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AmeriScan: September 13, 2002

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U.S. Rejoins UNESCO After 18 Year Absence

NEW YORK, New York, September 13, 2002 (ENS) - The United States will rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), President George W. Bush announced Thursday.

Bush made the announcement during a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York City.

"The United States is joining with the world to supply aid where it reaches people and lifts up lives, to extend trade and the prosperity it brings, and to bring medical care where it is desperately needed," Bush said. "As a symbol of our commitment to human dignity, the United States will return to UNESCO. This organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning."

The United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, citing poor management and opposing values. For example, according to a White House fact sheet, the Director-General of UNESCO at the time advocated for limitations on a free press.

Since reforms began under new leadership in 1999, UNESCO's management structure has been reformed, senior positions have been slashed by about 50 percent, and new managers have been brought in to administer key functions including personnel selection and auditing. The organization is now dedicated to promoting values such as press freedom and education for all, the White House said.

In 2001, the House voted to authorize the $60 million dues payment required for the United States to rejoin UNESCO. The United Kingdom, which left UNESCO along with the United States in 1984, rejoined in 1997.

UNESCO Director-General Koīchiro Matsuura "warmly welcomed" Thursday's announcement and pledged his "full commitment" to reintegrating the United States into the agency's work.

"I look forward to the possibility of closer collaboration with the enormous intellectual and cultural resources of the American academic and scientific communities, and fuller contact with the extraordinary cultural diversity that characterizes American life," Matsuura said. "Their energy and ideas are vital in the effort to shape policies that can improve the lives of people everywhere."

Matsuura voiced confidence that the US's return to UNESCO "supports effective reform and renewal within the multilateral system" and said he looked forward to working with the country's representatives to further improve the agency.

UNESCO was created in 1946 to promote collaboration among nations in education, science, culture and communications. UNESCO, which now has 188 member states, works to expand educational opportunities, protect world heritage sites, develop reliable world scientific standards and statistics, and promote freedom of expression and human rights.

Among the 730 properties included on the World Heritage List are 144 natural areas valued for their biodiversity, natural beauty and other environmental merits.

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Study Warns of Health Risks From Fuels, Solvents

PORTLAND, Oregon, September 13, 2002 (ENS) - Certain chemical ingredients of gasoline, jet fuel and other solvents may pose a greater health hazard than first thought, say researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

Scientists at the OHSU Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology (CROET) have shown that a benzene derivative damages the nervous system. In fact, the substance is much more active than non-benzene compounds already known to cause peripheral nerve damage, including loss of limb sensation and muscle weakness, in workers who are exposed to solvents.

"Previously, researchers believed that benzene derivatives were unable to damage the nervous system," said Dr. Peter Spencer, one of the authors of a new report on the research, appearing in the September 2002 issue of the "Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology."

"The substance we studied - 1,2-diacetylbenzene - has a ring-like (aromatic) chemical structure in contrast to the straight chain (aliphatic) solvents that are well established causes of occupation related nerve damage," Spencer explained. "Our data suggest the aromatic substance actually has a much higher neurotoxic potency. In addition, the new findings raise the possibility that related aromatic chemicals may also damage the nervous system. We believe these substances should be tested for neurotoxicity, and occupational exposures should be regulated to prevent illness among workers who come in contact with these chemicals."

One of these related aromatic chemicals, a substance known as Musk tetralin, was used until the 1980s by the fragrance industry to hide product odor in soaps and fragrances. The industry withdrew Musk tetralin worldwide after Spencer and fellow researchers demonstrated the substance was neurotoxic.

Because aromatic hydrocarbons have been used in such large quantities by the public and in commerce, the chemicals are now common contaminants in soil and water.

"One surprising property of these neurotoxic substances, including Musk tetralin and 1,2-diacetylbenzene, is their ability to cause blue discoloration of tissue and urine to turn green. Perhaps this property could be used as a biological marker of exposure to these hazardous substances," said coauthor Dr. Mohammad Sabri. "We hope to develop a method by which urine or other fluids can be tested for the presence of the blue pigment. Since urine discoloration occurs before neurological disease, it may serve to help prevent onset of disease among those exposed to these substances in the workplace or at contaminated sites."

The research was conducted through the OHSU/CROET Superfund Basic Research Program and NeuroToxicogenomics Research Center, both funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health. Leadership of both of these research centers resides in CROET.

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El Niņo Impacts Fall, Winter Weather Forecasts

WASHINGTON, DC, September 13, 2002 (ENS) - The weather pattern known as El Niņo is poised to influence fall and winter weather across the United States, climate experts said Thursday.

The El Niņo influence on the tropical Pacific Ocean and the United States will be weaker than the very strong 1997-98 version, but will still impact temperature and precipitation patterns, said experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

At a news conference in Washington, DC, NOAA officials released the nation's official fall and winter outlooks, which reflect the ongoing El Niņo.

"El Niņo will likely influence the fall and winter weather patterns," said retired NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "The El Niņo conditions that have persisted for months will be at moderate strength through the end of 2002 and into early 2003."

With almost half of the United States experiencing drought, the fall/winter outlook only offers "limited relief," said Jack Kelly, director of NOAA's National Weather Service.

"While some improvement in the drought is possible, namely across the Southwest and southern and central Plains states, it may not be enough to alleviate dry conditions entirely, particularly in the Northwest, Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and the Ohio Valley," Kelly said.

Overall, Kelly said forecasters expect El Niņo's fall and winter impacts to include:

  • Drier than average conditions in the Pacific Northwest and mid-Atlantic states during fall;
  • Drier than average conditions in the northern Rockies and the Ohio Valley states during the winter;
  • Wetter than average conditions in the southern tier states during winter; and
  • Warmer than average conditions in the northern tier of the United States during winter.

Jim Laver, director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said the agency's commitment to research and technology helped forecasters. "We've had our eyes on this El Niņo for months, and understand it well enough to predict its likely climate impacts months in advance," he said.

In the Pacific Northwest and mid-Atlantic states, drier than normal conditions are expected this fall. Above normal temperatures are expected in southern parts of Florida, in the Southwest and western islands of Hawaii.

This winter, below normal precipitation is expected in the Northwest including Washington, northeast Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, western parts of North Dakota, and northwest South Dakota. Precipitation is also expected to be below normal in the Ohio Valley states.

In the southern parts of the United States, stretching from central/southern California to the Carolinas, precipitation is expected to be above normal.

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Earthquake Study Yields Unexpected Results

SAN DIEGO, California, September 13, 2002 (ENS) - A 1999 earthquake in the Mojave Desert has revealed a treasure of information about earthquakes, faults, and ruptures for scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego

The magnitude 7.1 "Hector Mine" earthquake, named after a long abandoned mine in the area about 37 miles from Palm Springs, ripped through 28 miles of faults in the Mojave Desert. Because of the area's sparse population and development, the massive quake caused almost no major measurable injuries or destruction.

The Scripps scientists, along with a colleague at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), used satellite and radar technologies to uncover never before documented characteristics of faults. These include the first evidence that faults move backwards, contrary to conventional observations, and indications that the material within faults is different than its surroundings.

Scripps's Yuri Fialko, the lead author of a study on the earthquake published in today's issue of the journal "Science", said the implications of the study include providing a new way to identify active faults, helping to track when the last earthquake occurred in a fault zone, and perhaps better understanding the earthquake process.

Fialko calls the Hector Mine event the "perfect" earthquake for the satellite and radar technologies that he and his colleagues used. It was the first event to be imaged using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), which uses a series of satellite recordings to detect changes in Earth's surface.

David Sandwell, a coauthor of the "Science" study, said the fresh data gave researchers an uncommon and immediate window into earthquake processes in fault areas that are often imaged only after being altered by natural forces such as rainstorms and unnatural forces such as off road vehicle disruption.

The researchers studied the information to find unusual signatures of fault displacements caused by Hector Mine in an area thought to be inactive. The most surprising finding was the first evidence that faults can move backwards. Prior to an earthquake, faults are locked in position by friction. Changes due to energy released during earthquakes cause faults to move.

"Even small stress perturbations from distant earthquakes can cause faults to move a little bit, but it's only been known to cause this motion in a forward sense," said Fialko. "Here we observed the faults coming backwards due to relatively small stress changes, which is really quite unusual."

The study argues that the backward motion on the faults is caused not by frictional failure, but by the material within the faults, which appears to be softer that the surrounding rock.

Fialko said the results will guide new seismic studies to areas with contrasting fault material, such as that seen in the Eastern California Shear Zone. They can then be used as a way of identifying potentially active faults.

Another possibility emerges through studying the properties of fault zones over time.

"Measurements of changes in the mechanical properties of faults may yield valuable information about the earthquake cycle. For example, we might be able to say how long it was before the fault experienced an earthquake and how long it takes to heal," said Fialko.

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Compromise Aims to Aid Fish, Fishers

WASHINGTON, DC, September 13, 2002 (ENS) - Attempting to balance the needs of commercial fishers with the welfare of a species, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued emergency regulations creating a temporary conservation area for the darkblotched rockfish.

The regulations, announced Wednesday, are effective September 10 through December 31, 2002. Scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the change in regulations will still allow darkblotched rockfish to rebuild within the approved rebuilding schedule.

"Today's action provides a win-win solution to overfishing by ensuring that darkblotched rockfish remain on target with its rebuilding schedule while minimizing economic hardship to fishermen," said NMFS director Bill Hogarth. "These temporary, critical measures will help us rebuild the fishery and will lead to more plentiful and sustainable fish harvests in the future."

Darkblotched rockfish are managed along with 80 other groundfish species off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California by NMFS and the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The rockfish is considered to be overfished, and is regulated under a 34 year rebuilding program that prohibits fishermen from targeting it but allows for a small trip limit in surrounding groundfish fisheries.

The trip limit is intended to allow fishermen to land darkblotched rockfish that are caught incidental to their primary fishery. This year, however, darkblotched rockfish harvest rates have been higher than expected.

In June, coastwide commercial landings of darkblotched rockfish represented up to 75 percent of the 2002 allowable harvest. Projections showed that, if further action were not taken, the catch would exceed allowable landings by up to 40 metric tons, throwing off the rebuilding schedule.

In order to avoid exceeding the 2002 allowable catch of darkblotched rockfish, this emergency rule establishes a darkblotched rockfish conservation area where darkblotched rockfish are found, south from the U.S./Canada border (48°30' N. latitude) to 40°10' N. latitude, bordered by straight line coordinates on the east, at about the 100 fathom depth contour, and on the west, at about the 250 fathom depth contour. The area between 100-250 fathoms is closed to all bottom trawling.

To offset economic impacts to fishermen, the rule also reopens fishing grounds, seaward of 250 fathoms, that were closed earlier this month. This action will allow limited entry trawl access to healthy deepwater groundfish in an area where darkblotched rockfish are not concentrated in great numbers. The area inside 100 fathoms will reopen on October 1.

For more information about this announcement, including the trip limit adjustments, click here.

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Suit Charges Pesticide Damaged Crawfish Farms

OPELOUSAS, Louisiana, September 13, 2002 (ENS) - A federal appeals court has ruled that crawfish farmers can proceed with a class action suit seeking damages for the loss of their crawfish which they claim were killed by ICON, a pesticide made by Aventis.

After a four day trial before St. Landry Parish District Court Judge James Genovese last year, the court found that the crawfish farmers could proceed as a class against Aventis, the manufacturer of the pesticide ICON, and seed distributors who coated ICON on rice seed. The defendants appealed Judge Genovese's ruling, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the class certification this week.

Opelousas attorney Pat Morrow, one of the lawyers representing the farmers, said the decision is a victory for hundreds of Louisiana's crawfish farmers whose crops were damaged by ICON.

"Allowing the crawfish farmers to proceed as a class action against those parties responsible for the damages will level the playing field," Morrow said. "A rural crawfish farmer now has the ability to litigate against Aventis, a well financed multinational corporation. The class action procedure will allow all the farmers to join together to present evidence of legal and factual issues that are common to all crawfish farmers."

"It is also reassuring that the Court of Appeal found no errors committed during the lengthy trial by Judge Genovese, and further, that Judge Genovese was particularly suitable for managing this class action lawsuit," Morrow added.

The original lawsuit was filed in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, in 2000. The crawfish farmers allege that the pesticide ICON (Fipronil) devastated Louisiana's 2000 and 2001 crawfish crop after its introduction on the rice seed in 1999. In 2000, Louisiana's crawfish production dropped from 41 million pounds to 16 million pounds.

Although ICON's purpose is to kill the water weevil, an enemy of the rice crop, farmers and experts testified at trial that it also kills crawfish. The crawfish farmers testified that once their fields were contaminated by ICON, there was a widespread crawfish kill.

Although Aventis and the seed distributor defendants contend that ICON is safe, studies conducted by aquaculture experts and the Lousiana State University AgCenter suggest otherwise. Once ICON coated rice seeds are planted in the fields, ICON contaminates the water and sediment in which the crawfish feed. Scientists say ICON and its degradates will remain in the sediment and may continue to cause damage crawfish production for years to come.

"Although Defendants will exhaust all appellate remedies available to stop us proceeding as a class, we are preparing to go forward at the first available trial date," said Hunter Lundy of Lundy Davis, co-counsel representing crawfish farmers. "We are aware that the crawfish farmers suffered financial losses as a result of ICON and they deserve their day in court."

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700 Acres of California Forest Saved From Logging

NEVADA CITY, California, September 13, 2002 (ENS) - The Trust for Public Land (TPL) has purchased more than 700 acres of forestland along the state designated Wild and Scenic River corridor of the South Yuba River in California.

The property is part of a popular recreation area attracting thousands of visitors each year. TPL purchased the land valued at $3.56 million from Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) and hopes to convey it to California State Parks to expand South Yuba River State Park by December 31, 2002.

"California voters passed Proposition 40 just last spring, and this important acquisition is already delivering on its promise," said Mary Nichols, California's Secretary for Resources. "Proposition 40 will protect scenic land along the Yuba River, and also help generate additional funding from other public and private sources. The result will be hundreds of acres of additional parkland for public recreation within the State Parks system. I'd say, that's a home run on all counts."

The state's approval of SPI's timber harvest plan three years ago triggered public debate regarding the future of the property. In response to the community, SPI signed an agreement with TPL, the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), California State Parks, and Nevada County to hold off on logging and pursue a potential land exchange with the USFS or the BLM. The agreement expired in December 2000 without securing suitable exchange lands.

SPI voluntarily held off on logging the property until May of this year when SPI would have needed to develop logging roads for a summer harvest before the timber harvest plan expires in August. SPI's decision to hold off on logging gave TPL, SPI, and SYRCL the time needed to negotiate an agreement for TPL to purchase the property.

"We are grateful to SPI for selling this extraordinary property to us for future public use and enjoyment," said David Sutton, TPL's director of the Sierra Nevada Program. "We now need to raise the public and private funding necessary to complete the transaction and expand the South Yuba River State Park. We are working with the Sierra Fund, SYRCL, and our donors to protect this beautiful property for future generations."

The Sierra Fund and SYCRL, together with TPL, are working to raise private funds in addition to seeking public funds from voter approved Proposition 40 for the acquisition. Both private and public funds are needed for eventual transfer of the property to State Parks for long term stewardship and public use.

SPI will use the proceeds of the sale to buy productive timberland elsewhere.

"This sale to the Trust for Public Land reflects our commitment to creating a balance between wild land preservation, economic investment, and responsible forest management," said A.A. "Red" Emmerson, president of SPI. "This is something important to both of us and results in long term benefits for all Californians."

TPL's purchase was made possible by a low interest loan from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The purchase agreement is part of a major deal announced last summer between Sierra Pacific Industries and the Trust for Public Land to protect up to 30,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada for public recreation, wildlife habitat and watershed protection. The two entities have been working together since 1989 to exchange or transfer land owned by the forest products company to public ownership.

The land acquisitions are parcels that checkerboard the Sierra Nevada river canyons - a legacy of 19th century railroad land grants.

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Shellfish Restoration Involves Half Million Tiny Tags

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, September 13, 2002 (ENS) - A Rhode Island shellfish restoration project is seeking volunteers to tag and plant 500,000 seed scallops in Point Judith Pond later this month.

The program is part of a plan to restore shellfish lost as a result of the North Cape spill in 1996 and is the first phase of restoring scallops. The tagging program will be conducted at the Department of Environmental Management's (DEM) Coastal Fisheries Laboratory in Jerusalem, every Saturday this month.

Volunteers will glue tags on the seed scallops, which are about the size of a 50 cent piece, and will count and measure them. Additional volunteers with boats will assist in planting the seed scallops in the pond.

The goals of the tagging and seeding program are to restore scallops and to foster public interest and awareness about the importance of water quality, eelgrass habitats, and the overall health of Rhode Island's coastal salt ponds. Later this fall, DEM's aquatic education program will host several workshops and classroom lectures educating the public about bay scallop biology, habitat, estuarine pollution and general shellfish restoration methodology associated with the North Cape shellfish restoration project.

The shellfish restoration project seeks to compensate for the environmental damages sustained when the tank barge North Cape ran aground off Moonstone Beach in South Kingstown in 1996, spilling 828,000 gallons of home heating oil into Block Island Sound and the surrounding environment. Scientists estimate that the spill killed a large quantity of marine resources, including about 379,000 kilograms (835,552 pounds) of shellfish.

To restore these as well as other lost resources, an $18 million settlement was reached between the trustees of the natural resources damaged by the spill and Eklof Corporation, owner of the North Cape.

In addition to creating a scallop spawning sanctuary in Point Judith Pond in South County and re-seeding bay scallops and quahaugs in the coastal salt ponds, the restoration plan calls for creating a quahaug rescue program, which will remove quahaugs that would otherwise be lost during an upcoming Providence River dredging project. The quahaugs will be transplanted to Rhode Island's shellfish management areas in Narragansett Bay.

The plan also calls for restoring oysters by placing Rhode Island oysters in a hatchery for breeding, providing shell material for the baby oysters to grow on, and transplanting the young oysters to Rhode Island waters. All of the restoration projects will be implemented with volunteer help.

Three shellfish nurseries for quahaugs have already been established in Narragansett Bay and seeded with 1.5 million quahaugs.

To volunteer for one of the restoration projects, contact Karin Tammi, the North Cape restoration project coordinator, by Phone: 783-2304 or E-mail: ktammi@mola.na.nmfs.gov



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