AmeriScan: October 27, 2006

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Wind Driven California Wildfire Kills Four Firefighters

SACRAMENTO, California, October 27, 2006 (ENS) - Four firefighters were killed in the line of duty Thursday, battling what authorities believe is an arson fire set in the San Jacinto Mountains of Riverside Country just after one o'clock on Thursday morning.

"They had left their truck to do structure protection when the fire overran them," said Pat Boss of the U.S. Forest Service. Driven by seasonal Santa Ana winds, the flames advanced so quickly that the firefighters had no time to use their protective sheltering or retreat to their truck, he said.

Three died at the scene, while two were hospitalized. One of those died in hospital, the other remains in hospital in critical condition.

Killed were engine Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, of Idyllwild; engine operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; assistant engine operator Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; and firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto.

A fifth firefighter - identified as Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley - has burns over almost his entire body and also has severe respiratory damage, officials said.

Fire Chief John Hawkins said the arson "constitutes murder."

As soon as it was ignited, the fire spread rapidly and has now burned over 61 square miles, or 39,000 acres. Fire officials call it 25 percent contained. Mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for 300-400 homes in the Twin Pines, Poppet Flates, and South Banning areas.

In total, nearly 700 people in the area were evacuated, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters in Sacramento Thursday. "The people who fight fires are amongst the bravest men and women anywhere," the governor said. "We must never take for granted the hard work, the sacrifices, the dangers that they deal with."

About 500 people are trapped in the Silent Valley Club RV Resort near Poppet Flat as the fire has burned right up to the only road out. Firefighters closed the road, saying it was safer to keep the people in the RV park which is protected by an existing firebreak around the area.

Authorities said a $100,000 reward would be offered for information leading to the arsonist's arrest, but no one has revealed why they think the fire was deliberately set.

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Staff Cutbacks Cripple National Wildlife Refuges

WASHINGTON, DC, October 27, 2006 (ENS) - A federal plan made public Thursday would mothball the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge - established a century ago by President Theodore Roosevelt - and shutter dozens of others across the Southeast, while cutting scores of the refuge personnel.

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, the nation's first national wildlife refuge, will lose the staff assigned to working with visitors and eliminate active outreach to the public.

The plan to eliminate the refuge's visitor services is among the cutbacks contained in the new Workforce Management Plan of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Region.

The 128 national wildlife refuges in the Southeast Region support more visitors than those in any other region: more than 11 million visitors annually.

Conservationists say funding to support the 96 million acre National Wildlife Refuge System has reached a crisis point. "Pelican Island is symbolic of our nation's commitment to protect our most critical bird and wildlife habitat," said Bill Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society.

"Sadly, Pelican Island is now a stark example of how Congress and the administration have failed to provide the funding and attention needed to sustain our wildlife legacy," he said.

According to the Workforce Management Plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Region will eliminate as many as 80 full time refuge employees over the next three years.

The loss of jobs follows the elimination of 64 field positions from 2004-2006 and will result in a 20 percent staffing reduction.

The Southeast Region currently manages nearly 4 million acres in 128 of the nation's 545 national wildlife refuges.

Other cuts included in the Workforce Management Plan:

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Oilseed Processor Pays $13.9 Million for Clean Air Violations

WASHINGTON, DC, October 27, 2006 (ENS) - A multi-state Clean Air Act settlement, reached Thursday with oilseed processor Bunge North America Inc. and three of its subsidiaries, will eliminate more than 2,200 tons of harmful pollution emissions per year when fully implemented, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The $13.9 million settlement covers 12 plants in eight states, each of which has joined the United States as a co-plaintiff.

"Agricultural processing facilities can be major sources of air pollution and this settlement secures permanent and substantial emission reductions for citizens in the affected states," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The settlement covers 11 soybean processing plants - in Decatur, Alabama; Marks, Mississippi; Destrehan, Louisiana; Emporia, Kansas; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Delphos and Marion, Ohio; Decatur and Morristown, Indiana; Cairo and Danville, Illinois - as well as a corn dry mill extraction plant also located in Danville.

The U.S. alleges that at some or all of these 12 plants, Bunge or a subsidiary violated the Clean Air Act by constructing major modifications that increased emissions without obtaining pre-construction permits and without complying with applicable standards of performance for new air pollution sources.

The settlement, which follows other settlements with oilseed processors, including Cargill Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland Co., will continue the imposition of lower emission standards on soybean processing plants and will also require other pollution reduction projects, including piloting of a new technology to reduce harmful emissions from coal-burning boilers.

When fully implemented, the settlement will eliminate more than 2,200 tons per year of harmful emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter.

"This settlement will result in healthier air in the 11 airsheds where the plants are located. Eliminating over 1,000 tons of emissions of volatile organic compounds, for example, will reduce the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs and exacerbates diseases such as asthma," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Bunge, a multi-state agribusiness based in St. Louis, is the North American operating arm of multinational corporation Bunge Limited, and a leading oilseed processor, corn dry miller, and U.S. exporter of soybeans and soybean-derived products.

To extract oil from soybeans or corn, Bunge and its subsidiaries use volatile organic solvents. Emissions of VOCs result because some of the solvent escapes to the atmosphere. NOx, SO2 and PM are emitted when fuel is burned to provide heat for the process; additional PM is emitted by handling and preparation of the soybeans or corn.

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Norfolk Southern Handed Violation Notice for Fiery Derailment

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, October 27, 2006 (ENS) - A fiery train derailment that scattered ethanol tankers into the Beaver River last Friday has resulted in a violation notice for Norfolk Southern Railroad.

Ethanol and its additives remain in the Beaver River within 500 yards downstream of the spill site, but the area's drinking water supplies have not been affected, according to Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, DEP.

The DEP Thursday issued the notice of violation to Norfolk Southern, which is conducting an environmental assessment to determine the scope and extent of soil and groundwater contamination at the crash site and any required cleanup. Work continues on the collection of ethanol seeps from the bridge abutment area of the crash site.

"While the company responded promptly to mitigate the effects of the derailment, the discharge of ethanol into the river is a violation of the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law," DEP southwest regional director Ken Bowman said.

"The company is on notice and must continue the cleanup of the material from the riverbanks and Big Rock Park area."

A notice of violation is a formal decree that informs the company that its actions violated certain state environmental regulations. It is not a penalty assessment.

Friday's accident 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh resulted in the evacuation of some 150 residents in New Brighton and Beaver Falls as the 80 car freight train 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. Tanker cars burned over the entire weekend but by noon on Monday the evacuation notice had been lifted.

All of the damaged cars have been removed from the track, which has reopened, and hauled from the river. They are being stored and processed in New Brighton's Big Rock Park.

Norfolk Southern is inspecting all of the tankers to ensure each is empty before dismantling the cars for transport and disposal. Throughout the accident response, DEP staff took several water samples of the Beaver River and collected samples near the intakes for the Midland Water Authority as well as inside its water treatment plant. Samples results confirmed no problems with the area's water supplies.

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Great Lakes Fish Hit by Deadly Virus Outbreak

WASHINGTON, DC, October 27, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has prohibited the importation of certain species of live fish from Ontario and Quebec into the United States because of an outbreak of viral hemorrhagic septicemia, VHS.

The emergency order from the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, also prohibits the interstate movement of the same species from the eight states bordering the Great Lakes - New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

VHS is a destructive pathogen that produces internal hemorrhaging and death. The disease does not pose a risk to people, but it has been found to affect fish species previously not known to be susceptible, including baitfish species, coho salmon and channel catfish.

Dead and diseased wild fish have been reported in Lakes Ontario, St. Clair and Erie as well as the St. Lawrence River. An outbreak was also reported last month in fish from New York's Conesus Lake, a body of water in the Great Lakes watershed but without direct connection to the lower Great Lakes.

APHIS officials say they do not know how the disease arrived in the Great Lakes area. One theory is that VHS may have mutated from a marine form and become newly pathogenic to freshwater fish.

"With the number of the potentially susceptible fish species still growing, new fish species affected by this emergency order will be updated as necessary to prevent the further spread of this disease," APHIS said in a statement.

Since spring 2005, fish die-offs attributed to VHS have occurred in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. The die-offs have affected muskellunge, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, crappie, gizzard shad, freshwater drum, round goby and other fish species.

VHS has also been detected in samples of walleye, white bass and other species that were not part of a die-off.

"If additional disease monitoring and testing is what willhelp safeguard these resources, we stand prepared to do so," said Bret Marsh, state veterinarian for Indiana, one of the states affected by the emergency order.

"VHS is not a threat to human health and has not yet been detected within our state," said Marsh, "However, it poses a significant economic risk to private aquaculture and we must do everything necessary to prevent its spread."

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New York Suspects Botulism Killing Water Birds

ALBANY, New York, October 27, 2006 (ENS) - Botulism is thought to be responsible for the deaths of numerous water birds discovered along the shores of eastern Lake Ontario this week, say New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officials.

The agency is investigating the cause of the deaths which first came to light last Saturday. DEC advised the public to take precautions in handling birds and other wildlife from these areas until the investigation is complete.

Gulls, grebes, and loons collected by DEC Bureau of Wildlife staff from Sodus Bay to Deer Creek Marsh are being examined by DEC's Wildlife Pathology Unit. Tests for Type E Botulism will be conducted, along with other clinical tests. Type E Botulism is a specific strain of botulism that affects fish-eating birds.

The associated neurotoxin produced by actively growing bacteria causes paralysis in the affected birds and often results in drowning. It can be harmful to humans who eat contaminated birds or fish.

Waterbirds impacted by botulism toxin cannot fly and their legs become paralyzed. They often propel themselves across the water and mudflats with their wings. A sick bird typically will have a hard time remaining upright. It will be swimming on its side or belly up, or floundering on the surface.

An outbreak of Type E Botulism first appeared in southern Lake Huron in 1998 and spread to Lake Erie in 1999. During 2000, Type E Botulism affected fish and birds in the New York waters of Lake Erie. Thousands of waterbirds, including grebes, loons, gulls, and certain waterfowl, were found washed up on the shoreline. DEC subsequently confirmed Type E Botulism in several species of fish and waterfowl from Lake Erie.

Outbreaks have occurred on Lake Erie every year since then, usually during late summer to early winter.

Type E Botulism was first documented in birds near Lake Ontario in 2002, but the mortality this year is the largest so far, say DEC officials. In July 2002 and August 2005, gulls from the eastern basin of Lake Ontario were tested, and many tested positive for the disease.

There have been no reports of any human illnesses associated with these outbreaks. Hunters and anglers are advised not to catch waterfowl or fish that appear sick or are acting abnormally. Cooking may not destroy the botulism toxin.

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