Air Date: June 14, 1996
Testing Chemical Synergy
A test has been developed to weigh the impact of hormone-like pollutants on animals in ways that may be truer to what happens in daily life where chemicals intermingle. Steve Curwood talks with Lou Gillette, one of the authors of an article about the test that was just published in the journal Science, about how else this test may be used. (05:50)
Brown Bayou/ Debbie Elliott
For the past three years in Louisiana, one of the longest labor disputes in U.S. history has been underway with the Bayou Steel Corporation's poor environmental record at its core. Debbie Elliott reports from LaPlace, Louisiana on a new alliance of steelworker labor and environmentalists. (06:53)
Photographing the Wind/ Stephen Trimble
Commentator Stephen Trimble relates some recent experiences of mishaps which occurred while he was attempting to photograph the landscape. Were natural forces protesting being captured on film? (02:36)
Father Knows Best?: A Look at Animal Dads
To celebrate Father's Day, Steve Curwood speaks with zoologist Donna Fernandes about which fathers in the animal kingdom stay around to nurture their young, and the lengths to which some of them go. (05:17)
The Living on Earth Almanac
Facts about...hurricanes. (01:15)
Clearing Grand Canyon Air/ George Hardeen
Efforts are being proposed to clean up the air and increase visibility at one of North America's most famous vistas; the Grand Canyon. George Hardeen reports on the goals of the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission. (03:05)
On Hunger Strike: A Fisherwoman Takes on DuPont
Diane Wilson of Seadrift, Texas has gone on a hunger strike in the hopes of winning an agreement to let an independent water feasibility study take place at an industrial plant that sends its waste water into the river where she earns her living as a fourth generation shrimper. Steve Curwood speaks with Ms. Wilson about her strike. (06:07)
The Future of the Big Apple/ Neal Rauch
With big ideas for linking New York City's many railroad and subway systems to ease commuters lives, the Regional Planning Association of Greater New York is trying to ensure that New York grows in the 21st century and avoids the decline of many other major metropolitan areas around the world. Neal Rauch reports on one region's plans for staying on the map. (08:51)
Reveling in the Summer Solstice
For the past 25 years, the Boston—based musical group The Revels puts on shows celebrating the changing seasons and the coming of Summer. Steve Curwood talks with the director of The Revels, Patrick Swanson, about the music and traditions they work with, and why the group feels the summer solstice is worthy of celebration. (07:30)
Copyright c 1996 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Terry FitzPatrick, Jennifer Schmidt, Debbie Elliot,
Donna Fernandes, George Hardeen, Neal Rauch
GUESTS: Lou Gillette, Diane Wilson, Patrick Swanson
COMMENTATOR: Stephen Trimble
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Breakthrough research on pesticides and other synthetic chemicals bolsters claims that they can disrupt hormone systems. The chemicals seem to have a far stronger effect when they are mixed.
GILLETTE: Much to our surprise, when we added 2 chemicals together we actually increased the potency of those chemicals by 100 to 1000-fold over what they are as individuals.
CURWOOD: Also, striking steel workers in Louisiana have joined with environmental activists to pressure their employer, and management is crying fowl.
VASQUEZ: This is a coordinated effort. This is not just a case of an individual claiming they've been wronged. This is an organization who has experts that do nothing, but sit and plan, determine how they're going to do the most harm possible against this other entity, which is Bayou Steel.
CURWOOD: And animal dads this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after the news.
NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Exxon tried to redirect millions in putative fines stemming from the Exxon Valdez spill back to the company. The oil company made a secret deal with 7 Seattle fish processors in 1991, settling their oil spill claims for $70 million. In return for that quick settlement, the companies agreed to return any damages awarded in later civil suits to Exxon. Three years later Exxon was ordered to pay $5 billion in fines for the oil spill. Fish processors then put in a claim for $745 million against that amount, and under their agreement nearly all of it would have gone back to Exxon. The agreement came to light only because the fish processors sued over how the funds would be distributed to the more than 30,000 plaintiffs in the Valdez case. In dismissing the suit, US District Judge H. Russell Holland called the pact a serious ruse. He suggested that Exxon Chairman Lee Raymond misled the jury during the civil trial.
The House of Representatives has ratified an international treaty to prohibit mining in Antarctica, and establish a wide range of measures to protect the polar environment. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports.
FITZPATRICK: The agreement, known as the Madrid Protocol, will regulate scientific, tourist, and commercial operations in Antarctica. Mining and oil exploration will be banned for 50 years. The dumping or burning of garbage will be outlawed. Expeditions will be required to take their trash with them. The treaty also contains standards for environmental impact assessments and the conservation of wildlife. Although the US has the largest presence in Antarctica, it's among the last nations to act on the protocol, which won't take effect until it's ratified by all 26 nations in the Antarctic treaty system. Congressional action had been stalled by bureaucratic turf battles and by environmentalists who wanted even stronger protections to be added to the ratification bill. The House approved the measure by an overwhelming margin with only 4 votes against it. Senate passage is expected soon. The other nations yet to ratify are Finland, Russia, and Japan. For Living on Earth, this is Terry FitzPatrick reporting.
NUNLEY: The sun and its planets may be heading for a cloud in space up to a million times denser than what surrounds us now. Astronomers at the University of Chicago say the cloud will affect the Earth but they aren't sure how. Scientists say our solar system has been moving through an area practically devoid of gas and dust clouds for the last 5 million years. But within the next 50,000 years we'll move into a more crowded region of the Milky Way. That may change the flow of solar wind particles that stream out from the sun's corona, which could affect Earth's weather. Some researchers suggest that earlier ice ages may have been caused by the solar system's passage through interstellar clouds.
The Federal Government has asked a judge for more time to decide whether to recommend endangered species protection for the steelhead trout, but environmental activists say it's one of the more outrageous cases of government foot dragging they've ever seen. From KPLU in Seattle, Jennifer Schmidt reports.
SCHMIDT: The National Marine Fisheries Service told a Federal District Court judge it needs until December to make a decision on steelhead. The request is significant because a decision is long overdue. In fact the courts have already ruled the agency has broken the law by putting off action as long as it has. The Fisheries Service blames the delay on the year-long moratorium on endangered species listings and the scope of the proposal. Rather than looking at individual runs the Agency is considering the steelhead's entire range, which covers a vast area from Washington inland to Idaho and all the way down to California. But environmental and fishing groups told the court further delay is completely unreasonable. They say the Fisheries Service is simply trying to put off a controversial decision until after the elections. Environmentalists also warn further delays are likely to lead to the extinction of some steelhead runs. A Federal judge is expected to rule on the case soon. For Living on Earth I'm Jennifer Schmidt reporting.
NUNLEY: Scientists have discovered a new type of animal, and it's the guinea pig. Scientists at the University of Bari in Italy say DNA analysis shows guinea pigs should not be called rodents but deserve to have their very own class. Researchers reporting in the journal Nature compared DNA from guinea pigs with genetic material from 15 other mammal species. They found that guinea pigs are more closely related to cows and humans than rats and mice. The use of genes to reclassify animals is changing how biologists see the relationships between species. A study published several months ago found that rabbits are also more closely related to primates, including humans, than they are to rodents.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering regulating pesticides and other chemicals based on their potential to disrupt human and animal hormones. But the research has been confusing. There's strong evidence that certain chemicals have an effect in the wild, but they appear weak when tested in the laboratory. But a new study in the journal Science may explain this apparent split between the real world and the test tube. Louis Gillette of the University of Florida in Gainesville helped Steven Arnold and Diane Klotz and their colleagues at Tulane University in New Orleans in laboratory tests of several common pollutants on human estrogen receptors. They found that their impact in combination was much stronger than each one alone. Dr. Gillette says he tried testing these chemicals together after studying wild alligators exposed to a range of pesticides.
GILLETTE: Well, what we found was that if we tested them one by one they were very weak, so that would actually require very high concentrations to give us an effect. And only one chemical that we found in the egg even came close to the concentrations needed to have an effect.
CURWOOD: So then, what did you do?
GILLETTE: Well, we actually began a series of studies to try and understand what happens when you provide mixtures instead of studying these things one by one.
CURWOOD: And what did you find?
GILLETTE: What we found was that much to our surprise, when we added 2 chemicals together, we actually increased the potency of those chemicals by 100 to 1,000-fold over what they are as individuals.
CURWOOD: A hundred- to a thousand-fold?
GILLETTE: Yeah, so it's -- I guess the best example is instead of it being 1 and 1 equals 2 for us, 1 and 1 equaled 100 or 1,000. And so it wasn't arithmetic, it wasn't an additive effect; it was what we call a synergistic effect, a greater than additive effect. So what we're looking at is the ability of these compounds to turn on genes that are controlled by estrogen. If we look under normal conditions, that is, their ability to turn on, let's say, an estrogen-induced gene, we find that they are 1,000 to 10,000 times weaker than the natural estrogen, estradiol. When you mix them 2 together, what you find is that now they're only 10 to maybe 100 times weaker than the natural hormone.
CURWOOD: What chemicals are we talking about here, Dr. Gillette?
GILLETTE: Well, the 4 chemicals that we looked at in detail were toxaphene, endosulphan, chlordane, and dieldrin. Three of those compounds, chlordane, dieldrin, and toxaphene, have all been banned in the United States. However, they still persist in the bodies, stored in the fat, and so therefore they appear in eggs and various other biological fluids.
CURWOOD: And the fourth chemical?
GILLETTE: The fourth chemical is endosulphan, and it's still used, although it's controlled in the United States.
CURWOOD: So what does this tell us about how these chemicals might affect humans and other animals?
GILLETTE: Well, we really can't say how they necessarily affect humans or animals. We don't have the whole animal data yet. But what it tells us is that the hypothesis that chemicals in the environment that we're exposed to every day may in fact pose a health risk or a health effect. And I think what we have to realize is that reality, that is, what we're actually exposed to every day, is not 1 or 2 chemicals or even 3 chemicals given individually. It's a whole mixture, a cocktail if you will, of compounds that we're exposed to. The other thing we should note just so that you're -- is that it doesn't appear that all environmental chemicals when mixed 2 together give us this jump. There are certain classes that seem to work really well. And these pesticides that we're talking about seem to be right now the best examples of this synergism activity that we have.
CURWOOD: How about the PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls?
GILLETTE: Right. Well, the interesting thing about the PCBs, which we also reported, is that instead of a 100 to 1,000-fold jump, we actually did show that they increased by 6 or 7-fold their potency. But we know that those compounds are already more potent than the pesticides we talked about. So there may be an upper limit in the potential potency of these compounds, but certainly when you add 2 PCBs together, instead of 1 and 1 adding to 2, 1 and 1 give you 6 or 7.
CURWOOD: I'm wondering, Dr. Gillette, now that you've done this research, do you feel that you have more ammunition, as it were, to address the critics of the endocrine disruption hypothesis?
GILLETTE: I don't know if one could actually say that we have ammunition. This data certainly supports the idea that what we thought were relatively weak compounds, that is, weak as far as their hormonal nature, could in fact have a biological effect on the whole organism. However, we still need to collect the data. We do have some whole organism data. We have a study that was previously done on turtles by John McLachlan and David Cruise and his colleagues at the University of Texas, that show that if you add 2 weak PCBs together, you apply them to a turtle egg, you can get sex reversal just like you applied a natural estrogen. And both of those compounds alone do not cause sex reversal. So we do have some whole organismal data, which suggest quite clearly that synergism does work at a whole organismal level, and I believe that our data now provides the molecular basis for this whole argument.
CURWOOD: Thanks so much for joining us.
GILLETTE: You're welcome.
CURWOOD: Dr. Louis Gillette is Professor of Zoology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He did the research that appeared in Science while on sabbatical at Tulane University with John McLachlan and Steve Arnold. Thank you.
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CURWOOD: Many of the strongest labor unions in this country involve workers in polluting industries. So it's not uncommon for union leaders to see environmental activism as a threat to jobs. But at the Bayou Corporation Steel Plant in Louisiana, one of the nation's longest running strikes has prompted the union leadership to link up with environmental activists. The Steel Worker's Union is mounting what's called a corporate campaign. Part of that campaign targets the company's environmental record. As Debbie Elliot reports, the alliance has the company saying it's unfair.
(Men talking in the rain)
ELLIOT: It's another hot rainy day in LaPlace, Louisiana. Across from the main entrance to Bayou Steel, about a half dozen steel workers seek shelter under a blue plastic tarp. The tent is headquarters of a makeshift camp that has emerged since the local 9121 went out on strike here 3 years ago. There's a small shed with cots, a portable toilet, a pay phone, and plastic lawn chairs.
ELLIOT: When he's not trying to dissuade delivery trucks from entering the plant, striker Frank Alexis will tell you about the contract dispute with Bayou management. And he also targets Howard Meyers, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Bayou Steel Corporation.
ALEXIS: This man has 13 different locations where he has plants and mills and etc. Even at Tennessee, the one he just bought. Out of the 13 he got 4 Superfund sites, the worst is in Dallas. That was a smelting plant. You ought to see that community, that whole community was destroyed. It's not even livable.
ELLIOT: These steel workers can also recite a litany of environmental fines levied on other plants under Howard Meyers' control. For dumping hazardous waste in California, for exporting toxic substances to Mexico, for violating lead emissions standards in Wallkill, New York, and for illegally discharging lead into an Indianapolis waterway. Maurice Simoneaux is the safety and heath representative for the local steel workers.
SIMONEAUX: The water system in Indiana had willful violations. They were checking to make sure the monitors were off the city and all that and then they dumped their pollution in the water system, and 2 guys are serving a year in jail for it. Howard Meyers got off with just paying a fine. Howard Meyers should have been the one in jail, really.
ELLIOT: If Simoneaux sounds like a member of the Sierra Club rather than a steel worker, it's because the environment plays a crucial role in this labor dispute. Along with picket duty and complaints to the National Labor Relations Board, the union is
hitting Bayou Steel with what's called a corporate campaign. Essentially, it's a negative information blitz to pressure their managers into settling with the union to avoid tarnishing the company's image. The steel workers hired an environmental consultant to research Bayou and its affiliates. What they found, according to union local president Ron Ferraro, was a pattern of environmental and safety violations.
SIMONEAUX: It seems that Howard Meyers's philosophy is to locate his plants in low income areas, take advantage of tax breaks, and then when the pollution and the environment gets too bad, they shut them down and take off and leave the government to do the clean-up.
ELLIOT: The Bayou steel complex spans more than 250 acres along the levee of the Mississippi River. Just inside Bayou's front gate are 2 football field-sized scrap heaps nearly 30 feet tall.
(Trains pass and clank)
ELLIOT: All day long, rail cars carry loads of scrap metal to the mill, where it's fed into an electric arc furnace that melts it into steel billets. The process leaves a layer of white powder everywhere in the mill. The dust contains trace elements of metal oxides, including lead. But Al Puliam, Bayou's manager for environmental health and safety, says it's not hazardous.
PULIAM: Public health is based on ambient air quality. There is no ambient air quality problem in this neighborhood or at our fence line. That is the bottom line.
ELLIOT: For local environmentalists the bottom line is a lawsuit they filed against Bayou for alleged air pollution violations. They claim Bayou's lead emissions threaten the health of the hundreds of families that live in breathing distance of the plant. Bayou officials say the environmentalists are conspiring with the union to damage the company as part of the corporate campaign. But Shey Clark, with the St. John's Citizens for Environmental Justice, disagrees.
CLARK: It's coincidental that the workers are striking and that we're having our suit. Obviously, we have similar concerns. Obviously, the company is a bad actor.
ELLIOT: The steel workers say they have a moral obligation to share their findings with citizen groups, stockholders, and environmental regulators. But Bayou officials liken the union's tactics to a smear campaign and say it's illegal. Bayou Steel and RSR have filed lawsuits against the steel workers' union, claiming their corporate campaign is a violation of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, Act. Hank Vasquez is Bayou's vice president for human resources.
VASQUEZ: This is a coordinated effort. That is, it's not just a case of an individual claiming they've been wronged. This is an organization who has experts that do nothing, but sit and plan, determine how they're going to do the most harm possible against this other entity, which is Bayou Steel.
ELLIOT: Although he won't be specific, Vasquez says the union's corporate campaign has hurt the company financially.
VASQUEZ: Productivity is good but we're still having to face the legal expenses, the distraction from running the plant. All the time that we spend responding to these unfounded accusations we could be focusing on the plant being even more productive out there.
(Men talking in heavy rain.)
ELLIOT: At a time when union rights and environmental protection are under scrutiny in Congress and the courts, the standoff here in Louisiana is being closely watched by the nation's environmental community and labor management interests. In addition to the racketeering suit, Congressional hearings are looking into the legality of union corporate campaigns. Regardless of the outcome says local president Ron Ferraro, steel workers in LaPlace know more about environmental health today.
FERRARO: We've become a lot more educated now. We know what to look for if something's being buried or something's being done wrongly or illegally, and we know what agencies and we know how to handle it now to where we don't have to sit back and let it happen to ourselves, our employees, or the community any more.
ELLIOT: For Living on Earth, this is Debbie Elliot reporting.
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CURWOOD: Coming up, why some penguins are really glad for their dads. Stay tuned for more of Living on Earth.
(Music up and under: "My Heart Belongs to Daddy.")
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As we head into the traveling days of summer, many of us will want to bring our cameras along. But commentator Stephen Trimble says we should be prepared to accept those times when the pictures just don't come out.
TRIMBLE: Sometimes when I take pictures, I encounter what I call the Zen of photography. I operate the camera, compose and think about light and angle and motion, wind the film, release the shutter, invest my emotions and skills, but no pictures result. Sometimes I make careless mistakes: leaving on the lens cap, feeding the film incorrectly, forgetting to load the film at all. At other times I believe I'm being reminded by the spirits of the land to remember humility, to take proper care, to pay attention.
On the big island of Hawaii, 3,000 miles from home, I spent an exciting day photographing a molten lava flow meeting the sea, an extraordinary vision of new land forming as I watched. I stayed on several hours into the evening, continuing to photograph. As the lava glowed red in the darkness the drama increased. On the hour's drive back to my hotel, I realized that once the sun set I had never changed to a new roll of film. My film had not been advancing. I had taken no pictures at all. Eventually, my disappointment mellowed to acceptance. Pele, goddess of fire and volcanoes, clearly had told me that she did not wish to be photographed that warm night.
On another evening, passing through the Hopi pueblos in Arizona, I decided to sneak a few sunset pictures of the Mesa-Top villages. Knowing that the Hopi people frowned on all photography, but rationalizing that my hiring of official guides in the past would sanction a few quick photos now. I lay the key to my rental car on the passenger seat, took a couple of unsatisfactory photos, and then reached for the key to drive to a new location. The key was gone. I searched and searched and knew as I did so that I would not find that key until the sun was down and photography was impossible. The Katsinas, spirit messengers of the Hopi gods, were reprimanding me, and I might as well relax and sit and watch the light fade. That's what I did, and when I looked for the key again at dusk, I found it buried on the floor in the back seat under my camera bag, flipped there in my nervous haste or hidden there by the Katsinas.
I thought about the need for reverence and the meaning of mercy. I remembered what Ramson Lomatewayma, a young Hopi poet who works hard to understand the meaning of what it is to be Hopi, once said to me. You can't learn anything without giving something up.
CURWOOD: Stephen Trimble lives in Salt Lake City. He's the author of The People: Indians of the Southwest.
(Music up and under: "Papa was a Rolling Stone")
CURWOOD: Among humans it's a tragedy: fathers who take off before their kids ever have a chance to know them. But among other animals, it's usually the way things are done. Most animals never see their dads. But of course there are exceptions. And in honor of Father's Day we've asked our favorite zoologist, Dr. Donna Fernandes of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City, to take a gander at the animal fathers who do stick around to help raise the kids. So, tell me, Donna, which are the most active animal dads?
FERNANDES: Well, it really depends on the type of animal we're talking about. For mammals, which we are, only about 5% of all mammal species exhibit any kind of care by the male or paternal care.
CURWOOD: Five percent?
FERNANDES: Five percent. Most of them get the female pregnant and then take off.
CURWOOD: Ninety-five percent deadbeat dads, huh?
FERNANDES: That's right.
CURWOOD: Uh oh.
FERNANDES: But the 5% tend to be concentrated in a couple of major groups. Primates, such as ourselves, and carnivores.
FERNANDES: Right, the meat eaters. And the typical kind of parental care that they'll provide is, they'll bring meat to the female when she's nursing because she's not very mobile. So that is a group that's very common. In foxes and African wild dogs you see it particularly.
CURWOOD: So 95% deadbeat dads among the --
FERNANDES: Of the mammals.
CURWOOD: Of the mammals. How do the birds do in this area?
FERNANDES: Well, the birds fare much better. Ninety percent of the 9,000 species that are sort of living today do exhibit bi-parental care. That's where both males and females assist with rearing the young. And males will do a variety of things. Typically they'll build the nest with a female or build a nest alone, in fact. They'll often incubate the eggs, and typically feed the chicks as well once they hatch.
CURWOOD: Is there a super dad among the birds?
FERNANDES: I like to think so. Some of them just do extraordinary feats. Emperor and king penguins, the females are often so exhausted energetically after having laid this single large egg that she takes off, abandons him pretty much to go feed. So she goes back into the water. And the male is left in the freezing cold, incubating the egg for about 60 to 80 days where he doesn't feed at all. So he gets quite thin. And then eventually the female will come back and spell him and she'll take over for a bit, he'll go feed, and then they'll both sort of alternate feeding the young chick.
CURWOOD: Let's turn our attention now to the ocean. We think of the whales swimming with their young. Is that just moms or are those dads involved?
FERNANDES: It's just moms that are -- moms and calves together. The males don't stay and participate with rearing in whales. But in fish, again there are a couple of fish that are renowned good fathers. Probably the most well known is sea horses, where the males have a specially developed pouch in their stomach which receives the eggs from the female. In fact it's the only species where the female really has the intermittent organ and she transports her eggs into the male.
CURWOOD: So she really impregnates the male?
FERNANDES: She impregnates the male, right. And he'll spend 3 weeks with this, these eggs developing in his belly, and then you'll see these little miniature sea horses, which sort of look exactly like the adults emerge, pop out, and then they'll start feeding on their own.
CURWOOD: What other fish take exceptional care as dads of their young?
FERNANDES: A group of fish called cyclids, where mouth brooding is quite common, and that's usually done by the female, but there are a few species where it is the male who will brood the eggs in his mouth. So after the female lays her eggs he'll eject his sperm over the eggs and pretty much gobble up the eggs and store them in his mouth, and they'll develop in his mouth. And even once they've hatched into little fry, he keeps them in his mouth for protection.
CURWOOD: Well, how's he going to eat?
FERNANDES: Well, that's the problem. He doesn't get to eat very regularly while he's in this period of incubation within his mouth. So he does get quite hungry. But he's been shown not to eat his own eggs.
CURWOOD: We've been talking about a lot of good dads. Is there sometimes an arrangement where this interest in paternity is not so great for the family?
FERNANDES: Well, there is a marine worm, a type of polychete, where she's probably too excited about the prospects of dad taking care of the young. Because after she lays her eggs, he does ultimately take care of the offspring. But as soon as she's done laying her eggs he gobbles her up and eats her, and then uses the energy stored in her body, which he now absorbs, to sustain him during that period of paternal care. So she does get cannibalized, much like many species where females will cannibalize the male. This is an interesting switch on that, it's the male cannibalizing the female.
CURWOOD: New definition to the word "ladykiller," I guess.
FERNANDES: [Laughs] That's right.
CURWOOD: Well, thank you so much. Dr. Donna Fernandes is with the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. Thanks for joining us.
FERNANDES: Thank you.
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CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at the studios of WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood.
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ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes Reporting; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; and the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment.
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: For many residents and visitors New York is the greatest city in the world. But a group of prominent New Yorkers is warning that without an infusion of fresh ideas and money, gotham could crumble like so many other cities. The controversial vision for keeping the shine on the Big Apple, coming up in the second half of Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: As long as humanity has wandered the Earth, the sun has inspired a sense of awe and wonder. The summer solstice, the longest day in the northern hemisphere, was long celebrated in northern Europe with bonfires that symbolize the warming of the Earth and fertility. In Sweden, a midsummer tree was decorated and people jumped over fires. In Germany couples would leap over fires hand in hand to announce their marriages. Like many other ancient societies, the Natchez Indians worshipped the sun, believing their leader to be descended from it. The Hopi Indians believe that at midsummer the Katsinas, the messengers of the gods, would leave Hopi villages to commune with the dead. Even a comparatively young religion like Christianity uses the longest day to mark the birth of John the Baptist. Jesus had once called John "a burning and shining light," and the early Church said that midsummer fires should represent John. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth almanac.
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CURWOOD: After 5 years of discussions a special commission set up to address air pollution over the Grand Canyon and 15 other western parks has released its recommendations. As George Hardeen reports, the proposal is long on vision but short on substance.
BOWMAN: What we're doing with this is we're measuring the aerosol particles that are in the air, which are what cause the visibility problem.
HARDEEN: Although he's more than 200 miles from Phoenix, every day Carl Bowman measures urban pollutants at remote testing stations like this one in Grand Canyon National Park.
BOWMAN: Our first line is just to document it, which we do with an automated camera. Just takes 3 pictures a day. Then the second thing we do is use an instrument called a trans-mesometer that actually shoots a beam of light through the air. That tells us how thick the haze is.
HARDEEN: That haze of manmade pollutants now impairs visibility here and at western parks 90% of the time. It limits both the distance one can see and the clarity and crispness of the view. Today, the usually sharp-edged details of the North Rim just 10 miles across the canyon are blurred and indistinct. The haze is a mixture of many sources: carbon monoxide from vehicles, industrial pollutants from urban areas and power plants, dust from unpaved roads, even emissions from lawn mowers and barbecues from cities as far away as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and across the border in Mexico. In 1991, Congress asked the governors of 8 western states, leaders of 4 Indian tribes, and 4 Federal agencies to propose remedies to the problem. After 5 years the group has come up with 4 major goals. Reduce sulfur dioxide levels from power plants by 70% within 45 years, cut tailpipe emissions within 5 years, provide economic incentives for renewable energy and conservation, and improve management of planned forest fires. But the Commission's report doesn't dictate the means to achieve these goals.
LEVITT: This is in fact not a regulatory document.
HARDEEN: Utah Governor Mike Levitt, the Commission's co-chairman, says the report allows western states and tribes to come up with their own solutions.
LEVITT: That's the goal here is to establish a set of consistent objectives that we have all established and a pattern to follow. This is a flexible document that in time will I believe be changed in positive ways, but it's a start.
HARDEEN: Environmental groups are also encouraged. Rob Smith of the Sierra Club says that this is a promise to clean up the air.
SMITH: The first most obvious thing to do is to take steps to clean up the Mojave Power Plant, which has no pollution controls on it at all, and is a huge industrial polluter in Nevada just upwind from the Grand Canyon. If we can do that, then we can show that something really came of this process and this is a process that can work.
HARDEEN: It will take the EPA 18 months to incorporate the recommendations into its regional haze regulations. But the air over the Grand Canyon won't be cleaned up until well into the next century. For Living on Earth, I'm George Hardeen.
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CURWOOD: In Victoria, Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico, there's a Dupont nylon plant that dumps 8 billion gallons of wastewater into deep wells each year. Some local residents fear that toxic chemicals could leach out of the wells and contaminate their ground water. So Dupont has drawn up a $100 million plan to clean its wastewater and reduce its hazardous waste emissions by 98%. But not all local residents are satisfied. Along with the other changes, Dupont wants to pump its treated wastewater into the Guadalupe River. Diane Wilson, a fourth generation shrimper from Seadrift, Texas, fishes in the Guadalupe. Ms. Wilson doesn't want Dupont discharging any waste water into the river, and she's been on a hunger strike since June 5th, demanding that Dupont look into a zero waste water discharge system. Hello, Ms. Wilson.
WILSON: Hello, there.
CURWOOD: Dupont says they've already studied zero discharge technology. They say this approach is environmentally superior. And that because you're so short of water down there, they figure look, they use 16 million gallons a day, their method will give back 12 million gallons a day.
WILSON: Well, first of all, they have refused to give us the study to show what they did with the zero discharge technology. And secondly, about the water use, is by studying zero discharge technologies, you end up finding ways to conserve the use of water. We don't want Dupont's leftovers. We would much rather them not use as much river water and recycle their own waste.
CURWOOD: We asked Dupont why not reuse their processed waste water if they thought it was a good process, and they say they can't because there's too much salt in it, that when the water gets heated in the plant some of it evaporates and what's left is saltier water. So they're saying the water's too salty for them but not too salty for the river.
WILSON: [Laughs] Yeah. Well I'll tell you what. Salt can be one of the worst things you can have for a bay system, because shrimp follow salt gradients, and they know where to go to an estuary to get their food because they're following how it gets saltier and then fresher. And when you've got something that is pouring nothing but salty water into a bay system, what you've got is this whole species that won't even go into the nursery area. So they're in this much wider basin where there is not the food, there is not the protection. And what you end up doing is killing off a whole crop, a whole species.
CURWOOD: This is not your first hunger strike.
CURWOOD: You also went on a hunger strike against Formosa Plastics.
CURWOOD: What happened there?
WILSON: Well, the first time I went on a hunger strike with Formosa, it was because they were bringing in a $2 billion operation and the EPA administrator said Formosa would not have to do an environmental impact statement. And when I heard that it was like, what can you do? What can you do when you're just real average, you got no money, and so you end up doing the only thing that you have at your disposal, and with me it was myself. I'm not a natural leader, I'm not a natural speaker, I have not had training in being this activist that I've become. It's just a development from the things that have happened down here, and I just refuse to allow them to get our whole bay system.
CURWOOD: Tell me a bit about your hunger strike. What exactly are you consuming?
WILSON: Drinks and water.
CURWOOD: How do you feel?
WILSON: [Laughs] I'm tired. I'm tired.
CURWOOD: How long did you have to go on a hunger strike with Formosa Plastics?
WILSON: Well see, I've done 3 of them. The first 2 it took 2 weeks and the third one it took me 30 days.
CURWOOD: And what's happened as a result of those hunger strikes?
WILSON: Well, the first one, the EPA changed their decision and made them do an environmental impact statement. And then the second one, I did a hunger strike to stop the construction until they completed the environmental impact statement. My attorney got up a pretty good agreement with them. My third one that took my shrimp boat, 42-foot shrimp boat and attempted to sink it on top of their discharge point because they were discharging without their permit. It was a violation of Federal law. It didn't matter.
CURWOOD: Now, you're a fourth generation shrimper.
WILSON: That's right.
CURWOOD: Tell me how the river and the shrimping business has changed since your childhood. Or has it?
WILSON: Well, it's dramatically changed. Being a shrimper is kind of like being a gambler. Sometimes you have good days, sometimes bad days. But you used to make a decent living. You could support your family and your children wanted to go into it. And now, what we have is a town that is dying. The shrimpers, they work all year long trying to make a living. They in oysters, they tried in fishing, they tried in bait shrimping, bay shrimping, Gulf shrimping, and they are not making it.
CURWOOD: Why is this? Pollution, or over-fishing, do you think?
WILSON: I'd say it's a combination of both. What you get is this vicious cycle. You get all this pollution. You get all these fishermen trying to make a harder effort at it. And what you get is a crisis on the bay.
CURWOOD: What will it take for you to end your hunger strike against Dupont?
WILSON: It will take Dupont agreeing to a zero discharge study of how to recycle their waste stream. That's what it will take. That's the only thing it will take.
CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.
WILSON: Well, I sure appreciate you all calling.
CURWOOD: Diane Wilson is 4th generation shrimper in Seadrift, Texas.
CURWOOD: Celebrations of the summer solstice are just ahead on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. New York, New York. Our biggest city and, according to most New Yorkers, the best. But as with many older cities around the world, New York is facing some major problems, including congestion, pollution, the loss of open space and declining jobs. As the world's urban leaders met this month in Istanbul to discuss the problems of cities around the planet, an influential private group was warning that unless New York's problems are addressed now, there could be hard times ahead for the city and its suburbs. And they're pushing a controversial solution. Neal Rauch has the details.
CISNEROS: Pittsburgh once had 800,000 people. Not only has the city of Pittsburgh lost population on a massive scale, less than one half its former size, but the region as a whole has lost population as it failed to substitute industries and firms for the loss of steel.
RAUCH: That's Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros recounting one of the most famous stories of urban decline in America. But he could have cited dozens more, regions that weren't able to change with the times and paid the price. Claude Shostel, head of New York City's Regional Plan Association, says it's a mistake to think that even New York could never meet a similar fate.
SHOSTEL: We are no longer destined for success. We have not been growing in the last decade. We've been growing slower than every other metropolitan region in the country. So we think the challenge now is a different one: not how to manage growth but how to create growth.
RAUCH: The Regional Plan Association, a private group of 60 influential business, civic, and academic leaders from around the New York metropolitan area, has been an important player for years. Its recommendations in 1929 helped lead to major rail, highway and open space projects. In the late 60s it successfully pushed for the protection of nearly 1 million acres of parkland and a multi-billion dollar investment in infrastructure. This time the RPA is warning against the decline of the urban hub, and against complacency by communities as far away as Poughkeepsie upstate; New Haven, Connecticut; Trenton, New Jersey; and Hicksville on Long Island.
SHOSTEL: During the recession of the late 1980s, when this region lost three quarters of a million jobs, all parts of the region were affected similarly. We are one metropolitan economy. People in the suburbs have a tremendous stake in seeing the central city succeed, and we have a tremendous stake in the central cities to see the quality of life in suburban areas maintained.
RAUCH: For the RPA the key to preserving that metropolitan area economy is to focus its resources back on the urban hubs around which it is built. New York itself; Newark, New Jersey; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and the like. Their plan calls for investments in inner city education for kids and adults, especially immigrants, who they consider an important asset, as well as investments in affordable housing. The RPA says the lack of affordable housing is a major reason why many companies leave the area, and this new investment would be linked to public transportation, cutting down on congestion and sprawl, and reducing pressure on undeveloped land. The RPA's vision for the future of the New York metropolitan region is based in large part on what's already in place.
LA GUARDIA: Our subway system is the biggest railroad in the world, and we carry more passengers in one day than many railroads carry in a year. For we carry over 6 million passengers a day, so it is quite an undertaking.
RAUCH: Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had much to brag about by the 1930s. Even today the extensive network of subway and commuter rail lines is the envy of many other areas. Claude Shostel says the region could help ensure its future with some small but significant improvements.
(Echoing, milling sounds of many people)
SHOSTEL: What we've got now are 7 separate rail systems that were built independently to compete with each other. We're standing here in Grand Central Station. If we were to be able to bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Station, 40 or 50,000 Long Island commuters a day would save a half hour on their commute. Eight thousand vehicles would be taken off the river crossing.
RAUCH: The plan would also link New York's airports to Manhattan by train. All told the RPA wants to expand the city's 1,250-mile rail system by 25 miles. That's only an additional 2%. But advocates say the benefits would be tremendous. Reduced congestion and quicker travel times would help stem the flow of jobs out of the city. One detail of the proposal illuminates a key theme of the Planning Association's vision: linking improvements in the city with services for the suburbs. The RPA wants to resurrect the long abandoned idea of building a new subway line on Manhattan's East Side. Claude Shostel says it will succeed this time around, because it would serve more than just city residents. Commuter trains would also use the tracks to bring suburban riders directly to Manhattan's financial district.
SHOSTEL: Every time you dig a new tunnel it had better serve 3 or 4 purposes. Now, if it serves the people on Long Island and Westchester and the Bronx and New Jersey Transit, we feel that we have a better chance of getting Federal funds and other transportation funds to support a broader set of uses and a broader constituency.
RAUCH: Claude Shostel says forging regional bonds through joint efforts and a new tri-state authority would be the best way to ensure that the New York area can command the resources it needs for the next century, and that would also help to protect vital and threatened green spaces from the Catskill Mountains to the New Jersey Highlands. The Regional Plan Association has no authority to make its prescriptions a reality. That's up to elected officials and the voters to decide. But in a public television on the RPA report, the Republican governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York all had at least some positive words.
SHOSTEL: We're going to look to try to incorporate as many of the ideas as are practical and as are financially achievable, so that we can start thinking well into the 21st century and not just to the next budget or the next election.
RAUCH: And indeed, New York Governor George Pataki has endorsed proposals to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Kennedy Airport and Grand Central Station. But it'll be tough going for these and other changes. On the key point of regional cooperation, the movement's in the other direction. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wants to dissolve the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs bridges, tunnels, and trains across the Hudson River. Joe Rose, who heads the New York City Planning Commission, says regional agencies are part of the problem.
ROSE: The regional institutions that we now have, such as the Port Authority and the MTA, what you see is funds being taken from city revenue sources and transferred to suburban projects. That's the direction that both the politics and the institutional biases have been creating investment in New York for quite some time, to the city's great disadvantage.
RAUCH: The Association's proposal to pay for its plans might also be ill-fated. The price tag is $75 billion over 25 years, or $3 billion a year out of a combined tri-state budget of over $100 billion. The RPA suggests covering some of that cost by raising gasoline taxes and bridge and tunnel tolls. Bad idea, says Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation.
GARGANO: We cannot do what we did in the past, continue to add taxes. Increase gasoline tax, increase tolls, increase business tax, increase personal tax. Those days are gone.
RAUCH: But RPA president Claude Shostel warns that without these investments the days of the region's international leadership may be gone.
SHOSTEL: We will be poorer, we will be more polarized, and our environment will be compromised, so that fewer and fewer people will be willing to put up with all of these inconveniences, and they will go to Atlanta and Dallas and Tokyo and London and Paris and places that are investing in their infrastructure. And the further that goes on, the harder it will be to turn it around.
RAUCH: On the other hand, Mr. Shostel says, New York still has the best hand around, and will stay on top if it plays it right.
SHOSTEL: We still have unspoiled mountains and countrysides and farm lands, and because of our cultural diversity, our entrepreneurial workforce, this is still the place where the world congregates, where people come, that is still the most exciting place with the best quality of life of any major metropolitan region in the world.
RAUCH: Few residents of the New York metropolitan area would argue against this vision of the future. But achieving it is another matter. The RPA's proposal calls for bigger government and higher taxes, at a time when politicians consider support for either as political suicide. The future, whether bleak or hopeful, is abstract, while today's political calculus is very real. So the Regional Plan Association's blueprint may end right there, just another ambitious idea to add to the pile. For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.
(Music up and under. Fade to folk music. A man sings: "I'm a free-born man of the traveling people. Got no fixed abode with nomads I'm numbered. Country lanes and byways were always my ways. I never fancied being lumbered.")
CURWOOD: It's a seasonal right here in Boston, and vocalist David Coffin has been part of it for much of its 25-year history. It's called the Midsummer Revels, a performance of traditional music, dance, and drama. Revels produces 2 annual shows, one in December to mark the shortest day of the year, and this June show to celebrate the longest day, the summer solstice. Patrick Swanson is the director.
SWANSON: One of the first scientific observations was that there was a pattern to this. That the days actually did get colder. Then there was a point at which that turned around and the days started getting longer again. And a time of plenty was up ahead. And that information had to be passed on from generation to generation.
CURWOOD: Song, dance, and ritual were important ways of passing on that information. This summer's Revels are set in the Celtic world, among some Irish nomads called the Traveling People. Their caravans and donkey carts dot the amphitheater, and the audience joins in the ritual change of seasons. For northerly people like the Irish, the coming of summer is a big deal. Snow and rain finally subside, the clouds clear, and the earth comes back to life. Patty Swanson.
SWANSON: In Ireland the weather is frequently rainy and, you know, it's not exactly laden with sunshine and so on. The moment when the sun comes out in a country like that, it is like a transformation it's just the most luscious moment. And you can see why people endure the rain.
(Voices singing: "Heigh ho, the rattling bog, the bog down in the valley, oh! Heigh ho, the rattling bog, and the bog down in the valley, oh! ...")
CURWOOD: If winter brings the mysteries of death, then summer calls up the mysteries of birth, life, and fertility, as in this song The Rattling Bog.
SWANSON: It's a cumulative song, and there are lots of them. It starts off with a tree in a bog and it links one thing to another. On the limb there was a branch, on the branch was a nest, on the nest was an egg, on the egg was a bird, and so on.
(Voices singing: " ... the rattling beak. Beak on the bird and the bird on the egg, and the egg in the nest and the nest on the branch...")
SWANSON: We're going to end it with: in the beak of the bird is a seed, but there's a longer version that goes on, there's a feather on the bird, and from the feather there came a bed, and on the bed there was a man, and on the man there was a maid, and in the maid there was a child, and on the child there was an arm, and on the arm there was a hand, and in the hand there was a seed, and from the seed guess what? There grew a tree, and you're back at the beginning again. And it's a sense of that connectedness, which is, you know, the old definition of religion. Religion, linking back to these great cycles.
(Voices singing: "Heigh ho, the rattling bog, the bog down in the valley, oh!")
CURWOOD: So there is singing and dancing, great bonfires and country fairs. Rites to honor and bring forth the earth's fertility. The Celts link the cycles of nature to the cycles of human life.
(Coffin sings: "Oh, the time did come when I went a marry, with the girl I loved I stood before my elders....")
CURWOOD: So summer was the time for love and marriage.
SWANSON: It's a sense of joining things together at the time that is most propitious. It is best to plant your peas, you know, within the lunar phase. And so, you know, by deduction, the Celts would say then there's a best time to get married. And it's not coincidental that there are so many weddings in June, you know, there is that sort of sense of fecundity there.
CURWOOD: Of course, there's the bawdy side to it. Take, for instance, the mating dance from Pad stow that's in the program. A man dressed as a horse, or in local parlance an os, dances excitedly among the townspeople and lures the young maids or mares to his side. Patty Swanson has been in Pad Stow at the very pub where the dance begins.
SWANSON: So they gathered outside the Golden Lion, and they wait there for quite a while. And then finally when the time comes they call, "Os, os!" and they answer back, "We os! Os os, we os! Os os, we os!" And then the drums kick in: bump, buh buh bum bum bum! And off they begin this song, "Unite and unite, now let us unite. For summer is a comin' today..."
(Voices singing: "... And wither we are going, we all will unite in the very morning of May. Unite and unite, now let us unite. For summer is a comin' today. And wither we are going, we all will unite in the very morning of May...")
SWANSON: And that song then carries on through the entire day, and the horse dances and the teaser dances, and this is not a wimpy dance. This is something that they sweat buckets. And they have relays of people that take over the horse when the first one is exhausted. And the horse will die and come back to life, maybe, I don't know, 40, 50 times during the day.
(Voices whoop and then sing. "Unite and unite, now let us unite...")
CURWOOD: [Laughs] Pretty steamy stuff. The closest many of us come these days to a solstice celebration is the Fourth of July, with its fireworks and barbecues. It's as if we're marking the connection to seasonal rhythms without even realizing it. And many people are rediscovering the link through Revels performances around the country.
SWANSON: I can sense sitting in an audience and suddenly you have a moment when they are all thinking or all laughing or reacting at the same time. You can see something of a need fulfilled. I don't think that is a projection. I think it's a palpable feeling of being a part of. And that's one of the generators, if you like, one of the engines.
CURWOOD: Patrick Swanson is associate artistic director of Revels in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The group's Celtic solstice celebration is playing at the De Cordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, on June 22nd and 23rd, the first days of summer.
(Music up and under: Celtic drums and fiddles)
CURWOOD: Our segment on the summer Revels was produced by Living on Earth's Kim Motylewski. Special thanks to station KPLU in Seattle and to the Regional News Network for help on our piece for New York City. Senior producer for Living on Earth is Chris Ballman. Our senior editor is Peter Thomson and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team also includes Liz Lempert, George Homsy, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. We had help from Susan Shepherd, Justin Kim, Heather Kaplan, Josh Hewlett, Peter Shaw, and Paul Masari. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Frank DeAngelis and Mark Navin. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthellier and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
(Music up an under)
ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental ethics.
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