Pesticide Review Finds Little RiskWASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says its comprehensive review of the cumulative risks of organophosphorus pesticides found that all but two of the 30 compounds studied are safe.
The EPA released its revised assessment of organophosphate pesticides on Monday, nearing completion of its review of more than a thousand organophosphate pesticide food tolerances - also known as legal residue limits. The agency said almost all the pesticides are expected to meet the highest, most rigorous federal safety standards.
"Preliminary results from this scientific assessment provide good news for American consumers," said Stephen Johnson, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. "After years of effort to develop the scientific methodologies to conduct this sort of sophisticated risk assessment, the conclusions strongly support a high level of confidence in the safety of the food supply."
Results on two chemicals, however, could lead to new restrictions on their use, or even a complete ban. Dichlorvos, or DDVP, used in fly paper and other pest strips, and dimethoate, an agricultural pesticide sprayed on a variety of produce, both were linked to health problems including headaches, nausea, neurological disorders and even death.
"If it turns out that our concerns are valid, we will need to take action," said Johnson. "Banning them certainly is one of the options."
The review of organophosphates was ordered as part of a legal settlement with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Release of the results was delayed three times by legal action by the pesticide industry.
The most recent appeal by the industry was denied on Monday, and the EPA released the report later the same day.
In the last several years, EPA has taken a variety of regulatory actions on the organophosphates pesticides, ranging from lowering application rates to complete cancellation of specific uses, to help meet the requirements of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996.
The agency says these actions have reduced the risks of pesticide use. The EPA is still working to evaluate certain food and residential uses of individual organophosphates, including DDVP and dimethoate.
The NRDC said the EPA review still failed to account for all pesticide threats to children. The EPA said its review considered pesticide use and exposure in food, drinking water and residential spraying, and accounted for variability in potential exposures based on age, seasonal and geographic factors.
The current assessment "includes consideration of the FQPA safety factor for protecting sensitive populations, including infants and children," the EPA said.
Last week, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine's Center for Children's Health and the Environment began running a series of ads in the "New York Times" warning of the health effects that toxic chemicals, including pesticides, can have on children. The ads charge that exposure to pesticides can alter the reproductive systems of wildlife and humans, cause learning disabilities and increase the risk of certain cancers.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, Philip Landrigan, director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment, said the United States has "not done a good job of testing [new] chemicals to determine if they cause toxic effects in children."
"I don't think the public understands the broad, pervasive impact that chemicals have on children's health," Landrigan added.
More information on the EPA's pesticide review is available at: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/cumulative
More information on the NRDC's campaign against toxic pesticides is available at: http://www.nrdc.org/health/pesticides/default.asp
Patriotic Automakers Urged to Boost Fuel EconomyDETROIT, Michigan, June 13, 2002 (ENS) - A new campaign from the Sierra Club uses a patriotic message to urge Americans and the Big Three automakers - Ford, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler - to work toward improving vehicle fuel economy.
"The American people want the choice to drive cars, trucks, and SUVs that go farther on a gallon of gas," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "It's time Detroit gave them what they want. The technology exists today to allow the automakers to continue offering their most popular models, but with significantly improved fuel economy. New, safe, fuel saving SUVs and pickups could be on sale very soon."
The Sierra Club decided to target automakers after Congress succumbed to a campaign by the auto industry and voted not to raise fuel economy standards. The three year campaign launched Tuesday includes television and radio ads featuring former Senator Bob Kerrey, a decorated Navy Seal, and retired Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan, military advisory committee chair of truemajority.com.
The ads appeal to automakers to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and oil producing nations by manufacturing more fuel efficient vehicles.
"We ask our young men and women to sacrifice their safety and perhaps their lives to fight the war against terrorism. Surely we can do something here at home to help," states Kerrey in one of the ads. "We all know that our dependency on imported oil is part of the problem and we know that increasing the fuel economy of the cars we drive is part of the solution."
"It's time for us to tell the auto industry that we want to break the grip of oil producing countries and reduce our oil use," Kerrey adds. "The truth is we don't have to give up our pick up trucks or SUVs. All we have to do is use existing technology and American know how to make SUVs and pick up trucks that go farther on a gallon of gas. Tell the automakers that on the morning of September 11, politics as usual became unacceptable. Tell them you're prepared to do your part by buying cars that save gas and the lives of America's Armed Forces."
The campaign urges consumers to ask auto dealers for a "Freedom Option Package," a set of fuel saving components which could be added to most standard models, and which, taken together, could raise the fleetwide fuel economy of Big Three vehicles to 40 miles per gallon.
"Detroit wants to sell option packages featuring seat warmers and cup holders. What America needs is an option package that frees us from dependence on foreign oil, saves money at the pump, and cuts pollution," said Dan Becker, director of Sierra Club's clean energy program.
More information is available at: http://www.sierraclub.org/freedom
Air Pollution Affects Tree GrowthMADISON, Wisconsin, June 13, 2002 (ENS) - Carbon dioxide and ozone pollution alter tree growth in northern forests, says an international group of researchers working in northern Wisconsin.
The gases may change forest ecology and diversity in the long term, said Eric Kruger, a University of Wisconsin-Madison forest ecologist participating in the project. The team's long term study is also providing insights into the role forests may play in global climate change.
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, the best known greenhouse gas, are increasing around the world, contributing to global warming. Ozone levels also are rising; elevated ozone levels are now common across much of the eastern United States.
Carbon dioxide acts like a fertilizer, stimulating plant growth, while ozone harms plants, but no one had studied how trees would respond to higher levels of both gases together.
"Our results have been remarkably consistent," said Kruger. "They show that high carbon dioxide increases the growth of young aspen and birch, high ozone decreases their growth, and the gas's effects on growth cancel each other out when both are elevated."
UW-Madison scientists have joined more than 40 university and government researchers who are testing how carbon dioxide and ozone - acting alone and in combination - affect forests. The study now taking place on 80 acres of U.S. Forest Service land near Rhinelander includes scientists from three departments in the university's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
The effects on tree growth are particularly important because some people argue that forests will lessen the threat of global warming by soaking up carbon dioxide like a sponge and holding it in trees and soils. However, that view overlooks the impact of rising ozone concentrations.
"There are about a dozen major studies around the world looking at how an increase in carbon dioxide will affect different ecosystems," said Richard Lindroth, a UW-Madison insect ecologist. "But this study is the only one in which plants are exposed to both carbon dioxide and ozone."
Because insects and soil processes affect the growth and survival of forest trees, the researchers are also examining those aspects of the forest community. Lindroth said that both the performance of insects, as indicated by their size, and the decay of leaf litter are influenced by the chemical composition of the leaves, which in turn is affected by carbon dioxide and ozone concentrations.
"We're finding that one species responds in a certain way to elevated levels of these gases and a second species responds in a different way," Lindroth said. "We hope to continue the experiment for at least 15 years to determine the impact the gases have in the long term on the trees themselves and the larger ecological community."
Shade Grown Coffee Benefits from PollinationWASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2002 (ENS) - Pollination, particularly by naturalized, non-native African honeybees, boosts the yield from shade grown coffee plants, a new study shows.
Debunking the common belief that the self pollinating shrub that produces the popular Arabica coffee bean has no use for insects, David Roubik of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama has demonstrated that pollination can increase yields by more than 50 percent.
"You probably don't realize that part of your daily routine involves bees," said Roubik. "I say this because, from what I see going on in the Neotropics, the work of two or three dozen wild African honey bees is in every cup of coffee that you drink"
Roubik's research in Panama over the past five years, with comparisons to data from 15 countries in the New World and 15 in the Old World, appears in today's issue of the journal "Nature." His results emphasize the importance of shade grown coffee - not only to improve the flavor of the beverage, but also to maintain the habitat for naturalized honeybees and other pollinators.
African honeybees took up residence in western Panama in 1985, according to Roubik. Soon after, they had become the major pollinators of coffee growing near forests at 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) above sea level.
To test the idea suggested by his first work in 1997 - that maximum yield occurs at young coffee shrubs near forest - Roubik studied 50 two year old plants in Panama in 2001, keeping the pollinators away from a control branch on each plant by bagging them with fine mesh. In both studies, he found the flowers visited by pollinators produced heavier, more abundant fruit.
In several countries where the areas of high density coffee cultivation have increased two to five fold in the last 41 years, coffee yield has decreased by 20 to 50 percent. Roubik concluded that the loss of pollinators has contributed to this decline.
Roubik said his results suggest that sustained, aggressive agricultural cultivation of coffee and other crops will ultimately reduce productivity by removing natural habitat for pollinators.
Humans Decimated Hawaiian Goose 500 Years AgoHONOLULU, Hawaii, June 13, 2002 (ENS) - A boom in Hawaii's human population between 900 and 350 years ago may have slashed the population of the Hawaiian goose or nene, diminishing the species' genetic variability.
By the middle of the last century, the nene - Hawaii's official state bird - was reduced to fewer than 30 individuals. Each bird is as closely related to the others as human siblings.
But research reported in today's edition of the journal "Science" suggests that the nene had lost most of its genetic diversity long before its 20th century population decline.
A team of scientists from the Conservation and Research Center of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park and National Museum of Natural History, along with a collaborator from the University of California, Los Angeles, examined DNA from nene on the island of Hawaii from four time periods: living captive and wild birds; museum specimens collected between 1833 and 1928; bones from archaeological middens radiocarbon dated at 160 to 500 years ago; and bones from paleontological sites dating from 500 to 2540 years ago.
The team was surprised to find the levels of genetic variation typical of other goose species only in the oldest samples.
"We were expecting to see evidence of the loss of genetic variation first in the museum specimens, coincident with the nene population decline that began in the 1800s," said Robert Fleischer, head of the Natural History Museum's genetics laboratory. "Instead, we found the precipitous drop much earlier, in the samples dating from between 500 and 850 years ago, coincident with the expansion of human settlements on the island."
Fleischer noted that the combination of new techniques and ancient specimens makes it possible to look at population genetics through time, as far back at 2,500 years ago.
Many scientists believe that human colonization of the islands contributed to extinctions of many bird species in the islands between 500 to a thousand years ago. These species, including the nene, were may have been affected by habitat changes, introduced predators or by human hunting for food.
The Smithsonian led research implicates the spread of human settlements not just in the extinction of species, but also in the loss of one species' genetic diversity. The study also demonstrates that surviving modern species still bear the imprint of human disruption in their genetic makeup.
"Our research also debunks the belief that Hawaii was a pristine paradise, and that prehistoric man lived in perfect harmony with nature," said Helen James, museum specialist in the Natural History Museum's Division of Birds.
Satellites Peer Underground to Monitor AquifersIRVINE, California, June 13, 2002 (ENS) - Researchers will soon be able to use satellite data to measure changes in groundwater levels.
The new technique, using National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellites, may prove vital for the management of water resources for agriculture, other human water needs and wildlife. Many of the world's aquifer levels are now monitored with ground based wells, a labor and equipment intensive approach that offers incomplete coverage.
The replenishment of underground aquifers, also called groundwater recharge, is also difficult to monitor using the ground based approach.
With the satellite information, all large underground water sources can be measured with reasonable accuracy, providing important data that can help address worldwide water shortages, and perhaps locate new aquifers.
University of California at Irvine hydrologist James Famiglietti and Matthew Rodell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center will be using data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) to monitor groundwater.
The GRACE mission, launched in March 2002, will map variations in the Earth's gravity field. These gravitational variations come from measurements of changes in the distribution of the Earth's mass, which includes all water storage sources, such as oceans, lakes, rivers, ice, soil water and aquifers. Initial GRACE data will be available later this summer.
Famiglietti and Rodell are the only hydrologists to work on the GRACE project. They have developed a mathematical model to isolate groundwater information from overall water storage data. Their findings appear in the June 10 issue of the "Journal of Hydrology."
"It has been nearly impossible in the past to accurately measure the changes in underground water storage," said Famiglietti, an associate professor of Earth system science and of civil and environmental engineering at UCI. "GRACE presents a breakthrough not only as a means to measure these changes but provides researchers with a way to understand how and why these changes take place, which has significant implications for water resources management."
Famiglietti noted that it will not be possible to measure the absolute mass of groundwater storage, only the changes in mass either from year to year or season to season.
"The prospect of satellite based monitoring of groundwater is intriguing because most other satellites only monitor Earth's surface. GRACE provides us with an exciting opportunity to remotely observe processes beneath the surface and to construct a simultaneous, global view of changes in water storage," Famiglietti said. "Many regions of the world are experiencing a water crisis that is better attributed to management policies than to scarcity of water. Therefore, any new and objective method for monitoring the availability of water resources will be valuable for assessing future development and sustainability."
More information on GRACE is available at: http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace/ and http://essp.gsfc.nasa.gov/grace/
$20 Million Funds Pennsylvania Parks ProjectsHARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, June 13, 2002 (ENS) - Pennsylvania has distributed $20 million in grants to fund 240 local park, recreation and conservation projects in 55 counties across the state.
Noting that parks, open space and recreation areas help improve Pennsylvanians' quality of life, Governor Mark Schweiker said the grants will benefit people of all ages.
"For toddlers, it's the swings and slides," Schweiker said. "For youths, it's the ball fields and skate parks. For adults, it's the bike trails and greenways. And for seniors, it's the walking paths and open spaces. Whatever the age, whatever the reason, everyone wants and needs community recreation.
"These grants give municipalities the funding needed to leverage local dollars in order to make dreams come true," he added. "Hearing a child squeal with delight while growing through play, or seeing a person with disabilities enjoy the outdoors, is evidence of money well spent."
The grants will fund a variety of planning, acquisition and development projects, including the upgrading or building of 67 playgrounds and parks and 24 athletic fields; 28 projects to purchase almost 4,000 acres for community parks, open space and greenways; construction of two amphitheaters, two recreation centers and four skate parks; 59 plans or studies for park or greenway development; and 25 projects to develop 61 miles of trails.
"While the underlying purpose of these grants remains the same, each year we see projects that reflect a changing society: greenway plans and development, skate parks, recreation centers, gateway gardens, water trails, commuter bike lanes, and open space protection," Schweiker said. "All have one thing in common - they enhance our quality of life."
The largest grant - $900,000 - went to Westmoreland County to acquire and protect almost 1,300 acres of the Loyalhanna Gorge. The Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh & Allegheny County received two grants of $500,000 each to develop the Convention Center Riverfront Park and North Shore Riverfront Park.
Philadelphia received a $500,000 grant to develop and renovate 11 neighborhood parks and seven recreational facilities in the city.
Administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Community Recreation Grants are funded through the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund. The Growing Greener program funded 39 projects worth $2.8 million, and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund provided $4.1 million for the grants.
Burt's Bees Supports Maine WoodsDURHAM, North Carolina, June 13, 2002 (ENS) - Burt's Bees, a company known for its earth friendly personal care products, is collecting donations to help establish a new national park in Maine's woodlands.
Burt's Bees is offering customers a free Peace on Earth flag with every donation placed through the company's website. One hundred percent of the donations will go toward land conservation efforts in Maine.
"Every $1,000 in donations will pay for five acres of the Maine Woods," said Burt's Bees president Roxanne Quimby. "By offering these incentives to our customers, we are giving them a quick and easy opportunity to make a difference."
Customers can choose between placing a bronze donation for $9.95, a silver donation for $14.95, or a gold donation for $24.95.
Burt's Bees conservation campaign is part of an ambitious effort to save the largest surviving area of the northern forests that once stretched unbroken from Maine to Minnesota. Deep forests, rugged mountains, clear waters and abundant wildlife characterize these lands, offering spectacular scenery and challenging recreational opportunities.
The proposed Maine Woods National Park will span 3.2 million acres when completed. Burt's Bees has already donated almost $5 million to conservation acquisitions for the planned park.
For more information, visit: http://www.burtsbees.com/ and click on "Conservation."