AmeriScan: September 3, 2004

* * *

Floridians Flee Hurricane Frances

MIAMI, Florida, September 3, 2004 (ENS) - Florida residents and visitors have blocked roads, and freeways are in grid-lock as people desperately attempt to get out of the path of Hurricane Frances, a major storm that is heading north from the Bahamas.

This hurricane is forecast by the National Hurricane Center to be twice the size of Hurricane Charley, which battered the northwestern part of the state in mid-August, claiming 25 lives.

Tropical storm force winds and rain from the hurricane should begin to hit the southeastern coast of Florida this evening, and the core of the hurricane is expected to cross the coast on Saturday night.

Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 145 mph, Frances was downgraded to a Category 3 storm Thursday night. Packing winds of 120 mph, the hurricane has slowed in its northwestward path, making it more likely to dump heavier loads of rain on any one location than when it was moving faster.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush has declared a state of emergency. "There are, I think, 2.5 million people potentially that are in these evacuation areas, which is the largest number that's been impacted at least during my tenure as governor," said Bush, who has been in office for five years.

In his executive order declaring a state of emergency, Bush said, "Hurricane Frances, alone and in combination with the destruction by Hurricane Charley, threatens the State of Florida with a catastrophic disaster."

National weather officials are predicting up to 20 inches of rain, storm surges and massive power outages across the state.

State emergency officials have ordered more than two million people along the Atlantic coast to get out, and they are being told to head west, not north.

Officials said several major highways across the state could be turned into one way, westbound routes today to help get evacuees to safety quickly.

Interstate 95 northbound toward Jacksonville was packed but moving as thousands of residents and visitors fled lowland coastal areas.

Toll payments have been suspended on Florida's Turnpike, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority highways, the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County and on westbound Interstate 75 between Fort Lauderdale and Naples.

In Miami, Tri-Rail operation has been suspended. In order to provide parking spaces for Miami-Dade residents who may need to move their vehicles to a safer location, all parking at Metrorail stations will be free until the threat of Hurricane Frances is over.

In preparation for the impact of Hurricane Frances, Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) nuclear sites have activated their procedures for severe weather preparations and hurricane staffing. Turkey Point and St. Lucie each have the same procedural requirement to have the plants in a shutdown condition two hours in advance of the onset of hurricane force winds.

The utility warns that severe storms such as Hurricane Frances have been known to cause damage resulting in weeks without power.

Geisha Williams, vice president of electrical distribution for FPL, said, “We care about two things: Safety - yours and ours - and getting your power back with as little inconvenience and as quickly as possible."

FPL says that once winds reach 35 miles per hour or flooding is significant, work in the field will be suspended until conditions improve. Customers are cautioned to stay away from downed lines, flooding and debris; and to avoid walking in standing water or venturing out in the dark because of the inability to see a power line that could still be energized and dangerous.

* * *

Mercury in Fish Raises Disability Risk for Maine Children

AUGUSTA, Maine, September 2, 2004 (ENS) - Children in Maine could be suffering an above average rate of developmental disabilities due to mercury poisoning, according to a new report released today by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine, and the State Environmental Leadership Program.

Twice as many people in Maine fish as the national average, and fish caught in Maine lakes and rivers have higher than average levels of mercury contamination, the report shows.

As a result, conservationists are warning that the state's women and children are at greater risk of mercury poisoning than elsewhere across the country.

Judy Berk of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said, "Pregnant women everywhere have to be concerned about mercury pollution, but pregnant women in Maine are in the bull's eye of this problem."

The groups warned that Maine has a number of "key risk factors" that could put women and children in the state at even greater risk of suffering the ill health effects of mercury pollution.

Due to high mercury levels the State warns women of childbearing age and young children to avoid eating most of freshwater fish caught here.

The developmental disabilities issues associated with mercury pollution are seen as a major driving force in fast-rising special education costs for taxpayers in Maine schools which totaled more than $241 million dollars in 2002.

Sandy Cort of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine said, "We know enough to be deeply concerned that pregnant women and children in Maine are being exposed to an unacceptably high - and almost entirely preventable - risk."

"Mercury from dirty coal fired power plants upwind rains down on Maine's rivers and lakes, making our fish unsafe to eat," Cort said. "Mercury is a very potent toxin harming the developing brain of the unborn, infants and young children. Prenatal and infant exposure to mercury can impair learning, memory and attention and put a child at life long risk of learning problems."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a regulation requiring a 70 percent reduction in mercury from coal-burning power plants by 2018 with a cap and trade sytem that would allow utilities to buy emissions credits to avoid making changes to their facilities.

Environmental groups point out that the existing Clean Air Act requires the maximum achievable reductions of mercury - a 90 percent reduction of mercury emissions from coal plants by 2008 - and does not allow for the trading scheme because all plants would be required to meet a high standard of pollution control.

Keith Reopelle, coordinator of the Wisconsin based State Environmental Leadership Program, said, "The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed mercury rules put corporate interests ahead of our children's health. The EPA needs to comply with the Clean Air Act and require the maximum achievable level of mercury reduction in order to remove this unacceptable risk to pregnant women and children in Maine."

Maine's lakes and streams are subject to a mercury pollution advisory. In August, the EPA confirmed again that mercury pollution in Maine is a serious problem on an across-the-board basis, highlighting the fact that Maine has a statewide advisory for mercury in its freshwater lakes and rivers.

The state warns that "pregnant and nursing women, women who may get pregnant, and children under age 8 SHOULD NOT EAT any freshwater fish from Maine's inland waters. Except, for brook trout and landlocked salmon, 1 meal per month is safe."

"All other adults and children older than 8 CAN EAT 2 freshwater fish meals per month. For brook trout and landlocked salmon, the limit is 1 meal per week," according to the state of Maine.

"This is a real public health crisis that has to be reckoned with by parents in Maine," said Cort, "as well as the taxpayers who end up paying for the costly special education the problem requires."

The report, "Mercury and Development Disabilities in Maine's Children," in available at: www.maineenvironment.org

* * *

Upcountry Maui Funded for Lead-Free Drinking Water

WAILUKU, Maui, Hawaii, September 3, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $497,000 to the County of Maui Department of Water Supply to promote safe drinking water in the Upcountry Maui drinking water systems.

Funding will focus on addressing risks from lead that can be leached from home plumbing fixtures, as well as overall drinking water quality in Upcountry Maui. The grant was sponsored by Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye at the request of the Upcountry Maui residents.

"This grant will support ongoing efforts to ensure safe drinking water for Maui residents," said Alexis Strauss, director of the EPA Pacific Southwest Region's Water Division. "A primary objective will be to ensure that families are not exposed to elevated lead in their tap water."

Authorities have received more than 150 complaints about health-related problems that residents say are linked to the Upcountry water system. The complaints started after June 2001, when the water department, as directed by the state, began adding zinc orthophosphate to the water supply.

The compound, designed to control high levels of lead caused by leaching of pipes in older homes, is the same one being tried by the Washington, DC water utility to deal with unsafe levels of lead found in Capital District drinking water.

Last year, the Maui water department switched to phosphoric acid, but the complaints continued.

In June, the Department of Water Supply trucked in 400 gallons of phosphoric acid free water at a time, placing tankers at community centers in the Upcountry district so residents would not have to drive to Central Maui to get clean water.

The new funding will be used on a number of projects. The Maui Department of Water Supply will study Upcountry Maui drinking water system operations, lead contamination, corrosion control, disinfection, water quality and mitigation.

The state of Hawaii Department of Health will conduct the free blood lead screening program for infants, children and pregnant women and follow-up educational activities.

Upcountry Maui community members will develop and conduct a water quality educational outreach program for reducing lead exposure from drinking water in homes.

Several meetings have been held over the last several months with the different groups to organize these efforts. This has resulted in a detailed work plan for activities to be funded by the grant.

Lead may cause behavioral problems and learning disabilities. Children six years old and younger are most at risk, because their bodies are growing quickly. The EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act requires that all water suppliers monitor for lead in their drinking water sources.

Water suppliers need to take steps to reduce the corrosiveness of water sources to prevent lead from leaching into drinking water from older lead piping in homes.

Federal law also requires the use of lead free pipe, solder and flux in the installation or repair of any public water system, or any plumbing in a residential or non-residential facility connected to a public water system. Although states have banned all use of lead materials in drinking water systems, such bans do not eliminate lead contamination in older plumbing.

* * *

Air Pollution a Problem at Rocky Mountain National Park

WASHINGTON, DC, September 3, 2004 (ENS) - Environmental Defense and Colorado Trout Unlimited have petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior to carry out its legal responsibilities to protect Rocky Mountain National Park from harmful air pollution.

The petition requests the agency to formally declare that the park is threatened by air pollution, to establish limits on pollution levels, to call for clean up action by state and federal officials, and to take action to clean up air pollution within the park's borders.

Each year, there are more than 3 million visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park who go there to fish, hike, and enjoy the park's inspiring vistas.

"There is a compelling body of scientific research showing that the Rocky Mountain National Park is being hard hit by air pollution that harms human health, threatens its lakes and forests, and pollutes scenic vistas," said Environmental Defense senior scientist Dr. Jana Milford. "We are calling for immediate action to protect Colorado's crown jewel before lasting damage is done."

Since the summer of 1998, the federal standard for ground-level ozone has been exceeded 19 times at the park. Over recent summer ozone seasons, ozone pollution exposure at the park has been higher than in urban Denver.

Children, the elderly and people with asthma are particularly at risk to high levels of ozone. Quaking aspen, the tree species which draws many fall visitors to the park, are also sensitive to high ozone levels, Milford says.

Total nitrogen deposited into the Park's forests, lakes and streams has increased to more than 15 times its natural level, exceeding the critical load that the park's ecosystems can bear, the groups point out.

If nitrogen deposition continues to increase at current rates, high-altitude lakes in the park are expected to become acidic, putting the threatened greenback cutthroat trout at further risk.

"Rocky Mountain National Park has been a centerpiece of restoration for Colorado's state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout, " said David Nickum, the Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

"But if current trends continue, the park's waters will acidify and we could lose greenbacks and the other park fisheries enjoyed by thousands of anglers every year. We've seen the early warning signs, and we now have the opportunity and responsibility to make changes that will preserve the park for future generations."

* * *

Sierra Club Slams Bush for Erosion of Coastal Protection

WASHINGTON, DC, September 3, 2004 (ENS) - Cuts in federal funding for coastal and environmental protection programs, subsidizing pollution and corporate welfare, and manipulation or suppression of science on the part of the Bush administration have been bad for America's beaches, a new report by the Sierra Club warns.

No friend of Bush administration policies, the Sierra Club has produced, "No Day at the Beach: How the Bush Administration Is Eroding Coastal Protection," which details how Bush policies threaten America’s four coasts: the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, and America’s Freshwater Coast, the Great Lakes.

The report says that increasing mercury contamination, nutrient and sewage pollution, oil and gas development in sensitive coastal areas, destruction of coastal wild lands and wetlands are the result of the policies of the current administration.

"In four short years, the Bush administration has led the greatest erosion of environmental protections America has ever seen, and our beaches, oceans, and coastal communities are no exception," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.

Among the solutions outlined by the Sierra Club are cleaner, cheaper, and safer energy solutions that preserve America’s wild heritage; laws that protect health and safety; and renewal of the commitment to stewardship of public trust lands and waters.

Both the private Pew Oceans Commission report, America’s Living Oceans, Charting a Course for Change at: www.pewoceans.org/oceans/index.asp, and the federal Preliminary Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy at: www.oceancommission.gov/documents/prelimreport say that the coasts and the oceans upon around the world and the United States are in serious trouble.

These reports together aggregate the many warnings that have been made by scientists and coastal managers for decades.

* * *

Chernobyl Shows Radiation Dose Parallels Thyroid Cancers

SEATTLE, Washington, September 3, 2004 (ENS) - The risk of thyroid cancer rises with increasing radiation dose, according to new research by a team of American and Russian scientists led by Dr. Scott Davis and colleagues at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

They conducted the most thorough risk analysis for thyroid cancer to date among people who grew up in the shadow of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion and fire.

The incidence of thyroid cancer was 45 times greater among those who received the highest radiation dose as compared to those in the lowest dose group, the scientists report in the September issue of "Radiation Research."

"This is the first study of its kind to establish a dose-response relationship between radiation dose from Chernobyl and thyroid cancer," said Davis, who is also chairman of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Seattle.

Having this information, Davis said, may help officials better predict what long-term health effects to expect in the event of a similar nuclear accident or terrorist attack.

"Another potential benefit of the findings is that it allows officials to more accurately understand and document the magnitude of the thyroid cancer burden that has resulted from Chernobyl. This information will be important in designing and maintaining programs targeted toward the victims of the disaster."

While about 30 people were killed immediately from the blast, which remains the worst accident of its kind in history, an estimated five million people were exposed to the resulting radiation.

"Prior to Chernobyl, thyroid cancer in children was practically nonexistent. Today we see dozens and dozens of cases a year in the regions contaminated by the disaster, and the incidence continues to rise," Davis said.

"This provides some evidence that there's an excess of thyroid cancer in children and in people who were children at the time of the accident. However until now nobody had taken the next step to find out just how much a risk there is and whether it rises along with radiation dose."

Once the team established the capability to do the research, which took years, the group began its studies of thyroid cancer, a disease linked to radiation exposure. By the early 1990s, many new cases of the disease, particularly among young children, were diagnosed in regions near the blast.

Since then, reports show several hundred cases of thyroid cancer in young children in the three countries contaminated by Chernobyl, a trend that appears to be continuing.

Despite the lack of resources available to initiate these studies, Davis said that scientists and citizens of the three countries were eager for the research from the start. "Our collaborators in Russia have been terrific colleagues," he said. "We now have very close ties with our partner institutions."

He also credited the strong encouragement and support from Fred Hutchinson's senior administration for helping him establish stable working relationships with their overseas colleagues.

* * *

Science Behind Maryland Bear Hunt Called Mistaken

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, September 3, 2004 (ENS) - Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich has a decision to make this fall - whether or not to permit the first bear hunt in the state in more than 50 years. Conservationists say he needs better scientific information than he now has on which to base that decision.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has proposed a limited bear hunt this fall. If adopted, permit restrictions on hunters would limit the total harvest to 30 bears, or eight of the total bear population, the agency states. While there are breeding black bear populations across all of western Maryland and bears frequent parts of central Maryland, the hunt would be restricted to Garrett County and a portion of Allegany County, where bear populations are most dense.

But the Fund for Animals in a letter to Governor Ehrlich on Thursday said the agency has the numbers wrong.

Dr. Phillip I. Good, an expert on mathematical statistics and the author of 32 scholarly publications and six textbooks, including Common Errors in Statistics: (And How to Avoid Them), recently reviewed the DNR’s bear population data and analysis, and concluded that, rather than representing sound science, the DNR’s report is “inappropriate and grossly in error,” because it makes fundamental statistical mistakes.

In addition, the National Academy of Sciences has offered to review the issue of bear hunting in Maryland. The Fund and the Humane Society of the United States have asked Governor Ehrlich to arrange for the scientific review.

Maryland DNR experts are convinced that the bear hunt is a good thing for the state because bear numbers are rising.

“Our bear management plan underscores our strong commitment to the successful bear habitat conservation and protection measures that make this the conservation success story it is today; however, we remain concerned about the social impacts of our growing bear population,” said DNR Black Bear Project Leader Harry Spiker.

“Less than 15 years ago we documented one bear killed on Maryland roads; today we average more than 30 automobile accidents with bears each year," Spiker said. "The data not only indicate a growing bear population but dictate we take proactive steps to limit the growth and expansion of our bear population.”

Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals, calls the proposed hunt an "unscientific, half-baked, trophy hunting scheme."

But if the governor does allow the hunt, the conservation groups want some limits put on the hunters. They say bears should be hunted only on private lands in conjunction with landowners who have experienced bear damage, and they want to ensure that poachers do not take advantage of the open season.

The conservationists want the hunting of female bears with cubs prohibited, and they recommend that "inhumane and primitive weapons such as archery equipment and muzzleloaders" should be banned.

“One of the country’s leading experts in data evaluation has looked at the facts and revealed that Maryland’s justification for this hunt is no more than a house of cards,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “It’s time for Governor Ehrlich to come clean and admit that this hunt has nothing to do with wildlife management, and everything to do with appeasement of the trophy hunting lobby.”

* * *

First Case of Canine Distemper Found in Siberian Tiger

NEW YORK, New York, September 3, 2004 (ENS) - Veterinarians from the New York based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have confirmed the first known case of canine distemper in a wild Siberian tiger in the Russian Far East, further threatening populations of this highly endangered big cat.

It is suspected that the tiger caught the disease from an infected domestic dog.

"As people and their domestic animals continue to encroach upon tiger habitat, disease becomes an ever increasing threat to tiger conservation worldwide, a threat we cannot afford to ignore," said Kathy Quigley, veterinarian for the WCS Siberian Tiger Project.

"With less than 500 Siberian tigers left in the wilds of Russia, this is a very serious threat that could contribute to the loss of this severely endangered population," said Dr. Quigley.

The disease was discovered when an adult female tigress that wandered into a Russian town exhibiting abnormal behavior. Tests showed she had the disease, which is fatal in cats. The tiger has since died.

In the Russian Far East, canine distemper circulates in the domestic animal population, and preliminary studies by Dr. Quigley indicate that 67 percent of dogs sampled have been exposed to the virus.

In addition, during the past 13 years of the Siberian tiger study, tigers and the endangered Amur leopard have shown an increase in exposure to canine distemper.

In 1994 canine distemper virus killed a third of the lions in the Serengeti. The source of that virus was domestic dogs living with local pastoral communities.

Dr. Quigley and her team of wildlife veterinarians are collaborating with colleagues in the Russian Far East to address this problem and other diseases.

The program is multi-faceted, and includes training Russian veterinarians in wildlife health, understanding disease transmission, and handling tiger-human conflict situations. It also includes a vaccination and education campaign focused on the domestic animals populations in Russian communities.

* * *