AmeriScan: October 23, 2006

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Train Derailment Scatters Burning Cars in Pennsylvania River

NEW BRIGHTON, Pennsylvania, October 23 (ENS) - Emergency cleanup work continued today in New Brighton, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, after Friday's fiery train derailment, which had dumped railcars carrying ethanol into and along the banks of the Beaver River.

The 80 car Norfolk Southern Railroad freight train was carrying ethanol, also known as grain alcohol, when it derailed late Friday night. It had been traveling eastbound when its midsection derailed while crossing a 300 foot high bridge.

Dozens of tanker cars were flung across the railroad line, nine of them on fire. Some landed in the Beaver River and along the embankments, according to the state's emergency responders.

State agencies responded to the accident, including the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, Pennsylvania State Police and the Department of Transportation. Members of the Civil Air Patrol, which was on a training exercise in Westmoreland County, conducted overflights of the scene to provide photos and aid in site assessment.

There were no reports of injuries but by late Sunday, as firefighters tackled a burning railcar on the trestle over the river, residents near the crash site were not able to return to the homes they evacuated due to fears of fire.

Terry Erickson, a supervisor with the Westmoreland County Emergency Management Agency, told reporters that officials were more concerned by the fire than a spill.

"It poses more a danger of an explosion than it does of a toxic situation," he said. Despite that, downstream water users were notified of the incident as a precaution.

The DEP said Monday that drinking water supplies remain safe. All downstream drinking water intakes were secured at the time of the accident. As a precaution, additional sampling was conducted at Midland Water Authority’s plant, which serves several communities. River water samples showed no cause for concern, said the said in a statement.

As work to remove the remaining cars wrapped up today, DEP officials met with Norfolk Southern representatives to discuss tests to determine the scope and extent of soil contamination at the site, and any required cleanup. Those tests will begin after work finishes to remove the remaining cars.

Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern said it reached an agreement in principle with plaintiffs' attorneys for a proposed class-action settlement over the railroad's January 6, 2005, derailment at Graniteville, South Carolina. The company said the settlement would provide varying levels of compensation for people who were injured and who received medical treatment or were hospitalized as a result of the derailment and subsequent release of chlorine.

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EPA Raises Energy Star Efficiency Standard for Computers

WASHINGTON, DC, October 23, 2006 (ENS) - New Energy Star energy efficiency specifications for computers and related equipment were announced today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

New performance requirements must be met for manufacturers to qualify for the Energy Star rating for desktop and notebook computers, workstations, integrated computers, desktop-derived servers and game consoles.

As of July 20, 2007 when he new specifications take effect, the EPA will require use of "highly efficient" internal and external power supplies.

Under the new specifications, only the most energy efficient computer equipment will earn the Energy Star label. Energy Star is a joint program of the EPA and the Department of Energy that certifies energy efficient products and practices.

The new computer specifications are expected to prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual emissions of 2.7 million cars, and save U.S. households and businesses more than $1.8 billion in energy costs over the next five years, the EPA said.

"As the driver of America's technology revolution, the innovative spirit of the computer industry is now powering our energy revolution," said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. "I applaud these leaders for developing energy efficient computers that are good for our environment and good our wallets."

On average, Energy Star qualifying computer equipment will be 65 percent more efficient than conventional models.

If every computer purchased by businesses meets the new Energy Star requirements, businesses will save $1.2 billion over the lifetime of their new computers, equal to lighting 730 million square feet of U.S. commercial building space each year, said the EPA.

If the government sector buys only computers that meet the new Energy Star requirements, this sector will save nearly 1.4 billion kilowatt hours, kWh, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two billion pounds each year.

Computers were the first product to qualify for EPA's Energy Star in 1992. EPA officials say that computer manufacturers have worked with the agency on improving computer energy efficiency.

The United States now has more 180 million computers in use. EPA says they consume nearly 58 billion kWh per year, or about two percent of annual U.S. electricity consumption.

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Hope Springs Eternal in Florida

OCALA, Florida, October 23, 2006 (ENS) – One of the world's largest artesian springs is a step closer to being protected, following the announcement today of a public-private partnership.

Silver Springs, 90 miles north of Orlando, Florida, is a diverse mix of uplands, marshes and swamps, providing habitat for rare and threatened wildlife species, including the Florida black bear, bald eagle and red-cockaded woodpecker. With 13 known sinkholes, the area acts as a pristine recharge area for one of America's largest springs.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Marion County and The Nature Conservancy announced a partnership to purchase property near Silver Springs from Avatar Properties, Inc, a NASDAQ-listed real estate company.

If approved by Governor Jeb Bush and cabinet in the coming weeks, the purchase would place 4,471 acres in conservation and protect the water quality of Silver Springs.

"Through this public-private partnership, the State can acquire a critical piece of land near Silver Springs, preserving water quality and native habitats in perpetuity," said DEP Secretary Colleen Castille.

"Silver Springs is a popular part of Florida’s natural and cultural heritage. This acquisition will protect a part of Florida’s history and one of the largest artesian springs in the world."

The partnership is part of the Florida Springs Initiative, established by Bush in 2001, as a coordinated plan to restore and protect more than 700 freshwater springs in the state.

Springs scattered mostly through northern and central Florida discharge more than 100 cubic feet of water per second, contributing significantly to the state's drinking water.

Silver Springs and the land nearby also provide recreational and educational opportunities, including nearby Silver River State Park and Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center. The property contains numerous mounds and artifacts of indigenous people. Several films have been made at Silver Springs, including Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Sea Hunt series starring Lloyd Bridges.

"The Nature Conservancy is so proud to partner with the Department of Environmental Protection and Marion County with the protection of this watershed, critical to the health of one of Florida's most important springs," said Victoria Tschinkel, Florida director of The Nature Conservancy.

"This property represents an important part of Marion County’s legacy," said Marion County Commission chairman Jim Payton, who described Monday's announcement as possibly "the most significant environmental success in the history of Marion County, and one of the greatest in the state."

The Florida Springs Initiative is part of the 10 year, $3 billion Florida Forever program, which conserves environmentally sensitive land, restores water resources and preserves cultural and historic resources.

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California's Clean Energy Plan Attracts Out of State Support

WASHINGTON, DC, October 23, 2006 (ENS) - A California initiative that would recoup some of the oil industry's profits to help fund renewable energy and energy efficiency programs has been given a warm reception by businesses and energy policy organizations from outside the state.

Proposition 87, the Clean Energy Initiative, will appear on the November ballot in California, the nation's third largest oil producing state. If passed, it would establish a $4 billion program to reduce oil and gasoline usage by 25 percent, with research and production incentives for alternative energy, alternative energy vehicles, energy efficient technologies, and for education and training.

It would be funded by tax of 1.5 percent to six percent, depending on oil price per barrel, on producers of oil extracted in California. It would prohibit producers from passing tax on to consumers.

Proponents of Proposition 87 have enlisted the help of former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

Critics say the measure will lead to skyrocketing gas prices.

On Monday, 34 non-California businesses and energy policy organizations issued a statement of support on behalf of Proposition 87. Thirteen individuals also added their name to the statement.

Signatories call Proposition 87 "an important first step to help the nation wean itself from reliance on oil and other energy imports and to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.

They say that if passed, "It could serve as a model for the rest of the nation."

In a statement, the proponents argue, "The nation's dependence on oil is harmful in so many ways. It threatens economic stability, national security, public health and the environment."

"Imposing a small fee on a portion of the record-high profits of the oil industry to fund investments in sustainable energy technologies is one of multiple strategies that should be pursued to help the nation wean itself from reliance on oil and other energy imports and to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.

If accepted, Proposition 87 will mean more investment in ethanol and biofuels while creating incentives for the production of cars, trucks and SUVs that run on cleaner alternative fuels. That in turn would reduce air pollution that causes asthma, lung disease, and cancer while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global warming.

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New Jersey Lawmakers Address Mercury Exposure at Kiddie Kollege

TRENTON, New Jersey, October 23, 2006 (ENS) - The New Jersey Senate Environment Committee today is considering a bill to prevent placement of day care facilities, schools and residences on contaminated former industrial sites.

The new legislation proposes a broad new statewide program to regulate indoor air quality at all new residential, school, and day care buildings.

The bill attempts to address the exposure of more than 60 students to mercury at their day care center, Kiddie Kollege, opened in 2004 on the site of a former thermometer factory in Franklin Township.

The children allegedly were exposed to mercury vapors at the center, which was closed July 28 after air samples indicated elevated levels of mercury.

On August 7, 2006, the state Health Department took samples of urine from children and the day care center staff and found elevated levels of mercury in one-third of those sampled.

A mercury exposure lawsuit was filed in New Jersey Superior Court earlier this month against owners and operators of the Kiddie Kollege day care center on behalf of a four year old boy and his parents.

Jonathan and Patricia Conti, parents of Jacob Conti, have filed suit against Jim Sullivan Inc., Navillus Group LLC, Jim Sullivan Real Estate Services Inc., James Sullivan III, James Sullivan IV, Accutherm Inc., Philip J. Giuliano, Kiddie Kollege day care and preschool Inc., Stephen and Becky Baughman, and Julie and Matthew Lawlor.

The Conti's lawsuit alleges that the defendants were aware that the operation of a day care center on a property with heavy mercury contamination would injure those attending the school.

The Contis seek to have the defendants remediate the site to state guidelines, institute a monitoring program, pay compensatory damages for medical expenses for all injuries the contamination caused, pay attorneys' fees and costs.

A separate class action suit was filed in August against Jim Sullivan Inc. in Superior Court, Woodbury. That suit demands a court-supervised "program of medical surveillance" should be afforded every child who attended Kiddie Kollege since it opened.

Critics say the bill before the Environment Committee fails to address the underlying flaws in New Jersey's toxic site cleanup laws.

Bill Wolfe, a former analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, is now New Jersey director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a national association of employees in natural resources agencies.

He told the Senate Environment Committee that the bill fails by relying on existing cleanup laws and DEP implementation.

"Failure to strengthen the state’s cleanup laws ignores potentially serious health risks from toxic exposures at up to 100 existing schools and unknown thousands of existing homes and other buildings across New Jersey that are located on or nearby highly contaminated or incompletely cleaned up or capped sites," says Wolfe.

There is no funding source for the new indoor air program in the bill, Wolfe says. He points to "the absence of scientific criteria, rational priorities, or public health guidelines for the design of the indoor air program."

Critics say the bill's focus on local construction approvals for new daycare centers ignores potential health risks at over 700 of 4,200 existing day care centers that DEP has determined are located on or within 400 feet of highly contaminated, incompletely cleaned up, or capped toxic waste sites

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been testing the air in affected homes for mercury. "We are taking every precaution and are looking for even the smallest amount of mercury contamination in the homes of the former staff and students of Kiddie Kollege," said EPA Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg. "So far only one home has shown elevated levels, and, we were able to pinpoint the source in that home."

EPA will continue to sample homes based on requests from eligible participants. All residents receive their results at the time of the sampling.

Today’s Senate hearings follow last week’s Assembly Environment Committee hearings in Franklinville, the Gloucester County community where Kiddie Kollege was located. At that earlier hearing, parents of the poisoned children expressed anger at negligent oversight and called state officials unresponsive.

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Shipowner Fined for Oil Spill Into Columbia River

OLYMPIA, Washington, October 23 (ENS) - A Florida shipping firm was fined $13,000 Monday by the Washington Department of Ecology for spilling about 50 gallons of waste oil into the Columbia River at Vancouver last November.

"This is a spill that should never have happened in the first place," said Jim Sachet, a manager in Ecology's spill response program.

The spill happened while the "Allegiance" was docked and loading grain at United Harvest Grain Terminal in Vancouver. Ecology investigators found that ship engineers left a valve open while they were attempting to pump out the engine room bilge.

Releasing untreated oil, petroleum products, or other pollutants into rivers, streams, lakes or marine waters violates Washington state law.

"Once the spill was recognized ... the ship's operator took full responsibility and initiated a quick response to clean up the oil in the water and under the pier," said Sachet.

Cleanup of the oil lasted six days under the supervision of Ecology and the U.S. Coast Guard. Most of the spilled waste oil collected under the grain terminal pier.

Although responders found no oiled birds or wildlife, nor were any reported, the spill ran the risk of harming sensitive, downstream wildlife refuges and habitat areas.

"We have implemented lessons learned from this incident and have changed our procedures to prevent this kind of oil spill from occurring again," said Norm Gauslow, vice president of operations of Florida-based Maritrans Operating Company LP, which operates the ship.

In addition to the fine, Ecology will be billing the ship's owner about $3,000 to recover the state's costs in responding to the oil spill.

The ship owner has 30 days to apply for relief or appeal the penalty to the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board.

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