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AmeriScan: September 4, 2002

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West Nile May Spread Through Blood Supply

WASHINGTON, DC, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - Three out of four recipients of organs from a woman who died in an August automobile accident have developed West Nile encephalitis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating whether these patients contracted the virus from the organ donor, who may have contracted West Nile from one of the 37 units of blood she was given after suffering massive injuries in a car accident. Samples taken from the organ donor at the time of death show evidence of West Nile virus infection.

"She most likely was infected through a mosquito bite before she was injured or via blood transfusion immediately after the injury," said Dr. James Hughes, director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases.

The CDC's Fort Collins Laboratory and the Florida Department of Health Laboratory have confirmed that three of four persons who received organs from the donor, a Georgia resident, were infected with the West Nile virus. The three confirmed organ recipients all had encephalitis; one has died and the other two are recovering in the hospital.

The Florida Department of Health is obtaining samples from the fourth organ donor recipient for West Nile virus testing. This person developed a mild illness with a fever after transplantation and is now recovering at home.

As a precaution, remaining blood products from donors of blood given to the organ donor as well to the organ recipients have been withdrawn from use. Donors of blood given to the organ donor are being contacted so testing for West Nile virus can be done. Recipients of blood products from these donors are also being contacted and tested for the West Nile virus.

If health experts confirm that the organ donor and recipients contracted West Nile virus from blood or organ transplants, it will be the first time that something other than a mosquito bite has been shown to be responsible for a human case of the disease.

"Although transmission of West Nile virus via blood transfusion or organ donation has been a theoretical possibility, transmission via these routes have not been previously observed," the CDC said in a statement.

James Hughes, director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases, said there is so far no clear evidence that the nation's blood supply has been contaminated with West Nile virus.

"That's just one possibility right now," Hughes said. "If I personally needed a blood transfusion, the last thing I would be worried about is West Nile virus infection."

However, he added that, "we have to aggressively pursue the possibility that a blood product was responsible for this."

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Bush Climate Policy Gets Cold Shoulder in Johannesburg

WASHINGTON, DC, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - The most remarkable product of the World Summit on Sustainable Development that just ended in Johannesburg, South Africa, was the degree to which other world leaders were willing to reject the Bush administration's climate policy, the Sierra Club said today.

The group believes that the Bush administration's refusal to "adequately" address climate change will harm U.S. businesses.

"America's largest trading partner Canada, as well as America's greatest ally, Great Britain, have announced their intention to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. Russia, China and Mexico have also committed to ratify," said Michael Dorsey, a Sierra Club director. "These countries and others have chosen to act in spite of the Bush administration's strenuous attempt to keep the climate issue off of the Summit agenda."

"American businesses now risk being left behind as our neighbors and competitors invest more resources in new, clean and efficient technologies," continued Dorsey. "The heat is on the U.S. to get serious about addressing the global climate crisis."

While many heads of state from around the world used the opportunity of the largest international meeting in history to announce their country's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Summit's "Plan of Action" has been criticized as inadequate to address sustainable development and environmental protection. Commitments to provide clean water and sanitation for the poor were undermined by the lack of measurable goals, the Sierra Club charges.

"The Bush administration worked furiously to remove renewable energy targets and timetables from the final plan of action," said Stephen Mills, director of the Sierra Club's international program. "But in effect what they have done is to insure that American business will follow, not lead the rest of the world. The White House has shown that it is not only out of touch with the majority of Americans, it is also out of touch with the rest of the world."

The Bush administration put forward voluntary partnerships with business as the means to protect the environment, while helping to overturn an agreement calling for international corporate accountability.

"Partnerships, especially corporate partnerships, must be subject to an international framework of binding accountability," said Mills. "Americans know that corporate self policing doesn't work, the Enron and WorldCom scandals have shown us this the hard way. We simply don't want corporations to do to our environment what they have done to our 401Ks."

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Ecoterrorists Torch Forest Service Research Site

IRVINE, Pennsylvania, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is claiming responsibility for an arson attack last month on the U.S. Forest Service Northeast Research Station in Irvine, Pennsylvania.

The laboratory was set ablaze during the early morning hours on August 11, causing more than $700,000 damage, and destroying part of 70 years worth of research.

"This lesson in 'prescribed fire' was a natural, necessary response to the threats posed to life in the Allegheny Forest by proposed timber sales, oil drilling, and greed driven manipulation of Nature," the group said in an anonymous release. "This facility was strategically targeted, and if rebuilt, will be targeted again for complete destruction. Furthermore, all other U.S. Forest Service administration and research facilities should now be considered likely targets."

The ELF communique says the Forest Service is misleading the public about its research, "leaving us with no alternative to underground direct action."

"Their blatant disregard for the sanctity of life and its perfect Natural balance, indifference to strong public opposition, and the irrevocable acts of extreme violence they perpetrate against the Earth daily are all inexcusable, and will not be tolerated," the release adds. "If they persist in their crimes against life, they will be met with maximum retaliation."

ELF, one of the groups that the federal government has dubbed "ecoterrorists," argues that it is not restricted to nonviolent forms of protest in its pursuit of environmental protection.

"While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary, we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice, and provide the needed protection for our planet that decades of legal battles, pleading, protest, and economic sabotage have failed so drastically to achieve," the group states.

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Massive Climate Simulation Completed

BERKELEY, California, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have just completed a 1,000 year run of a powerful new climate system model.

The model was run on a supercomputer at the Department of Energy's (DOE) National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Predicting global climate change demands complex and comprehensive computer simulation codes, the fastest supercomputers available, and the ability to run those simulations long enough to model century after century of the global climate. NCAR scientists ran the millennium long simulation of their new Community Climate System Model (CCSM2) for more than 200 uninterrupted days on the IBM SP supercomputer at NERSC.

Climate prediction requires models of complex interactions between atmosphere, ocean, land, vegetation and ice. State of the art climate models such as the CCSM are making the interactions over day to century long time scales much more accurate, though a number of uncertain aspects can still be improved, noted Warren Washington, a senior scientist at NCAR and chair of the National Science Board.

"One reason we need a long control simulation is that it gives the climate modeling community a very good idea of the 'natural' model variability on annual, decadal, and century time scales," explained Washington, "so that as we perform climate change simulations, we can separate the natural forcing from the anthropogenic changes caused by increasing greenhouse gases, aerosols and land surface changes."

CCSM2 couples four complex models, including atmosphere and land modeling codes developed at NCAR and ocean and sea ice models developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

NCAR scientist Tony Craig began the CCSM2 millennium long run at NERSC last January. The lengthy run served as a kind of "shakedown cruise" for the new version of the climate model and demonstrated that its variability is stable, even when run for century after century simulations.

"This simulation will enable climate scientists to study the variability of the climate system on decade to century time scales, which is an important aspect of climate change detection and attribution studies," said Jeff Kiehl, a climate scientist at NCAR and chair of the scientific steering committee for CCSM2.

Previous climate models have suffered in accuracy by allowing too much drift, which means that the resulting climate temperature changes could have too much variation to be useful. The 1,000 year CCSM run had a total drift of one-half of one degree Celsius, compared to older versions with two to three times as much variance.

"The 1,000 year simulation is the first ever fully coupled climate simulation with this high of spatial resolution," Kiehl said.

"The results establish the 'naturally varying' baseline against which externally-forced climate change, such as from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, can be compared," said Inez Fung, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center at UC Berkeley.

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South Pole Atmosphere Reveals Flaw in Climate Model

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - New data show that temperatures over the South Pole are much colder in winter than scientists had expected.

Atmospheric measurements made at Earth's geographic poles provide a convenient way of validating and calibrating global circulation models. Such measurements also might provide some of the first conclusive evidence of global change in the middle and upper atmospheres. But new data shows that the current models are wrong.

Scientists have found that temperatures during mid-winter in the stratopause and mesopause regions at the South Pole are about 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit colder than model predictions.

The work was performed by Chester Gardner, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Weilin Pan, a doctoral student at Illinois; and Ray Roble, a senior scientist at the High Altitude Observatory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

"Our results suggest that wintertime warming due to sinking air masses is not as strong as the models have assumed," Gardner said. "But, in all fairness, since no one had made these measurements before, modelers have been forced to estimate the values. And, in this case, their estimates were wrong."

Gardner's group was the first to make upper atmosphere temperature measurements over the South Pole. From December 1999 until October 2001, the scientists operated a laser radar (lidar) system at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. By combining the lidar data with balloon measurements of the troposphere and lower stratosphere, the scientists recorded temperatures from the surface to an altitude of about 70 miles.

"After the autumnal equinox in March, radiative processes begin cooling the polar atmosphere," Gardner said. "During the long polar night, the atmosphere above Antarctica receives little sunlight and is sealed off by a vortex of winds that spins counterclockwise. This stable polar vortex prevents the transport of warmer air from lower latitudes into the pole, and leads to extreme cooling of the lower stratosphere."

In May, June and July, the stratopause region near 30 miles altitude was much colder than model predictions, Gardner said.

"The greatest difference occurred in July, when the measured stratopause temperature was about 0 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit predicted by the models," he explained. "Current global circulation models apparently overpredict the amount of down-welling, because they show warmer temperatures than we observed."

The team's measurements establish a baseline for polar temperatures, which can then be compared against future changes as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate, Gardner said.

"The measurements also show that we have a flaw in some of our global atmospheric circulation models," said Gardner. "Now we can go back and improve those models to better predict the temperatures in the middle and upper atmospheres throughout both hemispheres."

The National Science Foundation funded the work, which was reported in the August 28 issue of the journal "Geophysical Research Letters."

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MOX Meetings Look at Environmental Impacts

WASHINGTON, DC, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will hold public meetings this month in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina to discuss environmental impacts of a proposed mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility.

The meetings, scheduled for September 17-19, will examine the environmental impact conclusions of a report by the Department of Energy's (DOE) contractor, Duke Cogema Stone & Webster.

The DOE is proposing to construct the MOX facility at its Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina. If the NRC grants the license, Duke Cogema Stone & Webster would build a MOX facility that would convert 34 tons of surplus weapons grade plutonium, supplied by the DOE, into fuel for use in a limited number of commercial nuclear power reactors.

Commercial nuclear power plants in the United States now use uranium alone as fuel, while the MOX fuel would be a combination of uranium and plutonium. There would be no reprocessing or subsequent reuse of the spent fuel.

Converting weapons grade plutonium into MOX fuel helps advance the cause of nonproliferation by converting the material into a form unsuitable for use in weapons. But critics of the proposal warn that existing commercial power plants are not designed to burn MOX fuel, and converting plants to burn this fuel could prove dangerous.

The September 17 meeting will be held at the North Augusta Community Center in North Augusta, South Carolina. The September 18 meeting will be held at the Coastal Georgia Center in Savannah, Georgia, and the September 19 meeting will be held at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

All three meetings will be held from 7 pm until 10 pm and will include an opportunity for the NRC staff to address questions and comments from the public.

More information on the proposed MOX project is available at: http://www.nrc.gov/materials/fuel-cycle-fac/mox/licensing.html

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California Plant May Lose Endangered Status

WASHINGTON, DC, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed removing the Truckee barberry, a California native plant, from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

The Truckee barberry is a small evergreen shrub found only in a 280 yard reach of privately owned floodplain along the Truckee River within the town of Truckee in Nevada County. The plant was listed as endangered in November 1979.

Since then, plant taxonomists working to grow the plants in a botanic garden have shown that the species is not distinct from a common variety of barberry that ranges from the mountain of southern California north to British Columbia and Alberta and east to the Great Plains.

"In light of these studies, the Truckee barberry cannot be considered a discrete entity and consequently no longer meets the definition of 'species' under the Endangered Species Act," explained Steve Thompson, manager of the USFWS California/Nevada Operations Office.

Thompson noted that there are no "significant" threats to the common species of barberry. If made final, he said, this proposal would eliminate all federal Endangered Species Act protections for the plant.

In January 1997, the USFWS received a petition to delist this plant from the National Wilderness Institute, but action on the petition was delayed due to a backlog of more urgent listing actions.

The USFWS will accept comments on the proposed delisting until November 4. The agency is particularly interested in any information about the plant's taxonomy.

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4,000 Tags Will Track Pacific Species

WASHINGTON, DC, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - Over the next 10 years, 4,000 electronic tags will be placed on a variety of Pacific Ocean species, ranging from sea turtles to elephant seals to albatross.

The microprocessor based electronic tags will be attached to fish, mammals and birds in a continuing effort to understand the habits of marine animals in the Pacific Ocean. Researchers hope to learn more about what lives where and why, the migration routes and diving habits of different species, as well as gathering information about the temperature and salinity of the ocean around them.

The tagging project is part of the TOPP program - Tagging of the Pacific Pelagics -one of the six pilot projects funded as part of the Census of Marine Life (COML). It will be a 10 year long undertaking over a vast part of the world's oceans, funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in partnership with the Sloan and Packard Foundations.

tagging

TOPP principal investigator Dr. Barbara Block (right) and Dr. Heidi Dewar (left) prepare to tag a giant bluefin tuna. (Photo courtesy ONR)
"To be able to electronically tag and track many individuals of several different species across immense areas of the ocean is a daunting task," said ONR marine mammal expert Robert Gisiner. "But, this program is going to allow us to study the movements of these animals both spatially and temporally at resolutions previously unknown."

In recent years, technology such has pop up satellite archival tags, satellite linked data recorders, archival and sonic tags have helped researchers examine the migrations of large oceanic animals. Animal movements and behaviors can be linked to oceanographic processes by integrating biological and physical data providing both atmospheric and oceanographic information, offering insights into the relationship between physical ocean processes and top predators like tunas, dolphins and sharks.

Fifteen to 20 marine species, many with similar patterns of distribution, will be monitored throughout the North Pacific. Simultaneous tagging of the target marine species will permit the monitoring of their movement and behavior relative to environmental conditions.

Results from TOPP will provide a framework for future management and conservation of these species.

The TOPP research program is a collaboration of scientists from North America and the European Union. Already, TOPP researchers have tagged and tracked great white sharks as they crossed the Pacific Ocean, and have, for the first time ever, used satellite tagging technology to track the movements of the Humboldt squid in the Sea of Cortez.

More information on the TOPP program is available at: http://www.toppcensus.org



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