AmeriScan: May 23, 2007

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U.S. Classified as Controlled Risk for Mad Cow Disease

WASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2007 (ENS) - The World Organization for Animal Health, OIE, Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution recommending that the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Taiwan, Chile and Brazil be recognized as having "controlled" risk status for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease.

"This classification confirms what we have always contended - that U.S. regulatory controls are effective and that U.S. fresh beef and beef products from cattle of all ages can be safely traded due to our interlocking safeguards," said Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns.

Found in 26 countries, the fatal brain wasting disease is spread by prions - abnormally shaped proteins that originate as regular components of neurological tissues in animals. They are cellular organisms or viruses, animal health officials say.

The disease spreads through components of cattle feed such as meat and bone meal that contain protein from BSE-infected animals.

Safeguards include a ban on the feeding of meat and bone meal to cattle and the removal during processing of tissues that could harbor the prions.

In a statement, the American Meat Institute, an industry organization, expressed hope that the announcement will restore U.S. beef exports to levels that were at before 2004.

Following the announcement of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, in December 2003, 53 countries, including major markets such as Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and Canada, banned imports of U.S. cattle and beef products.

To date, two U.S. animals have been found to have mad cow disease, and 11 have been detected in Canada. The OIE reports no cases in Taiwan, Chile or Brazil.

In Switzerland, 464 infected animals have been found since 1990 when the disease first appeared in that country.

Some U.S. cattle producers were disappointed to learn that the USDA did not seek a more favorable disease risk classification for the U.S. cattle industry from the OIE.

"The question of whether the U.S. at least meets OIE’s controlled risk category for BSE has never been disputed," said CEO Bill Bullard of the cattle industry organization R-CALF USA based in Billings, Montana. "The real question is why didn’t USDA seek the more favorable category of a BSE negligible risk country?"

"Under a negligible risk, the most favorable designation of the OIE, a country cannot have had a BSE case born in the previous 11 years," explained Bullard. "The younger of the two BSE cases detected in the U.S. was determined to be 10 years old, and this was more than a year ago. Therefore, as of today, the youngest case detected in the U.S. was born more than 11 years ago, meeting the standard for a BSE negligible risk country."

"The problem with lumping the U.S. into the same category as Canada is that the rest of the world knows that Canada has an inherently higher risk for BSE than the United States, so the U.S. has basically sold itself short," Bullard said.

Speaking from the U.S. Meat Export Federation Board of Directors meeting today in La Jolla, California, Federation President and CEO Philip Seng said the ruling will be useful in generating greater beef trade with many countries, and will set the stage for improving the U.S. BSE status with OIE to "negligible risk" in the future.

Johanns said the federal government will use its newly declared status as "international validation" to urge U.S. trading partners to reopen export markets to the full spectrum of U.S. cattle and beef products.

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Interior Secretary Promises Safety After Near Riot on Public Lands

WASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2007 (ENS) - Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne Tuesday assured Interior employees that he is personally committed to improving the health, safety and security of their workplaces.

"There is nothing more important to me personally and to the Department’s mission than ensuring that your workplace is healthy and safe and that employees, volunteers and visitors to our parks, refuges and other lands are protected from hazards, accidents and other dangers," Kempthorne told an employee assembly at the Main Interior Building in Washington.

Interior's 73,000 employees often carry out dangerous work, including law enforcement, wildland firefighting, search and rescue, wilderness assessments, and road and building maintenance in remote areas.

Kempthorne's assurance follows an Easter weekend gathering of more than 1,000 off-road vehicle enthusiasts that degenerated into "near riot conditions" in a Utah recreational area. An official incident summary was released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national organization of employees in natural resources agencies.

Many of the 35,000 visitors to the Little Sahara Recreation Area in Utah were terrorized by inebriated gangs of off-road vehicle riders during the weekend of April 6-8.

"Officers were faced with near riot conditions on two separate nights involving approximately 1,000 people which required all available officers and over five hours to mitigate the situation," according to the official summary by the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, an Interior agency.

"Groups of partiers were blocking an area and forcing women to bare their breasts in order to leave, along with numerous incidents of unwanted fondling of women. When law enforcement officers took action, the crowd became unruly, throwing objects at the officers," the summary states.

A Utah State Highway Patrol officer and 36 others were injured severely enough to require medical assistance. The more than 50 officers who were called to the scene from state, federal and local law enforcement agencies either arrested or issued citations to about 300 people.

"This sort of out-of-control behavior should not be tolerated anyplace, let alone on our public lands," said PEER Southwest Director Daniel Patterson, who formerly worked with the BLM, the agency responsible for the Little Sahara Recreation Area.

Off-road vehicles allow deeper penetration into remote, formerly wild, areas by people seeking to escape social restrictions.

Because of the vast desert acreages under BLM control, those lands have become the haunts for ever-larger convocations of off-road vehicle users, said PEER, which is investigating the Little Sahara incident as part of a national probe into the public safety and law enforcement costs arising from reckless off-road vehicle use.

"In addition to the public safety toll," Patterson said, "these mega-gatherings wreak havoc on desert landscapes, with streams of riders often ignoring trail markers or other measures designed to keep ripping tires off of fragile wildlife habitats."

The problem is not confined to the BLM, said PEER. U.S. Forest Service employees also report rising attacks on rangers in connection with off-road vehicle encounters.

"Our rangers are not equipped to deal with hordes of mechanically mounted maniacs," said Patterson. He said that while BLM has acknowleged the incident, it has "tried to downplay it and has yet to change any area use policies or practices."

PEER is investigating the Little Sahara incident as part of a national probe into the public safety and law enforcement costs arising from reckless use of off-road vehicles.

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New York's Yellow Cabs Must All Be Green by 2012

NEW YORK, New York, May 23, 2007 (ENS) - New York City's famous yellow taxicabs will soon be greener under the hood.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that as part of PlaNYC, first announced on Earth Day, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, TLC, will implement new emissions and mileage standards for yellow cabs that will lead to a fully gas-electric hybrid fleet by 2012.

The new standards will be phased in over a four year period and are expected to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of New York City's taxicab and for-hire vehicle fleet by half during the next decade.

Individual operators will have to purchase the new hybrids out of their own pockets, but this cost will be offset by an estimated saving of an average of $10,000 a year in fuel costs by increasing fuel efficiency from 14 to 30 miles per gallon, mpg.

The mayor was joined at the announcement by TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus, Councilmember David Yassky, Yahoo! Network Division Vice President of Marketing Patrick Crane, American Lung Association President Louise Vetter, and other industry and regulatory leaders.

"In PlaNYC, we set aggressive goals for the taxicab industry and today we're going to begin meeting those goals," said Mayor Bloomberg. "Implementing tougher standards for the more than 13,000 taxis in this City will provide the same clean air benefits as removing 32,000 privately owned cars from our streets, which will significantly reduce the air pollution that causes childhood asthma."

"We expect these new standards will save 22 million gallons of fuel in the first year, and that is only the beginning of what we will be able to accomplish," said TLC Commissioner Daus. "The New York City taxi fleet's carbon footprint will be lighter than at any point in its 100 year history."

Currently there are only 375 hybrid vehicles in the city's taxi fleet. By October 2008, the number of hybrids in the fleet will triple.

After October 2008, all new vehicles entering the fleet must achieve a minimum of 25 mpg, and after October 2009, all new vehicles must achieve a minimum of 30 mpg.

By October 2010, 7,000 hybrids are expected to be on the street - about half the city's fleet. By October 2011, there will be 10,000 hybrid taxis on the street, about three-quarters of the city's fleet, and by October 2012 the entire fleet must be hybrids.

Wheelchair accessible taxicabs being brought into service will be exempt from the new fuel economy requirements.

When fully implemented, the new standards are expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 215,000 tons.

Councilmember David Yassky said, "I applaud Mayor Bloomberg for acting now to turn New York City taxi cabs from part of the problem into part of the solution. New York City's 13,000 taxi cabs will still be yellow on the outside, but soon they will be green on the inside."

Also on Tuesday, Internet giant Yahoo! donated 10 hybrid taxicabs to fleet operator Team Systems in recognition of New York's leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Putting more clean cabs on New York City streets is an important step in our fight to improve air quality, especially for the one million asthmatics in our city," said Louise Vetter, President and CEO of the American Lung Association of the City of New York. "By turning our yellow cabs green, we can put New York City miles ahead on the road to clean air."

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DC Water and Sewer Authority Fined for Faulty Lead Sampling

WASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2007 (ENS) – The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority will pay a $10,000 penalty for not complying with data management and reporting requirements of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order to address past problems with lead in the district’s drinking water. Lead can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system.

The penalty results from the settlement of an August 2006 administrative complaint from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, concerning failure on the part of the Water and Sewer Authority, WASA, to comply with a 2004 Safe Drinking Water Act consent order.

In accordance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the 2004 order required WASA, to sample drinking water from at least 100 homes that were at higher risk of drinking water contaminated with lead due to lead service lines or pipes with lead solder.

But the EPA says that for the July to December 2005 monitoring period, 12 of the 103 drinking water samples had to be eliminated because of inaccurate data.

These 12 samples were either taken from homes that never had lead service lines or homes where the lead service lines had already been replaced.

In 2006, the EPA complained that WASA submitted these samples because of a shortfall in its data management. Correct information would have indicated that these samples were not high risk residences.

WASA’s noncompliance did not interfere with reductions of lead levels in water, but it did delay EPA’s ability to confirm that the district’s drinking water was below EPA’s action level for lead.

The federal agency required WASA to take additional samples from high risk locations to make up for the sample shortage.

EPA officials say the agency filed the administrative complaint to ensure the integrity of the reporting and data management for future compliance reports.

In March 2004, elevated levels of lead in drinking water provided by WASA were discovered in the DC metropolitan area. The high lead levels were found to have come from older lead service lines or pipes connected with lead solder.

On January 10, 2006, WASA sent a letter to all DC residents announcing that results from tests of lead in residential tap water samples over the previous 12 months showed that District drinking water then met the federal requirements under the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule.

The letter said that the "latest" sampling from more than 100 locations around the city showed "92 percent were at or below the federal action level, which is above 15 parts per billion." Those samples were taken during the July to December 2005 monitoring period mentioned in the EPA complaint.

The average lead level in the drinking water sample test group was seven parts per billion, WASA said, but these results were skewed by the 12 out of 100 samples submitted with inaccurate data.

WASA purchases drinking water from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Washington Aqueduct for distribution. After March 2004 the Aqueduct added orthophosphate to its water treatment process to reduce the corrosive nature of water on lead pipes and plumbing fixtures that contain lead.

WASA plans to spend more than $400 million to replace all of the District’s 29,000 known lead service lines with copper pipes. Financing programs can help eligible customers replace lead service lines on private property.

In 2004, WASA funded a Department of Health program that conducted voluntary blood lead level screenings of more than 6,800 DC residents. The results showed no identifiable public health impact from elevated lead levels in drinking water.

A copy of the June 2004 Safe Drinking Water Act consent order, the administrative complaint, and other information on lead in DC drinking water is online at: www.epa.gov/dclead.

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Florida Opens Its First Hydrogen Demonstration Station

ORLANDO, Florida, May 23, 2007 (ENS) – Governor Charlie Crist today joined Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole to officially open the state’s first hydrogen energy demonstration station.

The station fuels hydrogen-powered shuttle buses and provides a test platform for showcasing the production, storage and dispensing of hydrogen fuel.

"Florida is committed to remaining a leader in both the policies and projects that protect our economy and our environment," said Governor Crist. "Hydrogen technology is both safe and cost-effective, and we are excited to be a part of this revolutionary advancement on our journey toward alternative energy."

The Boggy Creek Hydrogen Fueling Station energy station, located in the metro-Orlando area, will provide the foundation for a "hydrogen hub" in Central Florida.

The station was formed through a collaboration between the State of Florida, Ford Motor Company, Chevron Technology Ventures, and Progress Energy. Local officials and executives from the corporate partners joined Governor Crist and Secretary Sole for the announcement.

The hydrogen demonstration station is one of the first located in the Southern United States and will allow project collaborators to assess the commercial feasibility of hydrogen as a transportation fuel.

Florida residents will have the opportunity to experience this new transportation technology as the buses transport customers and employees at the Orlando International Airport and the Orange County Convention Center.

"Demonstration projects, such as the fueling station, are vital to grow the hydrogen technology industry and spur investment and economic opportunity while safeguarding Florida’s natural resources," said Secretary Sole. "Today we are expanding access to hydrogen technology and stimulating the market for cleaner, sustainable sources of energy."

The hydrogen shuttle buses uses an internal combustion engine designed to run on hydrogen fuel instead of gasoline. Florida became the first domestic customer for Ford’s hydrogen shuttle bus earlier this year. For more information, visit www.FloridaEnergy.org.

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Radiation-Eating Fungi Found

BRONX, New York, May 23, 2007 (ENS) - Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have discovered that fungi that have the ability to use radioactivity as an energy source for making food and spurring their growth.

The finding could trigger recalculation of Earth's energy balance and the scientists say the ability of fungi to live off radiation could prove useful to venturing into outer space.

"Since ionizing radiation is prevalent in outer space, astronauts might be able to rely on fungi as an inexhaustible food source on long missions or for colonizing other planets," says Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova, associate professor of nuclear medicine and microbiology and immunology at Einstein and lead author of the study.

The research began five years ago when Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of microbiology and immunology at Einstein, read on the Internet that a robot sent into the still highly radioactive damaged reactor at Chernobyl had returned with samples of black, fungi rich in melanin that were growing on the reactor's walls.

Those fungi that are able to "eat" radiation must possess melanin, the pigment found in many if not most fungal species. But up until now, melanin's biological role in fungi, if any, has been a mystery.

"I found that very interesting and began discussing with colleagues whether these fungi might be using the radiation emissions as an energy source," says Dr. Casadevall.

To test this idea, the Einstein researchers performed a variety of tests using three genetically diverse fungi and four measures of cell growth.

The studies consistently showed that ionizing radiation significantly enhances the growth of fungi that contain melanin.

Dr. Casadevall notes that the melanin in fungi is no different chemically from the melanin in our skin and hair, where it serves as a pigment.

"Just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow, our research suggests that melanin can use a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, ionizing radiation, to benefit the fungi containing it," says Dr. Dadachova.

The study is online at the PLoS ONE website: http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0000457.