AmeriScan: May 15, 2007

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U.S. Navy Sued to Protect Endangered Whales from Sonar

HONOLULU, Hawaii, May 16, 2007 (ENS) - Conservation and animal welfare organizations have filed a legal challenge to the U.S. Navy's plan to use high-intensity, mid-frequency active sonar in antisubmarine exercises in Hawaii's waters.

The planned sonar would emit blasts far louder than levels associated with mass whale strandings and fatalities, according to the plaintiff groups.

The Navy has announced plans to use the sonar in up to 12 separate sets of Undersea Warfare Exercises during 2007 and 2008 in Hawaii's waters, including within the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and near the new Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Attorneys from Earthjustice filed suit in Hawaii federal district court today on behalf of Ocean Mammal Institute, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Surfrider Foundation and KAHEA - the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance.

Marti Townsend of KAHEA said, "The Navy is not above the law. Just the reverse - as a government agency, the Navy should be setting an example. Protecting the country includes following its laws, not skirting them."

The plaintiffs complain that the National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, relying almost entirely on the Navy's assessments, made little effort to analyze the sonar's effects or require the Navy to implement protective mitigation, such as that to which the Navy agreed for the 2006 RIMPAC exercises in Hawaii.

The plaintiffs have sued NMFS as well, for violating the Endangered Species Act.

The Animal Welfare Institute's Susan Millward said, "It's disappointing that NMFS abdicated its responsibilities by allowing the Navy to decide for itself the mitigation it will use."

Dr. Marsha Green of Ocean Mammal Institute added, "The Navy knows protecting whales is possible. It used more protective mitigation in the 2006 RIMPAC exercises than it plans to use in these."

Hawaii is the winter breeding grounds for thousands of endangered humpback whales, and endangered blue, fin, Northern Pacific right, sei, and sperm whales also are found here, along with thousands of whales and dolphins of other marine species that will be exposed to the sonar.

The Navy acknowledged in its Environmental Assessment, EA, for the Hawaii exercises that its sonar will reach whales at levels up to 215 decibels - at least 100,000 times more intense than the levels at which the whales stranded in the Bahamas in 2000.

The Navy's EA admitted that the sonar will, at a minimum, likely significantly alter or cause the abandonment of the whales' migration, surfacing, nursing, feeding, or sheltering behaviors.

Recognizing it will harm whales in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Navy in January exempted itself from that law.

The plaintiff groups allege that the Navy refused to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, refused to include protective mitigation, and dismissed as insignificant the impacts to thousands of marine mammals, including humpbacks with nursing calves in Hawaii's protected nearshore waters.

It also failed to comply with the Coastal Zone Management Act and National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the lawsuit alleges.

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Pigs Fed Melamine Cleared for Market

WASHINGTON, DC, May 16, 2007 (ENS) - Testing confirms that meat from pigs fed pet food scraps containing melamine is safe for human consumption, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, said Tuesday.

As a result, the agency has released and approved for processing some 56,000 pigs that consumed the questionable feed and were held on farms in seven states - California, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Kansas, Utah and Illinois.

The 56,000 animals are a small fraction of the approximately 100 million swine that are processed each year in the United States.

Testing of meat from swine exposed to the contaminated feed confirms that melamine and melamine compounds do not accumulate in pork and are filtered out of the body by the action of the kidneys, the USDA said.

The testing also bolsters the conclusions reached by a human health risk assessment by five federal agencies that there is a very low risk of human illness from the consumption of meat from animals exposed to the contaminated feed.

"Swine known to have eaten this feed appear healthy, which will be confirmed as these animals undergo the rigorous inspection that FSIS provides for all meat and poultry prior to processing," the USDA said.

The Food and Drug Administration and USDA say that a person weighing 132 pounds would have to eat more than 800 pounds a day of pork or other food containing melamine and its compounds to approach a toxic level of consumption.

An updated human health risk assessment released by the agencies Tuesday concludes that in the most extreme risk assessment scenario, when scientists assumed that all the solid food a person consumes in an entire day contained melamine and the melamine compound cyanuric acid at levels potentially present in the meat, the potential exposure is about 250 times lower than the dose considered safe.

Last week, the agencies said the potential exposure was about 2,500 times lower than the safe level.

The agencies explained the discrepancy by saying that the initial human risk assessment assumed that tests of pork detected melamine and its compounds. The testing validation process, completed May 12, showed that while the swine meat test cannot detect melamine compounds.

Some 80,000 poultry are still being held at USDA's request at farms in Indiana while a validated test for detecting melamine in poultry meat is developed. That test is expected later this week.

FDA is continuing its investigation into the presence of melamine and its compounds in fish feed manufactured by the Canadian company Skretting. The company is recalling all feed from all commercial fisheries and hatcheries that may have received it, including those in the United States.

Two U.S. commercial aquaculture establishments that received the feed. The fish in those two establishments are on hold and samples of the fish and the feed are being tested for melamine levels.

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Illinois Ends Horse Slaughter

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, May 16, 2007 (ENS) - The Illinois Senate today voted 39 to 16 to ban horse slaughter for human consumption, following the measure's approval last month in the state's House of Representatives. Governor Rod Blagojevich reaffirmed his support and promised to sign the bill immediately.

DeKalb, Illinois is the location of the Cavel International Inc. horse slaughterhouse, one of the three foreign-owned plants remaining in the United States. It is the only plant actively killing horses, but will have to stop immediately once this bill is signed into law.

"Passage of this bill is an historical step for improving the welfare of America's horses," said Chris Heyde, deputy director of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, SAPL, the legislative arm of the Animal Welfare Institute.

Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said that horse slaughter "is inhumane because our society considers horses to be companion animals or pets. There is no domestic market for horse meat for human consumption and therefore no need to continue this practice in the state of Illinois."

Activist and actor Bo Derek played a crucial role in raising awareness for the bill, traveling to Illinois with SAPL again this year to discuss the issue with state lawmakers.

"Horses are an essential part of the American spirit," she said. "As a lifelong equestrian and horse owner, I am overjoyed that the Illinois legislature has voted to protect thesemagnificent animals from this inhumane industry."

In the U.S. Congress, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act has been introduced as H.R. 503 and S. 311 to end horse slaughter for human consumption and prevent the animals' export for that purpose.

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EPA Wants New Owners to Report Environmental Violations

WASHINGTON, DC, May 16, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public comments on how a policy that offers reduced penalties to companies for self-disclosing environmental violations should apply to the new owners of recently acquired facilities.

The current audit policy offers reduced penalties to companies that self-police their programs, promptly disclose and correct any violations discovered, and take steps to prevent future violations.

Now, the EPA wants to encourage new owners, who may have purchased a property on a tight deadline without time to conduct due diligence, to voluntarily disclose any violations they might discover.

"New owners of recently acquired facilities that come forward to make a clean start can address their environmental issues and make changes to ensure they stay in compliance and reduce pollutants going forward," said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Since 1995, more than 3,000 companies have disclosed and resolved violations at over 9,000 facilities under this policy.

The agency is also interested in whether offering tailored incentives to new owners may have unintended adverse consequences such as discouraging due diligence, timely compliance and a level playing field, or other negative effects.

Currently, if a company voluntarily discloses violations, even criminal matters, EPA will generally elect not to recommend criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice as long as its self-policing, discovery and disclosure were conducted in good faith.

The voluntary audit must be corporate-wide with advance understanding between the company and EPA regarding the scope of the audit, schedules for auditing, reporting, and correction of violations, whether resolution will be judicial or administrative, and the entity adopts a systematic approach to preventing recurrence of the violation.

The current audit policy requires entities to act to prevent recurrence of violations and to remedy any environmental harm that may have occurred.

Repeat violations, those that result in actual harm to the environment, and those that may present "an imminent and substantial endangerment" are not eligible for relief under the audit oolicy.

Corporate entities and individuals also remain criminally liable for violations that result from conscious disregard of or willful blindness to their obligations under the law.

EPA is seeking input from the public on how best to encourage new owners to use the audit policy. EPA will accept written comments until July 13, 2007, and also invites the public to offer comment at two public meetings to be held on June 12 in Washington, DC. and June 20 in San Francisco, California.

After review and consideration of comments on this concept and on any draft incentive policy, the agency intends to develop a pilot program and evaluate it at the end of three years.

For more on EPA's Audit Policy, click here. For more on new owner disclosure incentives, click here.

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Seattle Buys Hybrid Buses to Lure Drivers From Their Cars

SEATTLE, Washington, May 16, 2007 (ENS) - King County today announced the purchase of up to 500 new buses that will help deliver one of the biggest bus service expansions in the history of Metro Transit. Most of the buses will be articulated hybrids manufactured under a contract believed to be the largest of its kind in North America.

The buses will contribute to an expanded and more frequent service that is designed to make transit more attractive to Seattle drivers. Metro's goal is to get up to 50,000 drivers out of their cars and riding buses by 2016.

All the buses will meet or exceed the latest federal environmental standards. The first 22 articulated hybrids will arrive next spring, with another planned order for 100 buses in 2009 to provide new Rapid Ride service on five routes.

King County Executive Ron Sims selected New Flyer Industries, General Motors Corporation and Cummins Engine Company as the major commercial partners in delivering Metro Transit's next generation of buses.

Managers of the three companies, Metropolitan King County Council Chair Larry Gossett and Councilmember Reagan Dunn joined Sims in announcing the contract.

"This major bus order marks an historic chapter for Metro," Sims said. "Voters overwhelmingly approved Transit Now last fall; this new fleet will put more frequent bus service on the streets at the same time it helps meet our goals to fight global warming.

The Transit Now initiative to expand Metro Transit service by 15 to 20 percent over the next 10 years was approved by King County voters in the November 2006 general election. It is funded by a one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase that will cost the median-income household about $25 in the first year, growing to an estimated $35 in the 10th year.

Metro currently owns 214 articulated hybrid buses, the largest such fleet in the nation. A National Renewable Energy Lab study found articulated hybrids provide a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and are 40 percent more reliable than diesel fueled articulated buses.

"I am proud that we continue to be one of the greenest transit agencies in the nation and that we helped pioneered this technology that is now used by transit agencies across the nation," said Sims.

"Our message to commuters is if you can't stand the high gas prices, you've got a place to sit on a Metro bus," said King County Councilmember Julia Patterson, who partnered with Sims in advocating for the passage of Transit Now.

To complement King County's environmental commitment, General Motors announced it will donate up to 500 native trees to King County. The donation will be used to help replace trees damaged during last winter's windstorm.

King County Metro Transit is among the 10 largest bus systems in the nation. Metro buses provide more than 100 million passenger trips a year, and the agency operates one of the largest carpool and park-and-ride programs in the country. It is also recognized as a leader in reducing pollution with its use of clean-burning fuels, electric trolleys, and hybrid buses.

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Hair Straightening Chemicals Cleared of Breast Cancer Link

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, May 16, 2007 (ENS) - At all ages, African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than are Caucasian women, but chemical relaxers used to straighten hair are not responsible for this increased risk, according to a study funded by the National Cancer Institute.

The hair straighteners are not associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer among African-American women, say researchers who followed 48,167 participants in the Black Women's Health Study.

In the May issue of "Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention," researchers from Boston University and Howard University Cancer Center report that they found no increase in breast cancer risk due to the type of hair relaxer used or the frequency and duration of use.

Women who used relaxers seven or more times a year over a 20 year span or longer had the same risk as women who used the chemicals for less than a year, researchers say.

"This is good news," said the study's lead investigator, Lynn Rosenberg, Sc.D., professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health. "The present study is definitive that hair relaxers don't cause breast cancer, as much as an epidemiologic study can be."

Previous research shows that breast cancer incidence is higher among African-American women age 40 or younger than among Caucasian women of the same age, and this increased risk is not fully explained by known risk factors, such as race and family history.

Hair relaxers can enter the body through cuts in the scalp. These products are not fully monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and thus could contain potentially harmful compounds, Rosenberg said. Manufacturers of hair relaxers and hair dyes are not required to list all ingredients of their products on the packages, as some may be considered trade secrets, she said.

"Because hair relaxers are more widely used by younger African-American women than they are used by older African-American women, a connection with increased risk of breast cancer in younger women seemed possible," Rosenberg said. "Also, millions of African-American women use hair relaxers, and substances that are used by millions of women over a span of many years should be monitored for safety."

The researchers found that the majority of women used hair relaxers before age 20 and a third used the chemicals at least seven times a year.

But when they examined the association between use of hair relaxers and breast cancer, based on 574 newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer identified during the follow-up period, they found no connection between use of relaxers and breast cancer incidence overall or among the younger women, even if use had been frequent and of long duration.