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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 5, 2001

Air Date: October 5, 2001

SEGMENTS

Dust

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Millions of tons of dust cross the oceans to distant continents, and new research shows the dust may bring along some toxic guests. Janet Raloff, senior editor of Science News, discusses this issue with host Steve Curwood. (04:55)

China Desert / Anne Marie Ruff

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The soil in northern China is turning to sand, and huge dust storms are causing environmental and health problems thousands of miles away. Now, the Chinese government is making control of desertification a national priority. Anne Marie Ruff reports from Inner Mongolia. (06:15)

Health Note

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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on an Institute of Medicine finding on a possible link between a vaccine preservative and childhood disorders such as autism. (01:15)

Almanac: Crab Invasion

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This week, facts about the Christmas Island crab invasion. Every year at this time, the small island territory of Australia is taken over by swarms of red crabs. (01:30)

Capitol Hill Update

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The recent terrorist attacks may have altered the agenda in Washington, D.C. but environmental politics and policies continue to develop. Anna Solomon-Greenbaum briefs host Steve Curwood on what’s happened below the radar since September 11th. (05:00)

Green Tobacco Sickness / Leda Hartman

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While the dangers of smoking are well known, tobacco also poses a health threat to those who pick it. Leda Hartman reports from North Carolina. (08:00)

Lake Nubie / Carol Young

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Commentator Carol Young reminds us that some places will always be special in the heart and mind. (03:00)

Technology Note

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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports on a new technology developed by the New York State Thruway to cut down on idling diesel trucks and fuel emissions. (01:30)

Cleanup Update / Amy Eddings

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Amy Eddings reports on the continuing concern of some New York City residents over the environmental effects of the World Trade Center disaster. (02:15)

Restoring Ground Zero / Jane Holtz Kay

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Architecture and planning critic Jane Holtz Kay says a new design for the World Trade Center site should include old principles of city planning, and input from the public. (02:45)

Battery Park / John Rudolph

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After the September 11th World Trade Center attacks, many New Yorkers were displaced from their homes in downtown Manhattan. John Rudolph spoke to some residents of Battery Park City for whom "home" will never be the same again. (10:10)

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Dust

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. To most of us, dust is a local nuisance. We find it on the countertop and underneath the bed. Maybe a bit of it blows across the road as we walk or drive along. What we don't realize though is that a lot the dust we see comes from far away--hundreds of millions of tons of it blow across the Atlantic from Africa to the Americas. From Asia, tons of dust cross the Pacific. Some of the dust that we generate winds up in far away places as well.

Now, new research, highlighted in the latest edition of Science News, shows that this dust may bring along some unwanted hitchhikers. Science News Editor Janet Raloff joins me now. Hi Janet.

RALOFF: Hi Steve.

CURWOOD: So, Janet, what evidence is there that dust can transport unwanted disease across the oceans?

RALOFF: Well, some scientists, federal scientists, just cultured some dust that had been falling out in the Caribbean. It had originally come from Africa, and they could track it through satellite photos to know that it made those movements. And they're finding lots of bacteria, fungi and viruses in the dust that comes from Africa. And not only is it there but--this is pretty surprising--they found out that the stuff can grow. They can culture it and it blossoms in a petri dish. Looks pretty awful.

CURWOOD: Any diseases, specifically, they link to this dust?

RALOFF: Well, they haven't identified many of the germs yet, but the ones they have tend to be plant pathogens, and that's particularly interesting because in the late seventies there had been an epidemic of sugar cane rust in the Caribbean that seemed to come out of nowhere. And when an analysis was done about a year after the epidemic broke, they noticed that it seemed to be occurring in areas downwind of an area in Africa where the disease was also an epidemic. And now this would seem to give strong support to the idea that the germs that set off that epidemic in the Caribbean actually came from Africa.

CURWOOD: What about diseases in animals?

RALOFF: Well, there are fewer that have been tied at this point, but again, there's this nice, intriguing little episode, back about 20 years ago, where some British scientists looked at outbreaks of foot and mouth disease throughout Britain and Europe. And there are lots of cases that seem to, again, come out of nowhere, but they would show up on different sides of bodies of water, like the English Channel or the Baltic Sea. And at that time they said there was, at least, circumstantial support for foot and mouth disease having traveled by air, across water.

CURWOOD: What about us humans? What kind of risk do we run from dust-borne disease?

RALOFF: Well, one of the big concerns right now is asthma. There's a big asthma epidemic in Barbados and that's one of the eastern most islands in the Caribbean, one of those that gets the first dustfall from Africa. And they're finding that emergency room admissions for asthma for peaking at times when African dust is in the atmosphere. And they think they have linked it now to a particular bacterium that's present in that dust; when the bacterium isn't there, the asthma epidemic doesn't peak in emergency rooms.

CURWOOD: We've had dust forever. Why are we just noticing this now?

RALOFF: Well, part of it is that we have better monitoring, more air sampling stations, and more chemical analyses that can sort of finger print where dust is coming from. They can match it up with soils and tell that it's not like where it's landing. But there's also probably more dust just because of changing land use practices, which often leaves ground uncovered during dry seasons, making it very vulnerable to erosion. And there's, in addition, a lot of diversion of water bodies right now, to try and irrigate soils for crops and also to feed populations that are getting thirsty, like Los Angeles.

CURWOOD: What's going on in Los Angeles?

RALOFF: Actually, the situation there developed beginning around 1900. They could see that Los Angeles was growing fast and didn't have sufficient water, so they started tapping rivers that fed Owens Lake, in the mountains, several hundred miles to the east of Los Angeles. They took so much water that the lake totally dried up within ten years. And since then, the lake bed has been eroding and throwing lots of dust into the atmosphere and totally inundating several of the towns right next to it--to the extent that there's now lawsuits over that, and the city of Los Angeles is going to have to pay for re-mediation of Owens Lake.

CURWOOD: What's in this dust?

RALOFF: The thing of primary concern is a lot of arsenic, from 19th century gold mining operations upstream. There's sufficient arsenic, they think, that exposed individuals in the nearby towns can increase their life time cancer risk to about 1 in 40,000. And usually anything above one in a million is considered very serious cancer risk.

CURWOOD: Anything that we can do, in general, about dust?

RALOFF: Well, we do usually a fairly good job in this country of controlling erosion. Many people in the developing world don't have the money and resources to do the same, and I think a lot of people in North America figured, well, that's their problem, not ours. Now that we see that their dust and any of the wastes in it can end up in our back yard, it might turn out to be in our vested interest to help them out with some kind of agricultural aid, so they can also practice good soil conservation techniques.

CURWOOD: Janet Raloff's article on the disease carrying components of dust is in this week's edition of Science News. Thanks, Janet.

RALOFF: Thank you, Steve.

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China Desert

CURWOOD: Controlling land erosion is one way officials in China are moving to curb dust clouds. Anne Marie Ruff traveled to the deserts of inner Mongolia, and prepared this report.

RUFF: Beijing has some of the worst air pollution in the world, made worse each spring by sand storms that make life miserable for Beijing residents, like Gung Xao Wei.

WEI: The sky will turn a yellow and you can feel the sand flying in the air and you get very dirty and everybody runs back to their home and closes the window. It happens more frequently this year.

RUFF: For decades, the city government has tried to defend itself against the invading sand by planting trees with an army of students, like Nu Wah Lee (sp).

LEE: We are volunteers to plant all of the trees, and sometimes the government will give us some money to help us to plant some trees, to buy some small trees and to plant it.

RUFF: But the damage caused by increasingly frequent sand storms has become so massive, that the Chinese government and the United Nations estimate it costs China two to six billion dollars a year from lost crops and damage to transit lines in buildings. So, the Chinese government is moving its battle lines closer to the source of the problem, and party leaders are rallying volunteers in the deserts of the autonomous region of inner Mongolia.

[VOICES AND CLAPPING]

RUFF: The fearsome warriors of Genghis Khan came from this region eight centuries ago. Now, it's the sand that is the danger. And there's more of it--for several reasons. Climatic changes have made the area drier over the last few decades, and increasing population is putting added pressures on rivers and aquifers, and expanding herds of sheep denude the land of sparse vegetation. Starved of water and stripped of vegetation, there's nothing to keep the sand from being whipped up by the desert winds and blown over farms, roads, and 900 kilometers east, into Beijing. But the Chinese government is trying to change that.

[SOUNDS OF THE YELLOW RIVER]

RUFF: Here along the Yellow River, near the region of Alashan, in central inner Mongolia, dozens of volunteers are planting trees and seedlings of desert shrubs in an effort to stabilize the sand dunes that are marching out from the edges of the desert. Liu Whong Guay is a senior engineer for afforestation, in inner Mongolia.

[GUAY SPEAKING CHINESE]

VOICEOVER: Every year we plant trees, not only in this area but over thousands and thousands of acres. Worsening weather conditions have worked against us, so we have to keep up our efforts. It's every citizen's responsibility to plant trees.

RUFF: The government has even enlisted the Air Force to help. Every year, planes sweep across large, flat desert areas sowing seeds from the air, which then wait for the previous few millimeters of rain that come in the early summer.

Fan Bu He, the director of the Alashan Desertification Bureau, says another weapon in the war against desertification is just simple fencing.

[HE SPEAKING CHINESE]

VOICEOVER: Aside from air and ground seeding, the most basic method of protecting the desert is just to put wire fencing around pastures, to protect them from sheep. It's cheap, quick and effective.

RUFF: These efforts have been backed up by government policies subsidizing the settlement of nomadic herders. Nearly half of the 45,000 herders in the region have been settled onto enclosed grazing areas, farms or in cities. But according to Fan Bu He, the problem remains daunting.

[HE SPEAKING CHINESE]

VOICEOVER: Four deserts cover nearly two-thirds of 2,270,000 square kilometers of the region of Alashan, and the remaining livable land must be fought for continuously.

RUFF: Ironically, the Chinese government is working at cross-purposes with its effort to stanch the desert. Since 1994, encouraged by government policies, inner Mongolia has increased farm land by 22 percent. After highly erodable desert land is plowed it becomes vulnerable to erosion from both wind and irrigation water.

A report of the United Nations Convention to combat desertification paints a grim picture of the future. Citing a bad shortage of financial input and a weak technical system, the report concludes, the expanding trend of desertification can hardly be reversed.

Observers from the World Watch Institute and the World Bank think China's only hope is to reduce the number of livestock and humans in inner Mongolia and to introduce improved breeds of sheep and water conservation measures. But, on the ground in inner Mongolia, Fan Bu He remains optimistic.

[HE SPEAKING CHINESE]

VOICEOVER: With help, and our fighting spirit, we should be able to stabilize things in the next 30 to 50 years.

RUFF: Until then, China may continue to lose an area twice the size of Hong Kong every year, to expanding deserts and the endless appetites of people and their sheep.

From Alashan, Inner Mongolia, this is Anne-Marie Ruff for Living on Earth.

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Health Note

CURWOOD: Coming up, growing tobacco may be hazardous to your health. First, this environmental Health Note with Diane Toomey.

TOOMEY: In recent years, there's been growing concern that disorders such as attention deficit syndrome and autism may be linked to childhood vaccinations. A mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, used in some vaccines, has been a particular concern. Mercury is a known neuro-toxin, but there's been little study on how low doses of the type of mercury used in thimerosal might affect brain development. Now, a recent report from the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academies, says there's no evidence thimerosal has a hand in causing neurological damage. But the report did caution that since mercury accumulates in the body, it is medically plausible, although unproven, that thimerosal exposure could increase the risk of disorders such as autism.

In addition, some children may be unusually vulnerable to mercury exposure because of their genetic make-up. Two years ago, phase-out of children's vaccines containing thimerosal began, although there was a small number of dosages still on the shelf that contain the preservation. As a precaution, the report recommends using non-thimerosal vaccines. But if they're not available, the report emphasizes that the risk from preventable childhood illnesses far outweighs any possible risks from thimerosal. And children should continue to be vaccinated. That's this week's Health Update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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

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Almanac: Crab Invasion

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

[MARCHING MUSIC]

CURWOOD: In the middle of the Indian Ocean sits the tiny Australian territory called Christmas Island, and if you happen to be there at this time of year, watch your toes, because it's the invasion of the red crabs. An army of 100 million snapping critters takes over the island during mating season. The crabs spend most of the year in extremely humid mountain rainforests on the island, but they need to lay their eggs in the ocean. So, during the October rainy season things get crazy as they all come down from the hills at once. The crabs mate in burrows near the shore and the females drop their eggs into the surf. The baby crabs hatch and live near the water for three years before they, too, make the trek uphill, to live in the forest.

Recently, though, there's been trouble for the crabs. An ant that colonists accidentally brought to the island a hundred years ago threatens them. The ants kill the crabs and take over their nests. So, the crabs are now protected. And that's probably why they outnumber the island's 900 humans 100,000 to one.

During mating season streets are closed and special migration tunnels are dug under roadways so the crabs don't get squashed. On the main pathways every inch of land is crab-covered. Most of the island's residents survive the month long ordeal by keeping their doors closed, which tends to make some of them a little crabby. And that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.

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Capitol Hill Update

CURWOOD: It may seem like the planet came to a halt on September 11th, but environmental problems haven't gone away, and neither has the search for solutions.

Here to play catch-up is our Washington correspondent Anna Solomon-Greenbaum. Hi, Anna.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Anna, tell us what's happened on the policy front while our attention's been on the crisis.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, Steve, some of the most interesting developments have been happening, actually, over at the White House. Before September 11th, of course, the President was getting a pretty harsh response from the public on his action -- or lack of actions-- on environmental issues. But, over the last few weeks, a few things seem to be pushing the administration in a greener direction. One example that's so striking because it came out on the 11th and, of course, was immediately eclipsed by terrorist attacks: The National Academy of Sciences came out with its report on arsenic in drinking water. This was the report the Bush administration requested when it decided to review the standard that was put in place by Clinton last year. The results are pretty remarkable. The Academy has found that risks posed by arsenic in drinking water are actually far greater than anyone had previously estimated.

p>CURWOOD: So what will this mean in terms of the Clinton standards being upheld?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, it does seem like would be difficult to argue against them now. And the EPA has even given indications that it might make them tougher. But if you talk to environmentalists and Congressional staffers who've been working on this, by no means are they resting easy yet. There's still a long way to go before the final rule in February. And, of course, industry groups aren't giving up on this either. They're going to Congress; they're disputing the science of the Academy's report. So, for anything certain we're probably going to have to wait until February.

CURWOOD: Tell us about the Farm Bill that's due to be re-authorized next year. Last summer we were talking about action in Congress and I understand the administration has started to make its perspective known.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That's right. A couple weeks ago, Ann Veneman, the agriculture secretary, released a policy report. And it was real departure from the direction that farm policy's been going in for decades. In some ways, it read like an endorsement of almost everything that conservation groups have been looking for.

CURWOOD: So, how will the secretary's report influence the debate that's going on in Congress?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, we're starting to see that start to play out. The agriculture department is in a pretty difficult position here because they've ended up in direct conflict with House Republicans who've rejected a major increase in conservation money. They've been working on a much more traditional farm bill. Secretary Veneman even issued a statement this week telling House leaders it was not the right time to consider the farm bill. She's concerned, she says, not only about the price tag, but also because the Republicans' bill would only increase subsidies; it would exacerbate overproduction. So, the administration is pushing for an approach to put more money into conservation.

CURWOOD: Anna, before September 11, there was a whole list of other issues that you were following in Washington. Have they just simply gone away?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, it's a good question. And probably, the quick answer is no, not permanently. But, yes, in short term, so much of the agenda has definitely been put aside. There's a lot that's not happening right now. You remember the multi-pollutant plan the EPA said it would finish in September. Well, now it's saying it will probably be some time this fall. And then, there was the ongoing investigation by the General Accounting Office into Vice-President Cheney's Energy Task Force, and whether it was unfairly weighted with industry groups. Cheney was refusing to hand over some key documents and the GAO was supposed to decide whether or not to take him to court. But, as you can imagine, this has not been a time for picking on vice-presidents. And, for now, the GAO's saying simply that the Cheney case is just not a priority.

Another issue is climate change. The next international summit on global warming is set to take place at the end of this month in Marrakech. And Congress has put a lot of pressure on the Bush administration to bring some kind of global warming strategy to that meeting. But I've talked to folks in the administration...I would be very surprised if they brought anything more than maybe some general ideas to the table.

CURWOOD: So, where are the environmental lobbyists in all this? How are they dealing with the lawmakers on the hill, and the public that's pretty much consumed right now with national security?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, ever since September 11th I think it's been a real balancing act for them. They're dealing with how to walk this fine line between being critical of policy and being critical of people. Initially, they just laid real low. They postponed direct mailings, their ad campaigns, but now they're trying, like everyone else, to regain momentum. They see the kind of political peace that settled over Capitol Hill right after the attacks has already started to fade. They're seeing lawmakers using the attacks to push for drilling in ANWR. There's also a big push on to move fast on new trade legislation right now. And these things are being talked up as pro-American, good-for-the-economy, anti-terrorist, which means it's going to be harder than ever to fight on environmental grounds.

CURWOOD: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum is our Washington correspondent. Thanks, Anna.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: You're welcome.

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Green Tobacco Sickness

CURWOOD: The dangers of smoking tobacco are well known, but farming tobacco can also be hazardous to human health. People who pick the crop can come down with a syndrome known as Green Tobacco Sickness, named for the color of the plant before it's been cured. Leda Hartman reports from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

HARTMAN: For four summers, Eriberto Salvador has come to North Carolina from the Mexican state of Michoacan to work in tobacco. His first harvest is etched in his memory. Salvador was bent over the tobacco plants, picking the leaves, when he felt weak and nauseous and had to call for help.

[SALVADOR SPEAKING SPANISH]

VOICEOVER: At that time, I was walking in a field, when I felt it, and I said to the other guys "Which would you like better, to lose a second of work or to lose a friend?"

HARTMAN: The other farm workers came to Salvador's aid.

[SALVADOR SPEAKING SPANISH]

VOICEOVER: Yeah. They got up out of the field, the others who were carrying the tobacco, and they went and rescued me and took me from the field and then they washed me with cold water and that's how I got back to feeling normal again.

HARTMAN: Salvador's experience is not uncommon. Green Tobacco Sickness is actually acute nicotine poisoning that can occur when farm workers absorb the drug through their skin. A new study out of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that almost 25 percent of all tobacco workers will get Green Tobacco Sickness at least once during the growing season. Researcher Tom Arcury says that's a significant occupational hazard.

ARCURY: 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.

HARTMAN: Tobacco is harvested in a process called priming: workers pick the leaves by hand and then carry them under their arms. Wake Forest researcher Sara Quandt says it's at this point that the workers are exposed to the nicotine.

QUANDT: Particularly if their skin is wet from dew or perspiration and the tobacco itself is wet, the nicotine dissolves in the water and it's then absorbed through the skin.

HARTMAN: Quandt says Green Tobacco Sickness, or GTS, can last up to two days and, in rare cases, require hospitalization. Symptoms can sometimes be alleviated with anti-nausea drugs.

QUANDT: Once it gets into the bloodstream it affects a number of different systems in the body, including the nervous system, and it causes the symptoms that are characteristic of GTS, which are headache, dizziness, weakness, vomiting and nausea.

HARTMAN: Green Tobacco Sickness is not new. It was around back in the days when families farmed tobacco in small plots. Today, most farm work in North Carolina is done by foreign-born Latino workers who usually send their earnings back home. These people labor under vastly different conditions than in the old days, says Tom Arcury.

ARCURY: A woman I worked with grew up on a tobacco farm and one of her sisters got sick from Green Tobacco Sickness. She did other work; the other two sisters did the priming. Unfortunately, when migrant framers come here, they come here to work. And if they don't work, they don't get paid. So, they don't have a choice. They either work sick, if they get green tobacco sickness, or they have to move on.

HARTMAN: Yet not every worker is always able to move on. Those who are here without legal papers can try to find work in a different crop, but those who came into the U.S. on a federal guest worker contract, known as H2A, may have less flexibility.

ARCURY: It becomes an issue because if they get sick and can't work on a tobacco farm, then, because of the regulations of the H2A visa, they may have to go back to Mexico, if there's no other work on that farm for them to do.

HARTMAN: The North Carolina Growers Association says otherwise. The group brings in about 10,000 H2A workers to the state each year, and Executive Director Stan Eury says it makes a good faith effort to try to relocate workers with GTS.

EURY: Tobacco is certainly the main crop, but we have thousands of acres of other crops that our members grow and harvest. We attempt to move workers into vegetable crops or into activities where they're not exposed to tobacco when they show an extreme adverse reaction to the tobacco crop.

HARTMAN: Eury also says the Growers Association trains the guest workers in GTS and other potential health hazards upon their arrival in North Carolina. And there are ways to prevent the illness. Because nicotine is most easily absorbed when the tobacco leaves are wet, healthcare workers recommend that farm workers wear a rain suit during the early morning hours or in the rain. When the leaves dry off the workers should change to dry clothes including a long-sleeved shirt. But it's hard to disseminate this information, partly because many farm workers lack ready access to health care. Dr. Deb Norton is medical director of the North Carolina Farm Worker Health Program.

NORTON: They don't fit very well in our traditional medical system because they usually don't speak English. Most of the workers are uninsured. Most of them cannot get off work during the day. That makes it very hard to access our medical system because most doctors don't have office hours at night.

HARTMAN: It's up to farm worker health outreach workers like Eldon Rogers to spread the word about GTS prevention. He makes regular visits to more than 300 tobacco farms in the greater Winston-Salem area.

ROGERS: Most farmers who have been working several years know who I am are very helpful. There are a few, maybe, who are new or who are not that familiar with what I do, sometimes are a little bit reticent when I'm coming around, but in the main I would say 95 percent plus are very receptive.

HARTMAN: One farmer who's unusually receptive is Bruce Tilley. He says after 40 years of farming, he has figured out how to keep his five guest workers from getting sick.

TILLEY: Don't never go to a wet tobacco field without a rain suit on, and that solves all the problems, it saves the farmers having to take the men to the hospital, working with them. Tell the farmers when the men first get here, before they start topping tobacco, to get every man a rain suit.

[MEN SPEAKING SPANISH]

HARTMAN: On this day, Eldon Rodgers and some of Wake Forest researchers are at Tilley's farm to create a fotonovella, that is, a flyer with photographs, explaining what Green Tobacco Sickness is and how to prevent it. The farm workers become willing actors. The protagonist, Geraldo, starts off working without a rain suit, in short sleeves. Then he gets sick. He takes a swig of soda for the camera and spits it out, to simulate vomiting.

[SOUND OF VOMITING SCENE]

HARTMAN: After the shoot is done, veteran farm work Augustin Figueroa says he thinks the fotonovella will go a long way toward helping workers like him understand GTS.

[FIGUEROA SPEAKING SPANISH]

VOICEOVER: At the moment, we're acting it out, but, yes, a lot of people who are new to working in the United States in tobacco do get sick. They're unfamiliar with tobacco work and it can hurt some of them. And this magazine is a good idea because people can look at it and take note of what they're doing. Yes, it's very important.

HARTMAN: There is still no perfect solution to eradicating Green Tobacco Sickness. Not all workers will agree to wear a rain suit, given the heat and humidity of a North Carolina summer. And, workers will continue to hold the tobacco leaves under their arms because the leaves are too sticky to put into a sack. And, the researchers at Wake Forest are still looking into the question of why some workers get sick while others seem to have a tolerance to nicotine exposure. For Living on Earth, I'm Leda Hartman, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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Lake Nubie

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. Sometimes, places that are the most special to us are the very ones we must leave behind. Commentator Carol Young has these thoughts on the loss of her own special place of water, wind, and wonder in New Hampshire.

YOUNG: Lake Nubanusit-- or Nubie, as the locals call it-- has been my home for four years. Two miles long and sixty feet at its deepest spot, it is one of New Hampshire's most pristine lakes. Nubie has given me solace many times over. Today, the August sun and the thoughts banging inside my brain propel me into the water. The liquid slides over my skin. I swim until the heaviness I carry dissolves into the lake. Landlocked salmon, far below, dart away from my shadow and I think about their slithering shapes. I am landlocked in a very different sense. Today is my last day of living on Nubie. I am leaving because my husband and I have not been able to make our marriage work. He will keep the house, and I will move on. I am losing the very place I need most right now. Indeed, it has been the fear of losing Nubie that has made me hold on for so long. The time has come, however, for me to go.

How many hours have I spent scrambling over the granite rocks of its shoreline? How many scratches have I gotten from sneaking my way through high bush blueberries? Nearly every day, Nubie has revealed to me some treasure she holds. One sunny day in March I struggled on snow shoes to summit the steep, south-facing bank of Cabot Island. There, less than ten yards from the water's edge, a nest appeared in the snow. Fresh tracks leading away from it and fine hairs not yet frozen into an icy crust told me a bobcat had very recently been basking there. My discovery was like Nature's own confirmation of how sacred this place is.

Before I return to the house, I close my eyes and thank some higher power for bringing me here. At the end of the path I see my wild rose bush. It has not bloomed in over a month, yet it now bears a bud that will soon open. Tomorrow, after the moving van is packed, I will pick this one perfect flower. I cannot imagine ever finding a place like this again. Somehow, though, I will find a way to take Lake Nubanusit with me.

CURWOOD: Carol Young teaches biology and environmental science at ConVal High School in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

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Technology Note

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. Just ahead, the voices of residents of homes now haunted by the World Trade Center tragedy. First, this environmental Technology Note from Jennifer Chu.

CHU: Truck drivers may be able to save fuel and cut pollution by simply taking a break. When truckers pull into a rest stop to sleep, they usually let their engines idle, to either heat or cool their sleeping cabins. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the practice uses up about a gallon of diesel fuel an hour, and for truckers on long hauls that can mean an average of six hours of engine idling a day. One single truck could produce 300 pounds of carbon monoxide and 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, just by idling.

Now, the New York State Thruway Authority has installed the first of more than 40 hook-ups at rest stops, to help truckers cut their engines. The hook-ups provide electric powered heat and air conditioning without the added noise and air pollution. Truckers can hook the unit up to the window via a large yellow hose, and then swipe a credit card to start it up. It's a dollar forty to use the hook-up, compared with a dollar sixty-five of fuel used up in an hour of idling. Thruway authorities say it's too early to tell if the technology is catching on, but, so far, many truckers are repeat customers. That's this week's Tech Note. I'm Jennifer Chu.

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

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Cleanup Update

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's been nearly a month since tragedy and terror struck the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Disaster relief officials still call the monumental cleanup a rescue and recovery effort. They estimate it could take as long as a year, as much as five billion dollars, to remove millions of tons of rubble. Meanwhile, the environmental effects of the cleanup are a growing concern for people who live and work near the site. Amy Eddings reports.

EDDINGS: No one knows how much debris is heaped at the site where the Twin Towers once stood, but they know how much is no longer there: 171,000 tons have been removed, hauled away in more than 11,000 truckloads. Steel girders are being melted down and recycled. Federal investigators are sifting through smaller pieces of rubble for clues and for the personal effects of the missing and the dead. Dust still coats buildings and windows and fires still burn at the site--an acrid smoke hangs in the air.

The Environmental Protection Agency continues to test for asbestos, lead and other hazardous materials and has found no significant health risk. But some business and community leaders have hired their own consultants, leaving people like Tak and Jessica Wong suspicious.

JESSICA WONG: There's conflicting results.

TAK WONG: Yeah. The governement says it's safe, but then people who hire their own, they say it's not.

EDDINGS: The Wongs joined hundreds of other residents, many who are still unable to get to their homes, for a Town Hall meeting. EPA acting regional administrator Bill Muszynsky said air, dust and soil samples do not have levels of pollutants that should worry residents in the short term.

MUSZYNSKY: The easiest way to find out where we've taken these samples, first and foremost, is to go to our Web site.

[SOUND OF PROTESTS]

MUSZYNSKY: Then we'll have to provide you with some written information somehow, to get you to where those sites are.

[APPLAUSE]

EDDINGS: EPA's test results have been widely reported, but people seemed unconvinced that the agency's reassurances apply to them. At the Town Hall meeting, health and environmental officials were short on details. Asked if the ever-present smoke was harmful to a child, a health department spokesman could only say tests showed it was not a health risk to the general population. For Living on Earth, I'm Amy Eddings in New York.

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Restoring Ground Zero

CURWOOD: Even as workers dig through the grim remains of the World Trade Center, there's much discussion underway about restoring the site. The managers of the once soaring glass towers say they want to rebuild, with four commercial structures, each 50 stories tall. And there are many other ideas abounding. The New York-New Jersey Port Authority owns the site and it's getting ready to decide its future.

Commentator Jane Holtz Kay says now's the time for people to begin sharing their visions.

HOLTZ KAY: The World Trade Center was a model of the worst of its time. In an era of mega-structures wrapped with windy plazas, it was the skyscraper to end all skyscrapers. Its massive 16 acres of enclosed space and spread-out towers, each covering a single acre, shadowed the city. Its random form disrupted the gridded street pattern of lower Manhattan. Inside, the underground mall was dark, and filled with homogenous chain stores, its corridors jammed with train riders. Outside, widened roads and a perimeter devoid of shops or cafZs created a lifeless edge. There was no sense of place, no there there. We can do better on this prime location. Poised above a major rail system, the site could again become a nexus, a model mini village of 50,000. From the dark days of the national nightmare we could create a fresh model for the nation's comeback cities.

Cities are built door by door. Some of the densest cities-- Boston, Paris, and even much of New York-- are seven stories high. Forget the trophy towers. Bring back the light and life of lower buildings on criss-crossing blocks. Next, go for diversity. Big as they were, the towers held a fragment of the city's trade. Focusing on commerce here is not necessary for Manhattan's economic health. Bring in the commerce but also non-profits, residences, movie houses, restaurants, mixed uses for 24-hour city.

Finally, remembrance is fitting. Start with a green space as a memorial to the thousands lost. Add a tower fragment, mementos, park benches, and streetlights. In an asphalt jungle visitors and city dwellers could gain relief from the tragic past. Mere blocks from the water, today's Ground Zero could become tomorrow's civic plateau--financially, psychologically, and socially sound. Out of the ashes of the glass and concrete wasteland this phoenix could show the world the power of a classic way of city making.

CURWOOD: Architecture and planning critic Jane Holtz-Kay is author of "Asphalt Nation."

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Battery Park

CURWOOD: About 30,000 residents of lower Manhattan were evacuated from their neighborhoods when the twin towers collapsed on September 11th. Many of these people have now returned home, but some have badly damaged dwellings and may never be able to go back. Others don't want to return. They're moving out of lower Manhattan and, in some cases, completely out of the city. John Rudolph prepared our report on the displaced New Yorkers.

MATSUOKA: So this is our apartment, it's a one bedroom. One of the things that we love about this apartment was the view.

RUDOLPH: The view from Bob and Brigitte Matsuoka's apartment is spectacular. In their living room, floor to ceiling windows offer a panorama of lower Manhattan and New York harbor, as seen from 36 stories above ground. There's the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, ferry boats and tugs coming and going.

MATSUOKA: You keep looking across now, where what used to be pretty much the dominating view of the whole area, which was--in fact, we lived--you know, the World Trade Center would cast a shadow over our apartment, in the middle of the day, but now, of course, it's just a huge mess of cranes and the pieces of the remaining building, and dust and smoke.

RUDOLPH: So, do you stand here a lot and watch, or do you try to not watch, or what do you do?

MATSUOKA: You know, it's just hard not to look at it, because it's just such a dramatic, stark, awful thing to see. And in some ways we can't help thinking about all the people that are buried in that hole there, and how close it is. And we were actually watching out this window when everything happened. I was on my way to work...

RUDOLPH: A once beautiful view is now painful to look at. And so, the Matsuoka's do something they almost never used to do. They close the blinds on their living room windows. They also have stopped drinking the tap water in their apartment. Despite official assurances that the water is safe, Bob worries that it contains asbestos and other toxic debris from the collapse of the twin towers. He worries, too, about air-borne asbestos, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says its tests show that the amount of asbestos and other toxins in the air is below what the agency calls "the level of concern."

On the day of the attack, Bob and Brigitte, their eight month old baby and Bob's mother, who was visiting, managed to escape from their apartment unharmed. A week and a half later, they got permission to go back. But Bob says their return may be temporary.

MATSUOKA: My wife and I both work in the city and I actually own a business that was also affected by this because we were shut down for some time. We can't afford not to come back, at least for the short term, but our lease is up in November and chances are we probably will move, but we're concerned about what it's going to be like living here. We've heard a lot of conflicting things about the air quality and the effect of the dust and so on, so we're very nervous.

RUDOLPH: The Matsuoka's are far from alone in their concern. Their neighborhood, Battery Park City, is directly adjacent to the World Trade Center site. It's a planned, 92 acre community of high-rise apartment buildings, beautiful parks, and sweeping river vistas. Battery Park City residents speak of their neighborhood as a village, a peaceful refuge from the fast pace of life in other parts of Manhattan. A good place to raise children.

But the September 11th attack changed that. At a recent meeting attended by over 1,000 displaced Battery Park City residents it was clear that restoring the fabric of the neighborhood will be difficult. Life is slowly returning to normal, stores are reopening, dust and debris are being cleared away. Still, many residents, like Rebecca Parish, just want to move out.

PARISH: We want to leave. We want to be able to take our remains of what we have that's left in the apartment as far as furniture that we can move. Because, at this point, we've been crashing at other people's houses, and now we're staying at the Hudson Hotel because we can only stay at other people's houses for so long, and we just want to get our things so we can move into a new apartment and start a new life. Again.

We had no intentions of leaving that area. We always thought we would raise even children in that area, and then we'll be one of those Battery Park couples that you see on the street, with the strollers, and that's not going to happen.

RUDOLPH: Right now, lower Manhattan is a difficult place to live. In addition to the smoke and dust from the wreckage of the twin towers, subway service has been disrupted; parks have been transformed into parking lots for emergency equipment. And access to some areas is still controlled by police officers and National Guard troops. Moving out of the neighborhood is a way to escape from these grim circumstances.

But even for those who leave it may still be hard to avoid the psychological impact of the terrorist attack.

DANIELI: Immediately, people felt totally violated, and to this day, actually, people still very violated. And the sense of home, in their own place, is gone for most.

RUDOLPH: Dr. Yael Danieli is a clinical psychologist, who counts among her patients a number of people displaced in the September 11th attack. She's also a founder of the International Society for Traumatic Stress studies. Loneliness and helplessness are some of the feelings Dr. Danieli says she has encountered in those who have turned to her for counseling. These feelings reflect the tragedy of the attack, as well as what has, and has not, occurred in its aftermath.

DANIELI: Some of what happened here, nobody ever thought about. So, it's not only that they feel victimized or neglected, it's the systems are not there yet to even respond. In some ways, we are all learning as we go, and thinking through. It will take time for all the needs to even be articulated and defined and formulated, and to either create or find the structures that will be able to respond.

[CROWD SOUNDS]

RUDOLPH: The public schools were among the first institutions to respond to the needs of displaced families. The attack shut down four schools, but within days, students, faculty and administrators were transferred to other schools around the city. P.S. 41, in Greenwich Village, is one school where this temporary doubling up is going on.

On a recent afternoon, Robin Begley came up to pick up her ten-year-old daughter. The Begley's have three children. All saw the attack on their way to school on the morning of September 11th. Debris from the collapsing towers destroyed the Begley's apartment. Robin says they want to move back but right now they can't, and the strain is affecting her kids.

BEGLEY: My daughter woke up in the middle of the night, screaming, "get out of the buildings before they fall down." They're sad. Fortunately, they didn't lose any friends. And they're disconnected. Their school isn't there. They can't have play dates, because nobody has a real home. It's hard, it's very hard for them. I mean, everybody's trying to make it work, but here we are.

RUDOLPH: The need to make life decisions under very difficult circumstances is a challenge faced by many of the displaced New Yorkers. Mark Sauter is a former army officer who lives in Battery Park City. Before September 11th Mark was already thinking about moving out of the neighborhood. He's still thinking about it, but now, he wants to be sure he does it for the right reasons.

SAUTER: I, for personal reasons, was thinking of leaving the neighborhood, and I think I've come to the following conclusion: that there's no way I'm going to leave this neighborhood because of what these lunatics did. On the other hand, I'm not going to stay here to prove a point and stay despite what they did. I'm going to go on and do what's right for me, for my family, for my company, to the extent it's there for my society or country.

RUDOLPH: But what is the right thing to do?

DANIELI: It's difficult to soberly and clearly see where to go from here.

RUDOLPH: Again, Dr. Yael Danieli.

DANIELI: I ask people, what does having a home now mean to you? What would you like your apartment to look like now? Where do you want to see it? And some of them are not even ready to--they resent the question. Because, I mean, they have a home--what do you mean? I have a home. I have an apartment. I know exactly what it looks like, that's how it should look like. And then they go home, and the dust, and the dirt, and the smell. So it's a process. This one will take a long time to solve. And right now, that neighborhood is defined by being a traumatized neighborhood, so it will take time.

RUDOLPH: There's a lot of talk these days about the concentric circles of impact caused by the September 11th attack. Those who died, their families, co-workers and friends, occupy the innermost circle. The people in Battery City and other nearby residential neighborhoods are part of the second ring. They are thankful to be alive. But they miss the way home used to be, and they are confused about the future.

For Living on Earth, I'm John Rudolph, in New York.

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week we meet a woman who uses her small plane to get a bird's eye view of some of the world's biggest creatures.

WOMAN: Oh, there's a whale. Oh God, maybe it's a sperm.

SECOND WOMAN: It looks like a blue whale.

WOMAN: Good. And she's going down. Oh, she's a fluker. She's a fluker. Great.

CURWOOD: Tracking endangered wildlife from 500 feet. Next time on Living on Earth.

[BRIDGE SOUNDS]

CURWOOD: We leave you this week with a composition drafted from sounds recorded on some of the many bridges that cross the Rhine river, in and around the German city of Cologne. It's called Cologne Bridges Symphony, by Michael Rüsenberg.

[BRIDGES SYMPHONY]

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. Special thanks to Ernie Silver.

We had help this week from Jessica Penney and Jonathan Waldman. 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 Lucille Packard Foundation, for reporting on marine issues; the Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues; The Turner Foundation; The W. Elton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity -- www.wajones.org; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation, supporting coverage of western issues.

ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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