AmeriScan: May 7, 2007

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Bush to Tour Site of Deadly Kansas Tornado

KANSAS CITY, Kansas, May 7, 2007 (ENS) - President George W. Bush will visit the Greensburg, Kansas area on Wednesday, where a severe tornado struck late Friday night, flattening the town and killing 11 people.

The 1.7 mile wide Category F-5 enhanced tornado, the most powerful such storm to hit the United States in eight years, destroyed about 95 percent of the town, leaving 13 people hospitalized, four in critical condition.

It was one of at least half a dozen tornadoes to hit southwestern Kansas Friday night, flattening homes, smashing barns and grain bins, tearing up trees and knocking down power lines.

On Sunday, President Bush signed an expedited major disaster declaration for the State of Kansas, designating Kiowa County for direct federal assistance. The declaration clears the way for federal grants for temporary housing, home repairs and other expenses. The government will also provide low-interest loans for homeowners and businesses.

"Our hearts are heavy for the loss of life in Greensburg, Kansas," said the president. "A tornado devastated that community. It just basically wiped it out."

Search and rescue teams with dogs worked alongside Greensburg residents, who were allowed back in today to scour the ruins for personal belongings.

Authorities in the Greensburg area were forced to re-evacuate rescue workers and residents from one part of town today after an anhydrous ammonia leak.

While repairing a small leak on a railcar carrying anhydrous ammonia that was damaged in the tornado, workers broke off a valve, causing a major leak, said David Sternbenz, a Topeka Fire Department official. All traffic coming into Greensburg was stopped, and the area was cleared until a replacement valve was found.

Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, Administrator David Paulison toured the Greensburg area today and met with state and local officials to determine what more his agency could to do help. This damage is "some of the worst I've ever seen," Paulison said.

FEMA has moved critical supplies into the affected area including 15,000 gallons of water for approximately 5,000 people and 21,000 Meals Ready to Eat to feed 10,000 people. The agency has provided trailers for some of those made homeless by the tornado.

Preliminary Damage Assessment Teams, with representatives from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration along with state and local officials, began assessing damages Sunday.

The Kansas National Guard is currently providing 65 troops in support of the tornado response mission.

Ongoing storms hampered rescue work on Sunday, but severe storm warnings now have been lifted in the Greensburg area. The National Weather Service predicts improving weather this week.

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Georgia Wildfires Coming Under Control

WAYCROSS, Georgia, May 7, 2007 (ENS) - The exhausting battle against the southeast Georgia wildfires continued today and Georgia Forestry Commission, GFC, firefighters say they are holding their own, but heavy smoke is reducing visibility. Over 800 GFC and local firefighters are now on the scene of various fires.

The fires burning in Charlton and Ware counties cover some 100,000 acres, but are 64 percent contained. Monday evening, firefighters were tackling a hard-to-reach fire in the green swamp area near Race Pond Road in Ware County.

An earlier evacuation order has been lifted and about 50 residents of Ware County's Laura Walker Lake area have returned to their homes.

In Charlton County, firefighters seem to be catching a break as winds have been moving the fire into the swamp, and only the Race Pond area is under a mandatory evacuation order.

Governor Sonny Perdue will be briefed Tuesday by GFC officials and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency on the status of the wildfires.

On May 2, the governor issued an Executive Order declaring a state of emergency in 21 counties in southeast Georgia.

"The state of Georgia is committed to being there to help these communities for as long as it takes to put theses fires out," the governor said. "I continue to be impressed by the remarkable resolve of our emergency responders and the residents of the affected counties."

U.S. Senator from Georgia Saxby Chambliss met today with GFC officials at the Incident Command site in Ware County and flew over areas burning in Brantley and Atkinson counties. He also observed air tanker operations.

Chambliss today praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s approval of a request for a Fire Management Assistance declaration for the Roundabout Fire, now burning uncontrolled near the towns of Kirkland and Pearson in Atkinson County.

On Friday, Georgia Emergency Management Agency Operations Director Charles Dawson made a verbal request for the declaration. The state's request was based on the fire’s threat to the communities, including 650 residences, an LP gas storage and refueling facility, a manufacturing plant, and schools.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the months of April and May are normally times of birth and prosperity in Georgia's swamplands, many now afire. Sandhill crane chicks are hatching, ospreys can be seen feeding their young, and alligators begin territorial warnings as mating begins during the month of April.

In May, Georgia woodlands host nesting colonies of endangered, red-cockaded woodpeckers, as Florida softshell turtles begin laying eggs, and newborn fawns begin to appear. These creatures are all affected by the fires.

Several of the fires that have flared up in Ware and Charlton counties are considered suspicious, and GFC officials have requested an arson investigation team to check them out. Arson is the second leading cause of wildfires in Georgia, and account for 18 percent of all wildfires.

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20 Million Melamine-Fed Chickens Released to Market

WASHINGTON, DC, May 7, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture said today that some 20 million chickens that ate feed contaminated with melamine will be released to market. The chickens had been held on farms in several states.

"In several cases, feed samples have tested negative for melamine and related compounds," USDA said in a statement. "It is assumed that because only small amounts of the contaminated feed were mixed with other rations, the melamine and related compounds were no longer detectable."

Last week, USDA said there were 38 farms in Indiana where some 3.1 million chickens may have eaten tainted feed in February, but were slaughtered and sent to market. Also, about 6,000 hogs in six states may have also eaten contaminated feed.

A hold was placed on the 20 million birds late Friday as the melamine investigation continued.

An assessment conducted by scientists from five federal agencies concluded today that there is "very low risk to human health" from consuming meat from hogs and chickens that ate feed supplemented with pet food scraps that contained melamine and melamine-related compounds.

In the most extreme risk assessment scenario, when scientists assumed that all the solid food a person consumes in an entire day was contaminated with melamine at the levels observed in animals fed contaminated feed, the potential exposure was about 2,500 times lower than the dose considered safe.

It was well below any level of public health concern, the government scientists said.

The risk assessment is a component of the continuing federal joint investigation into imported wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate from China that contained melamine and melamine-related compounds.

It first showed up in pet food that killed thousands of cats and dogs earlier this year. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the pet food had been eaten by three million chickens and hogs in six states.

The risk assessment was conducted by scientists from the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection of the Department of Homeland Security and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This team is now compiling a scientific assessment of the risk to animal health associated with ingestion of animal feed containing melamine and its compounds.

To ensure no further contaminated products enter the U.S., the federal government will continue to monitor imported wheat and corn gluten as well as rice protein concentrate and isolates arriving from all countries destined for human and animal consumption.

The FDA import alert for these products sourced from China remains in effect and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue laboratory testing of the products as they enter the United States. The inspections are a precautionary measure, said the FDA, adding, "There is no evidence to suggest products bound for the human food supply are contaminated."

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Feds Offer $200 Million for Small Biorefineries

WASHINGTON, DC, May 7, 2007 (ENS) – The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, will provide up to $200 million, over five years to support the development of small-scale cellulosic biorefineries in the United States.

The agency seeks projects to develop biorefineries at 10 percent of commercial scale that produce liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol, as well as bio-based chemicals and bioproducts used in industrial applications.

This research aims to advance President George W. Bush’s goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive with gasoline by 2012, and expand the availability of alternative and renewable transportation fuels.

Chemically the same as conventional ethanol made from corn, cellulosic ethanol can be produced from a wide variety of biomass feedstocks. These include agricultural plant wastes such as corn stover, cereal straws, and sugarcane bagasse, plant wastes from industrial processes such as sawdust and paper pulp, or energy crops grown specifically for fuel production, such as switchgrass.

"This research will provide the next necessary step toward developing cellulosic biorefineries that can transform our transportation sector in a clean and cost-effective manner," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.

"As world demand for energy continues to grow, so too must our supply of clean, domestic sources of energy – and cellulosic biofuels provide a promising way to meet President Bush’s goal of displacing 20 percent of gasoline usage within the decade," he said.

Small-scale projects will use novel approaches and a variety of cellulosic feedstocks to test new refining processes.

These projects are expected to be operational within three to four years and will speed the adoption of new technologies to produce ethanol and other biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks. Commercial-scale demonstrations would follow thereafter.

The small-scale projects complement DOE’s announcement earlier this year, which makes available up to $385 million over four years for the development of six full-scale biorefineries.

The full-scale biorefineries focus on near-term commercial processes, while the small-scale facilities will experiment with new feedstocks and processing technologies.

Up to $15 million is expected to be available in fiscal year 2007, with the remaining $185 million expected to be available in fiscal years 2008 to 2011, subject to appropriation from Congress.

DOE anticipates selecting 5-10 awards under this announcement. These projects require a minimum of 50 percent cost share from applicants.

Applications are due August 14, 2007. For more information on "Demonstration of Integrated Biorefinery Operations for Producing Biofuels and Chemical/Materials Products" - DE-PS36-07GO97003, visit: DOE's E-Center OR Grants.gov.

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Development Gobbling Up New Jersey's Open Space

TRENTON, New Jersey, May 7, 2007 (ENS) - Using high-resolution aerial photographs, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, has created a new snapshot of New Jersey's landscape, comparing the results with data from prior years.

The results indicate that New Jersey is losing open space at the rate of 15,000 acres a year, roughly the same loss in one year reported during the entire 10 year period between 1986 and 1995.

The DEP will use the findings from the new study to develop strategies to curb overdevelopment.

Among the initiatives that are being considered are increased flood hazard control measures, sustainable growth planning, and regulatory protections for threatened and endangered species.

"Our land use cover data is continually updated," DEP Deputy Commissioner John Watson said. "This mapping program will assist local officials, developers and homeowners in their decisionmaking."

This latest release of land use information is part of an ongoing effort to provide the public with current and reliable information about New Jersey’s environment. The land use data has been incorporated into the Department’s interactive mapping tool, i-MapNJ.

Last week DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson announced two proposals that will protect open space areas. One proposed water quality management rule promotes regional planning that directs development away from environmentally sensitive lands.

The second proposal gives the highest level of protection to more than 900 miles of waterways and 1,300 acres of reservoirs, limiting development near these critical waterways.

The i-MapNJ program allows the public to access data from DEP programs and overlay the information on Geographic Information Systems maps of New Jersey. The agency's GIS maps include land use areas, locations of contaminated sites and location of natural resources.

I-MapNJ are online at: www.nj.gov/dep/gis.

To access the updated land use cover data visit the DEP's website at: www.nj.gov/dep/gis/lulc02shp.html

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Earth Day 2007: The Pill is Gone!

MARQUETTE, Michigan, May 7, 2007 (ENS) - In an effort to protect drinking water and the Great Lakes, northern Michigan residents honored Earth Day by turning in tens of thousands of prescribed pills plus narcotics with an estimated street value of $500,000 during the third annual Earth Keeper Clean Sweep.

The 2007 Pharmaceutical Clean Sweep targeted out-of-date and unwanted medications of all kinds, according to Carl Lindquist, executive director of the Superior Watershed Partnership. More than a ton of pharmaceuticals and personal care products were turned in by the public.

About 2,000 people turned in items but the many had also collected pharmaceuticals from other family and friends, organizers said.

Since Earth Day 2005, the annual Earth Keeper Clean Sweeps have collected nearly 400 tons of hazardous waste for recycling or proper disposal. Federal officials say the projects have all set records for hazardous waste collections in the Great Lakes area, and are an important tool for protecting the environment.

The 2007 clean sweep went off without a hitch thanks to the U.P. chapter of the Michigan Pharmacists Association, and numerous law enforcement agencies including the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and Michigan Sheriff's Association, organizers said.

Pharmacists and law enforcement officers were present at all collection sites to ensure security and proper collection of the pharmaceuticals, Lindquist said.

"This is what would have been a doctor’s traveling pharmacy," said Marquette pharmacist Kent Jenema, showing a leather zippered case to an EPA observer. "This has a lot of old patent type medications from mostly natural sources that predates some of the pharmacy that we know today."

The EPA and Lindquist said the clean sweep targeted medicines because trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are turning up in America's rivers, lakes, and drinking water. Most treatment plants are not designed to filter out these medications.

When leftover and waste pharmaceuticals get flushed down drains, research is detecting them in lakes and rivers "at levels that could be causing harm to the environment and ecosystem," said Elizabeth LaPlante, senior manager for the EPA Great Lakes National Programs Office in Chicago, Illinois.

"Specifically, reproductive and development problems in aquatic species, hormonal disruption and antibiotic resistance are some concerns associated with pharmaceuticals in our wastewater," LaPlante said.

Lindquist said recent national studies show that over 80 percent of the rivers sampled "tested positive for a range of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, birth control hormones, antidepressants, veterinary drugs and other medications."

The pharmaceuticals collected in Michigan will be taken to an EPA-licensed incinerator at Veolia Environmental Services near St. Louis, Missouri.

The third annual Earth Keeper Clean Sweep was coordinated by the Superior Watershed Partnership and the Cedar Tree Institute, both Marquette environmental groups and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

The project involves the congregations of over 140 churches and temples representing nine faith communities - Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist, Baha'i, Jewish, and Zen Buddhist.

Reverend Jon Magnuson, Earth Keeper Initiative founder, said "one of the gifts that the faith community brings to the environmental movement is that the external damage done in the environment is a reflection of what is going on in the human condition, in the human heart - so as we heal and cleanse the Earth, we are also healing the human heart."