AmeriScan: March 25, 2002
EPA to Oversee Alabama Emergency PCB Cleanup
EPA to Oversee Alabama Emergency PCB CleanupWASHINGTON, DC, March 25, 2002 (ENS) - A legal settlement lodged today will require the companies found responsible for PCB contamination in Anniston, Alabama to clean up their mess.
Following a year of negotiations, the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached the agreement with Solutia Inc., formerly known as Monsanto Company, and Pharmacia Corporation, over PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) that leaked from a former Monsanto plant in western Anniston.
The PCBs now contaminate the air and water in several low income neighborhoods, regional waterways and about 40 miles of floodplain.
Under the consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Alabama the settlement is subject to a 30 day public comment period. It will keep the Anniston site off the EPA's National Priorities, or Superfund, cleanup list for the time being.
The EPA said the settlement means more rapid, less expensive cleanup of contaminated areas, while leaving open the possibility that the site could be listed under Superfund later if the companies fail to comply with the cleanup plan.
Under the settlement, Solutia and Pharmacia have agreed to continue the emergency cleanups of area residences that are the worst contaminated. The companies will also conduct a comprehensive study and evaluation of risks to human health and the environment caused by PCBs, with EPA supervision.
PCBs are considered a probable carcinogen and are linked to neurological and developmental problems, the EPA says.
Solutia and Pharmacia must hire EPA approved contractors to study all contaminated areas for PCBs and other environmental pollutants, and evaluate the risk they pose to public health and the environment. The study will determine available cleanup options and suggest a strategy for restoring the community, covering all areas where PCBs have been found, including the Solutia facility, the landfills, creeks, rivers, lakes, flood plains and residential, commercial and agricultural properties that surround the facility.
Included in the settlement is an agreement to establish a $3.2 million foundation to assist in funding special education needs for Anniston area children whose ability to learn was damaged by the PCBs.
The companies must pay the EPA up to $6 million for the agency's investigative costs in this case, and spend about $150,000 to fund community advisors for the cleanup.
Some environmental groups, such as the Anniston based Community Against Pollution, fear the settlement could benefit the companies more than the community. On Friday, Solutia filed a petition in court asking that a lawsuit seeking a court ordered cleanup be dismissed.
The court could order a more comprehensive cleanup than that specified by the consent decree with the EPA.
The EPA said it is moving ahead with this settlement on the federal level but is not excluding state and city agencies. "We want to work with all parties in promoting a cleanup that is as quick and technically sound as possible. That includes the State Attorney General, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the City of Anniston, and citizen groups," the EPA said in a statement Monday.
Still, the EPA said, in this case the authority of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, as an organizing framework "offers the best opportunity for a cleanup which is legally certain and comprehensive in its scope. In addition, EPA has the technical expertise to oversee the cleanup and ensure it is done properly," the agency said.
Lead Company to Buy Homes Near SmelterJEFFERSON CITY, Missouri, March 25, 2002 (ENS) - The Doe Run Company will offer to buy the property of about 160 homeowners living near the company's lead smelter in Herculaneum, Missouri.
After a six hour meeting between Doe Run officials and government representatives last Thursday, Doe Run announced that it would offer buyouts to families with children younger than age six within a specific geographic area around the smelter and slag pile.
"My concern has always been the children of Herculaneum, and this agreement will result in immediate action to protect the children at greatest risk," said Missouri Governor Bob Holden, who arranged the negotiations. "This agreement is truly extraordinary. All of the parties involved demonstrated their commitment to making significant progress in resolving this critical health issue."
Holden called for immediate action after a recent state health study revealed that more than half of the children tested living within a half mile of the smelter had elevated blood lead levels. Exposure to lead exposure has been linked to developmental and neurological impairment in children, mental retardation, poor academic performance and juvenile delinquency.
Doe Run will offer buyouts to all residents in the defined geographic area during the next two and a half years. Details of this agreement will be worked out by the governor's office, Doe Run, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Health during the next two weeks, and the final results will be announced at a community meeting called by Doe Run.
The agreement will not affect lead contamination cleanup efforts by Doe Run already under way in Herculaneum, supervised by state and federal agencies. Holden noted the agreement also preserves the 250 jobs at the nation's largest lead smelter in the town of 2,800 residents, located 30 miles south of St. Louis.
"The state of Missouri will continue to monitor the situation closely and work with Doe Run and the federal government to ensure that all aspects of this situation are completely addressed," Holden said. "There is still a long way to go in Herculaneum. However, yesterday we took a huge step forward."
Landlord Faces Jail Over Lead Paint ViolationsSILVER SPRING, Maryland, March 25, 2002 (ENS) - A landlord renting properties in and around the nation's capitol has been sentenced to serve two years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for violating the Lead Hazard Reduction Act.
David Nuyen of Silver Spring, Maryland pleaded guilty to violating the Act by failing to inform his tenants about the presence of lead paint in at least one of his buildings. At least eight children living in Nuyen's properties tested positive for levels of lead in their blood.
Nuyen owns and rents about 15 low income rental properties in the District of Columbia and Maryland. The Justice Department said Nuyen's case was the first prosecution of its kind in the U.S.
Nuyen also obstructed an investigation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by presenting HUD with falsified forms that claimed that he had notified his tenants of the potential for lead hazards when they moved into their apartments.
Exposure to lead paint dust can cause a variety of illnesses, including neurological disorders. As part of his guilty plea, Nuyen provided all tenants with new notices about lead paint assessments performed by an independent contractor.
"I made a mistake, and I very deeply regret it," Nuyen told U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow before the sentencing.
The fine imposed by Chasanow is the highest amount allowed under federal sentencing guidelines.
"This case sends a message to landlords that they have a responsibility to warn their tenants of known lead hazards in their apartments," said Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio.
Under the court settlement, Nuyen must sell all of his rental properties within the District within the next three years.
Hurricanes Reduce Carbon Sequestration by ForestsASHEVILLE, North Carolina, March 25, 2002 (ENS) - Hurricanes reduce the capacity of forests in the United States to soak up carbon from the atmosphere, reducing their usefulness as so called carbon sinks, suggests an analysis by a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) researcher.
Global warming has been tied to increasing amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere from human activities ranging from clearing land to burning fossil fuels. The Bush administration has focused on forests as a means of absorbing and storing, or sequestering, some of this excess CO2.
In the March 2002 issue of the journal "Environmental Pollution," Steven McNulty, USFS southern global change program leader, suggests that the effects of hurricanes must be taken into account in predicting the carbon storage capacity of forests along the southeastern seaboard.
At least one major hurricane hits the southeastern coastline two out of every three years, and timber damage from hurricanes can exceed $1 billion, slashing the amount of carbon the forests can store.
"A single hurricane can convert ten percent of the total annual carbon storage for the United States into dead and downed forest biomass," said McNulty. "Hurricanes leave behind a lot of dead trees that decompose and return carbon to the atmosphere before it can be harvested."
McNulty analyzed hurricane damage data collected between 1900 and 1996 to learn how much carbon is transferred from living to dead carbon pools when trees are broken or uprooted. He explored what happened to the downed trees - whether they were salvage logged, burned or consumed by insects, and examined the long term impacts of hurricanes on forest regeneration and productivity.
McNulty found that most of the wood from hurricanes is not salvaged. Carbon is lost to the air as trees decompose, and the downed wood becomes fuel for wild fires that can kill surviving vegetation and release additional carbon dioxide.
"If increased carbon sequestration is going to be one of the mechanisms used to reduce net emissions of carbon dioxide in the United States," said McNulty, "incentives to increase post hurricane timber salvage need to be addressed."
When hurricanes remove the most mature trees, they allow younger trees, which are more active in converting carbon to biomass, to take over. While this increases the forest's carbon absorption, "short term increases in forest productivity do not compensate for the loss in numbers of trees and the 15 to 20 years needed to recover the leaf area of mature forests," McNulty said.
As the climate continues to warm, climate research projects that even more hurricanes will strike the U.S., making them an important factor in the health of the nation's southeastern forests.
Missouri Seeks Changes in River ManagementJEFFERSON CITY, Missouri, March 25, 2002 (ENS) - The Missouri Department of Conservation is recommending "a finer balance" in management of the Missouri River, citing the importance of farming as well as fish, wildlife and recreation.
The state's recommendations are summarized in a letter commenting on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Missouri River Master Water Control Manual.
The Conservation Department letter recommends reducing the flow of the Missouri River to 41,000 cubic feet per second at Kansas City from August 1 through September 15 for six out of every 10 years. The agency says this reduced flow would benefit fish, wildlife and recreation, and be sufficient to keep barges moving up and down the river.
Increased flows after September 15 could provide important benefits for navigation on the Mississippi River, the letter argues.
Some of the management alternatives the Corps of Engineers is considering call for increased spring flows to mimic natural seasonal flows. In its comments, the Conservation Department noted that the Missouri River already experiences a spring rise in Missouri due to normal rises in tributary streams.
"We caution that the effects of a periodic spring rise on Missouri's agricultural community must be a top priority in consideration of this important Master Manual issue," wrote Conservation Department director Jerry Conley. "We want the agricultural community along the Missouri River to remain viable and profitable in the 21st century, and we believe this can be achieved within the context of careful river management decisions."
The Conservation Department based its recommendations on information from the Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Research Council, as well as an analysis of river depths by its own staff. This analysis used Corps of Engineers data to create a three dimensional computer model of the river that shows how the river would look with different water flows.
The state says this analysis suggests that some Corps of Engineers estimates of how much water is needed to sustain barge transportation on the river might no longer be accurate.
In the past 100 years, the Corps of Engineers has used wood and rock structures to confine the Missouri River's flow to a much narrower channel than the original. Farther upstream, the Corps has built huge reservoirs that make it possible to hold vast amounts of water from spring rains and snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains.
These changes enable the Corps to reduce spring flooding and release water for sustained river flow throughout the dry months. However, the same changes have reduced areas suitable for fish and wildlife.
Straightening the river has shortened it by 127 miles between St. Louis and Sioux City, Iowa. For each mile of river length lost, wildlife experts estimate that one square mile of islands, oxbow lakes, sandbars, mud flats, and other wetlands and shallow water habitat have been lost.
The Conservation Department estimates that just two to five percent of the river's historic shallow water acreage remains today.
"The current Master Manual needs to be revised to strike a better balance between the many uses that the river sees today," said Conley. "The recreational potential of our namesake river is absolutely enormous and largely unfulfilled. We can come a lot closer to realizing that potential while maintaining or even enhancing benefits for agriculture, shipping and flood control. I'm very optimistic that the Missouri River will provide many more benefits tomorrow than it does today."
Scientists Seek Climate Clues in AlaskaNOME, Alaska, March 25, 2002 (ENS) - A team of scientists will spend the next month traversing the Alaskan tundra by snowmobile seeking clues into the role that snow cover plays in climate change.
The team will analyze the chemistry and composition of snow along the route to determine the source of the snow, and how much it has been affected by Arctic haze.
Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the six member Snow Science Traverse Alaska Region (SnowSTAR 2002) expedition plans to cover 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) - from Nome, northeast through the Brooks mountain range to Barrow, sampling snow at more than 75 locations along the way.
The traverse is part of a larger, ongoing project to understand climate change in the Arctic, titled ATLAS (Arctic Transitions in Land Atmosphere System) and sponsored by the Arctic System Science program within NSFs Office of Polar Programs.
The team will measure snow depth, density and layering during the traverse, and will make detailed measurements of snow layering, or stratigrapy. The measurements will be used to determine regional trends in the snow properties.
Several lines of evidence indicate that climate change will be more pronounced in the Arctic, and easier to detect there than at lower latitudes. Air temperatures in the Alaskan Arctic have increased two to four degrees Celsius in the past 30 years, and evidence suggests changes are already occurring in land based ecosystems.
Snow covers the Arctic for seven to 10 months of the year and is thought to play a key role in this process of change.
The researchers will be looking at two processes: the role of key weather events in the development of the snow pack, and the interaction of the snow and vegetation. Previous studies have shown that Arctic snow pack consists of between five and eight layers of snow deposited by the same number of storms.
The studies are motivated by previous findings that the presence of shrubs may promote further shrub growth by increasing the amount of snow on the ground. Climate warming promotes increased plant production, so the two processes may interact in complex ways.
Memorial Trees Honor Terrorism VictimsNEW YORK, New York, March 25, 2002 (ENS) - A row of trees will be planted in New York's Calvary Cemetery will help memorialize the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
With lifespans measured in centuries, trees serve as a fitting tribute to the victims, says the National Tree Trust. The Trust will partner with Calvary Cemetery, located in Queens, and the Champion Tree Project to establish the Memorial Treeway of Champion Trees. Eleven of the people killed in the attack on the World Trade Center - seven of whom were firefighters - were buried at Calvary.
"Trees are a fitting tribute to the men and women, fathers and mothers, heroes and friends who died last fall," said National Tree Trust president Richard Keefe. "Nature provides a constant life cycle that reassures us and offers a sense of peace."
One dozen clones of the nation's champion trees will be planted on a hill overlooking the New York City skyline. Champion trees are the largest, and often the oldest living individual examples of their species.
The Champion Tree Project, with support from the National Tree Trust, is propagating clones - genetic duplicates - of these old growth forest giants. The trees planted at Calvary Cemetery are the duplicates of America's champion red and green ash trees, which are more than 300 years old.
"This Memorial Treeway continues a tree planting initiative we began last year at this historic cemetery," explained David Milarch, a Michigan tree farmer, who, along with his son, Jared, created the Champion Tree Project. "We hope the spirit of those taken from us September 11 will thrive for ages to come in the living legacy of these champion trees."
Families of the World Trade Center victims interred at Calvary Cemetery, along with New York City firefighters, local, state and national officials, will attend a ceremony on April 1 to establish the Memorial Treeway.
More information is available at: http://www.nationaltreetrust.org/about/memorialtreeway.htm
Hotline Offers Wildlife Conflict Advice - AnytimeNEW HAVEN, Connecticut, March 25, 2002 (ENS) - A new 24 hour hotline gives homeowners convenient access to advice on humane solutions to problem wildlife.
The Connecticut office of The Fund for Animals offers an "Urban Wildlife Hotline" with information on what to do about skunks under the deck, raccoon families in the chimney or baby rabbits that seem to have been abandoned by their parents.
Spring is the busiest time of year for human/wildlife conflicts, as mother animals are looking for places to raise their dependent young.
"During this time of year we especially get lots of calls when people find baby animals after cutting down hollow trees," says Laura Simon, urban wildlife director for The Fund for Animals. "They don't realize that those trees are virtual apartments for wild animals with young, such as squirrels, raccoons and woodpeckers."
According to The Fund, 85 percent of the hotline calls can be solved with advice given over the phone.
"If people have a raccoon in their attic or a skunk in their garage, we offer some simple solutions to humanely encourage the animal to leave," said Simon.
Regarding baby animals that may have been abandoned, The Fund provides advice on whether the animals need assistance or are just waiting for their mother to return.
For more technical problems, such as a beaver dam causing flooding in a backyard, The Fund offers expert advice to remedy the situation.
"There are a variety of water flow control devices available which provide a long term solution to flooding problems without even removing the beavers," said Simon. The Fund offers a video showing how to install the low cost devices.
While many people believe that trapping is the only way to get rid of nuisance wildlife, The Fund argues that it is cruel and ineffective.
"Trapping does not solve the problem," Simon said. "After the animals are removed, others will soon take their place. Nature abhors a vacuum. Another animal will quickly move in to take advantage of the vacated habitat."
The goal of The Fund for Animals' Urban Wildlife Hotline is to provide progressive, cost effective and socially acceptable ways to resolve wildlife conflicts, Simon added.
The Wildlife Hotline can be reached at: 203-389-4411. More information on coexisting with wildlife is available on The Fund's web site at: http://www.fund.org
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