AmeriScan: March 26, 2007

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Dealing With Tons of Plutonium at Savannah River Site

WASHINGTON, DC, March 26, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, will evaluate the potential environmental impacts of disposing of tons of highly radioactive surplus plutonium at the Savannah River Site, SRS, near Aiken, South Carolina.

The DOE will prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that identifies a plutonium vitrification facility and use of H-Canyon as the preferred alternatives.

"The department is committed to preparing our surplus plutonium, that is currently stored at the Savannah River site, for disposal in a safe and environmentally responsible manner," said Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environmental Management James Rispoli.

For the proposed plutonium vitrification facility, DOE will evaluate stabilizing up to 13 metric tons of plutonium that are not planned for use in the United States' first Mixed Oxide, MOX, Fuel Fabrication Facility that is currently going through the permitting process.

The proposed plutonium vitrification facility would stabilize this plutonium material in a lanthanide borosilicate glass.

This glass-encased plutonium would be placed in stainless steel cans that would then be placed within larger canisters to be filled with vitrified high-level radioactive waste in the Defense Waste Processing Facility at SRS.

Eventually the canisters would be disposed in a permanent geological repository, says DOE.

For H-Canyon, DOE will evaluate processing of plutonium bearing materials through the Defense Waste Processing Facility. The only hardened nuclear chemical separations plant still operational in the United States, H Canyon began operations in 1955. The 835 foot-long building is called a canyon because of its long rectangular shape.

Nuclear material such as fuel tubes and oxides, is converted to solution and transferred through various process stages where uranium, neptunium and plutonium are separated. Contaminants are removed, and the product is purified. Waste is transferred to the site’s high-level waste storage tanks for eventual vitrification.

All H-Canyon work is remotely controlled, and employees are further protected from radiation by thick concrete walls.

Through the MOX project, the proposed Plutonium Vitrification Facility, and operations of H-Canyon, the department has identified a proposed path for the tons of plutonium materials currently located at SRS.

This Supplemental EIS will also evaluate the proposed disposition of plutonium materials that may be brought to SRS for consolidated storage from other major nuclear waste storage sites in the United States - the Hanford Nuclear site in Washington state, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Evaluation of potential consolidation of these materials will be subject to a separate environmental analysis.

The DOE will hold public meetings on April 17 in Aiken and on April 19 in Columbia, South Carolina. Public comments will be accepted for 60 days from the date of publication of this information in the Federal Register, scheduled for this week.

More information on these meetings and on the Department’s Notice to Prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement will be posted at http://www.eh.doe.gov/nepa/.

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Indiana Meth Lab Premises Must Be Cleaned for New Tenants

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, March 26, 2007 (ENS) - A new Indiana state rule aimed at preventing people from living in residences where the interior sufaces are coated with hazardous residues produced in making methamphetamine became effective Friday.

Flammable solvents, acids, strong caustics, combustible metals, and anhydrous ammonia used in the manufacturing process produce phosphine gas, sodium, lithium, lead and mercury that contaminate porous wall and floor coverings, heat and air conditioning vents, and furnishings.

Under the new rule, a qualified inspector must check for and clean the hazardous residues from interior surfaces before new occupants can move into houses, apartments or hotel rooms where drugs were manufactured. The rule also establishes cleanup levels that must be attained and a list of contractors who are qualified to inspect and clean up the former labs.

Children may be at greater risk of exposure to chemicals in former illegal laboratories than adults because they crawl on the floor and place objects and their hands in their mouths.

"Property owners now have a way to provide new occupants or prospective purchasers with credible certification that the living space has been cleaned up to state standards," said Thomas Easterly, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, IDEM.

In 2005, Governor Mitch Daniels initiated Indiana's Meth Task Force and brought together state lawmakers and numerous local, state and federal agencies to combat problems associated with illegal meth labs.

Local law enforcement agencies work in coordination with the Indiana State Police Methamphetamine Suppression Unit to seize illegal drug labs, safely dismantle them, and properly dispose of hazardous chemicals using a contractor from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Indiana Department of Child Services assists and cares for children who are endangered by the illegal drug's manufacture.

State and local health departments can order a contaminated property to be vacated and may assist property owners in addressing potential health effects.

The state rule was developed under Senate Enrolled Act 444, which was passed in 2005. The Act also contained provisions for keeping medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters, requiring law enforcement agencies to report illegal drug labs to local health and fire departments and adding the drug's chemical ingredients to the list of contaminants that can be cleaned up under environmental management laws.

To see the final rule click here.

IDEM maintains the qualified inspector list and provides training to contractors that want to become qualified inspectors. The inspector list is online at: http://www.idem.IN.gov/programs/land/drug_lab .

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Green Homebuyers Motivated by Lower Operating Costs

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, March 26, 2007 (ENS) - People who have purchased green homes say they are happy with their investments, with 85 percent saying they are more satisfied than they were with their previous, traditionally built homes, according to a home buyer survey released today.

The National Association of Home Builders, NAHB, and McGraw-Hill Construction, which conducted the research, released preliminary results of the findings at the annual National Green Building Conference that opened Sunday in St. Louis.

The survey found that that 63 percent of buyers are motivated by the lower operating and maintenance costs that come with homes that are energy and resource efficient. Nearly 50 percent said they are motivated by environmental concerns and their family's health.

"We're excited that green home owners are so happy, and that this new research quantifies this customer satisfaction. But we are certainly not surprised," said Ray Tonjes, chairman of the NAHB Green Building Subcommittee and an Austin, Texas home builder.

Energy efficiency, water and resource conservation, sustainable or recycled products, and indoor air quality are increasingly incorporated into the everyday process of home building, Tonjes noted, demonstrating that green building is increasingly going mainstream.

The new survey also backs up recent finding by the NAHB Economics staff that interest in green remodeling continues to grow.About 40 percent of those who have recently completed home remodeling or renovation work in their homes reported that they used green products or materials, the McGraw-Hill Construction research found.

In a survey of NAHB builders that the company conducted last year, McGraw-Hill Construction estimated that two percent - or $7.4 billion - of the residential construction market contained green building elements, such as energy efficient windows.

The survey found that 0.3 percent of all existing United States homes are truly green - constructed using several different green building design features and products - a market sized at approximately $2 billion.

The research found that the new green homeowner is affluent and well educated, in his/her mid-forties and married, and also more likely to be from the Southern or Western states. Women are also more likely to be green homeowners.

More than 60 percent of those surveyed say that consumer awareness, additional costs and the limited availability of homes are obstacles to green homes gaining a bigger market share.

NAHB is affiliated with more than 800 state and local home builders associations around the country. NAHB's builder members will construct about 80 percent of the more than 1.56 million new housing units projected for 2007.

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Paper Recovery at an All-Time High

WASHINGTON, DC, March 26, 2007 (ENS) - The American Forest & Paper Association, AF&PA, today announced that a record 53.4 percent of the paper consumed in the United States - 53.5 million tons - was recovered for recycling in 2006. This is the second year in a row that the paper recovery rate has increased.

The 53.5 million tons represent an increase in recovery of 83.7 percent since 1990, when the paper industry undertook its first serious commitment to advance recycling in the United States, the trade association said.

Currently, Americans recover nearly 360 pounds of paper for every person in the United States, up from 233 pounds per person in 1990.

"These results show that we are closing in on our 55 percent paper recovery goal at a much faster rate than we anticipated," said AF&PA President & CEO Juanita Duggan. "We're encouraged by both the quantity and quality of paper being recovered, but we still have an opportunity to bump this number even higher by increasing recovery of high quality paper found in offices and schools."

The recycling rate was made possible by the efforts of AF&PA member companies and the millions of Americans who recycle at home, work, and school every day.

About 86 percent of the U.S. population, or about 258 million people, have access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs, according to a 2005 AF&PA Community Survey.

In order to keep up with global demand for recovered fiber, the industry has set a goal of 55 percent recovery by 2012.

AF&PA continues to raise awareness of the need for increased paper recovery through partnership programs, youth outreach, and resources and materials available on http://www.paperrecycles.org.

In addition to a searchable database of historical information regarding recovery by paper grade, the website also contains recycling guides for schools, communities and businesses, background and facts and figures on paper and paper recycling, and video and interactive features.

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Alaska Offers $150 Bounties to Boost Aerial Wolf Kills

JUNEAU, Alaska, March 26, 2007 (ENS) - Alaska has redoubled its efforts to reduce wolf populations in five areas of the state in an effort to enhance moose populations.

Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd said last week that more permits will be issued to volunteer pilots and shooters who track and kill wolves.

The state will help permittees find wolves. The department will charter flights for its biologists to spot wolves within wolf control areas. Agency spotters will then share that information with permitted volunteers, a technique proven effective in the past.

"Poor tracking conditions mean permittees have had a hard time locating wolves," Wildlife Conservation Division Director Matt Robus said, "and, of course, after several successful years, there are fewer wolves to find."

To motivate permittees and to help offset the high cost of aviation fuel, the department will offer cash payments to those who return biological specimens to the department.

Permittees will be paid $150 when they bring in the left forelegs of wolves taken from any of several designated control areas.

“We can learn more about the wolf population age structure from these specimens,” Robus said, “and that information will be useful in the years to come as we modify our program to fit changing circumstances."

He explained that these cash payments are additional incentives to aerial control permittees, and are not bounties. "This program is a directed management action applied in a limited fashion in specific areas, available to properly-permitted operators, and yielding useful scientific information. In contrast, the bounties of past years were broad-scale efforts to extirpate animals across large portions of their ranges," said Robus.

"You can use whatever euphemism and call it an incentive or whatever double-speak trips your trigger but it strikes us as a bounty," said John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

Whatever the program is called, the state is determined to kill wolves. By April 4, if enough wolves have not been killed, department officials will consider using department staff in helicopters to track and kill wolves "in limited areas where conditions warrant."

“Governor [Sarah] Palin has asked the Department to reserve state employees and private helicopters for use as a last resort,” Commissioner Lloyd said. “But, with less than a month to go, if we find low wolf take persists in a specific area, we may deploy this last resort.”

The state's wolf control program focuses on five predator control areas - the Nelchina Basin, an area west of Cook Inlet, the mid-Kuskokwim Valley, the McGrath area and the upper Yukon/Tanana Basin.

The Department’s objective for this winter is a take of between 382 and 664 wolves. So far, at least 98 wolves have been killed in these areas by predator control permittees, hunters, and trappers combined.

Since 2003, more than 600 wolves have been killed, contributing to an increase in moose populations.

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EPA Settles for Fish and Chips

KENAI, Alaska, March 26, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has agreed to let an Alaskan seafood processor off the hook for $26,000 in water violation penalties because the company has come up with an innovative pollution reduction project.

Snug Harbor Seafood, Inc. located in Kenai will spend the $26,000 to create a non-profit company, named Fish and Chips.

The new company will turn discarded wood chips and at least 10 tons per year of fish wastes into compost and then bag the product for local retail sale.

Snug Harbor also will pay $8,016 in penalties for violating its discharge permit.

Snug Harbor, like most Alaskan seafood processors and unlike many seafood processors in the lower 48 states, discharges seafood waste into nearby waterways. For Snug Harbor, those nearby waterways are the Kenai River and Cook Inlet, waters regulated by the federal Clean Water Act.

The EPA and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation inspected Snug Harbor on July 30, 2002, and July 28, 2004, and found that the company was not in compliance with its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, NPDES, permit.

Snug Harbor had not informed EPA about changes to its operation, failed to grind its seafood waste to half an inch or smaller before discharging, and did not perform daily inspections of its operations and the surface and shoreline to ensure the facility was operating correctly.

Still, the EPA is happy with the deal. "We are pleased that Snug Harbor is taking a leadership role by showing industry that fish wastes can be made into an environmentally beneficial product rather than pollute waterways," said Tara Martich, EPA’s NPDES Compliance Officer.

“EPA hopes other seafood processors follow Snug Harbor’s lead, by using the Fish and Chips facility, or by creating additional, innovative ways to use fish wastes," said Martich, "thereby keeping such wastes out of our rivers, bays, and oceans."