Air Date: September 14, 2001
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The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington this week have many Americans feeling very vulnerable. Terrorism experts say it could have been even worse had biological weapons also been used. Host Steve Curwood talks with reporter Bob Carty about the threat of bioterrorism. (11:00)
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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on the monitoring for toxins that might have been released in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings in New York. (01:30)
Almanac: Undersea Volcanoes
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This week, facts about undersea volcanoes. Scientists are recording them, and tourists are flocking to them. (01:30)
Sick Salmon/ Naomi Schalit
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This year, the disease Infectious Salmon Anemia hit the salmon farming industry in Maine hard. Salmon farmers are asking the Department of Agriculture to reclassify salmon so they may receive compensation for their losses. Maine Public Radio's Naomi Schalit reports. ()
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As the so-called "Summer of the Shark" draws to a close, officials in Florida decided to ban shark-feeding dives. Host Steve Curwood talks to Dr. Robert Hueter of the shark Research Center in Sarasota, Florida about how these dives affect sharks. (04:55)
Eaters/ April Newlin
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Commentator April Newlin reflects on being both the predator, and the prey, in the waters off the coast of Louisiana. (03:00)
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New developments in stories we've been following recently. (03:00)
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Living on Earth's Maggie Villiger reports on the discovery that male funnel-web spiders release a knockout pheromone so they can safely mate with females. (01:30)
Juarez Water/ Sandy Tolan
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The residents of Juarez, Mexico depend on a single aquifer as their sole source of water. Hydrologists estimate that this aquifer, which runs beneath the city, may run out of fresh water within five years. As part of the Border Stories series, Sandy Tolan portrays the desert city's search for an important commodity. ()
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Living on Earth remembers John Ogonowski. He was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th. Mister Ogonowski also owned a farm in Dracut, Massachusetts and we interviewed him earlier this year about his involvement in a program to help Cambodian refugees get started in farming in this country. (03:00)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The terrorism in New York and Washington on September 11 has many Americans feeling vulnerable. The attacks revealed how a small group of terrorists -- well financed and well organized-- can reek devastation and death on a massive scale.
Terrorism experts say it could have been even worse had biological weapons been used. Biological weapons are killer microbes such as anthrax and smallpox. In fact, shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Federal officials went into action. Jim Hughes is the Director for the National Center for Infectious Disease.
HUGHES: We did notify state and local health departments throughout the country that they should heighten vigilance and fully utilize the resources that have been put in place over the past two and a half years to monitor for any unusual clusters of illness.
CURWOOD: So far, no unusual outbreaks have been reported. But, still, the threat of bio-terrorism is so great the Federal government is currently spending an estimated two billion dollars a year in developing defenses against them. I'm joined now by Bob Carty, the correspondent with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation who's reported extensively on this topic. Welcome, Bob.
CARTY: Hi, Steve.
CURWOOD: Biological weapons are called weapons of mass destruction. Why?
CARTY: Well, essentially because they are so lethal. We're talking here about viruses, bacteria, fungi, living things. For example, ten grams of anthrax, a biological weapon, could kill the same number of people as one ton of Sarin gas, a chemical weapon.
Biological weapons could even be comparable to nuclear weapons. There is one estimate, for example, that 200 pounds of anthrax released on a large major city could kill between one and three million people.
CURWOOD: Bob, who has these weapons?
CARTY: Well, there's a standard list that the experts use of about 10 to 18 countries who may have biological weapons or biological weapons capacity, and that list usually runs Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, China, North Korea, Russia, Israel, Taiwan, and then, possibly, Sudan, India, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan. There may be state-sponsored terrorist groups or international terrorist groups, and there's also some concern that there may be some capacity amongst certain cults, doomsday cults or white supremacist groups.
CURWOOD: How easy would it be to get a biological weapon into the United States?
CARTY: Oh, very easy. In fact, I've heard this one expert on biological weapons give a talk where he pulls out a small plastic vile from his breast pocket and explains that he has just come through an airport security check without any detection. They're very, very hard to detect, and that, of course, is one of the, so-called, military advantages of biological weapons.
CURWOOD: How vulnerable are we to a biological weapons attack?
CARTY: Everyone agrees that there is a threat out there. The question is, how great? Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, has said he fears biological weapons more than chemical or nuclear weapons, for that matter, and others share that view. And one of them is Michael Osterholm. I have some tape from him. He's an expert in infectious diseases, the former state epidemiologist in Minnesota and the author of a book called "Living Terrors: What America Needs to Know to Survive the Coming Bio-terrorist Catastrophe." Here is Michael Osterholm.
OSTERHOLM: We're talking about a situation where even one single release could be so catastrophic that it could really begin to define our history as pre and post that release. All it's going to take is one event. And as the Irish Republican Army has often said, "You have to be lucky all of the time. We have to be lucky just once."
I am convinced that it's not a matter of if. It's a matter of when, where and how bad it will be.
CURWOOD: Not if, but when? Bob, this begs a question why biological weapons have not been used so far?
CARTY: Well, actually, recall that they were used once in World War II by the Japanese and China, and also used once in a small incident in Japan that perhaps we can talk about. But I think there are several reasons why they have not been used. There are inherent problems with these weapons. After all, if you release them, you can be killed yourself. You can kill your own troops. You can release diseases that cross borders, don't stay in one place. They become pandemics, even. And these materials, like anthrax or botulism or Ebola, or smallpox, are hard to produce. They're hard to weaponize in the right shape and size that they can stay alive and infect people over a given time period.
Above all, though, I think they're so repugnant. People who would use these would be subject to massive retaliation and wouldn't achieve anything politically. I think for all those reasons, in 1972 the world supported the initiative by President Nixon to initiate a Biological Weapons Treaty to ban this stuff. And people hoped that that would work until, of course, we discovered that the Soviet Union had a secret program.
CURWOOD: What was the scope of that Soviet program, and what's the implications of it?
CARTY: We learned about it in about 1992 from a defector by the name of Ken Alibek. He was the former Deputy Chief of Biopreparat, the former Soviet Union's military biological weapons program. He now lives outside of Washington, D.C. And here's how he now describes his former biological weapons program in the former Soviet Union.
ALIBEK: You know, this program was huge, I would say, about sixty, maybe seventy thousand people involved. Biological weapons would be produced not by grams or kilograms, by tons. For example, one thousand tons of plague or something like this. Five hundred tons -- metric tons-- a year of dry anthrax. In the 80's the Soviet Union started to develop some genetically altered viruses, and first target, first virus was the smallpox virus.
CURWOOD: Now, why would the Soviets concentrate on smallpox as a biological weapon?
CARTY: Well, first of all, because it's very virulent. It kills about 30% of the people who are infected. And for every person infected, about 20 more people will get infected. So, it produces successive waves of people with smallpox, people dying, health workers dying, public health systems possibly collapsing. Now, this disease also has a tremendous sad historic irony about it, Steve. It was eradicated from the face of the earth. And it was eradicated by a world health program under the direction of an American, Dr. D.A. Henderson. The problem was, some of the virus was still put in repositories in the United States and in the Soviet Union. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union, you have all kinds of scientists who disappeared who worked on these programs. And Dr. D.A. Henderson is very worried, what happened to those scientists? Here's D.A. Henderson.
HENDERSON: They were not being paid very well, and probably a third to half of the scientists have left the laboratories. We know that Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, all have been actively recruiting Russian scientists. The question is, what has gone with them?
CURWOOD: So, Bob, that means, of course, that one of the places that terrorists could get material to put together a bio-terrorist attack would be from these former Soviet scientists?
CARTY: Exactly. Nation states, some of the countries we mentioned earlier, might try to recruit them and set up facilities for them. It might be required, in fact, that a nation state be involved because of the complexity of the operation. That's for most of the biological weapons. The exception might be something like anthrax because it comes from the corpses of dead animals and could be obtained by small fanatic groups such as the group in Japan, Aum Shinrikyo. That's the doomsday cult that released Sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system in 1995 and killed 12 people. But it was after that event that they found that prior to using the Sarin gas, Aum Shinrikyo had actually tried to use anthrax on nine or ten occasions and failed to actually make it work, and that's why they went to the chemical.
CURWOOD: Now, what does this mean, that biological weapons, are they easy for groups of fanatics to use, or are they too difficult?
CARTY: Well, the Aum Shinrikyo example is debated hotly still to this day, and what does it actually show? Some would argue that it shows that it's hard for groups to use these weapons. In fact, the mistake that Aum Shinrikyo made is they used the wrong kind of anthrax. They used the kind of anthrax that is used to make the vaccine for anthrax. And so it's not the kind that produces disease.
However, some scientists do say that there's too much hype about the threat of biological weapons. For example, Milt Leitenberg, he's an Arms Control Specialist with the Federation of American Scientists, and he's worried that a lot of the threat is built up by people who want to, in effect, make money from the threat of biological weapons.
LEITENBERG: There's this whole rabble of contractors. They can't write a study and say this won't happen, because then there's no grant that follows, and they're out of business. I am an Arms Control Specialist. I do think it's a problem of national programs, Iraq and Israel and Iranians, and what's left of the former Soviet program. But all of these terrorist groups with the bathtubs, the kitchen sinks, the garages, that's all nonsense.
CARTY: And that's Milt Leitenberg of the Federation of American Scientists.
CURWOOD: Bob, how much has this debate changed now with these attacks in New York and Washington?
CARTY: Well, Arms Control Specialists point out that the attacks in Washington and New York were very low tech, in a sense, the terrorists using knives to take control of planes, and using the planes as weapons. So, it won't change necessarily the debate about what capacity terrorists have or do not have to organize an attack with biological weapons. However, the ability to avoid detection, to coordinate for hijackings, and their willingness to cause mass murder, these aspects have bio-terrorist experts very, very concerned about the consequences for biological weapons.
CURWOOD: The U.S. Government says that it's spending two billion dollars a year to prevent or mitigate a bio-terrorist attack. Is that enough?
CARTY: Well, there's quite a debate about that, as well. Some would actually say it's perhaps too much or not being spent in the right direction, because you could put it into intelligence gathering, into developing new machines to detect biological weapons, or put into vaccines. The United States, for example, has ordered new stocks of a vaccine for smallpox. One of the disappointments though, in terms of all the measures that are being taken, is the United States' decision to withdraw from talks to put into place a verification mechanism for the Biological Weapons Treaty. There were talks going on for six years. The United States this summer pulled out of the talks, saying that the proposed draft treaty wasn't strong enough. It had too many loopholes. Others say that the United States may be doing this just because of trade reasons. That is, the plan called for inspection of plants, industrial operations, factories that might be able to make this material. And the United States feared that UN inspection teams might have spies in them that would take away industrial or commercial secrets.
CURWOOD: Bob Carty reports on environmental issues for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Bob, thanks for taking this time with us today.
CARTY: My pleasure, Steve.
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CURWOOD: Coming up, disease spreads in Maine's huge salmon farming pens, and some aqua farmers want the Federal government to bail them out. First, this Health Note from Diane Toomey.
TOOMEY: In the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy, questions are being raised about the toxicity of the smoke and dust released in the collapse. The Towers were constructed some three decades ago, an era when asbestos was used as insulation and as a fire retardant. But it's not clear how much asbestos was actually in the buildings. The Environmental Protection Agency says it's testing daily for fallout at sights throughout the area.
In Brooklyn, downwind of the dust cloud, the EPA says, aside from a slightly elevated level of asbestos in the first round of testing, it has not found abnormal levels of any other toxin. In Manhattan, the agency says it analyzed dust found on police cars near the Towers. Of four samples, only one had an elevated level of asbestos.
But there are other concerns. Air quality experts say toxic smoke from the burning of wood, plastics, electronics, paper, laminates and veneers might contribute to a public health problem. Potential pollutants include PCBs and dioxins. One environmental cleanup company says, once it's allowed into the Trade Center Complex, it will also be testing for asbestos, lead, PCBs and biohazards.
That's this week's Environmental Health Update. I'm Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And if you were a marine animal, this is what you might hear when a volcano erupts.
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CURWOOD: Scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration are using special microphones to record volcanoes under the ocean. And, this month, they caught one in action just off the coast of British Columbia.
CURWOOD: That's lava breaking through the sea floor at a volcano called Juan de Fuga. There are about 20,000 undersea volcanoes located along ocean ridges that stretch around the earth like seams on a baseball. And tours of them are becoming as popular and as expensive as a skybox at a World Series game.
Off the coast of Portugal, special submarines take tourists nearly 8,000 feet down under. And if you can afford the $20,000 ticket, you'll see a field of chimney-like structures called the Rainbow Vents, which continuously blast lava up to 30 feet into the water.
Undersea volcanoes make for extreme environments. They can heat the surrounding water up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. But that doesn't stop some animals and plants from calling them home. Among the volcanic sea life are white crabs, blind shrimp and tubeworms, as well as mussels and clams, some the size of dinner plates. And for this week, that's the Living On Earth Almanac.
CURWOOD: When you put thousands of salmon in a pen to raise them for market, a disease called Infectious Salmon Anemia is a constant threat. It crippled the salmon industry in Europe and Canada a few years ago. And since then, there were fears that Infectious Salmon Anemia would hit salmon farms off the coast of Maine.
Earlier this year, it did. To keep the disease from spreading, salmon farmers have had to destroy about 800,000 fish worth millions of dollars. But the aqua farmers hope to recoup their losses with an unusual ploy. They want the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reclassify salmon as livestock. Maine Public Radio's Naomi Schalit explains.
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SCHALIT: On this bright September day, the tiny town of Eastport, Maine is hosting its 14th Annual Salmon Festival. But despite the sun and the good cheer, there's a shadow looming over the day. While Eastport, the commercial center of Maine's salmon aquaculture industry, is celebrating the salmon, salmon farmers around this area are slated to kill another 130,000 fish in an effort to contain the spread of Infectious Salmon Anemia or ISA. The disease can't harm humans, but it's devastating to fish and is highly contagious, especially in the densely crowded conditions of a salmon pen.
[SOUND OF WATER]
SCHALIT: That's the sound of small Atlantic Salmon jumping periodically into the air. A quarter of a million fish are contained in 12 floating connected steel cages at this site. Sebastian Belle is head of the Maine Aquaculture Association, which represents the region's major salmon farmers. Belle says the fish at this site are healthy, but that's not been the case further down Cobscook Bay. That's where farmers have detected fish with ISA, and where they've had to destroy not only infected fish, but any potentially exposed ones, as well.
BELLE: The farms, in general, so far have lost around 11 million dollars. That's just the fish. That's not including any of the costs for the composting or the collection of the fish.
SCHALIT: Earlier this month, the state of Maine instituted emergency rules in an attempt to curb ISA spread. Among other measures, boat traffic is limited in and out of Cobsook Bay. And the fish farms have instituted strict bio-security methods, including disinfection of equipment in boats. But there's one more tact the industry is taking in an attempt to stem their losses. They want help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sebastian Belle.
BELLE: If a farmer finds that they have a positive test result on a disease, and they are required by law to eradicate those fish. So, in other words, the USDA would come on the farm and mandate that they clean that farm out. They would then be compensated by the Federal government for the economic impact of that decision.
SCHALIT: The government compensates, or indemnifies, livestock producers if they need to slaughter cows because of a disease outbreak, says Belle. Why not do the same for fish farmers? So, earlier this summer, Maine's Marine Resources Commissioner, George Lapointe, wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary, Anne Veneman, asking that department to get involved in fighting ISA, including making payments of between 10 to 15 million dollars to affected fish farmers. Those kinds of payments, says Lapointe, would encourage a fish farmer to quickly report the kind of outbreak that could cost millions in destroyed fish.
LAPOINTE: You can't have a successful management program without indemnification, just because it allows really quick response. People don't have to worry, "geez, do I or don't I?" They just get on it.
SCHALIT: For years, Maine's Salmon Aquaculture Industry has complained about being over-regulated, but to get compensation, the industry is now asking the Agriculture Department to regulate them. To do that, the Agriculture Department must put farm-raised salmon in a category that most people associate with animals that have four legs and a tail: livestock. Scientist, Rebecca Goldburg of the advocacy group Environmental Defense says, "watch out if that happens."
GOLDBURG: Re-labeling farm fin fish as livestock appears to me chiefly a bid by the aquaculture industry to make available various sorts of compensation and subsidies that the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes available to terrestrial farmers. The industry often complains about having a great deal of regulations from the Federal government. But the fact is, calling aquaculture "agriculture" isn't going to remove these regulations.
[FISH FARM SOUND]
SCHALIT: But the Maine Aquaculture Association, Sebastian Belle, disagrees. Belle says, trying to get government help isn't just a move to make some money and shirk environment mandates.
BELLE: To sit in Washington and assert that these folks are not responsible and are not out there protecting the environment is pretty cynical. Our guys are on the water everyday, and they have the most to lose if something goes wrong.
SCHALIT: The Department of Agriculture is expected to make its decision on compensation within the next six weeks.
For Living on Earth, I'm Naomi Schalit in Eastport, Maine.
CURWOOD: Sharks slammed into the media spotlight this summer as cases of shark attacks, some failed, repeatedly made headlines. As the public's fear of the animals increased, sentiment turned against so-called "interactive diving." That's when dive operators toss bait into the water to attract sharks so divers can swim with these imposing fish. Now, Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has decided to ban these shark feeding dives. Robert Hueter of the Center for Shark Research in Sarasota, Florida says feeding the sharks does change their behavior.
HUETER: The boat pulls up. You can see the sharks begin to mass around. Usually, the time of the day is always the same. People go into the water. Sharks don't bother the people. They wait for the feeder to come down and then everything begins. So there is no question that individual sharks-- and in some of these dives it may be as many as thirty. Some are just a half a dozen or so-- their particular behavior has changed. What is completely open to question, and it's just speculation, is any kind of generalizing that the sharks might do away from these feeding sites, away from the specific stimuli, that are associated with the dives to go and harass, essentially, other people in the water, begging them for food.
CURWOOD: Some might say that, look, sharks are wild. It's really best to leave them alone. How do you respond?
HUETER: In a perfect world, yes, of course. It's best not to feed the wildlife. But when it comes to sharks, we have a real image problem. We have an educational problem. The dives change people's attitudes. In one dive, one half-hour dive, people come out of these things practically with a religious experience in terms of the way they feel about sharks: that they never realized they were so beautiful; they never realized that they were so controlled. And, so unlike the image that they went into the water with; that they're not maniacal devils trying to rip them apart.
CURWOOD: What conservation benefits, if any, are there from shark feeding?
HUETER: Well, in places like the Bahamas where these feedings have sort of been developed to a high art, it has led to the government realizing that the live sharks in that area are worth a lot more than just dead sharks. The Bahamian government decided to ban long line fishing for sharks and for everything else in the Bahamas, which not only saved the lives of the animals involved in the feeding, but thousands, tens of thousands, maybe millions of more sharks in that part of the world. So, this kind of an argument is something that we should pay attention to.
CURWOOD: By the way, I want you to clarify for us your position on this summer of the shark. It seems that you can turn on the television pretty often and see a story that someone has been attacked or even killed by a shark. Although other events recently in the news, I guess maybe that will change. But what of all these shark attack reports?
HUETER: Well, shark attack has been increasing in terms of absolute numbers over time. There's no question about that. If you look at the so-called rise in shark attack, and try to break down why this has occurred, one thing alone really accounts for it in a statistically meaningful way. And that is not the number of sharks in the water, but the number of people in the water.
Sharks are going to be off the beaches no matter whether there's a few of them left or millions of them out there. That's just their territory. And if you have a few people in the water, the contact opportunities are low. If you have millions of people in the water, they obviously go up. Not only that, more people are doing things like surfing, where sharks are known in the area, and we're just getting a lot more bites because of that.
CURWOOD: So, there's unlikely , you think then, a link between shark feeding with divers and the increase in these very aggressive bull sharks, the ones that are implicated the most in biting and hurting people?
HEUTER: There really is no linkage at all between the current climate of shark attack fever and anything that happened this past summer, and the shark feeding dives. There's lots of issues that revolve around the feeding dives, their affect on the shark's behavior and ecology and safety issues. But we're talking different species in most cases, and we're talking totally different areas. We need to take a closer look. We need to look at the scientific information, and deal with the facts instead of a lot of emotions and a lot of myths.
CURWOOD: Dr. Robert Hueter is the Director and Senior Scientist at the Mote Marine Laboratory Center for Shark Research in Sarasota, Florida. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, Dr. Hueter.
HUETER: You're welcome.
CURWOOD: Commentator April Newlin has been pulling on the food chain in the waters off the coast of her home state, Louisiana, and she has these thoughts.
NEWLIN: Yesterday, I found a large plump red snapper washed up on the beach, with a clean scallop bite out of its underside, the predator's teeth left like a fingerprint. The gulf sparkled in contraction, as sedate as a mountain lake. The mouth to fit that bite was swimming out there in the calm of a fall morning, circling in for its next meal. Breakfast took precedence over beauty.
The post-hurricane coast teamed with food. The storm had made the sea hungry, chummed the water with silver sides and reamed out the seaweed. Everywhere I looked fish zipped through silent tunnels of light in the shallows of a low tide. A school of foot-long fillets, Cobia, perhaps, cruised up and down the shore, circling and cutting back a troop of mouths acting as one. A shark followed them for a while, it's black fins splicing the water not more than five feet from me. The ugly truth of the matter was consume or be consumed.
I backed up near the shore counting crabs. Five, six, ten, fifteen, twenty. I hadn't seen blue crabs in these numbers for years, and they were fat, good eating crabs like we used to catch off the pier in Waveland when I was eight years old. They watched me with twitching eyes. And I figured they were scared.
A predator my size was nothing to scoff at. But no sooner was I dreaming of crab bisque that I realized they were inching closer with claws at the ready. I was part of the grand buffet. Once in a pet store I heard a six-year old boy counter his mother's horror at watching a python strangling consume a rabbit. "But, Mom, it's such a beautiful eater." She had forgotten what he had not yet unlearned: horror and beauty could co-exist. To live, we must take.
I'd forgotten devouring is part of the game. The better the mouth, the more successful the life. I could see the shark, not as a cannibalistic predator, but as an art form, a practiced adaptation honed over eons to consumer better than its prey and quicker than its competitors. And we're no different. If I had my net, I would have been chasing crabs and scooping minnows. We're all eaters, chewing, tasting, gobbling and gorging. Nothing to be ashamed of, as hungry, horrible and beautiful as the rest of them.
CURWOOD: April Newlin is a writer who lives in New Orleans.
CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: Time now to follow up on some of the news stories we've been tracking lately.
In February, we reported on the earthquake that struck El Salvador. Now, much of Central America faces a crippling drought. According to the United Nations, as many as one and a half million people across the region cannot feed themselves. Oscar Andrade works for Oxfam America in El Salvador. As bad as things are now, he says the worst may be yet to come.
ANDRADE: We think that by the next year it's going to be felt better because we still have in the countries the reserves on last year's crops. But the following year is going to be when we see the worst of it.
CURWOOD: To compound the problem, water supply of El Salvador's capitol city has been turned off for a week as the country repairs its delivery system.
CURWOOD: The first suspected case of BSE or Mad Cow Disease has been discovered in Japan. World Health Officials say earlier imports of animal feed placed Japan at risk. Yoichi Watanabe, First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. says, the farm that housed the suspected case of BSE has been placed under quarantine.
WATANABE: The Minister of Agriculture and the livestock industry, as well as consumers are very concerned. But the first point is that it is still suspect.
CURWOOD: A portion of the dead cow's brain was sent to the United Kingdom where it will be tested to confirm if the cow, in fact, had the disease.
CURWOOD: In April, we reported on human intervention and some of the more intimate aspects of captive animal breeding. Now, for the first time, artificial insemination has produced a whale calf. Dr. Todd Robeck says the calf is doing well in its San Diego home at Sea World.
ROBECK: The calf is nursing within six hours, which is really, really good. The calf bonded with his mother, had his sister in the pool. And it's just very exciting to see the whole thing.
CURWOOD: This is the first time artificial insemination was successfully accomplished with marine mammals. It's hoped this technique could assist in the preservation of endangered species.
CURWOOD: And, finally, traffic cops in merry old England discovered recently that solar energy may not always be the way to go. Thanks to the gloomy skies that often plague the British Isles, about a quarter of solar powered parking meters installed earlier this year in the city of Nottingham keep running out of juice. So violators get off fine free. No sunshine, no ticket. And that's this week's follow-up on the news from Living On Earth.
CURWOOD: Just ahead, a tale of two cities with water for less than one. First, this page from the Animal Notebook with Maggie Villiger.
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VILLIGER: If you think your love life is challenging, you might find some comfort by taking a close look at the courting rituals of the funnel web spider. Males in this aggressive species are sometimes eaten by their mates before, during, or soon after their eight to ten hour intercourse session. To ward off the sexual cannibalism, the guys have come up with a defense. They lull females into unconsciousness so they can mate without becoming dinner. Until recently, observers thought the males' elaborate courting dance somehow intoxicated females. But now, biologists have discovered proof that the spider Romeos are actually slipping a Mickey to their Juliets. When scientists ground up dead male funnel web spiders and wafted the extract near live spiders, almost three quarters of females were, literally, knocked out. Surprisingly, males also succumb to the potion. They must take very careful aim when releasing this chemical so they don't knock themselves out cold. Scientists are working on identifying this knock-out pheromone. It's unknown whether or not humans possess a similar reception pathway.
That's this week's Animal Note, I'm Maggie Villiger.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Some people call petroleum the 20th century's most crucial resource. But in the 21st century, others say fresh water will become the more valued commodity. In arid regions across the globe, growing urban populations are competing with agricultural interests for scarce and fast depleting aquifers. For example, the desert town of Juarez, Mexico, across from El Paso, Texas, depends upon a single aquifer as its only source of water. But so many people are migrating to Juarez, and so fast, that the city is running out of fresh water. The future of this burgeoning town is in question. As part of the series "Border Stories", Sandy Tolan reports.
TOLAN: Sunday afternoon on the southern bank of the Rio Bravo, known on the other side as the Rio Grande. This narrow desert river is so dammed and diverted, you could cross from Mexico to the United States in ten long steps. Here, the brown silty band joins the states of New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua. On the day of rest for Mexican factory workers and their families, Berta Pallan has brought her kids down here to cool off and to bathe. Like hundreds of thousands of others in the sprawling shanty towns of Juarez, her family has no running water.
[BERTA PALLAN SPEAKING SPANISH]
VOICEOVER: Most of my neighbors can be seen at two or three o'clock in the morning hauling water from five or six blocks away. Because there's no hose or water lines, we are really struggling.
TOLAN: Her husband earns $240 a month assembling auto parts in a maquiladora, a border factory. She adds a few more dollars fashioning ceramics. The family spends nearly a third of its income on water. Water delivered by truck is the most expensive kind, paid for by the people who can least afford it. Seven years after her arrival from the south of Mexico, Berta Pallan is still waiting.
[PALLAN SPEAKING SPANISH]
VOICEOVER: They say in two or three years we'll have water pipes. If water comes out of them, who knows, they're putting in pipes. But I am saying that in two or three years there won't be a drop of water. Pipes, yes; water, no.
TOLAN: The source of Berta's skepticism, news accounts in the Juarez media citing hydrologists' estimates that the Hueco Bolson, the aquifer beneath may the city, may run out of fresh water within five years. At the moment, Juarez has no other source of water. The Hueco Bolson is it. Even the scarce share of the Rio Grande is assigned by treaty to Mexico's farmers.
[SOUND OF DIGGING]
TOLAN: The hills above the river are covered with shacks of tar paper and wooden factor pallets and adorned by young melia trees planted in hope. The city grows by 50,000 new residents a year, families who have given up the farm and headed north. They live in colonias bearing names like Puerto de Anapra and Puerto la Paz. But here there's no port, no boats, and hardly any water.
[RAUL GARCES SPEAKING SPANISH]
VOICEOVER: With every passing day, the reserve is getting lower and lower.
TOLAN: Resting against his family's shack in Anapra, Raul Garces watches as a teenager shovels out stone and dry cement from a flatbed truck, soon to be made into a concrete post to anchor an electric pole that will bring light. Running water is supposed to come soon, as well, but Garces is unsure.
[GARCES SPEAKING SPANISH]
VOICEOVER: The article I've read said the reserve has at least five, maybe six or seven years left. What are we going to do then? Imagine that. Imagine what's going to happen with Juarez. We'll all die of thirst. Is that what's going to happen? I mean, people will have to migrate from here to somewhere else where there's water.
[SOUND OF WATER]
TOLAN: Every gallon in Juarez from these Anapra bound water trucks filling up just south of the El Paso line, to the thousands of homes and factories connected by pipe, comes from the once vast freshwater aquifer stretching beneath both sides of the Rio Grande. As more Mexicans come to build lives along the border, they take over vacant lands and demand often for years their rights to running water. When they finally get it, individual use skyrockets as more and vigorous straws sip at the same dwindling source. As this happens, the fresh water of the Hueco Bolson depletes, and the brackish water below begins to flow into the city's wells.
SIQUIEROS: Once they get connected to the water system, they start consuming a lot more. So, it's a vicious circle.
TOLAN: Louise Felipe Sequieros is Director of IMIP, the Ministry of Planning in Juarez. He thumbs through a recent newspaper supplement boasting of new government built water hookups in the poor colonias.
SEQUIEROS: Well, this is publicity from the state of Chihuahua, and they're talking about giving water to Anapra, to 25,000 residents, 42 new wells in two years.
TOLAN: Sequieros' agency is government funded, but politically autonomous. Its role as an architect and planner for the city of a million and a half is a to look ahead.
SEQUIEROS: Every 20 years, population doubles. The same period, water consumption multiplied by seven. So, what's going to happen in the future? We're going to have, by the year 2020, at least twice as much need of water.
TOLAN: But Sequieros says with 15,000 new homes built by the private sector last year, with new maquiladoras projected, and with new colonias springing up every year, the city is not sufficiently concerned.
SEQUIEROS: They are more worried about coping with today's demands more than building an infrastructure that solves the problem for the next 20 years. It's hard for them to get to this point where you invest for a longer period. The crisis is going to come later.
RAMIREZ: All I can say concerning the Hueco Bolson is that there's not sufficient information concerning the depletion.
TOLAN: Alberto Ramirez of the Municipal Water Authority in Juarez.
RAMIREZ: We are concerned because that could mean that the water quality will deteriorate in time. But there's not enough information to say that in five or ten years we won't have any good quality water left.
TOLAN: The Water Authority is skeptical of the conclusions of hydrologists north of the border, including the U.S. Geological Survey. Juarez officials don't appreciate it when they're told by the big neighbor to the north that their water is about to become too salty to use.
RAMIREZ: There's a real need to intensify the studies that has being performed until now and the modeling of this aquifer.
TOLAN: Juarez' model suggests there may be more time. Officials certainly hope that's the case because nothing is in the works to replace the Hueco Bolson within five years.
RAMIREZ: We're not just sitting here and waiting for the Hueco to deplete completely. We're starting to take some actions.
TOLAN: Like drawing contingency plans for water rationing, or mixing brackish water from bad wells with sweet water from good wells, or negotiating with the farmers for first use of the Rio Grande waters, a tough sell which would anyway provide only a quarter of the city's current water use. Long term, the city wants to pipe in water from a neighboring aquifer abutting the New Mexico border and from another aquifer west of the city, but these sources are uncertain to provide significant water, and in any case would cost. A recent 20-year plan put water delivery systems for the city at 830 million dollars.
RAMIREZ: Of course, there's always the financial part, which is the most difficult part for us because even though we may have the projects, we don't have enough money to do them.
TOLAN: For many, the techno-fix is desalination. El Paso is discussing its own plans for this, but for Juarez, desal could cost several hundred million dollars more a year. Given the state of Mexico's economy, this seems unlikely.
[SOUND OF WATER]
TOLAN: But if Juarez' prospects for more water in the near future are dim, just north of the line they're better. El Paso is shifting its reliance from the Hueco using more Rio Grande water and buying up water ranches from West Texas irrigation districts. For years the city has battled New Mexico for rights to their water. And while the courts have often favored New Mexico, the market may be the ultimate arbiter.
STAHMANN: You have a lot of foliage. Actually it's very beautiful.
TOLAN: Bill Stahmann is the Pecan King of southern New Mexico. His family-run corporation shares the same Chihuahuan desert with the struggling lilia trees down in Anapra. But here in the Mesilla Valley, the desert is transformed by rights codified under a 1906 treaty with Mexico to use the Rio Grande water. So the 3,600 acres of this single farm, watering some of the thirstiest plants in all of irrigated agriculture, uses the same amount of water as 125,000 average residents of Juarez.
Bill Stahmann knows the chili and pecan farmers here in the Mesilla Valley may hold the cards to the city's future.
STAHMANN: If people move into these cities as these cities grow, then they need to acquire more water to take care of their population.
TOLAN: This farm has been in Stahmann's family since 1932. Last year, the company shipped nine million pounds of pecans. But this family business is above all a business. And there's a saying in this part of the west, "Water doesn't run downhill, it runs uphill towards money." Now, international working groups are meeting to consider the region's collective future. And irrigators here say if the cities get thirsty enough, and if the significant legal and international political hurdles are jumped, they will be willing to treat their hard won water rights as a free market commodity.
STAHMANN: Well, you know, everything is for sale. It's just you have to hit the right price. And if you get the right price, then you sell. So I'm saying, yes, it could be a deal.
TOLAN: Some believe, even if this does happen, it will happen too late for Juarez.
MADDOCK: Traditionally, the desert communities have risen and fallen on the availability of water.
TOLAN: Tom Maddock is a hydrologist at the University of Arizona.
MADDOCK: And obviously, if Juarez does not have available water, then they can't continue the growth. There isn't enough water available there to support the population, so the population will probably move away. The trouble is, is that interim period can be quite confrontational.
TOLAN: For Juarez, Tom Maddock expects more battles between farmers and city officials over water rights, and a deteriorating aquifer growing ever saltier. Potential health consequences alone associated with rising salinity, hypertension and kidney problems chief among them, have not been addressed by officials in Juarez.
MADDOCK: I don't really hold a lot of future under those conditions. Sorry to paint such a grim picture, but it's kind of the reality of living in a desert.
TOLAN: But the idea that Juarez may not have enough water for the people already living there, much less for its future growth, has not trickled down to the tens of thousands heading north each year.
[SOUND OF ACCORDION]
TOLAN: A man with an accordion walks against four lanes of traffic inching forward to the U.S. border crossing. He just arrived from the south, rented a room where he sleeps with his wife and four children. Days, he looks for work in the maquiladora. Nights, he plays for tips, his daughter trailing behind him with a paper cup. There's nothing left in the south, he says. For work, everyone knows you have to come north.
For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan in Juarez, Mexico.
CURWOOD: Our story on Juarez water is part of "Border Stories," a series by Homeland Productions, made possible in part with funds from the Ford Foundation.
CURWOOD: A tragedy of the proportions of the terrorist attacks of September 11th touches everyone. And for those of us who knew someone, or know of someone, who perished, the stories can be made poignant by coincidence.
Now many of the names of those lost are still unknown. But one of them you might recognize is John Ogonowski. He was the Captain of American Airlines Flight 11 on route from Boston to L.A. when it was forced into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Just a few weeks ago, Living on Earth's Diane Toomey interviewed John Ogonowski. She and producer, Susan Shepherd were preparing a story about his work as a mentor farmer in Dracut, Massachusetts where he owned a 150-acre farm called Whitegate.
You see, the nearby city of Lowell, Massachusetts has one of the largest populations of Cambodian refugees in the U.S., and Captain Ogonowski was helping them get started farming. He not only gave his labor and his land, but he also offered friendship and advice. Maybe it was just a coincidence that Mr. Oganowski was helping Southeast Asian immigrants start new lives in America. You see, as an Air Force pilot he flew transport planes in Vietnam.
John Ogonowski was also generous to our crew. When they arrived at his farm, he whisked them off to a blueberry patch and encouraged them to help themselves, as he explained how he got involved in the project.
OGONOWSKI: It started out with a phone call from the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Gus Schumacher. And this was kind of a little project that he was starting, and he was looking for a place to get it going. And he called me and told me what he had in mind, and I said, sure, I've got some excess land available right now that we could try it on. This was about four years ago, and we've been doing it ever since. It sounded like a good project. My family, they're all immigrants. They came over here and had to start farming over here. So it sounded like a good chance to get some people farming who were farmers in their country before, and now they're living in a city environment. So they had the desire to farm, and we had the land, so we got together.
I think once a person is a farmer, they're a farmer for life. They're hooked. I don't know if the children of these farmers are going to be so active in it, but they may be because these Cambodians, they bring their whole families out here. You'll see the kids out there weeding and picking the crops. So they may take a liking to it. I have three daughters, and they're good workers. They pick blueberries, and sell pumpkins. Hopefully they'll continue, so I can retire.
CURWOOD: John Ogonowski's life was, as we know, cut short. And right now it's unclear whether the work that was started on his farm will continue. But it is clear that his work and his humility are an inspiration for us all, as I suspect are the lives of many of the others who died that day and whose stories are as yet untold.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living On Earth. Next week, it's well known that tobacco can cause serious health problems for people who smoke. But now, medical researchers are finding that even people who just pick the crop are also getting sick.
MAN: One quarter of your workers are sick, not because of the flu, not because of pneumonia, not because of measles, but because of something they do on the job. It's an incredibly high rate.
CURWOOD: Green Tobacco Sickness down on the farm, next time on Living On Earth.
CURWOOD: We close our show this week with another recording from Lang Elliot's collection. This one captured at Crane Marsh in the Okefonokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia features the song of a Carolina wren and a guttural courtship of a pair of Sandhill Cranes.
[SOUNDS OF WILDLIFE]
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Jennifer Chu and Gernot Wagner, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Milisa Mu–iz, and Bunny Lester. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art, courtesy of Earth Ear. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor, Diane Toomey is our science 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.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation, supporting reporting on Western issues; the Oak Foundation, for coverage of marine issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advanced environmental protection and human prosperity: www.wajones.org; the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education, the Educational Foundation of America for reporting on energy and climate change; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change; the Town Creek Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
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