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AmeriScan: September 16, 2002

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Derailed Train Spills Sulfuric Acid in Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee, September 16, 2002 (ENS) - Thousands of Tennessee residents remain stranded after a derailed railroad car leaking sulfuric acid forced them to evacuate their homes on Sunday.

The Norfolk Southern Railway train derailed near Farragut, about 20 miles from downtown Knoxville, just before 11:30 am on Sunday. Twenty-four cars left the tracks, including a tanker car carrying 10,600 gallons of sulfuric acid being shipped to Birmingham, Alabama by the U.S. military.

The tanker split open, releasing a cloud of corrosive sulfuric acid fumes. Within the hour, emergency officials were mobilizing to evacuate nearby communities.

In all, more than 3,000 people were evacuated from about 20 subdivisions located within a mile of the accident site. Residents living farther away were warned to stay in their homes and turn off their air conditioners.

Exposure to sulfuric acid fumes can cause irritation to the eyes and mucus membranes, and prolonged exposure can lead to breathing difficulties and even blindness. The acid is used in some cleansers, fertilizers, car batteries and chemical weapons.

About two dozen people, including emergency workers, sought treatment for minor skin and lung irritations, said Knox County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Martha Dooley.

Emergency workers used water and soda ash lime to dilute the spilling chemical and the escaping fumes.

Today, Norfolk Southern contractors managed to remove the outer shell of the tanker car, finding that almost all of the sulfuric acid had already escaped the car. The chemical, which Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay identified as "fuming sulfuric acid," was being transported in liquid form, but vaporized when released from the tank's pressure.

However, local officials said they would not be certain whether it was safe for evacuated residents to return home until later this evening. Terpay said Norfolk Southern plans to offer compensation to the displaced families, many of whom stayed overnight at shelters set up by local officials and the American Red Cross.

Environmental officials were not sure whether any of the sulfuric acid had entered nearby waterways such as Turkey Creek or Fort Loudoun Lake. The acid would destroy vegetation and kill fish and other animals at high concentrations, but would not cause long lasting harm as it became diluted with water.

The cause of the accident is under investigation.

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EPA Air Report Omits Global Warming Data

WASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2002 (ENS) - For the first time in six years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) annual report on air pollution trends does not include a section on global warming.

For the past six years, the annual summary report of National Air Quality Trends has included emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. But the 2001 report omits that section, reportedly with the approval of the White House.

The "New York Times" reports that EPA officials say the decision was based on the fact that the agency has already released two reports on climate and global warming this year. In addition, the National Air Quality Trends report is designed to track toxic pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and lead, not greenhouse gases.

The 2001 EPA report highlights reductions in almost all air pollution emissions, omitting the fact that carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. The majority of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas.

In one paragraph, the report states that "although the primary focus of this report is on national air pollution, global air pollution issues such as destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer and the effect of global warming on the earth's climate are major concerns and are also discussed."

But the section to which that paragraph has referred in past reports is missing from the 2001 report.

In fact, the report notes that the "EPA has set national air quality standards for six principal air pollutants (also referred to as criteria pollutants): nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), and lead (Pb)."

Left unsaid is the fact that the EPA, under the Bush administration, has declined to set a national standard for carbon dioxide emissions.

The EPA says the 2001 report demonstrates that air quality in the United States continues to improve, even though the nation's gross domestic product has grown by 161 percent since 1970. During the same time frame, the miles traveled by cars and trucks has increased by almost 150 percent and energy consumption has risen by 42 percent.

However, more than 130 million people still live in areas where air is unhealthy at times because of high levels of air pollutants, including ozone and fine particles.

The report, "Latest Findings on National Air Quality - 2001 Status and Trends," is available at: http://www.epa.gov/airtrends

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Army Corps Proposes Environmental Strategy

WASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released its draft Civil Works Strategic Plan, which the agency says will promote environmental sustainability in planning new water projects.

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a fundamental responsibility to plan and deliver sound water resources solutions within our program mandates," the Corps states on the website describing the plan. "This DRAFT Strategic Plan is our attempt to clarify our program direction and the steps we aim to take to achieve our vision of creating a sustainable water resources future for the Nation and the Army."

Under the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), federal agencies are to focus their activities on delivering "measurable results." Agencies are also required to prepare strategic plans to better focus their efforts on achieving these results through the development of strategic goals. Progress toward these goals is measured by annual performance plans.

Although the Department of Defense submits a strategic plan in the form of the Defense Quadrennial Review, the Office of Management and Budget has asked the Corps to submit a strategic plan specifying program goals and results achieved by the Civil Works Program.

The Corps says the draft version of the new Civil Works Program Strategic Plan "promotes a vision of a Civil Works Program that contributes to the sustainability of our nation's water and related land resources." The agency said the plan will help to preserve, protect and restore ecosystem health; promote economic vitality; and protect and promote quality of life.

A key theme of the plan is sustainable use of water resources, through watershed level management. "Our intent is to better ensure that a holistic watershed perspective leads to more integrated and environmentally sustainable solutions to our nation's water resources problems," the Corps states.

The Corps is seeking public comments on the plan, which is available online at: http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/iwr/strategicplan.htm

Comments can be submitted until October 15 at: [email protected] The final Civil Works Program Strategic Plan is expected to be submitted to Congress and the Bush administration in Spring 2003.

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International Conference Would Address Dirty Bombs

VIENNA, Austria, September 16, 2002 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has called for an international conference to address the potential for terrorists to use radiological dispersal devices, often referred to as dirty bombs.

Speaking before the Forty-Sixth General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today, Abraham warned that terrorists could use radiological materials to make weapons that could contaminate entire cities.

"Although these dirty bombs are not comparable to nuclear weapons in destructiveness, they are far easier to assemble and employ," said Abraham. "While the physical destruction they would cause is comparable to conventional explosives, the disruption caused by widespread contamination is far greater. And it is disruption that terrorists seek."

In addition to the psychological disruption, use of a dirty bomb could have major economic consequences, Abraham added.

A dirty bomb contains radioactive material, but does not use that material to produce a nuclear explosion, as is the case with a nuclear weapon. Dirty bombs are constructed of conventional explosives and radioactive material and are designed to disperse that radioactive material.

Such weapons are ideal for terrorists because of their relative simplicity and the widespread availability of suitable radioactive material in medical isotopes, radiography sources and certain power sources.

Under Abraham's proposal, the United States would work closely with the IAEA to plan an international conference to help nations understand the potential threat posed by vulnerable radioactive sources, and to draw on the IAEA's expertise to develop standards for accounting for and tracking radiological materials.

Much of the concern surrounds radioactive sources in the non-Russian states of the former Soviet Union, many of which are now unguarded or poorly managed.

In June, the United States, Russia, and the IAEA established a working group on "Securing and Managing Radioactive Sources." This working group will "develop a coordinated and proactive strategy to locate, recover, secure and recycle orphan sources throughout the Former Soviet Union."

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Lawsuit Seeks Protection for Salton Sea

LOS ANGELES, California, September 16, 2002 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians have filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and the federal Bureau of Reclamation for their failure to protect the Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea, located in the southeastern corner of California, is the state's largest lake and provides essential habitat for hundreds of species of migratory waterfowl and other birds. But the Sea has been growing more and more salty and polluted from agricultural runoff.

Already, polluted runoff from farmlands and suburbs kills millions of fish and thousands of birds in the Salton Sea every year. Salt concentrations are now reaching a level where they may interfere with fish reproduction and survival.

The Salton Sea was formed by accident in 1909, when an irrigation canal was breached, flooding a valley area about 40 miles long and 13 miles wide. Since then, the Salton Sea has been fed by agricultural runoff, and has become a popular tourist destination.

As California's wetlands have disappeared, the Salton Sea has also played an increasingly critical role as habitat for hundreds of species of migratory birds. In total, more than 400 species of birds have been recorded at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, the largest number of species found on any national wildlife refuge in the West.

Populations of up to 1.5 million eared grebes have been documented at the sea during recent years, along with up to one-half of California's wintering white-faced ibis, tens of thousands of white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, Caspian terns, and the largest breeding population of gull-billed terns in western North America.

Several endangered species, including the desert pupfish, brown pelican, and the Yuma clapper rail inhabit the Sea or adjacent habitats.

The groups are represented in the lawsuit by Brian Litmans of the Cascade Resources Advocacy Group, Geoff Hickcox of Kenna and Hickcox, and Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity.

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Federal Grants Support Habitat Conservation

WASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has awarded $68 million in grants to 16 states and a Pacific island commonwealth to support conservation planning and acquisition of vital habitat for threatened and endangered fish and wildlife species.

The grants will help protect species ranging from the endangered Alabama beach mouse, to eight animal species that live only in a Texas cave system. Other species expected to benefit from the grants include butterflies in California, native fish and mussels in Georgia, and the threatened desert tortoise in Utah.

Funded through the USFWS's Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance and Land Acquisition grant programs, the grants will support up to 75 percent of the cost of 24 habitat conservation planning activities and 15 land acquisitions.

The habitat conservation planning projects are located in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, West Virginia, Washington State, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The land acquisition projects are located in California, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Texas, Utah, and Washington State. Non-federal partners are contributing at least 25 percent of the cost of each project.

"By supporting local planning and habitat protection efforts, these grant programs help states and local governments provide for continued economic development while conserving threatened and endangered species," said USFWS Director Steve Williams. "These HCP grant programs exemplify Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton's commitment toward stronger partnerships with states, local communities, and landowners in a common goal of stewardship."

The two programs were established to help reduce the conflicts between the conservation of threatened and endangered species and land development and use. Under the Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Program, the USFWS provides grants to states or territories for land acquisitions associated with approved Habitat Conservation Plans.

The Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance Program provides grants to support the development of habitat conservation plans (HCPs). HCPs are agreements between landowners and the USFWS that protect landowners from reprisals if they harm threatened or endangered species, in exchange for their agreement to take conservation measures to aid these species.

There are now more than 330 habitat conservation plans in effect covering about 30 million acres, and some 320 more are being developed.

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Air Agency Seeks to Improve Environmental Justice

LOS ANGELES, California, September 16, 2002 (ENS) - The Los Angeles region's air quality agency has adopted almost two dozen enhancements to its environmental justice program.

The changes are designed to reduce the region's health risks from air pollution, and to improve community access and involvement with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

"Since it was adopted five years ago, our Environmental Justice Program has served as a model for other agencies around the state and across the country," said Norma Glover, chair of the AQMD's governing board.

"We are now taking it to a new level by adding measures that will help prevent toxic chemical releases, reduce emissions at cargo and container yards and provide community members with greater access to information about industrial and business emissions sources," added Glover.

Poor communities hold a disproportionate number of toxic waste sites, polluting industries and other sites that may contaminate the environment. Environmental justice refers to efforts to provide equal justice and equal protection under all environmental statutes and regulations without discrimination based on race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

AQMD's governing board adopted 23 enhancements to the agency's environmental justice program on Friday, with a goal of putting the changes in place by next summer.

The enhancements include:

  • Regulating the use of hydrogen fluoride, a corrosive acid used at one oil refinery and one chemical plant in the region, by requiring the use of additives or alternative processes to reduce the community health risk in the event of an accidental release.
  • Developing a rule to reduce diesel emissions from off road trucks such as yard hostlers used to move cargo containers at the ports, railroad yards and warehouse distribution centers.
  • Sponsoring research to develop small, low cost outdoor air monitoring devices that can be placed in residential areas to assist AQMD in identifying the source of air pollution complaints.
  • Developing an enhanced Model Air Quality Element to help local governments in making land use decisions that minimize the potential for health risk or nuisance from air pollution.
  • Posting information on facility health risk assessments and violation notices on AQMD's website.
  • Developing a pilot Neighborhood Environmental Justice Council program in at least one neighborhood including residents, industry representatives and AQMD enforcement staff.
  • Continuing to develop localized analyses of air quality impacts.
  • Developing a program for expedited environmental review of proposed projects in exchange for emission reductions that exceed legal requirements.
  • Developing a handbook in several languages to help residents recognize and report air pollution problems, find out about emission sources and request public documents.

AQMD first adopted a series of Environmental Justice Initiatives in 1997, leading to a landmark study of air toxics in the region and a series of clean fleet rules to help switch heavy duty diesel powered vehicles to alternative fuels.

For a complete list and description of the measures, visit: http://www.aqmd.gov/hb/020934a.html

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San Diego River Conservancy Created

SAN DIEGO, California, September 16, 2002 (ENS) - California has passed a bill creating a new program to manage the public lands along the San Diego River, and allocated $12 million in state funds to help restore the waterway.

Governor Gray Davis signed the legislation (AB 2156) Friday that will create the San Diego River Conservancy. The bill drafted by Assemblymember Christine Kehoe, a Democrat.

"We're giving the San Diego River the attention only a local entity knows how to deliver and backing it up with the support only the state can provide," said Davis. "This action isn't just good for the San Diego River. It's good for San Diego families. It's good for the San Diego economy. And best of all, it's good for our environment."

The new conservancy, the first in San Diego County, will coordinate state funding for recreation, species restoration, scientific research, and educational and cultural activities along the river. It joins seven others in the state that complement local activities to manage public lands.

The nine voting members will include three representatives of the general public. Three of these members will be appointed by the governor, one by the state Senate leader and one by the state Assembly speaker.

San Diego's mayor, representatives of the state Resources Agency and members of the Department of Finance will make up the remaining members.

The Governor also announced that $12 million from Proposition 40 and 13 funds would be provided as seed money for restoration of the San Diego River. Two other river parkways in the area will benefit from new restoration funds - the San Dieguito will receive $2 million and the Otay will receive $1 million.

The new San Diego River Conservancy will face some serious challenges.

"Without a doubt, the future of the San Diego River is brighter and cleaner with the establishment of the conservancy," said the "San Diego Union-Tribune" in an editorial. "But it may be a long time before San Diegans will see tangible results."

The new conservancy "likely will work to improve the river however it can, in a piecemeal way on a very meager budget over the long term," the paper warned. "The first 11 miles of the San Diego River, starting at its source on Volcan Mountain, remains pretty much in its natural state. But beyond that, either the river itself or the land surrounding it has been so altered that there's no possibility of returning it to the way it once was."



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