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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 21, 2001

Air Date: September 21, 2001

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EPA Monitors

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Host Steve Curwood reports from the World Trade Center wreckage, on efforts by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to monitor air and water quality in and near the site. Private firms are also cleaning up potentially hazardous materials at offices and buildings that survived the attacks of September 11th. (05:40)

Unsung Heroes / Diane Toomey

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Americans have been awed by the courage of the fire fighters and police officers that risked, and sometimes lost their lives in the rescue effort at the World Trade Center. Now that focus is turning to cleanup, Living On Earth's Diane Toomey spoke with sanitation workers involved in that task and how they are dealing with scenes of death and devastation. (05:40)

Animal Note

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Living on Earth's Maggie Villiger reports on the dogs working to help the recovery effort in New York. (01:20)

Almanac: Manhattan - Brooklyn ferry

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This week facts about the ferry from Manhattan to Brooklyn. After the World Trade Center disaster, New York restored service on this historic route. (01:30)

Energy Policy / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

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Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on how the terrorist attacks could affect energy policy on Capitol Hill. (04:10)

Central Asia

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As military action in Afghanistan and its environs becomes more likely, host Steve Curwood talks with Frederick Starr of the Central Asian Institute at Johns Hopkins University about how the oil business around the Caspian Sea might be affected. (05:00)

Routine / Clay Scott

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Routines are an important part of our environment, as the people of New York City are finding as they try to recover from the events of September 11th. Contributor Clay Scott spent several years reporting from cities such as Sarajevo, Baghdad, and Beirut, and says for people in war situations, maintaining a routine environment becomes a tool for survival. (03:30)

Silent Night

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Host Steve Curwood talks with Peter Acker about recording sounds in an airplane vacant environment. After the attacks on September 11th, the Federal Aviation Administration banned all commercial air traffic for a few days. (03:00)

Technology Note

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Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports on how robots are helping the rescue and clean-up efforts at the World Trade Center site. (01:20)

Bioterrorism Threat

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The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have many Americans feeling vulnerable. Terrorism experts say it could have been even worse had biological weapons been used. Host Steve Curwood talks with reporter Bob Carty about the threat of bioterrorism. (11:00)

Pilot Farmer

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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)

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EPA Monitors

[SOUND OF HELICOPTER]

CURWOOD: This is Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood at the World Trade Center disaster site in New York, at the staging area for the Environmental Protection Agency. In the days and weeks ahead the EPA will monitor air and water quality in the area to help guard public heath. Immediately after the towers collapsed the call went out to the EPA to assess the environmental hazards for the rescue and cleanup workers.

FERRIOLA: It was chaos in my mind.

CURWOOD: Mike Ferriola was part of the first response team of the EPA on September 11th..

FERRIOLA: I arrived with three other EPA employees, and when we got here, which was about 11 o'clock, we tried to approach ground zero and wound up being held up. It was almost like it was snowing, there was so much dust in the air. People were running in fear of other buildings collapsing.

CURWOOD: So, what did you do?

FERRIOLA: What did we do? (laughs) When the people were running, we were running too. Later on in the day, when things calmed down a little bit, we started to collect some dust samples of the material that had fallen out over the day.

CURWOOD: The good news: despite choking dust clouds and the acrid odor of burning plastic, out of four samples, three showed no concentrated toxic materials. Mike Ferriola did find one sample of dust containing an elevated level of asbestos, used to insulate part of the buildings. Asbestos can cause fatal lung diseases. Health officials quickly posted fact sheets urging rescue and recovery workers to wear respirators. At first, many ignored the advice.

FERRIOLA: You know, initially there was incredible, almost animal ferocity in terms of attacking the rubble to try to find the brotherhood, the firemen and police, and now they're sort of being more attentive to those things.

CURWOOD: Life at ground zero has settled in almost a routine for the EPA crews, and they are standing by for requests from the workers digging into the massive amount of rubble. Dave Charters is a senior member of the team that fields these requests.

CHARTERS: What they do is they uncover shafts, and the request is, is it safe to go down in that shaft? And what we do is we lower equipment down in that shaft, and check the air quality in there, and give them that answer right away, knowing what those results are, so they can turn around and get into those void spaces and look around for people.

CURWOOD: I know any chemical could be a problem, but is there a short-list of what you're most likely to be worried about?

CHARTERS: In those situations where it's a question of really is there enough oxygen down there in the first place? If there is enough oxygen, what are the other things that could be potentially in it? That's why we have the mobile laboratory here, which is the white at the end of the pier there. So, we bring it three blocks up, run it through on an immediate time basis. The bags get there, it's immediately plugged into the machine, we get readings in minutes, get those results back down to them.

CURWOOD: A few blocks away from the collapsed and burned out World Trade Center buildings, a massive cleanup is also going on.

HARVEY: There was virtually a tidal wave of dust going down the narrow alleys which served as sort of a conduit to channel and funnel and actually speed up some of the dust which traveled practically down to the river.

CURWOOD: David Harvey is vice president of Tradewinds, a private company that cleans up homes and businesses in the wake of natural and environmental disasters. Hundreds of Tradewinds workers are cleaning the inches of dust that caked the inside and outside of buildings close to ground zero that remain standing.

HARVEY: What you may see when you see our people working, is you're going to see them cleaning every bit. They're cleaning every little corner. It's almost using a toothbrush, and they're doing it over and over again.

CURWOOD: Working around the clock, so far they have cleaned up more than a dozen companies, including banks, restaurants and utilities.

[SOUND OF TRUCKS]

CURWOOD: Meanwhile, back at ground zero there is plenty of work ahead. The EPA continues to monitor both indoor and outdoor air quality, as well as using high efficiency vacuums to suck up samples of ash and dust in the streets and on sidewalks, and checking to see if any plumes of pollution show up in the Hudson River. Again, David Charters of the EPA:

CHARTERS: I've been at this 22 years and this is a very different disaster than anything we've dealt with in the past. We've gone from Exxon Valdez, the Love Canal, the Gulf War. This is just a different scale, and looking at this, we're working our way back to normal.

CURWOOD: Whether it takes weeks, months or even years to get back to normal is a guessing game. Still, Mr. Charters is not discouraged.

CHARTERS: Everybody's been just wonderful on this, from the people doing it. One unsung group on this is the sanitation department for New York, which I'm sure nobody particularly thinks about, has just done unbelievable work on clearing this up. I mean, the stuff from around, it was just feet deep. And it's just gone.

[SOUND OF HELICOPTER]

Related link:
EPA Emergency response info">

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Unsung Heroes

CURWOOD: We thought we'd meet some of these unsung heroes, people who, unlike the police and firefighters, are unaccustomed to dealing with the aftermath of violence and death. Living On Earth's Diane Toomey spoke with some of the people who are cleaning up lower Manhattan.

ARENAS: My name is Eddie Arenas. I'm a sanitation worker. Manhattan East 6th is my garage.

TOOMEY: Eddie Arenas has been at Ground Zero 12 hours a day, everyday, since the attack.

ARENAS: What we're doing is we're clearing up the streets around-- I'm tired. Don't mind me-- Ground Zero-- Oh, I've just had it today. I'm waiting for my supervisor to tell me "go home."

TOOMEY: The sanitation workers are armed with barrels, brooms and shovels, doing what they can to clear a path for the heavy machinery that needs to come in. Arenas says, he's seen firsthand what the force of the collapse did to the towers.

ARENAS: It all turned into, like-- I don't know. It's hard to explain. It's like dust, really. You know. I mean, look at this that's on me. That's what we're picking up, with a bunch of papers and clothing and a lot of stuff in it. You don't know what's in it.

TOOMEY: Sometimes, though, it's only too obvious what's in the debris.

ARENAS: I seen these two police officers walk out with a body bag. Normally it takes six police officers to walk out with a body bag. It just took two. So, what they're finding in there is not whole bodies. It's just body parts. And that made me cry. Because it did...I felt really bad for these people, because these people never had a chance.

TOOMEY: Arenas says he sometimes gets frustrated because he wishes he could do more.

ARENAS: It's tough. You know. You try to do-- you know. You want to get in there. You don't want to just be cleaning. You want to get in there and get-- Me, personally, I want to get in there and help, you know, and, move stuff, you know, even if it's by hand. I don't mind the hard labor.

TOOMEY: What have you been told about the need for you guys to keep working these 12-hour shifts.

ARENAS: They told us to stay strong. They'll let us know when they'll cut the force down. Because we're a small-- we only have, like, six thousand people on the sanitation, so.

TOOMEY: Only.

ARENAS: We could use a lot more, that's for sure.

TOOMEY: There are others involved in the cleanup. Like trucking companies responsible for hauling the wreckage to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Fresh Kills was closed earlier this year, but then reopened because it was the only place in the area big enough to handle more than a million tons of debris. Whitney Trucking has dispatched its entire fleet to lower Manhattan. Christopher Uzzi is one of the company's owners.

UZZI: I'm a Vietnam Veteran, and I think I seen some war torn areas in life. This is a mess. I've been in the construction business 35 years and I haven't seen an immensity, an enormity. In fact, there's Building South, that's a pile. Building North is a pile, Building Seven, Building Five and Building Three. We're all trying to figure out how long it would take to get all this debris out. And, some people get overwhelmed. They say, eight months. Some people say, six months. That's twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week of moving trucking.

TOOMEY: So, let's talk about your last full shift, which was, what, yesterday, starting early in the morning?

UZZI: I've been on 24 hours, but, I'm fine. I'm going to be able to be relieved. I'm tired. You know, I haven't-- my wife is cooking meals and I never get home to eat them.

TOOMEY: But Uzzi says however many missed meals it takes, he wants to see this job finished.

UZZI: New York is walking on the street. And I'm a New Yorker myself. I think the quicker we clean it up, the more we get a positive outlook back to this city. It just, you know, every time you look at the debris, it seems like your mind goes blank and you just can't understand it. Or, how it was done. So, in my opinion, the quicker we clean it up, the better we look for the world, too.

TOOMEY: And the morale of your men at this point?

UZZI: I think everybody's overwhelmed when you first pull up. I think you have to take a minute to take it all in. So far, the morale is good.

TOOMEY: One of Christopher Uzzi's drivers is Salvatore Cinquemani. He and the rest of the truckers here have already made about 5,000 trips to the Fresh Kills Landfill where FBI agents comb through the wreckage for potential evidence.

CINQUEMANI: Fresh Kills is starting to look like Ground Zero. The smell there and, in the beginning, when we first started dumping there, was like propane. Like the gas they're pumping out. Now, it's starting to smell worse than that. It's starting to smell like-- like my family owns a funeral home. So, I could say it could start smelling like a morgue.

TOOMEY: When Cinquemani first came on duty, he pulled a 24-hour shift.

CINQUEMANI: I would have stayed here longer. But, I was a little bit too tired to sleep, and I just don't want to put anyone else's life into jeopardy.

TOOMEY: And when did you get on site? What was your first?

CINQUEMANI: We were down here, I believe it was Wednesday morning or the day it happened, Tuesday, Tuesday night. We were all ready to come down. I told my, my boss said, "Come on. We're going to go down there." I said, "I'm down." I said, you know, "Let's do it on the arm if we have to. Just to help people."

TOOMEY: You mean, without pay?

CINQUEMANI: I don't care. Pay or not. I would have came down here Tuesday. I would have came down here with my own shovel.

TOOMEY: Salvatore Cinquemani, Christopher Uzzi, and Eddie Arenas spoke with us near Battery Park, just a few blocks away from ground zero. For Living on Earth, I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: Our stories on the cleanup at the World Trade Center complex were produced by Jennifer Chu and Jesse Wegman.

[MUSIC]

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Animal Note

CURWOOD: Coming up, the politics of oil in Central Asia. First, this page from the Animal Notebook with Maggie Villiger.

[THEME MUSIC UP]

VILLIGER: At Ground Zero, nearly three hundred dogs are working in twelve hour shifts around the clock in the recover effort. Humans, dead or alive, emit a scent. And millions of their microscopic particles are floating in the air for dogs to detect with their keen sense of smell. Search dogs are also effective where human sight is limited, like in dark, debris strewn places; and, even underwater.

They usually come from the larger, working and sporting breeds like German Shepherds, Rottweilers or Golden Retrievers. Special boots were donated to protect the dogs' paws from the sharp, unstable debris they're working in. But the footwear inhibited their traction and had to be cast aside. So many of the dogs have gotten cuts and bruises from sharp material in the debris. Others developed eye and respiratory problems from the dust and smoke. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency has veterinary medical assistance teams on hand to treat the animals. That's this week's Animal Note. I'm Maggie Villiger.

[MUSIC]

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

Related link:
United Animal Nations Emergency Animal Rescue Service">

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Almanac: Manhattan - Brooklyn ferry

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

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

CURWOOD: In the wake of the September 11th attacks, life in New York City has been altered in many ways. One small change is the return, at least for now, of ferry service from Brooklyn to Manhattan, after a 59-year hiatus. The New York Department of Transportation hopes the free hourly boats will help ease traffic congestions, from restrictions in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and on the Brooklyn Bridge. The first ferry from, what is now, Brooklyn to what was then called New Amsterdam began back in 1642 with boats that were rode across the strong current in the East River. Passengers could wait for days for clear weather before crossing. Ferry travel improved in the 1800s. With the launch of steam ships, crossing times were cut to just a few minutes. The Union Ferry Company of Brooklyn transported almost 50 million passengers a year by mid-century, but the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 sealed the ferries' fate. The city took over the ferries, but ended service to Brooklyn in 1942. Ironically, as travelers get a rare chance to ride a Brooklyn ferry today, with the World Trade Center Towers gone, the skyline of lower Manhattan looks much like it did back in 1942. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC]

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Energy Policy

CURWOOD: On Capital Hill, almost everything has been put aside. Campaign finance reform, disputes over clean air regulations, debates of all sorts are on hold. Lawmakers want the world to see a united Congress. They're doing their best to shelve partisan bickering. Still, there are some divisive issues that need to be decided. As Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports, energy policy debates will be among the early tests of cordiality on Capital Hill.

CRAIG: I believe that energy is every bit as much a security issue as is heightening the ability of the CIA.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is among a growing number of lawmakers who say it's now more urgent than ever to reverse the nation's growing dependence on foreign oil.

CRAIG: If we became involved in a military activity in the Middle East that disrupted the flow of oil coming out of the Middle East to us and to the rest of the world, our economy could well collapse.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: How to reach energy independence is the thornier question. And it's being raised even during the current congressional truce. The difference now is that there's more fuel for the fire.

CRAIG: Right now, my guess is that every citizen of New York is a little more concerned about their personal safety than they are about the environment on the north slope of Alaska.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The reference, of course, is to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the sharp conflict over whether or not to drill there and on other public lands throughout the nation. Senator Craig is on the Energy Committee that was scheduled to wrangle over the issue later this month. For now, those meetings have been postponed and nobody is in the mood for a showdown. Most lawmakers are speaking hesitantly, careful not to seem opportunistic in the face of tragedy. But divisions remain beneath the veneer of unity. Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts says anyone using the terrorist attacks to advance the ANWR agenda is exploiting the situation. And Senator Kerry says he remains committed to filibuster any attempts to allow drilling in ANWR.

KERRY: There wouldn't be an ounce of oil that comes out of there for five years to ten years. It has no impact at all in the moment.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Kerry says a better way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil is to develop a new energy base.

KERRY: And the way you do that is by encouraging alternatives and renewables, conservation, efficiencies..."

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: So, in a sense, we're back where we began, before the attacks. Only now, when it comes to energy, the focus isn't on climate or particulates or on the needs of a particular industry. It's on making sure the nation has the oil it needs. And even environmental lobbyists admit, the last thing on anyone's mind right now are baby caribou. In one day, national security has eclipsed every other concern.

Adam Sieminski, an oil strategist with Deutsche Bank, says it's natural for people to think terrorism, the Middle East, oil. But he says connecting those dots isn't necessarily instructive.

SIEMINSKI: This particular crisis, even though people are making a connection to oil, so far doesn't involve oil. We haven't had a supply interruption. In fact, the impact of the terrorist activities may result in dramatically slower economic growth in the U.S. and maybe even abroad. That would mean less demand. We may actually end up having almost the reverse of the situation in 1990. We'll have too much oil.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: A war in the Middle East or Central Asia could change that, of course. And some Congressional insiders suspect the comprehensive energy package they were working on may have to be pushed aside until next year. Others say in the coming weeks we might see more narrow legislation, focused closely on security matters. Whether drilling in ANWR will be on the agenda isn't clear. Right now, divisive issues are pretty much off limits. If it does come up for consideration, pro-drilling supporters may have found a few new allies.

At least one lawmaker who'd been on the fence said, he'd remain opposed to drilling unless there was some sort of crisis. But that was before September 11th. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Washington.

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Central Asia

CURWOOD: With the eyes of the military on Central Asia, oil markets are taking notice. Afghanistan's neighbors include Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. And these nations are rich in oil. I'm joined now by Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asia Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Starr, what are some of the estimates on how much oil is in this region of the world?

STARR: Well, the estimates are only that. But what we now know for sure is that the proven reserves are slightly greater than those of the North Sea. This already puts it in the big leagues, although as a percentage of global proven reserves, it doesn't put it over four or five percent.

CURWOOD: Still, this is about what the United States has, if I remember my....

STARR: Exactly right. The fact is three percent, four percent of the world's proven reserves, depending on its physical location and accessibility, can be terribly important.

CURWOOD: Tell me about the infrastructure to get this oil out of the Caspian Sea region. How is it set up at this point?

STARR: The big problem with not only the Caspian itself, but Central Asia, is that it's remote from everywhere. There is a kind of transportation surtax on everything moving in or moving out, including oil. Now the pipeline system is basically through the old Soviet Union with one small pipeline going due west from Azerbaijan to Georgia on the Black Sea, and it gets piped from there. There is no real pipeline to the south that would take you to the Persian Gulf via Iran. Nor is there a pipeline to the east that would take you to China. Nor is there one southeast across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. All of these are under discussion. The only one actively being planned at this point is the one due west across Turkey to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

CURWOOD: So, tell us now, U.S. military action in this area, how does this affect oil business in the area?

STARR: Assume, for a moment, that there is serious military activity. Also, that this results in some kind of resonance elsewhere in the Arab world. And that, this, in turn, drives up the price of oil due to our sense of risk in Saudi Arabia, etc. If that happens, it means that a lot of oil in the Caspian basin that today may not be cost-effective to extract, becomes cost-effective. I assume the main result will be the Caspian region, even though it's only a marginal part of the world oil supply, will become more important. There will be more exploration. There will be more extraction. And it's importance as a kind of balance for Europe to its Persian Gulf sources will soar.

CURWOOD: From the standpoint of an oil consumer, who will feel the most impact from changes now in the Caspian basin?

STARR: In a narrow sense, most of this oil will be consumed in Europe. Indeed, probably in Eastern Europe. But, the nature of oil is that it is a globalized market. And, therefore, if you add, at a crucial point, a flow of oil from the Caspian, it could become a major stabilizer of prices that every consumer worldwide would feel.

CURWOOD: If the U.S. is involved on the ground here in this region, in particular, in Afghanistan, what kind of ripple effect might it have?

STARR: If the U.S. is involved in Afghanistan, the pressure is going to be on the entire Persian Gulf region. It could be even destabilizing particularly with regard to Saudi Arabia. That effects us very directly. It effects the Europeans even more so.

CURWOOD: What would those effects be?

STARR: In the very least, driving up the price of oil and forcing many questions about alternative sources of oil and, indeed, alternatives to oil. The short run could be a real crisis in oil supplies, not just to the west but to Asia, as well. That could drive all the economies into real crisis.

CURWOOD: Frederick Starr is Chairman of the Central Asia Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Thank you, sir, for joining us.

STARR: Thank you very much.

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Routine

CURWOOD: One important element of any environment, though perhaps not an obvious or a tangible one, is routine. The things we do everyday or every week, at the same time or in the same place, or with the same people, comfort us with their regularity. Routine can become a tool for survival during times of stress or trauma. The kinds of times New Yorkers are going through. Clay Scott spent several years reporting from places under siege. Places like Grozny, Baghdad, Beirut and Sarajevo. He has these thoughts.

SCOTT: I remember my first visit to Sarajevo, before the Bosnian war. I was struck by the city's joyful arrogance, by the swagger in people's walk, by the feeling that life here was, and always would be, good. In the surrounding mountains, only an hour's stroll from the city's center, I found streams filled with brown trout and tracks of boar and deer.

Ten years later, I returned to Bosnia. The war was in full swing. Sarajevo was in ruins. And the swagger was gone. Gone, as well, were the park benches where lovers once sat. Every scrap of firewood had long since been scavenged. The trout-filled streams were now lined with land mines. And from the flanks of the mountains, howitzer and mortar shells rained down on those unfortunate Sarajevans who had been unable to flee.

What struck me this time was people's determination not only to survive but to retain their sanity and dignity in a nightmarish, insane world. They did this by holding stubbornly to routine in lives that had been turned upside down. My landlady in Sarajevo, Mrs. Abadjic, had already lost her husband and her son in a conflict she couldn't comprehend. We would meet several times a week for an afternoon tea chat in her kitchen, blankets on our laps to keep warm. The U.N. issued plastic sheeting over the windows, letting in just enough light to see. Smoking the precious cigarettes I had brought her. Listening to the dull thud of mortar fire. "Puca dannas" she would say, with a smile. Literally, "It's shooting today," as if she were talking about the weather. Later, when I'd get up to leave, she would smile again. "Enjoy the rest of your day."

A couple of years later, in Lebanon, I found the same resiliency, the same stubborn clinging to normal routine in a world that had lost its sanity. A stretch of highway south of Beirut was being shelled by Israeli gunboats. Nevertheless, a line of Lebanese motorists insisted on running the deadly gauntlet. A police officer directed traffic as the cars made a mad dash for safety half a mile away. One by one, the cars drove off at a signal from the policeman. Rubber burning, tires squealing, sometimes swerving as a shell struck nearby.

Like my landlady, Mrs. Abadjic, these were people who didn't understand what was happening to them or why. They knew only that they would not give up their routine. I spoke to those waiting in line. What was their errand? What was so urgent that it couldn't wait? In a small Italian car, six Greek Catholic nuns were huddled. "We have to get back to our convent," they told me. Behind them, an elderly couple sat calmly in an old American station wagon packed with green bananas. "We have to go," they said simply. "Today is market day." Then, with a wave, they too drove off, accelerating into the curve ahead.

In New York City this week, people are struggling with their trauma. Struggling to find sanity in a world that has been badly shaken. More than anything, they will find comfort in small things, in the familiarity of routine. Taking in a Broadway play or taking their dog for a walk. Or, cheering their beloved Yankees in the final days of the season.

BASEBALL GAME ANNOUNCER: Number two, Derek Jeter, shortstop.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

CURWOOD: Correspondent Clay Scott covered the wars in Lebanon and in Bosnia for Monitor Radio.

[MUSIC]

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Silent Night

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. After the events of September 11th, the Federal Aviation Administration took the unprecedented step of grounding all commercial air flights in the United States. The effect was dramatic on and off the planet. Crew members aboard the international space station noted how different the Earth looked without the usual contrails of jet vapor criss-crossing the atmosphere like a huge spider web. And it was quieter, too.

One man who noticed joins me now from his studio in Northampton, Massachusetts. Peter Acker is a professional audio recordist who specializes in natural sound preservation. He was vacationing on Cape Cod, Massachusetts on September 11th and decided to take advantage of the relatively silent night.

ACKER: It felt strange. I remember sitting at Herring Cove Beach and looking out into the night sky. And, in my experience of the Cape is, every few seconds, if not at least once a minute, you see, if not hear, a plane. On one hand, it was very calming. On the other hand, it was kind of eerie.

CURWOOD: Relatively speaking, just how quiet is it without all those planes flying around?

ACKER: Well, it's noticeable. I mean a jet, you know, after it passes overhead, you can still hear a jet for twenty, thirty miles beyond.

CURWOOD: So, what exactly did you record?

ACKER: The first piece that I recorded was a cricket in the midst of a wind. And, for me, as I was listening to this, it sort of underscored this feeling of, I don't know, desolation, of remoteness, of barrenness.

[SOUND OF CRICKET, WIND]

ACKER: The next morning, I went to Pammet Road Beach and recorded the sound of surf and wind. And, in this particular instance, I placed the microphone, actually, off the tripod in the sand amidst some grasses, tall grasses.

[SOUND OF OCEAN, WAVES]

CURWOOD: It's a deep, powerful sound with those little, delicate scratchings there.

ACKER: Exactly. I just have to say how ironic it is that it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to give us a taste of what we're missing. When you remove the over-flights, you get a taste of, really, the voice of the planet.

CURWOOD: Peter Acker is a professional sound recordist and he spoke with us from his studio in Northampton, Massachusetts. Thank you.

ACKER: Thanks, Steve.

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Technology Note

CURWOOD: Just ahead, the threat of biological terrorism and what the government can do about it. First, this Environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.

[MUSIC]

GRABER: Across the nation, millions of people are helping New Yorkers by making donations of time, money and even blood. But workers at Ground Zero are also getting some mechanical help from urban rescue robots, designed for use in military situations or natural disasters. About a dozen of these specialized robots have been called in from development labs around the nation. The smallest ones can fit in the palm of your hand. The big ones are about the size of a house cat. They can roll over themselves or stretch out to climb over tough terrain and fit into spaces too small for humans. Some are equipped with cameras, lights and microphones. Some have infrared sensors to detect heat and sonar systems to determine the exact proportions of the physical space around them. These bots are unaffected by high temperatures or stench that might make humans recoil. While hope is fading that they will be able to find anyone alive, these machines still have a role to play. They can venture into small spaces and test the stability of the surroundings. Robots have already been able to save the lives of firefighters by helping them avoid unsafe pockets. The robots being used now in New York are only prototypes. None are available commercially. Researchers say this tragic, unwanted test will help them make these robots more effective the next time they're needed. That's this week's technology note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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

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Bioterrorism Threat

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The acts of terrorism in New York and Washington on September 11th left many Americans feeling vulnerable. The attacks revealed how a well-financed and well-organized group 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 diseases such as anthrax and smallpox. They are difficult to make and even more difficult to deploy as weapons. Still, shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Federal officials went into action. Jim Hughes directs 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: There have been no unusual outbreaks reported. But, the threat of bio-terrorism is so great the government spends an estimated two billion dollars a year developing defenses against them. I'm joined now by Bob Carty, a correspondent with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has 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 hundred 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 a 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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Pilot Farmer

CURWOOD: A tragedy of the proportions of the terrorist attacks of September 11th touches everyone. And for those of us who know someone, or know of someone, who perished, the stories can be made poignant by coincidence. During the past few weeks the names of the dead have been printed in the paper and read on the airwaves and 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 has one of the largest populations of Cambodian refugees in the U.S., and Captain Ogonowski was helping them to 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, because he was an Air Force pilot and flew transport planes in Vietnam during the war there. John Ogonowski was also generous to our crew. When they arrived at his farm, he whisked them off to a blueberry patch. "Help yourselves," he said 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 Shumacher. 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.

TOOMEY: Do you have children that will continue in farming, John?

OGONOSKI: I hope so. I have three daughters, and they're good workers. They pick blueberries, and sell pumpkins. And, hopefully, they'll continue, so I can retire.

CURWOOD: Of course, John Ogonowski's life was 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 we are now just getting to hear.

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[SOUND FROM THE WORLD TRADE CENTER SITE]

CURWOOD: Usually we close our program with a bit of a soundscape. Sometimes we feature the calls and chirps of exotic birds, or the shrieks of monkeys, or maybe a recording of a street scene in Lisbon. The purpose of these sound montages is to pause and go virtually, at least, to another place for just a while and to think about how the sounds effect us. The events in New York City have created a soundscape none of us have ever heard before. Our theme composer, and New Yorker, Alison Lirish Dean created this series of reflections using some of the sound we gathered in the city.

[SOUND FROM NEW YORK]

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. We had help this week from Jessica Penney and Richard Doherty. 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 National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment, www.wajones.org; the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation, for reporting on western issues; 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 Rockefeller Foundation and the Turner Foundation.

This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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