AmeriScan: May 9, 2005

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Japanese Food Panel Eases Mad Cow Testing Rule

WASHINGTON, DC, May 9, 2005 (ENS) - The Japanese Food Safety Commission Friday recommended waiving bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) testing for cattle younger than 21 months of age. An animal 21 months of age is the youngest ever to test presumptively positive for the fatal brain wasting disease known as mad cow disease.

The ruling allows the government to approve the resumption of U.S. beef imports. Japan closed its markets to U.S. beef in December 2003 after the United Stated confirmed its first, and only, case of BSE, or Japan, which has reported 17 cases of BSE, tests all cattle and has insisted that the U.S. also test all of its cattle for the before it would lift the 17 month old ban on U.S. beef.

Japan's agriculture and health ministries will now review the panel's recommendations. Decisions by Japan’s advisory panels are not legally binding, but the government usually follows their recommendations.

American Meat Institute President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle said today that preventive strategies, rather than testing, are the best assurance that the meat supply is free of the agent that causes BSE.

"A common myth held by both the media and the public is that if cattle test negative for BSE, then they’re free of the infective agent," said Boyle, referring to misshapen proteins known as prions that are believed to cause BSE.

"The reality is that although an animal may test negative for BSE, the agent may still be present in its body. The agent that causes BSE has a long incubation period and thus testing animals before the disease can be detected is a costly exercise that offers no real assurances of safety. Unless an animal is six months or less away from clinical diagnosis, the test will be ineffective in finding the BSE,” Boyle said.

Specified risk materials (SRMs), the parts of the animal that contain the infective agent, like the brain and spinal cord, are by law removed from all animals intended for human consumption. "It’s the removal of the SRMs, and not testing, that ensures food safety," Boyle maintains.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the issue of Japan lifting completely a ban on imports of U.S. beef during a February meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura.

Japan was the largest market for U.S. beef and products with sales in 2003 before the ban was imposed exceeding $1.7 billion. Exports in total account for well over 10 ten percent of the total value of U.S. beef output, according to the the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

A special marketing program will be developed for Japan under which USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service will certify that exported products meet the terms of an agreement that was roughed out by officials of the two countries last October.

The marketing program will be evaluated by the countries in July and modified as appropriate, the USDA said. This evaluation will be based in part on an independent review of the marketing program and the BSE situation conducted by experts from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and other organizations.

While other countries, such as Egypt, Mexico and South Korea have eased their bans against U.S. beef, the opening of the Japanese market has been seen as pivotal to normalization of U.S. beef exports.

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EPA Comment Period Closes for Chemical Tests on Humans

WASHINGTON, DC, May 9, 2005 (ENS) - To win Senate confirmation as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month, then Acting EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson canceled a planned study in which parents were to be paid to expose their infant children to pesticides. But now the agency is finalizing a new policy that permits the same type of human dosing studies by industry.

Today the EPA closes public comment on its policy of accepting the results of experiments that intentionally dose humans with pesticides and other chemicals on a wide open case-by-case basis, without defining what criteria are required of experimenters.

The agency does not define what ethical lapses would disqualify an industry submission from being used for regulatory purposes.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Johnson disclosed that the EPA has funded or is currently funding than 250 experiments on human subjects, several of which involve chemical testing on children, including:

The study that was canceled was financed jointly by EPA and industry. Called CHEERS (Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study) it would have paid Florida parents to apply pesticides and other chemicals in the rooms primarily occupied by their infant children.

"Under the current review process at EPA there is no way for the public to know what studies EPA is conducting or supporting, or to know where in the review process those studies may be, said Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national organization that represents government workers in natural resources agencies, in its comment on this policy filed today.

Since industry is not required to disclose the conditions under which experiments were conducted, it is not clear how EPA will ever learn of “fundamentally unethical” practices, PEER commented.

"It is even more alarming that until the CHEERS controversy surfaced, EPA regional office staff did not know that studies they conduct or support are subject to HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] regulations, PEER wrote.

"It is hard to believe that these are truly the criteria by which EPA judges human subject studies, because they would be clear violations of HHS regulations," wrote PEER.

"EPA should never accept or use data from any human subject study if there is even the slightest evidence of intentional harm, serious or otherwise. EPA should never accept or use data from any human subject study if there is any evidence that adequate informed consent was not obtained. To hold third-party researches to such low standards justifies past unethical behavior, encourages unethical behavior in the future and allows for unnecessary risks for countless human study participants," the employees' organization wrote.

“The Bush administration is setting the ethical bar so low that only the most sleazy cannot limbo under it,” warned PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose. “The basic problem is this: the safeguards that apply to experiments involving development of drugs to help people are far more stringent than EPA’s standards for experiments to determine how much commercial poisons harm people.”

In its policy notice in the Federal Register, published February 8, the EPA defers adopting legally binding protections for infants, fetuses, pregnant women, and prisoners that apply to all medical and drug testing overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. Instead, EPA announces that it "indends to publish a proposed rule" at some time in the future.

The agency says that any research on human subjects conducted or supported by the EPA is subject to the principles of the 1979 Belmont Report, known as the Common Rule. These principles include such basics as informed consent about the research procedure, purposes, risks and anticipated benefits, and a statement offering the subject the opportunity to ask questions and to withdraw at any time from the research.

But third party studies, conducted by groups not supported by federal money, are not subject to the Common Rule. "EPA should establish a system to describe and track all human subject studies, and put this system on its website. It should establish agency-wide training on the requirements of the Common Rule for all staff conducting, granting money for, or reviewing human subject studies," PEER wrote.

PEER said in a media statement today that "the EPA’s refusal to adopt basic safeguards requiring proof of informed consent, independent review, or protections for children is part of a Bush administration drive to liberalize rules on human testing of pesticides and other chemicals. Without actual human experimental data to justify higher chemical exposures for children, industry must abide by the 1996 amendments to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act setting ten-fold stricter exposure standards for children."

In its policy statement, the EPA says it "may propose to adopt some or all of the HHS regulations that provide additional protections for certain populations of vulnerable subjects." This proposal "may" require a sponsor or investigator to provide the protocol for the human studies to the EPA for prior review and approval.

But the guidelines proposed by the agency are all voluntary and non-binding upon the experimenters, the EPA and the public, the agency states.

Read the PEER comments on lack of safeguards in EPA policy: http://www.peer.org/docs/epa/05_9_5_comments.pdf

See EPA’s “No Safeguards” Human Testing Policy Notice: http://www.peer.org/docs/epa/05_9_5_notice.pdf

Look at other EPA human dosing experiments: http://www.peer.org/docs/epa/05_9_5_humandosing.pdf

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Hawaii Moves to Safeguard State Waters Around Northwestern Islands

HONOLULU, Hawaii, May 9, 2005 (ENS) - The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources is scheduled to consider creating a three-mile conservation buffer around each of the islands in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands at its May 13 meeting.

The buffer covers state waters and is in addition to the national marine sanctuary designation that is being planned for the 1,200 mile long chain of small islands and atolls.

Under the state plan, all fishing would be banned in waters three miles around each of the islands and atolls. The ban would affect nine fishing vessels that now have permits to harvest in that area.

An entry permit would be required for all other uses, including research and access to Native Hawaiian historical sites.

Some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world are found in this remote island chain, and they are inhabited by endangered monk seals and green sea turtles as well as some 7,000 species of marine plants and animals.

More than 25,000 public comments were received during two rounds of statewide public hearings over the last three years, the overwhelming majority of them supportive of protection for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Peter Young, chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the proposed rules are in response to public interest in conservation of the area.

"We heard loud and clear from the public that they feel that the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is a special place worthy of the highest levels of protection," Young told reporters.

Kahea - The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance has campaigned since 2000 for protection of the island chain covering both federal and state waters. Kahea Executive Director Cha Smith said today, "The people's continued support for strongest possible protections has prevailed and Native Hawaiian cultural rights, the Hawaiian monk seal, and future generations will all benefit."

Expressing satisfaction that the state's policy "fully protects state waters in the remote and fragile Northwestern Hawaiian Islands," Smith said the policy "will be heralded throughout the world as a visionary and profoundly important, as it reflects the importance of what may be the last wild coral reef ecosystem left on the planet."

In December 2000, President Bill Clinton issued an Executive Order establishing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. At 84 million acres, it is the largest natural reserve area under the jurisdiction of the United States.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program has begun the process to designate the Reserve as a National Marine Sanctuary under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Public scoping was conducted in the spring of 2002.

Current sanctuary designation activities involve developing a vision, mission, principles, goals, and objectives for the proposed sanctuary; analyzing public comment received during the scoping period; developing guidance and recommendations regarding fishing in the proposed sanctuary; and developing a draft management plan using the Reserve Operations Plan as a foundation.

A draft environmental impact statement is also in development and is expected to be released for public comment later this year. This document will include a range of sanctuary management alternatives, and an impact analysis.

s Smith is concerned that the federal plan will not be strong enough to fully protect the remote area. "It is imperative that the National Marine Sanctuary program also reflect science, Hawaiian people and the general public's sentiment," she said today. "NOAA is currently developing a draft sanctuary management plan for federal waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that falls very short of needed protections for this very fragile and unique ecosystem."

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Barge Aground in James River Spills Diesel Fuel

NORFOLK, Virginia, May 9, 2005 (ENS) - A barge carrying 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel ran aground Sunday, spilling an unknown amount of fuel into the upper James River below Richmond, Virginia.

The spill was reported to the Coast Guard National Response Center late Sunday morning. The amount of diesel fuel spilled and the rate of discharge are unknown at this time. The cause of the damage is under investigation.

The tank barge VB 53 barge was being pushed south on the James River in an area known as Kingsland Reach, and is currently aground about two miles northwest of the Interstate 295 bridge.

Two cargo tanks sustained damage. The crew of the barge is transferring fuel from the damaged tanks to other tanks on the barge.

The barge is a 300 foot single-skin tank barge owned by Vane Line Bunkering, Inc. of Baltimore, Maryland. The owners have dispatched divers and cleanup contractors who are currently on the scene.

The Henrico Fire Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality have personnel at the scene.

Henrico fire personnel and barge workers tried to contain the diesel fuel as it spread across the water's surface in two plumes. As the current spread the fuel farther along the river, some eyewitnesses complained about the odor and said the fumes hurt their eyes.

A Broadcast Notice to Mariners announcing a safety zone in the vicinity of the tug and barge is being broadcast over VHF-FM radio Ch. 22. Mariners are advised to listen for updated broadcasts.

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New Jersey to Clean Chromium Contamination, Sues Three Companies

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey, May 9, 2005 (ENS) - The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will begin cleanups at three chromium contaminated sites in Jersey City immediately, the agency has announced. The sites are contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a highly toxic heavy metal that has been linked to lung cancer.

Using public funds, the DEP will excavate contaminated soil at the former Morris Canal Site No. 2 on Grand Street near City Hall, the Tempesta and Sons property, located at 2 Aetna Street, and Liberty State Park.

The DEP has issued a directive against Honeywell International Inc., Occidental Petroleum Corporation and PPG Industries, Inc. seeking reimbursement for the cleanups, said Commissioner Bradley Campbell.

Campbell estimates the total cost of the cleanup will be over $18 million. DEP issued a directive to Honeywell, Occidental and PPG, calling for a commitment within 10 days from the companies.

If the companies do not respond and agree to cover these cleanup costs, DEP will seek treble damages, three times the amount expended by the DEP. This penalty is permitted under the Spill Compensation and Control Act.

At the same time, Attorney General Peter Harvey announced that the state has filed suit against the three companies in Superior Court in Hudson County in a push by DEP and the Attorney General to clean up all remaining chromium contamination in the state.

The complaint filed against Honeywell, Occidental and PPG demands that the three defendants, as successors to the chemical manufacturers that produced the toxic waste, complete cleanup of contamination at 106 sites and reimburse the DEP for its investigation, cleanup and removal costs.

The 106 sites are all of the remaining, known unremediated sites of chromium contamination in Hudson and Essex counties, with the exception of six sites covered by prior legal orders.

Harvey said, "For too long, the residents of these communities have lived with the threat of this highly toxic chromate waste. Our lawsuit will compel the responsible companies to clean up the remaining chromium contamination."

The lawsuit also demands treble damages for cleanups at numerous sites where the defendants failed to comply with prior DEP directives.

In the last century, Hudson County was a center of U.S. production of chromium chemicals. Over many years of chromate production, the three Hudson County manufacturers, corporate predecessors of the companies named in the lawsuit, generated more than two million tons of chromium bearing waste. The chromate waste was used as fill for construction projects, resulting in deposits throughout Hudson and Essex counties.

Toxic chromium ions continue to leach from the waste and solidify on surfaces at the contaminated sites, creating a public health threat. In addition to being a lung carcinogen, hexavalent chromium can cause dermatitis, chromium ulcers, and nasal septum perforations.

"Jersey City has waited too long for cleanup of these sites," said Campbell. "We will use every tool in the law to keep Jersey City from waiting any longer, and to make sure polluters pay the costs."

"For too long, government has done too little to compel the corporate generators of chromium to clean up the toxic mess that they created,"said Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy. "That is changing today and I am happy that the Attorney General's Office and the Department of Environmental Protection are joining us in an effort to compel these polluters to rid our city of chromium contamination once and for all."

The DEP's directive also demands reimbursement for the cost of a study to assess the health exposure and risks to Hudson County residents living near the chromium waste sites. The exposure study builds on earlier work and is expected to provide new information about the health impacts of chromium exposure.

The DEP is coordinating with the Department of Health and Senior Services and Rutgers University on the study, which is estimated to cost $1.5 million.

The DEP Chromium Workgroup released a draft report Tuesday, which evaluated DEP's soil cleanup criteria for chromium at chrome waste sites in New Jersey. Campbell created the workgroup in March 2004 after hearing concerns raised by the Hudson County community where most of the chrome waste sites are located.

The workgroup found that the existing criteria being used by the DEP for chromium cleanups are based on valid science, but made several recommendations to ensure adequate documentation of decisions made at contaminated sites.

For more information about the NJDEP Chromium Workgroup, visit the Department's website at: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/dsr/chromium/

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East Coast Shrimpers Inspected for Turtle Safety

JACKSONVILLE, Florida, May 9, 2005 (ENS) - Federal and state agencies are inspecting commercial shrimping vessels before the season begins to ensure they have sea turtle protection devices aboard. The goal is to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia.

The NOAA Fisheries Service Office for Law Enforcement, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Coast Guard are involved in the sea turtle conservation program.

The commercial shrimp fishing season will likely open in state waters along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts in early to mid-June, and fishermen trawling in those areas are likely to encounter female sea turtles that are returning to their home nesting sites to lay eggs and juveniles of several species returning to summer foraging grounds.

Federal and state regulations require fishermen to utilize Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in their nets so the air breathing turtles can escape the nets without being drowned.

The TED is a grid of bars with an opening either at the top or the bottom. The grid is fitted into the neck of a shrimp trawl. Small animals like shrimp slip through the bars and are caught in the bag end of the trawl. Large animals such as turtles and sharks, when caught at the mouth of the trawl, strike the grid bars and are ejected through the opening.

NOAA Fisheries Service has been able to show that TEDs are effective at excluding up to 97 percent of sea turtles with minimal loss of shrimp.

"This is an ideal situation for the shrimpers, law enforcement and sea turtles," said Petty Officer Jason Lind, an instructor at the Southeast Regional Fisheries Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina. The ultimate goal of law enforcement is compliance. If we can ensure the shrimpers' TEDs are in compliance before the season opens, we are all getting a head start on our job, which is to protect sea turtles along our coast."

Coast Guard boarding officers from Georgia and South Carolina attended TED training at the center in preparation for law enforcement efforts during the upcoming shrimp season.

The National Marine Fisheries Service - Pascagoula Lab will also be sending TED gear experts to locations in South Carolina and Georgia to conduct training for law enforcement and to assist in dockside courtesy inspections.

“We believe that the TEDs, now approved, are efficient at reducing sea turtle mortality,” said Sally Murphy, a biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). “The means to lower mortality is now compliance and enforcement.”

Data collected aboard research vessels in South Carolina indicates interaction rates between shrimp boats and sea turtles is high.

“We calculate that hundreds or thousands of interactions take place every season, so the relatively few sea turtle strandings we see compared to the interaction rate suggests that TEDs are working pretty well,” said David Whitaker, a fishery manager of the SCDNR.

"The serious decline in sea turtle nests over the years has caused alarm for the future of the species," said Col. Terry West, chief of Georgia DNR Law Enforcement. By conducting courtesy TED checks, we can assure that commercial shrimp boats are using a legal device before they start to fish, thereby helping to decrease the number of strandings we have each year and increasing the sea turtle's chance for survival."

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ComEd Tests Hybrid Diesel-Electric Bucket Truck

CHICAGO, Illinois, May 9, 2005 (ENS) - Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd) is adding a first-of-its-kind hybrid diesel-electric bucket truck and new hybrid SUVs to its fleet, strengthening its fleet of environment friendly vehicles. Some ComEd vehicles are fueled with biodiesel.

The company today demonstrated the new hybrid bucket truck and displayed some of the new Ford Escape Hybrids at the DuPage Club in Oakbrook Terrace. ComEd will place the hybrid bucket truck at the Chicago North Office later this year.

As part of a national pilot program, ComEd and another Exelon company, PECO Energy of Philadelphia, are among the first utilities in the nation to test the new hybrid bucket trucks, manufactured by International Truck and Engine Corporation of Warrenville, Illinois, and Eaton Corporation of Cleveland, Ohio.

"We are taking a leadership role in the commercialization of hybrid heavy-duty trucks because of the benefits to customers and the environment," said Jack Skolds, president, Exelon Energy Delivery, which consists of ComEd and PECO Energy. "We hope our involvement accelerates the development of hybrid trucks in our industry."

The hybrid trucks are expected to improve fuel economy up to 60 percent compared to diesel-only trucks. They are considered to be the next step in the deployment of diesel-electric hybrid technology for commercial and military applications.

The utility will test the truck's ability to reduce the length of power outages, as the vehicle can supply enough electricity to power several homes while crews investigate an outage.

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