AmeriScan: March 1, 2005

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Mercury Damages IQ of U.S. Children, Billions in Earnings Lost

NEW YORK, New York, March 1, 2005 (ENS) - Reductions in intelligence due to mercury pollution affect between 316,500 and 637,200 American children each year and will cost the United States an estimated $8.7 billion in lost earnings annually, according to a new study by scientists at the Mount Sinai Center for Children’s Health and the Environment in New York, released Monday in "Environmental Health Perspectives" (www.ehponline.org), the peer-reviewed journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The Mount Sinai study, “Public Health and Economic Consequences of Methylmercury Toxicity to the Developing Brain,” is the first study to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal that has examined the magnitude of the impact on America's children of the loss of intelligence (IQ) caused by mercury pollution. It also the first study to quantify the economic costs of these impacts.

Pediatricians Philip Landrigan, Clyde Schechter, and Leonardo Trasande, the principal researchers on the study, said that the loss of IQ due to methyl mercury toxicity affects between 10 and 15 percent of the four million children born in America each year. "This lost productivity is the major cost of methylmercury toxicity," they wrote.

"Of this total, $1.3 billion each year is attributable to mercury emissions from American power plants. This significant toll threatens the economic health and security of the United States and should be considered in the debate on mercury pollution controls," the doctors said.

The doctors said the Bush administration's "Clear Skies" legislation that would substitute a cap-and-trade system for the existing Clean Air Act to reduce mercury from U.S. power plants has the potential to damage American children. The Clean Air Act would reduce mercury more quickly than the Bush plan, many scientists and environmentalists have said.

“If mercury emissions are allowed to remain at high levels,” said Dr. Landrigan, director of the Center and Chairman of Community and Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai, “children will continue to suffer loss in intelligence and disruptions of behavior. Most of these effects will last a lifetime and are likely to cost this nation far more than the costs of installing flue gas filters to prevent mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.”

“As pediatricians, we worry about the potential damage to each affected child,” said Dr. Trasande, the study’s lead researcher, and assistant director of the Center. “Moreover, beyond the harm to individual children, lie enormous socioeconomic consequences. The significant impact that “Clear Skies” could have on the economic health and security of the United States should be considered in a careful debate on mercury pollution controls before “Clear Skies” becomes law.”

But Scott Segal, executive director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents the power generation industry, continued to defend the "Clear Skies" approach, although he acknowleged the toxic nature of mercury. "The power industry has never challenged the notion that mercury is a neurotoxin," he said.

"A well-designed cap and trade program like the Clear Skies proposal remains the most appropriate response to dealing with mercury emissions from power plants," Segal said.

There is no mercury control technology that exists today that can achieve the reduction levels proposed in the mercury rule, let alone the 90 percent reductions advocated by some activists," he said. "Technology is still being developed to get repeatable, robust, high-level mercury removal on different plant configurations and coal types."

"The cap-and-trade mechanism creates substantial economic incentives for superior mercury control but remains sensitive to real technological constraints," Segal said.

He warned that if coal-fired power plants must switch to natural gas to reduce mercury emissions, power prices would go up.

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U.S. Signs Next Generation Nuclear Power Pact

WASHINGTON, DC, March 1, 2005 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman joined representatives from Canada, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom Monday to sign the first multilateral agreement to develop next generation nuclear energy systems.

The Generation IV International Forum (GIF) will focus on six next generation technologies for development - the Gas Cooled Fast Reactor; the Sodium Fast Reactor; the Lead-Cooled Fast Reactor; the Molten Salt Reactor; the Supercritical Water Reactor; and the Very High Temperature Reactor.

The Very High Temperature Reactor forms "the basis of the U.S. research program to develop an ultra-safe, economic nuclear system that will be designed to produce electricity and hydrogen with substantially less waste and without emitting air pollutants or greenhouse gases," Bodman said.

The Framework Agreement signed by the five nations allows them to go beyond coordination of research to begin conducting joint research projects all over the world, leveraging the resources and expertise of the international research community.

"This research agreement will accelerate an international effort to develop Generation IV nuclear energy systems nuclear energy technology that will be safer, more reliable, cost-effective, and more proliferation-resistant than any technology available today,” said Bodman.

The Generation IV International Forum is composed of 11 countries including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, France, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“Each of our nations recognizes that developing new nuclear power technologies will be indispensable in meeting our growing energy needs and support continued economic growth," Bodman said.

For more information on this and other DOE nuclear technology initiatives visit the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology at: www.nuclear.gov

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Utah High-Level Nuclear Waste Dump a Step Closer

WASHINGTON, DC, March 1, 2005 (ENS) - An Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Thursday ruled in favor of granting a license to the proposed Private Fuel Storage (PFS) high-level radioactive waste dump in Utah on the tribal lands of the Skull Valley Goshutes.

By a 2-1 vote, the Board rejected the state of Utah’s assertions that there is too high a probability that a radiation release could be caused by the accidental crash of one of the 7,000 flights made down Skull Valley every year by F-16 single-engine jets from Hill Air Force Base.

With the Licensing Board’s role now completed, the determination whether to issue the requested license now goes to the five Commissioners who head the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), who will also hear any appeals.

The PFS facility would be located on the reservation of the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians, about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The proposed above ground facility is intended for temporary storage of the waste fuel from U.S. nuclear power plants.

The Board majority concluded that the probability of a crash at a speed and angle sufficient to breach one of the stainless steel canisters holding spent nuclear fuel was less than one in a million per year. Under the NRC’s standards, a facility like PFS does not have to be designed against such an unlikely accident.

Nearly two years ago, the Licensing Board upheld the state’s initial argument, blocking issuance of the PFS license, by finding that the probability of an accidental F-16 crash onto the proposed site was too high unless it could be shown that such a crash would have no adverse radiological consequences. The applicant’s appeal of that decision to the Commission was held in abeyance pending the second phase of the F-16 crash inquiry.

The Skull Valley dump was vigorously opposed by Governor Jon J. Huntsman Jr., a Republican. "There is no such thing as 'temporary' with respect to high-level nuclear waste. Utah prides itself on its extraordinary quality of life and beautiful vistas and venues. It shouldn't be the nation's dumping ground."

While he could not keep high-level nuclear waste out of Utah, in an effort to keep low-level radioactive waste out of the state, Huntsman signed a bill Friday that prohibits any entity in the state from accepting class B or C low-level radioactive waste or radioactive waste having a higher radionuclide concentration than allowed under existing licenses.

"Utah must not be the dumping ground for America's radioactive wastes," the governor said.

The national advocacy groups Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Public Citizen as well as Utah's Shundahai Network agree. In a joint letter written today to the five NRC Commissioners, they said, "The need for PFS is far from clear, given approvals for on-site dry cask storage at a growing number of reactors, and the fact that true consolidation of waste is not possible as long as nuclear utilities continue to produce it."

"The facility has no contingency plan for faulty containers, the storage/transport containers are of questionable structural integrity, and there is an increasing risk that PFS could well become de facto permanent storage. The plan also raises serious transportation safety concerns, and is beset with environmental justice violations," the groups wrote.

They recall for the NRC the Genesis satellite crash into the Utah Test and Training Range last September at the stray missile which struck the scientific research station on the Skull Valley reservation in the 1990s, saying these incidents "show the potential dangers of storing 44,000 tons of highly radioactive waste next to such active military facilities."

"Opening of this dump would initiate the transportation of thousands of casks of high-level radioactive waste across the nation, putting millions of people in jeopardy of a Mobile Chernobyl from an accident or terrorist attack," the groups warn.

The letter urging the NRC Commissioners to reject the PFS license application, will be sent to the NRC Commissioners in early March. It is open for sign on by sending name, organization, city and state to kevin@nirs.org by 5 pm March 3.

The Skull Valley area is already the site of many hazardous waste facilities. To the northwest is the Envirocare Low-Level Radioactive Disposal Site which buries radioactive waste from across the nation.

To the east is Rush Valley which serves as a federal nerve gas storage facility. The world's largest chemical weapons incinerator was built there to destroy thousands of tons of these chemicals.

South of Skull Valley lies the Intermountain Power Project which provides coal-fired electrical power primarily for California. Air pollution fills the skies of the Western Desert and impacts the Skull Valley Reservation.

North of the reservation is a large magnesium production plant which has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the most polluting plant of its kind in the United States due to its releases of chlorine gas, which impact the Skull Valley Reservation. In the siting of these facilities on the aboriginal territory of the Goshutes, the Skull Valley Tribal Government and people say they were never consulted. Find out more at: http://www.skullvalleygoshutes.org/

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U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Open for Public Comment

WASHINGTON, DC, March 1, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased by 0.6 percent from 2002 to 2003, but they stayed below emission levels in 2000, according to an annual report on the six gases released Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Fossil fuel combustion was the largest source of emissions, accounting for 80 percent of the total.

The agency released a draft of the annual Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2003 for a 30 day public comment period.

Th EPA says the increase was due primarily to 2003's moderate economic growth, which increased demand for electricity and fossil fuels.

From 1990 to 2003, emissions have grown by 13 percent, while the U.S. economy has grown by 46 percent the report shows.

Total emissions of the six main greenhouse gases were 6,899 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2003.

These gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

The inventory is prepared annually by the EPA, in collaboration with experts from a dozen other federal agencies. After the final version of the document is complete, the State Department will submit the inventory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

A Federal Register notice announcing a 30-day public comment period on the report was published on February 28. The report is available online at: http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/publications/emissions

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Outdoor Equipment Industry Fights Federal Budget Cuts

BOULDER, Colorado, March 1, 2005 (ENS) - Women, youth, Hispanics, and single adults over 45 are the next targets of a concerted ad campaign mounted by the Outdoor Industry Foundation and its members eager to sell boots, sleeping bags, tents and outdoor gear of all kinds that helps people get out and get moving.

Outdoor Industry Foundation says it has conducted extensive research initiatives to fully understand the potential participant in outdoor recreation, including their motivations, demographic profile, and perceived barriers to participation.

Putting that research into practice, the industry group is issuing the first installment in its Toolkit for the Trade series. “Getting Women Active” is "a toolkit designed for retailers and outfitters, filled with practical research, case studies and tips for growing the women’s segment of outdoor recreation."

“The Toolkit for the Trade series turns our extensive research into tangible actions for the entire outdoor trade to grow participation,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of Outdoor Industry Association. “The toolkits are designed to help any interested party reach out to untapped segments of the market.”

The industry is doing its best to reverse President George W. Bush's recommendation to eliminate funding for the stateside Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in his proposed 2006 budget. This Fund was created by Congress in 1964. The program matches state and federal dollars to protect natural resources while providing recreation for Americans close to home.

In January, 78 executives representing the $20.1 billion outdoor industry urged President Bush to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The President also eliminated funding for the Urban Parks and Recreation Restoration program, which helps people stay active.

Hugelmeyer says those budget choices are mistaken. "We know that close to home recreation opportunities play a key role in getting Americans active," he said. "With soaring medical costs, investing in more active lifestyles is essential."

"If investment in trails and parks, through programs like stateside LWCF and the Urban Parks and Recreation Restoration program, which was also zeroed out by the President, led to even a five percent decrease in the $75 billion in medical costs associated with obesity - half of which are carried by the federal government - the investment would mean $1.875 billion in savings for American taxpayers each year," Hugelmeyer said. "That is a return on investment of $3.40 for each dollar invested."

Later this year, the foundation will release a toolkit for “Getting Youth Active,” followed next year by toolkits for the ethnic segment and singles over 45.

“Our ultimate goal is to make outdoor recreation the number one leisure activity in the United States,” said Hugelmeyer. “By understanding who gets involved in outdoor recreation, why they choose to get involved, and what stands in their way, we have been able to tailor our outreach initiatives to have the greatest impact today.”

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Fired Parks Police Chief Files Federal Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, DC, March 1, 2005 (ENS) - Teresa Chambers has filed suit in federal district court on the grounds that the Department of Interior illegally destroyed documents showing charges used as the basis to remove her as chief of the U.S. Park Police last year were without basis. Chambers was removed after she gave an interview to a reporter expressing concern about short staffing on her police force.

Chambers is suing to force the release of exculpatory documents or, if they are not produced, to obtain damages to compensate for their illegal destruction.

The key document is a performance evaluation of Chambers prepared by Deputy Park Service Director Donald Murphy, who later charged Chambers with misconduct relating to breaches of chain-of-command and other performance-related issues.

According to Murphy’s sworn testimony in depositions taken prior to Chambers’ first hearing seeking reinstatement, his evaluation covered the periods during which her supposed misconduct occurred but his evaluation did not mention the issues or incidents that were later used as a partial basis for her firing last July.

“For Deputy Park Service Director Don Murphy the question is which time was he telling the truth - when he said he prepared an evaluation or when he said he has no record of the evaluation,” said General Counsel Richard Condit of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who filed the suit on Chambers’ behalf.

“If Murphy’s evaluation of Chief Chambers supported their charges, why have they been hiding it?” he asked.

The Chambers suit is filed under the Privacy Act which entitles individuals to see records about them maintained by federal agencies, particularly records created as part of a federal employee’s personnel file. The Privacy Act provides for monetary damages.

At the same time in a different forum, Teresa Chambers also is seeking reinstatement. Her appeal is now before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. Two of the six administrative charges that the Interior Department had leveled against Chief Chambers were thrown out at the trial level.

If produced, Murphy’s evaluation could knock out two of the remaining four charges.

The remaining two charges involve an interview Chief Chambers gave to the "Washington Post," and those charges will also be subject to First Amendment and other separate federal court challenges if they are upheld at this stage.

“Little by little, the bogus charges leveled against Chief Chambers are dropping away,” Condit said, recalling that Chambers was stripped of her badge, credentials and side arm and marched out of Interior headquarters under armed escort on December 5, 2003. “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they are turning.”

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New Jersey Acquires 1,000 Acre Wetland for Wildlife

TRENTON, New Jersey, March 1, 2005 (ENS) - The state of New Jersey has purchased a wetland property extending over more than 1,000 acres to conserve as wildlife habitat and for recreation.

The Hyponex Corporation site in Andover, Hampton and Lafayette Townships and the Town of Newton in Sussex County will be managed for hunting, fishing, birding and other recreational activities by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The Hyponex Corporation site contains significant water resources and wetlands. The property is in the headwaters of the Paulinskill, which drains into the Delaware River and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The Paulinskill also is a popular trout fishing destination and breeding ground for dwarf-edged mussel, which require pristine water quality.

“The Hyponex tract’s extensive wetlands complement DEP’s existing preservation projects along the Paulinskill and provide a critical waterfowl breeding and migration habitat,” said Acting Governor Richard Codey.

The Hyponex property consists of wetlands, including wooded swamps, bogs and impoundments, and supports endangered plants including the pear hawthorn, rush aster and bog rosemary. The 20 mile Sussex Branch Trail and the 27 mile long Paulinskill Valley Trail, both of which are part of the State Trails System, traverse or border portions of the Hyponex site.

“Preserving wetlands prevents flooding and drinking water contamination and provides critical habitat for wildlife,” said DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell. “The acquisition of this new wildlife management area is a victory for the protection of wetlands and a great opportunity for New Jersey’s hunters, fisherman and birders.”

The site is habitat to waterfowl including ducks, geese, and swans, wading birds such as herons and egrets, and shorebirds like the spotted sandpiper. The site also supports the threatened wood turtle and the endangered bog turtle and red shouldered hawk. In addition, muskrat, beaver, raccoon, fox, deer and bear can be found on the site.

“The Hyponex property hosts the Noah’s Ark of Skylands wildlife,” said Eric Stiles, New Jersey Audubon Society’s Vice President for Conservation. “This property will provide a unique, high quality experience for the over two million people who watch wildlife in New Jersey annually. In 2001, wildlife watchers spent over $2 billion in New Jersey, underscoring the message that conservation is also good business.”

Settling longstanding federal wetlands violations at the preserved site, Hyponex Corporation undertook an extensive wetlands restoration project that mitigated the effects of previous peat and muck soil mining. In addition, Hyponex provided DEP a $125,000 endowment fund to be used for management of the property’s natural resources.

DEP purchased the $1,900,000 property from Hyponex Corporation with $1,400,000 in Green Acres Program state acquisition funding and $500,000 from the DEP Waterfowl Stamp Program.

The DEP Waterfowl Stamp Program uses revenue from the sale of state waterfowl stamps and prints to purchase wetlands, which serve as waterfowl habitat. To date, proceeds from the sale of New Jersey's duck stamps and prints have raised more than $3.9 million to acquire more than 14,000 acres of wetlands for waterfowl habitat and public use.

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Alaska Students Help NASA Record Earth Music

NORTH POLE, Alaska, March 1, 2005 (ENS) - In the tiny town of North Pole, Alaska, the sun is up for just three or four hours a day. In February temperatures hit minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Mother grizzlies sometimes shelter their cubs in the woods near the local high school.

North Pole High School math teacher Dr. Curt Szuberla and his student team of aspiring scientists and engineers, can brave the dark, the cold and the bears because they are so excited about building a very low frequency radio receiver, or VLF.

With their receiver they can pick up the sounds of the planet - radio waves emitted by lightning strikes, the northern lights, and other natural phenomena, which VLF receivers deliver as a musical chorus.

VLF receiver systems are little more than an antenna and an audio amplifier, which translate radio waves - inaudible to humans - into acoustic oscillations Szuberla and his students can hear.

In 1990, space scientist Bill Taylor of NASA's Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Bill Pine, a science teacher at Chaffey High School in Ontario, California, founded the Interactive NASA Space Physics Ionosphere Radio Experiments program, or INSPIRE, which uses these receivers to bring the excitement of studying very low frequency radio waves into the classroom.

INSPIRE, a non-profit education program managed at the Goddard Center, encourages students to build and activate VLF receiver systems and develop their own research projects.

To date, more than 1,500 receivers have been built at elementary schools and high schools across North America. But none as far north as North Pole, Alaska.

Szuberla, who holds a doctorate in physics, decided to INSPIRE his quartet of field researchers, Kit Dawson and Matt Welch, 16, and Matt Keller and Nicolas Leland, 17, all juniors studying calculus and advanced computer programming.

Earth's protective magnetic field expands around the planet's equator and converges at the North and South Poles. Space weather activity on the Sun such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can change the interplanetary magnetic field and cause dazzling auroral light displays and other disturbances in Earth’s own magnetic field - make the polar regions more favorable sites for VLF systems to pick up natural Earth sounds.

Szuberla's team will record the low-frequency sounds of the aurora borealis and stream it via the Internet to the entire INSPIRE community, and to classrooms and Web users worldwide.