News Briefs : Planetary health - Environmental Science & Technology

News Briefs : Planetary health. Environ. Sci. Technol. , 2001, 35 (15), pp 323A–323A. DOI: 10.1021/es012420+. Publication Date (Web): August 1, 2001...
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Microbes show promise for bioremediating plutonium the most toxic radionuclides in DOE’s waste sites, it has gone largely ignored by bioremediation researchers. “It’s a complex chemical and difficult to handle,” Palmisano says. “Mary Neu is one of the few to pursue this.” The team of researchers studied the microbe Microbacterium flavescens, which is a relatively common microorganism. M. flavescens takes in nutrient iron by way of siderophoreslow molecular weightchelating agents that bind with iron and transport it into the microbe. Although some Scientistshave show n thatbacteria can take up plutonium microbes can produce becausetheybindfirsttothemulticoloredsiderophore,then siderophores, M. flaveto the protein depicted in thiscomputer-generated image. scens’s inability to produce them allowed the researchers to accucientists at Los Alamos Nationrately control the siderophore conal Laboratory led by Mary Neu centrations in their experiments. have shown for the first time Neu’s team had previously found that a microorganism can take up noteworthy similarities in the strucplutonium (Pu) using the same tures of the complex that iron mechanism by which it ingests forms with siderophores and the iron. Their discovery could have plutonium–siderophore complex, wide-ranging implications for fuleading them to speculate that bacture bioremediation efforts and for teria could take up plutonium. In more accurate predictions of how this study, they used the sideroplutonium and other actinides inphore desferrioxamine-B (DFOB), teract with their environment. bound with Pu, iron (Fe), and uraCold War-era weapons producnium (U). The researchers incubattion has left soil and groundwater ed separate complexes of Pu(IV)– at U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) DFOB, Fe(III)–DFOB and U(VI)– sites seriously contaminated. Anna DFOB with the bacteria, then prePalmisano, program manager at pared stock metal solutions with DOE’s Natural and Accelerated Bio“spikes of radionuclides” and mearemediation Research Program, says sured the uptake of each element that although plutonium is one of by liquid scintillation counting.


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As suspected, the team found that M. flavescens did take up plutonium, although at a much slower rate than it consumed the iron. Further, the two complexes (Pu– DFOB and Fe–DFOB) mutually inhibited the uptake of the other, indicating that they compete for the same binding sites or transport mechanisms in the microbe. Only living bacteria were capable of taking up the siderophore complexes. Importantly, the researchers also discovered that the microorganism did not take up uranium. Neu says she expected that result based upon the differences in the uranium– siderophore and iron–siderophore complexes. There’s no reason to believe that M. flavescens is unique in its ability to take up plutonium using siderophores. In fact, Neu writes that the interaction of Pu–DFOB with M. flavescens “represents a potentially universal system” and hypothesizes that other bacteria, fungi, and even plants will be able to ingest plutonium. The research on M. flavescens, she says, “suggests a major pathway for environmental mobility and entry into the food chain for plutonium.” Gary Sayler, professor of microbiology at the University of Tennessee, agrees that a microbe’s ability to bioaccumulate plutonium probably is not limited to M. flavescens. Almost all microbes, even pathogens, are actively searching for iron in the environment, Sayler says. To capture this critical trace element, many develop siderophores or parasitically use the siderophores of other organisms. However, Sayler adds that although the type of siderophore (DFOB) studied by Neu is widespread, other classes of © 2001 American Chemical Society

The research also opens the door to new applications in bioremediation, says Palmisano, whose office funded Neu’s work. She calls Neu’s research a “breakthrough” that suggests new ideas for plutonium containment. “Could we chelate and mobilize plutonium? Or sequester it with microorganisms to produce a biobarrier? I’m not saying we could do this tomorrow, but we can begin to think long-term.” ROBIN SUSSINGHAM

Coal Council finds power at existing plants Rather than build new coal-fired power plants, the U.S. government should look at existing facilities, according to an independent panel established to advise the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The National Coal Council figures that a whopping 40,000 megawatts (MW) of new energy, enough to power 40 million homes, could be obtained from upgrading existing facilities if those plants underwent equipment overhauls. As much as 10,000 MW of that power could be generated quickly, within three to nine months, with some simple equipment upgrades. But before these steps can be taken, the U.S. EPA needs to revise its permitting system, known as the New Source Review (NSR) requirements, for plant operators seeking to upgrade equipment for additional generating capacity, the council members say. “The problem is that the new source requirements take so doggone-long that you never get to an endpoint,” says Bob Beck, the council’s executive director. “We want to streamline that process.” The council includes representatives from coal and power compa-

nies, universities, and some natural resource groups. The report has rekindled a debate between coal and utility industry advocates and environmentalists on the fairness of the NSR program. Environmental groups charge that these projects extend the life of old, dirty power plants, allowing them to emit high levels of NOx, SO2, and fine particulates without installing control equipment. This wasn’t supposed to happen when Congress wrote the Clean Air Act in 1977, says John Walke, director of clean air programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Expected for release in mid-June, the council’s study has two major sections, one focusing on technologies that could provide more energy from existing plants while improving efficiency, and another reviewing the policy hurdles preventing operators from upgrading their plants. Enhancing the current technologies, such as by using more efficient turbine blades, packing the turbine blades tighter so they spin faster, or installing parts made of materials that allow hotter steam in the generator, can be put in place fairly

Government Watch “Black triangle” is greening up Air quality in the region where the borders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany meet has improved dramatically from 1989 to 1999. The cleaner air is a result of ambitious government programs to reduce emissions from industry, traffic, and households, according to a joint report issued by environmental agencies in the three countries. PHOTODISC

siderophores exist which may not show the same ability to transport plutonium. Sayler points out that Neu’s research has ecological significance in that iron and plutonium are clearly competing for the same uptake mechanism. Those organisms that take up plutonium rather than iron will be less successful, resulting in a change of the microbial environment.

Nicknamed the “black triangle” because of notoriously bad air quality, the governments have succeeded in cutting sulfur dioxide emissions by 92%, nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%, and particulates by 96% over the 10-year period. These cuts put air quality in the region on a comparable level with the rest of the European Union (EU), says Dagmar Kallweit of the German environment agency in Berlin. Many of the reductions came about because many old factories and power plants were shut down, butsurprisinglyroad traffic in the region has dramatically increased during the same time, Kallweit notes. Nevertheless, the Continued on Page 317A



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it could bolster efforts to implement President Bush’s energy policy. “We certainly give them a technological basis to support what they want to do,” Beck says. The report includes other ad-

vice, such as asking DOE to work with EPA to coordinate regulations for ozone attainment. For a copy of the report, go to www.national CATHERINE M. COONEY

Dumping of mining wastes under scrutiny Although dumping mining tailings in the sea is illegal in the United States and Canada, it has been gaining favor among North American mining companies doing business in the South Pacific. But this practice received a blow on May 4 when Sonny Keraf, Indonesian Minister of Environmental Affairs, announced he would no longer issue permits for ocean disposal of these tailings at a meeting with local and international environmental activists. Tailings from gold, silver, and copper mines are dumped in the ocean at five sites, and mining companies have asked for assessments at 25 other potential disposal sites in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, says Catherine Coumans, research coordinator at MiningWatch Canada, an environmental group. The Indonesian suspension of permits highlights a controversy over the environmental impacts of ocean disposal, a disposal method that has not been studied enough to justify its use, some scientists say.

Mining tailings are finely ground rock that is rich in metal sulfides, which when exposed to oxygen and bacteria become oxidized to sulfuric acid and dissolved metals. This toxic cocktail can kill freshwater aquatic life and threaten human health when tailings dams at mining sites fail, says Tom Pedersen, oceanographer at the University of British Columbia and a mining company consultant. Avoiding such accidents through ocean disposal of tailings is an attractive alternative to land disposal for mining companies that operate in regions that are mountainous, earthquake-prone, or that experience high rainfall, Pedersen explains. Fresh tailings deposited at ocean depths below 200 m are shielded from oxygen and covered with natural sediment, making them chemically secure forever, Pedersen claims. “You rent the seafloor for a limited period, and then it recovers,” he says. Other scientists aren’t so sure. “There is not much independent MININGWATCH CANADA

quickly, Beck says. Many of these technologies provide a small boost of electricity, he adds. For longer-term projects that could increase capacity significantly, old plants could be repowered using a single steam generation unit equipped with emissions controls, for example, or with an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) unit. The newer “greenfield” plants could also be switched to IGCC, or operators could install pulverized coal combustion in supercritical steam plants, the council writes. The reason why operators have not enthusiastically embraced these technologies in recent years is because of EPA’s interpretation of the CAA’s NSR requirements, which outline steps an operator must take before installing the control equipment, Beck says. Established in 1977 by Congress, NSR requires an operator to apply for a new permit if any equipment change results in an increase in emissions of NOx, SO2, and fine particulates. In 1998, the council says, EPA altered its enforcement procedures for NSR, such that an operator could be in violation of the CAA when a shortterm effort, as well as a repowering project, is undertaken without a NSR permit. EPA subsequently sued several companies. Environmentalists assert that the NSR program doesn’t prohibit repowering projects but rather requires that an increase in emissions be cleaned up, says NRDC’s Walke. “For projects that are consistent with [industry’s] rhetorical claims to improve efficiency and to improve performance, they know as well as we do that the new source review is not an impediment. What they are really saying is that they want to be able to increase pollution significantly without cleaning up that pollution,” Walke says. Walke notes that the recommendation from Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force that EPA revise regulations hampering coalfired plant upgrades lines up with the coal council’s report. Although Beck says he did not send the report to the task force, he agrees that

Increasingly,w aste from mineson Pacific islands,such asthisnow -defunctcoppermine in the Philippines,isbeing piped outto the deep ocean fordisposal.



Government Watch region is well poised to comply with most of the EU emissions limits set to go into effect in 2010, she adds.

EU goes organic

research on ocean tailings disposal, and a broader look needs to be taken of the issue,” says Geoff Plumlee, geochemist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Each site proposed for tailings disposal in the ocean requires a costly analysis using bathymetric, geophysical, chemical, remote sensing, engineering, and other advanced technologies, he notes in a report that he and a number of USGS scientists prepared at the behest of the Philippine government. The November 2000 USGS report, which assessed the environmental impact of deep-water disposal of tailings near the Philippine island of Marinduque, led the Philippine government to back off from ocean tailings disposal at that site, Coumans says. Placer Dome, Inc., the Canadian mining company responsible for the tailings, still insists the project would be safe, she adds. There haven’t been any studies of the cumulative impacts of the sites, which can contain as much as 200−300 million tons of tailings and cover several square miles of seafloor, Plumlee explains. Deep currents must be studied over the course of a year and during storms to avoid the resuspension of tailings. Another concern is the integrity of the outfall pipe, which must plummet to depths of more than 100 m to protect deep “pinnacle”

reefs from being smothered by tailings, he says. Such careful analysis did not form the basis for permits to U.S.based Newmont Corp. to dump mining tailings at North Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, says Keraf. The Minahasa mine in North Sulawesi discharged tailings in shallow, near-shore areas at 70 m deep, in areas with complex current regimes, and a variety of habitats. However, there was evidence of tailings considerably shallower in the bay, possibly because of the outfall or other, illegal operations nearby, thus potentially affecting coral reefs and other aquatic habitat important to fisheries, says Brenda Burd, research associate at the Canadian Institute of Ocean Sciences, Sidney, British Columbia, and a mining company consultant. If done correctly, deep ocean disposal can permanently secure toxic tailings forever, something that can’t be said of land-based tailings dams, Pedersen insists. But the disposal sites in the Pacific have had a sorry record of pipe breaks, resuspension of tailings, and metal poisoning of fish and people, Coumans counters. With little regulation and government oversight, the impacts of disposing of mine tailings in the ocean are much more devastating and widespread than predicted by the companies, she says. JANET PELLEY


W hen deep ocean disposalofmining w aste isattempted in shallow seas,tailingscan back up and rupture the discharge pipe.

In what has been hailed as a breakthrough for the European organic farming movement, ministers from 12 countries signed a nonbinding declaration calling for the development of an action plan within two years to promote organic farming. The signatoriesgroups representing European farmers, consumers, and environmentalists want European governments and the European Commission (EC) to develop a marketbased, Europeanwide strategy to encourage the growth of organic farming after analyzing the growth potential for producing, processing, trading, and consuming organic products. Officials from eight European Union (EU) countriesAustria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdomjoined by Estonia, Lithuania, Norway, and Switzerland, signed the so-called Copenhagen Declaration at a meeting in May. The declaration passed another hurdle in June when the ministers passed it to the EC, which can now develop an action plan that all EU governments can follow. Meeting organizers believe that the endorsement of German Agriculture Minister Renate Kuenast, in particular, will give the declaration a high profile at the EU level. Kuenast says she wants one-fifth of all agriculture in Germany to be organic within 10 years. Continued on Page 319A



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Environmental M News Snowmobiles are responsible for 77% of the hydrocarbon (HC) emissions in Yellowstone National Park each year even though they only represent a very small percentage of vehicles that annually visit the park, according to new research by Gary Bishop and colleagues at the University of Denver (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2001, 35 (14), 2874–2881). Although the National Park Service approved plans earlier this year to phase in a recreational snowmobile ban in Yellowstone, enthusiasts argue that cleaner technology could be the compromise. Bishop developed snowmobile emissions data based on field tests done in Yellowstone during the 1998–1999 winter season. Bishop and co-workers measured the emissions of 1385 visitor snowmobiles at two entrances. According to their year-round fuel-based comparative studies with buses, recreational vehicles, trucks, cars, and snow coaches (buses fitted to travel over snow) in the park, in addition to HC emissions, snowmobiles account for 27% of the total annual carbon monoxide (CO) emissions. Bishop confirms that over-the-snow vehicles individ-

ually emit higher amounts of HCs and CO than on-road vehicles, but because on-road vehicles use dramatically more fuel in the park during the summer, emissions essentially balance when compared by season (see bar graph below).


Increased numbers of snowmobile enthusiasts in U.S. national parks have created concerns over their environmental impact. President Bush is upholding a Clinton administration National Park Service Winter Use Decision finalized in April 2001, which calls for a snowmobile phaseout for visitors to Yellowstone. Although park personnel must still use snowmobiles for access and rescue, visitors will be encouraged to tour in snow coaches. Snowmobile use will be capped in 2001–2002 based on his2100 toric peak uses, Buses RVs 1800 reduced by Trucks 50% in 2002– Cars 1500 2003, and Snow Coaches Snowmobiles banned in 1200 2003–2004. The International 900 Snowmobile Manufacturers 600 Association has sued the De300 partment of 0 the Interior to CO HC eliminate the Pollutant Source: Adapted from Bishop et al. (2001). ban. Marsha Although snow mobilesare onlyused in the w inter,theyare responsiKarle, chief of ble forthe majorityofairpollution in Yellow stone NationalPark.

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public affairs for Yellowstone, which covers 2.2 million acres in northwest Wyoming and southern Montana and had more than 4 million visitors in 1999. About 60,000 used snowmobiles. She explains that the ban is based on snowmobile emissions, noise, and hazards to inexperienced users and animals. Bison are a particular concern because the stress of snowmobiles near their habitats threatens their fat reserves and ultimate winter survival. She also notes the need to address the number of cars and RVs. Sean Smith of the Bluewater Network, a nonprofit environmental organization, expresses the group’s support for the snow coach because it “reduces the number of engines in the park—up to 13 people in a van reduces the need for approximately 7 snowmobiles,” which reduces pollution and congestion. Bishop claims that “local air quality from snowmobiles can be bad if you get a lot of them sitting around idling [like at the park entrances].” Improvement in snowmobile design may be the key to negotiation. Most snowmobiles in use today have a two-stroke engine that expels 25–30% unburned fuel by design. Lori Fussell, executive director of the nonprofit Institute of Science, Ecology, and the Environment, has extensively researched snowmobile emissions and says that “noise and emissions issues associated with snowmobiles can be solved through technological innovation—so a ban based solely on these issues seems unnecessary.” Snowmobilers, such as Brad Loomis, who rents and sells snowmobiles in West Yellowstone, WY, says that prohibiting snowmobiles would seriously affect the economy of the area. He says snowmobilers are taking steps to be more environmentally friendly by using clean burning synthetic oil and gasohol. Loomis says he would be amenable INTERNATIONAL SNOWMOBILE MANUFACTURERS ASSOC.

Discord over snowmobiles

Government Watch U.S. DOE sued over air conditioner efficiency standards The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) delay and potential weakening of a rule finalized during the Clinton administration to tighten the energy efficiency standards of home air conditioners and heat pumps is under fire from three state attorneys general, environmentalists, and consumer groups. If the rule is changed as the DOE has planned, the energy efficiency losses would require the construction of 60 average-sized, 300-megawatt (MW) power plants, the groups say. With DOE’s relaxation, the nation would emit another 45 million metric tons of carbon from 2006 to 2030, equaling carbon emissions from 30 million cars for one year, according to calculations by the environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). DOE officials say that the Clinton standard, known as a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio of 13 (SEER 13), would make air conditioners too costly, especially for low-income consumers, because it is harder for them to wait for the payback period, or the time any changes pay for themselves in lower monthly utility bills. The estimated price increase under SEER 13 is $335 with a payback period of 11plus years, DOE officials say, while DOE’s suggested SEER 12 would result in a $213 price increase over 9.8 years. The industry group, the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute, filed a lawsuit over the Clinton standard. NRDC, the state attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, and California, the nonprofit, proconsumer Consumers Federation of America, and the nonprofit Public Utility Law Project, which provides assistance to low-income consumers, filed a lawsuit on June 19 against DOE for its delay. “Under federal law, DOE can’t change an energy efficiency standard to make it weaker,” notes NRDC senior attorney Katherine Kennedy. DOE officials say they can legally postpone the rule, and repropose a new one, because they intervened before it became effective on Feb. 2. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card issued a memo postponing the effective date of all regulations published in the Federal Register during the Clinton term, but that had not yet taken effect. The plaintiffs argue that Card’s memo exempts rules required by federal law, and the SEER is dictated by the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987, says NRDC spokesperson Kathy Parrent. CATHERINE M. COONEY

to stricter emission regulation or even park limits, adding that he offers a four-stroke model with improved fuel efficiency. Karle acknowledges that “[fourstroke snowmobiles] are probably cleaner, but are they clean enough?” She emphasizes that “cleaner, quieter machines don’t really deal with all of the issues that


Brits find soldiers suffer from depleted uranium

are of concern to us” and sees minimal impact to local economy because of the six national forests surrounding Yellowstone that allow snowmobiles. “Parks are not being closed, they are still available for public access, just a different manner of public access,” says Karle. —RACHEL PETKEWICH

A number of soldiers exposed to depleted uranium (DU) under battle conditions may have double the average risk of developing lung cancer, according to a report by a U.K. scientific academy. But the risk of developing leukemias and other cancers is likely to be very low. Soldiers who survive a tank hit by a DU shell or enter a vehicle after impact are at highest risk, according to the report from The Royal Society. In the worst case, they have a risk of 123 in 1000 of developing lung cancer, compared with 58 in 1000 for the general population. This assumes that they inhale 5 g of DU. However, the report’s “best guess” for this category puts the risk at 59 in 1000. Soldiers responsible for retrieving damaged vehicles run a lower risk: 24 in 1000 in the worst case, assuming they inhale 2 g of dust, but only 0.025 in 1000 in the best guess scenario. Those working on the battlefield, including peacekeeping forces currently in the Balkans, run a very low risk. The worst case for battlefield workers is 1.9 per 10,000, and the best guess 3.7 in 10 million. The risk of developing other cancers is likely to be less than 5 in 1 million for all possible levels of exposure. The report authors suggest that further research is essential to test the worst cases. They advise that Gulf and Balkan War veterans be monitored for DU and that new procedures be developed for “improved and timely” monitoring of veterans of future conflicts. The Royal Society panel only considered radiation-induced cancers; the society will publish another report later this year looking at DU’s chemical toxicity and its long-term environmental impact.



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M ethane emissionsare being measured from sheep.

Australian vaccine blocks ruminant burps Australian agricultural researchers trying to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have launched major field trials of a vaccine that reduces methane emissions from sheep and cattle. The country’s 140 million sheep and cattle produce one-seventh of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions, measured in carbon dioxide equivalents. Globally, agriculture is estimated to account for half of the methane liberated as a result of human activity. Domestic

ruminants produce two-thirds of this gas. The methane vaccine, which is injected under the skin, discourages methanogenic archaea that live in the animal’s rumen and produce methane by breaking down feed. Archaea are morphologically similar to bacteria, but their biochemistry and genetics place them in a separate taxonomic category or domain. In addition to the stomachs of ruminants, they also inhabit extreme environments like hot

springs and hypersaline pools. Methane is a waste gas that ruminants burp out, according to Sue Baker, a member of the CSIRO (Australia’s federal science agency) research team. If methane production stops, there’s no negative impact on the animal. In fact, it’s beneficial, she says. CSIRO researchers expect that the vaccine will also produce modest gains in the animals’ weights and wool production because less methane production should leave more nutrients for the animal. In the past three years of research using a number of prototype vaccines on sheep, researchers have observed a reduction in methane production of between 11 and 23%. No long- or short-term adverse effects on the sheep have been found, according to CSIRO researcher Rob Kelly. He expects the commercial vaccine will reduce methane emissions by about 20% in these animals— equivalent to a reduction of 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. —REBECCA RENNER

A study near southern California’s legendary Huntington Beach has found that a nearby reconstructed saltwater marsh, Talbert Marsh, is contaminating the coastal bathing waters with bacteria from bird droppings (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2001, 35 (12), 2407–2416). The study raises the question of whether wetlands developed for wildlife habitat can be a significant source of contamination in coastal swimming waters. Other salt marshes in the continental United States could be affecting the water quality of nearby beaches, according to environmental engineer Stanley Grant, who led the research team from the University of California–Irvine. “We thought there were multiple sources for the bacteria at Huntington Beach. What we’ve found is that the marsh is one of those sources. This beach is ground zero for what could be a national issue.” 320 A


“This study makes an important there is growing concern about contribution because, thanks to its pathogens in marsh bird feces. careful design and execution, the The study comes at a time when authors can conclude with certainty regulators in the United States, Eurthat high levels of enterococci are opean Union, and World Health associated with the marsh birds Organization (WHO) are working and that these levels are high on guidance and standards for recenough to affect water quality advireational water quality. The United sories,” says microbiologist Mark States has no national standards; Sobsey at the University of North such efforts have been stalled since Carolina–Chapel Hill. Although enthe 1980s. Instead, states use a variterococcus bacteria are harmless, they are one of several indicator bacteria used as a surrogate measure for the presence of pathogens that can make people sick in recreational waters. This is because the indicator bacteria occur in feces that contain the pathogens. Although human feces cause the greatest concern because they conBird droppingsfrom a saltmarsh are contaminating tain the most pathogens, California’sHuntington Beach.



California salt marsh contaminates swimming beach

Government Watch Biodiesel at public pumps

ety of methods, but the U.S. EPA is currently developing nationwide guidance. The European Union has community-wide standards, which are currently being revised, and WHO, in cooperation with EPA, is developing international standards. The scientists found that the short residence time of tidal waters moving through Talbert Marsh flushes bird droppings into coastal waters before bacteria and pathogens can be destroyed. Environmental engineers are already working on ways to identify salt marshes that could pose problems and to find ways to address them. “The design of wildlife wetlands is in the dark ages,” says ecological engineer Alexander Horne. “The birds aren’t the problem, it’s our ignorance about design.” He is working with Grant to design wetlands

Waste company wins NAFTA court dispute


The first two public filling stations offering biodiesel fuel in the United States opened in San Francisco and Sparks, NV, in May. Biodiesel is an alternative fuel made with a modified vegetable oil that burns more cleanly than petroleum-based diesel, replacing noxious emissions with the smell of doughnuts or French fries. No modifications are required to allow diesel engines to run on pure biodiesel or a blend of any biodiesel and standard petroleum diesel. San Francisco airport shuttles and buses that run in California’s Yosemite Park are currently fueled by biodiesel, but they rely on bulk deliveries rather than filling stations. Western Energetix opened a pump in Sparks, NV, that dispenses B20, a blend containing 20% biodiesel fuel. The fuel is formulated from the 50,000 gallons of restaurant grease used annually in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and standard diesel. Russ Teall, chairman of Biodiesel Industries, says that the fuel has been well received by station consumers. Olympian’s San Francisco station sells B100, which is 100% soybean oil minus the glycerin. Most customers mix their own 20% blend. Tom Burke, Olympian’s division manager of cardlocks and mobile fueling, reports sales of 700 gallons at the pump in the first month. Because biodiesel fuel cuts greenhouse gas emissions associated with automobiles by 78%, environmentalists support biodiesel. Elisa Lynch, campaign director of the nonprofit Bluewater Network, helped promote the opening of the San Francisco pump because, she says, it is an important way to move people from dependence on fossil fuels. The European biodiesel market is more mature. Thirty-four percent of all European cars have diesel engines. Biodiesel made from rapeseed oil, known in the United States as canola oil, is sold at approximately 1000 stations in Germany alone. The European Union is looking into legislation that will mandate the inclusion of vegetable oil percentages in all diesel supplies. —RACHEL PETKEWICH

that provide a good habitat and clean water. The two most common human pathogens harbored by birds are salmonella bacteria and campylobacter, both of which can cause gastrointestinal illness. “These should not be dismissed in terms of importance for human health,” says Sobsey. In July 1999, Huntington Beach, which was immortalized by the Beach Boys as “Surf City”, was closed for over a month because levels of waterborne bacteria exceeded the standards of a California law that came into force that same month. Since then, an intensive hunt for the source or sources of contamination has ruled out leaking sewage pipes or urban runoff entering through the marsh. —REBECCA RENNER

A Canadian court has upheld an international trade panel’s ruling that U.S.-based Metalclad Corp.’s investment in a hazardous waste dump in Mexico was unfairly “taken” when the local government denied permits for the facility. Environmental critics say the May 2 decision by the British Columbia Supreme Court is a blow to democracy and the right of local governments to protect the environment. The court awarded Metalclad, an asbestos abatement and disposal company, $15 million, while finding that the government’s permit denials violated Chapter 11 provisions against expropriation of investments in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Metalclad built the hazardous waste landfill in Guadalcazar in the state of San Luis Potosí in 1993 after securing state and federal permits but was refused the necessary local permits. After local demonstrators prevented the dump from opening and a governor’s decree designated the site an ecological reserve, Metalclad filed an appeal in 1997 alleging violations of NAFTA Chapter 11 provisions against expropriation of investments. A three-member NAFTA panel, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, agreed with Metalclad’s complaint in August 2000. Arguing that the NAFTA panel gave absolute rights to foreign investors at the expense of local governments and the public interest, Mexico and Canada unsuccessfully appealed the ruling to the British Columbia Supreme Court.



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Environmental M News on the gonadal differentiation in the fish we studied,” he says. In collaboration with Thomas Researchers have identified a physoy-based foods, touting that genisTernes of ESWE-Institute for Water toestrogen that may be contributtein is beneficial in reducing heart Research and Technology in ing to the changes in sex steroid disease and may protect against Wiesbaden, Germany, Metcalfe and levels and decreased reproductive some kinds of cancer. Still others his colleagues analyzed extracts capacity observed in fish near a caution that too much genistein, from wood pulp, as well as treated wood pulp mill in northern Onparticularly from the use of soy and untreated Canadian wood pulp tario, Canada (Environ. Sci. Technol. supplements, or exposure to genismill effluent, using liquid chro2001, 35 (12), 2423–2427). The sustein during critical periods of develmatography electrospray ionization pected compound, genistein, has opment, may actually lead to mass spectrometry (LC/MS) and been positively identified in both cancer. In the June issue of Cancer LC/tandem MS. The researchers treated and untreated pulp mill efResearch, a team of scientists at the found genistein concentrations as fluent at levels high enough to National Institute of Environmental high as 30.0 µg/kg in air-dried cause feminizing effects in fish. Health Sciences, led by Retha bleached wood pulp, and 13.1 µg/L Genistein belongs to a group of Newbold, report that infant mice and 10.5 µg/L in treated and unphytochemicals called the flavogiven genistein for five days after treated effluents, respectively. These noids, which are found in signifibirth developed uterine cancer later results indicate that genistein percant quantities in the wood of in life (Cancer Res. 2001, 61 (11), sists to a large degree through both several tree species used in wood 4325–4328). the bleaching and the wastewater pulp manufacturing. It is also “There’s a tendency to think treatment processes. found in high levels in soybeans that if one gram is good for you, In addition to observing a peak and soy-based food products. then 100 grams is even better. I corresponding to genistein, the reAlthough genistein is biologicalwouldn’t recommend that when searchers observed several unly active and has been shown to consuming isoflavonoids,” says known peaks corresponding to have reproductive effects in fish, its Chris Metcalfe of Trent University’s deprotonated molecular ions in the effects in humans are not as well Water Quality Centre in Ontario, range characteristic of other flavounderstood. In general, genistein is who led the research investigating noids. “The problem is, there are thought to be safe for humans, who flavonoids in wood pulp mill effluover 2000 flavonoid compounds, are primarily exposed to the coments and has performed toxicity and only about 30 analytical stanpound through diet. Some reports testing of genistein in fish. “Genisdards,” says Metcalfe. Out of seven have even encouraged eating more tein certainly has feminizing effects flavonoids in the analytical standard used by the researchers, only one compound, genistein, was positively identified. “The number of possibilities out there are huge,” emphasizes Metcalfe. “Sometimes it’s not so easy to identify unknowns. Maybe this is just the tip of the ice mountain,” says Ternes. According to Ternes, there hasn’t been much need to monitor for flavonoids in effluents in Germany because there aren’t many large wood pulp and paper mill facilities. However, such facilities do exist in other parts of Europe, such as Finland. “Several groups in Finland are looking at effluents coming out of paper and pulp mill discharges into the receiving Genistein,a phytoestrogen,hasbeen found in w ood pulp and papermilleffluentsatconcentrationsthat waters,” he says. —BRITT E. ERICKSON are high enough to affectfish. PHOTODISC

Estrogenic compounds in wood pulp mill effluents

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News M Briefs

Water policies worldwide are failing to protect freshwater systems, resulting in growing water scarcity and alarming declines in the numbers of aquatic plants and animals, according to Managing Water for People and Nature (Science 2001, 292, 1071–1072), a new study from the World Resources Institute (WRI). In moving toward sustainable water management, WRI recommends setting water prices that reflect the actual cost of supplying and distributing water, including the cost of integrated watershed management, and charging polluters for their effluents. Stocks of wild Atlantic salmon are at record lows, according to a nonprofit World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) study. Salmon have disappeared from 300 of the 2000 rivers in North America and Europe where they once flourished and are endangered in one-third of the remaining rivers. Catches have decreased by more than 80% over the past 30 years. WWF believes salmon is on the brink of extinction in Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Slovakia, Estonia, Poland, and parts of the United States and Canada. It blames the sharp decline on industrialized farming, acid rain, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, pesticides, and urbanization. The Status of Wild Atlantic SalmonA River by River Assessment can be found at endangeredseas/salmon2.pdf.


The world economy grew almost sevenfold over the past 50 years at the expense of the health of the planet and its people, warns a new report from the Worldwatch Institute, a nonprofit research organization, and the United Nations Environment Programme. The report alleges that insatiable consumer demand has led to the loss of more than half of the world’s wetlands, over one-quarter of the coral reefs, and has facilitated the spread of diseases such as malaria. For a copy of Vital Signs 2001, call (800) 555-2028 (in the United States), or (301) 567-9522 (outside the United States). Australia has imposed new laws with heavier fines for polluting or illegally fishing in the Great Barrier Reef. Fines for environmental offenses increased 10-fold to a maximum fine of AU$1.1 million (U.S.$571,000). The fines apply to any vessel operating within the marine park that causes damage, such as leaking hazardous chemicals, or threatens the local fishing community. Individual and corporate fines for removing coral remain the same at AU$22,000 (U.S.$10,780) and AU$110,000 (U.S.$53,900), respectively. Proper disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste will require international collaboration, according to a National Research Council (NRC) report released in June. Because the amount of nuclear waste has exceeded the capacity of existing facilities in several countries, internationally shared storage facilities and underground geological repositories will eventually be a reality, the report states. It recommends that world leaders emphasize ways to increase public participation in the decision-making process. Disposition of High-Level Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel: The Continuing Societal and Technical Challenges is available at Key to Europe’s success in achieving sustainable development goals is public policy that can more effectively influence growing pro-

duction and consumption patterns, finds the European Environment Agency (EEA) in its latest environmental indicator report. EEA concludes that taxation is the most effective way to manage consumption as income levels rise. For the first time, the report examines the environmental impacts of households, consumption, and tourism, as well as that of the transport, energy, and agricultural sectors. Overall, although eco-efficiency has improved since 1990, gains have been outweighed by the growth of these sectors. Environmental Signals 2001 is at reports. html. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a project to assess the health of the planet with the most extensive study yet on the state of the world’s ecosystems. The so-called Millennium Ecosystem Assessment will make use of 16,000 Landsat satellite images recently donated to UNEP by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The images depict changes that have occurred in coastal areas, countryside, mountains, wetlands, agriculture, and urban sprawl since the Earth Summit in 1992. Roughly 1500 scientists will contribute to the $21 million study over four years. There is general agreement that greenhouse gases from human activities are accumulating and causing Earth’s surface temperatures to rise, but more systematic research is needed to reduce the uncertainties in our current understanding of climate change, conclude 11 U.S. climate researchers in a National Research Council report that characterizes the trend in global warming over the past 100 years. Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions ( expects average global surface temperatures to continue rising but questions the climate models’ ability to simulate the natural variability inherent in climate on decade- to century-long timescales.



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