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Eco-Front

Most Small Chemical Companies Not Ready for Y2K, Senate Panel Warns

Small chemical companies may be prone to Y2K bugs that could cause accidents harming surrounding communities, according to a survey released Oct. 21 by the Senate Special Committee on Y2K and the Chemical Safety Board (CSB).

More than 1,400 small chemical firms, including some in Texas, were sampled by Texas A&M University researchers. Nearly 90 percent are unprepared for Y2K and have not coordinated contingency plans with state and local emergency response officials.

Download the report at: <http://www.senate.gov/~y2k/documents/sme_chemrpt.pdf>.

Problem sources: Process-control computers, embedded chips, and power failures. A CSB Y2K brochure for small companies is available at: <http://www.csb.gov/news/1999/docs/smefinal.pdf>, and the March 1999 report can be dowloaded at: <http://www.csb.gov/y2k/docs/y2k01.pdf>.

Other sources: Phil Cogan, CSB, 202-261-7620, <info@csb.gov>; Mike Downey, Texas A&M, 409-845-5524, <m-downey@tamu.edu>. Companies may be on EDF Scorecard at: <http://www.scorecard.org>, or check state environmental agencies or Chris Robichaux , Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, 202-721-4163, <http://www.socma.com>.

How's Your State Handling Coastal Pollution?

Polluted runoff chokes rivers, destroys fisheries, and has been blamed for the Gulf of Mexico's "Dead Zone" and deadly pfiesteria. Is your state meeting federal clean-up requirements?

The 1990 Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) required coastal states to develop plans for reducing runoff from farms, construction, roads, and urban areas. Thirty of 34 coastal states have submitted plans, <http://www.ocrm.nos.noaa.gov/czm/welcome.html>. But only Maryland is proposed for final approval by the December 1999 deadline. Another half-dozen states are expected to receive approval in 2000. But many others are lagging.

The Coast Alliance has analyzed federal findings for each of the states, <http://www.coastalliance.org/runoff.htm>. The group also wants the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to follow the law and make states establish enforceable requirements for cleaning up runoff. House Democrats are accusing Republicans of trying to gut the program in the newest CZMA reauthorization bill (HR 2669).

Contacts: Jacqueline Savitz, Coast Alliance, 202-546-9554, <jsavitz@coastalliance.org>; Peyton Robertson, NOAA, 301-713-3098, ext. 137, <peyton.robertson@noaa.gov>; B-Roll: "The Challenge on the Coast," CNN, 404-827-5104.

EPA Proposes Rule on Radon in Drinking Water

The rule on radon in drinking water that EPA proposed Oct. 19 will affect many localities in the South. The National Academy of Science estimates that radon in the indoor air of homes causes some 20,000 U.S. cancer deaths each year. EPA withdrew a 1991 proposal for a limit of 300 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) after small drinking water systems protested the cost. The new proposal gives systems a choice: Either meet the 300 pCi/L limit or conduct an indoor air campaign while meeting a 4,000 pCi/L limit.

Lung cancer from radon inhalation is the main risk, even from radon in drinking water. Call your state drinking water agency to find out if local water has been tested for radon, and call local water utilities to find out how they will respond. For EPA background, go to <http://www.epa.gov/safewater/radon/proposal.html>. See the Oct. 19 press release at <http://www.epa.gov/epahome/press.htm>. EPA contacts: Sylvia Malm, 202-260-0417; Anita Schmidt, 202-564-9452. Or contact the National Cancer Institute at 800-422-6237 or <http://www.nci.nih.gov> for a Fact Sheet. You may get a filmable demo of how to fix home problems from local remediation specialists, often listed by county health agencies.

Pesticide Battle Looms in Congress

Congress may be poised to reverse its mandate that EPA re-examine the safety of major pesticides. Bills (S1464, HR 1592) to rein in EPA's implementation of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act have garnered 24 Senate and 183 House co-sponsors.

EPA announced in August it is limiting use of some pesticides <http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/announcement8299.htm>.

One pesticide of concern is atrazine, found at high levels in some drinking water in the Midwest, where it is used to protect corn. The Environmental Working Group claimed in July <http://www.ewg.org/pub/home/reports/mouthsofbabes/mouthsofbabes.html> that babies drinking formula powder mixed with tap water can be exposed to dangerous levels of atrazine.

The American Water Works Association <http://www.awwa.org/atrazine.htm> also wants atrazine use restricted. The Farm Bureau criticizes the EPA's review and says atrazine is vital to farms.

To see if atrazine or other pesticides occur in your area's drinking water, query EPA's database at <http://www.epa.gov/enviro/html/sdwis/sdwis_query.html> or contact state health officials, EPA region offices, or your local water utility.

Encephalitis, Mosquito Control, and Malathion

Media focus on September's West Nile-like virus outbreak in New York may have diverted attention from more urgent stories relevant to your area. West Nile is just one of a group of insect-borne viruses causing encephalitis — others are more prevalent and more deadly.

The Big Apple's weak mosquito control program (key to preventing such diseases) may have been a factor in the outbreak. How good is mosquito control in your region? While some health officials avow malathion's safety, environmentalists feared spraying malathion from helicopters onto dense urban areas may have been a cure that was worse than the disease.

Check these clips on Florida malathion spraying: <http://tampatrib.com/news/medfly.htm>.

Cool weather lowers mosquito risks, but it's a long-term story in places like Chicago, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New Orleans, and New York.

To check on this issue in your area, contact Duane Gubler or Ned Hayes at the Centers for Disease Control, 970-221-6400, <http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/dvbid.htm>; Jonathan Day or Walter Tabachnick at the University of Florida, 561-778-7200.

Other links:
Mosquito control: <http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~insects/njmos.htm>.
Malathion: <http://ace.orst.edu/info/extoxnet/pips/malathio.htm>.
EPA factsheet: <http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/citizens/mosquitocontrol.htm>.

Photovoltaics Find a Place in the Sun

Photovoltaic (PV) cells are finding new uses, including home roofing tiles, road signals, isolated structures, and post-disaster relief. Cheaper, more efficient PV cells that are thinner than human hair can be used on windows and building exteriors <http://www.napa.ufl.edu/99news/solar1.htm>.

PV roofing tile allows homeowners to be paid for producing power for the local utility <http://www.smud.org/info/98archiv/1021.html>. For more information, check with utilities, university researchers, businesses, and homeowners in your area. Other links:
American Solar Energy Society (ASES) this month held a tour of homes in 42 states: Larry Sherwood, 303-443-3130, <http://ases.org/hometr>.

Natl. Renewable Energy Lab. can help with local stories: George Douglas, 303-275-4096, <http://www.nrel.gov/media/mediatools.html>.
Aaron Hoover, University of Florida, 352-392-0186. John Castagna, Edison Electric Inst., 202-508-5661, <http://www.eei.org>.
B-Roll: James Auclair, WGBH, 617-492-3079, <footage_sales@wgbh.org>, <http://www.wgbh.org/footage>.

Small Cities Face New Storm Water Rules

Urban areas of less than 100,000 population and smaller developments must soon reduce pollution from storm water runoff as larger cities must do now. EPA head Carol Browner is scheduled to sign a final rule by Oct. 29. The proposed rule would require localities to establish "best management practices " to reduce pollutants including sediment, oil and grease, litter, and pesticides, and to educate the public about runoff.

Environmentalists hail the proposal as protecting human swimmers and the environment (see: http://www.epa.gov/owm/sw/phase2/index.htm). Local public works officials worry about the cost to taxpayers and the impact on development.

Contacts:
Robin Woods, EPA, 202-260-4377; Stephanie Osborn, American Public Works Assn., 202-393-2792, <http://www.apwa.net/>; Ted Morton, American Oceans, 310-576-6162, <http://www.americanoceans.org/runoff/draining.htm>.

Towers Pose Hazard for Migrating Birds

As fall migration begins, birds face an emerging obstacle: "towerkill." An estimated 4-5 million migrating birds die yearly after slamming into TV and radio broadcast and wireless phone towers, experts say.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service convened bird experts at Cornell in August to discuss the problem. The toll is likely to mount as wireless phone and digital TV towers spread. Some 10,000 Lapland Longspurs were killed at a Kansas site in January 1998. Ornithologists will be researching steps to reduce towerkill, and are asking the broadcast and communication industries to help foot the bill.

Contacts:
Al Manville, USFWS, 703-358-1963, <http://www.fws.gov/r9mbmo/issues/tower.html>; Bill Evans (ornithologist), Cornell Univ., 607-272-1786, <http://www.towerkill.com>; Jeff Bobeck, National Assn. of Broadcasters, 202-429-5350, <http://www.nab.org/>; Stanley Temple, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, 608-263-6827; Alan Shark, Amer. Mobile Telecommunications Assn., 202-331-7773, <http://www.imta.org/>.

Scientists Find Pollution Plays Role in Frog Deformities

Agricultural pesticides and other industrial pollutants can trigger frog deformities by acting on thyroid hormones, which regulate development of everything from frogs to people — new findings in October's Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

Pollutants from lake water in Minnesota and Vermont triggered malformations in lab-raised frogs, but scientists find that naturally occurring chemicals in some lakes can exacerbate the pesticides' potency to deform limbs, jaws, eyes, and spine. The findings also suggest how pollution might heighten amphibians' vulnerability to other deformity-provoking agents, such as ultraviolet light or parasites.

Authors:
Douglas Fort, 405-743-1435; James Burkhart, National Inst. of Env. Health Sciences, 919-541-3280.

Other sources:
Judy Helgen, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 651-296-7240; Michael Lannoo, US Coordinator, Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force, 765-285-1050; David Hoppe, Univ. of Minnisota, 320-589-6304.

One sample story: <http://www.sciencenews.org/sn_arc99/10_2_99/fob1.htm>.

For an 80-page environmental hormone resource guide (free to journalists), contact RTNDF, 202-467-5206, <michellet@rtndf.org>.

Audubon Prints Fish-Eater's Scorecard

Grouper or bluefish for dinner tonight? Diners' seafood choices can affect the environment, National Audubon Society says. They've issued a wallet-card to guide seafood-lovers with their ratings of species impact. Thumbs up: Alaskan wild salmon, tilapia, and bluefish. Thumbs down: shrimp (caught and farmed), snapper, swordfish, and grouper.

Sources:
John Bianchi, National Audubon, 212-979-3026, http://magazine.audubon.org/seafood/guide/>; Stephanie Dorezas, Natl. Marine Fisheries Service, 301-713-2370, <http://www.nmfs.gov/>; Ben Sherman, Sea Grant, 202-662-7095, <http://www.seagrantnews.org/>; Andrea Root, Natl. Fisheries Inst., 703-524-8800, http://www.nfi.org.

Information and links provided by the TipSheet, a biweekly publication of the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation and the Environmental Health Center. These are emerging stories you should be hearing about in the press in the coming weeks.

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