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AmeriScan: November 13, 2003

World to Add 2.6 Billion People By 2050

NEW YORK, New York, November 13, 2003 (ENS) - It took from the beginning of time until 1950 to put the first 2.5 billion people on the planet. Yet in the next 50 years, an increase that exceeds the total population of the world in 1950 will occur, according to public health scientist Dr. Joel Cohen, professor and head of the Laboratory of Populations at The Rockefeller University and Columbia University.

In a Viewpoint article in the November 14 issue of the journal "Science" Cohen says that by the year 2050, the Earth's present population of 6.3 billion is estimated to grow by 2.6 billion.

"There are some things we can reasonably know and other things we cannot know," Cohen says about population projections. "By examining population size and distribution, it is possible to get a feeling for possible challenges to our future well-being. It is possible to get a sense of the larger picture."

The world's population will be growing at a slower rate than it is today, especially in the richer, developed countries, but it will be larger by two to four billion people, Cohen said. The population will be more urban, especially in the underdeveloped countries, and it will be more elderly.

"I do not know whether we will inflict a doomsday on ourselves by warfare, disease or catastrophe. Our future depends on choices - on the choices we have made in the past and those we will make in the future," says Cohen. "We cannot continue the exceptional growth of this last half century without experiencing consequences."

The demographic projections that Cohen cites assume that fertility rates will continue to decline and that more effective preventions and treatments against HIV and AIDS will be implemented and major catastrophes such as biological warfare, severe climate change, or thermonuclear holocaust will not be inflicted on the human population and the planet.

These assumptions underlie the United Nations Population Division's urbanization forecasts and its online database, World Population Prospects: The 2002 Revision.

Although it is not possible to predict how global demographics will affect families or international migration, Cohen points out that three factors set the stage for major changes in families: fertility falling to very low levels; increasing longevity; and changing mores of marriage, cohabitation and divorce.

In a population with one child per family, no children have siblings, Cohen explains. In the next generation, the children of those children have no cousins, aunts, or uncles.

If people are between ages 20 and 30 on the average when they have children and live to 80 years of age, they will have decades of life after their children have reached adulthood, and their children will have decades of life with elderly parents, Cohen also points out.

Cohen's article kicks off a four-week long series titled "The State of the Planet," which examines key issues of our planet's well-being. Cohen was asked to initiate the series because "population is people and people matter."

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New Microorganism Could Help Solve Pollution Problems

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2003 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham can visualize the day when a colony of genetically engineered microscopic organisms will live inside the emission control system of a coal fired power plant, consuming any pollution before it reaches the outside air. Joined today by the scientist who can make this vision a reality, genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter, he announced the existence of a new living organism that might be the ancestor of the ones that will do the job.

Dr. Venter, who played a leading role in sequencing and analyzing the human genome, and his team, have assembled more than 5,000 bases or building blocks of DNA to create a small artificial virus that infects bacteria, known as a phage.

Bacteriophages do not infect humans. This advance brings closer the creation of entire microbes that are 100 to 1,000 times larger than the artificial virus created so far.

"With this advance," Abraham said, "it is easier to imagine, in the not too distant future, a colony of specially designed microbes living within the emission control system of a coal fired plant, consuming its pollution and its carbon dioxide, or employing microbes to radically reduce water pollution or to reduce the toxic effects of radioactive waste."

In September 2002, the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded a three year, $3 million grant to Dr. Ventner's Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA) to develop a synthetic genome. The research is part of IBEA's efforts to use biology and genetics to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and to produce biological energy sources that are cost effective and efficient.

Dr. Venter, Dr. Hamilton Smith, who was awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology, and their IBEA colleagues synthesized a bacteriophage genome from commercially available materials and created an active phage, a microscopic life form that infects bacteria. The researchers accomplished this in 14 days, reducing the time required to synthesize such a microbe from many months to days.

"Researchers have made an exciting scientific advance that may speed our ability to develop biology based solutions for some of our most pressing energy and environmental challenges," Secretary Abraham said.

In April, the DOE announced an increase of funding to IBEA by $9 million over three years. With the new funds, IBEA scientists will determine the genetic sequences of all the micro-organisms occurring in a natural microbial community.

"This is a major goal of the biological research carried on by the nation's major public and private research organizations - including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The Biological and Environmental Research program office of DOE's Office of Science funds the IBEA research as part of the Genomes to Life program."

The studies will enable scientists to discover biochemical pathways and organisms that may lead to the development of new methods for carbon sequestration or alternative energy production.

Abraham announced the creation of a subcommittee of the DOE's Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee to conduct a thorough review of IBEA's research. Chaired by Dr. Ray Gesteland, vice president of research and professor of genetics at the University of Utah, the subcommittee will recommend ways to accelerate this research and identify the full range of potential benefits.

Located in Rockville, Maryland, the IBEA is a nonprofit, research institution dedicated to exploring solutions for carbon sequestration using microbes, microbial pathways and plants.

IBEA researchers believe that genomics could be applied to enhance the ability of terrestrial and oceanic microbial communities to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

IBEA will develop and use microbial pathways and microbial metabolism to produce fuels with higher energy content "in an environmentally sound fashion," Abraham said.

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Sulfuric Acid Drained Into Galveston Bay

TEXAS CITY, Texas, November 13, 2003 (ENS) - A barge loaded with 235,000 gallons of sulfuric acid that capsized last week in southwest Galveston Bay was righted Tuesday, but on Wednesday the bay received a heavy dose of sulfuric acid.

Emergency crews drained the sulfuric acid that remained aboard the barge at Sterling Chemical, after it leaked into the bay last week, but not without incident. When crews stopped draining acid from the barge for a few moments, water was sucked into the hold. Water mixed with sulfuric acid creates intense heat, and workers were evacuated when a cloud of steam formed.

Paul Thomas, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard marine safety unit in Galveston told the "Texas City Sun" newspaper that the Coast Guard and other state and federal agencies such as Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Commission for Environmental Quality had jointly made the decision to pump acid into the bay.

Texas Commission for Environmental Quality public relations director Terry Clawson said “It was a safety decision made by the entire unified command.”

Walter Treybig, Sterling Chemical plant manager said pumping the chemical into the water would have “no impact at all” on the plant or its employees.

The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the incident.

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White House Sued for Atrazine Documents

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2003 (ENS) - The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit today to force the White House and the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reveal documents detailing meetings they may have had with representatives of the pesticide industry before exempting them from new restrictions on atrazine.

The most widely used weed killer in the United States, atrazine has been linked by scientific studies to high rates of prostate and other cancers in human beings and sexual deformities in frogs.

On October 31, the EPA said atrazine manufacturers would not be held to any new restrictions after reviewing the chemical as part of a court approved consent decree that it reached with the NRDC in 2001.

EPA officials said they did not find "any studies that would lead the agency to conclude that potential cancer risk is likely from exposure to atrazine." They said atrazine is “not likely” to cause cancer in humans.

Mike Mack, president of Syngenta Crop Protection Inc., which manufactures the chemical, said at the time, “This decision confirms what extensive scientific studies have shown - that atrazine meets the most stringent regulatory safety standards."

But media reports have alleged that the pesticide industry applied pressure that the Bush administration responded to in its atrazine decision. To find out more, NRDC filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests with the EPA and the White House, which have failed to produce relevant documents, the group's attorneys say.

In today's lawsuit, NRDC seeks to compel the EPA and the White House to disclose records of their communications with the pesticide industry regarding atrazine.

"This is yet another example of the Bush administration letting industry write the rules behind closed doors," said NRDC attorney Aaron Colangelo. "The public has a right to know whether the government is sacrificing public health and the environment to satisfy the pesticide industry's demands."

The agency says it is requiring atrazine manufacturers to monitor residue levels in 40 indicator watersheds that are representative of watersheds that may be vulnerable to contamination where atrazine is regularly used. In addition, manufacturers will do further studies on the health impacts of atrazine to amphibians.

In the United States, 60 million to 70 million pounds of atrazine are applied annually to fields, golf courses and lawns, and the EPA has found widespread atrazine contamination in U.S. waterways.

The most recent data indicate that more than one million Americans drink from water supplies contaminated with atrazine at potentially harmful levels.

But the company says atrazine is good for the environment. "Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that atrazine is the most widely used herbicide in conservation tillage systems, which can reduce soil erosion by as much as 90 percent," Syngenta said following the EPA decision.

Seven countries in the European Union have banned atrazine: Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. These countries have a policy of banning pesticides that occur in drinking water at levels higher than 0.1 parts per billion. Some of the EU countries that have not banned atrazine are the Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and the UK. It is subject to restrictions in Switzerland, the home country of Syngenta.

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Cement Formulation Change Would Cut Greenhouse Gases

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, November 13, 2003 (ENS) - At the Greenbuild Conference and Exposition in the nation’s first green convention center, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, members of the Portland Cement Association today announced that they have reached the first stage of approval for a new formulation of more environmentally friendly cement.

Tom Chizmadia, Portland Cement Association (PCA) board member and chairman of the association's Environment and Energy Committee, said the PCA is applying to use up to five percent ground limestone in portland cement.

In early 2003, PCA proposed a change to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to increase the limestone content of cement. To move a change through the ASTM system, a vote of 90 percent or greater is required, Chizmadia explained. Late in October, this proposed change received 94 percent approval, allowing it to move to the next level within the organization prior to adoption.

The environmental benefits include a reduction in use of raw materials, reduced energy consumption, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Assuming 2.5 percent limestone as an estimate of the average used in cement today, Chizmadia the annual benefits of doubling the limestone content would be reduction in raw materials use of 1.6 million tons, and reduction in energy use of over 11.8 trillion BTUs.

Carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced more than 2.5 million tons annually, approximately 2.6 percent per ton of product produced, he said.

These reductions "provide an opportunity for a positive and significant response to the call for voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions," Chizmadia said.

The proposed change would bring U.S. standards into harmony with those used in Europe and Canada where the addition of limestone has been used successfully for decades.

Based in Skokie, Illinois, the Portland Cement Association conducts market development, engineering, research, education, and public affairs programs on behalf of cement companies in the United States and Canada.

The U.S. Green Building Council International Conference and Expo draws thousands of professionals from all areas of the building industry for three intensive days of work sessions, networking and exhibits.

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Americans Chose More Energy Stars in 2002

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2003 (ENS) - Energy Star products are a success, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said today, citing the growing popularity of compact fluorescent bulbs and energy efficient appliances to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Bush administration policy that a voluntary approach to environmental protection is better than a regulated approach.

Voluntary programs succeeded in reducing 43 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2002 - over 10 percent more than 2001, according to EPA's annual report on Energy Star and other programs issued today.

"This dramatically demonstrates the power of personal choice," said EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt. "From light bulbs to entire homes, people purchasing energy efficient products were able to protect the environment and save money."

Explaining that seven companies announced aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals in 2002, Leavitt said, "Our corporate partners, too, are demonstrating that helping the environment can help their bottom line."

Energy Star has developed partnerships with 1,250 manufacturers labeling more than 18,000 products in over 35 product categories, the latest EPA data shows. More than one billion Energy Star labeled products have been purchased to date.

With Energy Star, Americans saved more than $7 billion on their energy bills last year, the EPA reported, enough energy to power 15 million homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 3,000 builder partners constructed over 110,000 Energy Star qualified homes to date, delivering financial savings for homeowners of more than $26 million annually.

Of the 15,000 buildings evaluated under the EPA's national energy performance rating system, 1,100 buildings earned the Energy Star in 2002.

The Green Power Partnership 2002 with more than 90 partners totaled more than 500,000 megawatt hours (Mwh) of green power purchase commitments - including 250,000 Mwh from new renewable generation. Green power is electricity that is generated from resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and low-impact hydro facilities.

The EPA report shows that partnership programs achieved reductions of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases - methane, perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride - of more than 18 million metric tons of carbon equivalent in 2002.

Partner actions are projected to maintain methane emissions below 1990 levels through 2012. Partnership programs also prevented almost 150,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions, a reduction of 10,000 tons more than the previous year.

The 2002 annual report, "Change for the Better: Energy Star and Other Voluntary Programs," is online at: http://www.epa.gov/appdstar/annualreports/annualreports.htm

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Royal Caribbean Hit With Sewage Complaints

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2003 (ENS) - People who called the headquarters of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Wednesday asking that advanced wastewater treatment technology be placed on all the company's cruise ships said they were surprised that customer service representatives refused to listen to their concerns.

The National Call-In Day produced more than 300 phone calls to Royal Caribbean’s Miami headquarters offices. It was organized by Oceana, an oceans advocacy group based in Washington, and included participants in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Portland, Maine.

Currently, 23 of Royal Caribbean’s 26 ship cruise fleet treat their waste with antiquated marine sanitation devices. The resulting pollution can contribute to beach water contamination, shellfish bed closures, coral reef destruction and the killing of marine mammals.

Earlier this year, senior representatives from Oceana and Royal Caribbean discussed a series of pollution prevention actions that Royal Caribbean could take, monitored by a third party, to ensure that no raw or inadequately treated sewage is discharged into the ocean.

Royal Caribbean ended the talks by refusing to upgrade their fleet even though estimates indicate that treating all of their waste with advanced systems would cost what Oceana says is "no more than the equivalent of a can of cola per passenger per day over a five year period."

On October 29, Oceana launched a national pledge campaign encouraging citizens to tell Royal Caribbean that they will not spend their vacation dollars with the company until it ends its practice of dumping inadequately treated sewage into the oceans.

Oceana has gathered more than 30,000 new pledges from citizens across the nation, with a goal of securing at least 100,000 to present to Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean, by early next year.

Dana DuBose, Oceana's Cruise Pollution Campaign Director, described it as the start of a broader effort to educate consumers about Royal Caribbean's disregard for the pristine ocean waters and sealife that it highlights in its advertising.

"We've heard from angry citizens from one coast to the other," said DuBose. “This issue won’t just ‘float away’ like the waste Royal Caribbean’s fleet leaves in its wake."

"I was planning to check out cruises as an option for a vacation next year, but I won't even consider supporting an industry that destroys the very beauty that enables its operation," said pledge signer Elizabeth Freel of Culver City, California.

Royal Caribbean has not commented on the call in or pledge campaigns.

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