AmeriScan: May 18, 2006

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Pacific Tsunami Warning Test Revealed Few Flaws

HONOLULU, Hawaii, May 18, 2006 (ENS) - To test how well countries and their people can be notified about possible tsunamis, Exercise Pacific Wave 2006 simulated two giant undersea earthquakes - one off the coast of the Chile, the other north of the Philippines.

Stuart Koyanagi, a geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, which coordinated the test, called the exercise "a communications test" for the center. He said scientists at the center were pleased with the results.

The first tsunami test was simulated to be generated by a magnitude 9.2 earthquake off the coast of central Chile at 30°S, 72°W on May 16 at 1900 UTC.

Suggested participants for this event simulation are: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Pitcairn, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Tonga, American Samoa, New Zealand, Samoa, U.S.A., Canada, Wallis and Futuna, Tokelau, Fiji, Australia, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and the Marshall Islands.

Bulletins were issued for six hours - 24 hours of compressed exercise time - until the tsunami was simulated to have crossed the entire Pacific.

The second tsunami test was simulated to be generated by a magnitude 8.8 earthquake north of the Philippines at 20°N, 120°E on May 17 at 0200 UTC. The test tsunami affected both the western Pacific and South China Sea.

Suggested participants for this event simulation are: Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Belau, Yap, Taiwan, Japan, Guam, Northern Marianas, Papua New Guinea, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Marshall Islands, Kosrae, Solomon Islands, Russia, Nauru, China, and Majuro.

Bulletins were issued for two hours - or eight hours of compressed exercise time - until the tsunami was simulated to have crossed into the central Pacific and across most of the South China Sea.

Glitches included one fax machine in Malaysia that did not function, and an overloaded telephone network in Thailand that prevented Thai officials from issuing a public alert by text messaging.

All other locations received the test message without problems.

The U.S. government is conducting a tsunami training exercise for U.S. and Canadian personnel next week.

The U.S. Department of Transportation in cooperation with federal, State, local, and Canadian partners will host PACIFIC PERIL 06 from May 23-25 at Camp Rilea on the northwest Oregon Coast.

The three-day event will consist of a training day presenting earthquake and tsunami hazards and response plans, a full day Command Post Exercise and a final table top review.

The exercise play simulates a catastrophic seismic event that triggers a massive tsunami that devastates Pacific coastal communities from British Columbia to northern California. The government of Canada, including the province of British Columbia and the city of Vancouver, are also engaged in the exercise.

Federal Aviation Administration Regional Administrator and Regional Emergency Transportation Coordinator Douglas Murphy says the exercise is designed to challenge participants with a high consequence scenario in order to better assess the effectiveness of existing response plans.

“Experts agree that the likelihood of a massive earthquake and tsunamis wave is very real, and speak in terms of not if, but when," said Murphy. "Our critical infrastructure is vulnerable, and advance preparation is the key to a successful response,”

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U.S. Navy Scuttles Aircraft Carrier for Artificial Reef

PENSACOLA, Florida, May 18, 2006 (ENS) - An obsolete U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the 888 foot ship once known as the USS Oriskany, was sunk Wednesday as an artificial reef, the largest in U.S. history, and the first vessel that the Navy intentionally scuttled to form an artificial reef.

The vessel was sunk with explosives about 24 miles off the coast of Pensacola at a site that is part of the permitted Escambia East Large Area Artificial Reef site, which covers 77 square miles. It took about five hours to disappear beneath the surface.

The ship will rest at a depth of 212 feet, at mean low water. This will provide a 61 foot navigational clearance above the ship.

The U.S. Navy has spent more than $13 million on the ex-Oriskany to complete the environmental preparations for reefing in conformance with U.S. EPA guidance, to accomplish the sink preparations to allow internal flooding of the ship and to execute the scuttling event. This amount is still less than the cost of dismantling the ship, according to the Oriskany Museum and USS Oriskany Reunion Association.

Of this amount, $1 million is to be reimbursed by Escambia County as provided in the state of Florida’s November 2003 application for the ship.

The public will be able to dive down to view the ship underwater. The date when the ship will be open to divers will be determined by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Due to the possibility of air venting after sinking, the state is anticipating to restrict diving for at least two days after the ship is sunk.

The authority to reef the ex-Oriskany was granted in the FY 04 National Defense Authorization Bill, which permits decommissioned ships stricken from the Naval Vessel Register to be transferred to states for use as artificial reefs.

This was also the first time the Navy was using the Draft National Guidance to prepare a vessel for reefing. The new national cleanup guidance identifies materials of concern that may be found aboard vessels, likely areas where they may be found, and cleanup goals. Using survey information, the Navy removed oil and fuel, asbestos, certain paints, and loose debris as recommended by the guidance. We also identified and removed all liquid.

The scope of work to prepare the ship for sinking as an artificial reef included removal and disposal of fuels and oils so that the ship is essentially petroleum free; removal and disposal of any loose or detached friable asbestos containing material; as well as removal and disposal of all capacitors and transformers containing liquid PCBs.

All loose paint accumulated on deck surfaces, bulkheads and overhead areas was removed and disposed; as was trash, loose debris, cleaning materials, and any floatable materials not permanently attached to the ship or that could be transported in the water column during sinking.

Batteries, halon, mercury, antifreeze, coolants, fire extinguishing agents, black and gray water, and chromated ballast water were all removed and disposed of.

Most of this work was completed in December 2004, with the final cleaning completed in Beaumont, Texas, while the ship awaited tow in February and March 2006.

Some debris is expected to be released from the ship due to the force of rising water within the hull. To prepare for this, the same contractor that conducted environmental remediation of the ship will be on site for two days after the sinking with cleanup vessels equipped with skimmers to pick up any floating debris.

The most common use for artificial reefs has been to promote fishing and increase fish density. Benefits include increased marine life production and biodiversity, tourism promotion for recreational diving, preservation of local natural environments. Improved water quality can occur as filter feeders such as barnacles and sponges that grow onto the ship's hard surfaces act as biofilters and process excess suspended nutrients, clearing the water.

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Exxon Valdez Oil Persists in Prince William Sound

JUNEAU, Alaska, May 18, 2006 (ENS) - Seventeen years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, new evidence suggests that remnants of the worst oil spill in U.S. history farther into tidal waters than previously thought, increasing the probability that the oil is causing unanticipated long-term harm to wildlife.

The finding appears today on the website of the American Chemical Society’s journal, "Environmental Science & Technology."

The study, by research chemist Jeffrey Short and colleagues at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau, Alaska, is also scheduled to appear in the June 15 print issue of the journal.

"This study shows that it is very plausible that exposure to Exxon Valdez oil is having a material impact on many shore-dwelling animals and is contributing to their slow recovery in some parts of Prince William Sound," says Short, who has been studying the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill since it occurred.

"Sea otters, for instance, have yet to re-inhabit Herring Bay, the most oiled bay we studied, and the population of otters elsewhere around northern Knight Island continues to decline. Unfortunately, because much of this oil is buried in beach sediments and not exposed to weathering and other elements that might degrade it, it could remain hazardous to wildlife for decades."

The Exxon Valdez stuck an underwater rock on March 24, 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Sound over the next several days.

Despite massive clean-up efforts, Short estimates about six miles of shoreline is still affected by the spill and as much as 100 tons of oil is still in the Sound.

The Exxon Valdez Trustee Council now administers the $900 million that Exxon paid to settle the various charges against it as a result of the spill, but the state of Alaska and the federal government could ask millions more.

To be awarded additional payment, the governments must demonstrate that there is substantial, continuing environmental damage caused by the spill, that could not have been anticipated when the settlement with Exxon was signed in 1991.

In their study, Short and his colleagues found Exxon Valdez oil buried in sand and silt that only becomes dry during the lowest tides. This biologically diverse zone is a prime feeding ground for sea otters, ducks and other wildlife.

Previously, scientists believed most of the oil was deposited on beaches at higher tide levels.

The researchers randomly dug 662 pits along 32 stretches of shoreline on northern Knight Island, one of the earliest and worst affected areas during the spill. They found Exxon Valdez oil at 14 of the 32 sites.

Although oil was spread throughout the tidal range, about half of it was found in the low tide zone, where predators could encounter it while searching for prey. More than 90 percent of the surface oil and all of the subsurface oil was from the Exxon Valdez, Short says.

Based on these findings, the researchers estimated that in a given year, a sea otter - digging three pits a day searching for clams and other prey - would probably come into contact with Exxon Valdez oil at least once every two months. Sea otters dig thousands of pits a year, and Short says they could be encountering oil far more often than estimated.

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House Approves Migratory Songbird Conservation Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2006 – The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Improvement Act of 2006 (HR 518) late Tuesday night. The Act reauthorizes and improves the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 2000, which expired last year.

The measure provides grants to groups throughout the Americas for the conservation of neotropical migratory birds that winter south of the border and summer in North America.

The law creates a competitive grants program administered by the secretary of the interior, through the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, for projects that determine the condition of neotropical migratory bird habitats, undertake population studies, implement conservation plans, educate the public, and reduce the destruction of essential habitats.

“With spring migration fully underway, this is a terrific welcome home from the House of Representatives,” said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “We call on the Senate to act swiftly so the President can sign the bill before the fall bird migration.

The House bill raises the funding ceiling to $6.5 million over a four-year period – an increase of $1.5 million over its current authorization. Fenwick says the funding level is "$1.5 million less than had originally been expected and significantly less than the $15 million conservation groups had worked for."

The actual amount available for neotropical migratory bird conservation will depend on the annual Congressional budget appropriations process. In addition to improved funding, the Act reduces the ratio of matching funds that recipients must raise down from 3:1 to 1:1, making funding more accessible.

For the first time, projects in Canada are now eligible for funding.

Conservation groups, including ABC and other members of the Bird Conservation Alliance, have fought to gain passage of the Act. Once signed into law, it will enable the only significant federal funding source for neotropical migratory birds to continue through 2010.

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Court Rules Dupont's Fungicide Damaged Costa Rican Farmers' Crops

MIAMI, Florida, May 18, 2006 (ENS) - Lead counsel Don Russo of Don Russo, P.A., and lawyers with Holland & Hart Wednesday obtained an award of $113.48 million on behalf of 27 Costa Rican leatherleaf fern farmers in a lawsuit against E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.

The lawsuit brought against DuPont proved that its fungicide, Benlate(R), permanently damaged the farmers' crops of leatherleaf fern, used in floral arrangements.

Plaintiffs' attorneys worked with the country's leading agronomists and biologists and invested $8.5 million in their investigation into the true cause of crop damage.

Russo says the new scientific evidence discovered and presented in this case may initiate a new round of cases against DuPont.

"We worked diligently for five years to prove that Benlate permanently damaged the crops on which it is used," said Russo. "While DuPont presented a smorgasbord of possible explanations for the plant distortions, not one held up in light of the new scientific evidence we were able to provide."

"It was exceedingly clear that this product destroyed the livelihood of these 27 farmers. For the first time in more than 15 years since Benlate was sold, science has finally explained why Benlate is so damaging to crops - and not just in the year it is applied, but for the entire life cycle of the plants treated with it."

The new scientific evidence presented at trial showed that permanent crop damage was sustained when Benlate was applied to crops and absorbed by the plants' cells, which subsequently killed all natural microbes within the plants.

This allowed other bacteria to persistently dominate in the crops and caused visible distortions in the plants. These distortions in the fern's leaves made them unfit for use in floral arrangements and therefore unfit for sale, effectively closing down the farms that produced them.

The case was tried in the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida with Judge Amy Steele Donner presiding.

Plaintiffs' attorneys successfully argued that the court should try the case in the United States due to the company's significant South Florida presence, setting a precedent for farmers in foreign countries to initiate future lawsuits against the company in U.S. courts.

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New Jersey Water Suppliers Penalized for Falsifying Data

TRENTON, New Jersey, May 18, 2006 (ENS) - Two public water suppliers and four water system operators face fines and license suspensions for failing to accurately monitor drinking water quality, manipulating equipment to skew test results and falsifying reports.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson said, "The failures and fraud we uncovered highlight once again the vital role DEP plays in investigating late, deficient and inaccurate reporting and strengthens our resolve to take tough action if water system data or operations in any way fall short of state and federal safe drinking water laws."

The DEP issued penalties to the Strawberry Point Homeowners Association in Byram Township, Sussex County, and its former operator, William Horton; the Roxbury Water Company in Roxbury Township, Morris County, and its operator and president, John Hosking; and two former United Water Toms River managers, George Flegal and Richard Ottens.

In the Strawberry Point case, officials with the DEP's Water Compliance and Enforcement and its Safe Drinking Water programs found monthly operating reports Horton submitted from January through May 2005 that showed identical daily chlorine residual measurements, required to prevent bacterial aftergrowth.

Though Horton had signed and certified the reports as accurate, he admitted to inspectors that he did not conduct the mandatory, daily chlorine residual analysis.

The DEP fined Horton $16,000 and ordered a two year suspension of his operator license for submitting false and inaccurate data to the DEP. The Strawberry Point Homeowners Association received a $1,000 penalty for failing to conduct required water-quality monitoring.

DEP inspectors uncovered similar violations at Roxbury Water Company. From July through December 2004, Hosking, president of the privately owned water company and its operator, filed with the DEP monthly operating reports that showed identical daily chlorine residual measurements. State investigators found these reports to be false.

The Roxbury Water Company received a $5,000 penalty; Hosking faces a $24,000 fine and a two-year license suspension.

At United Water Toms River, the DEP determined drinking water sources were manipulated so compliance sampling would conceal actual water quality for radionuclides.

In September 2005, Flegal and Ottens both shut down the system's Well No. 35 before a scheduled compliance sampling for radionuclides because they believed that high levels in that water source would trigger an exceedance of the maximum contaminant level for radionuclides.

The water system had previously exceeded the maximum contaminant level for radionuclides, and last February, the DEP fined United Water Toms River $64,000 for failing to provide timely notification to the DEP and to notify the public.

Flegal, a former general manager at United Water Toms River, and Ottens, the system's former operations manager, were fined $5,000 each and face two year license suspensions.

Both the water systems and the licensed operators can appeal the penalties and suspensions before a judge in the Office of Administrative Law.

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Free NASA Internet Software Shows Planets in 3-D Color

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2006 (ENS) - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has updated its World Wind computer program that enables Internet users to explore the Earth and the moon, fly virtually through huge Martian canyons and visit Venus and Jupiter in three-dimensional (3-D) color.

The new version allows users to see some of Jupiter's moons, and to cruise into the depths of Earth's oceans. Computer users from more than 100 nations have acquired the free World Wind program, NASA said Monday.

"The users - from the comfort of their own homes - can visit anyplace on Earth, Mars and other places in the solar system," said Chris Maxwell, lead World Wind developer at NASA Ames Research Center in California.

Users need a standard personal computer with a video card and an Internet connection. More than 10 million users have used World Wind since NASA released it about a year ago.

“NASA World Wind is close to 20 million downloads now,” said Patrick Hogan, program manager for World Wind at NASA Ames, “with around 200,000 new users each week. NASA serves over 100 requests per second for World Wind imagery.”

The program itself is only five megabytes, he said, but data containing place names and imagery make up the rest of the 50-megabyte World Wind download. A version written in the Java computer language that will run on Macintosh and Linux computers is scheduled for release in September 2006.

"NASA is providing the free World Wind program to improve public and researcher access to high-quality imagery and other data," Hogan said.

The computer program can transport Internet users to nearly anywhere on the moon, when they zoom in from a global view to closer pictures of Earth’s natural satellite taken by the Clementine spacecraft in the 1990s.

Launched in early 1994, Clementine took 1.8 million pictures of the lunar surface during a two-month orbit of the moon. Besides allowing a view into space, the program helps users better understand Earth processes, such as changing ozone conditions, ocean temperature, weather and earthquake activity.

"We're working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Department of Defense to deliver their data to the public," Hogan said.

The Department of Defense uses World Wind software and the U.S. National Guard plans to use the software to help respond to natural disasters. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also beginning to use the NASA software.

The program is delivering terabytes of global NASA satellite data that are a result of years of daily observations of precipitation, temperature, barometric pressure and much more. A terabyte is approximately one trillion bytes.

Hurricane Katrina data are part of World Wind's collection of images.

NASA programmers recently increased the resolution of images of Earth from one kilometer resolution to 500 meter resolution in an upgrade called “Blue Marble, Next Generation Earth.”

Some World Wind datasets include images of the entire Earth at 15 meter resolution. World Wind accesses public domain USGS aerial photography and topographic maps, and data from space shuttle missions and the Landsat satellite.

Download the program at:

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