News Service: AmeriScan: December 6, 2000


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - Negotiators for the United States say the U.S. supports taking a precautionary approach to protecting human health and the environment - at least as far as the ongoing negotiations to control persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are concerned. Delegates from more than 120 countries are now in Johannesburg to complete negotiations towards an international treaty to reduce or eliminate 12 POPs, which include industrial chemicals, pesticides and byproducts of incineration and chlorine production. "Precaution is an essential element of the U.S. regulatory system as regulators often have to act on the frontiers of knowledge and in the absence of full scientific certainty," said the U.S. in an official statement on Monday. "Yet precaution must be exercised as part of a science based approach to regulation, and not as a substitute for such an approach."

"The negotiation of a POPs treaty itself is an exercise of precaution. While there is not yet full scientific certainty about all aspects of POPs, the United States, along with the rest of the global community, believes that POPs present serious risks to the environment and should be addressed through a multilateral environmental agreement," the statement reads. The U.S. supports the inclusion in the POPs treaty of the precautionary principle - which states that "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost effective measures to prevent environmental degradation." The U.S. negotiators have agreed on screening criteria for POPs that take into account the fact that there is often a lack of data regarding environmental persistence, bio-accumulation, the potential for long range transport and the toxicity of these substances.

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced an agreement to phase out diazinon, one of the most common pesticides in the U.S., for indoor uses, beginning in March 2001, and for all lawn, garden and turf uses by December 2003. The agreement also begins the process to cancel around 20 different uses of diazinon on food crops. "The Clinton-Gore Administration continues to aggressively target for elimination those pesticides that pose the greatest risk to human health and the environment, and especially those posing the greatest risk to children," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "The action we are taking today is another major step toward ensuring that all Americans can enjoy greater safety from exposure to harmful pesticides."

"Today's action will significantly eliminate the vast majority of organophosphate insecticide products in and around the home, and by implementing this phase out, it will help encourage consumers to move to safer pest control practice," said Browner. Diazinon is the most widely used pesticide by homeowners on lawns, and is one of the most widely used pesticide ingredients for application around the home and in gardens. It is used to control insects and grub worms. Organophosphates can affect the nervous system in humans and wildlife. Diazinon's use on turf poses a risk to birds, and it is one of the most common pesticides found in air, rain, and drinking and surface water. The agreement reached today with the manufacturers, Syngenta and Makhteshim Agan, will eliminate 75 percent of the chemical's use, amounting to more than 11 million pounds of the pesticide each year.

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - Starlink corn, a bioengineered crop, poses a "low probability" of causing allergic reactions in humans, a new report reveals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the report from its Scientific Advisory Panel on Tuesday. EPA asked the expert panel to provide an independent scientific assessment on the potential allergenicity, sensitization and possible exposure to StarLink corn. StarLink is not licensed for use in food consumed by humans, but has been found in some products. Aventis, the manufacturer, has asked for a time-limited exemption to allow StarLink corn in food products, which EPA is reviewing. The Panel found that there is a "medium likelihood" that StarLink protein is a potential allergen and that, given the low levels of StarLink in the U.S. diet, there is a "low probability" of allergenicity in the population exposed to the corn. The Panel noted that children may be more sensitive than adults and study of infant diets should be given high priority. The panel report is available at:

Today in Washington, DC, a full day conference hosted by the Hudson Institute and the Gruma Corporation drew policy and scientific experts, government officials and scholars on all sides of the debate about genetically modified corn. Representatives from Azteca Milling, the EPA, Food and Drug Administration, Greenpeace, American Farm Bureau Federation and other organizations participated in the StarLink Summit. The conference featured keynote addresses by Dr. Channaptna Prakash of Tuskeegee University and Dennis Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, a public policy research organization. More information is available at:

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ATLANTA, Georgia, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - Birds in three states are dying of a rare disease. Avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM) is affecting mallard ducks and coots on Woodlake in North Carolina; coots on Lake Juliette in central Georgia; coots, bald eagles and - for the first time - a Canada goose on Strom Thurmond Lake on the border of South Carolina and Georgia. The disease has not previously been confirmed in Canada geese. Vacuolar myelinopathy is a nervous system lesion that leaves open spaces in the white matter of the brain. Scientists have determined the spaces are caused by separation of the myelin layers that surround and protect the nerves. Research indicates that the disease is caused by a manmade or chemical substance.

Pathologists at the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia made the diagnoses. The USGS issued a Wildlife Health Alert Tuesday to natural resource and conservation agencies. While there is no evidence that AVM can affect humans, the risk to humans is unknown. People should avoid handling wildlife that have died from unknown causes, or do so with caution using waterproof gloves or a plastic bag. Hunters should avoid shooting wildlife exhibiting unusual behavior, use waterproof gloves when dressing out game, and cook meat well before eating. Affected birds may be unable to fly, may crash land or swim tipped to one side with one or both legs or wings extended. On land, birds may stagger and have difficulty walking. They may fall over and be unable to right themselves. More information is available at:

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BUFFALO, New York, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - University at Buffalo (UB) chemists have found that nitric oxide, a common air pollutant and one of the components of acid rain, readily reacts with ethanol. The result could mean the chemical is an even more insidious pollutant than has been thought. Two years ago, the UB team was the first to discover that reactions between nitric oxide and methanol are creating harmful pollutants in the upper atmosphere. "This new research shows that there also is a class of aerosol reactions occurring between nitric oxide and ethanol," said James Garvey, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at the University at Buffalo, and co-author of the paper.

The findings indicate that because nitric oxide is reactive with the broad range of alcohols, it may be more potent than scientists had believed. "It turns out nitric oxide is insidious because it engages in more than simple bimolecular reactions," said Garvey. "It has its own unique chemistry inside of gas-phase clusters, and that may be something environmental regulators will need to take into account." He noted that the UB studies may provide a new direction for atmospheric field studies, where scientists identify and test pollutants in the upper atmosphere. The UB team also found that the reactive site between a nitric oxide ion an alcohol varies depending on the extent of solvation - that is, how many solvent molecules surround the reactants - a fundamental finding that will help chemists better tailor chemical reactions in the lab. The research appears in today's issue of the "Journal of the American Chemical Society."

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VALDEZ, Alaska, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - Alaska's Columbia Glacier, heralded as the world's speediest glacier, may disintegrate and turn into a fjord rivaling Glacier Bay in the coming years, says a University of Colorado at Boulder researcher. The glacier moves at speeds of up to 34 meters a day, a snail's pace to most but very swift to glaciologists, said Tad Pfeffer, a fellow of CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. Descending from the Chugach Mountains into Prince Williams Sound near Valdez, the Columbia Glacier has retreated about 12 kilometers and also thinned since 1982. "The glacier is calving icebergs into Prince Williams Sound much faster than it is accumulating new snow," said Pfeffer. "It is spending its capital, in effect. The glacier either will retreat rapidly up the fjord or thin rapidly and essentially disintegrate in an abrupt event."


Aerial view of Alaska's Columbia Glacier in summer 2000, which is expected to disintegrate in the coming years (Photo by Tad Pfeffer)

The glacier's end, or toe, has stayed in about the same place for the past year, resting on bedrock about 500 to 550 meters below sea level, said Pfeffer. The Columbia Glacier is the last of Alaska's 51 tidewater glaciers to begin a major retreat. CU-Boulder and the U.S. Geological Survey have been monitoring changes in the glacier in the last several decades. The Columbia Glacier is now about 54 kilometers long, five kilometers wide and more than 1,000 meters thick in some places. Because the glacier bed is underwater at its end, it floats, increasing its speed and stretching the toe like a piece of taffy. The glacial thinning and mass loss in recent years have caused more frequent calving events. Pfeffer predicted the Columbia Glacier will be transformed into a large fjord within 50 years and perhaps in less than a decade. "We don't know enough about the physics of tidewater glaciers yet," he said. "But I think we may be seeing tour boats where the glacier is presently sitting in the not too distant future."

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" may not be a thing of the past if plant pathologists succeed in stopping the chestnut blight pathogen. By 1930, American chestnut trees almost wiped out by an uncontrollable disease. Scientists now believe they may have won the battle against the disease that killed them. Dying chestnut trees were first noticed in New York in 1904. A fungus brought to this country on Japanese chestnut trees was found to be responsible. None of the attempts to control its spread worked and most of the nation's chestnut trees succumbed to the disease. Chestnut trees found in the woods today are not trees in the original sense, but shoots that have sprouted from old chestnut tree stumps. The fungus does not attack the roots, and this allows these shrub like versions of the original chestnut tree to continue to survive.

Scientists are hopeful that they can restore the chestnut tree to at least some of its original grandeur. Dr. Sandra Anagnostakis and colleagues of The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station are among the scientists reporting success. Asian trees resistant to chestnut blight have been crossed with American trees in the hopes of creating a disease resistant hybrid. Anagnostakis's work has resulted in an American chestnut tree with partial resistance to blight. She has also worked for many years on a system of biological control discovered in Europe. "At the very least, we will be able to maintain American trees as nut bearing populations," said Anagnostakis. "Then if we plant our new resistant hybrids out into these plots, they will cross with native trees. The first generation offspring will be intermediate in resistance, but in subsequent generations trees with full resistance will be produced." More information is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - The National Park Service (NPS) is holding a contest to select an image for the 2002 National Parks Pass. The first National Parks Pass Experience Your America Photo Contest was announced Tuesday and will be sponsored by to select the image for the 2002 National Parks Pass. The contest is sponsored by NPS, the National Park Foundation and Kodak. Any photo taken by an amateur photographer in a National Park since January 1, 2000 is eligible. The winning image will be announced in May 2001, and will appear on the 2002 National Parks Pass. The photographer submitting the winning image will get a trip for four to any National Park, a Kodak camera kit and a personalized National Parks Pass.

"The National Parks Pass Experience Your America Photo Contest is another great way for Americans to get involved with their National Parks," said NPS Director Robert Stanton. "Each year, millions of Americans visit National Parks, whether it be with a school class, with their family, or on their own. Every visitor has a unique experience and fond memories that they will carry with them for a lifetime. This contest gives everyone the chance to share those memories with the nation." The National Parks Pass is an annual pass that admits the purchaser and occupants of his or her vehicle to all National Parks, Monuments and certain other federal areas that charge admission fees. More information about the photo contest, as well as visitor posted national parks photos sponsored by Kodak, are available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - Two giant pandas from Chengdu, China arrived in Washington DC today, bound for their new home at the National Zoo. Tian Tian, a three year old male panda, and Mei Xiang, a two year old female panda, are both captive born animals on loan from the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA). The National Zoo agreed to contribute to the CWCA $1 million per year for 10 years - a total of $10 million - to support China's National Project for the Conservation of the Giant Panda and its Habitat. The Zoo also agreed to provide an additional one time contribution (amount to be determined) to CWCA for each offspring produced by the pair. CWCA will retain ownership of the panda pair and any offspring born during the term of the loan. The pandas replace a pair given to the Zoo by the People's Republic of China in 1972. Ling-Ling died in 1992, and Hsing-Hsing died in 1999.

The pandas arrived on a custom painted Federal Express jet named "FedEx PandaOne." The plane made one stop at the FedEx facility in Anchorage, Alaska for refueling and clearing U.S. Customs. Over the past five months, FedEx representatives in the U.S. and China have worked with both U.S. and Chinese government officials, as well as zoo representatives, to ensure all necessary precautions have been taken to provide a safe and comfortable flight for the pandas. Veterinarians from the National Zoo and China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda were granted special flight privileges so they could accompany the pandas during the air transport. A caravan of FedEx vehicles will transport Tian Tian and Mei Xiang from the airport to the National Zoo during the final leg of their international journey.