AmeriScan: June 15, 2007

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Common American Birds Disappearing

NEW YORK, New York, June 15, 2007 (ENS) - Common birds beloved by generations of Americans are vanishing, finds a new analysis of 40 years of data collected by contributors to the National Audubon Society's annual Crhistmas bird counts as well as the Breeding Bird Survey conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Global warming is damaging some key habitats and speeding the spread of invasive species that cause further declines. Mounting demand for corn-based ethanol is expected to result in increased use of marginal farmland that now serves as important bird habitat.

Since 1967 the average population of the common birds in steepest decline has fallen by 68 percent; some individual species nose-dived as much as 80 percent.

All 20 birds on the national Common Birds in Decline list lost at least half their populations in just four decades, Audubon says.

"Direct habitat loss continues to be a leading cause for concern," said Audubon Bird conservation director and analysis author, Greg Butcher, PhD. "But now we're seeing the added impact of large-scale environmental problems and policies."

Northern bobwhite populations are down 82 percent and have largely vanished from northern parts of their range in Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and New England mainly due to loss of habitat to development, agricultural expansion and plantation-style forestry practices.

This robin-sized bird runs along the ground in groups and is found in grasslands mixed with shrubs or widely spaced trees throughout much of the eastern United States.

Evening grosbeaks that range from mountains of the west to northern portions of the east coast show population declines of nearly 78 percent due to increasing habitat damage and loss from logging, mining, drilling and development.

Northern pintail duck populations in the continental U.S. are down nearly 78 percent due to expanding agricultural activity in their prairie pothole breeding grounds.

Eastern meadowlarks, down 71 percent, are declining as grasslands are lost to industrialized agricultural practices. Increased demand for biofuel crops threatens increased agricultural use of lands that are currently protected, making both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks even more vulnerable.

The dramatic declines are attributed to the loss of grasslands, healthy forests and wetlands, and other critical habitats from multiple environmental threats such as sprawl, energy development, and the spread of industrialized agriculture.

The study notes that these threats are now compounded by new and broader problems including the escalating effects of global warming.

Greater scaup and other tundra-breeding birds are succumbing to dramatic changes to their breeding habitat as the permafrost melts earlier and more temperate predators move north in a likely response to global warming.

Northern Boreal forest birds like the Boreal chickadee face deforestation from increased insect outbreaks and fire, as well as logging, drilling, and mining.

"The findings point to serious problems with both local habitats and national environmental trends. The society says, "Only citizen action can make a difference for the birds and the state of our future."

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Toxic Drinking Water at Marine Base Camp Lejeune

WASHINGTON, DC, June 15, 2007 (ENS) - Two of the three drinking water systems that served family housing at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune were contaminated with chemicals from dry cleaning and industrial operations for 28 years, a federal government analysis reveals. The 246 square mile base is located near Jacksonville, North Carolina.

One system, the Tarawa Terrace drinking water system, was mostly contaminated with tetrachloroethylene, TCE, or perchloroethylene, PCE, from off-base dry cleaning operations at ABC One-Hour Cleaners, according to a report released Wednesday.

The other system, the Hadnot Point drinking water system, was contaminated mostly with TCE from on-base industrial activities, the report concludes.

The report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ATSDR, an agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is based on field data, modeling results and historical reconstruction dating back to 1957.

The contaminated wells were continuously used from 1957 to 1985 and sporadically used until early 1987.

A health study now underway by the ATSDR will try to determine if there was a link between in utero and infant exposures to drinking water contaminants and specific birth defects and childhood cancers.

Started in 1999, the study includes births from 1968 through 1985 occuring to mothers who lived in family housing at Camp Lejeune during their pregnancies.

Investigators will look at connections between the contaminants the neural tube defects spina bifida and anencephaly, cleft lip, cleft palate and leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

During 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed Camp Lejeune and ABC One-Hour Cleaners on its Superfund List of hazardous waste sites.

Read an executive summary of the ATSDR analysis here.

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U.S. Senator: Don't Dump Dredge Spoil in New Jersey Park

WASHINGTON, DC, June 15, 2007 (ENS) - U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, is calling upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to drop its plan to use a nature park in New Jersey for dumping dredging waste.

The Corps is seeking approval from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, to use at least 70 acres of the 250 acre Palmyra Cove Nature Park for disposal of dredged waste from the Delaware River.

"This park is an exceptional natural resource and I urge you to immediately withdraw all plans to deposit dredge material here," Lautenberg wrote in a June 14 letter to District Commander Gwen Baker.

The senator called this park "an oasis of natural beauty in a heavily populated area of southern New Jersey."

"Every year, over 3,000 students visit the nature center and walk its trails. They learn to appreciate nature and are enriched by a true hands-on learning experience. As visitors walk through the park, they can spot hundreds of different species of wildlife, including whitetail deer, beaver, red fox, endangered rails, and bald eagles," Lautenberg wrote.

"The Army Corps' proposal to dump dredge spoils in this park would be devastating and the environmental impact of these spoils would be enormous," he wrote.

In 2003, the DEP denied the Corps' request to dump the dredged material, and called for the Corps to conduct a study of the environmental impact of the plan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also criticized the Army Corps' plan, and it is opposed by the New Jersey Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.

The park is managed by the Burlington County Bridge Commission and the land is owned by the state of New Jersey. The Commission provides part of the funding along with private fundraising set up by a foundation.

The park has received corporate sponsorships, and has been awarded federal grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.

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EPA Exemption for Incinerators Ruled Illegal

WASHINGTON, DC, June 15, 2007 (ENS) - A federal court has thrown out an attempt by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA to exempt tens of thousands of waste incinerators from the controls of the Clean Air Act.

In a decision June 8 by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, a panel of three judges ruled that facilities that burn waste are incinerators, not "boilers" or "process heaters" as claimed by the EPA, and so must meet the Clean Air Act's incinerator standards.

The case was brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and the Environmental Integrity Project.

Many industrial facilities, including chemical plants, refineries, metal smelters, and paper mills, burn the waste they generate in on-site incinerators.

Among the wastes they burn are chemicals, industrial sludges, plastics, agricultural waste treated with pesticides, chemically treated wood wastes, and used tires.

Emissions from these incinerators include mercury, lead, arsenic, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, and other highly toxic pollutants. Exposure to these emissions can cause cancer, birth defects, neurological problems in young children and babies, and lung and heart problems.

EPA attorneys argued that the agency could set less protective standards for these incinerators by treating them as though they were "boilers" or "process heaters" that burn only fossil fuels.

The court rejected that argument.

"EPA has been caught perpetrating a bait-and-switch operation by proposing incinerator rules while exempting nearly every incinerator from the rules," said Marti Sinclair, chair of Sierra Club's National Air Committee.

"EPA needs to quit trying to con the public and start protecting communities, human communities and natural communities, from the ongoing deluge of toxic emissions released by incinerators," said Sinclair.

"EPA's illegal rules are being struck down in courts with the frequency of characters getting whacked on The Sopranos," said John Walke, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The agency should get back to enforcing the law against big polluters, not join their ranks."

The court's decision will require the EPA to rewrite its rules for thousands of industrial boilers and process heaters that burn fossil fuel.

Among the provisions vacated by the ruling is a controversial decision by EPA to allow sources to avoid controlling their emissions of hydrochloric acid and several other air pollutants that Congress listed as "hazardous" in the Clean Air Act.

"Once again, a court had to remind EPA that it cannot rewrite the Clean Air Act to suit this administration's anti-environmental policies," said James Pew, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case in court.

"Congress enacted very protective emission standards to protect Americans from incinerator pollution," said Pew. "EPA may not deprive us of that protection, no matter how badly it wants to help out the administration's friends in industry."

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Bacteria in Sea Mud Holds Promise of Anticancer Drugs

SAN DIEGO, California, June 15, 2007 (ENS) - A marine bacteria discovered in the mud of the Bahamian sea floor by California scientists shows promise as a producer of natural antibiotics and anticancer products, scientists have learned.

Researchers at University of California's San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Skaggs School of Pharmacy have sequenced the genome of of the bacteria Salinispora tropica found in the mud.

They say the decoding opens the door to a range of possibilities for isolating and adapting potent molecules the marine organism naturally employs in the ocean environment for chemical defense, scavenging for nutrients and communication.

While observations in similar bacteria revealed that typically 6- to 8-percent of the organism's genome is dedicated to producing molecules for antibiotics and anticancer agents, Salinispora tropica's genome showed an impressive 10 percent, "to our delight," said Bradley Moore.

Moore joined colleagues at Scripps and the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute in sequencing the genome of Salinispora tropica. Now they are using that information to engineer antibiotics and anticancer medicines.

Salinispora was discovered in 1991 by Scripps Oceanography's Paul Jensen and William Fenical in shallow ocean sediment off the Bahamas. The bacterium produces compounds that have shown promising signs for treating cancers.

Its product, "salinosporamide A," is currently in human clinical trials at Nereus Pharmaceuticals of San Diego for treating multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in bone marrow, as well as for treating solid tumors.

Much of the anticipation of producing new medicines from Salinispora comes from its potential to augment the current arsenal of antibiotics, many of which are ineffective against increasingly drug-resistant bacteria.

More than half of the natural antibiotics now used clinically are derived from the Streptomyces genus, the land-based relatives of Salinispora that are considered the kings of antibiotic-producing organisms.

Current studies are concentrating on solving the genome of Salinispora arenicola, a related species also found in tropical sea sediment.

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Plastic That Grows on Trees

RICHLAND, Washington, June 15, 2007 (ENS) Replacing crude oil as the source for plastic, fuels and other industrial and household chemicals with inexpensive, nonpolluting renewable plant material has been a goal for decades of scientists.

Scientists have discovered the most effective method yet to convert glucose, found in plants worldwide and nature's most abundant sugar, to HFM, a chemical that can be broken into components for products now made from petroleum.

Today, a group of researchers reports in the journal "Science" that they have directly converted sugars found widely in nature to an alternative building block for those products that make oil so valuable, with little of the residual impurities that have made the quest so difficult.

"What we have done that no one else has been able to do is convert glucose directly in high yields to a primary building block for fuel and polyesters," said Z. Conrad Zhang, senior author who led the research.

Zhang is a scientist with the Institute for Interfacial Catalysis based at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

That building block is called HMF, which stands for hydroxymethylfurfural. The chemical is derived from sugars such as glucose and fructose and is viewed as a promising alternative to petroleum-based chemicals.

Glucose, in plant starch and cellulose, is nature's most abundant sugar.

"But getting a commercially viable yield of HMF from glucose has been very challenging," Zhang said. "In addition to low yield until now, we always generate many different byproducts," including levulinic acid, making product purification expensive and uncompetitive with petroleum-based chemicals.

But Zhang and his team were able to coax HMF yields upward of 70 percent from glucose and nearly 90 percent from fructose, while leaving only traces of acid impurities.

The scientists used a unique non-acid catalytic system containing metal chloride catalysts in a solvent capable of dissolving cellulose. The solvent, called an ionic liquid, enabled the metal chlorides to convert the sugars to HMF.

The chemistry at work remains largely a mystery, Zhang said, a mystery he is working to decode. "The opportunities are endless," Zhang said, "and the chemistry is starting to get interesting."

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Biodiesel Bus Voyage Honors Congressman Morris Udall

NEW YORK, New York, June 15, 2007 (ENS) - Today would have been Congressman Morris Udall's 85th birthday, and alumni of the foundation created by Congress to honor his 30 years of service in the House of Representatives are insuring that his legacy is not forgotten.

Thirteen alumni are in New York City today participating in environmental events such as native plant restoration in the Bronx, a nature class for elementary school kids, and a picnic to honor Udall.

Udall, an Arizona Democrat, served as a Congressman from May 2, 1961 to May 4, 1991. His concern for Native Americans and love of the environment resulted in many pieces of legislation. He authored important legislation on campaign reform, congressional ethics and was one of the first to oppose the Vietnam War.

In the House of Representatives today, Morris Udall's son Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat; and nephew Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, carry on the family tradition of environmental concern.

Congressman Morris Udall was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. (Photo courtesy Medal of Freedom)
The Morris K. Udall Foundation is an independent agency of the executive branch of the United States government established by the Congress in 1992 in his honor. Udall died on December 12, 1998.

The purpose and motto of the Foundation is "Scholarship and excellence in national environmental policy."

On Tuesday, the 13 Udall alumni set off on a seven week, cross-country voyage in a green-certified biodiesel motor coach.

On their way to their destination at Tucson, Arizona on August 4, they will dramatize innovative solutions to America's environmental and Native American issues in cities, Native American communities, national parks and college campuses.

Along the way, the alumni will participate in local public service projects planned and implemented by alumni of the Foundation's scholarship, fellowship and internship programs, such as replanting trees in New Orleans, campground development on the Grand Ronde Reservation in Oregon, and exploring national parks through photography with local youth in Acadia National Park, Maine.

On the road, the University of Vermont's Transportation Center will monitor the motor coach's emissions, using a new Dekati electrical tailpipe particulate matter sensor donated by Particle Instruments, Inc.

This experiment measures actual emissions performance using a B20 blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel. The results as well as trip reports from the bus will be shared online here.

The Legacy Bus Tour closes out the Udall Foundation's yearlong 10th anniversity celebration of the Foundation's education programs.

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