AmeriScan: March 15, 2007

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Phthalates Linked to Fat, Low Testosterone in Men

ROCHESTER, New York, March 15, 2007 (ENS) - Exposure to phthalates, chemicals found in everything from plastics to soaps, has for the first time been linked to abdominal obesity and insulin resistance in adult males, according to a study by the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The phthalate family of chemicals is used in cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, lotions, lubricants, paint, pesticides, and plastics. Phthalates soften plastic tubing and are also used in the coating of some timed-release medicines.

The research adds to the growing suspicion that low-dose exposures to phthalates and other common chemicals may be reducing testosterone levels or function in men, said lead author Richard Stahlhut, MD, MPH, a preventive medicine resident at the University of Rochester.

As a possible result, men are experiencing rising obesity rates and an epidemic of related disorders, such as Type 2 diabetes, Stahlhut said.

The study was published Wednesday in the online edition of the journal "Environmental Health Perspectives," a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health, a federal government agency.

"Substantial declines in testosterone levels and sperm quality have been observed in the United States and other countries over the last several decades which and it urgently requires explanation," Stahlhut said. "While we can't say yet that phthalates are a definite cause, I am certain they are on the list of chemicals that demands careful study."

Phthalates have been widely used for more than 50 years, but only recently implicated as a possible health risk in people. Animal studies have shown consistently that phthalates depress testosterone levels.

Recent human studies have found that phthalates are associated with poor semen quality in men and subtle changes in the reproductive organs in boy babies. This connection between phthalates and testosterone helped to establish a basis for the study, Stahlhut said.

Stahlhut's group analyzed urine, blood samples and other data from 1999 to 2002 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, NHANES, a large, multi-ethnic sampling of the U.S. population acquired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the adult men available in NHANES, 1,451 had data on phthalate exposures, obesity and waist circumference. Of these men, 651 also had fasting glucose and insulin levels required to calculate insulin resistance.

The analysis found that men with the highest levels of phthalates in their urine had more belly fat and insulin resistance. Researchers adjusted for other factors that could influence the results, such as the mens' age, race, food intake, physical activity levels and smoking.

More than 75 percent of the United States population has measurable levels of several phthalates in their urine, according to the study.

The Vinyl Institute says, "Phthalates have been used safely for decades in flexible vinyl products ranging from consumer products to critical-care medical products to building products such as flooring and wallcovering."

"Unfortunately, there's still a lot to learn about phthalates," Stahlhut said. "The more difficult issue is what combinations of common low-dose chemical exposures might be contributing to these problems."

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Ice Causes Trouble Across Midwest

DETROIT, Michigan, March 15, 2007 (ENS) - U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit reports a large increase in the workload as the recent warm weather has begun melting ice all over the Great Lakes.

Coast Guard Air Station Detroit dispatched multiple HH-65C helicopter missions and Coast Guard Small Boat Stations responded to numerous reports of fisherman on ice floes and people having fallen through the ice.

Near Saginaw Bay, Lake St. Clair and the western basin of Lake Erie at Monroe, Michigan it took many helicopter missions over the last few days to search for people in distress on the ice and in the water.

Temperatures are forecasted to remain well above freezing for the next few days, making the ice extremely dangerous and unpredictable, the Coast Guard warns. With lake temperatures still extremely cold, immersion into the icy water can lead to hypothermia and to death within minutes.

The Great Lakes have already claimed multiple lives this winter and the Coast Guard is urging that the public use extreme caution on or near the ice.

On Wednesday, the State of Minnesota Emergency Management reported that an ice jam caused the Little Minnesota River to flood into Browns Valley, Minnesota, population 650. Mayor Jeff Backer Jr. said the flood caused the evacuation of 150 residences and affected 50 to 100 other structures including businesses.

Browns Valley is on a flood plain near the South Dakota border, about 175 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Currently, the flood water is receding.

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Enviros Petition to Re-List Pygmy Owl as Endangered

TUCSON, Arizona, March 15, 2007 (ENS) - Conservationists filed a petition today to re-establish protection for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as an endangered species.

The pygmy-owl population in Arizona has declined from 41 birds in 1999 to fewer than 30 birds in recent years. Urban sprawl has contributed to the near-extirpation of pygmy owls in northwest Tucson, where only one individual was found in 2006. Likewise, in northern Sonora, surveys demonstrate that pygmy owls have declined by 26 percent since 2000.

The petition asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the owl as endangered in three possible ways - in Arizona alone; in the Sonoran Desert as a whole, including Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico; or throughout the range of the western subspecies, which includes Arizona, and the Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa.

"The pygmy owl should never have been removed from the endangered species list," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of the petition. "The pygmy owl is near extinction in Arizona and sharply declining in northern Sonora. It desperately needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive."

The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl was listed as an endangered species in Arizona in 1997.

In 2003, a federal court ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to better explain its decision that the Arizona population is "distinct" from birds in Mexico. In response, the agency removed the population from the list in 2006, arguing that while the pygmy owl is highly endangered, it does not qualify as a "distinct population segment" because it is not significant to the species as a whole.

"The court did not order the agency to delist the pygmy owl," said Jenny Neeley, southwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife. "Our petition includes data that illustrate that the pygmy owl is in danger of extinction throughout the entire Sonoran Desert."

The petitioning groups claim that the Service dismissed scientific evidence that suggested that the pygmy owl should be protected throughout the Sonoran Desert and overrode its own biologists by removing the imperiled bird from the endangered species list.

The Service also refused to consider the fact that the quickly disappearing Arizona population constitutes the last U.S. population of the western subspecies of cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. Instead, the groups claim, it falsely assumed that Texas and Arizona birds belong to the same subspecies.

To date, the Bush administration has protected just 57 species — the fewest for any six year period since the inception of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. There were 512 species protected under President Bill Clinton and 234 protected during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

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Washington State Allows Two Dam Removals to Benefit Salmon

OLYMPIA, Washington, March 15, 2007 (ENS) - The Elwha River Restoration project in Clallam County, considered by many to be the most important salmon recovery project in the state of Washington, has received a nod of approval from the Washington Department of Ecology.

Two major dams, the Elwha and Glines Canyon, will be removed, opening up over 70 miles of river habitat to endangered salmon and trout species.

When the dam removal is completed, the entire Elwha River will be free-flowing, and salmon and seagoing trout will have access to over 70 miles of mainstem and tributary habitat previously blocked off from fish passage.

Since the two dams were completed in 1913 and 1927, salmon have been limited to the lower five miles of the Elwha River.

Ecology's Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program last week issued the critical Section 401 Water Quality certification, a federal Clean Water Act permit. It certifies that the dam removal and ecosystem restoration project will meet state water quality standards and other water protection regulations.

Without Ecology's certification, the National Park Service, the lead agency for the Elwha River restoration project, could not secure other essential permits or hire contractors who will lay the groundwork for the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.

"This project is incredibly significant to our salmon and to the shoreline and beaches of the Port Angeles area," said Governor Christine Gregoire.

"The Elwha River once hosted a famous run of Chinook salmon. These fish were huge, some weighing over 100 pounds, and they have been all but eliminated by these two dams. I look forward to restoring the Elwha River and rebuilding its Chinook run for this and future generations," the governor said.

The state is working in partnership on the project with the National Park Service, local communities and tribes. The removal of the two dams will increase the flow of sediment into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, re-establishing the flow of natural materials that historically helped maintain shorelines and beaches. This may in turn help reduce or reverse the erosion of coastlines and beaches, such as Ediz Hook, in the area.

Construction of water treatment facilities to protect the water supplies of the city of Port Angeles and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe will begin later this year. Dam removal will begin after water protection measures are completed.

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Applied Materials Plans Largest U.S. Solar Power Plant

SANTA CLARA, California, March 15, 2007 (ENS) - Electronics manufacturer Applied Materials, Inc. announced today that it will install over 1.9 megawatts of solar power generation capability at its research campus in Sunnyvale, California.

This is believed to be the largest solar power installation on an existing corporate facility in the United States and will be rolled out in three phases.

Applied Materials fabricates semiconductor chips, flat panels, solar photovoltaic cells, flexible electronics and energy efficient glass using nanomanufacturing technology.

"When the project is complete we will have a silent, non-polluting 1.9 megawatt power plant on what is currently open roof space and parking areas, and a great hedge against future energy cost increases," said Mike Splinter, president and CEO of Applied Materials.

Applied Materials will start installing panels later this year that use a variety of state of the art solar technologies. Once completed in 2008, Applied Materials’ system will generate over 2,330 megawatt hours annually – the equivalent of powering 1,400 homes.

"As we pursue our strategy to significantly drive down the overall solar cost-per-watt we feel it is important to lead through example and that installations of this size will help lower consumer cost and spur overall market growth," said Splinter.

In 2006, Applied Materials announced its entry into the solar photovoltaic equipment market. The company’s solar strategy is to enable lower cost-per-watt solutions for solar cell manufacturing, with the goal of making solar power a significant alternative source of global energy.

Applied Materials has reduced its overall Bay Area electricity consumption by about 20 percent over the last couple of years as part of its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

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Black Carbon From Asia Affects Pacific Ocean Climate

SAN DIEGO, California, March 15, 2007 (ENS) - Soot and other particulate pollution from Asian sources make up more than 75 percent of black carbon transported at high altitudes, new research demonstrates.

More than three-quarters of the particulate pollution known as black carbon transported at high altitudes over the West Coast during spring is from Asian sources, according to a research team led by Professor V. Ramanathan at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Though the transported black carbon, most of which is soot, is an extremely small component of air pollution at land surface levels, the phenomenon has a significant heating effect on the atmosphere at altitudes above two kilometers (6,562 feet).

As the soot heats the atmosphere, however, it also dims the surface of the ocean by absorbing solar radiation, said Ramanathan, a climate scientist at Scripps, and Odelle Hadley, a graduate student at the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Scripps. The two are lead authors of a research paper appearing in the March 14 issue of the "Journal of Geophysical Research."

The dual effect carries consequences for the Pacific Ocean region that drives much of Earth's climate.

"That's the primary concern we have with these aerosols," said Hadley. "They can really affect global climate."

"The soot heating of the atmosphere exceeds the surface dimming and as a result the long range transported soot amplifies the global warming due to increase in carbon dioxide," said Ramanathan. "We have to find out if this amplification is just restricted to spring time or is happening throughout the year."

The researchers found that transported black carbon from Asian sources is equal to 77 percent of North American black carbon emissions in the troposphere during the spring.

In a follow-on study funded by the California Energy Commission), Hadley, Ramanathan and fellow Scripps climate scientist Craig Corrigan are now studying how much carbon might be incorporated into precipitation and what the effects on melt rates of Sierra Nevada snowpack could be.

The measure of high black carbon concentration from Asian sources "is a startling finding by itself, but its potential importance is magnified by the fact that black carbon is believed to have a disproportional impact on regional climate," said Guido Franco, technical lead for climate change research at the CEC's Public Interest Energy Research program. "Fortunately, we have already started to address this issue with Scripps and more studies are being planned."

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the California Energy Commission.