AmeriScan: June 29, 2007

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U.S. Blocks Fish From China Over Contamination Fears

WASHINGTON, DC, June 29, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, Thursday announced a broader import control of all farm-raised catfish, basa, shrimp, dace (related to carp), and eel from China.

The agency will start to detain these products at the border until the shipments are proven to be free of residues from drugs that are not approved in the United States for use in farm-raised aquatic animals.

This action by FDA, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will protect American consumers from unsafe residues that have been detected in these products. There have been no reports of illnesses to date.

"We're taking this strong step because of current and continuing evidence that certain Chinese aquaculture products imported into the United States contain illegal substances that are not permitted in seafood sold in the United States," said Dr. David Acheson, FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection.

"We will accept entries of these products from Chinese firms that demonstrate compliance with our requirements and safety standards."

During targeted sampling from October 2006 through May 2007, FDA repeatedly found that farm-raised seafood imported from China were contaminated with antimicrobial agents that are not approved for this use in the United States.

The contaminants were the antimicrobials nitrofuran, malachite green, gentian violet, and fluoroquinolone. Nitrofuran, malachite green, and gentian violet have been shown to be carcinogenic with long-term exposure in lab animals.

The use of fluoroquinolones in food animals may increase antibiotic resistance to this critically important class of antibiotics.

None of these substances is approved for use in farm-raised seafood in the United States, and the use of nitrofurans and malachite green in aquaculture is also prohibited by Chinese authorities.

Chinese officials have acknowledged that fluoroquinolones are used in Chinese aquaculture and are permitted for use in China.

The levels of the drug residues that have been found in seafood are very low, most often at or near the minimum level of detection, so the FDA is not seeking recall of products already in the U.S. marketplace and is not advising consumers to destroy or return imported farm-raised seafood they may already have in their homes.

But the agency is concerned about long term exposure as well as the possible development of antibiotic resistance.

The FDA action includes conditions under which an exporter can be exempted from FDA's detention action by providing specified information to the agency. This information must demonstrate the exporter has implemented steps to ensure its products do not contain these substances and that preventive controls are in place. The additional import controls placed on seafood from China will last as long as needed.

FDA may allow the entry into the United States and subsequent distribution into the marketplace of individual shipments of the Chinese farm-raised seafood products if the company provides documentation to confirm the products are free of residues of these drugs.

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Veggie Booty Snack Food Salmonella Warning Issued

WASHINGTON, DC, June 29, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, is warning consumers not to eat Veggie Booty flavor of snack food, marketed by Robert's American Gourmet, due to possible contamination with Salmonella Wandsworth, bacteria that cause gastrointestinal illness.

Consumers are advised to throw away any Robert's American Gourmet brand Veggie Booty they have in their home. Veggie Booty is sold in a flexible plastic foil bag in four ounce, one ounce, and one-half ounce packages.

No other flavors or varieties of snack food marketed by Robert's American Gourmet have been associated with Salmonella Wandsworth contamination.

Veggie Booty is being recalled for salmonella contamination.
Veggie Booty is often consumed by children, so parents are encouraged to watch their children, and seek medical care if they observe signs of illness.

This warning is based on 52 reports of illness across 17 states from coast to coast, beginning in March 2007. Almost all the illnesses have occurred in children under 10 years old, with the most cases in toddlers.

Most reported bloody diarrhea; four were hospitalized. FDA learned of the illnesses on June 27 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted an investigation of the illnesses with state and local health officials. The outbreak is considered likely to be ongoing.

Salmonella typically causes diarrhea accompanied by abdominal cramps and fever. Symptoms typically begin within one to four days after exposure to the bacteria. In infants, persons with poor health and those with weakened immune systems, Salmonella can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections.

People who have recently eaten Veggie Booty and who have experienced any of these symptoms should contact a doctor or other health care provider immediately. Any such illnesses in persons with a recent history of eating Veggie Booty should be reported to state or local health authorities.

Robert's American Gourmet, of Sea Cliff, New York, which markets Veggie Booty, and its contract manufacturer, are fully cooperating with FDA's investigation into the cause of the contamination.

Manufacturing and distribution of this product has ceased, and Robert's American Gourmet is recalling all potentially contaminated product, including all expiration dates and lot codes. The product is sold in all 50 states and Canada at retail locations and over the Internet.

The FDA has begun an investigation at the manufacturing facility, focused on identifying the source of the contamination. Product samples have been collected and will be analyzed in FDA laboratories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also continuing their investigation in collaboration with state health departments and FDA.

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Hawaiian Electric's Palm Oil Plans Raise an Outcry

HONOLULU, Hawaii, June 29, 2007 (ENS) - Hawaiian Electric Company, HECO, is proposing to use palm oil to fuel electricity generation in the Hawaiian islands.

HECO is the biggest utility sector consumer of petroleum diesel in the country and the company says that when this transition is complete, it will be the largest single consumer of biodiesel in the United States.

The utility's policy is being challenged by environmental and Native Hawaiian groups, who say HECO's sustainability standards are not strong enough to protect Southeast Asian forests that are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. They are concerned about environmental destruction, indigenous rights and impacts on forest and rural communities

Hawaiian Electric’s planned 110 megawatt peaking unit at Campbell Industrial Park on Oahu will use 100 percent biofuel.

Hawaiian Electric and BlueEarth Biofuels LLC propose to build a biodiesel refinery on Maui to produce fuel for Maui Electric Company generators. After public comment, the proposed policy will be finalized for application to all biofuel purchases by Hawaiian Electric and subsidiaries on Maui and Hawaii Island.

HECO's proposed policy to ensure that "only palm oil from sustainable sources and eventually local feedstock" are used to create biodiesel for use by Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light companies was the subject of public discussions on Oahu Wednesday and Thursday.

Public discussions take place today on Hawaii Island and on Maui on Monday.

The policy was developed by environmental scientists from the Natural Resources Defense Council working with HECO, and has been reviewed by a panel of academic experts.

The components of the HECO policy are - baseline criteria for all biodiesel feedstocks, sourcing requirements for palm oil, local feedstock support mechanisms, chain of custody tracking for feedstocks and oils, greenhouse gas emissions accounting and reporting, establishment of a biofuels public trust fund, public review and notification, and public progress reporting and contingencies.

This effort is part of a broader strategy to transform Hawaiian utilities into a model of diverse, sustainable supply and efficient use, and we believe that this policy represents a large step forward on the path toward increasing self-reliance and sustainability."

However, the policy notes, "palm oil cultivation has also been responsible for widespread clearing of primary tropical forests, draining of peat soils, catastrophic fires in Southeast Asia, and a number of other negative social and environmental impacts…"

But HECO says it will rely on "voluntary certification" and the palm oil it uses will be "sustainable." Over 200 members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, RSPO, have worked for the past five years to create a sustainable model of palm oil production. We believe that such a sustainable model is essential to reducing future environmental and social harm from palm oil."

But a group of international oil palm analysts, forestry and indigenous rights experts, and Hawaii environmental and Native Hawaiian rights organizations says more than 4,000 people in 28 countries wrote letters to Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle opposing a $59 million bond issue for the proposed plant.

Among the concerns of these petitioners and the Hawaiian groups is that HECO criteria are "far weaker" than the international RSPO criteria.

They are concerned that indigenous rights have been left out of the HECO criteria, although free prior informed consent of indigenous people to palm oil plantations on their land is part of the RSPO criteria.

The critics say it is well documented that there is a lack of sustainable supplies of palm oil, and that the track record of Indonesian companies producing the palm oil is poor.

Indonesia and Malaysia supply 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.

Critics warn that the recent push towards "cheap biofuels" has been associated with extreme levels of deforestation and violations of indigenous rights in Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries, adding, "The demand for palm oil as biofuel may push Indonesia to clear over 49.4 million acres of land for plantations."

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Pennsylvania Superfund Cleanup to Cost $22 Million

WASHINGTON, DC, June 29, 2007 (ENS) – The Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement that will ensure the expedited cleanup hazardous chemicals in the soil and groundwater of the Foote Mineral Superfund Site, in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

The settling defendant, Frazer Exton Development, which has expended about $7 million on cleanup actions already, will pay approximately $15 million to complete cleanup work of the site. In addition, Frazer Exton has agreed to reimburse the EPA for a portion of the cleanup costs incurred for response actions at the site.

Per the terms of the agreement, Frazer Exton will submit a work plan for the design of the remedial action. The remedial plan will include excavating and removing contaminated soils and other waste materials, long-term monitoring of groundwater to determine if the source control measures are effective in reducing contaminant concentrations, and implementing institutional controls to prevent residential use of impacted groundwater and preserve the integrity of the remedy.

The plan requires the approval of the EPA and allows Pennsylvania an opportunity for review and comment before the plan is implemented.

The site in East Whiteland Township, Chester County, is a 79 acre property formerly owned by the Foote Mineral Company. The property was the location of Foote Mineral’s Frazer Facility, which produced lithium chemicals and processed a variety of ores.

As a result of the activities conducted on the site, the groundwater beneath the site is contaminated with boron, lithium, chromium, bromate, and organic chemicals, including carcinogens benzene and tetrachloroethylene.

The soils are contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons and hazardous wastes from the processing of ores as well as with low-level radiation believed to be residual from mineral ores.

The Foote Mineral Facility was closed in 1991 and the buildings were demolished. The Frazer Exton acquired the property in 1998, for the purpose of residential development, with knowledge of the contamination and with the agreement to assume the liabilities associated with cleanup of the site.

The site was added to the EPA’s National Priorities List in October 1992. Under the proposed settlement, the settling defendant will conduct the remedial action selected in the EPA’s March 2006 Record of Decision.

The settlement was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and is subject to a 30-day public comment period. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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Groups Sue BLM Over Broken Wilderness Promise

DENVER, Colorado, June 29, 2007 (ENS) - By granting oil and gas leases on Colorado's South Shale Ridge, the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, is sacrificing the wilderness qualities of thousands of acres in western Colorado, Earthjustice attorney Keith Bauerle argued today in federal district court.

Bauerle was presenting the case for a coalition of conservation groups that is suing the BLM to force the federal agency to keep its promise of protecting the wilderness, wildlife, and natural beauty of this area from oil and gas development.

The coalition is composed ot the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, and Center for Native Ecosystems, Colorado Environmental Coalition, and Colorado Mountain Club.

The groups claim that to allow leasing the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife violated the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Federal Land Management and Policy Act.

The multicolored badlands of South Shale Ridge feature remarkable geological formations hidden within miles of twisting canyons, the groups say. The area is popular for backcountry recreation such as hiking, and its wildlife provides good opportunities for hunting.

In addition, South Shale Ridge is inhabited by bald eagles and rare plants.

BLM management plans were criticized 20 years ago because they did not account for the area's wilderness, recreational, and biological values.

In 1998, during the Clinton administration, the BLM initiated a multiyear review process led by a committee of citizens, interest groups, and agency professionals.

BLM's official findings in 2001, at the start of the Bush administration, recommended that South Shale Ridge be reconsidered for protection as a Wilderness Study Area. The BLM then publicly committed to amending its 1987 management plan to account for and properly mange South Shale Ridge's wilderness features.

In 2004 nearly 9,000 citizens sent comments urging the BLM to protect the area for its wilderness, recreational, and biological values. Yet in November 2005 BLM leased almost the entire area for oil and gas drilling.

Meanwhile, the agency continues to lease millions of acres of public lands. As of January 2004, the BLM had issued more than 4,378 leases in Colorado, amounting to over 3.4 million acres of Colorado public lands.

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Oregon Man Pleads Guilty to Selling Black Rhino Horn

PORTLAND, Oregon, June 29, 2007 (ENS) - A Portland man has pleaded guilty to unlawfully selling shavings from the horn of a black rhinoceros, one of Africa's most endangered species.

The shavings were sold for purported "medicinal" use at a Portland shop known as Far East Trading, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Morteza Aleali, the owner of Far East Trading, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court before Judge James Redden. Sentencing is scheduled for September 4, 2007.

A misdemeanor violation of the Endangered Species Act carries a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000. The defendant was released pending sentencing.

The identification of black rhinoceros shavings resulted from genetics laboratory analysis at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.

The sample was the first instance in which a product offered as rhino horn did in fact contain shavings from a black rhino, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says. All previously sampled medicinal products claiming to contain black rhinoceros instead contained substitutes such as bone from more common species.

Before 1900, millions of black rhinos inhabited most of sub-Saharan Africa, but between 1970 and 1992, rhino populations declined 96 percent.

Black rhinos went extinct in many range states, and by 1992, only 2,300 individuals survived in seven countries. Since then, intense law enforcement efforts have helped the population to recover to about 3,100 rhinos.

IN 1980, the black rhinoceros was listed as an endangered species in the United States to help African nations preserve dwindling herds. The black rhino has two horns on its snout, a large one far forward, and a smaller one directly behind. The horns bring high prices in parts of the world, including South East Asia.

The horns, which are conical clusters of fibers that have grown together contain no bones, nor, according to scientists, any medicinal value for humans.

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Invisible Nano-Fibers Conduct Electricity, Repel Dirt

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 29, 2007 (ENS) – Tiny plastic fibers could be the key to future self-cleaning surfaces, transparent electronics, and biomedical tools that manipulate strands of DNA.

In the June issue of the journal "Nature Nanotechnology," Ohio State University researchers describe how they created surfaces that, seen with the eye, look as flat and transparent as a sheet of glass. But seen up close, the surfaces are actually carpeted with tiny fibers.

The patent pending technology involves a method for growing a bed of fibers of a specific length, and using chemical treatments to tailor the fibers' properties, explained Arthur Epstein, professor of chemistry and physics and director of the university's Institute for Magnetic and Electronic Polymers.

"One of the good things about working with these polymers is that you're able to structure them in many different ways," Epstein said. "Plus, we found that we can coat almost any surface with these fibers."

For this study, the scientists grew fibers of different heights and diameters, and were able to modify the fibers' molecular structures by exposing them to different chemicals.

They devised one treatment that made the fibers attract water, and another that made the fibers repel water. They found they could also make the surfaces attract or repel oil. Depending on what polymer they start with, the fibers can also be made to conduct electricity.

Since dirt, water, and oil do not stick to the repellant fibers, windows coated with them would stay cleaner longer.

By contrast, the attracting fibers would make a good anti-fog coating, because they pull at water droplets and cause them to spread out flat on the surface.

Researchers found that the attracting surface does the same thing to coiled-up strands of DNA. When they put droplets of water containing DNA on the fibers, the strands uncoiled and hung suspended from the fibers like clotheslines.

Epstein said scientists could use the fibers as a platform to study how DNA interacts with other molecules. They could also use the spread-out DNA to build new nanostructures. "We're very excited about where this kind of development can take us," he said.

Epstein's research centers on polymers that conduct electricity, and light up or change color. Depending on the choice of polymer, the nano-fiber surface can also conduct electricity.

The researchers were able to use the surface to charge an organic light-emitting device - a find that could pave the way for transparent plastic electronics.

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