Air Date: August 6, 1999
The Importance of Being an Estuary: A Visit to Great Bay
On New Hampshire's Great Bay Estuary Richard Langan shows host Steve Curwood the abundance of life that a healthy estuary can support. Professor Langan directs the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, and runs a technology research program for the nation's 21 federally chartered Estuarine Research Reserves. (05:45)
The Healing Power of Chainsaws/ Terry FitzPatrick
In the Pacific Northwest forest ecologists are using chainsaws to create standing dead timber, or "snags," to provide nesting spots for birds displaced by the chainsaws of lumberjacks. Living On Earth’s Terry FitzPatrick reports. (07:40)
French Redesign Trash Burning/ Sarah Chayes
Take a 12th century cathedral town, the newest technology in trash burning plants, combine them with the latest environmental standards plus the French aesthetic sensibility, and a unique incineration experiment is born. Sarah Chayes reports from Chartres. (06:50)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about...the dog days of summer. (01:30)
The Thirst for Safe Water Series: Part One - Microbes in our Drinking Water/ Daniel Grossman
The United States has one of the best water supplies in the world, and some of the worst waterborne diseases are just about unknown here. But, research now shows that new risks to drinking water can resist even chemical treatment. Daniel Grossman reports from Philadelphia where the water meets all federal clean water standards, but evidence shows that certain disease-causing microbes are getting through the city's treatment system. (12:55)
Property Rights/ Kim Motylewski
Kim Motylewski reviews Eric Freifogle's new book on the property rights debate, "Bounded People, Boundless Land." (02:35)
Berry Growing Garden Spot
Host Steve Curwood gets advice on how listeners can grow their own berries at home from Living On Earth’s garden expert, Michael Weishan. (04:35)
Animal Movie Stars: Not Always What They Seem/ Sy Montgomery
In this summer's shark horror film "Deep Blue Sea," we soon realize that it's computer magic bringing these creatures to life on the big screen. But when making films about real animals, directors sometimes rely on old-fashioned slight of hand. Living On Earth Commentator Sy Montgomery explains. Ms. Montgomery is author of "Nature's Everyday Mysteries." (04:45)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Terry FitzPatrick, Sarah Chayes, Daniel Grossman, Kim Motylewski
GUESTS: Richard Langan, Michael Weishan
COMMENTATOR: Sy Montgomery
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Estuaries, the vital coastal zones where rivers and streams meet the oceans: Nature designed them as marine nurseries and havens for migratory birds, but humans are getting in the way.
LANGAN: You can see some of the houses here, nice lawn all the way down to the water. That's removing the buffer zone. It's a nice view for those folks, but anything they put on their lawn is going to run right into the bay.
CURWOOD: The importance of being an estuary. Also, the chainsaw's the symbol of forest destruction, but in the Pacific Northwest it's being used to heal clear-cut areas by creating standing dead timber for wildlife habitat.
REED: It always sort of is like going out here and trying to decide which one of these vigorous young trees we're going to take the top off, kind of: off with its head!
CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood, with an encore edition of Living on Earth.
LANGAN: We're right now heading up Little Bay. We look over to our left there. That's one of the 7 rivers that comes into this estuary; that's the Oyster River. It's aptly named. There used to be bountiful oyster resources up in there.
CURWOOD: Along our nation's coastlines, where freshwater washes into the tidal rhythm of the sea, shellfish are declining along with many other forms of marine life. Today, we're out on New Hampshire's Great Bay Estuary with Richard Langan to better understand why. Professor Langan directs the Jackson Estuary Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire and runs a technology research program for the nation's 21 Federal estuary reserves. Professor Langan has brought us out in a converted lobster boat to see the abundance of life that a relatively healthy estuary can support.
CURWOOD: Okay, we're seeing a little rock outcropping. A lot of birds on there. What are we looking at, cormorants there?
LANGAN: That's what those are. Those are double-crested cormorants.
CURWOOD: Do you see seals in here?
LANGAN: Oh, yeah. The tide's up a little high now, but one of their favorite rocks is straight up ahead. We call it Half-Tide Rock. And as soon as that water goes down you'll see, oh, half a dozen seals on any given day sitting on the rock. This is a good spot to pull over there. There's 3 or 4 habitats of interest. We're just passing over an eel grass bed right here, and not too far away from it there's an oyster bed.
LANGAN: In Great Bay, the primary feature in terms of shellfish are the oyster populations. There are also soft-shelled clams and mussels, but the dominant shellfish in here is oysters. We have oyster beds that are actually sitting within a few feet of us here. At one time, however, there were far more oysters in this bay than there are now, and reasons that there are fewer may have to do with over-harvesting in the 1800s. And also with sedimentation. Sediments bury oysters that can't move, and we've lost some oyster beds to sedimentation here.
CURWOOD: Oysters here are good to eat?
LANGAN: The oysters in Great Bay are some of the best I've ever tasted. And I do like oysters, so I taste them from everywhere.
CURWOOD: So, Dr. Langan, tell me: what is an estuary and why is it so important? And how do they work?
LANGAN: Well, estuaries are transitional zones between fresh water and ocean and it's basically how they're defined is by that mixture of salt water and freshwater. So it's neither environment. It's not the fresh water environment, it's not the oceanic environment. Creates a very unique system, where the plants and animals that live there are unique to that system. The one interesting thing about it is that they are extremely productive systems, among the most productive systems in the world. Much more so than the fresh water environment, and much more so than the marine environment. And that has to do to a great extent with the nutrients that come from the land, coming in, mixing with the sea water, creating the basis for plant production and, from there, animal production up to fish and birds, and the whole ecosystem.
CURWOOD: A lot of life out here, huh?
LANGAN: That's right.
CURWOOD: Now, is it true that estuaries are responsible for some large portion of all the fish babies and marine babies?
LANGAN: That is very true in certain areas of the country. For instance, the mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic, very true. Most of the commercial fish species have a life stage that depends upon the estuarine areas. In New England and particularly in the Gulf of Maine, it's a little bit different. Most of our important commercial species spend all their time in the ocean. That doesn't mean some of the productivity that comes from the estuaries isn't exported offshore to support some of those populations.
CURWOOD: Are estuaries in trouble?
LANGAN: Yeah, they sure are. There are some estuaries right now that I'd say are in deep trouble. Other estuaries, maybe not in trouble now but may be looking at it down the road. A number of different things. Pollution, habitat loss, over-fishing. Just our everyday lives, if we're not careful, can wreck an estuary. You put too much fertilizer on your lawn, it doesn't go into the grass. It comes into the water. If your septic system isn't working properly, you may be causing pollution to your nearest water body.
CURWOOD: So, estuaries are in a lot of trouble because of people, huh?
LANGAN: Well, I think that if you were to try to find one single cause for it, that would probably be it. Everybody seems to want to live at the coast. Right now we have about 50% of the population of the United States living at the coast, and that's projected to increase. So, the population pressure and development pressure is certainly there. You could see some of the houses here, nice lawn all the way down to the water. That's removing the buffer zone. It's a nice view for those folks, but anything they put on their lawn is going to run right into the bay.
(Engine starts up)
LANGAN: Why don't we head on back to the lab, now?
(Engine continues, watercraft in motion)
CURWOOD: What's the prognosis for the whole national estuarine research reserve system? Does it seem to be getting better and stronger, or have the government cutbacks really marginalized it?
LANGAN: Unfortunately, they're adding more reserves. I mean, I think it's a good thing that they're adding more reserves, but they're not adding more money. So the funding for reserves hasn't gone up appreciably in a number of years.
CURWOOD: Okay, I'm a taxpayer. I suspect most of the people listening to us are taxpayers. Why should we care about this? Why should we put our money into a national estuary research reserve program?
LANGAN: Well, I think it depends upon how much do you individually value the experience of having these places to go to, to visit? To know that you have natural areas that are protected. That there's fish and shellfish that can be caught and eaten safely. I think that's what every individual has to ask themself that question.
CURWOOD: Richard Langan, director of the Jackson Laboratory on Great Bay, New Hampshire.
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CURWOOD: There's plenty of life to be found in dead trees. A stump or a rotting log is home for many species, and standing dead trees, called snags, are the preferred nesting spots for a number of animals. So, when logging clears away all the dead trees, some species in the area go as well. Instead of waiting 100 or more years for snags to reappear on their own, some forest ecologists are now using chainsaws to recreate snag-style habitat. From our Northwest bureau, Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports.
(Walking through heavy brush)
FITZ PATRICK: In the hills along the Sauk River in Washington's Cascade Mountains, a team from the US Forest Service is looking for a tree to kill.
WOMAN: I'd was thinking that second tree back.
MAN: That first tree, the one right behind that?
FITZ PATRICK: The workers plan to cut to the top off a 70-year-old Douglas fir. That will create something this forest has lacked since it was clear-cut decades ago: standing dead trees known as snags. Forest Service biologist Lisa Norris says snags are essential for a diverse assortment of wildlife.
NORRIS: Overall, about a third of all the wildlife species across the United States utilize snags or downed logs for nesting, breeding, feeding, foraging, denning. So it's a large, large number of critters we're talking about. We'll lose them if we don't have these kinds of habitat.
FITZ PATRICK: Old-growth forests are filled with trees in various stages of death and decomposition. Victims of wind or fire or lightning. The snags provide a niche for fungus and insects, even eagles and endangered spotted owls.
(Gear being moved)
FITZ PATRICK: But second-growth forests like this one are too young to contain many naturally-occurring snags, which means they can't support the same diversity of wildlife.
(Gear moving continues, clanking sounds)
FITZ PATRICK: So, freelance tree-faller Tim Brown is gearing up to turn a living tree into a snag.
BROWN: There's more life in a dead tree than a live tree. Once a tree dies its life span is half over. It's still going to be a home for many, many, many, many species.
FITZ PATRICK: Mr. Brown straps on his climbing spurs and harness. The tree to be sacrificed is 80 feet tall and 2 feet thick.
BROWN: It's big enough in diameter to support a pilleated woodpecker, which is the biggest of the woodpecker family. And it's along an open road, so it's a great flyway corridor for bats.
FITZ PATRICK: As he works his way up the tree, Mr. Brown communicates with the ground via radio.
BROWN (on radio): I'm gonna throw this tree down the hill, is that all right?
(A chainsaw starts up)
FITZ PATRICK: As the cut begins, Forest Service biologist Phyllis Reed watches from a road nearby. She looks uneasy.
(To Reed) Does it bother you to see a tree go down?
REED: Oh, yes. It always sort of is like, you know, going out here and trying to decide which one of these vigorous young trees we're going to take the top off, kind of, "Off with its head!"
FITZ PATRICK: It takes just 90 seconds for the top half of the tree to come crashing down.
(Chainsaw buzz continues; tree crashes)
FITZ PATRICK: All that's left is a limbless trunk 40 feet tall.
(Chainsaw buzz continues)
FITZ PATRICK: But Mr. Brown's work has really just begun. Next, he carefully carves jagged edges into the tree top to make it look more natural and expose more surface area to the elements. Then, he slips partway down, where he roughs up the bark for sapsuckers and chisels an elaborate cave for bats.
(Chainsaw buzz continues)
REED: The work that Tim does for us in the wildlife tree creation is really artistic. Hopefully the pattern of scarring that is on the tree is very natural-looking and will attract some of the wildlife species that we're targeting.
(Chainsaw buzz continues, then stops)
BROWN (on radio): That look okay from down there?
REED: Yeah, it looks like the tree snapped off in a wind storm.
BROWN (on radio): This slit here has the capability of holding about 30 bats comfortably. I wanted this scratch to have a different micro-climate that they could select from during cold weather, as well as protection.
(Chainsaw starts back up)
FITZ PATRICK: Tim Brown single-handedly created the practice of sculpting trees like this for wildlife. Biologists have known about the importance of snags for some time, and have experimented with crude attempts to blast the tops off trees with dynamite. But Mr. Brown has elevated the work to an art form, with more than 1,000 specific chainsaw techniques, tailored to help everything from bears to salamanders. He's a self-taught woodsman and former logger who believes people have a role in restoring the forest to health.
BROWN: I never was happy cutting timber because most of those were huge clear-cuts. They went across streams, rivers, right down to the lake. And it was agonizing. And as the environment began to get squeezed more and more, I felt this moral obligation to assist.
FITZ PATRICK: Mr. Brown went into business for himself, and at first concentrated on dead trees that threatened roads, power lines, or homes. Instead of taking the entire tree down, he persuaded clients to leave as much of the trunk standing as possible. Then, he turned to clear-cut areas that were starting to grow back. Mr. Brown convinced government officials that as the forest returned a man with a chainsaw could do some good.
BROWN: Chainsaws, sure, they're viewed as a weapon of destruction, you know, in the forest. They wipe out the forest, they kill the trees, and so forth. But they also can be viewed as a tool of healing on the landscape.
FITZ PATRICK: Mr. Brown spends part of his time evaluating how well his chainsaw creations have worked.
(Loud squeaking sounds)
FITZ PATRICK: On this 200-year-old cedar, he's boring a core sample to gauge the extent of decay. This tree was left behind by loggers because its center is hollow.
(A metal pipe moves)
BROWN: You see here how rotten it is. So it's a low value for lumber, but it's a high value for wildlife.
(More clanking sounds)
FITZ PATRICK: Four years ago Mr. Brown cut a 3-foot hole that opened up the tree's chimney-like interior. Now, he's climbing back to the opening to see what's inside.
BROWN (on radio): I think I see a squirrel up in here that just went into its nest in here.
(More clanking sounds)
FITZ PATRICK: The cavity is home to 2 squirrel nests. And the bark has numerous claw marks, a sign that bears have been investigating this tree as a future den for hibernation. The results were encouraging to the Forest Service's Lisa Norris.
NORRIS: I think it's very successful when we can come back and actually find critters there. That to me tells me it's a success as a technique, and we just need to expand the use of the technique.
FITZ PATRICK: American and Canadian officials have sponsored seminars where Tim Brown has taught his chainsaw techniques to unemployed loggers. His hope is that snag creation will one day become an important source of habitat restoration jobs in communities that once depended on cutting trees.
(Chainsaw starts up)
FITZ PATRICK: For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest near Seattle.
(Chainsaw continues up and under)
CURWOOD: Coming up, the French find beauty and art in the burning of trash. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Imagine a garbage incinerator. Yecch, right? Well, now think again. Think of an airy, modern building, planted in a wooded park with a view across wheat fields to a twelfth-century cathedral. No chimney, no noise, no smell. In France, where almost a third of all household waste is burned, a new generation of incineration plants combines the latest technology and environmental standards with a touch of beauty. Sarah Chayes reports.
(Machinery, a man speaking)
CHAYES: On the upstairs floor of a rusty building made of blue corrugated metal, there's a control room. Old knobs and dials with thick glass faces cover a wall. A workman sits at a swivel chair looking out an inclined window at a pile of garbage.
(A man speaks in French)
CHAYES: I'm mixing my trash, he explains, as he maneuvers a huge metal claw using a joystick on his chair. To hold down the temperature in the incinerator oven, he has to put older, fermented garbage together with the cardboard boxes that just arrived.
(Trash being moved)
CHAYES: This is the older incineration plant for the town of Chartres. As you pass through its entrails, acrid dust in the air burns your eyes. But not 100 yards away is its replacement. Workers are just putting on the finishing touches.
CHAYES: It's a sleek white building with a curved facade and an airy portico, a piece of architecture. Plant director Jean-Francois Nottin takes visitors on an enthusiastic trip, scampering up and down the metal staircases inside. He explains he went beyond what the district of Chartres asked for to win the contract.
NOTTIN: [Speaks in French] TRANSLATOR: Bidding for contracts like this turns on 2 points. The environmental quality of the garbage treatment, no pollution, no smell, no noise, and the aesthetic quality of the building. We don't make piles of junk like next door any more.
CHAYES: Elegant incineration plants like his are springing up across Europe. In France, it's partly due to a government policy aimed at reducing garbage dumps and landfills. This plant, called Orisane, filters and scrubs its smoke to capture 98% of its pollutants. Air inside is at a lower pressure than outside, so smells don't get out. It recycles its dirty water and even generates electricity. Nottin explains how the heat from the garbage furnace boils water and the steam turns a turbine.
NOTTIN: [Speaks in French]
CHAYES: The plant powers itself and will sell its excess electricity, about 80% of what it generates, to the French power company. But for Nottin, it's not enough to just avoid being a nuisance. He wants to be a positive feature in the Chartres landscape.
NOTTIN: [Speaks in French] TRANSLATOR: Incineration plants shouldn't be hidden any more, like something we are ashamed of. We live in an industrial world, and the treatment of our waste should be integrated into the life of the community.
CHAYES: Orisane includes a conference room for town functions. It's meant to be seen from the nearby Cathedral of Chartres, a breathtaking masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
(Papers being ruffled)
CHAYES: In his bright Paris office decorated with multicolored collages, architect Jean-Marie Schimpff flips through his drawings for the Orisane plant.
CHAYES: Schimpff admits it was a challenge to design an incinerator in the shadow of the cathedral. He applied discoveries in optical science often used for military camouflage to help the plant blend into the landscape. And beyond such visual effects, he also designed the incinerator to be an opera house.
SCHIMPFF: The Mayor of Chartres, during a town meeting, has been asking whether it could be possible to convert the installation when the furnace would be obsolete in, say, 25 years, into an opera. I first thought it was a joke, so I came to him later on and asked was it actually serious this question. I said, well, we shall invest in a building which we want to be designed with some particular cares to respond to the landscape.
CHAYES: So, an opera house it's to be, with a seating capacity of 2,000. The garbage pit is designed to become a perfect orchestra pit. Daniel Blervaques is the Mayor of Carrieres, a village just west of Paris, host to another new generation waste plant. He also thinks incinerators should be lovely.
BLERVAQUES: [Speaks in French]
CHAYES: He says environmental policy has to take into account the setting, too, so the architecture of these buildings is just as vital as the technical side.
CHAYES: Inside the factory with its brightly-painted metal pipes overhead, much of the technical innovation is devoted to smoke treatment. Plant manager Serge Yvain points to where the smoke is raised in temperature and ammonia is injected to neutralize a toxic compound called dioxin.
(A man shouts)
CHAYES: Of course, all this care costs money. As classy as these incinerators are, this attitude is causing some concern in the French Environment Ministry. Patrick Fragman is in charge of pollution issues.
FRAGMAN: Many local communities tried to design big, very big centers for incinerating waste, since the service providers were saying we just build a big factory and you will get rid of your waste, make it go away.
CHAYES: The Ministry is glad these new incinerators are replacing the old, smoky ones, and there's a schedule to phase out substandard plants by the year 2000. But Fragman says incineration should not be seen as a cure-all. Recent measures, including fiscal incentives, are designed to reinforce slightly different priorities.
FRAGMAN: To set up recycling operations before trying to set the size of incineration or dumping. To have a real and fair balance between all those options, which are recycling, incineration, dumping.
CHAYES: At the huge Chartres plant, Jean-Francois Nottin looks lovingly at the still-empty garbage pit. Two thousand six or seven hundred tons of trash it'll hold.
NOTTIN: [Speaks in French, laughs]
CHAYES: I want to see it full up to there, he says. People have to make trash, lots and lots of trash. Not exactly what the Environment Ministry has in mind, even if an orchestra could fit nicely in that same pit. For Living on Earth, I'm Sarah Chayes in Chartres.
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CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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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 reporting on science in the environment; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: The United States has one of the best water supplies in the world, and has eliminated most of the worst water-borne diseases. But research now shows new risks to drinking water can resist chemical treatment and slip throgh most filters. The Thirst for Safe Water is just ahead on Living on Earth.
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The Living on Earth Almanac
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: Feel like lying down and letting your tongue wallow on the floor? Don't want to fetch one more thing because of the heat? Well, hang in there. The dog days of summer are just about over. The dog days are said to last from July 3rd until August 11th, although with this year's droughts and heat waves one might argue that the season's been extended. The dog days got their name from the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. The ancients believed that Sirius, the Dog Star, which rises simultaneously with the sun during this time of the year, adds to the heat of the sun, thereby causing the unusually hot weather. The Romans called it canicularis dies, and also thought that earthly dogs were more inclined to madness and rabies during this time. The English thought that if it rained on the first dog day, the rain will continue for the next 40 days, which inspired this bit of doggerel: "Dog days bright and clear indicate a happy year. But when accompanied by rain for better times our hopes are in vain." That's a bone to chew on until it cools down again. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: Clean water is a basic requirement for public health. And compared to the epidemics of typhoid, dysentery, and cholera that plague many poor nations, here in the US we've pretty much done away with these ancient diseases. But even here in affluent America, we still can't turn on our taps without some worry about what comes out. Toxic chemicals from industry, agriculture, and households lace some water supplies, changing the chemical balance in our bodies and increasing our risk of cancer. Newly-discovered microbes from animal and human waste infect perhaps millions of people each year. This week, we begin a re-broadcast of our series: The Thirst for Safe Water, which examines the health of the nation's water supply. We begin in Philadelphia. Even though Philadelphia meets all federal clean water standards, there is evidence that certain disease-causing microbes are getting through the city's treatment system. Daniel Grossman has our story.
GROSSMAN: Chris Crocket of the Philadelphia Water Department spends a lot of his time here: an industrial area on the banks of Wissahickon Creek. Behind a chainlink fence surrounded by weeds is a sewage treatment plant.
CROCKET: We could go around to the other side of the creek, to a place that's actually below the sewage discharge, but you can't see the effluent.
GROSSMAN: The Wissahickon is polluted. Along its 23 miles, animal waste from farms, woods, and neighborhoods, runs off into the creek. And there's effluent from factories, sinks, and toilets released from this and 4 other sewage plants on the creek, which flows into the Schuykill River, a source of Philadelphia's drinking water.
CROCKET: There are periods or times when wastewater does make up a significant portion of the flow in the stream, especially when there hasn't been rain for a long time. That does present a concern for us, since our drinking water intakes are below areas where this tributary discharges into our rivers, which are our source water supplies.
GROSSMAN: Mr. Crocket is surveying the Wissahickon watershed for sources of disease-causing microbes, especially cryptosporidium, a protozoa that can cause everything from minor stomachaches and diarrhea to severe dehydration and even death.
CROCKET: From our preliminary work, we have been able to detect cryptosporidium in raw sewage and in wastewater effluent in our watershed.
GROSSMAN: Fortunately, the microbe has not yet been found in Philadelphia's treated water. But no one can say for sure it's not there. Cryptosporidium is notoriously difficult to detect.
GROSSMAN: Philadelphia gets its drinking water from rivers. The Schuykill and Delaware and their tributaries, including the Wissahickon. When they arrive at the intakes, these rivers are a murky mixture of untreated and treated fecal matter, agricultural chemicals, and industrial effluents. And Philadelphia's situation is by no means unique. Many Americans get their water from lakes and rivers that are polluted. And like most of these other communities, Philadelphia has had to resort to costly treatment plants to try to make its water safe to drink.
MULDOWNY: The water is pumped up Belmont Avenue to 2 raw water reservoirs located at City Line Avenue. Now, these reservoirs, they look like big lakes.
GROSSMAN: John Muldowny oversees one of Philadelphia's 3 water treatment stations. At the turn of the century, Philadelphia had thousands of cases of typhoid and other waterborne illnesses every year, with hundreds of deaths. But in 1913 the city built one of the nation's first large-scale treatment plants using chlorine. The outbreaks fell off dramatically.
MULDOWNY: The water flow then splits. And 58% of the water goes to the south side of the plant ...
GROSSMAN: The process here is typical of water treatment plants across the country. Chemicals are added to the dark river water to make particles of silt clump together and settle out. Then chlorine is added to kill disease agents, and the water is then filtered through sand and crushed coal.
MULDOWNY: And the remaining particulate matter that leaves the settling basin is filtered out of the water.
GROSSMAN: Finally, ammonia is mixed in, which helps disinfection after the water leaves the plant. By this point, says Gary Burlingame, who supervises water quality for the department, Philadelphia's water is as good as any in the country.
BURLINGAME: By all standards that have been set, whether by the federal regulators or the state regulators, or internal goals set by us, or knowledge from research across the world, we meet all the standards and requirements that anyone has set.
GROSSMAN: But this may not be good enough. Research suggests that even drinking water that meets the current government safety standards could be causing widespread gastrointestinal illness, which can bring on diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. In November of 1997, Professor Joel Schwarz at Harvard's School of Public Health published a controversial study comparing water quality records with hospital records in Philadelphia from 1989 to 1993.
SCHWARZ: Now, what we did in Philadelphia is, we took a measure of how much stuff is getting through the treatment plant. And we asked the question, well, if that goes up, is that followed by an increase in the number of people who have gastrointestinal illness? And what we found was that indeed, when this sort of measure of water contamination increased, that was followed by 2 blips in the admissions and the emergency room visits for gastrointestinal illness of children.
GROSSMAN: Children 3 years and older were 10% more likely to make emergency room visits for stomach bugs when cloudiness increased. Professor Schwarz found a similar pattern for hospital admissions for children and for the elderly. He admits these correlations don't prove that drinking water caused the illnesses, but they are a cause for concern, especially since the water during this study period met federal standards. And Professor Schwarz says his results may underestimate the problem.
SCHWARZ: Very few cases of gastrointestinal illness drive people to the hospital, so we are looking at just the tip of the iceberg.
GROSSMAN: The Philadelphia Water Department's Gary Burlingame says since the time covered by the Schwarz study, the Department has significantly improved the quality of its water. And he says there's no clear evidence today Philadelphians get sick from it. The Department and the EPA are raising doubts about Professor Schwarz's research, saying poor-quality data and errors in his methods invalidate the conclusions. But Professor Schwarz stands by it, and says his results are supported by a growing body of scientific research. One critical piece of evidence came out after a public health tragedy.
NEWSCASTER: Authorities in Milwaukee are trying to find out how a rare parasite, usually found in farm animals, apparently contaminated that city's drinking water system. ...
GROSSMAN: Until 1993, most water experts believed that waterborne disease had been pretty much wiped out in the US. Then, Milwaukee made national headlines.
NEWSCASTER: Milwaukee residents have been advised to boil their tap water, or drink bottled water. More from Beth Graham, of member station WUWM.
GRAHAM: Health officials know what has caused...
GROSSMAN: The parasite which caused the outbreak was cryptosporidium, which probably came from animal manure, slaughterhouse waste, or human sewage flowing into Lake Michigan, the city's water supply. Four hundred thousand people became ill, 4,000 were hospitalized, and more than 70 died. It was the largest outbreak of waterborne disease in modern American history.
OLSON: Milwaukee is looked to by many experts as an alarm bell.
GROSSMAN: Erik Olson runs the Drinking Water Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
OLSON: What that suggests to many of us in the field is that you could see a similar outbreak in other cities.
GROSSMAN: When Mr. Olson looked, he found that similar outbreaks had already occurred. Centers for Disease Control records showed more than 100 incidents in 32 states from 1986 through 1994. One episode in Georgia made 13,000 people ill. For Dr. Robert Morris, a leading expert on waterborne pathogens and health at Tufts University Medical School in Boston, the events in Milwaukee raised an even more troubling question.
MORRIS: I knew that the drinking water in Milwaukee was meeting the federal standards throughout the outbreak. And so, I became interested in the question of whether this was an isolated event, or whether this was just an extreme manifestation of a problem that may have been there for some time.
GROSSMAN: What he found shocked him. In the 15 months leading up to the outbreak, Milwaukee children were nearly 3 times as likely to visit the hospital for gastrointestinal illness when cloudiness levels were high. These results are similar to what Joel Schwarz would later find in Philadelphia. This and other research suggests to Dr. Morris that gastrointestinal illness from microbes in drinking water is widespread in the US.
MORRIS: If you look at the range of studies that are out there and the estimates in terms of how many cases of diarrhea and gastrointestinal disease are related to drinking water, or what percentage, it's -- it ranges from 10 to as high as 30% of all cases are related to drinking water. We're probably talking about millions of cases per year of disease.
GROSSMAN: Dr. Morris says a number of different microbes could be causing the illnesses, although cryptosporidium, which researchers say is in water from about half the nation's public water supplies, is a leading suspect. Dr. Morris thinks it was at least partly responsible for the problems he found in Milwaukee, and that worries him, because conventional treatment doesn't get rid of the tiny parasite.
MORRIS: Cryptosporidium is an organism that wasn't recognized as a waterborne pathogen as recently as 10 or 20 years ago, and it's now emerged as a major concern. It's as if you designed something that can get through a drinking water treatment system. It's very small, and it's resistant to chlorine. And those are the ways we treat drinking water.
GROSSMAN: So far, drinking water suppliers are resisting the idea that conventional treatment is not good enough. Jack Sullivan is a top official at the American Water Works Association, the country's biggest water utility group.
SULLIVAN: You're talking about a fraction of one percent of the total microbial illness that occurs in the United States as attributable to drinking water. There are many, many thousands and approaching millions of people who are exposed to microbial contamination on a routine basis. By the simple measure of not properly washing our hands in contact with contamination, we transmit just an exorbitant amount of microbial disease.
GROSSMAN: One top water official privately discounted gastrointestinal illness as mere tummyaches, especially when compared to the scourges of the past. Often, a case of the runs is over in a day. But many public health experts say people with weak immune systems are in danger of more severe symptoms or even death. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with AIDS, and people undergoing chemotherapy, about 20% of the population, are included.
GROSSMAN: If researchers like Joel Schwarz and Robert Morris are right, rivers like Philadelphia's Wissahickon Creek are washing virulent and visible germs right into the nation's kitchen and bathroom sinks. So far the EPA has responded primarily by proposing rules, expected this fall, that would cinch down the cloudiness and hopefully the microbial contamination of tap water. But Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council says tweaking the old technologies simply can't get rid of the most recalcitrant organisms like cryptosporidium.
OLSON: The real difficult bullet that EPA has not yet bitten is forcing a change in the way water is treated in the United States. It would really require a fairly substantial revolution in the way we treat water in the US to shift from these World War I era technologies and into advanced water treatment.
GROSSMAN: Advanced technologies already in use in countries like France and Germany include ozonation, which attacks microorganisms with ozone gas, and filters made of fine synthetic membranes, which take out small microbes better than sand and coal. Eric Olson says water suppliers could update their systems at an annual cost of about $30 per customer. A bargain for public health. For Living on Earth, this is Daniel Grossman.
CURWOOD: Next week, our series moves to the Midwest, where we'll look at how agricultural chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies.
MAN: In some ways we're doing a giant controlled experiment on a large part of the population in midwestern America, to see how sick they'll get if we have them drinking for years at a time tap water that's contaminated with up to 10 different cancer-causing chemicals.
CURWOOD: The Thirst for Safe Water continues next week here on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: Property rights remain a highly contentious issue, especially where the interests of landowners clash with nature's requirements. In his latest book, Bounded People, Boundless Land, Eric Freyfogle proposes a compromise meant to satisfy conservationists and property rights advocates alike. Kim Motylewski has this review.
MOTYLEWSKI: Eric Freyfogle teaches law at the University of Illinois, but readers know from the first chapter of Bounded People, Boundless Land, that they are in the lands of a literate storyteller. Freyfogle draws on fictional characters and case law to tell his tale. He even invokes the Robert Frost poem "Mending Wall" to illustrate the paradox of boundaries. While one landowner questions the value of a stone wall between his orchard and a neighbor's woodlot, the other proclaims, "Good fences make good neighbors."
So they do, allows Mr. Freyfogle. Walls can lend a sense of pride and caring among owners, create order in communities, and allow for trade. But he cautions they also fragment, prevent us from seeing the whole landscape and treating it as a connected system. For example, he wonders how many of us have ever walked a watershed to find the source of our drinking water. How many ride over a polluted river every day, without a thought to the lost chance to drink from it?
Eric Freyfogle's cure for these ills is to redefine the land ethic, and with it the property rights battle. His proposal: revive human communities, along with protecting diversity and natural systems. Such an ethic calls for broad local participation in land use decisions, and protecting landowners as stewards. Such an ethic would also require substantial changes to property law. The statutes would no longer exist solely to defend landowner interests from outsiders, but also to defend community interests. Mr. Freyfogle would preserve the most basic individual rights, to privacy and to the value of improvements, but he would tailor other rights and uses to what he calls "intrinsic land values," or natural limits. What is allowed on flat highlands might be forbidden in river bottoms if it disrupts some vital natural function.
It's not clear how such a code would differ form the zoning and environmental laws which are supposed to protect community interests already. Or how the most libertarian property owners could be brought on board. Eric Freyfogle hasn't got all the answers, but he has staked out some important middle ground in the often fiery property rights debate.
CURWOOD: Kim Motylewski is a freelance writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She reviewed Eric Freyfogle's latest book, Bounded People, Boundless Land.
Coming up: it's berry, berry easy, says our green gardener, to grow fruit right at home. Find out how just ahead on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. At home we plant tomatoes, lettuce, basil, and lots of flowers. But now Michael Weishan wants me to start thinking about planting berries. Michael is Living on Earth's gardening expert as well as the editor of Traditional Gardening. Now Michael, why should I and other people consider berries?
WEISHAN: Well, there's a very good reason. How much did you pay for berries the last time you went to the store?
CURWOOD: Ooooooh, yeah, I suppose ...
WEISHAN: A lot of money.
CURWOOD: It was a lot of dough. Four bucks for this little thing of raspberries.
WEISHAN: Exactly. I think that's one of the principal reasons to grow berries. And the second reason to grow berries is that they're exceedingly easy to grow. Most of the berries can be fit into any part of the landscape and are pretty effortless to produce a fantastic crop.
CURWOOD: Hmm. Which berries are the best to plant?
WEISHAN: People should plant I think the berries they like most to eat. One of my favorites is strawberry and it's one of the easiest to grow. You go to the nursery in the early spring, or you can order through the various mail-order catalogs, and buy these little dried-up root masses that you would never in a thousand years think were going to produce anything. And you plant them just under the surface of the soil with the roots pointing downward, and in a few weeks you have these beautiful little strawberry leaves popping up. And after a year, you have a carpet, essentially, of strawberries, which doesn't really need to be weeded or tended or done much to anything.
CURWOOD: And you have to wait a year, though, before you get something to eat.
WEISHAN: Well, no, you can actually harvest a few things hither and yon as you see them coming. But you're not going to get a lot of crop the first year. That's the one down side about berries is that they're one of the things that require a bit of patience in the garden, because you plant for one year and then harvest in the second, third, and subsequent years. The good thing is that of course the harvest lasts for, well, depending on the variety, can last for up to 20 years from a single plant.
(A cock crows)
CURWOOD: How hard are berries to keep growing?
WEISHAN: Actually very easy. There are some pests, of course, that do like to attack the different varieties. But by and large it's one of the easiest things to grow organically because generally the harvest is large enough that even if you lose a portion to something or another that you have plenty left over. We don't spray anything. We don't spray our strawberries or raspberries or blueberries or any of that stuff, and we have never had a problem.
CURWOOD: Now where should one put one's berry beds? Out in the full sun? They just need to get as much sun as they possibly can?
WEISHAN: Yeah. That's the one thing about berries is almost all of them require full sun. Full sun and fairly high fertility soil. We'd want to substantially improve the soil with compost or manure and till it down deeply, because this is the type of thing where you're going to be planting once and then it's going to roll forward for years and years at a time. So you really want to do it right the first time.
(Cock crows, mixed with wind and bird song)
CURWOOD: Well, what about other berries such as blueberries and blackberries and gooseberries and mulberries ...
WEISHAN: All those wonderful berries. Now, some of those -- mulberries, for instance, are a tree, and were actually very popular in this country in the 1830s. They were going to use them for silk production but that whole industry did not take off. Some people consider them to be a nuisance because the birds absolutely adore eating them and once you get a mulberry tree you have about 20 mulberry trees everywhere, because the birds carry the seeds. I personally love mulberries. I remember a tree at my grandfather's house that we used to shimmy up and get the berries out before the birds could and it was absolutely wonderful. You mentioned blueberries. One of the easiest things to grow, and particularly easy if you have an acidic soil, which is very common in many parts of the country, because they do require an acidic soil. Raspberries are another one of my favorites and we have quite a line of them here.
(Footfalls on gravel)
WEISHAN: I planted this bed just last year, and as you can see they're essentially at this time of year it just sort of looks like sticks. But there are just a few leaves starting to come.
CURWOOD: Yeah. They kind of ouch you when you pick these raspberries, too.
WEISHAN: There are actually thornless varieties that you can choose. Some have better tastes than others. Personally, I like the old fashioned kind. If you have an area in the landscape where you need a hedge or you want to keep someone out, berries are absolutely, you know, raspberries are perfect. Because they form quite a dense hedge about 5 feet high and completely thick. You're certainly not going to want to go through them. But the real glory is to come out here on a summer day and be able to pick your own, you know, quart or 2 of raspberries and bring them in, put them on cereal in the morning or have them for dinner after or for dessert. It's an amazing experience.
CURWOOD: Well, Michael, once again. Thank you, thank you berry much. (Weishan laughs)
CURWOOD: Living on Earth's garden expert Michael Weishan is also editor of Traditional Gardening. Now, if you have any questions you'd like to ask Michael, dial up the Living on Earth Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org.
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CURWOOD: Among this summer's movie offerings is a "don't go near the water because a monster shark is eating everyone in sight" thriller called "The Deep Blue Sea." When the original shark thriller, "Jaws," was made back in the 1970s, the monster was mechanical. These days computer magic helps bring such creatures to life on the screen. But when making films about real animals, directors sometimes rely on old-fashioned sleight of hand. Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery explains.
(Jungle bird calls)
MONTGOMERY: Everyone knows that call. It's the call of the jungle. We may not recognize the song of a chickadee, but when it comes to remote rainforests -- that call we know. Except for one thing. This is no jungle monkey. It's the voice of a kookaburra, an Australian kingfisher. A bird of the arid outback exiled on a continent an ocean away from the jungles he's come to symbolize. In Australia, they say the kookaburra's laughing, probably at us. Because so much of what we've learned about wildlife, especially from TV and movies, is wrong.
Take Paramount Pictures' film "Andre," based, we're assured, on a true story. Andre, the orphaned harbor seal, was rescued by good New England folks who raised him almost like a member of the family.
(Singing: "For he's a jolly good fellow, which nobody can deny." A dog barks. Man: "Happy birthday, Andre." Andre barks.)
WOMAN, narrating: After a year we still couldn't convince Andre that he was a seal.
MONTGOMERY: That's because he wasn't a seal. The real Andre was, but the creature playing Andre is twice as big as a harbor seal, has ear flaps instead of ear holes, and has huge front flippers to help him gallop over land, something no harbor seal would ever do. In this movie, Andre the seal is played by a sea lion. Casting a sea lion in the role of Andre, one marine mammologist told me, was like a remake of Moby Dick using a sheep for the whale: it just made no sense to him.
But it made sense to the producers. As it turns out, Hollywood's convenience and not factual accuracy often dictates the way Americans come to understand, or misunderstand, how wildlife looks, sounds, and behaves. Here's why the species switch in "Andre": though seals are just as smart as sea lions, sea lions spend more time out of water. When seals are on land they just flop around on their bellies. And since the film crew and the human actors and the audience were all terrestrial, a real seal's real water tricks just wouldn't cut it.
Similar logistics explain why a South American capuchin monkey manages to bring a deadly African virus in the film "Outbreak."
(Man 1: "Look at her. You asked for a monkey, I got you the monkey." Man 2: "What do you mean look at her?" Man 1: "What do you mean, what do I mean?" Man 2: "I told you a male." Loud sounds in the background. Man 1: "You said -- " Man 2: "I said male." Man 1: "She -- " Man 2: "Customer's already got a female, he wants to breed them." Screams, monkey chitters. Man 1: "It's okay, it's okay...")
MONTGOMERY: Capuchin monkeys are readily available and easily trained. Availability and trainability, not authenticity, explain many casting choices for Hollywood pictures. Alligators, domestic and docile, usually play crocodiles. Iguanas play most lizards. Tigers, native to Asia, often play the big cat role in films set in Africa. That's because adult male lions are very difficult to train. One animal trainer tells me there are only 2 reliable lions at the moment in the business. Though there are plenty of good lionesses, and even more good tigers, he adds.
Such practical matters even affect filmmakers who work hard to stay true to the animals' real stories. But there are ways around leaving viewers with the wrong idea. Consider Universal/Warner Brothers' quandary in their 1988 film "Gorillas in the Mist."
(Film music. Weaver/Fossey: "Just try. Just try, a little, just a little bit. No? It's got lots of vitamins in it...")
MONTGOMERY: In this sequence, Sigourney Weaver, playing primatologist Diane Fossey, holds an orphaned baby gorilla in her arms. The film was shot in Rwanda among real, wild mountain gorillas. But the problem was wild mountain gorilla mothers take a dim view of people holding their babies, and there are no captive gorillas with Hollywood experience. The solution: Central Casting found a young chimp with acting credits and dressed him up in a gorilla suit. Leave it to Hollywood to swing the truth from branch to branch to make us fall in love with an illusion.
CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery is author of Nature's Everyday Mysteries.
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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our staff includes Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, James Curwood, and Barbara Cone. We also had help this week from Allison Dean, Maggie Villiger, and Mahri Lowinger. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. 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 Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
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