AmeriScan: March 21, 2002
Mercury Contaminates Polar RegionsWASHINGTON, DC,
March 21, 2002 (ENS) - Mercury generated by fossil fuel burning power plants is falling from the sky in Antarctica and in the Arctic, and is entering the food chain, according to a pair of studies published this month.
Combustion of coal and oil releases about 6,500 tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year. This mercury vapor remains in the air, where it is carried to all parts of the globe, including the remote polar environments.
Scientists already knew that in just five months during the spring each year, the northernmost coast of Alaska, a region that includes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, receives more than double the amount of mercury that falls on the northeastern United States in a year.
New research now shows a similar phenomenon also occurs each year in the Antarctic - the first time such pollution has been reported in the south polar region.
Two studies in the March 15 issue of "Environmental Science and Technology," a journal of the American Chemical Society, present new information about the so called mercury sunrise, first reported in the Arctic in 1998.
When the sun rises and ends the long dark polar winter, it fires up a unique series of chemical reactions that dump mercury out of the atmosphere and into the pristine polar environments, giving the phenomenon its name of mercury sunrise. The mercury accumulates in the snowpack and is released as the snow melts and the brief polar growing season begins.
The research indicates that atmospheric mercury rains down throughout the world's coastal polar regions and that when it does, it can enter polar food webs.
In one study, Dr. Ralf Ebinghaus, an environmental chemist at the Institute for Coastal Research in Geesthacht, Germany, reports the discovery of mercury sunrise at the German Neumayer research station in Antarctica based on measurements made between January 2000 and January 2001.
In the other study, Dr. Steve Lindberg, a research corporate fellow at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee presents the first evidence of how this phenomenon leads to elevated mercury accumulation in snow, as measured at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Monitoring and Diagnostic Laboratory in Barrow, Alaska.
Canadian researchers working with Lindberg determined that some of the snowpack mercury has the potential to be transformed by bacteria into a form that could enter the food web. The Lindberg team says the new findings may help explain why mercury levels in Arctic seabirds, seals and beluga whales have increased over the last few decades, even though global atmospheric emissions of mercury have declined during the last 20 years.
The Alaska study also shows that some of the mercury has the potential to be transformed by bacteria, an indication that this mercury may enter polar food webs.
The mercury sunrise depends on ultraviolet light, open water and active sea ice, all of which have been increasing in polar regions over the last few decades. The Barrow data shows that the polar sunrise triggers a series of chemical reactions that convert the elemental mercury vapor into a soluble form of oxidized gaseous mercury that accumulates in the polar snowpack.
Ebinghaus and Lindberg estimate that between 50 and 300 tons of mercury are being dumped from the atmosphere into these polar environments each year.
The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Methylmercury and metallic mercury vapors are more harmful than other forms, because more mercury in these forms reaches the brain. Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus.
Jet Ski Ban Could Be DelayedWASHINGTON, DC,
March 21, 2002 (ENS) - The House Resources Committee has passed a measure that would delay a personal watercraft ban in 21 national parks and recreation areas.
The language is part of a so called technical corrections bill that would alter a number of prior legislative actions and rules, including an order by the National Park Service barring or restricting the use of jet skis and other watercraft in sensitive parks.
"Once again, the Resource Committee leadership has placed the personal watercraft industry's agenda above the protection of our beloved national parks," said Sean Smith, the Bluewater Network's public lands director and a former park ranger.
In March 2000, the National Park Service finalized regulations that prohibit personal watercraft operation in about 67 parks, but 21 parks were exempted from this ban. In August 2000, Bluewater Network challenged the regulations in court, and the following April, a settlement was approved that requires all parks excluded from the system wide ban to conduct environmental reviews and adopt special regulations, if long term jet ski use is to continue.
Park waters would be closed to jet skis in the 21 parks if the work is not completed by court ordered deadlines. For 13 park units, that deadline falls in April 2002, while the remaining eight have until September 2002 to complete their reviews.
The National Park Service Organic Act (HR 3853), introduced by Representative George Radanovich, a California Republican, would extend the grace period offered to the 21 parks until December 31, 2004.
In eight of the 21 units - five national seashores, one lakeshore, and two national recreation areas - park superintendents have already determined that jet ski use is incompatible with the mission of their respective unit due to public safety, wildlife, and natural resource impacts.
"This anti-National Parks legislation has received no hearings for the public and Congress to hear out both sides of the issue," said Kristen Brengel, campaign coordinator for the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition, which includes more than 90 groups working to protect public land and waters from the damage caused by jet skis and other off road vehicles. "The legislation is being pushed through without considering the damage caused by jet skis."
The personal watercraft industry, however, said the extension approved by the House committee is well warranted given the environmental performance of new jet ski technology.
"Environmental industry groups often push for environmental assessments to help agencies make the right decisions," said Monita Fontaine, executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association. "That's all that's being asked for here. Complete the assessments, and then make an objective decision based on sound science."
Last month, at the request of the National Park Service, the Justice Department sent a letter to the Bluewater Network, requesting an extension of the deadline agreed to in the court settlement. Bluewater has indicated that it will not agree to this request.
"Personal watercraft manufacturers are very proud of the new technology that they have created in order to produce cleaner, quieter, and safer personal watercraft," Fontaine explained. "Today's vessels have come a long way from those sold just five years ago, and we welcome the National Park Service's scrutiny. I am confident that they will find that modern personal watercraft are among the most environmentally friendly motorboats on the water today."
New York Lakes Fail to FreezeBUFFALO, New York,
March 21, 2002 (ENS) - Several lakes in upstate New York that have frozen every winter for the past three decades broke their perfect record this year, and remained ice free.
In his 30 years of studying freeze thaw cycles of lakes in New York state, Dr. Kenton Stewart had never seen some lakes in his lake ice network stay unfrozen for an entire winter - until this winter ended on Wednesday.
"The majority of the lakes in the state still froze, but a surprising number that developed ice covers in previous winters, had only a partial skim of ice this winter, or did not freeze at all," said Stewart, professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University at Buffalo.
Stewart, who studies the freeze thaw cycles of more than 250 lakes in New York state, said lakes that did not freeze this winter include some that did so during an El Niño year. Those that did freeze did so one to three weeks later than usual.
Some lakes have already thawed and Stewart expects others to lose their ice about two to three weeks earlier than normal. He cautioned that because of the temperature gradient across the state, there is no average freeze up or break up date that would hold true for the entire state.
"One surprising thing about the unusually mild winter is that while it was as mild as some of the strong El Niño events that we've seen, it was not associated with an El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean that can have an atmospheric influence," said Stewart. "It also was not foreseen by the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency."
As of last November, the Climate Prediction Center was predicting a colder than normal winter for the Northeast and the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes areas, Stewart said.
Among the New York lakes that failed to freeze this winter were:
In September 2000, Stewart and other lake ice scientists from around the world published a paper in the journal "Science" in which they drew the first global picture of trends in the formation and dissolution of ice on lakes and rivers in the Northern Hemisphere during the past 150 years.
Stewart and his coauthors hypothesize that changes in lake ice dates can warn of climate change.
"The current season seems to reinforce that point, and it demonstrates how unexpected some freeze thaw events may be," he said.
California Senator Fights Landfilling Radioactive WasteSACRAMENTO, California,
March 21, 2002 (ENS) - A battle over the disposal of low level radioactive waste in municipal landfills has erupted in the California Senate.
At the center of the controversy is a November 2001 regulation adopted by the California Department of Health Services which allows for such disposal.
Former state Senate leader David Roberti, now a member of the Integrated Waste Management Board, which regulates California's municipal landfills, told a state Senate committee Wednesday that the board had no advance knowledge of the move to allow the landfilling of low level radioactive waste.
His testimony came at a meeting of the Senate Select Committee on Urban Landfills, chaired by California State Senator Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat.
Romero has introduced a bill to prohibit the landfilling and recycling of radioactive waste in California, the Radiation Safety Act of 2002 (SB1623). The regulation "essentially turned each of California's 170 municipal solid waste landfills into radioactive waste landfills," Romero said.
This occurred without and environmental impact report and without regard to the public process called for in the California Environmental Quality Act. Roberti told the committee that municipal landfills are not qualified or equipped to handle radioactive waste.
The Department of Health Services licenses 2,100 users of radioactive materials. When one of these users shuts down, the new regulation sets a maximum exposure limit of 25 millirems per year of radiation for disposal of the waste in an ordinary landfill.
The former exposure limit used for decommissioned sites was four times higher.
Even though this limit is much lower than the 360 millirems of radiation federal officials say the average American is exposed to each year, it still poses a public health threat, Senator Romero says.
"These regulations create an environmental risk and public health threat for all Californians," said Romero. "The policy must be overturned as soon as possible."
Both the Sierra Club and Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nuclear policy group, are backing Romero's bill to rescind the regulation. They contend the radioactive material exposes nearby communities and landfill workers to the risk of cancer.
The bill, introduced February 21, would increase monitoring at landfills and prevent radioactive waste from being sent anywhere other than dumps in Utah and South Carolina.
Sunlight, PCB Exposure Raise Skin Cancer RiskNASHVILLE, Tennessee,
March 21, 2002 (ENS) - Exposure to sunlight and PCBs increase a person's chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancer, even on parts of the body not exposed to the sun, a University of Illinois study suggests.
Preliminary results of the research, which used the hairless mouse model of humans with non-malignant skin cancer, were presented today in an exhibit at the 40th annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology in Nashville.
The University of Illinois (UI) researchers also reported that mice exposed to PBCs (polychlorinated biphenyls) also ate more and grew fatter, regardless of exposure to light.
"The statistical power of our experiments leads us to believe that our results likely underestimate the strength of our conclusions," said Rhian Cope, a professor of veterinary biosciences in the UI College of Veterinary Medicine. "Because PCB contaminated soil and sun exposure are both extremely common, we must look at this issue in humans."
In the study funded by the American Cancer Society, researchers exposed a group of mice for 77 days to soil from a Southern Illinois landfill site contaminated with PCBs and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), a PCB byproduct. Some of the mice were then exposed five days a week for 28 weeks to solar ultraviolet radiation.
Researchers found that exposure to the PCB and sunlight combination led to a rapid growth of non-melanoma tumors on the undersides of the mice. The tumors were slow growing and did not turn into squamous cell carcinomas, "thus demonstrating their low malignant potential," the authors noted.
PCB exposed mice kept out of the light did not develop such tumors.
By day 281, other results surfaced. Mice exposed to sunlight but not the contaminated soil had developed twice the number of skin tumors in light exposed areas than had mice exposed to PCBs and light together.
The researchers hypothesize that the contaminated soil, which caused an acne like skin condition, served as a sunscreen, at least during early stages of exposure to ultraviolet light. The soil used in the study came from the Sangamo Landfill on the Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge.
"Our results were complex, but it was clear that tumor growth was dependent on whether or not an animal's skin was irradiated," Cope said. "The only time we saw tumors at any site was in the presence of UV irradiation. It was clear that UV light promotes the development of tumors at non-light-exposed sites that were probably initiated by exposure to PCBs and PCDFs."
In 1998, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, there were up to 1.2 million cases of non-melanona skin cancers in the United States, a number that may be underreported, Cope said.
"PCB contamination is a more widespread problem than most people realize," said collaborator Larry G. Hansen, a professor of veterinary biosciences, noting that millions of dollars are being spent on clean up projects around the nation.
"Several industrial areas of Europe also are highly contaminated," he added.
Legislators Endorse Health Tracking NetworkWASHINGTON, DC,
March 21, 2002 (ENS) - A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation to monitor chronic diseases and their potential environmental connections.
Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and other environment and public health organizations applauded the move.
"This legislation begins a new era in public health," said PSR executive director and CEO Dr. Robert Musil. "By committing to tracking chronic diseases and their environmental links, we are taking the first steps to curbing these killers before they strike."
Chronic diseases, including cancer, asthma and birth defects, affect one-third of the U.S. population and account for seven out of ten deaths each year. The cost of chronic disease is estimated at $325 billion a year.
On Wednesday, Democratic Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton on New York and Harry Reid of Nevada introduced a bill to establish a network to track when and where chronic diseases occur and their potential links to environmental factors. The House version of the bill was introduced by Democratic Representatives Nancy Pelosi of California, Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, and Louise Slaughter of New York, and Republican Representative Peter King of New York.
"A health tracking network made possible by today's legislative announcement would cost less than a dollar for every American," said Dr. Musil. "Yet it would facilitate the creation of a powerful system to fight chronic disease in much the same way our infectious disease system nearly eradicated polio."
The National Health Tracking Network would work at federal, state and local levels and would monitor diseases like Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis as well as environmental exposure to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), mercury, lead and pesticides. The system would be designed to swing into action in the event of a health crisis, and would ensure rapid response to a potential hazard at all levels of government.
"A nationwide network will truly empower health officials to understand and prevent these deadly and debilitating diseases," Musil concluded.
$90 Million Supports Safer Water SystemsWASHINGTON, DC,
March 21, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will spend almost $90 million to help local utilities safeguard the nation's water systems.
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman told the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) that the EPA is committed to making drinking water and wastewater utilities as safe as possible, as fast as possible. That mission has gained urgency since the terrorist attacks of September 11 drew attention to the vulnerability of the nation's water infrastructure.
"Since September 11, we have moved quickly to help secure America's drinking and wastewater systems against terrorists attacks," Whitman told attendees at AMWA's annual conference on Tuesday. "And you have been right there alongside us. This work, as well as efforts underway with partners around the country, is critically important to protecting our water supplies and systems effectively and intelligently."
The largest drinking water systems, those serving more than 100,000 people, will be eligible to apply for grants to support completion of vulnerability assessments and other security planning. These vulnerability assessments will help systems undertake a more in-depth, comprehensive analysis, aimed at identifying their potential vulnerabilities and security upgrades.
These large systems provide service to almost half of Americans served by public water systems. The EPA will work cooperatively with states, tribes and appropriate organizations to further develop and disseminate tools and support security efforts at small and medium drinking water and wastewater systems.
Almost $90 million was appropriated by Congress for these efforts in a fiscal year 2002 supplemental spending bill. Requests for applications for the grants will be distributed in the upcoming weeks.
729 Buildings Earn Energy Star LabelWASHINGTON, DC,
March 21, 2002 (ENS) - The most energy efficient buildings in the nation use about 40 percent less energy than average buildings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said today.
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman today announced the 729 top energy performing buildings in America, which have earned the EPA's Energy Star® label. Since 1999, these buildings have saved $134 million in energy costs and emitted 1.9 billion fewer pounds of carbon dioxide, the chief global warming gas, than average buildings.
"Americans across the country can now work, shop, and go to school in buildings that are stars in energy performance," said Whitman. "By making a commitment to superior energy performance, owners and managers are making these buildings a testament to improving our environment and their own bottom line."
Energy Star is a voluntary partnership between business, government and others united to protect the environment by adopting energy efficient practices. Businesses can use Energy Star to improve efficiency, enhance profits and create a competitive advantage.
Buildings qualify for Energy Star by earning a score of 75 or higher on a 100 point national energy performance rating scale, which compares buildings across America with others of similar characteristics. These buildings must also meet industry standards for comfort and indoor air quality, as verified by a professional engineer.
The 729 awards went to many different types of buildings, representing many sectors of the economy. These buildings can be found in more than 40 states, with California, Texas and Colorado each having more than 50 Energy Star labeled buildings.
Among the top performing buildings are 122 owned and occupied by large commercial institutions, from telecommunications firms to healthcare institutions and supermarkets. Another 204 buildings are properties owned by commercial real estate organizations and leased to commercial tenants, while 287 are public schools, and 116 are federal government facilities.
Energy Star partners have made the commitment to join the program by improving the energy and financial performance of their buildings, labeling their energy efficient homes and raising customer awareness of Energy Star. Many of these partners have buildings found among the top 729.
Last year, Energy Star helped businesses and consumers save more than $5 billion in energy costs while reducing global warming emissions equivalent to taking 10 million cars off the road.
More information about Energy Star buildings and products is available at: http://www.energystar.gov
Sea Fans Help Regenerate Damaged Coral ReefFORT PIERCE, Florida,
March 21, 2002 (ENS) - In what is believed to be the first such attempt, captive raised sea fans, a form of soft coral, will be planted on a reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that was damaged when a ship ran aground in 1989.
On April 10, a marine biologist from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Inc., will take the sea fans that are being grown in captivity, and seed them on a portion of the reef about six miles offshore, in about eight feet of water at low tide.
Harbor Branch reef restoration biologist Kevin Gaines said re-seeding the reef is a "giant step" in a project with two main goals; to better learn how to conserve and restore coral reefs, and to learn how to culture soft coral for re-seeding projects and for the aquarium industry.
This is the first time sea fans have been cultured on this scale in artificial conditions. There have been many challenges, Gaines said.
"First, before we ever collected our cuttings, our broodstock if you will, we had to build a closed recirculating system in which the sea fans could survive," Gaines said. The system had to be able to control temperature and acidity, while providing the right lighting and a steady supply of clean, fresh, fast moving seawater.
"Once we figured that out, we collected our cuttings, a total of 80 four inch by four inch samples of sea fans from near the damaged reef, and attached them successfully to an artificial substrate in our tanks made of calcium carbonate and cement," Gaines said.
For two years, the sea fans were nurtured and fed while new sea fans grew. Gaines then harvested 20 cuttings of second generation coral, each three inches by three inches. These second-generation sea fans will be re-seeded onto the damaged reef.
The results could reduce the amount of time it takes the damaged reef to grow new sea fan colonies by five to 10 years.
"We can shorten the recovery process substantially by putting this new, already established and larger fragment of soft coral back on the reef," Gaines said. "The theory is, if you can re-seed a reef with larger sea fans as opposed to the smaller, individual animals that settle naturally, the quicker you have mature coral and sexual reproduction occurs, and new colonies are established."
The $72,000, four year project, which is being funded by Harbor Branch and the Disney Conservation Fund, will include monitoring the sea fans in their new home to see how they fare.
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