AmeriScan: May 10, 2007

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Bush Administration Proposes Coral Reef Recovery Fund

WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2007 (ENS) - The Bush administration delivered proposed legislation to Congress Tuesday calling for greater protection for the nation’s coral reefs. The bill, the Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Amendment Act of 2007, reauthorizes the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 and adds greater protections for coral reefs while enhancing marine debris removal and increasing the government’s ability to work through cooperative partnerships.

The proposed legislation would for the first time establish a damage recovery process for the coral reefs in National Wildlife Refuges, and increase the effectiveness of the current authorities for recovering damages to reefs in National Parks and National Marine Sanctuaries.

It provides statutory authorization for Department of the Interior coral conservation activities, which are now conducted under general conservation authorities that do not mention coral reefs.

"Our coral reefs continue to be severely threatened and this bill continues the Administration’s aggressive commitment to ocean stewardship as called for in the President’s Ocean Action Plan," said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. His department has jurisdiction over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

"It will give us the tools we need not only to protect corals, but also to help restore this valuable resource," Gutierrez said.

Seeking to address vessel impacts to reefs, the legislation establishes a new emergency response account to fund emergency response, stabilization, and restoration following incidents that injure coral reefs.

The bill makes it unlawful to destroy or injure any coral reef and allows the government to recover response and restoration costs from parties responsible for damaging reefs.

The measure provides for the removal of abandoned fishing gear, marine debris, and abandoned vessels from coral reef ecosystems in federal waters and allows for assistance to states for removal of marine debris.

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Whistleblower Discloses Violations at Chemical Weapons Depot

WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2007 (ENS) - A scientist overseeing chemical weapons storage operations at the Bluegrass Army Depot in Kentucky claims he was fired for reporting worker safety, environmental and data integrity violations, according to legal filings released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.

The Army facility is already the subject of a criminal grand jury convened by the U.S. Justice Department, looking into these and other lapses at the repository, which holds 500 tons of deadly chemical warfare agents. The weapons are scheduled for destruction under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Kim Schafermeyer, an analytical chemist and industrial hygienist, served at Bluegrass until July 2006 when he was dismissed just before the end of his one year probationary period.

In his April 6, 2007 affidavit filed in support of his legal complaint, Schafermeyer outlines chronic safety and pollution concerns, including direct venting of chemical warfare agent expelled from testing equipment directly into laboratory areas occupied by workers and visitors.

He alleges improper handling of air and waste water samples and flawed monitoring data protocols, including apparent creation of figures when data gaps occurred.

Schafermeyer describes supervisors and certifying officials with no identifiable qualifications and the misuse of congressionally appropriated funds obtained by U.S. Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky earmarked for equipment upgrades.

He alleges threats by base managers in order to stifle reports of any problems.

In addition, other depot employees have come forward with information about the inability to monitor conditions inside the "igloos," structures where the VX nerve gas and other agents are stored in their original rockets, which still contain explosive propellants.

Schafermeyer’s case is currently awaiting hearing before a U.S. Department of Labor administrative law judge, although it may be sent back to the federal civil service authorities for processing under the Whistleblower Protection Act rather than under federal environmental laws.

PEER is now taking sworn statements from current and former depot managers. "There will be many more revelations in the coming days out of the chemical weapons operation at Bluegrass," said PEER Executive Director Jeffe Ruch. "Incredibly," he said, "Blue Grass managers are still telling employees that safety and environmental considerations detract from the facility mission."

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IBM Unveils Billion-Dollar-a-Year Energy Efficiency Plan

NEW YORK, New York, May 11, 2007 (ENS) - IBM said Thursday the company is redirecting $1 billion per year to increase the level of energy efficiency of its information technology products.

The plan includes new products and services for IBM and its clients to reduce the energy consumption of data centers, "transforming the world’s business and public technology infrastructures into green data centers," the company said in a statement.

"The data center energy crisis is inhibiting our clients’ business growth as they seek to access computing power," said Mike Daniels, senior vice president, IBM Global Technology Services. "Many data centers have now reached full capacity, limiting a firm’s ability to grow and make necessary capital investments. Today we are providing clients the IBM action plan to make their data centers fully utilized and energy efficient."

Called Project Big Green, the initiative includes a new global "green team" of more than 850 energy efficiency architects from across IBM.

For an average 25,000 square foot data center, clients should be able to achieve 42 percent energy savings, Daniels said. Based on the energy mix in the United States, IBM estimates that this savings equates to 7,439 tons of carbon emissions saved per year.

Analyst firm IDC estimates that in 2006 $29 billion was spent on powering and cooling information technology systems.

As an example of the new technologies the company has to offer, IBM is announcing a patented "stored cooling" solution that dramatically increases the efficiency of the largest single use of power in the data center – the end-to-end cooling system.

The IBM Data Center Stored Cooling Solution service product, implemented at an IBM data center in Quebec, achieved 45 percent savings and has already been named the "best new energy product" by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers.

IBM currently runs the world’s largest commercial technology infrastructure, with more than eight million square feet of data centers in six continents.

By using the same energy efficiency initiatives it is offering clients today, IBM expects to double the computing capacity of its data centers within the next three years without increasing power consumption or its carbon footprint.

Compared to doubling the size of its data centers by building out new space, IBM expects this will help save more than five billion kilowatt hours of energy per year.

IBM will soon launch an open, Web-enabled clearinghouse for energy efficiency incentives. The Energy Efficiency Incentive Finder will be one central website for details about energy efficiency incentives and programs that are available from local utility companies, governments, and other participating agencies anywhere in the world.

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Jolie, Pitt Donate $1 Million to Darfur Relief

WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2007 (ENS) - UN Goodwill Ambassador and actress Angelina Jolie and actor Brad Pitt have donated $1 million towards the humanitarian effort assisting the more than four million people affected by the crisis in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

Since early 2003, refugees have fled the Janjaweit militia in Darfur across the border into a remote, desert region of neighboring Chad where resources, particularly water, are scarce.

The donation from the Jolie-Pitt Foundation will go to three agencies playing key roles in Darfur and Chad - the UN Refugee Agency; the International Rescue Committee and the international nongovernmental organization, SOS Children's Villages.

All three agencies provide life saving humanitarian assistance to the more than two million people displaced within Darfur and the 240,000 refugees from Darfur living in camps in eastern Chad.

In New York, George Rupp, president of the International Rescue Committee, said, "This donation will make a real difference in the lives of thousands of vulnerable people. We are grateful to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt for remembering them." http://www.theirc.org/

"This generous donation comes just months after Angelina Jolie made a personal visit to a refugee camp in Chad and it shows, once again, her and Brad Pitts' commitment to helping refugees and the displaced," said Michel Gabaudan, regional representative for the United States and the Caribbean of the UN High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR.

Jolie is a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador who has visited the region three times. During her recent visit to the Oure-Cassoni camp she said she was struck by the sense of hope she encountered and by the widespread desire for peacekeepers to be deployed in eastern Chad.

It was in Oure-Cassoni where Jolie met staff working for SOS Children's Villages, who are providing psychological assistance to traumatized children.

"The children benefit enormously from the therapy," said Yolanda van den Broek, project leader of the Emergency Relief Program of SOS Children's Villages in Chad. "Children who at first did not speak, did not eat and who were isolated in their own worlds, are now playing happily and are able to interact with others."

SOS Children's Villages was founded in 1949 to provide families for orphaned and abandoned children. Today there are over 450 villages in 132 countries around the world. SOS builds families for children in need, helps them shape their own futures and shares in the development of their communities. Please visit http://www.sos-usa.org.

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New Jersey Sues Meat Rendering Plant, Assesses $2 Million Fine

TRENTON, New Jersey, May 11, 2007 (ENS) - New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner announced today the filing of a state lawsuit charging an Essex County meat rendering plant with being a persistent polluter, and seeking a court-order requiring that the plant immediately correct long-standing violations of environmental law.

The plant, which processes more than a million pounds of meat waste per week, is located on Bay Avenue in the Ironbound section of Newark.

The lawsuit, filed with the New Jersey Superior Court in Essex County, names as defendants the American Rendering Corporation, Berkowitz Fat Company, Harry Berkowitz Industries, Inc. and plant owner Seymour Berkowitz individually.

According to the lawsuit, the state Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, has conducted numerous inspections at the rendering plant since 2005 and, as a result, has assessed more than $2 million in civil penalties against the defendants related to their pollution.

"We have gone to court because, despite the assessment of more than $2 million in civil penalties and recent revocation by the state of its air quality permits, this facility continues to conduct business-as-usual," said Attorney General Rabner. "Not only are these defendants ignoring the law, they are posing a threat to the environment and to public safety," said Rabner. "We are seeking to stop any and all offending activity at the plant until these threats are eliminated."

Violations found during DEP inspections include the rendering of meat in cookers with air pollution control equipment that is disconnected or inoperable, use of grease rather than fuel oil in the facility’s boiler potentially leading to emission of air pollutants and obnoxious odors, failure to record and submit required air pollution emissions records, and failure to report a fire.

In addition, the state has cited the plant as a source of water pollution via runoff and direct discharge containing such contaminants as fat and grease, blood, diesel fuel and used engine oil.

The state has also cited the plant for its continuing outdoor storage of tons of uncovered meat waste, which creates a breeding ground for pests and vermin.

The violations are not yet corrected, according to the state.

Berkowitz furnished DEP in February with a list of 13 immediate and on-going remedial actions he intended to take but, during a DEP inspection at the plant May 1, inspectors saw no evidence of any attempt to correct the violations.

"The deplorable conditions we uncovered at this facility conjure up an era when industry had no environmental conscience," said DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson.

In addition to the potential environmental damage caused by its continuing operation, the state contends the meat rendering plant poses a significant public nuisance, since it often emits overpowering odors within a quarter-mile of many businesses and private residences.

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Silver Nanoparticles May Fight Bacteria Used to Treat Wastewater

COLUMBIA, Missouri, May 11, 2007 (ENS) – Many everyday consumer items now utilize the emerging science of nanotechnology in the form of silver nanoparticles that are incorporated into items such as bandages, clothing, cosmetics, car wax, and toys.

Silver nanoparticles can destroy bacteria, but while that is a good characteristic for someone who needs to bandage a cut, it might not be so valuable to wastewater treatment plant managers who use bacteria to break down waste.

Today researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia said they have received federal government funding to examine whether the silver nanoparticles pose future problems for wastewater treatment plants and the environment.

"Silver nanoparticles are emerging as one of the fastest growing nanomaterials with wide applications," said Zhiqiang Hu, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.

"Currently, little is known about the adverse effects of silver nanoparticles to human health and their fate in ecological systems," he said.

Hu will be working with Baolin Deng, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the college, to study the potential effects of silver nanoparticles on wastewater treatment systems.

The researchers have received an $84,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for the study, which will begin in June and take about a year to complete.

Hu and Deng will determine how silver nanoparticles interact with bacteria that are used for wastewater treatment.

"Nitrifying bacteria is extremely sensitive to metal toxins and could serve as a potential environmental health indicator," Hu said. "Over time, a small volume of nanoparticles will accumulate in our sewage plants."

The engineers want to find out if silver nanoparticles, known for their bacteria-fighting ability, effectively defend against bacteria found in treatment plants.

Hu said the miniscule particles enter sewage systems when people who have handled what he calls "nanotechnology enhanced" products wash their hands.

He said laundry detergents, soaps, water filters and washing machines also employ nanotechnology and can directly dispense silver nanoparticles into the sewage system.