What's in the Mississippi Floodwaters?

Creatas/Thinkstock(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- The great Mississippi River flood of 2011, cresting south of Memphis Wednesday, carries a mix of fertilizer, oil, pesticides, trash and farm runoff as it flows toward the Gulf of Mexico, say public health officials.

Some of it is nasty stuff, and officials say people are wise to be careful. They urge people not to touch the water unless they're wearing rubber boots and gloves, and wash thoroughly if they get wet.

"There could be a lot of untreated sewage coming downstream," said Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist and activist in Louisiana who has tangled with oil and chemical companies. "People need to be aware."

ABC News arranged some testing of its own, taking water samples from two places along the river to a laboratory near Memphis. E. coli and coliform -- commonly found in untreated waste water -- were 2,000 times acceptable limits. The lab did not find gasoline, oil or chemical toxins. There were trace levels of heavy metals, but no more than would be found ordinarily, the lab reported.

Subra said she would be concerned if the giant Morganza Spillway were opened upriver from New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It would protect the cities, but flood the wetlands of southern Louisiana. And it could be a health issue as people return to flooded homes to clean up.

"When in doubt, throw it out," said the Tennessee Department of Health in an advisory to people trying to clear out their homes when the water goes down. "Flood water picks up numerous contaminants from roads, farms, factories and storage buildings, including sewage and chemicals."

The state also warned that standing water provides a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Perhaps the largest effect: the overflow of nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico is likely to create an unusually large "dead zone" -- a giant patch of water off the Texas-Louisiana coast where fish and other marine creatures lack enough oxygen to survive. A dead zone forms there almost every July and August, but scientists said it will be bigger this year because algae, feeding on the excess fertilizer, will bloom and then die, choking off the oxygen supply.

Cities and towns in 31 states use water that flows into the Mississippi River Basin, many of them releasing treated wastewater into tributaries of the Mississippi. Engineers worried that sewage treatment plants could be overwhelmed by floodwaters.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


$41 Billion: Annual Cost of US Crash-Related Deaths

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Fatalities resulting from auto accidents cost $41 billion in medical costs and lost wages each year, according to a report out Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report, based on deaths in 2005, found that the highest costs -- in fact, half of the overall total -- came in just 10 states: California ($4.16 billion), Texas ($3.50 billion), Florida ($3.16 billion), Georgia ($1.55 billion), Pennsylvania ($1.52 billion), North Carolina ($1.50 billion), New York ($1.33 billion), Illinois ($1.32 billion), Ohio ($1.23 billion), and Tennessee ($1.15 billion).

"Deaths from motor vehicle crashes are preventable," said the CDC's Thomas Frieden. "Seat belts, graduated driver's license programs, child safety seats, and helmet use save lives and reduce health care costs."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Universities Slash Budgets Nationwide, Face 'Hardest Year on Record'

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Colleges across the country are facing layoffs, program cuts, tuition hikes and possible campus closings as they brace for major reductions in state funding -- again.

The leaders of Penn State University are wondering if they'll have to close some of their branch campuses next year, and more than 400 faculty positions may be on the chopping block.

In California, class sizes are swelling while class offerings are shrinking. One community college district in San Diego has cut 90 percent of its summer courses. And in Washington, universities are increasing the enrollment of out-of-state students, who pay about three times as much as in-state students, while considering trimming resident enrollment.

Colleges and universities, which can levy revenue through tuition hikes, are a primary target for cuts when states are in a budget bind.

"This year is going to be the hardest year on record," said Dan Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which has 420 member institutions. "Any new revenue at the state level is being gobbled up by Medicaid and K-12 education," he said, and much of the federal stimulus money expires this year, setting up the perfect storm for higher education.

At least 28 states, including Pennsylvania, California, Texas, Nevada and Washington, are talking about reducing aid to higher education for next fiscal year.

Thousands of students and faculty members in California and elsewhere have protested the proposed cuts. Last month, 10,000 Cal State students waved signs and flooded administration buildings to show administrators and the governor that cuts aren't going unnoticed. In Pennsylvania, hundreds of students crowded the Capitol in Harrisburg to tell legislators that their schools can't afford more funding reductions if they want to stay affordable and competitive.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Navy Scraps Rules on Gay Marriages After GOP Protest

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Navy has abruptly reversed course on new guidelines that would have eventually allowed same-sex couples to wed on its bases -- with Navy chaplains performing the ceremony -- after "don't ask, don't tell" is officially repealed.

In a memo released late Tuesday, chief Navy chaplain Mark Tidd said his previous instructions, part of the military's ongoing effort to revise its policies before lifting the ban on openly gay service members, were "suspended until further notice pending additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination."

A Navy spokesman declined to elaborate on reasons for the move. But it follows mounting pressure from a group of 63 congressional Republicans who objected to the policy change in a letter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus late last week.

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Calif., who is leading the opposition, plans to introduce an amendment to a House armed services bill that would bar Pentagon employees -- or facilities -- from being used for marriage ceremonies not recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Navy had said allowing gay service members to exchange vows in base chapels and other places used to celebrate marriage was consistent with federal law so long as the ceremonies occurred in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

"Legal counsel has concluded that, generally speaking, base facility use is sexual orientation neutral," Tidd wrote in a memo April 13.

Navy chaplains could also officiate in marriage ceremonies if they're consistent with their religious beliefs and comply with state and local laws in which they are performed, he said.

How to handle same-sex marriages by service members is one of several issues the Pentagon is weighing as it prepares to put in place a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which President Obama signed into law in December. The policy is still in effect until 60 days after Obama and the Pentagon certify the armed forces are ready for the change.

Officials expect certification could happen as soon as this summer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Delta Airlines Passenger Tries to Open Emergency Door in Mid-Flight

Delta Airlines(BOSTON) -- An unruly passenger aboard a Boston-bound Delta flight was taken into custody Tuesday night after attempting to open an emergency exit door while the plane was in mid-air.

According to the airline, the passenger, who has not been identified, was subdued mid-flight by an off-duty police officer.  Delta Flight 1102, which originated in Orlando, Florida, was then able to continue its flight and landed safely at Boston Logan International Airport just after 10 p.m.

Upon landing, Massachusetts State Police took the disruptive passenger into custody.  The passenger was charged with interfering with a flight crew, and police said more charges may follow.

The Airbus 320 was carrying nearly 150 passengers and crew members on board but none of them appeared to be in any danger.  Delta said that air pressure in the plane's cabin wouldn't allow anyone to open the emergency exit door while in flight.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Female Volunteers to Testify on Peace Corps' Safety Measures

Peace Corp [dot] gov/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Some female volunteers who say the Peace Corps did little to protect their safety will testify before a House committee on Wednesday.

On its website, the Peace Corps says the safety and security of its volunteers is its highest priority.  But while many volunteers have treasured their experiences, an ABC News investigation found that over 1,000 young women in the Corps have been either raped or assaulted in the last decade.

In some cases, victims say, the Peace Corps has ignored safety concerns and later tried to blame the women who were raped for bringing on the attacks.

One woman who got pregnant from a rape says she was was told to get an abortion or leave the organization.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mosque Controversy: 'Bomb Making' Sign Riles Neighbors

Comstock/Thinkstock(AMHERST, N.Y.) -- A dispute over a mosque in Amherst, New York, has the community buzzing about a sign posted in a neighbor's yard that reads, "Bomb Making: Next Driveway."

Many of the mosque's other neighbors have come to its defense, saying linking the religious center to terrorism is preposterous, and though town officials say they don't like the sign, they say there is nothing they can do about it.

The dispute started when the Jaffarya Islamic Center started a new mosque construction two years ago.  According to Amherst town supervisor Barry Weinstein, the homeowner next to the mosque had several disputes with the mosque leaders and the town council over the facility's lighting and fencing.

The property is zoned for a community facility, and there are several businesses on the street, but the mosque is next to a residential property.

After several investigations by the town council and police department over the sign, they have determined that the sign is protected by the first amendment and cannot be forcibly removed.  Weinstein has made several attempts to contact the homeowner and Police Captain Michael Camilleri says they did speak with the homeowner over the civil matter.

"Other than monitor the situation, there's nothing that we can do," Camilleri said.

The grand opening celebration of the mosque is scheduled for Saturday, when leaders and participants will come from Ontario and New York City to participate in events.

The person listed at the residence with the sign, Michael Heick, could not be reached for comment.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pets Rescued from Southern Flooding, Tornadoes Need Homes

Comstock/Thinkstock (file photo)(NEW YORK) -- The tornado outbreak that struck the southeastern United States two weeks ago was the worst one in nearly 40 years.

At least 248 people were killed in Alabama; 34 in Mississippi; 34 in Tennessee; 15 in Georgia; five in Virginia; two in Louisiana; and one in Kentucky.

But the situation was not just devastating for people.  Hundreds of pets were abandoned or stranded, and many families that were left homeless were forced to relinquish their animals, said Beth Ostrosky Stern of the North Shore Animal League.

The Port Washington, New York organization deployed emergency rescue teams to help hard-hit animal shelters in Alabama.  The teams rescued dozens of animals.  The pets were brought to New York and given medical and emotional evaluations.  They will be put up for adoption on May 12.

North Shore is the largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization in the world, according to its website.  The organization works with a national network of shelter and rescue partners and provides information, education, and resources about pet adoption.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dalia Dippolito Trial: Cops Admit Lie in Hitman Sting to Kill Husband

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- Police admitted that as part of an elaborate sting operation they lied to a Florida woman on trial for allegedly hiring a hit man to murder her husband.

The wife's defense has claimed that she thought the whole thing was part of a reality TV show her husband wanted to do.

Boynton Beach Police Sgt. Paul Sheridan testified Tuesday that he misled Dalia Dippolito about the purpose of the waiver she signed for the police sting, to be taped for the fictional reality show, Cops.

When asked if he lied to the woman about what the waiver was for, he said, "yes."

Dalia Dippolito is facing charges of solicitation to commit first-degree murder.  In 2009, she allegedly hired an undercover police officer posing as a hit man to kill her husband, Michael Dippolito.

"If the defense had just been about what the cops did here, that the cops were negligent…this would become a very significant point," said said Dan Abrams, ABC News legal analyst.  "The more the defense can make this feel icky and make it muddle what the investigators did, the better off they are."

Dippolito and her defense team contend that the murder-for-hire plot was part of her husband's elaborate plan to get his own reality television show and that no one was actually going to be killed.  She expected her husband to tell police of the plot once she'd been arrested, defense attorneys argued.

The trial is close to wrapping up and Abrams said it's crucial for Dalia Dippolito to take the stand for her defense to have a chance.

Dalia Dippolito's former husband, Michael, has denied that the incident was a reality show plot.  He testified in April that he was absolutely shocked to discover that six months into his marriage, his wife was plotting to have him killed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Arnold Schwarzenegger: Maria and I 'Love Each Other Very Much'

Gov [dot] CA [dot] gov(LOS ANGELES) -- One day after Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver announced they've separated after 25 years of marriage, the actor and former governor of California thanked friends for their support and said he and Maria “both love each other very much.”

Schwarzenegger made the comments Tuesday night while speaking at the 63rd Israel Independence Day Celebration in Los Angeles.

Schwarzenegger told the audience, “I want to take a moment and thank our many friends and family for the tremendous amount of support and love that you have given us in the last 24 hours.”

The former governor continued, saying, “I just spoke to Maria an hour ago before I came here.  We both were saying the same things -- we’re extremely blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people, by so many wonderful friends.”

Schwarzenegger told the audience, "We both love each other very much.  We're fortunate to have four extraordinary children.  And we're taking it one day at a time.”

Shriver reportedly moved out of the family home in Brentwood, California several weeks ago.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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