AmeriScan: June 23, 2006

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California's San Andreas Fault Stressed for Next Big Earthquake

SAN DIEGO, California, June 23, 2006 (ENS) - A researcher investigating California's San Andreas Fault finds the fault's southern, highly populated section has been stressed to a level sufficient for the "next big one," an earthquake of magnitude seven or greater.

Yuri Fialko of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego says her new study shows that the risk of a large earthquake in this region may be increasing faster than researchers had believed previously.

"For the public the most important result of this study is that these data show definitively that the fault is a significant seismic hazard and is primed for another big earthquake," said Fialko, an associate professor at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps.

Historical records show that the San Andreas Fault experienced massive earthquakes in 1857 at its central section and in 1906 at its northern segment - the San Francisco earthquake.

The southern section of the fault, however, has not seen a similar rupture in at least 300 years.

Although seismologists have not been able to predict when a great earthquake will occur on the southern San Andreas, most believe such an event is inevitable.

Fialko has produced the clearest evidence to date of the strain buildup that will ultimately result in a large earthquake along the southern San Andreas Fault, a 100-mile segment that cuts through Palm Springs, San Bernardino and Riverside. Such an event would be felt in the major populated areas of Los Angeles and San Diego.

Fialko's study, which appears in the June 22 edition of the journal "Nature," involves an analysis of several data sources that help depict the movements of the San Andreas Fault. One result of the study shows that the southern section of the fault is overdue in its "interseismic period," or cycle of earthquake activity.

"All these data suggest that the fault is ready for the next big earthquake but exactly when the triggering will happen and when the earthquake will occur we cannot tell. It could be tomorrow or it could be 10 years or more from now," said Fialko.

Earth's surface is divided into several large tectonic plates separated by fault zones. The San Andreas Fault, which spans nearly 800 miles through western California from near the Salton Sea north to near Cape Mendocino, divides the slow but steady movement of the North American plate, which moves southeasterly relative to the neighboring Pacific plate.

When plates slide past each other, which seismologists call "creep," strain accumulates less than when plates "lock" and stress loads continue to escalate, increasing the prospects of an eventual fault rupture and earthquake.

One unusual result that emerged from Fialko's study is that the two sides of the fault are behaving differently, with the North American plate showing flexibility in its movement patterns and the Pacific plate demonstrating more rigid characteristics, akin to a giant unbending block.

Another surprising result concerned the San Jacinto Fault, a lesser known Southern California fault yet one of the most significant branches of the San Andreas system. Fialko's analysis of the San Jacinto Fault, which winds through populated areas in San Bernardino, Riverside and Borrego Springs, found that it is moving at roughly twice the speed of previous estimates and thereby its propensity for earthquakes is greatly enhanced.

While the San Andreas is at risk for an earthquake of magnitude eight or higher, the San Jacinto Fault has an even greater risk for a slightly smaller earthquake of magnitude seven, which still falls into the category of a major earthquake.

The National Science Foundation and the Southern California Earthquake Center supported Fialko's research for this study. The data were provided by the European Space Agency and Southern California Integrated GPS Network.

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House Democrats' Bill Would Cut Greenhouse Gases 80 Percent By 2050

WASHINGTON, DC, June 23, 2006 (ENS) - Congressman Maurice Hinchey of New York and Congressman Henry Waxman of California, with other Democratic House members, have introduced legislation that would require a steep cut in the U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

The Safe Climate Act of 2006, introduced Tuesday, would require an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.

"The consequences of global warming are far too serious and profound for this Congress and White House to continue to bury their heads in the sand and ignore this growing problem," Hinchey said.

The legislation would set targets for greenhouse gas reductions and require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy to establish national standards that will freeze greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 at the 2009 levels.

Beginning in 2011, emissions would be cut by roughly two percent a year until 2020.

After 2020, the reduction targets would increase to five percent each year until 2050, when emissions would be reduced from 1990 levels by 80 percent.

This is a similar goal to those announced by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"The United States has a moral obligation to take a leadership role in this urgent global issue, which will have serious environmental, economic and social impacts if it is ignored.

The bill would allow a cap and trade program to create an overall reduction in emissions as well as require specific increases in electricity generated by renewable energy sources and use of energy efficiency technology.

It would also require the EPA to set new fuel economy standards for automobiles that are at least as stringent as California standards, which are some of the toughest in the nation.

Finally, it would require a periodic review by the National Academy of Sciences to gauge the country's progress toward curbing the production of greenhouse pollutants and avoiding dangerous climate change.

"This legislation is a critical step forward in the U.S.'s efforts to assert leadership on this important issue. We already have the technological capacity to address global warming by significantly lowering greenhouse gas emissions, but unfortunately the Republican leadership in Washington has thus far lacked the political will to advance that ability.

"For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we must seriously address global warming today before it's too late," he said.

Hinchey and his colleagues noted that the scientific community has arrived at an overwhelming consensus that humans are causing global warming, posing serious risks to the United States and the entire world.

A global temperature increase of only a few degrees Fahrenheit could cause the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and polar ice caps, raising sea levels by more than 20 feet inundating heavily populated coastal areas, scientists have warned.

Including increases in heat waves and droughts as well as the growing intensity and frequency of serious storm events are already occurring, the Democrats point out.

Scientists have also documented rising sea levels, rapid retreats of glaciers and polar ice, declines in mountain snow pack, increases in drought-related wildfires, stronger hurricanes, ocean acidification, extensive coral bleaching, and the migrations and shifts in the yearly cycles of plants and animals.

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EPA Lets Factory Farms Decide If They Need Clean Water Permits

WASHINGTON, DC, June 23, 2006 (ENS) - Factory farms could decide if they need a federal permit to discharge animal waste into lakes, rivers and streams under a proposal issued Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency said the proposed rule "furthers the statutory goal of restoring and maintaining the nationís water quality," but critics contend it lets some of the nationís largest polluters off the hook.

"The EPA has been completely cowed by the factory farm lobby," said Jon Devine, a senior attorney with NRDC. "Instead of doing its job to regulate polluters, it chickened out and decided to let polluters police themselves Ė if they want to."

The proposal targets the nationís 18,800 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which have come to dominate the nationís production of beef, pork and poultry.

Some of the largest facilities have capacities that exceed one million animals and EPA estimates the nationís CAFOs produce some 500 million tons of animal waste annually.

CAFOs store waste in massive open-air lagoons or dispose of it on land - spills and runoff can contaminate drinking water supplies, kill fish and spread disease.

The agencyís proposal is a revision to a 2003 rule that was challenged in court by environmentalists and blocked by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals federal court in 2005.

The court found the 2003 regulations violated the Clean Water Act and failed to ensure concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) would be held accountable for discharging animal wastes into the nationís waters.

The court described the regulations as "arbitrary and capricious" and said the Clean Water Act "demands regulation in fact, not only in principle."

The revised proposal allows CAFO operators to define what constitutes pollution discharge and to decide if they should apply for a Clean Water permit.

If the operators that land apply manure, litter or processed wastewater decide the discharge from their facilities is only "agricultural stormwater," they do not need to apply for a permit, according to the proposed rule.

Operators who do apply for permits would be required to submit a nutrient management plan that would be available for public comment.

CAFOs "would continue to be required to properly manage the manure they generate" under the proposal, according to the EPA.

NRDC attorney Melanie Shepherdson said the agency is "abdicating its responsibility to protect the public."

Shepherdson said factory farms are polluting waterways in at least 29 states and the EPA proposal will do little to change this. "We canít reduce and prevent pollution when the EPA is giving polluters a free pass," she said.

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FDA Rule May Not Keep Biotech Allergens, Toxins Out of Food Supply

WASHINGTON, DC, June 23, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidance to the biotechnology industry Thursday that it says will help prevent the inadvertent introduction of allergens or toxins into the United States food and feed supply through the cultivation of genetically engineered plants that could contaminate other crops.

Genetic engineering can alter the proteins of a plant, which "would involve the potential that a new protein could in some people cause an allergic reaction, or be a toxin in people or animals," the FDA said.

Being careful to say that the FDA "has not found, and does not believe, that new plant varieties under development for food and feed use generally pose any safety or regulatory concerns," the agency nevertheless says biotech crop developers "would voluntarily provide FDA with information about the food safety of new proteins at a relatively early stage of development of the new crops."

The agency said material from new plant varieties under development could possibly enter the food supply at "low levels" and considers it a "remote possibility."

But critics say the new policy condones contamination of the food supply by experimental genetically engineered crops.

The Center for Food Safety based in Washington, DC, said, "As the biotechnology industry conducts more open-air field tests of increasingly complex and risky genetic transformations in common foods, contamination of the food supply through pollen drift and other avenues becomes more likely. Yet today's final FDA guidance on "early food safety evaluation" of GE crops sanctions contamination of the food supply, and establishes no requirements for comprehensive safety testing of experimental GE varieties."

"FDA has refused to require labeling or safety testing of the gene-altered foods in our markets, and now they say it's okay to have genes from pre-market crop experiments hidden in our foods," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety. "The agency is clearly committed to putting the biotech industry's interests ahead of food safety."

Two weeks ago, the Center for Food Safety sued the FDA for its failure to regulate GE foods.

In its new guidance, the agency recommends that once a company has decided to commercialize a particular crop, each developer should participate in FDA's voluntary premarket consultation procedures.

To date, all new biotechnology developed plant varieties intended to be used for food and feed in the United States have completed these consultation procedures before they entered the market, the FDA said.

FDA published a draft guidance document for comment on November 24, 2004. The final guidance is entitled "Guidance for Industry: Recommendations for the Early Food Safety Evaluation of New Non-Pesticidal Proteins Produced by New Plant Varieties Intended for Food Use."

The full text of the guidance can be found online at: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/guidance.asp.

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Ohio Encourages Incentives to Reduce Phosphorus in Streams

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 23, 2006 (ENS) - The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public comments on draft rules that would help reduce phosphorus from the state's waters by offering incentives to dischargers.

The new rules would allow municipalities and farmers to develop incentive packages to help reduce phosphorus in Ohio's streams.

Although water quality throughout the state is improving, excess nutrients, particularly phosphorus, are the second largest cause of water pollution in Ohio, after excess silt.

Phosphorus enters streams from nonpoint sources such as runoff from agriculture fields and more directly from human wastewater. Sometimes wastewater comes from failing septic systems and leach beds; other times it is discharged from wastewater treatment plants.

The Ohio EPA does not regulate phosphorus application to farm fields.

But the agency does regulate wastewater treatment plants and has added phosphorus removal requirements in many new wastewater discharge permits and recent permit renewals.

Recognizing that these phosphorus removal requirements are costly to implement, the agency has written the draft rules to allow wastewater dischargers to work within their communities to reduce excess nutrient levels in the streams from unregulated sources.

Working with a third party, such as a conservancy district or soil and water conservation district, wastewater dischargers could pay farmers within their watershed to use less phosphorus or apply it in ways that do not cause severe runoff.

Paying a third party to offer farmers incentives to reduce phosphorus runoff would yield water quality benefits at a lower cost to wastewater treatment plants.

The owners of wastewater treatment facilities must be able to show how paying for these practices improves stream quality. In exchange, they would be allowed to delay reducing their own facility's phosphorus outputs.

At this time, the Ohio EPA is soliciting initial public input regarding the draft rules and will accept comments until June 30, 2006.

Comments or requests to be placed on a mailing list for more information about this proposal, may be sent to Gary Stuhlfauth, Ohio EPA, Division of Surface Water, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, OH 43216-1049 or by email to: gary.stuhlfauth@epa.state.oh.us.

After reviewing comments received, the agency will propose rules for adoption. That will begin a second comment period which will include one or more public hearings. After the close of the second comment period, the agency will review the comments, make any necessary changes and then adopt final rules.

The Ohio EPA expects to file the proposed rules for adoption in late summer. The final rules could be adopted by the end of December.

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Sewer Hog Water Jet Cleans Oakland Pipe in Quick Time

OAKLAND, California, June 23, 2006 (ENS) - In April, in the core of the downtown business district, the Oakland Public Works Agency completed a massive sewer cleaning project, and few people noticed.

Using a new high power water jetting system called Sewer Hog, Oakland-based V&A Consulting Engineers coordinated the removal of sediment deposits up to three feet deep from a 66" diameter sewer beneath 20th Street in record time, without interrupting service and without the noisy machinery, exposed sewage piping and rank odor that usually accompany such jobs.

"They operated for a week," says PWA project manager Gunawan Santoso, P.E., "and we didnít have a single complaint."

Some passers-by were curious about the 60 foot array of red machinery, but the noise from the jetterís 600-hp engine was not much louder than a passing bus, and the operation was odor-free.

The cleanout was part of a condition assessment intended to assure that the existing sewer system will be adequate for the rapidly growing neighborhood, explains engineer Jose Villalobos, V&Aís president and CEO. Sediment layers piled up for decades inside the pipe made closed-circuit TV inspection impossible.

"Removing it with a conventional bucket machine might take have taken a month or more, if it could be done at all," Villalobos said. "Meanwhile, youíd have a thousand feet of bypass piping obstructing traffic and the transfer of solids to the disposal truck would be generating sewage odors."

The Sewer Hog uses a 350 gallon per minute (gpm) water jet, at 2,000 pounds of pressure, to dislodge obstructions.

A powerful downhole pump, that Villalobos describes as "a garbage disposal on steroids," then chews up everything, including plastic, metal, bricks and rocks, and shoots the resulting slurry through an 8-inch-diameter hose, at 2500 gpm, up to a pressurized dewatering box at street level. The sand and grit are taken out and the filtered water goes back into the sewer.

The equipment was set up near the Oakland BART station entrance 20th Street and Broadway on April 4. Cleaning continued for four days, removing all but a few inches of the sediment from the 66" main. A connecting 24" pipe was found to be almost totally blocked with rags and other debris. A total of 46 tons of sand, gravel and grit was removed and sent to a landfill.

"It wasnít a complete cleanout, but with limited funding this had to be essentially a pilot demonstration project," Villalobos said.

The 20th Street sewer is typical of large sewer lines in older cities, Villalobos says. Over the decades, grit, sand and organic matter settle and consolidate into a cement-like mass, with interspersed bricks, small boulders and anything else that can find its way into or be stuffed down a drain.

"Many are so blocked they can only work at a half or a quarter of their nominal capacity, sometimes much less," he explains. "At 66 inches in diameter, the 20th Street sewer should be able to handle 32 million gallons a day, but its actual capacity was only one-third of that.

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Grill Wisely to Cut Cancer Risk

BOSTON, Massachusetts, June 23, 2006 (ENS) - Summer is here and many people are firing up the grill. But barbecuing could be cooking up chemicals that may increase the risk of cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, these chemicals may be linked to breast, stomach, prostate, and colon cancer.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute nutritionist Stephanie Vangsness, RD, LDN, CNSD, says there are two risk factors to keep in mind. The high heat of grilling reacts with proteins in red meat, poultry, and fish to create heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Studies have linked these chemicals to cancer.

Another form of cancer-causing agents, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are found in the smoke. They form when fat and juices from meat products drip on to the heat source. As the smoke rises it can stick to the surface of the meat.

Vangsness has some advice to minimize cancer risk when grilling meats.

Choose lean cuts of meat, instead of high-fat varieties such as ribs and sausage. Trim all excess fat and remove skin. Lean meats create less dripping and less smoke. Trim excess fat, and remove skin from poultry.

When using marinades Ė thinner is better. Thicker marinades have a tendency to char, possibly increasing exposure to carcinogenic compounds.

Look for marinades that contain vinegar and/or lemon. They create a protective barrier around the meat.

Limiting time on the grill limits exposure to carcinogens. Choose smaller cuts, like kabobs; they take less time to cook.

Vangsness advises cooks to partially cook meat and fish in a microwave for 60 to 90 seconds on high before grilling and then discard juices. This will limit the time they need to cook and reduce risk of smoke flare-ups.

Flip burgers often, at least once every minute. Place food at least six inches away from heat source.

Create a barrier to prevent juices from spilling and producing harmful smoke, such as lining the grill with aluminum foil that has holes poked in it or cooking on cedar planks.

Try grilling vegetables.

Above all, Vangsness says, "People need to put this into perspective. If youíre grilling and following the proper safety tips, the risk of getting cancer from grilling food is extremely low."

She stresses the best thing you can do is eat a balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables that contain protective antioxidants. Vangsness says, "Not having vegetables is probably the biggest risk factor."

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is a cancer research and care center and a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School.

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