AmeriScan: March 8, 2005

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Eleven Arrested in Biscuit Fire Logging Protest

SELMA, Oregon, March 8, 2005 (ENS) - Protesters camped out on the Illinois River Sunday night, waiting for Monday when the first salvage timber sale inside an old growth forest reserve was scheduled to begin. When morning came, the environmentalists tried to block loggers from entering the Siskiyou National Forest.

Some 35 people were at a bridge leading to the Fiddler timber sale, demanding that the workers wait until two lawsuits challenging the logging are heard. The first hearing date is set for March 22 before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. Forest Service officers removed the demonstrators, including 72 year old Joan Norman who was blocking the bridge. "We have no laws in our forest so we will be the law," Norman said. Eleven people, including Norman, were arrested.

About four miles past the bridge on the Babyfoot Lake/Fiddler timber sale road, the demonstrators had piled rocks and logs across the road. A pickup truck draped with an Earth First! banner blocked the road, its tires deflated.

Authorities cleared the blockade, and chainsaws were soon heard felling trees. Law enforcement officers drew a line around the road blockade, called it a crime scene and threatened to arrest anyone, including media, within the line.

Old-growth reserves were created under the Clinton era Northwest Forest Plan. The trees in this reserve on the Siskiyou National Forest were burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire. The old growth forest making up this unit of the timber sale was burned by the Forest Service in fire suppression efforts during the Biscuit Fire.

The logging is taking place about a little less than two miles above the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River on the road to Babyfoot Lake, also known as the T.J. Howell Memorial Botanical Drive.

The 18 acre logging unit, is adjacent to the 335 acre Inventoried Roadless Area timber sale the Forest Service has laid out in the Mikes Gulch watershed South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area and Briggs Late-Successional Reserve.

The Fiddler Timber Sale is entirely within the Briggs Reserve.

The Fiddler Timber Sale is one of half a dozen sales that are part of the U.S. Forest Service Biscuit Recovery Project. They are scheduled to log thousands of acres of timber damaged in the Biscuit Fire, but protesters say the project is a front to remove the Clinton era protections for old growth forests and roadless areas.

John West, president of Silver Creek Timber Company, which is clearing the Fiddler Timber Sale, said in January, "It's dead, burned timber. It's going to create jobs." West expects to log right through until June and relies on security teams and law enforcement officers to protect his right to do so.

Rolf Skar of the Siskiyou Project, an environmental group, said, "These are areas that are set aside as safety nets of habitat for sensitive species under the Northwest Forest Plan. Now nowhere since the Plan was created has there been massive logging of this type in those protected reserves. So this is a precedent setting action."

The environmentalists say the forest is fire dependent and is recovering on its own. They say logging it will hinder the regeneration process by choking salmon streams with silt and the only thing the project will recover is a profit for timber companies.

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First U.S. Use of Plutonium Oxide Nuclear Fuel Authorized

WASHINGTON, DC, March 8, 2005 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has authorized Duke Energy Corp. to use four mixed oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies, containing uranium and plutonium, as part of the nuclear fuel at its Catawba nuclear power plant near Rock Hill, South Carolina.

This use of MOX will be the first use authorized in the United States, although the mixed plutonium and uranium oxide fuel is used in European and Japanese power reactors.

NRC's safety review addressed the areas of reactor systems, radiological dose consequences, spent fuel pool cooling, reactor vessel materials, occupational dose and routine effluents, and quality assurance to ensure that the plant, in using MOX fuel, will operate in compliance with the agency’s strict safety requirements.

“We found that there is reasonable assurance that use of the MOX fuel at Catawba will be safe and will comply with the Commission’s regulations,” said Tad Marsh, director of NRC’s Division of Licensing Project Management. “Additional protective measures proposed by Duke will provide enhanced security for the MOX fuel assemblies, beyond the measures currently in place for the conventional uranium fuel.”

The NRC also conducted an environmental assessment, which concluded that the proposed use of the MOX fuel assemblies would not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment.

Duke filed an application in February 2003 to amend its operating license at Catawba to allow use of the four MOX fuel assemblies. The dimensions and layout of the four MOX fuel assemblies, which will be placed among 189 other conventional fuel assemblies in the reactor, are very similar to those of the fuel assemblies currently in use at Catawba.

An NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board held a hearing on Duke’s request to use the MOX fuel assemblies. The Board issued its decision on the safety aspect of that hearing on December 22, 2004, finding that there is reasonable assurance that the proposed use of the MOX assemblies in Catawba will not endanger the public health and safety.

But the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League of Glendale Springs, North Carolina objected in a December 2004 letter to NRC Chairman Nils Diaz that Duke should not be permitted to test the MOX assemblies because it did not correctly estimate the amount of radiaiton that would be released into the environment in the event of a failure at Catawba.

"Apparently, Duke based its accident scenarios for plutonium testing on outdated radiation dose information," the environmental group wrote. "This is a violation of federal regulations and, because of this error, Duke’s submissions to NRC incorrectly estimate radiation dose to the public during an accidental release from the nuclear reactor core."

In addition, the Blue Ridge League said, Duke violated federal law "by failing to disclose plans to test yet another new experimental nuclear fuel, so-called Next Generation Fuel, at the Catawba Nuclear Station" in the same reactor simultaneously with the MOX fuel test. Next Generation Fuel (NGF) is manufactured by Westinghouse.

"At issue are peak temperature estimates in the reactor leading to core meltdown," wrote Blue Ridge League representative Louis Zeller.

"I live about a hundred miles from Duke’s McGuire nuclear power plant which has two of the reactors scheduled to use plutonium fuel. Duke’s license amendment request to test weapons-grade plutonium in its nuclear fuel at the Catawba plant affects me, my family, and thousands of our members in North Carolina and South Carolina," Zeller wrote.

The MOX fuel assemblies designed for use in the Catawba reactor were produced by combining surplus plutonium from dismantled U.S. nuclear weapons with uranium into a form that can be used by commercial nuclear power plants. The program to use surplus plutonium in nuclear power plants in order to eliminate the plutonium as a weapons material is part of the ongoing U.S.-Russian plutonium disposition program, being implemented by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Licensing Board has not issued a decision on the security aspect of the hearing. Still, NRC regulations and procedures permit issuance of the license amendment after completion of the staff’s safety and environmental review, provided the amendment would not (1) involve a significant increase in the probability or consequences of an accident previously evaluated, (2) create the possibility of a new or different kind of accident, or (3) involve a significant reduction in a margin of safety.

On July 12, 2004, the NRC published in the Federal Register for public comment its proposed determination that those three conditions were met for the Catawba request. Following evaluation of comments received, the agency finalized that determination, and is now issuing the license amendment.

Copies of the staff’s evaluation, environmental report and their supplements will be available on the NRC’s Agencywide Document Access and Management System (ADAMS) at Help in using ADAMS is available from the NRC’s Public Document Room (PDR) by calling 301/415-4737 or 1/800/397-4209.

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Sonar Suspected in Florida Keys Dolphin Stranding

MARATHON, Florida, March 8, 2005 (ENS) - Marine wildlife experts and the U.S. Navy are investigating the stranding of 68 rough-toothed dolphins in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary last week to determine if sonar from a Navy submarine may have disoriented the marine mammals.

The USS Philadelphia, based in Groton, Connecticut, was conducting exercises near the chain of islands known as the Florida Keys the day before the dolphins began to beach themselves. The Navy declines to say whether sonar was used during the exercises that took place about 45 miles from Marathon.

As many as 70 rough toothed dolphins began to strand during low tide Wednesday in shallow mud flats on the ocean side of the town of Marathon on Key Vaca, in the middle of the island chain.

Rescue efforts were immediately begun by personnel from the Marine Animal Rescue Society of Miami along with the Marine Mammal Conservancy, the Florida Keys Marine Mammal Rescue Team, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Monroe County Sheriff and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries).

Despite the efforts of dozens of volunteers, more than 20 of the dolphins have died. Two others gave birth to calves, both of which were stillborn.

On Saturday, 26 of the dolphins were transported to the Marine Mammal Conservancy rehabilitation site in Key Largo. "The loading-in was stressful, but most aspects of the transport went pretty smoothly," the Conservancy said.

At the rehab site, some of the dolphins require support to keep their blowholes out of the water, but many are able to swim freely without physical support, said the Conservancy. For those that are able to support themselves, volunteers stand by in case support becomes necessary. Feeding includes tubing with fluids - pedialyte and water - as well as fish.

On Friday, the Marine Animal Rescue Society transported a nine foot male and an eight foot female to its critical care facility at the University of Miami on Key Biscayne.

Four others were taken to Mote's Center for Shark Research satellite location in Summerland Key. This brings the total of succesfully rescued dolphins to 32, the Conservancy said.

Rescue efforts continue in an attempt to save the remaining survivors. NOAA Fisheries reports that dolphins are still being spotted off Marathon, and has requested assistance from the Conservancy with additional dolphins stranding. Some of these dolphins have been observed simply to be swimming close to shore, but authorities are watching for signs of stranding.

NOAA Fisheries animal experts are doing necropsies on the dead dolphins, seeking evidence of acoustic damage.

No confirmed link has yet been made between the submarine's activities and the stranding, but the loud low frequency sound blasts have been identified as the cause of at least one other stranding of a large number of marine mammals - that of 15 beaked whales that beached in the Canary Islands in 2002.

At least 35 whales stranded and died along the North Carolina coast in January immediately after Navy ships on a deep-water training mission off the coast used sonar as part of the exercise.

The rescue organizations say more help is needed financially and from volunteers. The Marine Animal Rescue Society said it is in urgent need of Pedialyte, purified water, wetsuits, multivitamins, ziplock bags, batteries, a hydrophone, ice, food for volunteers. Supplies can be delivered to the MARS site on Virginia Key. For more information call 305-546-1111 or visit

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Judge Upholds Canadian Border Closing in Mad Cow Case

WASHINGTON, DC, March 8, 2005 (ENS) - The Canadian-U.S. border will remain closed to the import of Canadian beef for the present due to concern about cattle and beef infected with mad cow disease.

U.S. District Court Judge John Garrett Penn in Washington Monday denied the motion of American Meat Institute, an industry organization, to block enforcement of a May 2003 ban on imports of Canadian cattle.

The move is the latest in a series of court battles over the reopening of the border, which was originally scheduled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Monday, but is now on hold.

American Meat Institute Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel, Mark Dopp said, "The U.S. meat industry continues to believe as strongly as ever that full trade in beef and cattle products with Canada is justified by both the science and world animal health guidelines set by the OIE." OIE stands for the World Animal Health Organization.

"This ruling and other anti-trade developments this week have been a blow to free trade and to the principles that have made an industry strong and competitive in international markets," Dopp said.

The American Meat Institute believes that unless the border is opened their Canadian counterparts will resolve to do whatever is necessary to become a major competitor to the United States. "The U.S. has historically consumed almost 50 percent of Canada's production and more than 90 percent of their exports. Canada will never let that happen again - and we will suffer because of it," said Dopp.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was pleased with Monday's ruling, spokesman Ed Loyd told reporters. "USDA has decided to consider this issue through a separate rulemaking process," he said.

"The fact that our long term ally may now become a rival and could move into our former export markets is salt in the wounds of the U.S. beef industry, which is suffering terribly from this protected, unnecessary and protectionist trade barrier," said Dopp. "But we will not let this - or any other development - weaken our resolve to work for science-based and internationally harmonized trade policies."

Last week, a federal district judge in Montana granted a cattlemen's association a preliminary injunction that prevented the Canadian border from reopening to live cattle and additional beef products on March 7. The border opening was scheduled by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its Final Rule classifying Canada as a "minimal risk" country for mad cow disease, issued on December 29, 2004.

District Judge Richard Cebull ruled in favor of Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America), known as R-CALF USA, in its request for a preliminary injunction.

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Conservationists Lose Ghost Ships Case, Win Policy Changes

WASHINGTON, DC, March 8, 2005 (ENS) - A federal judge has dismissed a case brought by conservation groups against the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) over the export of highly contaminated obsolete navy vessels, known as ghost ships.

Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled March 2 that the towing of four old ships to Teesside U.K. in October 2003 does not present any imminent harm to the United States, although the shipyard that was contracted by MARAD to scrap them lacks the authorized facilities to carry out the contract.

Nor are MARAD’s future plans to transport additional aging ships to Teesside an imminent threat to the United States in the absence of an agreement from the United Kingdon to accept additional ships from the James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia, the judge decided.

The conservation groups sued MARAD and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over moving the 60 year old vessels across the Atlantic. Citing violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, they raised concerns about health, safety, and international environmental justice.

Although they lost their case, conservation groups claimed success in raising public awareness of the issue and in pressuring MARAD to have the ghost ships scrapped in the United States rather than sending them overseas.

“The Bush administration's decision to move these toxic ships was reckless,” said Aaron Isherwood, an attorney for the Sierra Club, which was one of the plaintiffs along with the Basel Action Network. “Just bringing this case to court brought the time and scrutiny needed to reduce safety risks at home and abroad.”

Eight of the 10 highest priority ships that MARAD pledged last summer to remove from James River have been sent to U.S. shipyards for scrapping. The latest one to leave, the General William O. Darby, was towed to the Marine Metals facility in Brownsville, Texas in February. The remaining two have U.S. contractsin place.

“The case has helped to raise awareness that there is significant capacity for ship scrapping here in the United States and it is just plain irresponsible to outsource jobs or toxic waste,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network.

As a result of the lawsuite, the groups say MARAD has not exported nine additional vessels to the unlicensed scrap yard in England, Able UK. The nine ships were originally scheduled to be moved to England until the groups obtained a preliminary injunction to keep them in the United States.

In addition, MARAD carried out a public environmental assessment to examine some of the environmental and health hazards posed by its export proposal.

MARAD also has applied to the EPA for a public rulemaking to determine whether its proposed export is prohibited by the long-standing Federal prohibition on PCB exports. This process is ongoing.

MARAD has represented in public documents and to the court that it will not export any vessels unless the UK government licenses the scrap yard and consents to the hazardous waste imports.

“We may have lost this round on technical grounds,” said Martin Wagner of Earthjustice, “but along the way we have forced the U.S. Maritime Administration to comply with all applicable U.S. and international standards governing hazardous waste exports. This is a genuine victory for concerned citizens in both countries.”

The conservation groups support the removal of the ships from the James River and other locations for recycling as soon and as safely as possible. Still, they worry about "the overall likelihood that MARAD will consider resuming the dangerous exports and dumping of asbestos and PCB laden vessels to the shipbreaking yards of Asia."

“We still have major concerns about the Bush administration's growing role in the toxic waste trade,” said Isherwood. “If we are serious about building trust around the world, America needs to demonstrate a clearer commitment to public safety and environmental justice beyond its borders.”

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NRDC Lists 2005 Biogems, Americas' Most Threatened Places

WASHINGTON, DC, March 8, 2005 (ENS) - The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today announced a new campaign to save the California Gulf porpoise, also called the vaquita marina porpoise, in the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico. The last 500 porpoises are under pressure from shrimp fishing.

Shrimp is now the most popular seafood in the United States, the NRDC points out, and the campaign's main focus is the largest U.S. importer of Mexican shrimp, Ocean Garden Products, a Mexican government owned company based in San Diego.

"Our campaign's goal is to persuade Ocean Garden to make good on its claim that it sells environmentally friendly seafood by taking responsibility for protecting the Upper Gulf," said José Yunis, an NRDC attorney. "Destructive and unsustainable practices are wiping out fish in the Upper Gulf and killing off the California Gulf porpoise.

The 500 vaquita marina porpoises swim alongside humpback whales and hammerhead sharks in waters once so rich Jacques Cousteau called the area the "aquarium of the world."

The Upper Gulf of California is one of two new sites of critical importance for whales and other marine mammals added to NRDC's annual watchlist of the dozen most endangered natural places in the Americas, called Biogems.

The two new 2005 BioGems - in the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico and on the Patagonia Coast of Chile - were added to the list of 10 other BioGems from 2004, that includes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Cumberland Plateau in the southeastern United States.

Along Chile’s Patagonia Coast, scientists have identified the first blue whale nursery ever to be studied. Endangered after centuries of whaling, giant blue whales are the largest mammals on Earth.

Adjacent to the blue whale nursery, in the midst of what the NRDC describes as "jagged peaks and deep green fjords blanketed with an old-growth temperate rainforest," the Canadian company Noranda plans to build an aluminum smelter.

"The toxic pollution and ship traffic associated with the smelter would undoubtedly threaten the whales, the NRDC says. The organization plans to enlist BioGems Defenders to block Noranda from building the smelter.

Over the coming year, the NRDC announced plans to mobilize citizen action to defend all 12 Biogem areas by coupling research and advocacy expertise with citizen activism.

"Industry wants to turn our old-growth forests into toilet paper, and industrialize our last pristine wilderness areas for a few more drops of oil," said Johanna Wald, director of NRDC’s Land Program. "Citizens are rising up and saying ‘No more.’ There are better, cleaner and more economical alternatives to destroying our natural heritage."

NRDC launched the BioGems Initiative in 2001 to mobilize Americans to defend exceptional, imperiled ecosystems and NRDC says the initiative is working. Over the past year, NRDC has blocked energy companies, loggers and miners from gaining ground in the 10 BioGems listed in 2004, but they still face ongoing threats.

The NRDC views the Arctic Refuge as at particular risk. Both houses of Congress are considering including projected revenues from oil leases in the refuge in their budget bills.

"NRDC’s BioGems Initiative has demonstrated the power of the Internet as a tool for conservation," said Jacob Scherr, NRDC’s BioGems campaign coordinator. "We have used the Web to enable citizens around the world to have a voice in the protection of some of the most precious wild places in our hemisphere, and their voices have been critical to our victories in the United States, Canada and Latin America."

2005 BioGems

United States: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska; Cumberland Plateau, Southeastern United States; Greater Everglades, Florida; redrock wilderness, Utah; Tongass National Forest, Alaska; Western Arctic Reserve, Alaska; Yellowstone-Greater Rockies.

Canada: Castle-Bighorn, Alberta; Heart of the Boreal Forest, Manitoba.

Latin America: Patagonia Coast, Chile; Tahuamanú Rainforest, Peru; Upper Gulf of California, Mexico.

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Cockroach Allergens Worst for Childhood Asthma

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina, March 8, 2005 (ENS) - Cockroach allergen appears to worsen asthma symptoms more than either dust mite or pet allergens, according to new results from a three year nationwide study on factors that affect asthma in inner-city children.

This is the first large-scale study to show marked geographic differences in allergen exposure and sensitivity in inner-city children. Scientists found that most homes in northeastern cities had high levels of cockroach allergens, while those in the south and northwest had dust mite allergen levels in ranges known to exacerbate asthma symptoms.

"These data confirm that cockroach allergen is the primary contributor to childhood asthma in inner-city home environments," said Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). "However, general cleaning practices, proven extermination techniques and consistent maintenance methods can bring these allergen levels under control."

NIH provided $7.5 million to researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and seven other research institutions, including the Data Coordinating Center at Rho, Inc., for the study.

"We found that a majority of homes in Chicago, New York City and the Bronx had cockroach allergen levels high enough to trigger asthma symptoms, while a majority of homes in Dallas and Seattle had dust mite allergen levels above the asthma symptom threshold," said Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and lead author of the study.

Researchers tested 937 inner-city children with moderate to severe asthma symptoms. The children, ages five to 11, were given skin tests for sensitivity to cockroach and dust mite allergens, pet dander, and mold. Bedroom dust samples were analyzed for the presence of each allergen type.

"We also discovered that the levels of both of these allergens were influenced by housing type," noted Gruchalla. "Cockroach allergen levels were highest in high-rise apartments, while dust mite concentrations were greatest in detached homes."

While cockroach allergen exposure did produce an increase in asthma symptoms, researchers did not find an increase in asthma symptoms as a result of exposure to dust mite and pet dander.

"Children who tested positive for, and were exposed to, cockroach allergen experienced a significant increase in the number of days with cough, wheezing and chest tightness, number of nights with interrupted sleep, number of missed school days, and number of times they had to slow down or discontinue their play activity," said Gruchalla.

Cockroach allergens come from several sources such as saliva, fecal material, secretions, cast skins, and dead bodies, the scientists said.

While cockroaches are primarily attracted to water sources and food debris, house dust mites, microscopic spider-like creatures that feed on flakes of human skin, reside in bedding, carpets, upholstery, draperies and other "dust traps." Dust mite allergens are proteins that come from the digestive tracts of mites and are found in mite feces.

The researchers recommend that people reduce their exposure to cockroach allergen by eating only in the kitchen and dining room, putting non-refrigerated items in plastic containers or sealable bags, and taking out the garbage on a daily basis. Other measures include repairing leaky faucets, frequent vacuuming of carpeted areas and damp-mopping of hard floors, and regular cleaning of counter tops and other surfaces.

This study was part of the larger Inner-City Asthma Study, a cooperative multi-center project comprised of seven asthma study centers across the country. The goal of the study was to develop and implement a comprehensive, cost-effective intervention program aimed at reducing asthma incidence among children living in low socioeconomic areas.

The study was funded by NIEHS and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study results are published in the March issue of the "Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology."

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Infants Who Live With Smokers Risk Severe Viral Infection

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, March 8, 2005 (ENS) - Most children are exposed to Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) by the time they are two years old, but some get a mild cold while others end up in intensive care. Washington University researchers at St. Louis Children's Hospital found that a child's age at the time of infection and whether that child lives with a smoker makes the difference.

Mario Castro, MD, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine and principal investigator said, "What we're trying to study isn't the likelihood of getting the disease because it seems just about every kid gets RSV," Castro says. "We wanted to learn what factors are driving these severe, life threatening infections."

Castro's team found that one of the most important risk factors for severe infection was exposure to cigarette smoke.

"Smoking in the household is really detrimental to these kids," Castro says. "The kids who lived with mothers or others who smoked developed more severe RSV infections than the kids who were not exposed to cigarette smoke."

The study found that 28 percent of the children in the study lived with a mother who smoked. A total of 40 percent lived in a house where at least one person smoked. And Castro says those children had more severe infections. But smoking during pregnancy did not seem to increase the risk of severe infection.

"It's a great thing not to smoke during pregnancy," Castro says, "but it's equally important not to smoke after pregnancy. Kids spend a lot of time with their mothers during the first few months of life, and if the mother is smoking, it's going to be detrimental to the child's health."

Age is another risk factor for serious RSV infection. The younger the child, the more serious the infection tended to be. Castro blames that increase in risk on lung and airway development. The tiny windpipes of small children can become clogged with mucous and other secretions more easily than the bigger, more developed airways of older children.

The research team has been following 206 children since they were hospitalized or treated in the Emergency Department at St. Louis Children's Hospital. The children are part of a project called the RSV Bronchiolitis in Early Life (RBEL) study. The infants all were under 12 months of age when they were enrolled in the RBEL study and had a wide range in the severity of their RSV infection.

After the children were treated at the hospital and recruited into the study, Castro and colleagues looked at medical records and measured the children's oxygen saturation levels during RSV infection. The lower the oxygen saturation, the more serious the infection.

Later, they went to the children's homes and vacuumed up dust and allergens to see whether those products might have played a role in the severity of RSV infections.

The study found that African-American children tended to have less serious infections than Caucasian children. Because RSV infection is linked to childhood asthma and because African-Americans are more likely to suffer from asthma and to be hospitalized because of it, Castro and colleagues thought that African-American children would be at increased risk for serious RSV infection. But the study showed the opposite.

Children who came from homes with the highest levels of allergens had no effect on the severity of RSV infection. The researchers measured levels of dog and cat allergen, two types of dust mites and cockroach allergen, all of which have been linked to allergy and asthma problems in older children and adults.

"We were thinking that the kids who came from homes that had high allergen levels would already be compromised because they would have a reaction to those allergens and develop inflammation in their windpipes, so they would tend to do worse with RSV," Castro says. "But we found that even in the kids who came from the homes with the highest allergen levels, there was no increased risk."