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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

June 30, 2000

Air Date: June 30, 2000


The Price of Gas

Host Steve Curwood talks with Harvard Business School Fellow Paul Sabin about the surge in gas prices. Mr. Sabin says that politics often shape the price of petroleum and that the high prices could spur a new economy. (04:20)

San Francisco Airport Expansion / Cheryl Colopy

Cheryl Colopy reports on San Francisco airport's plan to build new runways. The runways would reach into San Francisco Bay and will likely require landfill. Environmental activists say more planes mean more air pollution and noise, and loss of sensitive habitats. But San Francisco, along with other airports across the country, are under increased pressure to accommodate more planes. (07:20)

Technology Update / Cynthia Graber


Saving Bat Habitat / Christopher Joyce

In a National Geographic Radio Expedition, NPR's, Christopher Joyce reports on efforts to prevent some abandoned mines in Michigan's upper peninsula from being filled in after thousands of bats were discovered hibernating in them. (08:50)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about sea turtles. It’s the tenth anniversary of a conservation program that’s trying to save the endangered species. (01:30)

Anniversary of Edwards Dam Removal / Naomi Schalit

It’s been a year since the removal of Maine’s Edwards Dam, and environmentalists, scientists and fishermen alike have noted dramatic improvements in and around the Kennebec River. The success of the project is seen as a model for river restoration across the country. Naomi Schalit (NEIGH-OH-MEE SHUH-LEET) of Maine Public Radio reports. (05:55)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports that a major new study has found that as the level of particulate pollution rises, so do death and hospitalization rates. (00:59)

Korean DMZ

For nearly 50 years a two and a half mile wide demilitarized zone has separated the Korean peninsula, dividing north from south. This no man’s land has become a de facto nature sanctuary. Host Steve Curwood talks with Penn State University professor Ke Chung Kim about the DMZ and its prospects for permanent reserve status. (06:00)

Iraq Cancer Epidemic / Quil Lawrence

In Iraq, economic sanctions have prevented the southern city of Basra from recovering from the effects of the Gulf War. Doctors in the region are seeing an alarming increase of health problems, including cancer. Quil Lawrence reports. (10:40)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Cheryl Colopy, Cynthia Joyce, Naomi Schalit, Quil Lawrence
UPDATES: Cynthia Graber, Diane Toomey
GUESTS: Paul Sabin

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Almost everyone likes to complain about the higher gas prices these days, but some experts say it's a bit like turning our noses up at Brussels sprouts: a higher price for gas would be good for America.

SABIN: If it were sustained it would encourage investment in the United States in alternative forms of energy and technology, all of which are going to become products of the new economy.

CURWOOD: Also, most people fear them, but bats are critical to the environment. They pollinate plants and they eat lots of bugs. And in the upper peninsula of Michigan there's an effort to preserve mines as bat caves.

(Footfalls, dripping)

DUCOMMON: [phonetic spelling] This is just amazing to me, because all of the mines that you go into and survey and look at, you're looking for that mother lode of bats, and here it is: thousands upon thousands of bats as far as your eye can see.

CURWOOD: Holy habitat, Batman! We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, but first this roundup of the news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

The Price of Gas

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's been a rough few months for people in the U.S who buy petroleum. First fuel oil prices skyrocketed as winter's chill set in. Then diesel fuel for truckers also spiked. And now politicians have been pointing fingers over surging gasoline prices. But this is nothing new, says oil historian and Harvard Business School fellow Paul Sabin. He says since oil first became commercial after the Civil War, politicians from both parties in America have worked to keep the demand for oil high by keeping the price at the pump low.

SABIN: Lower gas prices historically have resulted from a series of political interventions in diplomatic policy, tax policy, public land policy, the development up of the highways to build consumption for oil and gas.

CURWOOD: Gasoline prices have been pretty low in this country compared to the rest of the world, pretty much from day one. Why is that?

SABIN: One reason is that the United States has been a great supplier of oil to its own consumers and to the whole world, since oil became a product that went to market right before the Civil War. Actually, oil was first extracted in a way that could be produced economically and used for kerosene, which was its original production. And the second reason is that the United States government has adopted policies, and also the state governments have adopted policies, that are very favorable to the oil and gas industry and have resulted in a lowering of the price of gasoline we pay at the pump.

CURWOOD: Just how has government kept the price of gasoline low?

SABIN: Well, there are five major areas in which the government has intervened. One is tax policy, tax exemptions that have allowed the oil and gas industry to write off large portions of their profits and to take immediate deductions. These have provided billions and billions of dollars of subsidies to the oil industry. Another example would be public land policy, the opening up of public lands, very inexpensive areas. If you go back to Teapot Dome, that old, old governmental crisis of the 1920s, that was about oil leases on federal lands that were offered at a very inexpensive rate. Thirdly would be diplomacy. Our intervention in the Persian Gulf in a variety of different ways, including sending the military there. Finally, intervening to build up the infrastructure of consumption, the whole motor vehicle infrastructure. Highways, bridges, interstates.

CURWOOD: What has this meant for our economy, then, and for our energy use?

SABIN: Well, I think it's encouraged our dependence on oil as one of the main sources of energy for our entire economy. I have to be frank and say that it's probably stimulated a tremendous amount of economic growth. It made a front-end investment in cheap energy that's enabled many economic activities.

CURWOOD: Now, if the price of gas is cheap and the rest of the world pays more for it, is there a hidden cost that people are paying here?

SABIN: There are many hidden costs. One is all the great, the billion dollar a year investment that we make in our diplomacy in the Persian Gulf, and even the cost of sending soldiers over there to protect, you know, the peace and safety of the region. Another would be the tax policies. We don't pay the tax write-offs when we go to the pump. We pay them on April fifteenth when we pay our taxes. Because we're paying more taxes because the oil industries and other people are paying less taxes because of these policies. And a final example is the cost of many of the social environmental dislocations associated with the oil economy. Santa Barbara oil spill, Exxon Valdez oil spill, and also many of the social consequences of oil extraction in many ecologically fragile regions, such as the Arctic tundra and Ecuador and the Ecuadorean Amazon, things like that.

CURWOOD: Is this rise in gasoline prices, is this kind of good news in a way? Is that what you're saying?

SABIN: In the short-term it's painful. It has political pain. In the long term I think it is good news. If it were sustained it would encourage investment in the United States in alternative forms of energy and technology, all of which are going to become products of the new economy. For a hundred years people have been talking about price, that it all comes down to price. That this is why we don't have the mass transit system. This is why we don't have solar power. This is why we don't develop fuel cells or electrical vehicles. It all comes down to price, they say. And what I'm saying here is that the price has been artificially lowered, and we should take out some of these interventions, allow the price to rise, and make the shift to a new energy economy.

CURWOOD: Paul Sabin is executive director of the Environmental Leadership Program and a Newcomen Fellow at the Harvard Business School. I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

SABIN: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

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San Francisco Airport Expansion

CURWOOD: The San Francisco Airport has plans to build new runways that would stretch well into San Francisco Bay. Officials say the massive project is needed to respond to the demand for air traffic and protect public safety. But critics say there are smarter alternatives that would cost less, and protect the sensitive environment of the bay as well as people. From member station KQED, Cheryl Colopy reports.

(Jet engines)

WOMAN: These are 747s

WOMAN 2: All three?

WOMAN: All three.

COLOPY: Seen from the control tower, the choreography of flights in and out of San Francisco International Airport is stunning. In the space of 20 minutes, more than 20 flights land or take off, even though the airport's two pairs of runways intersect. That means a 747 which has just lumbered into position for takeoff must pause a few beats to let a pair of midsized shuttles swoop down and start taxiing toward the terminal. This is a typical day at SFO, or rather a typical bright sunny day, when pilots descending in tandem toward the parallel runways can almost wave at each other. But come rain or fog and this elaborate dance ends, because the Federal Aviation Administration cuts the number of planes allowed in half. Downstairs in his office, SFO's Public Affairs Director Ron Wilson says that's because in bad weather pilots can't see each other.

WILSON: The FAA in Herndon, Virginia, will impose a flow restriction on San Francisco and reduce our flow rate from 60 an hour to 30. The problem is that the airline schedule is based on this flow of 60. What do we do with the other 30 airplanes that are wanting to land in San Francisco? So it dominoes through the day, and by two o'clock in the afternoon, if we have bad weather all day, we have delays of two and three hours.

COLOPY: Mr. Wilson says the airport wants to build two new runways and shut down two of the old ones. Even in bad weather the airlines would be able to stay on schedule, he says, because the new configuration would leave a lot of room between runways. But there's so little land here, new runways would require filling the bay, up to 1,300 acres or several square miles. And many fear such disruption could change the currents in the bay and stir up sediments contaminated with mercury and other poisons. Retired air traffic controller Rod Stewart, now a community activist, says occasional bad weather delays are part of travel, and new runways at SFO won't do enough good to justify pouring concrete into the bay.

STEWART: Enlarging these airports isn't going to solve the delay problem. It's just going to increase it, just like more freeways has not solved morning rush hour.

COLOPY: Mr. Stewart argues for airports and airlines throughout the state to cooperate for the good of travelers. Airlines could be encouraged to space flights out instead of having many leaving near the same time for the same destinations. And in the Bay Area, he argues for using Oakland and San Jose for commuter flights to reduce traffic at San Francisco's airport. Rod Stewart says a few years ago, he was persuaded SFO needed new runways. Now he thinks money would be better spent creating a system to move passengers between the region's airports quickly, over land or over water, instead of on new runways. But the Bay Area's airports are businesses competing for travelers. SFO's Ron Wilson.

WILSON: And I don't know that you'll ever see a regional approach that all three airports would get together cooperatively. It's kind of like a dog staking out its territory.

COLOPY: But critics of the airport's plan say piecemeal planning won't meet the public's needs in terms of air travel any better than it's met them on the ground. David Lewis is the executive director of the environmental group Save the Bay. He points to Bay Area transit systems that don't link up and freeway gridlock as the result of the kind of old-fashioned planning approach the airport is now pursuing.

LEWIS: Well, I think you'll hear an undertone from the airport that putting that pressure on this project is unfair. That they can't take responsibility for the way California has grown and might be growing, and the way the region is changing. And so it's unfair to ask them to do that. But in fact, the law requires it, and for a very good reason. It's vital to look at the cumulative impacts that one project, especially a large project, has on a whole system.

COLOPY: And especially a project that will cost three-and-a-half billion dollars, while causing further insult to the ailing ecosystem of San Francisco Bay. David Lewis says the money could be a down-payment on high-speed rail between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, the route covered by the bulk of flights.

MAN: Yeah, I've sailed this. And I've sailed with fish...

COLOPY: At Coyote Point on San Francisco Bay, wind surfers are getting ready for tomorrow's Wind Fest. Thousands of enthusiasts will gather just south of San Francisco airport for races and demonstrations of new types of sails and boards.

ROBERSON: This is two-eight left and right. See the approach lights on the red? The red steel?

COLOPY: Bill Roberson is the president of the San Francisco Board Sailing Association. He's talking to visiting wind-surfer Bill Klein of Oregon and showing him where proposed new runways for San Francisco airport would extend into the choppy gray-green surf.

ROBERSON: Yeah, the runway would be right there. It would be right in front of you. Actually smack right in the middle of some of our long-distance courses.

KLEIN: How far out would it go?

ROBERSON: It would go three miles this way.

KLEIN: They're going to build a three-mile runway out there? You've got to be kidding.

ROBERSON: The runway itself would be over two...

(Wind blows flags)

COLOPY: We're about a mile as the gull flies from the edge of SFO's current runways. As flags whip in the wind, Bill Roberson says it's one of the best wind-surfing spots in the bay, even in the world.

ROBERSON: Well, essentially, Coyote Point is eliminated as a wind-surfing location if they put that new runway two-eight right in. You would be able to sail inside between the runway and where we are now, but remember, our park, our environment is out there in the channel. It's just on the other side of where the runway will be.

COLOPY: Mr. Roberson is more than just a worried wind-surfer. He's also a former Navy test pilot and a licensed airline pilot. He says SFO doesn't really need new runways. He says radar equipment widely in use right now at other airports could reduce delays, and in a few years global positioning technology will let pilots know precisely, to within an inch, where other planes are. Even if they can't see each other. Airport officials say they plan to use some of the new technology but call these measures band-aids. This disturbs Bill Roberson.

ROBERSON: My greatest concern is, they're going to build this big runway and then they're going to implement this stuff, and they're going to say that it's the runway that solved the problems, and it's not. It's the technology that we have that they're going to implement to solve their problems when the runway doesn't.

COLOPY: As a concession to environmentalists, the airport has proposed spending $200 million to restore wetlands at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. And, convinced the airport will manage to get the runways it wants, some environmentalists are going along with this plan. Already the state legislature has passed a bill speeding up the permitting process. There will continue to be enormous political pressure on various state and federal agencies to approve the runways, both because San Francisco is eager to compete with cities like Los Angeles and Seattle for traffic to Asia, and because this could be the largest public works project in San Francisco's history. For Living on Earth, I'm Cheryl Colopy.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Recycling abandoned mines into bat habitat. The story is coming up here on Living on Earth.

Now, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under)

Technology Update

GRABER: If Japanese researchers get their way, trains someday will fly. By taking advantage of the effects of wind that both lift a moving object and drag it backwards, like what happens to your hand when you stick it out the car window, researchers are developing the Aerotrain. It looks like an airplane with a wings at both ends of its twenty-five-foot frame. And by shaping the wings just so, scientists can use the wind like a cushion to support the train just a few inches off the ground as it speeds through a special concrete corridor. Stabilizing fins keep it from bouncing off the walls. Prototypes of these floating trains now reach speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. And using solar energy and wind turbines, researchers hope to almost double that speed by the time the Aerotrain is ready for mass production. And that's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Saving Bat Habitat

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Some of the deepest mines ever dug lie abandoned on a slip of land in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Once they supported America's industrial revolution. Now they're a hazard and they're being filled in. But biologists have persuaded some mine owners to stop the backfilling. They've discovered hundreds of thousands of bats hibernating there in winter. In an NPR-National Geographic Society Radio Expedition, NPR's Christopher Joyce traveled to the Upper Peninsula, the UP as it's called, to see these new bat sanctuaries.

JOYCE: Place names tell the history of the UP. Mohawk and Menominee, for example. Big mining arrived and there was Die Right and Copper Harbor. And from the old country came places like Toivola [phonetic spelling] and Finlander Bay.

(An accordion plays)

MORLANEN: [phonetic spelling] My name is Art Morlanen [phonetic spelling], born and raised on a farm here about five miles from us.

JOYCE: Morlanen [phonetic spelling] is 83 years old. His parents immigrated from Finland. His father would ski down to his job in the mines. Art preferred farming and playing the accordion.

MORLANEN: [phonetic spelling] And I knew the miners and the lumberjacks. I learned a lot of their words to this music, through the lumberjacks and miners. (Sings in Finnish)

JOYCE: Morlanen [phonetic spelling] says there's not much call for songs from Finland any more. Young people prefer rock and roll now. The mines are closed. Gone with them, a trunk of American history. And that bothers mining enthusiast Steve Smith.

SMITH: All the artifacts are pretty much buried or rotted away. The tunnels [phonetic spelling] are either burned or hauled away, and vandalized and destroyed.

JOYCE: Eight years ago, Smith found a way to save the mines: bats. He discovered hundreds of thousands of hibernating bats inside the abandoned mines. Since then, a group called Bat Conservation International, along with the government's Natural Resources Conservation Service, has been keeping some of the mines open.

SMITH: It's really interesting that it would take something like a little, tiny animal to save this entire historical era from destruction. Because it would have been lost totally.

JOYCE: BCI regularly sends biologist Dan Taylor up to the UP to find out where the bats are hibernating. Most days you'll find him where we did, surveying a mine. In this case, the old Quincy Mine.


JOYCE: Taylor says bats are valuable. They eat insects. They pollinate plants.

TAYLOR: They really are an amazing animal. And one of these little bats will live over 30 years. They really are very, actually, intelligent little animals. They're very gentle animals. Once you get to know them, to know them is to love them.


JOYCE: For bats to use the mines, though, people have to be kept out. For that, BCI has turned to Herb Riuta [phonetic spelling]. Riuta [phonetic spelling] builds gates over mine entrances. They're like a big prison window, rows of bars spaced wide enough to let bats come and go, but keep people out. Riuta [phonetic spelling] is here at the Old South Lake Mine. The mine entrance is on top of a hill.


RIUTA: [phonetic spelling] Oh, to that birch up there it's about 300 feet. A little further up from there is an opening.

JOYCE: The hill could be a ski slope, except it's all loose rock, wet, sharp, and slippery.

(Rock falls)

RIUTA: [phonetic spelling] We're going to slide over and put the equipment up the rock pile, to that site up there. And then we're going to put the bat grate in place. But to get up there is the big thing.

JOYCE: Riuta [phonetic spelling] has a plaid-shirted crew of three men. They hoist their equipment onto a rusting snowmobile sled. It's hard work, but clearly fun. But it's just a little crazy.

RIUTA: [phonetic spelling] I'm going to go up there with the cable.

JOYCE: The idea is to hang a pulley on a tree at the top, run a cable from the sled up the hill and through the pulley.

RIUTA: [phonetic spelling] Grab the end of it.


JOYCE: And then run the cable back down to Riuta's [phonetic spelling] pickup truck.

(An engine revs)

JOYCE: The truck pulls the sled up the hill. Riuta [phonetic spelling] and Taylor grab the sled and help.

(Engines. Shouts of "You got it?")

RIUTA: [phonetic spelling] Boy, it's quite a climb. (Pants)

(Someone calls, "You ready, Herb?")

RIUTA: [phonetic spelling] Yeah!

JOYCE: The truck pulls. The sled groans up the hill a few yards. Then the truck spins in a rut.

(Spinning, shouting)

JOYCE: I climbed the hill to watch. Below there's a small stream. Evergreens and birch trees stretch to the horizon. There's no sign of people, except for these five men hauling 350 pounds of steel up a rock pile.

(Steel scrapes on rock)

JOYCE: The cable holds.

(Someone shouts, "Don't hold up, Joyce, hold it out. Yee-hah!)

JOYCE: The sled makes the top.

RIUTA: [phonetic spelling] Now he can let go of that. It's not going to go down the hill any more.

JOYCE: But there are still ten yards to go to flat ground.

(Heavy scraping)

RIUTA: [phonetic spelling] One, two, three!


JOYCE: Beyond the pile of rubble, we discover a cavern. In one wall there's a hole about the size of a garbage can cover. That's the way into the mine, where Riuta [phonetic spelling] will put the gate.

(Echoes, hammering)

RIUTA: [phonetic spelling] Right now I'm going to chisel this opening of this hole.

JOYCE: As Riuta [phonetic spelling] chisels, we squeeze by and down into the mine for one last bat survey. Biologists Cheryl Ducommon [phonetic spelling] and Dan Taylor suspect this mine is a favorite hibernating spot. We switch on our headlamps and an electronic bat detector.

DUCOMMON: [phonetic spelling] It really drops off there pretty steep. So probably another wall.


JOYCE: The shaft turns and twists, flattens out, and then through a marvelous cavern.

(Quick bursts of sound)

DUCOMMON: [phonetic spelling] We just had a bat fly by, and that's the echolocation that they give.


DUCOMMON: The bat detector is a device that we use to help us. All it does is it takes the echolocation call of the bat and it puts it down into an audible range.

JOYCE: We cast our lights upwards, onto the cavern walls.

DUCOMMON: [phonetic spelling] This is just amazing to me, because all of the mines that you go into and survey and look at, you're looking for that mother lode of bats, and here it is: thousands upon thousands of bats as far as your eye can see.


JOYCE: They're mostly little browns, a few big browns. They hang from the ceiling in clusters like furry grapes. Ducommon [phonetic spelling] starts a rough count of the bats, but they've already sensed our presence.

(High calls)

DUCOMMON: [phonetic spelling] This little guy right here is starting to shuffle around a little bit. They're starting to come out their torpor.

JOYCE: They're waking up, peeling themselves off the ceiling, and flying around us.

(Calls, wing flaps, drops)

JOYCE: Every spring this process repeats itself. A slow awakening, the stretching of wings, then out of the entrance in search of insects for breakfast. Ducommon [phonetic spelling] is happy to play midwife to this annual rebirth.

DUCOMMON: [phonetic spelling] The bats won't survive unless they have a place to hibernate. So, these mines enable larger populations of bats to occur throughout this entire area. They'd either have to find some other place to hibernate, or they just wouldn't exist.

JOYCE: Here, by chance, industry has served nature. That's the story this team wants people to know: that bats and old mines are worth saving.

(Morlanen sings and plays accordion)

JOYCE: For Radio Expeditions, I'm Christopher Joyce in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan.

Back to top

(Morlanen sings and plays accordion)

CURWOOD: Radio Expeditions is a co-production of NPR and the National Geographic Society. Our story on the bat sanctuaries was produced by Van Williamson and engineered by Bill McQuay.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: You're listening to Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood and this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: checking in with a river that has been allowed to run wild again. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

(Music up and under: "Stars and Stripes Forever")

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Green Sea Turtles have something to celebrate this fourth of July. It's the tenth anniversary of Hawaii's Mauna Lani turtle restoration program that breeds Honu, or Green Sea turtles, for release into the ocean. The Green Sea Turtle is one of seven marine turtle species. All are endangered and it's not hard to see why. For one thing, newly hatched turtles wait for the cover of darkness to dash for the sea. They are programmed to head for the brightest spot. In nature, that's the horizon over the ocean but with development, they head for bright lights on shore instead and never find the water. For those that do, other hazards await. The palm sized hatchlings are extremely vulnerable to predators. And then: plastic bags. In the water, plastic bags look like jelly fish, a baby sea turtle's favorite food. But, eat them and die. Between predators and pollution, only five percent of any given population are left after a couple of weeks. And then accidental capture during net fishing means death for thousands more each year. But if all does go well, sea turtles can live as long as 100 years. So, best of luck to this year's batch, who brave the elements of man and mother nature on Turtle Independence Day, July 4th. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Anniversary of Edwards Dam Removal

CURWOOD: A year ago July first, history was made in Maine as the Edwards Dam was demolished. It was the first major dam in modern times to be removed against the wishes of its owners. The 162-year-old dam spanned the Kennebec River in the capitol city of Augusta, and was a potent symbol of the region's industrial heritage. But that manufacturing muscle came at a cost. Fisheries almost died out; water quality plummeted. But as Maine Public Radio's Naomi Schalit reports, one year after the dam's removal, the river is on its way back to life.

(A boat cuts through water)

SCHALIT: Almost a decade ago, the battle to remove the Edwards Dam was in its infancy. That's when Steve Brook built this boat, an eighteen-and-a-half-foot motor canoe. He was the coordinator of the Kennebec Coalition, the lead group pressing for dam removal. That Steve Brook would one day launch his canoe at the Augusta boat ramp, just below the site of the old Edwards Dam, and power it upriver seemed an impossible dream. But that's exactly what we're doing this steamy, hot summer day.

BROOK: We're coming up to the island that is just below where the Edwards Dam once was on the east side of the river. And the tide is very full right now, so there's a lot of water all over the place in here.

SCHALIT: A lot of water, and a lot of fish.

BROOK: I just saw some stripers working on the east side of the river, just upstream. Every time I come out I see bald eagles, osprey, lots of great blue heron, all predators feeding on the fishery population here in the river.

SCHALIT: The Edwards removal opened up 18 miles of critical upriver habitat for fish. And it provided prime hunting grounds for another migratory species, the sport fisherman. In the old days, when this section of the river was a polluted impoundment, anglers were more likely to catch what one sportswriter called "a soggy ribbon of toilet paper" than a fish. But last fall, for the first time in more than a century and a half, a fisherman caught a striped bass in Waterville, 17 miles above the old dam site. Alewives two million strong have migrated up to Waterville, too. American shad were caught there this spring. And throughout this morning on the river, we've seen huge, five-foot-long Atlantic sturgeon. The largest sea-run fish in eastern North America, they've breached repeatedly in front of us, virtually standing up on their tails.

(A cog turns)

SCHALIT: Back at the Augusta boat ramp in the shadow of a rusty old bridge, fishermen haul their boats out of the water. Dan Gerard does harbor master duty for Augusta. He's down at this urban launch every day, early. He's been seeing a lot of anglers.

GERARD: Yeah, they're here all the time. In the morning, come down here five o'clock in the morning, that boat land is packed.

(A reel is cast)

FLOWERS: The dam didn't do anything for me except for stop fish and make them maybe a little easier to catch right where we are before.

SCHALIT: John Flowers is a fisherman from West Gardner, downriver.

GARDNER: Two weeks ago we were up in Sydney, checking out the old boat launch with my wife. We were fishing for smallmouth bass just on the shore. And she caught, like a 22-inch striper. You'd never have that happen, you know, for the last hundred years, so.

SCHALIT: The fishermen and the fish know what scientists are now beginning to document: the Kennebec's on the road back to health. It was a ten-year fight to remove the Edwards Dam. Environmentalists argued during that time that taking it out meant the return of clean water and the restoration of fisheries. But that assertion had never been tested anywhere else.

CORTEMANCH: [phonetic spelling] There was a lot of speculation because this hadn't been done. Certainly hadn't been done on a large river.

SCHALIT: Dave Cortemanch [phonetic spelling] is a scientist for Maine's Department of Environmental Protection. He says that within months of the removal, water quality had improved dramatically.

CORTEMANCH: [phonetic spelling] What's happened, really, has confirmed all the predictions we had. So with the dam out, the river has rebounded. It's gone back to a functional river system. I think the remarkable thing, the thing that we learned out of this, that we didn't anticipate, is how fast that would happen.

DUMONT: The fishermen say well, now the fish are back. The fish have always been here. They just couldn't get over the obstruction, over the dam.

SCHALIT: That's Dick Dumont. He was the lone dissenter when the Augusta City Council voted to endorse the dam's removal. He says no matter how fine the river looks, he'll probably never think it was a good idea to take out Edwards. That's because the city collected money from the dam's operation, almost a million dollars in property taxes and fees. There will be more dollars coming in from increased recreational use of the river, so Mr. Dumont's philosophical.

DUMONT: The city is not going to die and life is going to go on, and maybe it will all be for the better. And I'm not against that. But we did lose some of our revenues.

SCHALIT: The river level dropped around 19 feet where the old impoundment had been. The raw, muddy banks are now greening up. From fish to stone flies, all the things that characterize a healthy river are coming back. Dam removal advocates across the country are watching the Kennebec for ammunition in their efforts. Chris Zimmer works for Washington State's Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. His group wants to pull down four dams on the Snake River.

ZIMMER: The model out there on the Kennebec River showed that when you bring all parties to the table, when you look at the science, when you look at the economics, we can remove the dams that are threatening our fish. We can do it affordably. And we can actually increase the quality of life we have here in the region.

SCHALIT: Maine scientist Dave Cortemanch [phonetic spelling] has a word of advice for those questioning the wisdom of dam removal. Taking down dams brings back life, he says. He points to the old phrase, "Build it and they will come," and he turns it on his head. Destroy it and they will come, he says. For Living on Earth, I'm Naomi Schalit in Augusta, Maine.

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CURWOOD: Coming up: cancer and the legacy of the war against Iraq. That story is just ahead on Living On Earth.

Now, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

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Health Update

TOOMEY: Air pollution from diesel engines, power plants, and forest fires can penetrate deep into lungs. Since the early 90s, research has shown that this so-called particulate pollution is associated with illness and death. But those studies were criticized because they measured air quality in only one particular location. Now a major new study using data from the nation's largest ninety cities confirms the link between particulates and disease. It found that when particulate matter increased by about seven-millionths of an ounce per cubic meter, the death rate in that region the following day rose by one percent. Researchers also found that, under the same conditions, hospitalizations of the elderly rose two to four percent. The EPA and the auto industry funded the research, conducted by scientists at Johns Hopkins and Harvard University. And that's this week's environmental health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, Tapes and transcripts are $15.

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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Korean DMZ

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For nearly 50 years a demilitarized zone two-and-a-half miles wide has snaked across the Korean peninsula, separating the north from the south. A no man's land for all this time, it is now the last sanctuary for much of Korea's biological diversity. And with relations thawing between the north and south, conservationists say now is the time to protect the DMZ area permanently as a natural refuge. Joining me is Ke Chung Kim. He is Director of the Penn State Center for Biodiversity Research and chairman of the DMZ Forum. Professor Kim, would you set the scene for us. Describe what we would see if we were standing right in the middle of this corridor between the two Koreas.

KIM: Okay. First thing you would see is of course barbed wire fence. And looking over the fence, you will see a rich, green, thick forest in the eastern part. Toward the west you have a plain, you have thick grasslands, and then hills, hillbilly type of country. And so that you will see the rehabilitation of farming areas in the west, where they have cultivated over several thousand years, now is completely filled by the wildlife and the vegetation. That's what you would see.

CURWOOD: So it's really quite wild, then.

KIM: Yes, it is completely wild, mainly because for close to 50 years they have been no man's lands, which actually turned into sanctuaries and a refuge for many of the animal and plant species.

CURWOOD: So, what kind of plants and animals are in the demilitarized zone area, that can't be found now in the rest of Korea?

KIM: That is difficult to say, in a sense that Korean biodiversity is poorly known, particularly coming down to lower plants and invertebrate animals. Of course, you have to recognize that nobody getting into the DMZ inside, you know it's very difficult to say what's there. But so far, what they have recorded, nine, for example, rare species of mammals, either come from what's expected to be found there --

CURWOOD: What are those?

KIM: Which are, for example, black bear and musk deer are included. Sign of tigers or leopards, they cannot be 100 percent sure. And then also, they provide habitats for the world's most endangered birds, like the white-naped crane and the red-crowned cranes and so on. So it is a rich fauna and flora. They certainly can support conservation efforts peninsula-wide.

CURWOOD: How does the demilitarized zone compare with the rest of Korea?

KIM: North Korea, particularly immediately north of the DMZ, is prohibited, and I have not been to North Korea. I cannot say, other than the fact that they have very heavily deforested, and they have enormous flood and erosion problems every year. South Korea, for developing economic wealth for the last 30 years, literally exploited every acre of the land they got. As a result, they have a tremendous environmental problem in one end of the pollution. At the other end is the fragmentation and the destruction of the habitats. Loss of the native species is enormous.

CURWOOD: With rapprochement picking up pace now between North and South Korea, folks there must be looking pretty closely at the demilitarized zone. I imagine the developers see some pretty nice territory they can expand into, and environmental activists are saying hey, this would be great to have as a conservation zone, as a sanctuary. Looking back at the history of the last 50 years since the conflict in Korea, is it realistic to hope that North and South Korea can work on this to enhance environmental conservation?

KIM: I think that's a very good question. With a North and South summit completed and then a lot of activities are going on, my thought is that political environment will need to discuss something long-term, and politically neutral issues. That is environment, and the DMZ is not something like other transboundary issues. They don't have to create one which is already created. And it is owned by no one, other than, say, Korean people own it. So the issue could be relatively easy to deal with if North and South Korean government decided to pursue it.

CURWOOD: Let me ask you about the finances here. There's a lot of economic pressure to develop this area, obviously. What are the sort of financial resources necessary to encourage the South and North Korean governments to think in terms of conservation rather than construction and development?

KIM: Once an agreement is made to establish this, you know, because there's a lot of cost involved. For example, just simply removing the mine will be a tremendous effort in cost. But those costs, I think, can be gotten from international organizations, South Korean government, and so on. And this narrow [phonetic spelling] political decision, that's what they have to seek for at this point. You can't measure the economic value of exploiting the DMZ, which will not last too long. At the same time, that is very unique world jewel in terms of conservation. There is strong support in various sectors of the world community for it, so I'm very optimistic about the cost side of it, despite the difficulties I am at this point having convincing the political arena.

CURWOOD: Ke Chung Kim is Director of the Penn State Center for Biodiversity Research and chairman of the Korean DMZ Forum. Thank you, sir.

KIM: Thank you.

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Iraq Cancer Epidemic

CURWOOD: At the southern tip of Iraq, just over the border with Kuwait lies the city of Basra. It's been a battlefield for almost twenty years. For most of the 1980s it was center stage in the war between Iraq and Iran. That conflict was barely over when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, and again, Basra was pounded, this time by the US and its allies. In the ten years since the Gulf war, economic sanctions have prevented Basra from recovering. As Quil Lawrence reports, widespread malnutrition and disease are prevalent in the war-torn south. Doctors are also seeing a new epidemic of cancer.

LAWRENCE: On the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the city of Basra still shows signs of two decades of war. Bombed-out bridges remain twisted heaps of concrete and steel. Most of the city only gets a few hours of electricity each day. Hassan al-Rawhi [phonetic spelling], a sanitation engineer, is overseeing the construction of a new water treatment plant north of Basra. He says the sewage systems in the south are in terrible condition.

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AL-RAWHI: [phonetic spelling] Directing empty area just behind the hospital, and it was a lake of sewage with bad smell and a lot of insects, mosquitos and so on.

LAWRENCE: Mr. al-Rawhi's [phonetic spelling] new water treatment plant will only serve a fraction of the need. And even that water, he says, will flow through old and contaminated pipes that can still make people sick. A United Nations program has been in place since 1996, allowing Iraq to trade its oil for food and medicine. But the directors of the program say it's not enough. Some essential items like chlorinators for purifying water are held up because the U.N. fears they may be headed for Saddam Hussein's weapons stockpiles.

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LAWRENCE: Doctors in Basra are swamped with cases of malnutrition and related diseases. And the hospitals themselves are in trouble. In the 1980s this country's medical care was among the best in the region. Now the hospitals lack beds, basic drugs, and equipment. This is the case here in Basra's crowded cancer wards. Patients rest on dirty woollen blankets, wearing whatever tattered clothes they came in with. Much of the problems here can be blamed on the economic embargo, but that doesn't explain why doctors are seeing so much cancer. Thumir Hamdan [phonetic spelling] is an orthopedic surgeon.

Hamdan: [phonetic spelling] It is a well-known fact internationally that orthopedic surgeons see one case of bone tumor every three years. That's in England. But we are seeing one case of bone tumor every one month.

LAWRENCE: Dr. Hamdan [phonetic spelling] is a lean, middle-aged man who walks through what he calls the miserable ward with an even determination. He's originally from Basra, but was educated in the U.S. and the U.K. and has been published internationally. Working without MRI scanning equipment or a decent supply of cancer drugs, Dr. Hamdan [phonetic spelling] spends most of his days now cutting out tumors. Sometimes he can reset the bone and save a patient's limb. But oftentimes he amputates.

HAMDAN: [phonetic spelling] This is a lady lost her limb because of [inaudible]. Now she's without limb. She had a malignant tumor. And she's too young, she developed abdominal tumor, recurrence. This is secondaries. An abdomen is not a common sight for secondaries in tumor of the leg. She lost her limb.

LAWRENCE: Dr. Hamdan [phonetic spelling], who has worked in Basra over 20 years, says the tumors he's seeing now are different than before. They're quicker and more deadly, but less painful. Unfortunately, this means that their victims often don't come to see a doctor until the tumor is advanced and swelling. As he checks one man's chart, Dr. Hamdan [phonetic spelling] notes that the patient comes from around the periphery of Basra. This is the poorest area, and the area closest to the battlefields. The man has a jagged hole where a tumor has been removed from his foot.

MAN: His name is Sadaman [phonetic spelling], he's 32 years old.

HAMDAN: [phonetic spelling] Did you think he is 32? If you look at his face you see he is 60 years old. That's poverty, malignancy, and pollution. Can you guess he is 32? He is too young.

LAWRENCE: Dr. Hamdan [phonetic spelling] does not research the cause of the cancers, but like many Iraqi doctors he suspects DU, depleted uranium. The U.S. Army first used DU rounds in the Gulf, and then more recently in Kosovo. The military developed the weapon after the Vietnam War, in search of a cheaper and more effective metal to make armor-piercing shells. DU, essentially nuclear waste, is twice as dense as lead and makes a great penetrator. The troops in the Gulf called it their silver bullet. In its solid form DU is not dangerous, emitting only weak alpha radiation. Not enough to get through human skin. But what most of the troops did not know is that the round vaporizes on contact, spreading radioactive dust all over its target and the surrounding area. The Pentagon estimates that the U.S. and the allies fired 320 tons of DU rounds in the Gulf War. Thousands of soldiers re-entered the battlefield wearing no protection.

KILPATRICK: That clearly was a major mistake on the part of the United States government. Most of the military people did not know depleted uranium was being used.

LAWRENCE: Dr. Michael Kilpatrick is a Pentagon spokesman. He says the Army now trains troops to take precautions, such as wearing protective clothing and masks, when dealing with DU exposure. But it didn't during the war. Veterans were outraged to discover that they had put themselves at risk after the cease-fire, climbing into and around dead Iraqi tanks looking for souvenirs, all the while breathing DU dust. Some soldiers who were hit by friendly fire and had DU shrapnel in their bodies didn't even find out they had been hit with DU until they began to suffer from a set of maladies now known as Gulf War Illness. The Pentagon was at first slow to acknowledge the problem, and they still refute a causal link between DU and symptoms. Kilpatrick says a control group of veterans hit by DU have shown no problems related specifically to the uranium.

KILPATRICK: Thirty-three of those individuals have been followed since 1993. And as of today, the physician following them has not been able to find any negative medical outcome as a result of that DU exposure. This group of soldiers has fathered over 20 children, all of whom are normal.

LAWRENCE: Likewise, Kilpatrick says that cancer rates have not jumped within this group of vets. But veterans groups say the Pentagon is motivated by a desire to continue using the cheap, effective weapon. One of the vets in the control group did develop a bone tumor. Others suffer from abdominal pains, skin rashes, about 60 different symptoms. And the Army knew DU was a risk even before the war, says Dan Fahey, a Navy veteran who studies DU.

FAHEY: This is an appendix of an Army report. But July 1990, it's written, and it says DU is a low-level alpha radiation emitter which is linked to cancer when exposures are internal. What this report identified was that when you use DU in combat, the dust gets created that soldiers, you know, might inhale the dust and then might have health problems as a result.

LAWRENCE: Fahey says he believes that the DU dust can be re-suspended in the air, causing new exposures almost indefinitely to local populations. And there are still contaminated Iraqi tanks in the vicinity of Basra. But even as he faults the Pentagon for a cover-up, Fahey says the Iraqi regime is overstating the effects of DU. In its campaign to bring an end to economic sanctions, Fahey says Iraqi government doctors in Geneva have been blaming DU for all of southern Iraq's many health problems.

FAHEY: Where the Iraqi government's using this for propaganda, the U.S. government is steadfastly denying that there are any problems that result. What's being lost is that there is a hazard that exists around these contaminated tanks. No one's telling them that there's a hazard. There's no effort to go in and clean these areas up.

LAWRENCE: Fahey points out that DU is not the only suspected hazard around Basra. Iraqi troops set fire to oil wells as they left Kuwait, turning the sky black with toxic fog. Chemical weapons alarms were ringing nonstop throughout the Gulf War, but the only confirmed exposure came when U.S. troops destroyed a munitions dump which contained Sarin gas. During the 1980s Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons here in the war with Iran, and then again when he mustard gassed uprisings in the nearby marshes after the Gulf War. Chemical weapons may also be a culprit for a cancer cluster. World Health Organization officials say that bone cancers usually don't appear until ten to 20 years after exposure. So any possible cancerous effects of DU may come later, for gulf vets and Iraqi civilians.

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LAWRENCE: In the crowded slums around Basra, it seems that isolation is the worst enemy, as people wonder if they've been forgotten by the world. A May issue of The Lancet medical journal verified that the child mortality rate in Iraq has doubled since the embargo began. No one has been able to get in and make a good independent study of cancer. The WHO did one cancer report in 1998, but they concluded only that more research was needed. So far the requests for a new study have gone nowhere. Gregory Hartl [phonetic spelling] is a WHO spokesman.

HARTL: [phonetic spelling] Iraq is a country which still has U.N. sanctions applying. We follow definitely what the U.N. Security Council says in New York, and that of course limits in certain instances what we can do there. It might also limit the international attractiveness of giving funds for studies in Iraq.

LAWRENCE: Mr. Hartl [phonetic spelling] says that the pre-war cancer records in Iraq are lacking, and the new study will have to start from scratch to determine if cancer rates have increased. Though the Iraqi regime has requested a study, the government makes it very difficult to work in the country and strictly controls information, monitoring all interviews with outsiders. A study of the problem may have to wait for a major political change inside or outside Iraq. But it could be a long wait. The embargo will remain in place until Saddam Hussein complies with U.N. weapons inspections. But the U.N. weapons inspection team hasn't been allowed in the country since 1998. For Living on Earth, I'm Quil Lawrence in Basra, Iraq.

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: For generations, a vibrant African-American fishing community thrived along the coast of south Georgia. Today, it's just about gone, taking with it a unique culture.

MORAN: You lose the skills, like they're building a boat. My granddad built boats. My father built boats. I cannot build a boat. You understand?

CURWOOD: One man left town rather than watch his community die. But now he's back to save a heritage. The story of Wilson Moran, next week, on Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, and Maggie Villiger, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, and Bree Horwitz. We had help this week from Jennifer Chu, Jenna Perry, Nicole Kalb, and James Curwood. And we say goodbye and thanks to Christina Russo, and Barbara Cone. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is the science editor and Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; and the Ford Foundation, striving to preserve our ecological values.

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