AmeriScan: November 7, 2005

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Indiana Tornados Kill 22 People

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, November 7, 2005 (ENS) - Two tornados that ripped through Indiana early Sunday morning claimed 22 lives, and 15 other people have been treated in hospitals for critical, life threatening injuries.

Rescue crews are searching for at least 200 other people who are still missing.

Seventeen people were killed when a twister tore through the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park in Evansville, and five more deaths are confirmed in Warrick County, officials said.

Statewide damage assessments are under way. In Vanderburgh County, 125 homes were destroyed and another 150 homes suffered major damage.

In Warrick County, 60 homes were destroyed in the Boonville area, and 150 homes were destroyed in the Newburgh area.

About 12,000 homes were left without power as the tornadoes toppled power lines.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels today declared a statewide emergency and asked President George W. Bush for federal assistance for Hoosiers devastated by the tornados. He has requested assistance for the core affected counties of Vanderburgh and Warrick and the contiguous counties of Dubois, Gibson, Pike, Posey and Spencer.

The governor is seeking assistance that would qualify Indiana for individual and disaster assistance. In the next few days, Daniels is also expected to ask for public assistance, which, if granted, would provide reimbursement for state and local expenses.

“I heard from FEMA Director Paulison yesterday, and President Bush called this morning from Panama. We appreciate their prompt response," said Daniels. "The most important work right now is what is being done on site in Vanderburgh and Warrick counties by Hoosier professionals and volunteers."

Daniels visited damaged areas of both counties on Sunday afternoon, and will return to the affected areas on Tuesday.

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Hawaii Begins Bird Flu Testing of Air Passengers

HONOLULU, Hawaii, November 7, 2005 (ENS) - Hawaii has begun monitoring airplane passengers for signs of bird flu, the first state in the nation to do so. Health officials says the monitoring began last week on a voluntary basis.

Health officials will collect specimens from the noses or throats of sick passengers who wish to be tested at a Honolulu International Airport clinic staffed by registered nruses.

The flu testing program is being provided under an agreement between the Hawaii Department of Health and the Queen's Medical Center. The program is expected to improve the state's ability to detect and respond to the possibility that bird flu might reach Hawaii, which has many Asian visitors.

State officials from all relevant agencies and the military have been participating in a Task Force that is drafting a state plan to prepare for and respond to an outbreak of pandemic flu. This threat could occur if the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu that has killed 62 people in four Asian countries since December 2003 were to mutate into a viral strain that is easily transmitted from person to person.

The state plan is expected to be completed by late December or early January, according to Task Force leader Dr. Sarah Park, deputy chief of the state Health Department's Disease Outbreak Control Division.

According to state figures, more than seven million visitors arrived in Hawaii by air between January 1 and August 31, 2005, and 1.4 million of those were from countries outside the United States.

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Hurricane Katrina Damaged 19 Wildlife Refuges

WASHINGTON, DC, November 7, 2005 (ENS) - Assessments are still taking place, but nine weeks after Hurricane Katrina smashed the Gulf Coast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chief says it is clear that more than 150,000 acres of coastal and bottomland wetlands in the National Wildlife Refuge System were damaged by the storm.

Chief Dale Hall told the Senate Committee of Environment and Public Works on Wednesday that 19 national wildlife refuges were affected by Hurricane Katrina, 16 of them on the coast.

"The area impacted by Hurricane Katrina has one of the largest concentrations of national wildlife refuges in the country due to the important coastal wetlands in the region," said Hall. "Coastal marshes in the Mississippi River delta and the parishes south of New Orleans, and the marshes of southwest Louisiana, were hard hit by winds, surge, and saltwater from Hurricane Katrina."

Coastal forested wetlands ranging from eastern Lake Pontchartrain Basin to the Pearl River were defoliated and sustained heavy damage to standing trees, Hall said.

"In many areas," he said, "extensive timber damage has removed potential nesting trees for bald eagles and other birds. Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi and Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana lost a significant number of trees, including cavity trees used by roosting and nesting red-cockaded woodpeckers. Tree loss also will impact foraging habitat for these endangered birds."

The Service has received reports of substantial mussel and fish die-offs. "Aquatic ecosystems and fish communities may have been severely impacted by contaminant releases, sedimentation, loss of spawning habitat, and disruption of migration," Hall told the committee members.

About 50 sea turtle nests along the Alabama coast were lost, including all 10 nests at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.

Primary dunes, which are habitat for the Alabama beach mouse, have been destroyed, said Hall. In addition, 90 percent of the secondary dunes were destroyed and scrub habitat was damaged by salt spray from the ocean. Both habitat types serve as food sources for the beach mouse and it is likely their population will be reduced from the effects of both Hurricane Katrina and last year’s Hurricane Ivan.

Up to 15 percent of the world's brown pelicans and up to 30 percent of the world's sandwich terns nest in Southeastern Louisiana, and especially in Breton National Wildlife Refuge, Hall explained to the lawmakers.

"Breton, which is part of the Chandeleur Islands and celebrated its centennial last year, lost 50 to 70 percent of its land mass due the effects of Hurricane Katrina," Hall said. In addition, Mississippi Sandhill Crane, Big Branch Marsh, Delta, Bogue Chitto, and Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuges suffered significant impacts, he said.

The Service is currently working to assess Hurricane Katrina’s full impact on the area’s natural resources, some of which may take some time to become apparent. Such impacts include the spread of exotic species facilitated by the storm, ecosystem changes, and the effects of contaminant releases.

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Cow Power Makes San Francisco Green Festival Climate Neutral

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 7, 2005 (ENS) - The Green Festival at the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco last weekend featured 125 speakers and 450 exhibitors and attracted thousands of people, most of whom arrived at the event by burning fossil fuel in cars and airplanes.

Emissions from these car and aircraft engines contribute to global warming, but the festival was climate neutral, due to greenhouse gas offsets generated by "cow-power," in the words of Inland Empire Utility Agency (IEUA) Board President John Anderson.

IEUA’s carbon credits are generated with an anaerobic digester that processes manure from dairy cows and converts this material into methane. This methane gas is then used as renewable fuel to power a local desalination plant, which produces 14,000 million gallons per day of potable water.

Another company, TerraPass, purchased a block of carbon credits from IEUA equivalent to 2.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide, the amount estimated to be emitted by exhibitors and attendees of the San Francisco Green Festival, and then retired the credits.

The carbon credits and transaction will be registered with the Chicago Climate Exchange, the voluntary market for trading greenhouse gases which also provides the verification framework for greenhouse gas reducing projects.

“In June 2005, IEUA banked over 40,000 metric tons of Greenhouse Gas Credits with the Chicago Climate Exchange,” said Anderson. “The 1,050 metric tons we are selling to TerraPass is the first actual sale of Green House Credits from cow power.”

IEUA’s digester project is being implemented in partnership with the California Energy Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, South Coast Air Quality Management District, and the Milk Producers Council.

Green Festival attendees received their own personal offset for 77 pounds of carbon dioxide when they arrived at the show, as well as a coupon for a reduced price individual offset package.

TerraPass offers car owners a small decal placed on their car’s windshield showing their pledge to neutralize their car’s emissions impact. Drivers pay according to how much gas they use - from $29.95 a year for hybrids up to $79.95 for an SUV.

“Our goal is to raise awareness about individual contributions to global warming and highlight a simple solution that eco-conscious drivers can take to help drive change,” said TerraPass CEO Tom Arnold.

TerraPass is a service that aids in eliminating personal vehicle contributions to global warming. By issuing a “TerraPass” to its members, TerraPass utilizes its members’ contributions to promote global energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction through targeted projects. It is through these clean energy projects that TerraPass counterbalances pollution from its members’ vehicles.

“Green Festival is committed to holding a sustainable and responsible festival,” said Keri Winn, associate producer of the San Francisco Green Festival. “In addition to our onsite efforts to achieve zero waste, we are excited to use this innovative service to mitigate the impact of our attendee and exhibitor travel and at the same time, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and promote sustainability in the agricultural sector.”

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Central Contra Costa Sanitary District Honored

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 7, 2005 (ENS) - The sanitary district that serves much of Contra Costa County was presented with a first place National Clean Water Act Recognition award Thursday for its outstanding and innovative achievements in wastewater treatment and pollution prevention. The Bay Area district was selected from 1,500 districts nationwide.

Alexis Strauss, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water division for the Pacific Southwest region, presented the national award to Barbara Hockett, the district's board president, during a board meeting in Martinez.

Hockett said promoting pollution prevention is one of the district's highest priorities. "We continue to achieve great success because our staff engages the community in various activities that help educate the public and acknowledge their success. A direct result of this is the reduction of pollutants from our industrial and commercial dischargers. Our efforts seem to pay off in reducing pollutants and improving our water quality."

"This award is significant and well-deserved national recognition of the district's work to reduce the amount of pollutants from industry and businesses that enter San Francisco Bay," said Strauss. "Central Contra Costa Sanitary District's work encouraging pollution prevention and promoting technology will have far-reaching impacts on resource conservation in the Bay Area and across the nation."

At the award presentation, Strauss was joined by officials from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

"The water board congratulates the district on receiving its fourth national pretreatment award," said board Executive Officer Bruce Wolfe. "We commend the district for its leadership and continued commitment to reducing toxic pollutant discharges to San Francisco Bay."

Central Contra Costa Sanitary District has been a national leader in adopting innovative strategies to protect the environment and to encourage pollution prevention. In 2003, the district received a first place award for the creative and cost-effective operation of their wastewater treatment plant in Martinez.

In 1997, the district's treatment plant was the first plant in California to replace their chlorine gas disinfection system with a non-chemical, ultraviolet light process. Since that time, other plants across the country have followed their lead.

The district converts gaseous waste products from a local landfill into electricity to run the treatment plant, a step that has saved the district over $1 million per year.

In addition, the district has volunteered to conduct household hazardous waste collection for the community. Last year, the district collected approximately 1.3 million pounds of household hazardous waste from local residents.

Hockett said, "We're happy to know that together with our customers in the communities we serve, we're reducing the toxic pollutants entering the water environment."

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Northern New England Rivers Iced In Less Often

AUGUSTA, Maine, November 7, 2005 (ENS) - The total number of days of ice on New England rivers has declined over the past 30 to 40 years, especially in the spring in another piece of evidence demonstrating a warming climate. The study is published in the latest U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) journal "Climatic Change."

For this study, hydrologists from the USGS Maine Water Science Center in Augusta examined data from stream-flow-gauging stations in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont that measure the height and flow of rivers.

They looked at the number of days each year when there is enough ice in a river to affect the relationship between the height and the flow of the river, and found that the number of ice-affected days decreased during the 20th century at 12 of 16 rivers they studied.

The total winter days of ice-affected flow decreased by 20 days from 1936 to 2000 for the average of the nine longest record rivers, with most of the decrease occurring since the 1960’s.

Only four of the 16 rivers had later first dates of ice-affected flow in the fall, called ice-in, but 12 of the 16 rivers had earlier spring ice-out.

On average, the ice-out dates became earlier by 11 days from 1936 to 2000, again with most of the change occurring since the 1960s.

“The changes in spring river ice-outs in northern New England are consistent with previous studies,” said USGS hydrologist Glenn Hodgkins, the study's lead author.

“The overall evidence of changes is strong and is consistent with warming temperatures in the late-winter and spring in New England in the last 30 to 40 years.”

“There is some evidence of changes consistent with mid-winter warming and little evidence of changes in the fall,” said Hodgkins, “but questions of the broader impact, the cause of this trend, and whether the warmer climate in New England is linked to global climate change are beyond the scope of these studies.”

A USGS study released in 2004 showed the yearly snow in northern New England decreased in favor of rain during the last half of the 20th century.

In July 2003, USGS scientists announced that winter-spring high river flows, which are influenced by snowmelt, came earlier during the 20th century in northern New England, with most of the one to two week change occurring over the last 30 years.

A 2002 USGS study of rivers in coastal Maine showed large increases in February river flows during the 20th century and large decreases in May flows, which also suggests an earlier snowmelt.

A USGS study of lakes in 2002 showed ice-out dates came about five days earlier from 1968 to 2000 in northern and mountainous areas of Maine and New Hampshire and 13 days earlier in more southerly areas of these states.

Other previous studies show earlier last-frost dates and lilac-bloom dates, also suggesting New England’s winter weather has become warmer.

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Firm Fined for Dumping Grease into Tacoma Storm Drain

OLYMPIA, Washington, November 7, 2005 (ENS) - The mysterious mass of slimy, smelly goo first appeared in a storm water swale near Blix Elementary School off East 38th Street in Tacoma, Washington in January 2004.

A joint investigation by the City of Tacoma and the Washington State Ecology Department identified the substance, then traced its source to a storm drain manhole at Sheridan Elementary, 16 blocks away.

Investigators learned that Metro Rooter and Plumbing had been hired by the Tacoma School District to clean kitchen grease out of its schools' grease interceptors.

Storm drains are considered state waters because they drain into wetlands, rivers, lakes and into Puget Sound, said David Byers, a manager with the Washington State Ecology Department's spill response program.

After Ecology issued the company a notice of violation for the incident, Ecology learned from the company that a former employee had dumped about 4,000 gallons of kitchen grease and waste water down the storm drain manhole near Sheridan Elementary.

Restaurants and other businesses routinely hire septic haulers, who must be certified by local health departments to handle grease waste. Septic haulers are required to take the grease waste to a wastewater treatment plant or to a licensed septage treatment or biosolids recycling facility.

The investigation by Ecology and Tacoma prompted a federal criminal investigation that resulted in several felony and misdemeanor charges against the company and company officials.

On Friday, Ecology announced that Metro Rooter and Plumbing has been fined $10,000 for the incident. The drain cleaning company was also sent a bill for $20,000 to repay the state's cleanup costs, the agency said Friday.

"Commercial kitchen grease needs to be properly disposed of or recycled at an approved facility, not poured into the storm drain," Byers said. "This was a costly mess that never should have happened."

Separately, the City of Tacoma billed the company approximately $19,000 for its share of the cleanup costs.

"The company has voluntarily accepted responsibility for all cleanup costs," said Ivan Karmel, the company's attorney and spokesman.

"The company performed its own investigation and determined that one of its employees had disregarded the directives of the company by improperly disposing of the grease trap wastes into the storm water system," Karmel said.

"The employee was promptly discharged," the attorney said, "and the company implemented a compliance plan to ensure that similar incidents would not take place in the future. Company policy is and will continue to be to safeguard the environment."

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