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AmeriScan: November 14, 2005

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EPA Asked to Take Over New Jersey's Chromium Contaminated Sites

TRENTON, New Jersey, November 14, 2005 (ENS) - A New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection chemical engineer and the state chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) are requesting intervention by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the remediation of sites contaminated with chromium.

In a November 5 letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, chemical engineer Zoe Kelman, a member of the state’s official Chromium Workgroup, and the New Jersey chapter of PEER, ask for federal action to force the state to ensure that state chromium cleanup standards and caps are adequately protective.

Kelman alleges "widespread chromium contamination" and writes that "documented releases of hazardous substances are causing direct exposure of thousands of residents in densely populated urban areas."

"These exposures constitute an unacceptable risk, an imminent and substantial threat to human health and environment, and a public health emergency," she writes.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) "conducted sampling that shows actual individual cancer risks as high as one in 10 at sites that have been certified by NJDEP as clean pursuant to state remedial laws," writes Kelman in her letter to Administrator Johnson.

Kelman has filed a report with DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell showing that harmful chromium is migrating off sites that the state has classified as completed or remediated and is likely coming into direct contact with residents and workers.

The basic problem with DEP’s approach is that it relies on the polluter to decide what type of cap and cleanup is appropriate, without allowing the community to be made aware of or consider whether more protective alternatives, including permanent remedies, are appropriate, Kelman says.

Legislation has stripped NJDEP of the power to order a responsible company to conduct a "feasibility study" to examine cleanup options; to conduct public hearings on those options; or to order permanent remedies that provide reliable health protections, she writes.

The letter is a formal request for the EPA to immediately "assert federal jurisdiction; enforce federal environmental laws; conduct federal oversight of federally delegated programs; and investigate New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s failed response to a public health emergency created by widespread chromium contamination."

The offsite releases have resulted in direct human contact with chromium and have violated Clean Water Act requirements, she writes, adding that NJDEP’s chromium soil cleanup criteria are "scientifically flawed and were derived by undue and improper influence of responsible parties and regulated industry."

Kelman and PEER claim that the state's regulatory framework and remedial approach are "inconsistent with federal requirements," and in addition they are "not adequately protective of human health and the environment; and are not based on the best available current science."

This "urgent request" for the EPA's intervention is needed because the NJDEP "continues to fail to act and to enforce state laws and federally delegated programs as required to protect public health and the environment," Kelman alleges.

The unacceptable human health risks documented in the Kelman and NJDEP Workgroup Reports are consistent with U.S. District Court and Third Circuit Court of Appeals decisions in "Interfaith Community Organization v. Honeywell International, Inc." which found in 1994 an "imminent and substantial threat to human health or the environment," and ordered Honeywell, the responsible party in the case, to excavate and remove all of the chromium waste from the property at issue.

The Court also ordered the remediation and cleanup of the groundwater at the site, as well as the sediments in the Hackensack River that had been contaminated with chromium from the site.

At the case trial, Honeywell argued for "the right to continue to work with the DEP," and reminded the judge that "we have an agreement with the DEP."

The court rejected this "right," finding that NJDEP had permitted 20 years of "dilatory tactics" by the company. The court ruled that the capping remedy proposed by Honeywell would not protect public health and the environment, and that a complete excavation was the only adequate remedy.

Kelman and PEER allege a longstanding incapacity and unwillingness on the part of the state DEP to abide by federal laws, and they ask that Administrator Johnson refer NJDEP’s handling of the chromium matter to the EPA Inspector General for investigation. In addition, they request that the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conduct a community health study and impact assessment of chromium contamination; and conduct site assessments and initiate the Superfund listing process for certain of the sites contaminated with chromium.

The ATSDR, an agency of the Centers for Disease Control, says several studies have shown that chromium(VI) compounds can increase the risk of lung cancer. Animal studies have also shown an increased risk of cancer.

The World Health Organization has determined that chromium(VI) is a human carcinogen. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that certain chromium(VI) compounds are known to cause cancer in humans. The EPA has determined that chromium(VI) in air is a human carcinogen.

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Wisconsin Alleges Army Mishandled Asbestos at Ammo Plant

MERRIMAC, Wisconsin, November 14, 2005 (ENS) - Improper handling of asbestos at Badger Army Ammunition Plant has placed the health of workers and contractors at risk, according to a formal Notice of Violation issued to the Army by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) on October 10.

The violations were witnessed and videotaped by WDNR personnel visiting the landfill site, located in the Township of Merrimac, west of the Weigand’s Bay area.

"On September 22, 2005 WDNR staff were at the Badger landfill and observed asbestos containing material being compacted without any cover soil," said Laura Olah, executive director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB).

CSWAB is a local environmental group that has been monitoring the cleanup at Badger for more than 15 years. The group has formally requested involvement of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the landfill matter.

"The WDNR permit requires at least three feet of soil over friable asbestos prior to compaction," Olah said. "Landfill operators drove directly over asbestos containing materials which can result in the uncontrolled release of asbestos fibers to the air and the environment."

"These violations place workers’ health at great risk," Olah stressed. "Inhalation exposure to asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare cancer of the lining the abdominal cavity) and gastrointestinal cancers."

The WDNR described the Army’s actions as "potentially dangerous to onsite personnel and contractors" and ordered the Army to submit a detailed plan within 30 days that describes how the Army will correct its site procedures and inspections.

The WDNR also found that friable material containing asbestos was left uncovered at the end of the working day, violating requirements for daily soil cover.

In addition to cancer, long-term exposure to asbestos in humans by inhalation can also result in a lung disease called asbestosis. Asbestosis is characterized by shortness of breath and cough and may lead to severe impairment of respiratory function.

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Pennsylvania Landfill Regulations Upheld by State Supreme Court

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, November 14, 2005 (ENS) - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld state Department of Environmental Protection regulations that require landfill operators to show proposed landfill construction or expansion will generate social and economic benefits that clearly outweigh potential environmental harms.

"The Supreme Court’s decision is huge win for the people of Pennsylvania," DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty said. "The harms-benefits test gives residents a voice in the permitting process and ensures their communities will garner benefits when they host landfills. These regulations give the state important flexibility and discretion in how to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens."

During the permitting process, a harms-benefits test looks at the balance between the impact of a landfill on the surrounding communities and any environmental, social and economic benefits gained from a proposed facility. The analysis is the initial screening mechanism for landfill permit reviews conducted before a full technical review.

The harms-benefits test is described in regulations for municipal waste landfills and residual waste landfills. The regulations went into effect in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

Two landfill operators, Eagle Environmental II LP and Tri-County Industries Inc., had argued that the harms-benefits test was beyond the authority of the Solid Waste Management Act and the Municipal Waste Management Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act.

They also argued that requiring benefits to outweigh environmental harms was unconstitutionally vague and beyond the state’s police powers.

In rejecting these arguments in a ruling late last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that consideration of economic and social harms and benefits is within the authority of the acts.

The ruling states that the concept of a balancing test is common and practiced by businesses every day, and the concepts of harms and benefits are easily understood.

In keeping with the state’s police powers, the court ruled, a determination of a project’s inherent harms and benefits is reasonably necessary in order to determine whether a potentially dangerous project should be granted a permit in a heavily regulated industry.

The DEP’s regulations previously had been upheld by the Environmental Hearing Board and Commonwealth Court.

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New York Grants $9.1 Million to Protect Coastal Waters

ALBANY, New York, November 14, 2005 (ENS) - The State of New York is making more than $9.1 million in grants to Long Island communities to improve water quality and protect and restore habitats throughout the Peconic and South Shore estuaries. The grants are being funded though the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act and the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF).

"The Peconic and South Shore Estuaries are unique and important ecosystems that offer tremendous environmental, recreational, economic, and educational opportunities," Governor George Pataki said. "We have made significant progress in protecting and restoring these water bodies, and these grants will continue our efforts to improve water quality and estuary habitats on Long Island."

The Governor announced grants totaling more than $2.5 million for the Peconic Estuary and nearly $6.65 million for the South Shore Estuary. These awards will support projects to reduce pollutants from entering the estuary through storm water and non-point source runoff; restore habitats and install fish ladders and eelways to allow migration for upstream spawning; and make improvements to wastewater treatment plants.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE), said, "These grants provide considerable and essential funding for critical programs to control polluted storm water runoff, upgrade old sewage treatment plants, and restoring habitat for Long Island’s estuaries."

The Peconic Estuary system is located on the eastern end of Long Island, between the North and South Forks. The Peconic Estuary Plan protects and improves the Peconic Estuary system’s water quality to ensure a healthy and diverse marine community.

The largest grant in the Peconic Estuary is $2 million that the Town of Riverhead will use to construct a water purification system. The system will treat water from the town's wastewater treatment facility to be used for irrigation at the Suffolk County Indian Island Golf Course. This will reduce nitrogen discharged to the Peconic Estuary up to 25 percent.

To better handle storm water in the Peconic Estuary, the Town of Shelter Island will receive $16,750 to construct devices to control nonpoint source runoff. The Town of Southampton will receive $117,500 to install structures to collect storm water runoff and remove pollutants.

Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister said, "As an advocate for our bays, I applaud the Department of Environmental Conservation for their thoughtful selection of Clean Water Bond Act projects that will have a significant effect on improving water quality and protecting living resources within the Peconic and South Shore estuaries."

The South Shore Estuary Reserve extends from the Queens/Nassau County line eastward 75 miles to the Village of Southampton in Suffolk County. The Estuary Reserve includes interconnected bays and tidal tributaries that provide wildlife habitats and support the largest concentration of water dependent businesses in New York state.

A Comprehensive Management Plan for the South Shore Estuary was completed in 2002. The objectives of the plan are to improve and maintain water quality, protect and restore living resources, expand public use and enjoyment of the estuary, sustain and expand the estuary-related economy, and increase education, outreach, and stewardship programs with the estuary community.

To achieve these goals, towns and villages in Nassau and Suffolk counties will spend nearly $7 million to install structures to reduce storm water runoff and remove pollutants from runoff, install storm drain filters, clean catch basins, and reduce pollutants in storm water before it enters the estuary.

First Deputy Secretary of State Frank Milano, whose agency chairs the South Shore Estuary Reserve Council, said, "The $6.45 million for South Shore Estuary Reserve projects will advance goals developed by local governments and citizens to restore water quality and natural resources. Water quality and wildlife habitat improvements resulting from these grants will provide long-lasting benefits to the ecosystem and state residents who live, work, and recreate in our coastal areas."

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EPA Awards $740,000 to Improve Presumpscot River Watershed

BOSTON, Massachusetts, November 14, 2005 (ENS) - Two Maine conservation groups - The Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and the Presumpscot River Watershed Coalition - have been chosen to receive close to $740,000 to further their plans to improve the Presumpscot River.

After months of awaiting word, the groups learned Thursday that they are the joint winners of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2005 Targeted Watershed Grants.

During a ceremony at the University of Southern Maine last week, Robert Varney, regional administrator of the EPA’s New England office, announced the award and noted that Maine’s watershed project is one of 12 selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nationwide to receive more than $9 million. The Maine project was among 74 proposals submitted nationally.

The Presumpscot River Watershed, one of the most developed and fastest growing watersheds in Maine, drains over 200 square miles including the greater Portland metropolitan area.

In recent years, the river’s water quality has improved with the end of discharges from an upstream pulp mill and removal of the lowest dam on the river, Smelt Hill Dam.

Despite the river’s progress, runoff still pollutes the lower river and tributaries with elevated levels of bacteria and low levels of dissolved oxygen. Sedimentation from roads and eroding stream banks are deteriorating important fish spawning areas, and toxic and nutrient loads from residences and golf courses are affecting water quality.

Lack of vegetation along streams of the river further degrades water quality.

"This is a great day for the Presumpscot River," said Karen Young, Director of the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. "This grant will significantly bolster the watershed protection and fisheries restoration efforts already underway. It makes a very important statement about the value of this incredible resource and the many organizations who are working together to bring it back."

"This grant recognizes the significant work of the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership in restoring the watershed," said Governor John Baldacci. "I am pleased that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection contributed resources in-kind to the project, and I congratulate the broad based stakeholder group that has contributed to this valuable effort."

"EPA is pleased to further support improvements for the health and vitality of the Presumpscot River, the largest freshwater source to Casco Bay and a critical resource to Maine’s fisheries and recreation," said Varney.

"This award will help repair past damage to the watershed and will establish new models for river stewardship," he said. Since 1990, EPA has provided about $9 million to support the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership.

The Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and the Presumpscot River Wateshed Coalition will work together to put the watershed improvement projects in place.

The money will be used to stabilize stream banks and provide culverts at 62 critical stream sites to reduce sedimentation, re-establish forested buffers by planting 3,000 trees along rivers and streams, and work with farmers and golf course operators to keep cattle as well as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers out of the waterways.

The Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, one of 28 National Estuary Programs in the country, has worked since 1990 to protect Casco Bay and the multiple sub-watersheds that drain into the bay, including the Presumpscot River. The Partnership has gathered stakeholders and provided financial support to develop the 2003 Plan for the Future of the Presumpscot River.

The Presumpscot River Watershed Coalition is more than a dozen government and private organizations concerned with improving fisheries, mitigating impacts from watershed development and preserving open space along the River. It is guiding the efforts to implement the 2003 Plan.

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New Film Spotlights Powder River Coal Gas Development

MISSOULA, Montana, November 14, 2005 (ENS) - The broadcast premier of "Powder River Country," the new High Plains film about coal bed methane gas development in Montana and Wyoming, is set to air Thursday, December 15, 2005 at 7:30 pm statewide on Montana Public Television.

From Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains stretching northeast over 11 million acres, the Powder River Basin is a landscape of rolling hills, big skies, and subtle beauty, rich in the history of our American roots, High Plains says. Native Americans lived here for centuries. Custer made his last stand here. For nearly 200 years, generations of homesteaders have ranched and farmed these high plains.

But there are trillions of cubic feet of methane gas, also called natural gas, beneath the surface of these plains. The Environmental Impact Statement for coal bed methane development in the Powder River Basin of Montana reports 2.5 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas.

Currently, natural gas from coal beds accounts for approximately seven percent of total natural gas production in the United States, but over the past decade there has been a rush to open the Powder River Basin for gas development to increase that percentage.

"Powder River Country" documents the rush for a new source of natural gas and the transformation of this remote region through energy development.

Roads, power lines, and pipeline corridors now scar what were untouched expanses of sagebrush and native grass where pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and sage grouse once made their homes.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council, an opponent of coal bed methane development, objects that the technology being used to produce the gas requires pumping large volumes of water to the surface, where it is stored in huge wastewater impoundments that now dominate the visual landscape. This practice, which is designed to evaporate and infiltrate the waste water into the shallow aquifer, not only removes hundreds of acres of ranchland from production, but is a blatant waste of valuable underground water reserves, the Council says.

The new documentary explores the environmental effects of this development.

"[Marianne] Zugel [the director] is working here on the model pioneered by High Plains Films' founder Doug Hawes-Davis with an eccentric soundtrack juxtaposed to action shots of drilling rigs and heavy equipment and aerial footage of wastewater ponds and gas development scattershot into what used to be empty rangeland," wrote a reviewer at NewWest.net. "The power of the High Plains model, and the power here, is the human voice."

The Cinema Guild of New York has acquired non-theatrical distribution rights to "Powder River Country." Educational institutions, please contact Rachel Gordon at The Cinema Guild at: http://www.cinemaguild.com

Home video DVDs are available from the High Plains Films website at: http://www.highplainsfilms.org/fp_powder.html.

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Global Warming 55 Million Years Ago Altered Ancient Forests

GAINESVILLE, Florida, November 14, 2005 (ENS) - The migration of subtropical plants to northern climates may occur if future global warming patterns follow a shift that took place in the distant past, new research by an international team of scientists suggests.

The findings, which appear in this week's issue of the journal "Science," provide the first evidence that land plants changed during a period of sudden global warming 55 million years ago, said Jonathan Bloch, a University of Florida (UF) vertebrate paleontologist and member of the research team.

"It indicates that should we have a period of rapid global warming on that scale today, we might expect very dramatic changes to the biota of the planet, not just the mammals and other vertebrates, but forests also completely changing," said Bloch, who is a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

Scientists have known there was a turnover in mammals during this rapid period of global warming called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, in which temperatures rose by perhaps as much as 10 degrees in the relatively short time span of 10,000 years, then lasting for another 80,000 to 100,000 years, Bloch said.

The warming was caused by a gigantic release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that was comparable to the atmospheric effects expected from human burning of fossil fuels, he said.

Global warming allowed mammals to emigrate across northern land bridges, marking the first appearance of perissodactlys in the form of the earliest known horse; artiodactyls, a group of even-toed ungulates that includes pigs, camels and hippos; as well as modern primates, he said.

But until now, no clues were available as to what happened to plants during this shift, considered one of the most extreme global warming events during the Cenozoic, the "Age of Mammals," Bloch said. "It was very puzzling because it looked like there was nothing going on with plants, which was rather strange and disconcerting."

Excavations by team leader Scott Wing, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution, in the Bighorn Basin of northwestern Wyoming uncovered fossil leaves and pollen alongside fossilized mammals in rocks that were deposited during this geologic interval.

"Up until this point we have not had a place in which we have mammal and plant remains preserved in the same rocks spanning what we call the Paleocene-Eocene boundary," Bloch said. "Amazingly, these plants came from what would have been more tropical environments."

Some of the plant remains resembled those found in rock deposits of similar age unearthed in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, including relatives of poinsettia and sumac, Bloch said.

But plant fossils found in the same area before and after this period of rising temperatures showed typical mid-latitude forests of the time and included relatives of dawn redwood, alder, sycamore and walnut, he said.

Because his research specialty is mammals, Bloch said he wants to understand how the movement of plants affected the earliest evolution of modern primates, which first appeared throughout the world during this period.

Partly because of the dramatic change in mammals, including the first appearance of modern primates, and also because of the interval's rapid temperature change, there has been a wide range of scientific interest in the Paleocene-Eocene boundary, Bloch said.

Marking the start of the Eocene about 55 million years ago, the planet heated up in one of the most rapid and extreme global warming events recorded in geologic history. Sea surface temperatures rose almost 8° Celsius over a period of a few thousand years.

"You can't predict the future," Bloch said, "but there has been a time in the past where we had similar type of conditions, and we might look to that experience."

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