roady, who is representing the Gulf Restoration Network along with attorney Robert Wiygul of Biloxi, Mississippi.

Since 1997, red snapper has been listed as overfished with overfishing still occurring in every Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries, a document that lists which U.S. fish resources are at risk.

“Red snapper ranks as one of our nation’s greatest fishery management horror stories," said Chris Dorsett, Gulf of Mexico Fish Conservation Director for the Ocean Conservancy. "For the past 10 years NMFS has consistently approved catch limits that violate the recommendations of its scientific advisors and allowed the continued slaughter of young red snapper by the shrimp fishery resulting in a red snapper population that is now at seven percent of its historic abundance.”

The much higher value of shrimp in the marketplace may have something to do with red snapper fisheries policy over the past 10 years.

A Texas Sea Grant College Program seafood marketing specialist estimated in 1996 that the Texas shrimp catch had an average annual value of $166 million. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates that the value of the commercial red snapper fishery in Texas in 1995 was just under $2 million.

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High Gasoline Prices Worry Most Americans

ISLANDIA, New York, June 8, 2005 (ENS) - The majority of Americans, 88 percent, say that rising gasoline prices are a concern for them and their household budgets, according to the Cambridge Consumer Credit Index.

A year ago, the overall level of concern was the same, but slightly more Americans thought high gas prices were a major concern than think so today, the credit corporation said after the results of its latest monthly poll.

The monthly nationwide telephone polls of more than 800 adults are conducted by International Communications Research. The most recent survey was made last week, and was sponsored by the Debt Relief Clearinghouse.

Over half of those polled, 54 percent, say that high energy prices are a major concern, 34 percent say high gas prices are a minor concern, and 10 percent are not concerned about the level of gas prices.

Asked if they will need to make sacrifices or cut back on their spending to offset the higher cost of gasoline exactly half said yes, three percentage points fewer than in June 2004.

“The results of the Cambridge Consumer Index wildcard question indicate that even though gas prices have risen sharply in the past year, slightly fewer Americans are feeling pinched," said Jordan Goodman, spokesperson and financial analyst for the Cambridge Consumer Credit Index.

"Two percent fewer Americans feel the higher gas prices are a major concern and three percent fewer will need to cut back their spending compared to June 2004," Goodman said. "This is an indication that the economy has improved and consumer finances are generally in better shape now than a year ago."

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37 Exceptional Trails Added to the National Trails System

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2005 (ENS) - Located on the eastern edge of Arivaca, Arizona, a wheelchair accessible, backcountry trail extends over a mile in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The Arivaca Cienega Trail takes its name from the Cienegas it skirts - Spanish for 100 waters. These spring fed marshes are rare in the deserts of Arizona, and they attract subtropical birds such as tropical kingbirds, green kingfishers, and the yellow-billed cuckoo.

The Arivaca Cienega Trail is one of 37 new National Recreation Trails in 23 states designated by Interior Secretary Gale Norton as part of the National Trails System, to mark National Trails Day on Saturday.

National trails provide an excellent opportunity for visitors to public lands "to reconnect with nature and stay active and healthy in the process," said Norton, who is responsible for the BLM, a Department of Interior agency.

In 1968, Congress established the National Trails System and designated the first national trails. But once national trails are designated, they must be maintained or they will never survive to become historic trails.

Inaugurated under the Clinton administration in 1993, this year National Trails Day attracted an estimated one million people nationwide to events such as guided hikes, bike rides, and volunteer trail clean up projects.

Said Norton, "National Trails Day has become an important event each year for promoting trails nationwide, especially National Recreation Trails and other components of the National Trails System."

National Recreation Trail designation is an honor given to existing trails that have been nominated and meet the requirements for connecting people to local resources and improving their quality of life. The National Trails System Act of 1968 encourages the Secretary of the Interior to recognize existing community trails that qualify as additions to the National Trails System.

In Alaska, Secretary Norton designated the Perseverance Trail, a three mile backcountry trail located in Juneau, that started as the first road in Alaska, linking the Gastineau Channel with mines and mills in the Silverbow Basin.

In Florida, a designation was applied to the Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail, a 105 mile water trail along Florida's Gulf Coast that winds through one of the longest and wildest publicly owned coastal wetlands in the United States.

In Pennsylvania, the Oil Creek State Park Multi-Use Trail located within a two hour drive of Pittsburgh, is now designated as part of the National Recreation Trails system. This trail extends more than nine miles through the heart of Pennsylvania's Oil Heritage Region and links to the oldest producing oil well in the world.

Locate all of the National Recreation Trails online at a site hosted by American Trails: http://tutsan.forest.net/trails/default.htm

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Airlines Required to Report Animal Loss, Injury, Death

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2005 (ENS) - As of June 15, commercial airlines will be required to publicly report incidents involving the loss, injury, or death of an animal during transport. Previously, incidents were included in lost baggage reports.

The reports will be made public through the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) monthly publication Air Travel Consumer Report, available online at: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/reports/.

According to the DOT, more than "two million pets and live animals are transported by air every year in the United States."

The Humane Society of the United States has received complaints from across the country about animals who were lost, injured or died due to extreme heat or cold temperatures, lack of oxygen, or rough handling while being transported in commercial airline cargo holds, the organization says.

"With the summer travel season upon us, the publishing of this final rule is welcome news, but it is most likely going to take some time for these new procedures to run smoothly," said Kelly Connolly, issues specialist for the companion animals division of The HSUS.

Despite the new requirements, The HSUS still recommends avoiding the transport of pets in airplane cargo holds "unless absolutely necessary, given the dangers of such travel."

The HSUS believes that leaving a pet at home or at a responsible boarding kennel is the safest thing to do, but people do sometimes fly with companion animals.

"If taking your pet on an airplane is unavoidable, planning and research should be done well in advance of actually booking a flight, and we recommend that every effort is made to bring pets into the cabin of the plane when flying," the HSUS said.

"This reporting requirement will help consumers compare airlines' safety track records on carrying animals," said Mimi Brody, federal affairs director for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). "People will now be better equipped to understand the risks of flying their pets. We hope this new accountability will also encourage airlines to do all they can to ensure safe handling for animals entrusted to their care."

Because of the new rule, consumers should now file complaints directly with the airlines they used in the event of an animal incident while flying. Consumers may also want to fill out an air travel incident report and follow guidelines available at: www.hsus.org.

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