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AmeriScan: November 2, 2005

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A First: Cuba Accepts U.S. Offer of Hurricane Assistance

WASHINGTON, DC, November 2, 2005 (ENS) - Cuba has accepted a U.S. offer of emergency assistance following Hurricane Wilma, the first time in the memory of State Department officials that the island nation has accepted such an offer. A U.S. team will go to Cuba to assess the hurricane damage and offer recommendations.

"I think in everybody's memory this is the first time that they have accepted an offer of assistance, at least in the collective memory bank here at the State Department," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Hurricane Wilma struck Cuba on October 24, and on October 25 the United States offered, via diplomatic note, to send an assessment team to Cuba as part of its offer of initial and immediate assistance to the Cuban people, he said.

Cuba accepted the offer, also via diplomatic note, on October 26, and a three-person team from the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance currently is preparing to travel to Cuba to survey the damage and recommend appropriate assistance, McCormack said.

Assistance would be provided through independent nongovernmental organizations.

Cuba's acceptance of the U.S. offer marked a break from past refusals of such offers, including Cuba's July refusal of $50,000 in aid after Hurricane Dennis struck the island.

Havana has been flooded by large waves, with water up to 39 inches high that flowed four blocks into the city and flooded basements. In addition, Wilma forced 600,000 Cubans to flee from coastal areas, where villages were inundated by storm surges.

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Prince Charles to Attend Environmental Events on U.S. Tour

WASHINGTON, DC, November 2, 2005 (ENS) - His Royal Highness Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will be hosted by President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at the White House today and will plant a tree to commemorate their visit to the School for Educational Evolution and Development in Washington.

Several environmentally related events dot the schedule during the eight day visit of Their Royal Highnesses to the United States.

On Thursday, the National Building Museum will present the Vincent Scully Prize to Prince Charles, who will give a talk on the built environment. The Vincent Scully Prize was established in 1999 to recognize exemplary practice, scholarship or criticism in architecture, historic preservation and urban design. The award recognizes the Prince's long-standing interest in the built environment and commitment to creating urban areas with human scale.

The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment teaches the principles of traditional urban design as key to creating healthy and prosperous communities that improve the quality of people's lives. The Foundation is involved in 20 projects ranging from regeneration, to urban extensions, and brownfield developments. These projects create living examples of sustainable communities and educate professionals through practice-based learning.

On Friday, Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla will meet people affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

On Saturday, they will visit the Point Reyes Farmer's Market north of San Francisco. The royal visit, organized by Marin Organic, draws attention to the efforts of Marin Organic and many other organizations in Marin County working to promote and protect sustainable agriculture.

"We are working to create the first all-organic county in the nation. A county in which residents and eaters recognize their mutual interdependence," said Helge Hellberg, executive director of Marin Organic. "The visit of His Royal Highness and his wife is such an amazing honor and confirmation that our work here is of critical importance far beyond our county line."

Next Monday, the Prince and the Duchess will meet children growing and cooking food at the Edible School Yard at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, in Berkeley, California.

The Prince, accompanied by the Duchess will give a speech to business leaders and heads of American environmental organizations at a Seminar on Environmental issues, at The Ferry Building in San Francisco.

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Due Diligence Standards to Be Set for Brownfields

DENVER, Colorado, November 2, 2005 (ENS) - Stephen Johnson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is scheduled to announce the All Appropriate Inquiries rule today at this year's Brownfields Conference in Denver. The new rule establishes standards for environmental due diligence that Johnson says he hopes will encourage more urban redevelopment.

"President [George W.] Bush and EPA are committed to putting both property and people back to work through our successful brownfields program," said Johnson. "By making risk management less of a guessing game and more of a science, we are expanding the number of problem properties that will be transformed back into community assets."

A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. The brownfield program empowers states, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together to assess, safely clean up, and reuse brownfields.

The proposed rule would establish specific regulatory requirements and standards for conducting all appropriate inquiries into the previous ownership, uses, and environmental conditions of a property for the purposes of meeting the all appropriate inquiries provisions necessary to establish an innocent landowner defense should contaminants be found on the property.

Each of the liability provisions for innocent landowners, prospective purchasers, and contiguous property owners, requires that, among other requirements, persons claiming the liability protections conduct all appropriate inquiries into prior ownership and use of a property before a person acquires a property or at the time of the transaction.

The All Appropriate Inquiries rule is expected to increase private cleanups of brownfield properties while reducing urban sprawl, affecting more than 250,000 commercial real estate transactions nationwide annually.

The rule's process of evaluating a property for potential environmental contamination and assessing potential liability for any contamination at the property increases certainty of Superfund liability protection, and improves information about environmental conditions of properties, the EPA says.

The rule was developed with stakeholders representing realtors, bankers, environmental interest groups, the retail industry, environmental justice organizations, and state, tribal and local governments.

Since it began in 1995, EPA's brownfields program has changed the way contaminated property is perceived, addressed, and managed, Johnson says.

Over the last decade the EPA's brownfields program has attracted more than $7 billion in public and private investments for the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfield properties in cities and towns across the nation, creating more than 33,000 thousand jobs. During this time, more than 7,000 properties have been assessed for environmental contamination.

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Commercializing California Water a Mistake, Public Citizen Warns

OAKLAND, California, November 2, 2005 (ENS) - The two largest proposed urban development projects in California - Newhall Ranch and Tejon Ranch's Centennial - lack a sufficient natural water supply to serve future residents. Both projects plan to buy rights to drinking water for future residents from Central Valley agribusinesses or descendents of old-time land and water magnates, a new report by Public Citizen shows.

The Public Citizen report argues that creating water markets in California would irreversibly harm consumers and the state's agricultural system. The system would allow for open sales of water and water rights and enable water distribution to be run by the highest bidder.

The consumer group called on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and the California State Legislature to re-prioritize the state's interest in protecting water as a public trust.

When water is treated as a commodity rather than a public good, conflict arises between poorer rural areas and wealthy urban neighborhoods, Public Citizen has found.

Public Citizen's report, "Water for People and Place: Moving Beyond Markets in California Water Policy," shows that the largest buyers of water in the state are Southern California water agencies and private development corporations.

The purchased water comes from the agricultural lands in the Central Valley and the Imperial Valley, which depend upon imported water supplies.

While these valleys hold the wealthiest agricultural region in the United States, they are also home to the poorest populations in California, and the rural communities have the highest number of drinking water quality violations, Public Citizen found.

In California, it is likely that the rural areas in the north and the dry agricultural valleys will be further neglected as water increasingly goes to nourish Southern California property values and subdivisions built by developers who can pay more for water than farmers.

"Water is not the same as sneaker designs, Hollywood movies or pizza crust; there are no consumer choices," said John Gibler, author of the report and a California researcher for Public Citizen. "Everyone needs water to drink and bathe. Everyone develops thirst equally. In a water market, those with access to the most capital can decide, by the power of their checkbooks, whose thirst is most valuable."

The California constitution declares that the public owns the water. Over time, however, changes to state and federal laws have made it possible for people and businesses with water rights to sell those rights on a temporary, long-term or permanent basis.

In 1982, the legislature directed California's Department of Water Resources, the State Board, and "all other appropriate state agencies to encourage voluntary transfers of water and water rights."

In 1992, Congress passed the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, allowing contractors with the federal water project to sell water to cities or developers outside the project. No such sales of federal project water have yet taken place, although the CVPIA is credited with spurring a recent increase in state water sales and trading.

Public Citizen calls on the governor and state legislature to reallocate water based on need, not price. The report recommends banning all for-profit water sales between private entities and establishing a statewide task force to study water use in California to identify urgent drinking water needs in rural parts of the state as well as wasteful water practices.

Gibler said, "Treating water allocation - who gets water and how much - as a business disempowers communities and environmental advocates by cutting them out of the decisionmaking process."

To read the report, go to: http://www.citizen.org/documents/Water-for-People_web.pdf.

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Judge Asked to Help Salmon by Filling Pacific Northwest Rivers

PORTLAND, Oregon, November 2, 2005 (ENS) - Fishing businesses and conservation groups in the Pacific Northwest are asking a federal judge to restore more water to six rivers, and put salmon back on track to recovery by managing the rivers in a more natural way. Today, much of the river water is used for irrigation and power generation.

The groups say their plan, put forward Monday in a motion to the court, could increase young salmon survival up to 30 percent and could generate millions of dollars of income for Northwest communities as salmon recover.

The motion was filed by conservation groups and sport and commercial fishing groups in U.S. District Court in Portland before Judge James Redden, who earlier this year ruled that the Bush administration plan for assuring threatened and endangered salmon are not harmed by the federal hydroelectric dam system violated the Endangered Species Act.

The motion calls for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water over three Columbia River dams in the spring of 2006 the Bonneville, John Day and McNary dams.

Next summer, the motion asks that more water be spilled over the Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River, and the Bonneville, John Day and McNary dams on the Columbia.

"The 2005 season ended in disaster," said Bob Rees, president of the NW Guides and Anglers Association and a full time professional fishing guide. "With poor projections for the 2006 season on the heels of a disastrous 2005 season, it will be next to impossible to entice anglers into pursuing the magnificent salmon on the Columbia."

The groups are also asking Judge Redden to order that water be held behind dams in the upper basin during the winter at the upper level of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control guidelines so it can be released to speed up river flows in the spring and summer, when juvenile fish are swimming to the ocean.

The judge will hand down his decision after hearings on the issue, which are scheduled for mid-December.

The groups' motion is very similar to what was requested last year during the summer migration that resulted in a survival increase of 64 percent for young salmon migrating in-river on their way to the ocean, according to an independent scientific study.

Spill is considered the safest way to move young migrating salmon past dams.

"We need real relief for salmon now," said Joel Kawahara, commercial fisherman and member of the Washington Trollers Association. "That means more water being spilled over the dams and more water in the river so it can act more like a natural river. We need a plan that brings us sustainable, harvestable levels of salmon and that cannot wait during a year of the federal agencies bickering."

"By increasing the number of baby salmon that survive the hydrosystem in 2006, we will be increasing the number of adults that return in 2008 and 2009," said Bruce Buckmaster, board member Salmon for All. "More adult fish returning means more money to the Pacific Northwest and a healthier economic future for all of us."

In early October, the court gave the federal government one year to rewrite the Federal Salmon Plan, which was ruled illegal in May of this year.

The court said that the federal agencies, working with the states and tribes, must consider all options to achieve the necessary recovery of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake rivers. While the federal agencies states and tribes begin crafting a viable plan for salmon recovery it is of the utmost necessity to take steps to halt the further decline of these fish, and take steps to put salmon and steelhead on the path to recovery.

"Relatively good returns of adult salmon in 2001 provided a glimpse of the enormous benefits these salmon bring when they return to the Columbia and Snake rivers," said Trey Carskadon, president, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "Good salmon runs mean that more boats are built and more people have work and paychecks, builders put people to work as these numbers swell. Real economic benefits are generated through tourist dollars that spill into restaurants, convenience stores, motels and thousands upon thousands of retail operations."

"Sportfishing isn't just a hobby," said Carskadon. "It's an industry that generates billions of dollars of benefit to this region each year."

Without summer spill on the Snake River in 2005, the groups say that about 90 percent of Snake River fall chinook would have been removed from the river and siphoned through a series of tubes into trucks and barges, only to be driven hundreds of miles downstream - a costly federal practice that has not stopped the decline of salmon populations.

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Pennsylvania Mining Supplier Charged with Reckless Endangerment

GLASSPORT, Pennsylvania, November 2, 2005 (ENS) - The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Section Friday filed criminal charges against Micon, a Glassport mining supply company, and a company vice president for the illegal disposal and storage of toxic chemicals and residual waste at the company's Glassport facility.

Attorney General Tom Corbett said that in addition to charging Micon, which is also known as Earth Support Services Inc., charges have also been filed against Micon vice president George A. Watson of Prosperity, Pennsylvania.

Corbett said the Attorney General's investigation was launched based on a referral from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) into allegations that Micon workers illegally buried the chemical isocyanate behind a warehouse at the Micon site in Glassport, which is located along the Monongahela River.

Corbett said that Micon produces a product to stabilize mine walls that uses the chemicals isocyanate and polyurethane together to create a foam substance that is sprayed on the side of mine walls.

The charges allege that from 2001 through 2003 Watson directed workers to remove 55 gallon drums containing isocyanate waste from a warehouse at the Glassport plant and pour the waste into trenches behind the plant.

Corbett said that on April 20, 2005, agents of the Attorney General executed a search warrant at the Micon facility and discovered some 500 55-gallon drums of isocyanate and polyurethane waste being stored in a decaying warehouse at the Micon site.

Some of the drums containing isocyanate were found to be bulging and were ejecting their covers.

Corbett said that soil samples taken from the suspected burial area contained unidentifiable chemical waste.

Corbett said that during the search, agents discovered Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which specify how chemicals must be stored. The data sheets indicate that isocyanate should not be stored in temperatures below 75 degrees or above 105 degrees and that it can decompose at elevated temperatures causing a generation of gas which can cause pressure in a closed system. The data sheets also stipulate that isocyanate should be stored in dry conditions since the chemical reacts violently with water.

Corbett noted that the decaying warehouse where the chemicals were stored lacked any heating or cooling systems and had large holes in the roof.

The charges allege that Micon failed to obtain a permit from the DEP to dispose or store isocyanate and polyurethane waste. Additionally, Micon is alleged to have failed to register these chemicals with the Allegheny County Emergency Management Services.

Corbett explained that companies are required to inform Emergency Management Services what chemicals are used and stored at their facilities so that fire departments know how to properly extinguish a fire since some chemicals, such as isocyanate, can react violently to water.

Micon and Watson are each charged with two misdemeanor counts of illegal disposal processing and storage of residual waste, two misdemeanor counts of unlawful conduct and one misdemeanor count of recklessly endangering another person. Preliminary hearings are scheduled for December 7 before District Magistrate Armand Martin.

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New Ultraviolet Light Technique Developed to Clean Tap Water

DURHAM, North Carolina, November 2, 2005 (ENS) - A new way of measuring microbes' exposure to ultraviolet light could strengthen efforts to use UV light to improve the quality and safety of tap water in the United States.

The novel "microsphere dosimeter" technique developed by researchers at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering is the first direct test of how much UV light microorganisms in fluids have been exposed to, said the researchers.

The technique allows scientists to complete a critical step in validating the use of UV light treatment for preventing the spread of infection through drinking water. The technique was reported in the November 15 issue of "Environmental Science and Technology" by Professor Karl Linden and colleagues.

Professor Linden, Ph.D., teaches classes on physical and chemical treatment processes, and chemistry and microbiology for environmental engineers.

Linden's technique uses fluorescent microspheres, which become bleached with exposure to UV light, to mimic pathogenic microbes in water flowing through a UV reactor.

By measuring the bleaching of the microspheres, the researchers can obtain precise measures of the full distribution of UV doses that a pathogen may experience - information critical for gauging the treatment's capacity to kill disease-causing bacteria or parasites before they reach the public.

Funded by the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, the new technique is timely. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to introduce regulations in December requiring water treatment plants at risk of infection to add UV reactors as an additional line of defense against pathogenic contaminants in the water supply, Linden said.

"The use of UV will certainly lower the public's risk of microbial pollution because it offers a second barrier of defense," Linden said. UV treatment will also reduce the need for chemical disinfection, he added.

In the U.S., chemical treatment with chlorine remains the primary method for disinfecting drinking water, he said. However, chlorine can produce chemical byproducts that have been linked to cancer. Such byproducts are also coming under stricter regulations in the new EPA rules for drinking water, Linden said.

Chlorine also fails to kill some infectious microbes, such as the protozoan parasite Cryptosporidium. Known as "Crypto," the parasite is a common cause of waterborne disease in the United States. In 1998, water quality researchers, including Linden, discovered that UV is very effective in killing Crypto, a finding that subsequently became a fundamental basis for the new EPA regulations.

In addition to improvements in the fight against waterborne illness, UV offers a more environmentally friendly water treatment method, Linden said. Its implementation will allow a reduction in chlorine use, which will lower the concentration of chemical byproducts found in the water supply and help to meet the new byproduct standards, in addition to the Crypto regulations.

Similar to the more familiar Giardia parasite, which often infects hikers who drink untreated water, Crypto can be transmitted through ingestion of drinking water, person-to-person contact, or other exposure routes, Linden said. Symptoms of the condition include acute diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting and fever that can last up to two weeks in healthy adults, but may be chronic or fatal in those with a compromised immune system.

In 1993, a massive outbreak of Crypto transmitted through the public water supply infected an estimated 400,000 people in Milwaukee and led to more than 100 deaths, Linden said.

In the last two decades, Crypto has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease among people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The parasite can be found in drinking water and recreational water worldwide.

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