AmeriScan: November 12, 2002

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Air Pollution Raises Health Costs for Elderly

BERKELEY, California, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - A new study of elderly Americans shows a strong link between air pollution and higher costs of medical care, particularly for respiratory ailments.

Millions of Medicare records of whites between the ages of 65 and 84 from 1989 to 1991 provided a study sample for researchers Victor Fuchs, professor emeritus at Stanford University, and Sarah Rosen Franks, a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley. They write in the November/December issue of "Health Affairs" that in addition to improving health, less pollution can mean substantial cost savings.

"This study shows that use of medical care is significantly higher in areas with more pollution and that decreased use of care is an important benefit from pollution control," Fuchs and Franks report. "Pollution control offers an important opportunity for further gains in health and reductions in medical care spending."

The researchers examined the medical records and pollution measures in 183 metropolitan areas, adjusting their findings to account for differences in region, population size, education level, income level, percentage of the population that is black, cigarette consumption and obesity.

Comparing cities with the most pollution to those with the least, there was little difference in surgery rates, but there was a 19 percent difference in admissions to a hospital for respiratory conditions. The difference in inpatient care was seven percent between high pollution areas and low pollution areas, but 18 percent for outpatient care.

Air pollution is worst where the population is largest and in the western states, and lowest in Florida and the Rocky Mountain region, the researchers found. Inpatient care did not vary much among regions, but outpatient care was twice as high in Florida as in the Rocky Mountain region.

Hospital admissions were greatest in southeastern states, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Overall, respiratory admissions showed a "very strong relation" to pollution, the authors wrote, although the absolute change is small because of the low number of such admissions.

The authors caution that there is no data that links individual health problems to air pollution and that their statistical methods "establish a presumption of causal relationship but do not constitute absolute proof."

The study was supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Kaiser Family Foundation to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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West Nile Confirmed in Montana Man

HELENA, Montana, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - The first case of West Nile virus contracted by a person in Montana has been confirmed in Yellowstone County, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) confirmed Friday.

The confirmation came after blood samples tested positive at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laboratory. The Billings resident's onset of illness was in mid September, and he required brief hospitalization for meningitis, one of the more severe effects of West Nile virus, but has made a full recovery.

Health officials said a heavy volume of samples awaiting tests at the federal laboratory contributed to the delay in learning of the results. The CDC has diagnosed more than 3,500 West Nile virus cases this year, including more than 200 that resulted in death.

The Billings man had no recent history of traveling outside Montana, so officials are presuming that he acquired the illness in state.

"We have known for months that the virus is in Montana because of its presence in horses and birds, but now we do have our first official human case," said state epidemiologist Dr. Todd Damrow. "Fortunately, because of the onset of winter-like weather, the state health department feels confident that the virus will not spread further in Montana until next spring."

Montana had previously reported two imported cases of the virus, both from people who contracted the illness outside of the state but were diagnosed within Montana.

Because the virus is most serious in horses, veterinarians have worked with Montana livestock owners, as well as hunters, anglers and recreationists who may be exposed to infected mosquitoes. The simplest form of prevention is to avoid mosquitoes by wearing insect repellant containing DEET.

People are also advised to wear long sleeved pants and shirts when outdoors, to make sure doors and screens have no holes where mosquitoes can enter a structure, and to get rid of any standing water where mosquitoes can lay eggs.

West Nile virus spreads when infected mosquitoes feed on birds. The birds then carry the disease with them to new areas as they migrate and are fed on by other mosquitoes, which then become infected carriers.

As of today, health experts have detected the virus in mosquitoes, birds or other animals in all but five of the lower 48 states.

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Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers Find Haven in Florida

CAMP BLANDING, Florida, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker is making a comeback at Camp Blanding, Florida, the Florida National Guard's 73,000 acre training site.

There are more than 40 protected plant and animal species living on Camp Blanding and the thousands of soldiers who work and train here every year are committed to protect the fragile ecosystem, according to the Florida Department of Military Affairs (DMA).

At the crux of the Florida National Guard's efforts to protect the environment, while balancing its training and military readiness missions, is the red-cockaded woodpecker, listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.


Paul Catlett, a forest area supervisor at Camp Blanding, inserts a cavity into a tree that may provide a new home for a family of red cockaded woodpeckers. (Photo courtesy Department of Defense/The National Guard)
"The type of forest the red-cockaded woodpecker likes is best for our training because it's an open kind of forest," said Mike Adams, natural and cultural resource manager with the Florida DMA. "Rather than overgrown with a lot of understory and subcanopy you could almost drive a vehicle through it and not hit anything - that's what both soldiers and [the woodpecker] like."

Once a very populous species, the almost eight-inch tall black and white striped bird is down to less than one percent of its pre-European settlement numbers. Camp Blanding has Florida's second largest red-cockaded woodpecker population.

"The bird inhabits a very specific ecosystem called the long-leaf pine and if the habitat is in good shape then you'll have the red-cockaded woodpecker. If it's in bad shape then you won't have them," Adams said. "The bird is an indicator species of a forest's health."

In 1999, Camp Blanding became the first National Guard facility to move a red-cockaded woodpecker from a healthy, stable population - at Fort Stewart, Georgia - to a recipient site. Fort Stewart has a larger population of the woodpeckers because it is three times the size of Camp Blanding.

At Camp Blanding, the Guard is working to replenish the population of red-cockaded woodpeckers by removing hardwood trees in the long-leaf pine forests, moving birds from another state to Blanding, and creating artificial nesting cavities in the trees.

"The Florida Army National Guard is doing as much or more than federal properties and some state lands," said Ralph Costa, red-cockaded woodpecker recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The goal is 25 woodpecker clusters at Blanding, and they are on their way to attaining it. I am really pleased with their progress."

Of the 5,700 red-cockaded woodpeckers living in the southeast, 1,300 live on private lands and the rest live on federal lands like Camp Blanding, said Costa. Because of growth, the bird's habitat is being destroyed, and military reservations now form some of the species' only havens.

Paul Catlett, forest area supervisor at Camp Blanding, said there are more than 5,000 acres of long-leaf pine on Camp Blanding. But through prescribed burning and by planting new trees, the Florida National Guard is working to boost the number of long-leaf pine trees at Blanding, Catlett said.

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Tennessee Landowners Aid Barrens Topminnow

COOKEVILLE, Tennessee, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - Private landowners are leading the way in helping to rescue a rare Tennessee fish, the barrens topminnow.

For the past several years, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, Tennessee Tech University and the Tennessee Aquarium have lent their help in an ambitious effort to rescue the topminnow. Working alongside has been the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an ecological services field office and three national fish hatcheries and a national wildlife refuge, all part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the non-profit Nature Conservancy and Conservation Fisheries, Inc. (CFI).

But the partners that Brad Bingham, of the USFWS ecologicial services field office in Cookeville, Tennessee, points to with the most pride are 15 private landowners who have done something on their land to help save this little fish. All known historic and existing topminnow habitat exists on private property, and Bingham noted that any success depends on support and cooperation from local citizens and landowners.

"We wouldn't be as successful as we are if not for these private landowners," Bingham said. "They are basically what keeps this project going."

All the landowners, Bingham said, either raise cattle or crops on relatively small plots - 200 acres or less - but they all share a common passion: an interest in helping to save a fish that once was far more common in Tennessee than it is today. They have kept it going so well, in fact, that one of their number ? Harold (Bud) Clayborne, of Viola, Tennessee, was the recipient last year of a UFSWS regional conservation award.

The topminnow was once common across Tennessee's Highland Rim and the barrens region. Threats posed by declining water quality and habitat loss began squeezing the topminnow population, but another major problem is the western mosquitofish, which has spread across much of the south.

The mosquitofish, so named because mosquitoes are one of its favorite meals, is prized for the same reason, although others doubt that the fish makes much of a difference in control of the insect. Another of its favorite meals is topminnow fry, and Pat Rakes of CFI believes that is what has helped push the topminnow to be classified as a threatened species by the state of Tennessee.

Rakes said the mosquitofish, a voracious eater and rapid reproducer, has been implicated in the decline of other fish species as well. With predators, drought, habitat fragmentation and the odds of survival working against it, the topminnow was pushed into only two known locations in the wild by the 1990s.

Rakes and Bingham and all of their partners are now working to meet a conservation goal of 15 secure barrens topminnow populations within the species' historic range, or at least five protected populations in the Duck, Caney Fork and Elk Rivers.

"This is the kind of project that the Fish and Wildlife Service loves to be a part of," said USFWS director Steve Williams. "We're able to pitch in with our partners, help rescue a species in trouble, link up with private landowners and, down the line, gradually enhance recreational fishing. This is like four home runs all at once."

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Solar Power Generated Atop Navy Carport

SAN DIEGO, California, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Navy has deployed the largest federal solar photovoltaic system in the nation on a carport at Naval Base Coronado in San Diego.

The installation includes two contiguous solar arrays, covering a half-mile long parking structure that serves U.S. Navy personnel. In addition to providing shade for parked cars, the system generates enough energy during the day to power more than 935 homes.

The 750 kilowatt (kW) solar electric system will reduce the base's demand on California's power grid, and improve air quality by avoiding the emission of thousands of tons of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions.

"The deployment of solar power at Navy Region Southwest demonstrates the Navy's commitment to using energy management practices that reduce energy consumption and control costs," said Commander Pat Rios, the base's public works officer. "Using clean generation is very consistent with our base's mission of leveraging superior operational expertise and technologies."

The 750 kW solar electric system was implemented as part of an energy savings performance contract (ESPC) project developed by NORESCO. The photovoltaic system was designed, manufactured and installed by PowerLight Corporation. The photovoltaic system will produce about 1,244,000 kWh per year and is expected to save over $228,000 in annual operating costs by avoiding purchases of expensive peak electricity.

"Solar power proved to be the ideal energy solution for Naval Base Coronado," said Lieutenant Commander Wade Wilhelm, Navy Region Southwest utilities program manager. "The photovoltaic system combines the environmental benefits of solar with the ability to provide on site power that serves to reduce our vulnerability to disruptions of the power grid."

The energy project was made possible through the Department of Energy's Western Region Super ESPC, developed and executed by the Navy's ESPC team comprised of the Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Contracts Office.

"Installing solar photovoltaics at governmental agencies and private corporations is a sound, sensible way for us to use distributed energy resources to meet our renewable energy goals as well as reduce operating costs," noted Beth Shearer, director of the Federal Energy Management Program. "In addition, deploying these technologies assures our energy independence and national security."

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Toxic Areas, Poor Neighborhoods Coincide in Phoenix

PHOENIX, Arizona, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - Some of the Phoenix area's poorest neighborhoods also have the region's highest concentration of toxic hazards, conclude two new studies by researchers at Arizona State University (ASU).

Bob Bolin and Edward Hackett, sociology professors working with the ASU Center for Environmental Studies, say a clear pattern of association exists in the Phoenix metropolitan area between socioeconomic characteristics, the presence of contamination sites and the volume of emissions. The research finds the higher the median household income is within an area, the less likely those neighborhoods are to have contamination sites nearby.

According to one study, "The Ecology of Technological Risk in a Sunbelt City," published in the journal "Environment and Planning A," hazardous sites are concentrated among low income and ethnic minority neighborhoods of Latino, black and Native American residents in Phoenix. A second companion study, "Environmental Equity in a Sunbelt City," supports the findings by mapping polluting industries in metro Phoenix in relationship to demographic composition of their neighborhoods.

The ASU research points to a social injustice of post-World War II development.

"Metropolitan Phoenix's high hazard corridors reflect a variety of recent planning and zoning decisions that have failed to protect low income and minority residents from the presence of industrial and commercial hazards in their neighborhoods," the study concludes.

The researchers mapped areas of potential risk using data sets for four major types of technological hazards and Superfund sites in Maricopa County extracted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Right to Know Network.

Bolin, principal investigator of the study, and colleagues Hackett and Amy Nelson, say Phoenix's history of racial segregation has left a pattern referred to in the study as a riskscape.

"The current distribution of hazardous industries in Phoenix is part of an aggregate riskscape that also includes sites of pronounced land and groundwater contamination from military, commercial and municipal polluters," Bolin said. "A majority of these polluted sites are concentrated in or near areas with significant (current or historical) commercial or industrial activity to the south and west of central city."

Bolin said Phoenix differs from older industrial cities cited in previous environmental justice studies because it lacks distinct working class neighborhoods adjacent to factories.

Diane Sicotte, an ASU doctoral student who helped write the studies, said that some of the research examining patterns of social inequalities oversimplifies the issue. The research assumes that if hazardous industry occupied an area before low income minority people moved there, then no inequality exists.

"These are very complex issues to consider because land uses are not race or class neutral," Sicotte said. "However, the oversimplified answer in this instance is that people were clearly there before the industry."

While doing dissertation research on an environmental justice controversy in Phoenix, Sicotte created a map showing the concentration of commercial hazardous waste disposal businesses extending along Phoenix's main rail transportation corridor. Minorities have settled along these corridors since Phoenix was founded.

These types of areas tend to offer the most affordable land, but also, in times of segregation, racial minorities were forced to live south of the Salt River near the railroad tracks, Sicotte said.

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University of Florida Building Biodiversity Institute

GAINESVILLE, Florida, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - A $3 million gift will help make the University of Florida (UF) an international leader in the study of biodiversity and the environment.

The gift, from the Minnesota based William W. McGuire and Nadine M. McGuire Family Foundation, will establish a new program to be named the McGuire Institute for Biodiversity and the Environment. Located within the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, the first of its kind institute will focus on the ecological importance of biodiversity and keeping use of the natural environment in balance with human needs by establishing an endowment to support this field of study.

Research conducted at the institute may lead to the development of drought resistant crops, which may be needed because of rain belt shifts caused by global warming, or to help save and allow the reintroduction of endangered plant and animal species. Some of these endangered species are considered important indicators of harmful environmental factors that may be causing their destruction.

"Biodiversity, the extraordinary array of plant and animal species that keeps every part of our world functioning, is being recognized as an extremely important issue through this gift," said Thomas Emmel, a professor and director of UF's Division of Lepidoptera Research who also directs the McGuire Center in which the institute will be located. "This new institute will marshal incredible resources and talents at UF to help lead us toward a more sustainable future regarding ecology and the environment, and help us solve some of the world's most pressing problems before it is too late."

Emmel said he hopes the institute also will be able to provide an environmental crisis assessment team that could help develop peaceful and environmentally responsible solutions to problems that will benefit humanity, such as fish or animal population reductions caused by mining and its introduction of heavy metals into rivers.

Institute officials expect to bring together researchers from disciplines throughout UF, including the Genetics Institute and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Emmel said. The gift also establishes a fund to produce publications on biodiversity, the environment, ecology and Lepidoptera - butterflies and moths - as well as to support faculty, researchers and staff.

In 2000, the McGuire's gift of $4.2 million established The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Environmental Research now under construction adjacent to the Florida Museum of Natural History. The biodiversity institute will be located in the new 46,000 square foot center, to be named McGuire Hall, which will house one of the world's largest collections of butterflies and moths and the associated research facilities for their study.

"The institute will bring together the great human and collection resources already located at the University of Florida into one unit that will focus on and foster a wide range of research and educational opportunities with biodiversity and environmental concerns," said Dr. Bill McGuire. "It will help bring to the forefront of human concern the great need to preserve the Earth's biodiversity, and address the environmental and human population issues that are adversely impacting the world around us in the 21st century."

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Trees Save San Antonio Millions Each Year

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, November 12, 2002 (ENS) - Tree cover around San Antonio is saving the city about $70 million a year in ecological services, shows a study released today by conservation group American Forests.

American Forests conducted an Urban Ecosystem Analysis (UEA) of 788,000 acres of the greater San Antonio area to show changes in tree cover over time. The study revealed the value of the area's tree cover for storm water management, air quality and energy conservation.

The study not only calculated the functional value of trees but also serves as an introduction for the city leaders to learn about ways to use tree cover as an asset, building a green infrastructure for future city management decisions. American Forests will work with the community over the next year to help integrate trees into planning and management operations.

"Based on this study, City Public Service (CPS) will develop a comprehensive tree planting and preservation program called 'Planting Our Future,' which will help improve air quality in San Antonio and save CPS customers on air conditioning costs," said Milton Lee, CPS general manager and CEO.

The UEA technique conducted in San Antonio used satellite and aerial imagery, geographic information system technology, and scientific research to calculate the benefits trees provide to the urban environment. American Forests' CITYgreen(r) computer software was used to analyze the environmental benefits of the greater San Antonio area.

The findings show that in the greater San Antonio area, the existing tree cover reduces storm water runoff by 678 million cubic feet during a storm event. Storm water construction costs to contain this same amount of storm water would be valued at about $1.35 billion.

Besides reducing storm water runoff, the tree canopy provides also removes 17 million pounds of pollutants a year, a value estimated at $42.1 million a year. The city's urban forest stores an estimated seven million tons of carbon and sequesters almost 56,000 additional tons of carbon each year.

Trees also help shade and cool the greater San Antonio area. Long, hot summers force residents to use their air conditioners at an approximate cost of $555 dollars per home each year. Residential shade trees were shown to save each home an average of $76 a year.

Assuming that 67.8 percent of the area's residences have air conditioners, based on U.S. Census Bureau figures, the estimated annual residential energy savings totals $17.7 million.

These benefits become more important with the realization that tree canopy has been lost over the last 15 years. The analysis compared classified Landsat(tm) satellite images between 1985 and 2001 and revealed a 23 percent loss in heavy tree canopy cover - 50 percent or greater tree cover - over this time period.

"The study shows that San Antonio's trees are a vital municipal asset," said Gary Moll, vice president of American Forests' urban forest center. "In the next phase of the study, we will use high resolution, multi-spectral imagery to exam these numbers more closely and analyze them by different land cover and land use categories."