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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 27, 2002

Air Date: September 27, 2002

FULL SHOW

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SEGMENTS

Cleaner Diesel Engines / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

(stream / mp3)

On October first, diesel engine companies must meet new emissions standards or face stiff penalties from the EPA. Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports from the headquarters of Cummins Inc. in Columbia, Indiana on the technology and politics of making engines cleaner. (7:30)

Full Speed Ahead

(stream / mp3)

GM unveiled its prototype fuel-cell car, the Hy-Wire, at the Paris Motor show a few days ago. Host Steve Curwood discusses the future of automobiles with Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis. (5:00)

Almanac/Tainted Tylenol

(stream / mp3)

This week, we have facts about the Tylenol tampering scare. Twenty years ago this week, seven people died after taking cyanide-laced capsules, setting off a nationwide recall of the pain reliever. (1:30)

A Bird’s Life / Leda Hartman

(stream / mp3)

Mockingbirds are masters of imitation. And a North Carolina professor has made it her life’s work to master the intricacies of mockingbird society. As Leda Hartman reports, this scientist doesn’t have to go far to do her fieldwork. She studies the mockingbirds that live right on her campus. (8:00)

Ready for Fall / Verlyn Klinkenborg

(stream / mp3)

Most years, writer Verlyn Klinkenborg mourns the passing of summer. But this fall, he says he’s feeling kinder toward the coming season. (3:10)

Letters

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This week, we dip into the Living on Earth mailbag to hear what listeners have to say. (3:00)

Global Warming Suit

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The city of Boulder, Colorado is taking legal action against the U.S. government. The crime: financing risky operations without assessing their environmental impact. Host Steve Curwood talks with Will Toor, the mayor of Boulder, about the city’s legal crusade. (3:00)

Health Note/Resisting Brain Disease / Jessica Penney

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Living on Earth’s Jessica Penney reports on new research into preventing mad cow disease. (1:15)

Endocrine Disruptors

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A new study out of the Netherlands has found a link between prenatal exposure to PCBs and dioxins and alterations in gender differences of childhood play behavior. Host Steve Curwood talks with Nynke Weisglas-Kuperus, the lead researcher of the study. (5:00)

Radioactive Dumping

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Slightly radioactive garbage is building up at hundreds of old reactor sites and even not-so-old biotechnology companies. In California, the state wants the garbage to go to regular landfills, and some of it already has. Robin White reports. (9:30)

Soundscape/Earth Ear

(stream / mp3)

Listen to an evening serenade of crickets and frogs along the banks of the Danube River, Romania. ()

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodREPORTERS: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Leda Hartman, Robin WhiteGUESTS: Dan Sperling, Will Toor, Nynke Weisglas-KuperusCOMMENTATOR: Verlyn KlinkenborgUPDATE: Jessica Penney

(THEME MUSIC)

CURWOOD: From NPR News, it’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. That diesel truck in front of you won’t be so stinky in the future, thanks to new federal rules that go into effect October 1st. Many in the industry have tried to put off the regs, but Cummins Diesel says it can meet the challenge.

VUJOVICH: Oh, we would love to get out of it. And we would like nothing more than to have fifteen more months. But, we said we would do it. We signed a contract with the government. We’re going to do what we said we would do.

CURWOOD: Also, regulators say mildly radioactive waste in community landfills is nothing to worry about. But some people who live near these dumps aren’t so sure, and have filed suit in California.

HIRSCH: The nuclear industry created the contamination. Rather than spending the money to clean it up, they externalized the cost by dumping that risk on innocent members of the public.

CURWOOD: We’ll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this.

[NPR NEWS]

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Cleaner Diesel Engines

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. On October 1st, all new engines that power big rig diesel trucks will have to meet new emission standards for nitrogen oxides or NOX, a major smog-producing pollutant. It’s been a bumpy road for diesel engine- makers trying to beat the government’s deadline. And not all are there yet. But, the folks who make the Cummins Diesel in Columbus, Indiana were the first to certify an engine that meets the new standard. Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on what it took to get there.

(WHIRR OF MACHINERY)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The giant plant where Cummins, Inc. builds its engines feels a little like an over-sized toy factory. It’s clean and well-lit, with lots of primary colors. And it’s surprisingly quiet. In one corner, behind a wall of Plexiglas, engines are getting their finishing touch, two coats of bright red paint.

OSBORNE: Right now, we’re doing the first coat. The first robot’s painting the back of the engine; the other one is doing the bottom.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: John Osborne directs operations here. The robots he points to look like giant black ostriches, continually sneezing red from their noses. Their heads bob and swivel while the engine hangs patiently from chains. Then it’s pulled over to a second set of robots for another coat.

OSBORNE: The system knows what the engine is. The robot knows if it’s a high turbo or a low turbo, so it’ll know how to react to that and get the paint on properly.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That could be important come October 1st when the robots will be dealing with a new engine. That new engine will have a few extra parts that need painting. Those parts will cut emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOX, down to almost half of what a current diesel engine produces. Of course, painting the new engine is the least of Cummins’ challenges. The company has spent many years, and over a billion dollars, developing the technology to meet EPA’s new emission standards. It’s called cooled exhaust gas re-circulation, or cooled EGR. And it’s been designed and honed here in Cummins’ technical center where engines and test cells run around the clock.

OSBORNE: Here we go.





(SOUND OF DOOR OPENING AND AN ENGINE RUNNING)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: At its most basic, cooled EGR works by bringing the engine’s exhaust back into the engine at a cooler temperature. The overall effect is cooler combustion which produces less NOX.

HAEGELE: Let me walk you over here first.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Glen Haegele winds through workstations and computer banks over to the lab where he and other technicians monitor what’s coming out of the engines.

HAEGELE: The engine exhaust is diluted into a tunnel, and then these gray gas analyzers give you a real time measurement of the NOX and the hydrocarbons and the CO, all the gaseous elements that come out of the engine. And then, of course, we can’t be above a certain level.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The new engines have spent over a hundred thousand hours in test cells. They’ve traveled six million miles on the road in field tests. The challenge isn’t simply reducing their NOX emissions; it’s reducing NOX while maintaining the engine’s power and durability. Haegele walks over to a cart that’s loaded with black, greasy parts.

HAEGELE: This is the guts of the engine.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: After testing, the engines are broken down, part-by-part. All 260 of them.

HAEGELE: This is probably the most critical thing we do after the test. After we’ve measured all the parts and we’ve cleaned them all up and laid them out, all the engineers come down and review their parts.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: This is how they know what will last and what won’t, which materials work, and which don’t. The idea, says Glen, is to make the transition to the new EGR engines as painless as possible for the people who use them.

HAEGELE: Ideally, we have an engine that the customer would never know there’s anything different under the truck than what he had a year ago.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: But even if the new engines run as hard and fast as their predecessors, truck companies will notice the difference. Not only will the engines cost more up front; they’ll cost more to run because they’re less fuel-efficient. That’s because while NOX is reduced under cooler conditions, fuel economy is best when combustion is hotter. Cummins estimates trucks with EGR engines will see their gas mileage drop by three to five percent. For a truck that often travels a quarter million miles in a year, that’s a lot of extra gas. And for truck companies, it’s a lot of extra money.

VUJOVICH: I think the most difficult thing is something that we have all wrestled with. And that is, serving the two masters.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Tina Vujovich is VP of environment at Cummins. The two masters she speaks of are the EPA and the truck companies, who are so nervous about the cost and technology of the new engines, they’ve ordered a surge of the pre-EGR engines to be built before the October deadline.

VUJOVICH: Unfortunately, we weren’t able to satisfy both masters at the time that this product gets launched. We have a great performing product. It’s going to cost our customers, however. And it’s been difficult. There have been many times where, I believe, employees would have rather just dropped the ball and said, "Let’s figure out a way to make this go away."

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That’s what Cummins’ competitors were still doing as of just a couple of months ago: lobbying Congress to push the administration to roll back the deadline, or, at least, to lighten up on the penalties for non-compliance. But, the EPA held firm. And except for Caterpillar, the other engine-makers say they’ve got an engine ready to build on October 1st. Vujovich is a big amused at the other companies’ attempts to evade the new standards.

VUJOVICH: Oh, we would love to get out of it. And we would like nothing more than to have 15 more months. But, we said we would do it. We signed a contract with the government. We’re going to do what we said we would do.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That seems to be the general attitude at Cummins. Not exactly eagerness, but determination to do what it committed to. In the tech center, and at the plant, employees know what it is they’ve been working towards.

INGRAM: I think it’s wonderful. Like I say, I helped build this line, so I’m pretty proud of it.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Alan Ingram is holding a camera and standing next to one of the brand new EGR engines. He says he’s making something called "line art."



Inside a Cummins factory.


INGRAM: It’s got all the how to put the pieces on, how to torque them, any special lubricants or special procedures you’re supposed to go through.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Ingram’s photographs and text will become a step-by-step booklet for employees on "the line" as it’s called, as they put the new engine together. He says there are a few new parts to deal with, but that it’s worth it for cleaner air.

INGRAM: Our next version of this, you could stick your mouth on an exhaust pipe and breathe the air coming out of it. (LAUGHTER IN BACKGROUND) Yeah, it’s supposed to be that clean.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It may be a bit premature to recommend taking a sip from that 18 wheeler parked at the rest stop. But Ingram is right, emission standards are only getting tougher. By 2007, engine makers will have to cut not only more NOX, but sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, too. Most likely, that will mean some new parts will need painting.

For Living on Earth, I’m Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Columbus, Indiana.

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Full Speed Ahead

CURWOOD: Now, how about a car with no front engine, where the windshield extends all the way to the fender? And, instead of a steering wheel and foot pedals, there’s a joystick to control the vehicle. And, oh yeah, it’s powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

A few days ago at the Paris Motor Show, General Motors unveiled its car of the future. It’s called the Hy-wire, and demonstrates how fuel cell technology frees up engineers to redesign cars completely and curb pollution.

Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis, joins me to talk about this next generation of autos. He says carmakers call fuel cells the industry’s "holy grail.’

SPERLING: And they say that because, to use another expression of theirs, "it takes cars out of the environmental equation." Then you have truly a zero emission car. The greenhouse gases are reduced. You get rid of the oil consumption.

But, it’s even much better than that for them. And that is, that it really fits the technology pathway they’re on. It allows them to have an electric vehicle without worrying about the batteries. So now, they have an electric infrastructure on the vehicles. They can get rid of all of those mechanical systems and hydraulic systems that are heavy and inefficient, and sometimes unreliable, and replace them with—hy-wire, electronic systems.

They also, it opens up the design envelope. Now, vehicles are built now around the mechanical drive train, around the gas tank, the radiator. Now, you essentially open up the design envelope and can rethink the entire design of a car. And probably, best of all, now you have a power, all this extra power on the vehicle that you can use for all kinds of new consumer services and accessories.

For instance, you can use it for backup power to your house. We can use it for going out in the countryside and having a power source for running tools or television, or whatever. You can use it on the vehicle for high-powered devices, such as a coffeepot or a microwave. And there’s really no showstoppers we see. And there’s no large political constituency fighting it.

CURWOOD: Why is there no large constituency fighting it?

SPERLING: Well, the car industry thinks it’s a great idea. The energy industry, the oil companies, they’re ambivalent about it because whatever fuel it runs on, they know they’ll be supplying it. And the environmental community thinks it’s a good idea.

CURWOOD: And so what’s the wait?

SPERLING: Well, there’s three issues. One is, it is a brand new technology? There’s only been really serious investment in it for about ten years or so, you know, compared to over a hundred years with internal combustion engine. So, there’s a lot of engineering that needs to be done to bring the cost down.

There is the question of fuel. And that may be the biggest roadblock right now. And that’s because they run best on hydrogen, but there’s no hydrogen fuel stations out there. And energy companies don’t want to build the hydrogen stations until there’s cars. And the car companies don’t want to build the vehicles until there are fuels out there. And there is a safety perception that has to be dealt with. And there’s a safety problem as well as perception. It’s probably safer than gasoline, but nonetheless, it does present some safety hazards that have to be thought through and dealt with. And people have to learn how to work with a different kind of fuel.

CURWOOD: Tell me about some of the specific technological innovations that are going on as well with internal combustion engines. I mean, I understand that Nissan and Honda are putting vehicles on the road, or shortly, they will put vehicles on the road, with just about no emissions.

SPERLING: Well, you know, the industry has made tremendous improvements in vehicles over the last couple of decades in terms of conventional parts of the technology, but, also, in terms of reducing the emissions. And it is true that the new vehicles have emissions that are essentially near zero. There is some question about whether they’ll remain at near zero as they age and get older, and people abuse the vehicles and don’t maintain them well. But, in any case, they’re much more low-emitting than they ever were in the past.

CURWOOD: In what way do these new vehicles address the question of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas?

SPERLING: Air quality improvements for vehicles have been a tremendous success story over the last couple of decades. Energy efficiency and energy improvements have not. Today’s vehicles, as a whole, new vehicles, are about the same fuel consumption as 20 years ago. Now, the reality is though, that there’s been tremendous innovation in improving the technical efficiency of vehicles in terms of the work you get out of a particular engine and a certain amount of horsepower.

But, all of those efficiency improvements have been used to make the vehicles bigger, more powerful, to give them more accessories like four-wheel drive. So, the big picture idea here is that the automotive industry is on the cusp of a technological revolution. There are all types of innovation, technical innovation, happening, tremendous engineering improvements. But we have a choice now. Will those improvements be used to make the vehicles even bigger, even more powerful, even more power consuming accessories? Or, will we take those innovations and improvements and direct them to create vehicles that are more sustainable, that are more-- have lower emissions, use less energy.

CURWOOD: Dan Sperling is the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. Thanks for speaking with me.

SPERLING: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

CURWOOD: Coming up, we meet a psychologist who’s for the birds. You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Pell Mell, "Revival," INTERSTATE (Geffen Records, 1995)]

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Almanac/Tainted Tylenol

CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Think Tree, "Mamther," LIKE THE IDEA (Caroline Records, 1992]

CURWOOD: Twenty years ago this week, seven people in the Chicago area swallowed fatal doses of cyanide hidden in Tylenol capsules. With tens of thousands of the popular red and white capsules in homes, hospitals and schools, and no way of knowing the scope of the tampering, health officials feared a major crisis. And Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, faced an unprecedented emergency.

With calls pouring in from thousands of panicked customers, executives had to decide: should they take a "wait and see" approach and hope the crisis would pass? Or, should they order a massive recall of one of their signature products? They decided on a recall, and within 48 hours, 31 million bottles of Tylenol were pulled from shelves.

Some in the pharmaceutical industry thought the scandal would force J&J to abandon Tylenol, but the public didn’t agree. Johnson & Johnson’s quick response was seen as putting people’s safety over the company’s bottom line. Customers came back in droves. In a few months, Tylenol capsules were reintroduced in, the now familiar, tamper-resistant packaging, the first of its kind.

The culprit was never caught. But, industry analysts say the response of Johnson & Johnson set the gold standard in corporate crisis management and responsibility. That’s this week’s Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC: Think Tree, "Mamther," LIKE THE IDEA (Caroline Records, 1992]

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A Bird’s Life

CURWOOD: A quarter of a century ago, little was known about the ways of mockingbirds. That’s about the time Cheryl Logan began researching the celebrated songsters and made it her life’s work. But Professor Logan, who teaches are the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is not an ornithologist. She’s a psychologist. And, as we find out, that’s just the kind of expertise needed to understand the intricacies of mockingbird society. Leda Hartman reports.

[SOUND OF TRAFFIC AND BIRDS]

HARTMAN: Most people who visit the University of North Carolina at Greensboro see a busy, urban college campus with classroom buildings, a parking deck, a baseball stadium. But Cheryl Logan, from her bird’s eye view, sees a very different world. The parking lot where she’s standing is part of an elaborate complex of mockingbird fiefdoms. Each has its own strictly defined borders. And each is zealously guarded by the male who rules the roost.

He’s especially protective of his nest, usually found in a crepe myrtle or holly bush. Logan sees and hears things that just fly by the rest of us.



Dr. Cheryl Logan


LOGAN: There’s another one. They’re really everywhere. Just right in the middle of the street.

HARTMAN: At 56, Logan is petite and full of energy, with strands of silver just beginning to show in her dark brown hair. She’s been chasing these gray and white birds for almost half her life. And still, after all that time, her face lights up, attentive and absorbed, as she watches them.

What keeps her fascinated? For starters, Logan says, a typical male can sing up to 400 different songs. Most, if not all of them, are stolen from other species, making the mockingbird the original Napster.

[MOCKINGBIRD SONG]

LOGAN: There was some Carolina wren in there, I think. Almost all of it was other birds. I can’t always tell what all the other birds are. They know more other birds than I do. I think there was a little bit of blue jay in there. Some song sparrow.

HARTMAN: Even more intriguing is the mockingbird’s fearlessness. The typical eight-inch bird weighs just an ounce and a half. But, it will defend its territory, and its family, with almost reckless abandon.

LOGAN: If he sees a crow coming from this direction, he’ll head the crow up.

HARTMAN: He’ll take on a crow?

LOGAN: Oh, absolutely.

HARTMAN: How much bigger is a crow than a mockingbird?

LOGAN: Oh, four, ten, fifteen times.

HARTMAN: Inside a classroom building, Logan says, she was trained in experimental psychology, a field that usually observes animals in a laboratory setting. But over time, she became more interested in observing what animals would do independent of human manipulation.

LOGAN: I want to make them do something, and I set a situation up so that that’s the only thing they can do, and they do it, what have I really learned about them?

HARTMAN: Logan ended up studying mockingbirds because it was easy. They were right outside her window. In fact, they were all over campus. Logan calls herself a "psycho-biologist." She has pioneered research into the connections between the mockingbird songs and their behavior, and remains one of the few scientists with that specialty.

[SOUND OF CHIRPING MOCKINGBIRDS]

HARTMAN: Back in the parking lot, we watch a young couple that appear to be, well, flirting.

LOGAN: He may be attracting a female, because another bird just flew into that crepe myrtle on the other side of the parking lot. And, rather than chasing that other mockingbird out, he’s showing off. He’s flying into this perspective nest sites and singing. That may be courtship.

HARTMAN: Mockingbird romances are a lot like soap operas. The males pursue the females who often play the field before they settle down. Sometimes they two-time each other.

LOGAN: {LAUGHING] Well, they do have a couple of characteristics that make them similar to us. They do pair off in socially monogamous units. And they do break up. They’re quite devoted-- both male and female are quite devoted to taking care of the kids. They fight with one another pretty reliably.

[SOUND OF CAR SIGNAL AND CAR ACELERATING]

HARTMAN: We leave the dating game to go off in search of a couple that has already settled down and is raising nestlings. We find them, or rather, we hear them, near one of the many construction sites on campus.

[CONSTRUCTION MACHINERY WITH BIRDS IN BACKGROUND]

HARTMAN: Logan’s sharp ears have picked up the calls of some mockingbird babies begging for food. She figures they’re about eight or nine days old. But even from a hundred feet away, she can hear them. If we get too close to the nest, Logan says, the parents will sense danger and use, what she describes as, "the chat call" to make the babies quit begging.

LOGAN: They’re so loud that if a reasonable cat or a crow is wandering by, the predator can certainly hear these calls. The best thing for the adults to do is shut the kid off.

HARTMAN: At the risk of being dive bombed, we go closer to a cluster of tall crepe myrtles, trying to locate the nest.

LOGAN: Okay, this is the attack. They’re directing their attention to us. Chat. [SINGLE BIRD CHIRPS] Notice, no begging calls. Now, if we walk directly toward the nest, they’ll stop chatting and start attacking.

HARTMAN: But the nest is too well-hidden. We can’t find it. And eventually, we move off. To these birds, humans can be meddlesome creatures who do annoying things like search out their nests or create massive construction sites, like the one a few hundred yards away.

Logan says the work removes both building materials and food from the mockingbirds’ habitat. Still, she’s more concerned about pollution harming the mockingbirds than about development. For instance, right near the parking lot with the courting couple, the baseball field has been sprayed with pesticides.

LOGAN: When a mockingbird takes a bug that’s been given a dose of pesticide and feeds it to its developing offspring, the developing offspring is getting a dose of chemical that’s disrupting the development of that young mockingbird’s own endocrine system in ways that can affect reproduction, the development of the immune system, metabolism, you name it.

HARTMAN: Logan admits that she has no direct evidence that her birds have actually been harmed in this way. But, studies citing such effects on other animals don’t give her much comfort. Though concern for the welfare of mockingbirds has dominated Logan’s professional life, there are other animals in her personal life.

[SOUND OF CAR DOOR CLOSING]

LOGAN: Hi, Louie, good boy. How are you? Yeah, good boy, this is Leda, Louie.

HARTMAN: Louie is a colossal canine who is also exceptionally shy. He waits politely for Logan in her SUV.

LOGAN: Hey, Louie, what you doing in the front seat? Did somebody come up to say hi to you and it scared you?

HARTMAN: Louie is Logan’s fourth Bernese mountain dog. He weighs 115 pounds, just about as much as Logan herself, and a big bigger than a mockingbird.

LOGAN: Yeah! [LAUGHING] Quite. But he’s so sweet. And not nearly as fierce as a mockingbird, are you? No, you’re not.

HARTMAN: Logan says that as a psychologist, she believes humans are trapped within their own conceptions of the universe…while other creatures have theirs.

LOGAN: I’m sure, for example, that my dog, Louie, that he perceives the world and comprehends the world entirely differently than I do, because his world is an olfactory world. And my world is a visual world and an acoustical world. And, I find it fascinating to get to know another species that is deeply intelligent in the way that I think mockingbirds are. But that perceives the world in ways that are just totally foreign to me.

HARTMAN: But after a quarter century of study, the ways of the mockingbird are a lot less foreign to Cheryl Logan than to just about anyone else. For Living on Earth, I’m Leda Hartman in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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Ready for Fall

CURWOOD: Many of us who live in a four-season climate are prone to mourn the end of summer. We miss the warmth. We dread the cold. We talk about what we’ll do next spring. But, this year, Verlyn Klinkenborg says autumn feels different.

KLINKENBORG: This summer, I promised myself I’d cut the thistles before they went to seed. But, thistle down is already in the air and lying in clumps at the base of the plants. And the bumblebees are working urgently on the few thistle heads that still remain purple.

I noticed that the light at night now, after the sun has fallen, reveals a blue that has almost nothing to do with summer. I’ve been going outside at night just to admire how steep the temperature gradient has become--how the mercury seems to roll off the table once dark comes.

It seems almost shameful to admit it, a betrayal of youth perhaps, but for the first time I am ready for fall. Wheeler’s hay is already stacked in the barn. There’s nearly enough firewood under cover. The old roof, which used to shed shingles the way our dogs shed hair has been replaced. A brand new furnace glistens in the cellar, awaiting only an electronic twitch from the thermostat upstairs. The new chickens have a new house next to the old chickens in the old house. And they’re all secured in a fenced-in chicken yard against foxes, skunks and weasels.

But, the readiness runs deeper than that. I’ve been wondering where it comes from. Perhaps it’s the suspicion, based on next to nothing, that this will be an early autumn. Perhaps it’s that suddenly the thought of autumn, this autumn especially, contains the promise of renewal I usually associate with spring. I have the feeling that a time of year is coming when I’ll again know just how to do what needs to be done.

The sight of a school bus on the road suggests as much. So do the hardware store signs advertising wood stove pellets for sale by the ton. The very briskness of the air seems to invite me outdoors and to work. Of course, the temperature could well reach the 90’s again, and summer could turn out to be deathless. The tomatoes may go on ripening for another month, or they could be bitten off in a hard frost tomorrow. There’s no saying for sure. Only a lingering sense of expectation; a hope for what lies ahead.

For now, though, I walk past the pig house and look at the two young pigs nestled in the hay, and I find myself thinking not how hot they must be, but how comfortable they look, ear-deep imbedding. They peer out at me trying to judge whether I’ve got the feed bucket in hand. It’s a narrow calculation on their part. They could get up, run to the door, and meet me at the fence. But, if they stay where they are, piled next to each other, then nothing’s lost if I just happen to be passing by.

[MUSIC: Spencer Lewis, "Bells of Waterville," IN THE BOSOM OF THE GREEN MOUNTAINS (Quartz Recordings, 1989)

CURWOOD: Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about the rural life for The New York Times.

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Letters

Time for comments now from you, our listeners.

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: Our feature about the remote Yaak Valley in Montana reminded Maine Public Radio listener Tad Runge of the time he spent in the region 40 years ago developing logging roads. "I remember the afternoons when having worked hard to get our work done, we would cut a couple of saplings, attach fishing lines we carried in our vests, turned over rocks in the streams to find periwinkles for bate and fish for the abundant trout we would release back to nature. On our way back home we would stop at the Dirty Shame Saloon for a beer and camaraderie. I wish the residents of the Yaak success in their efforts to preserve that which remains at the wilderness I took so much for granted in my younger days."

But, KQED listener Nathan Landau, from Berkeley, California, was dismayed when he heard author Rick Bass discourage outsiders from visiting the Yaak. Mr. Landau writes, "This attitude gives aid and comfort to the enemies of wilderness preservation. Bass’s equation of potential visitors as takers on par with clear cutting lumber companies didn’t help matters. It’s a shame for Bass to go to the trouble of putting together an anthology to help save the un-logged remnants of that area, then undercut that work with an elitist attitude."

We welcome your comments. You can send them to us at letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Or, call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. And visit our web page at loe.org. That’s loe.org.

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

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Global Warming Suit

The city of Boulder, Colorado has joined Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth in an unusual legal crusade to curb global warming. They’re suing two governmental agencies--the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export/Import Bank of the United States. Will Toor is director of the Environmental Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He’s also the city’s mayor.

Mr. Mayor, why is your city singling out these two agencies?

TOOR: Well, these two federal agencies over the last ten years have used $32 billion dollars of taxpayer money to invest in fossil fuel extraction projects in the Third World. And, if you look at what the greenhouse gas emissions will be over the lifetime of those projects, it will actually be greater than the annual emissions of the entire world.

CURWOOD: What’s the basis of this lawsuit?

TOOR: This is a lawsuit filed under the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of major actions. The OPIC and ExIm have not analyzed the impacts of their energy lending on global climate change, or what the likely impacts will be on the United States. So, this suit is not seeking monetary damages. Rather it’s trying to force the federal government to live up to their own environmental laws and analyze the impacts of their actions.

CURWOOD: How have these agencies injured the city of Boulder?

TOOR: I think that the issue that really gives us standing is the issue of our water supply. And that there are likely to be such significant impacts to the precipitation regimes in the Rocky Mountains. This year, we’re seeing the impacts of a three-hundred-year drought. We’re seeing water flows that haven’t been this slow since 1713. So, it gives people a very good illustration of the types of impacts that we would be likely to see with greater frequency under a warming regime.

CURWOOD: What’s Boulder done to reduce its own contribution to global warming?

TOOR: We adopted a resolution last spring committing us to meeting the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emission targets. Some of the steps that we’ve taken to date include the adoption of a residential green building requirement. And as we’re updating our transportation plan, we are currently examining what we can do locally to create incentives for people to purchase cleaner vehicles. So, the idea there is, for instance, would we give preferred parking permits in the downtown area to people who have hybrid, electric or zero emission vehicles?

While there’s an awful lot happening in municipalities and in states right now to address global climate change, the federal government is, essentially, doing nothing. And as long as the government of the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world refuses to act on this, global climate change is a problem that cannot be solved.

CURWOOD: Will Toor is the mayor of Boulder, Colorado, and director of the Environmental Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Thank you so much for taking this time, Mr. Mayor.

TOOR: You’re very welcome.

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Health Note/Resisting Brain Disease

CURWOOD: Just ahead, the first study in humans to connect sex-linked behaviors to prenatal exposure to dioxin and PCB’s. First, this environmental health note from Jessica Penney.

[THEME MUSIC]

PENNEY: There may be encouraging news on the horizon for meat-eaters. Researchers say it may be possible to breed animals resistant to diseases like mad cow disease, scrapie in sheep and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk. Infectious proteins called prions cause these illnesses. And when a prion comes in contact with a healthy protein in an animal’s brain, it can infect the healthy protein and start a chain reaction. Eventually, brain cells die.

People eating infected animals run the risk of contracting the illness themselves. It’s known that some breeds of sheep don’t get scrapie. It’s thought that these sheep are resistant because of a mutation found in their brain proteins that enables the protein to resist being turned into a prion.

Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco have confirmed the theory by genetically engineering mice to produce protein with the same mutations. When the scientists injected prions directly into the brains of these mice, they did not get sick. So the researchers think it may be possible to confirm which animals naturally have this useful mutation. At that point, traditional breeding methods could be used to produce livestock resistant to prion diseases. That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Jessica Penney.

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

[MUSIC: Pell Mell, "Nothing Lies Still Long" INTERSTATE (Geffen Records, 1995)]

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Endocrine Disruptors

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. There’s increasing concern that exposure to low levels of PCBs and dioxins is affecting the hormonal balance in both animals and people. Now, for the first time, a study has found a correlation between prenatal exposure to these chemicals and changes in the gender-linked play of young children.

While not everyone agrees what exactly constitutes gender-related play, the researchers say their findings involving more than 160 children are worth noting. Joining me now is Dr. Nynke Weisglas-Kuperus. She’s a developmental pediatrician at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. And she led this study, which was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Dr. Weisglas-Kuperus, welcome to Living on Earth.

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: Hello.

CURWOOD: You began this study by collecting blood samples from mothers, and also blood from the umbilical cord. What did you find in those samples?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: We found in the samples that all mothers and children are exposed to these kind of chemicals.

CURWOOD: And then, about seven years later, as I understand it, you asked parents of the children you were following to fill out a questionnaire about their child’s behavior. You looked at things such as how often a child plays with dolls or tool sets, or how often they get into rough- and-tumble play. And certain activities on the standardized test have been deemed more masculine, others more feminine. This type of questionnaire, of course, is not without controversy. But, what did you find?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: Well, we found that boys with higher PCB exposure were less likely to engage in masculine patterns of play, while girls with higher exposure were more likely to engage in masculine play.

CURWOOD: And what happened when you looked at dioxin exposure?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: With dioxin exposure, we found something different. More feminine behavior was found in both boys, and as well as girls. So, it was not sex-specific in dioxins.

CURWOOD: How do you explain these results?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: Well, I think, at the beginning, I have to say, we didn’t expect these kind of results. We started this questionnaire because we thought, well, PCBs and dioxins are hormone disrupters, and then you expect less masculine play in boys, for example. But now, we found different things. And we think that it is because when you work with environmental levels, there are all kinds of actions. There are PCBs which are estrogenic. There are PCBs which are anti-estrogenic. There are PCBs which are androgenic. So, it’s a whole mixture of things. And that could mean that you find different things.

CURWOOD: What do levels of exposure mean here? In typical toxicology, you figure the more that somebody’s exposed to a particular chemical, the bigger the impact. What happened in this case?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: I think that is very difficult to say because these are very subtle findings and very low levels. But, of course, what I think is important to mention and to realize that it’s not--we cannot establish a causality with the kind of studies we do. You work with a population in a certain country with an environmental mixtures of PCBs and dioxins. And yeah, you find what you find.

CURWOOD: How confident are you that you are looking at true gender differences in the behavior of these children? What about just differences in the home environment?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: Well, we corrected for a lot of things in this study. And when you read the article you could see that we measured things like home environment, social economic status, intelligence of the parents. So, we corrected for those kinds of factors.

CURWOOD: Now, you also found that there was no effect that you were able to measure on children who were breast-fed, even though breast milk contains a fair amount of PCBs and dioxin, versus those who are formula-fed with no measurable PCB or dioxin. How do you explain this?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: We think that in the womb the child is more vulnerable to those kind of effects than after birth.

CURWOOD: Why?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: When the fetus is still young, the central nervous system is still developing.

CURWOOD: Some people use the term "window of vulnerability." Is that accurate?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: Yes, and I think the window of vulnerability for these kinds of things is prenatal and not post-natal.

CURWOOD: Parents listening to us right now might be--well, they might become quite concerned about what their children are being exposed to. What’s the message you want to convey here?

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: Well, I think, the first message is that what we did is an exploratory study. And we found subtle differences in play behavior. So, it’s subtle differences in the normal range of play behavior. I think that’s very important to realize for parents. And you should realize that we measured play behavior at a certain age. And that, in my opinion, we don’t suggest that it should have something to do with childhood gender non-conformity later on. I mean, it’s very subtle, we found.

CURWOOD: Nynke Weisglas-Kuperus is a developmental pediatrician at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

WEISGLAS-KUPERUS: Okay.

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Radioactive Dumping

CURWOOD: The word "radiation" can conjure images that range from ominous mushroom clouds to the three-eyed fish on "The Simpsons." In fact, radiation is all around us all the time. With that idea as justification, California has been letting the U.S. Department of Energy and biotech firms send mildly radioactive trash to local landfills and metal recyclers.
A group of concerned citizens is suing to stop this practice. Robin White has the story.

WHITE: Nuclear policy activist Dan Hirsch has been watchdogging a former nuclear weapons plant in Ventura County, California for more than two decades. He’s on an oversight committee for the Rocketdyne site at Santa Susana. The reactor partially melted down in 1959, and the Department of Energy has been trying to clean it up.

In January 2000, Hirsch went along with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inspectors to measure radioactivity in some of the buildings.

HIRCSH: When we got there, we discovered that the Department of Energy had torn down half of the buildings before EPA could monitor them. EPA was furious. Where did the buildings go? They looked like idiots because they were standing with a geiger counter and the wind blowing through their hair because there was no wall and no ceiling to the buildings. I was interested, where did this stuff go?

[SOUND OF CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT]

CORCORAN: Down in here. Way down, 180 feet, 200 feet.

WHITE: Doug Corcoran manages the Bradley Landfill in the North San Fernando Valley. He shows the spot where some of the radioactive concrete went. He said they used it to line the landfill.

CORCORAN: And really, the material in terms of how much is at the bottom to build that bottom layer, it’s a very, very small amount in comparison to everything that’s down there, you know.

WHITE: But records unearthed by Hirsch show that since 1996 perhaps six thousand tons of Rocket dyne concrete has come here and been ground up. Waste Management operates the landfill which towers over the neighborhood. They have an investment in downplaying the incident. They already have problems with neighbors such as Ann Ziliak who objects to the smell and the dust.

ZILIAK: What happens is when they dump the trash, they take a tractor and they move over and over the dirt. Now, if they used the dirt that contained any radiation, that’s airborne. What happens when it’s airborne? We don’t know that. What happens if it goes in your lungs? It’s never coming out again.

WHITE: Ziliak spends much of her day making calls and going to meetings for LASER, Landfill Alternatives to Save Environmental Resources. A big issue for the San Fernando group is that no one can tell them how the radioactive dumping could affect their health.

ZILIAK: They’re exchanging our lives for some cost-ratio. And I think that’s crazy.

WHITE: Cost is the issue. Around the country Cold War weapons and nuclear plants are being dismantled, and their owners need places to put the slightly contaminated debris. Sending it to a licensed radioactive dump costs 40 times more than what it costs to send to the local landfill. Dan Hirsch says the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission face tremendous pressure to release it.

HIRSCH: The nuclear industry created the contamination. But rather than spending the money to clean it up, they externalized the cost by dumping that risk on innocent members of the public.

WHITE: But Ray Golden of Southern California Edison says, not so. His utility is de-commissioning one of the San Onofre nuclear reactors in north San Diego County, and is using guidelines set by the NRC.

GOLDEN: When we generate low-level radioactive waste, if we can measure radiation being emitted from that material, whether it’s soil, concrete, steel, whatever it is, we will ship that to a licensed disposal site. And, there are two sites that we use. One is located in Clive, Utah, and one is located in Barnwell, South Carolina.

WHITE: And that’s a much stricter standard than California or the Department of Energy has been using. In fact, California, usually known for its tight environmental controls, last year made it easier to ship slightly radioactive material to landfills and recyclers.

Hirsch found that radioactive material from the Rocketdyne weapons plant, in fact, wound up in a scrap recycler in San Pedro. Hugo Neu Proler ships metal overseas where it’s smelted and turned into consumer products such as bed frames, sauce pans and silverware. And, like some metal recyclers, Hugo Neu Proler has radiation detectors.

[SOUND OF TRUCK AND CRUSHING GARBAGE]

WHITE: A constant stream of trucks passes through them before entering the scrap yard. Laura Hennen’s in charge of environmental safety and she shows what happens when something noticeably radioactive comes through the gate. She triggers the alarm with a small piece of cesium 137 in a zip lock bag.

HENNEN: I’m going to hold up this truck for a minute. [ALARM GOES OFF] That alarms the driver, but then the guys that bring the scale, it rings real loud up there.

WHITE: Hennen says the detectors at Hugo Neu Proler go off about three times a month. Sometimes, false alarms caused by a truck driver’s undergoing radiation therapy. But more serious are industrial gauges containing various radioactive elements. Hennen says when one of these gets melted in a steel mill, it costs millions of dollars to clean it up.

From 1983 to 1996, there were 25 confirmed meltings of radioactive metal in the U.S. In one famous case, radioactive table legs were shipped all over the U.S. and Canada from a Mexican smelter. But the scrap from the Rocketdyne weapon site was contaminated with radioactivity at a level so low manager Jeff Neu says he doesn’t consider it radioactive.

NEU: It may have been sent here but it was not radioactive when it was sent here because we would definitely have detected it at the gate. And as a backup to that, believe me, if anything got overseas and was radioactive, we would have heard about it. And we’ve never had anything come back and said that it was radioactive from overseas.

WHITE: But that doesn’t mean the scrap wasn’t radioactive at a level that still has some people concerned. New York, Massachusetts and Maine have much tighter restrictions than California. So does the EPA. And after Hugo Neu Proler received its radioactive scrap, the Clinton Energy Department banned radioactive metal recycling.

Now, the Bush administration wants to lift the ban. The Energy Department failed to make a spokesperson available for this story. But Kevin Reilly of California’s Health Services Department defends the state’s new rules.

REILLY: Life really evolved in a world where radiation exposure occurs every day. The reason life continued on—existed--is because we are able to deal with the sorts of radiation we get every day. There are mechanisms within the cells to remedy or fix the damage that’s done.

WHITE: Reilly says background levels of radiation can vary hugely from place to place. For instance, background in San Pedro is 45 millirems per year, but in Phoenix it’s five times that. Dan Hirsch says just because there’s natural radiation, that doesn’t mean we should add to it.

HIRSCH: Less radiation produces a smaller risk of cancer, greater radiation produces a higher level. By DHS’s own estimate, the Health Department’s own estimate, the 25 millirem standard will kill one in every thousand people exposed.

WHITE: But, Reilly says the DHS never said that. And Kenneth Mossman, a health physicist from Arizona State University, says the one in one thousand figure is extrapolated from the very high dose of radiation delivered by the attack on Hiroshima. Mossman says the figures are based on bad science.

MOSSMAN: The region where we know that health risks exist as a result of radiation exposure is at ten thousand millirem and higher. And, in fact, in adult populations it’s really closer to about twenty thousand millirem and higher. And that’s in a single dose.

At the doses that we’re talking about, such as twenty-five millirem, we’re in a region where either the risk of radiation health effects is zero, or it’s so small, we can’t measure it.

WHITE: Activists say until there’s scientific agreement, the state and federal government shouldn’t sign off on contaminated trash. And a judge has ordered California to review its twenty-five millirem rule. The traditional stakeholders in this are the nuclear power and weapons industries, but there’s a new player, biotechnology, which uses radioactive isotopes to track gene splicing. It, too, has increasing stockpiles of radioactive trash on site, in some cases, out back in storage containers.

Therese Ghio is the president of the California Radioactive Materials Forum.

GHIO: We’re in the research business. We don’t want to be in the waste storage business. It’s very impractical to be storing the material all over.

WHITE: Ghio says it might take an accident with radioactive material to finally arrive at a rational policy for its disposal. For Living on Earth, I’m Robin White in San Francisco.

[MUSIC: Pell Mell, "Anna Karina," INTERSTATE (Geffen Records, 1995)]

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Soundscape/Earth Ear

Related link:
Buy the CD "Nocturnal Concerts of the World" by Bernard Fort.

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that’s Living on Earth. Next week, more tourists are going to our national parks than ever before. But, not more tax dollars. Officials say without relief, the parks are in danger of falling into permanent neglect.

MALE: Last year, at this time, if you would have walked down the hallway, you would get vertigo because it was so much slanted in--it was falling into this lake.

CURWOOD: Repairing the parks, next time on Living on Earth. And don’t forget that between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to loe.org. That’s loe.org.

[MUSIC: Pell Mell, "Anna Karina," INTERSTATE (Geffen Records, 1995)]

CURWOOD: You can hear our program any time on our website. The address is loe.org. That’s loe.org. And while you’re on line send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. CD’s, tapes and transcripts are $15 dollars.

[Earth Ear/Bernard Fort, "Danube Crickets and Frogs" (Earth Ear Records, 2001)]

CURWOOD: We leave you this week at the banks of the Danube, near the village of Crisan in Romania, whose residents are serenaded each night by crickets and frogs. Bernard Fort recorded this chorus.

[SOUND OF CRICKETS AND FROGS WITH WATER SPLASHING IN BACKGROUND]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at www.loe.org. Our staff includes Maggie Villiger, Jennifer Chu and Cynthia Graber, along with Al Avery, Susan Shepherd and Carly Ferguson. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. We had help this week from Andrew Strickler and Nicole Giese. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of Earth Ear.

Our Technical Director is Chris Engels. Ingrid Lobet heads our western bureau. 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 1: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include: the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for coverage of western issues, the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting supporting the Living on Earth Network, Living on Earth’s expanded internet service, the Educational Foundation of America for coverage of energy and climate change, the Ford Foundation for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues, the W. Alton Jones Foundation supporting efforts to sustain human well being through biological diversity, www.wajones.org, the Oak Foundation supporting coverage of marine issues, and the Town Creek Foundation.

ANNOUNCER 2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

This Week's Music

Interstate
Pell Mell
Geffen records (1995)
Song Used: "Revival"


Like the Idea

Like the Idea
Think Tree
Caroline Records (1992)
Song Used: "Mamther"


Click here to order the CD

In the Bosom of the Green Mountains
Spencer Lewis
Quartz Recordings (1989)
Song Used: "Bells of Waterville"


Interstate
Pell Mell
Geffen records (1995)
Song Used: "Blacktop"


Interstate
Pell Mell
Geffen records (1995)
Song Used: "Nothing Lies Still Long"


Interstate
Pell Mell
Geffen records (1995)
Song Used: "Anna Karina"


Nocturnal Concerts of the World

Nocturnal Concerts of the World
Earth Ear/Bernard Fort
Earth Ear Records (2001)
Song Used: "Danude Crickets and Frogs"


Click here to order the CD

 

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