AmeriScan: December 13, 2000


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) has agreed to pay a $550,000 penalty and undertake almost $500,000 in environmental projects to address violations of federal laws at more than 40 drinking water plants or systems across Puerto Rico. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a consent decree with PRASA in federal court on Monday. The agreement, which settles violations of the Clean Water Act at 23 drinking water plants and the Safe Drinking Water Act at 20 drinking water systems, requires PRASA to bring all of its facilities into compliance with environmental laws. EPA had issued numerous administrative orders to PRASA demanding that it bring the plants into compliance with federal law.

"After years of wrangling with PRASA to get them to comply, we now have a comprehensive settlement that will ensure that the problems are addressed," said Jeanne Fox, EPA regional administrator. "I am particularly pleased that PRASA has agreed to connect two small unfiltered systems, not operated by PRASA, to the Roncador drinking water system, which is filtering. The nearly 700 people who get their water from these systems will now be provided with reliable and safe drinking water." PRASA has agreed to spend $490,600 to connect two drinking water systems, Aqueducto Comunal and Saltos Caguana, to the Roncador drinking water distribution system. Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general for the environment division at the DOJ, said, "Because of this settlement, many of PRASA's drinking water treatment facilities are now on track to comply with the law, under an enforceable schedule."

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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is asking all shrimp trawlers who are required to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) to switch to TEDs modified to release leatherback sea turtles. The formal request for the voluntary change applies to shrimpers in all Atlantic Ocean and Atlantic inshore waters, out to 10 nautical miles from shore, along the east coast of Florida to the Georgia/Florida border. In the fall and winter of 1999 NMFS had to issue emergency rules requiring the use of the leatherback modification in Florida waters due to the high number of leatherback strandings. Leatherbacks tend to stay in these southern areas until the beginning of spring migration, when they migrate farther north.

The NMFS is making this request to help protect leatherback sea turtles that are vulnerable to being caught in shrimp nets during the winter Florida shrimp season. Leatherbacks are among the most endangered sea turtles in the world, and are protected by federal law. The NMFS also wants to cause as little disruption as possible to fishing activities. The agency said high leatherback stranding levels, such as occurred last year, could force the closing of some shrimping areas. NMFS will continue to monitor the presence of leatherback sea turtles within the area. For instructions on modifying existing TEDs to release leatherbacks, fishers can contact the NMFS Southeast Regional Office at 727-570-5312.

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GALVESTON, Texas, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - Texas A&M University, the North Slope Borough of Alaska and local Inuits are collaborating to try to make an accurate count of bowhead whales. No one knows how many of the 50 ton, 50 foot long bowhead whales exist in the wild. "The bowhead whale was hunted intensely by whalers worldwide in the 19th century and by Russian whalers in this century," said Bernd Wursig, a marine biologist from Texas A&M. "In Alaska, the native Americans there respect and revere the bowhead whale, as they have done for centuries. In some areas of the world, there are groups of several thousand or so bowhead whales, but in the Okhotsk Sea of far east Russia, there may be only 100 to 200 left. Our job is to determine the best possible estimate of bowhead whales in the region."

Funding the project is the North Slope Borough, the largest county in Alaska and the largest in the U.S. The Inuits, the Native Americans of the Alaskan North Slope, are helping to coordinate the count, most of which will occur in the Shantar Island region in the Sea of Okhotsk. The counters will take photographs of bowhead whales in the area and build up a catalog of pictures. "If we keep recapturing the same whales in our photographs, we can make statistically based estimates of how many are out there," Wursig explained. By taking genetic samples of bowheads in the area, Wursig and his team can determine how much inbreeding of the whales has occurred and get a more accurate reading than by the photographic method. "We'll use both to get the best possible estimate we can," said Wursig.

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LINCOLN, Nebraska, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - A new generation of chemical pesticides will disrupt the life cycle of insects, preventing them from reaching their normal adult form. Because the pesticides attack insect juvenile hormone, which has no equivalent in higher animals, they will be harmless to vertebrate animals and humans, says the research team of scientists from the U.S. and CSIRO, Australia's largest public research institution. The team has cloned two proteins which regulate the level of insect juvenile hormone. "The level of this hormone is crucial in development where it controls the process of metamorphosis," said Dr. Tony Zera of the University of Nebraska. "In insects such as locusts juvenile hormone is also one of the factors that controls the switch between their sedentary stage and their migratory stage. In the flight stage of their life cycle they are a moving target and much harder to control."

Two key proteins called juvenile hormone esterase (JHE) and juvenile hormone binding protein (JHBP) control the level of juvenile hormone. This in turn regulates the passage of juvenile insects through their various moults to become adults. "In many insects which have different adult forms specialized for different functions, the hormone also determines which of these adult forms they become," said Zera. "Alterations to JHE and JHBP disrupt development and in the case of insects like crickets and grasshoppers can prevent commencement of the migratory phase. The important step from the point of view of commercial application has been the cloning of JHE and JHBP in CSIRO Entomology's biotechnology program. This means that we can now apply for patents for the use of these genes in the search for new, safer chemical insecticides."

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CAMAS COUNTY, Idaho, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement agents have confirmed the death of another gray wolf in Camas County, Idaho. B-96, the alpha male of the Smoky Mountain Pack, was recovered on December 4. The dead wolf was found near Lick Creek about 20 miles north of Fairfield. The wolf was last seen alive on November 22. The USFWS's forensics laboratory confirmed that B-96 died from a gunshot wound. B-96 is the second wolf to have been shot in this area of Camas County. A male gray wolf, B-57, was found dead on November 23, within 10 miles of where B-96 was discovered. "We have received several excellent leads and many calls regarding the death of B-57, and we will aggressively pursue our investigation of the death of B-96 as well," said USFWS special agent Paul Weyland. "If wolves continue to be injured or killed, Idaho will not reach its recovery goal, which means wolves will remain an endangered species for a longer time."

"There are troubling signs that these two wolf killings may point to a larger pattern. What the killers don't realize, or don't care about, is that they are undermining the hard work of ranchers, conservationists and others on gray wolf recovery, pushing off further any chance of removing the strict protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act," said Suzanne Laverty of Defenders of Wildlife. "Wolves, ranchers, local communities - in fact, everybody loses if these illegal killings don't stop." The USFWS has offered a $2,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the killing of the wolf. Defenders of Wildlife has contributed another $2,000 toward the reward.

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GALVESTON BAY, Texas, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - Two important wetland conservation projects will take place during 2001 in Galveston Bay, thanks to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant awards in excess of $1 million, and the reauthorization of the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act of 1990. A restoration project at Delehide Cove in West Galveston Bay will protect more than 1,400 acres of an estuarine marsh complex from erosion. Because of erosion and subsidence - the sinking of land - the disappearance of wetlands and marshes on Galveston Island has been accelerating. To combat this trend, the Delehide Cove project will build a breakwater structure to shield and help restore 50 acres of estuarine intertidal emergent marsh and one acre of seagrass. These cooperative efforts will improve waterbird nesting habitat, upland areas where marsh yields to prairie grass, tidal pools and flats, lagoons, freshwater wetlands, and foraging areas for upland and aquatic species.

The second project will protect the most important rookery island in Galveston Bay. North Deer Island is home to endangered brown pelicans, threatened reddish egrets and white faced ibis, and 16 other species of colonial waterbirds. The restoration and protection project will conserve shoreline and estuarine intertidal marshes that will benefit 147 acres of coastal habitat, including 103 acres of wetlands. Funding for both projects became available in November after President Bill Clinton reauthorized the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act of 1990. "We have lost too many coastal wetlands already, and we continue to lose these valuable resources to pollution, development, agriculture and run-off, shoreline modification, municipal waste spills, oil spills, and over harvesting," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest regional director Nancy Kaufman.

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - Two scientific organizations plan to work together to prevent pollution "from the lab to the living room," with a special emphasis on training future chemists. The American Chemical Society (ACS) and the Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) have joined forces to advance the science and practice of "green chemistry," the design of chemical products and processes that are benign from the standpoint of human health and the environment. "Our goal is to ensure that scientists' work has a positive impact on the environment from the lab to the living room," said Daryle Busch, Ph.D., president of the American Chemical Society. "Ultimately, we want to reach out to chemistry students and train them so that they enter the field understanding how they can prevent pollution and protect the environment."

Founded in 1997, the Green Chemistry Institute is a not for profit organization made up of institutions from around the world representing industry, academia, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies. The institute has chapters in 13 countries. Under this alliance, GCI will operate independently within the American Chemical Society, developing and promoting green chemistry programs. ACS will provide financial and organizational support while continuing to make green chemistry a major focus of environmental programs within the society. GCI offices will be located at ACS headquarters in Washington, D.C. The institute's key objectives include raising public awareness of green chemistry and making it a national research priority by aligning the interests of policymakers, business leaders and the scientific community.

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STANFORD, California, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - Advanced technologies and methods are helping scientists take a new look at one of the Earth's most abundant elements - phosphorus - to better understand how it cycles through soil, sea and living organisms. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all organisms including plants. Phosphorus also plays a key role in the cycles of such essential elements as nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur. But, because of analytical limitations, little has been known about phosphorus cycling - until now. "We're at the stage where we can make another jump in our understanding of phosphate cycling because of the availability of new technology and new methods that can be applied to natural systems," said Adina Paytan, an assistant professor in Stanford's Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

Paytan is leading a special session on Friday with Stanford postdoctoral scholar Barbara Cade-Menun at this year's San Francisco meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an international scientific society with more than 35,000 members dedicated to advancing the understanding of Earth and its environment. This AGU session marks the first official meeting between marine and terrestrial phosphorus scientists. Paytan will describe new research methods that allow scientists to characterize phosphorus compounds in water and soil, estimate how fast phosphate cycles through natural reservoirs, estimate long term phosphorus burial in the oceans through geologic time, pinpoint phosphorus sources in different ecosystems, determine fluctuations in phosphate concentrations at certain times and places, and study the effects of phosphorus pollution on estuaries and lakes.

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - Defenders of Wildlife today applauded the first grant from the Florida Conserve Wildlife license plate fund, a $100,000 award to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for conservation, management and research efforts on the threatened Florida black bear. Another $5005 was granted to the Wildlife Commission for updating antiquated publishing equipment used to produce the agency's magazine "Florida Wildlife." Florida motorists who purchase the Conserve Wildlife license plate each contribute $15 a year to the fund, which has raised more than $200,000 since the plates' debut in 1999. At the current rate of sale, the plate will raise more than $300,000 per year for the management and protection of Florida's fish and wildlife resources.

license plate

An example of the Florida Conserve Wildlife license plate (Photo courtesy Defenders of Wildlife)

"It is wonderful to see the original idea for the conserve wildlife plate now put into real action," said Laurie Macdonald, Florida director for Defenders of Wildlife, which initiated and worked for adoption of the plate. "It's especially fitting that the first grant be given to the Florida bear, a threatened species that is a symbol for wildlife throughout the state." The grant will enable the Wildlife Commission's Bear Management Section to conduct detailed research on black bear populations in Florida. Half of the grant will further the work of the Ocala Bear Study, including population estimation through genetic analysis of about 1,000 bear hair samples collected in 1999 and 2000. This analysis and $21,000 of the Conserve Wildlife license plate grant will contribute to a statewide survey of Florida's six core bear populations. Another $15,000 of the grant will fund a pilot program to develop standards and certification for private contractors who will respond to nuisance bear reports and incidents of bear/vehicle collisions. The final $14,000 will purchase radio tracking and other essential equipment for Florida bear management programs.

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GAINESVILLE, Florida, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - Salvaged building materials can have an economical - and environmentally friendly - alternative use as studs, trusses and other basic construction components, a new University of Florida study shows. Wood removed from older buildings could provide as much as a quarter of the lumber supply for the housing construction industry for the next 50 years, while putting a hefty dent in the amount of demolition waste that goes into landfills each year, the study found. "You're not filling up landfill space, you're not threatening the groundwater, you're protecting the forests and making more effective use of resources," said Charles Kibert, director of the Rinker School of Building Construction. Lucy Acquaye, a graduate student in building construction who did the research for her master's thesis, said that in Florida, the construction industry constitutes 23 percent of all municipal solid waste, and of that, 92 percent comes from the renovation and demolition of old structures. Meanwhile, landfill space is being lost to new development.

Acquaye studied wood from three houses in Gainesville. Built between 1900 and 1950 of Southern pine, the houses were taken apart using different techniques, from total demolition to careful deconstruction, where the focus was on salvaging as much usable material as possible. She said the contractor made a profit on the deconstructed house because he was able to sell much of the building's materials. "Instead of demolishing houses, there is the potential for creating many new businesses. You have to take the building apart, extract the materials, resell them, move them from point A to point B and maybe even do some remanufacturing and clean up," Kibert said. "We think it could generate a lot of new economic activity, and you'd have 10 times as many jobs compared to simply landfilling construction waste."