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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

February 11, 2005

Air Date: February 11, 2005

FULL SHOW

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SEGMENTS

Whitman Looks Back

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Former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman drew fire from all directions during her tenure as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Now she's taking some shots of her own in her new book "It's My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America." She talks with guest host Bruce Gellerman about how the far right is co-opting the Bush administration's environmental agenda. (12:20)

High Security Lab Plans Draw Community Protests in Boston / Bruce Gellerman & Jeff Young

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Part 1: Anthrax, Ebola and other pathogens could be steps away from residents in the environmental justice community of Roxbury, Massachusetts; that's if the plan for a new, high-security biolab is approved for Boston University's Medical Center. Officials there say the lab would be airtight, and that researchers wearing moon suits would essentially be working in a bunker within a bunker. But these assurances have done little to lessen community fears of a possible biological escape. Host Bruce Gellerman visits the proposed site and meets with the people on either side of the biolab fence. Part 2: Living on Earth's Jeff Young takes us on a tour of the country's oldest high level biolab at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The scientists there say they've worked with scary germs like Ebola and anthrax for 35 years with no real problems. (17:00)

Environmental Health Note/Brush Up

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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports that brushing your teeth daily could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. (1:20)

Listener Letters

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We dip into the Living on Earth mailbag to hear what listeners have to say. (2:40)

Exploring Madagascar

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Journalist Dan Grossman talks with host Bruce Gellerman about finding new species on the magical island of Madagascar, which has more species of lemurs and orchids than anywhere else on the planet. (7:00)

Mush On! / Ed Janus

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Producer Ed Janus takes us dog sledding in the snow-quiet northern woods of the Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin. Whoosh! (5:15)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Christie Todd Whitman, Dan Grossman
REPORTER: Jeff Young
PRODUCER: Ed Janus
NOTE: Jennifer Chu

[THEME UP]

GELLERMAN: From NPR - this is Living on Earth.

[THEME UP AND UNDER]

GELLERMAN: I'm Bruce Gellerman. In post 9-11, America's fears of bioterrorists armed with the most lethal pathogens on the planet sends U.S. spending on biodefense laboratories soaring. Proponents say the labs are vital for national defense and the work they're doing with anthrax, Ebola and plague is safe.

KLEMPNER: The history says that the risks to the community and to the environment have been and theoretically are negligible.

GELLERMAN: But some residents in communities where the laboratories will be built say it makes their neighborhoods targets for terrorists.

AGUILAR: I wonder what the statistics were that both the twin towers were going to be taken out. Who would have thought the odds, they were probably astronomical. Accidents happen.

GELLERMAN: Biodefense, homeland security and insecurity at home...this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

[NPR NEWSCAST]

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Whitman Looks Back

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth.

I'm Bruce Gellerman, sitting in for Steve Curwood. The GOP is the party of President Teddy Roosevelt, who gave us national parks and forests - and Richard Nixon who gave us the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. From the Ford administration, we got the Safe Drinking Water Act.

George W. Bush, our current president, is also a Republican and for a behind the scenes view of his environmental record, we turn to someone who had a place at the cabinet table. From 2001 to mid 2003, Christie Todd Whitman was the administrator of the EPA.

The two-term governor of New Jersey has written a book about her tenure at the EPA and about the political party she loves. It's called, "It's My Party Too - the Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America." Governor Whitman joins me. Thank you very much.

WHITMAN: It's a pleasure. Good to talk to you.

GELLERMAN: You know, in reading your book, it sounds miserable being the head of the EPA.

WHITMAN: [LAUGHS]. I think it is under any administration. It's a tough job. I mean, it's a great agency with good people but when you're a regulatory agency, nobody much wants to see you because you're telling people they either have to change their behavior or spend a lot of money for benefits they may never see. So, it's always a bit problematic.

GELLERMAN: Well, characterize the Bush administration's policies and behaviors during your tenure, in terms of the environment.

Christine Todd Whitman
(Photo: © Brian Velenchenko)

WHITMAN: Well, it's a lot better, actually, than people believe but because of the focus that had been so specific since the very beginning on the four million evangelicals who had not voted in 2000, the political shop headed by Karl Rove who, by the way, has done a brilliant job in doing what he had to do and that's what his job was--to deliver for the president, focused on those four million. So, everything that we did and the way we delivered the message of what was happening was delivered with that base in mind. So, the good things that the administration did, like cleaning up the Hudson River, watershed-based management approach to cleaning up our waters, the regulation on diesel engines, non-road diesel engines, which are the back-hoes and the tractors that even the NRDC, at one point, said it was probably the most significant thing for human health since we took lead out of gasoline, those things weren't talked about because the base doesn't like regulation because that means government is coming in and telling them what to do and they don't like government overseeing your life in certain ways. They seem to like it in other ways but not when it comes to the environment. And so, the good things weren't talked about and the things that were a bit more problematic were given a lot of play.

GELLERMAN: Do you have a specific example of how the right might have influenced the environmental policies of the nation?

WHITMAN: There was the way we delivered the Kyoto decision. It was very much that, a lot of the good programs that aren't talked about. There are obviously pressures and I wouldn't say it was necessarily from the right, but from utility industries and areas like New Source Review but again, unfortunately, one of the frustrations in the environmental area is that science isn't exact. And it would be really nice if you could get a hard number out of the scientists so you wouldn't have all this back and forth. So, you don't have the kinds of battles that you have now over 'is climate change a real thing caused by humans or is it just part of a natural progression of the earth that we have seen before with the ice age?' Well, you know, common sense will tell you sure, we had an ice age, the dinosaurs all were killed and humans weren't around to impact that. But, on the other, hand you'd have to be deaf, dumb, and blind I think, to think, what we have done in our treatment of the Earth and our emissions into the atmosphere to think that those haven't had an impact. And, we are making it more difficult for it may be hastening climate change and hasn't made it more difficult for nature to recover.

GELLERMAN: President Bush ran in 2000. He wanted to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and you were very enthused about that and, soon enough, you found out that that wasn't going to be.

WHITMAN: Well, the big issue there was that it centered around the Kyoto Protocol and, again, that's a perfect example to me of how we have hurt ourselves by having this, sort of, just razor-like focus, laser-like focus on the base because the Kyoto Protocol was never going to pass. When Al Gore had taken it up to the Senate it was voted down 95 to nothing. The Congress then had passed resolutions every year saying, no part of the federal government shall spend any money implementing anything that looks like Kyoto. It wasn't going to pass. And the president had come out against it. I wasn't not for the protocol as a governor because I didn't think it would solve the problem particularly without India and China being part of the mix. And so, when the president said we weren't going to support, be part of the Kyoto treaty, that's what the protocol essentially is, the treaty, that was just saying the emperor has no clothes.

The problem was he did it in a way to appeal to the base that kind of said, 'we're out of this discussion entirely' and there was no differentiation made between the protocol, which is the treaty, and the process which was something the rest of the world, including the United States, had been engaged in for some ten years with people who think climate change is a very serious issue. And the message was to the base—'we're not going to get pushed around by a bunch of people from outside the country that really want to just hurt our economy and don't, on an issue that may not even be a real one.' And yet, this administration is spending more than any administration and more than the rest of the developed world combined on climate change research and technology development. It was 4.3 billion when I left EPA; it's I think over five billion now.

We have multi-lateral and bilateral agreements with most of the rest of the developed world on technology development, coal bed methane, hydrogen fuel cell. And the president has called for a greenhouse gas intensity reduction of 18 percent over ten years. He is engaged but you wouldn't know it because we don't talk about it because that's not what the base likes.

GELLERMAN: Well, you wouldn't know it because in 2002, when you were the administator of the EPA, you came up with a report, you sent it to the United Nations and it said that man-made greenhouse gases were, you know, going to increase by 43 per cent over the next 20 years. The Bush administration, the president dismissed the report.

WHITMAN: And there are a lot of people who still do. I mean, Michael Crichton has written a very successful book just recently released that purports to debunk the climate change issues. It's a very volatile issue, but the agency went forward and said what they thought what the science was telling them.

GELLERMAN: We spoke earlier today with Jim DiPeso. I guess he's the policy director for Republicans for Environmental Protections. Do you know him?

WHITMAN: Um, I may have met him. But I don't know him.

GELLERMAN: Well, he has an issue with your book and how you were there at the EPA. He says you never seem to hold the president accountable. I want you to listen to this.

DIPESO: I don't why she soft-pedals her criticism of the president. Maybe it's out of respect for his office; maybe it's because she's thinking of her own future within the Republican Party. From our position, though, we feel that the policies of the administration are the responsibility of the president. She says he has had a lot of bad advice and that's true. He has had a lot of bad advice from the vice president on down. But, ultimately, the responsibility for making the decisions lands right there on the president's desk.

GELLERMAN: Governor? I mean, the president is the head of his party.

WHITMAN: Oh, absolutely. The president is the head and I disagree with many of the decisions that have been made, but I also know of the good decisions that have been made. So, you know, it's easy to find criticism and you do and the president is ultimately responsible and I will tell you that every time I went in and met with the president to talk about these issues, we were in the same place. The frustration I had was when I'd leave the room, you'd find others coming in and others in the White House, not even going into the president, but others in the White House who kind of thought it was their responsibility to take over and you just get a lot of push back and I, that's happened in every administration. I haven't been part of another so I can't speak to how this is different from another administration, but it is a huge frustration.

GELLERMAN: Can you give me an example of that?

WHITMAN: Well, the wetlands is a perfect one. I met with the president on several occasions where he said, 'I don't want to just say there's no net loss of wetlands,' which had been the policy up to that point. 'I want to be able to say, we've added to our wetlands.' That to me was a presidential directive. There was no question, and yet I'd find myself arguing with the Army Corps of Engineers on it. I'd find there were people in the Council of Environmental Quality, which is an office located in the White House, saying, 'well, we really ought to look at the reinterpretation of that' and I kept sitting there saying, 'but I had this conversation with the president.'

I think, maybe, there was a level of distrust about how I interpreted the president's words and reluctance to actually go in and bother him about something like wetlands. But I never hesitated to bring up the issues and he always said to me if I had an issue and there was a problem with how it was being handled within the administration to just push through the palace guard and get to him. Talk to him.

GELLERMAN: Governor, we spoke with Eric Schaeffer who was your chief of enforcement at the EPA who resigned in protest when you were there and I want you to listen to something he said.

SCHAEFFER: When she was at EPA, I think it seriously damaged the Environmental Protection Agency. I think it had earned a reputation for integrity and for independence and for, basically, being able to, at least, tell the White House what it thought should be done about environmental problems. And we're hearing now that Ms. Whitman, Governor Whitman, wasn't able to do that and I think that presented her with a clear choice. And, that choice was either to continue to serve the administration and give them political cover or to resign and I think it would have made a big difference if she had stepped down.

GELLERMAN: Governor Whitman?

WHITMAN: Well, with all due respect to Eric Schaeffer, he didn't resign in protest. He'd had his job lined up for months before he left. I think he has an agenda. And, you know, he says there that I didn't protest or didn't take to the White House what the EPA's position was. I did and I'm not going to tell anyone, Eric Schaeffer, what those particular battles were necessarily because the ultimate decision rested with the president, but I never signed a regulation that I couldn't live with in good conscience and that I thought undermined the integrity of the agency. And, when it came to a point where I thought there was a regulation coming down that I couldn't in good conscience sign, I did resign. I left. I didn't leave under protest because that may give you the momentary feeling of excitement and you get all sorts of attention, but it doesn't change anything. Paul O'Neil's book came out and it got a lot of attention for a brief flash. It didn't change the outcome of the election; it didn't change anything.

I am interested not in so much a critique of this administration which is why I didn't even put the book out, I made sure the book didn't come out until after the election. I'm talking about the future. I used the illustration of what my experiences, both as governor and within the administration, to point out the concerns I have about the focus that we have now on the base and the ever-narrowing litmus test of what it takes to be a good Republican. And I'm talking about 2008 and the future and that's where my focus is.

GELLERMAN: So, what's ahead for Republicans if they continue on the path of playing to the anti-regulation element of the base, as you say in the book?

WHITMAN: Well, it's more than just the anti-regulation element in the base. It's all of the issues that are part of that litmus test and I believe the Republicans will not be a majority party come 2008.

GELLERMAN: Seems to be working pretty well for them now.

WHITMAN: Yes, they have control. Absolutely, and people say that to me all the time, but you know, Paul Wyreck, who was a very conservative grassroots organizer, said to the leadership just two weeks ago that Republicans better be careful. They've been winning since '94, yes, but by very small pluralities and the loss of any one part of their coalition could have serious repercussions and could mean that they would lose control. Well, you know what? That includes the moderates because without the moderates, you wouldn't have control in the Senate and the House. Without the moderates, the president would not have won reelection.

GELLERMAN: Governor Whitman, thank you. It's been a real pleasure.

WHITMAN: Okay, good to talk to you.

GELLERMAN: Christine Todd Whitman is the former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her new book is called, "It's My Party Too."

[MUSIC: Matt Haimovitz "Prelude" Anthem (Oxingale) 2003]

Related link:
"It's My Party Too"

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High Security Lab Plans Draw Community Protests in Boston

GELLERMAN: Coming up...Is it safe? Some Boston residents question whether a new, high tech biodefense lab in their neighborhood will make them more or less secure. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Ravi Shankar "Title" Exotic Sounds From Many Worlds (Milan) 1996]

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman.

This is a story about a minority community, national security, high tech laboratories and what scientists call "select agents." Now, don't let the innocent sounding name fool you. Select agents are the most dangerous organisms on earth - among them Ebola, anthrax, Lassa fever and plague. In the wrong hands, these pathogens could wreak unspeakable havoc.

Since 9-11, the Bush administration has increased funding for biodefense research more than 18 fold from 400 million dollars to more than seven and a half billion dollars a year.

BUSH: Bioterrorism is a real threat to our country. It's a threat to every nation that loves freedom. Terrorist groups seek biological weapons; we know some rogue states already have them.

GELLERMAN: Much of the government's funding has gone to build eight regional centers for biodefense research and six new proposed super secure laboratories known as BSL - Biosafety Level 4 labs. One of them is slated for Boston.

Dr. Mark Klempner, associate provost at Boston University Medical School, is head of the project to build a BSL-4 , in the city's South End.

KLEMPNER: It is designed in a way to absolutely maximize safety and decontaminatabilty. Probably, the easiest way to think about this is a BSL-4 laboratory is an airtight box within another box within the building.

GELLERMAN: Or a bunker within a bunker. The proposed BSL-4 at Boston University would be state-of-the-art with seven layers of security protecting the building alone. The lab would be equipped with airlocks, chemical showers, filters, fumigation devices and intense heat sterilizers, all designed to protect workers from the deadly pathogens inside.

Boston residents voice their opposition against Boston University’s proposed bio-lab. (Photo courtesy of Alternatives for Community & Environment.)

Because of all the security, BSL-4 labs don't come cheap. Dr. Klempner says the price tag for Boston University's is 170 million dollars, about two-thirds of that is federal money.

KLEMPNER: There was a very vigorous competition to try and win this project and we feel very fortunate to have come out on top of that competition. We think the 'why Boston?' response has been a very, very convincing argument to the scientific community.

GELLERMAN: The scientific community, perhaps, but not residents of the nearby community of Roxbury, Massachusetts.

FELICIANO: We was like, what? Why here? We have all these people around.

GELLERMAN: Alma Feliciano is a member of Safety Net. It's a Roxbury community organization fighting to keep the high security lab out of their backyard.

(Photo courtesy of Alternatives for Community & Environment.)

FELICIANO: One day we just got a call. We just got together. We all got dressed and we're going. And, when we got there, all we saw was, like, people in suits looking good and we were like, 'oh my God, are we allowed to come to this meeting?' We all looked at each other but we sat right in the back and they started naming Ebola, anthrax, and we was all looking at each other, what is that, what is that? And, we started asking questions, 'what do that mean, what is this, what are you all building and why you all bringing it to our neighborhood?' So, he says, 'get somebody smarter than you all' and we got hurt. Our feeling got hurt. We went downstairs, we hold hands together, the whole group, and said 'we're going to tell everybody and their momma in the whole Boston area about what's going on.'

GELLERMAN: And, they did. The community mobilized and Safety Net is now suing Boston University and the city's zoning board, which recently approved the high-security biolab. Safety Net charges the final environmental impact statement for the lab doesn't consider alternative sites as required by law. In fact, in analyzing potential risks to the region, the report doesn't even mention Roxbury.

AGUILAR [IN CAR]: This area used to be Roxbury, now they call it the South End.

GELLERMAN: I recently toured the proposed site for the lab with Tomas Aguilar. He works with the Roxbury group called ACE, Alternatives for Community and Environment. ACE opposes Boston University's biodefense lab.

AGUILAR: Across the big street, like over here, is the jail. Coming up here, see all this construction? This is part of the Biosquare, the Boston University Biosquare.

GELLERMAN: Biosquare is where Boston University wants to build the quarter of a million square foot high-security lab. It's a gentrified area with renovated Victorian-row houses and modern brick research buildings. Nearby is Boston's largest homeless shelter and the city's wholesale flower market. Across an open field is Roxbury.

AGUILAR: This whole area --you can take a right here, if you can--this whole area is becoming high priced, but mixed in this area are housing, public housing complexes.

GELLERMAN: Roxbury has more than its share of pollution and environmental problems. Eight of Boston's nine trash transfer stations are here and there are abandoned lots loaded with asbestos and lead. The asthma rate in Roxbury is five times the state average, the worst in Massachusetts. The state has designated Roxbury an "environmental justice community." It's a special status to help Roxbury recover environmentally.

AGUILAR: And up here, where the bus is turning, this is a dead end. That's a parking lot right now, but that's going to be part of this big complex for the, what we call, "the bioterror lab."

GELLERMAN: Now, you call it "bioterror." They call it a "biodefense" lab.

AGUILAR: Yeah, they call it biosafety, biocontainment lab. That's all fine, but it has nothing to do with the reality that this is a Defense Department project.

GELLERMAN: In fact, it's not a Defense Department project. Boston University's BSL-4 lab, like most of the nation's biodefense projects, is funded through one of the National Institutes of Health. Again, Dr. Klempner of Boston University.

KLEMPNER: We have nothing to hide in this laboratory. The work will not be classified research and our intention is to be responsive to the community in that way.

GELLERMAN [TO KLEMPNER]: The question that these people in the neighborhood are asking, 'why here? '

KLEMPNER: I would say that these laboratories have been safe wherever they've been put. Whether they've been put in a remote location or they have been in a downtown location, that has been their history. And, most importantly, one needs to assemble the people, the scientists, who can do the work in this kind of an institute and I can't think of a better place.

GELLERMAN: And nearby residents will benefit, says Dr.Klempner. Building the BSL-4 lab will employ thirteen hundred construction workers and create hundreds of new jobs, but Roxbury activist Tomas Aguilar isn't buying it.

AGUILAR: Break it down a bit, the bottom line. You need people to clean those cages to take care of those animals that they're testing, you know, with Ebola and all that. They need people to mop the floors and empty, right? Think about it.

GELLERMAN: Residents in Davis, California thought about it and recently defeated a bid by the University of California to build a government-funded BSL-4 lab in their community. One of their arguments: a high-security lab doesn't belong in an urban area. Another proposed site for a Level 4 lab that's met with community opposition is Hamilton, Montana, population four thousand.

Tomas Aguilar says in Roxbury there are 17 thousand people per square mile.

[AIRPLANE FLIES OVER]

GELLERMAN: The proposed super secure biodefense lab would be built right under the flight path of nearby Boston Logan Airport. Aguilar worries that putting the laboratory here makes the place a target for terrorists. Boston University's environmental impact statement says little about terrorism, but another report for a similar lab in Maryland says there's nothing to worry about.

GELLERMAN [TO AGUILAR]: I was reading the environmental impact statement. They calculate that one plane crash into this building every 38,000 years....

AGUILAR: Yeah, well, the thing with statistics. Look at, I wonder what the statistics were that both twin towers were going to be taken out? Who would have thought the odds? They were probably astronomical. Accidents happen. Not only did all these things happen while the public was debating this whole issue of transparency, not only did all this happen, but then, they hide it.

GELLERMAN: Last summer and fall, accidents did happen. Three Boston University medical researchers working with tularemia, in a BSL-2 lab, contracted the disease. They thought they were working with a safe strain of the bacterium. Turns out, they weren't. The university researchers survived and state and city health officials were notified, but the public wasn't told, nor were the officials who were reviewing Boston University's final environmental impact report. Unaware of the accidental infections, they approved BU's application for the lab. Again, Dr. Mark Klempner.

KLEMPNER: The risks in the BioSafety Level-4 labs are to the workers in those laboratories. We acknowledge it. We will do everything we can to minimize it. But, the history says that the risks to the community and to the environment have been and theoretically are negligible.

GELLERMAN: The worst biolab accident happened in 1979 in Sverdlovsk. Sixty-four residents of the Soviet city died after researchers working with anthrax in aerosol accidentally released spores into the air.

Dr. Matthew Meselson co-directs a Harvard University program on chemical and biological weapons. He investigated the Soviet disaster for the CIA.

MESELSON: Now, there are some things that should be done in the city. They shouldn't do anything with aerosols because aerosols travel. That's what the Soviets did with their anthrax epidemic. They had this in the city, ha, that's what they did.

GELLERMAN: And, that is precisely what BU plans to do.

KLEMPNER: We will definitely have an aerobiology unit in the laboratories. It will be one of the core facilities.

GELLERMAN: Biolab Chief Dr. Mark Klempner says the public will never be at risk from aerosols tested in the lab.

KLEMPNER: That is a very important part of the research because many
infectious diseases, especially those that can create the greatest epidemics, are aerosol transmitted. And so, I think it is smart to understand exactly how these infectious agents get deposited in the lungs. So, I think there's a lot to be done and learned in the name of the public's health through an aerobiology program.

OZONOFF: Actually, I was a proponent of this laboratory initially.

GELLERMAN: Dr. David Ozonoff, a professor of public health at Boston University, supported the BSL-4 lab on campus but now, he's one of its strongest critics.

OZONOFF: A laboratory that's got an aerosol facility, that has animal facilities, has all the earmarks of an offensive biological weapons facility. What's really happened is that funds for local public health and state public health are being cut, bread and butter public health, maternal and child health, substance abuse, immunization programs. At the same time, money is flying in to do biodefense. And, we have a massive shifting of priorities and that's what is going on in public health in this country.

GELLERMAN: Boston University had hoped to break ground on its high-security lab this spring, but late last month, amid growing community protests, the NIH announced it would issue a new environmental impact report, delaying the project.

Meanwhile, renovations are already underway at the world's largest BSL-4 lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. Living on Earth's Jeff Young recently toured the high security lab at USAMRIID--it's the U.S. Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases--and he has our report.

[SOUND OF WALKING THROUGH HALLWAY]

YOUNG: The cinderblock walls and tile floors of USAMRIID look so ordinary you could mistake it for any hospital or school hall. Until, that is, you get to a thick glass window looking in on a woman in a baby blue moon suit.

VANDER LINDEN : This is a level four suite. This is the lab where a lot of work with Ebola is conducted.

[CONSTRUCTION NOISE]

YOUNG: Fort Detrick Press Officer Caree Vander Linden points to the scientist at work on Ebola, one of the most dangerous known viruses. There's a lot of noise, as one of the labs is under renovation. But, the soundtrack of the biolabs is the comforting white noise of pressurized air.

[AIR PRESSURE SOUND]

NEGLEY: You hear that the whole time you're working in there.

YOUNG: Biosafety Suite Supervisor Diane Negley has worked here 22 years, much of it in the moon suits and carefully controlled air of the BSL-4. Negley points out features of the suit as we watch her colleague at work.

NEGLEY: We have air going into the suit so it's always being forced out so that we're protected too.

YOUNG: That's the yellow hose I see connected to her...

NEGLEY: Yeah, that's the air line.

YOUNG: Goes down to her waist there, that's pumping air in.

NEGLEY: And, it goes through a HEPA filter before it goes into the suit.

YOUNG: HEPA is high efficiency particle air filter. Air passes through the labs just once and then is filtered before it's released. Any clothing or waste leaving the suite spends hours in an autoclave—a high pressure, high temperature sterilizer. Equipment goes through an airlock filled with formaldehyde gas. The only thing that should get out alive is the scientist in the suit.

NEGLEY: When she leaves working in there, she'll get in the chemical shower and you scrub down. The showers usually last somewhere around five minutes. It's a water, a mist of disinfectant and you scrub and you rinse off again. Then, you can actually step out of the suit.

YOUNG [TO NEGLEY]: And, then what of the water that's used to wash these things down?

NEGLEY: We're always using disinfectant on the inside, too. We don't just pour live virus down the sink; we've killed it first. It goes through a laboratory sewer system that also goes through a sterilization plant before it's released.

YOUNG: Negley jokes and sips on a soda as we look into the room, holding a virus that could bring a horrible disease with no vaccination, no treatment and high mortality. If she seems nonchalant about all this it's because of her high level of confidence in the equipment and people she works with.

NEGLEY: The chance of anything getting out is extremely small. I mean, it's our lives too. So, we want to make sure that there are no escapes because you know we're gonna be the first ones and we don't wanna be connected with that.

YOUNG: But some wonder if Fort Detrick is sometimes the cause of a problem instead of a cure. In the wake of the still unsolved anthrax attacks of 2001, the FBI investigation focused on a former USAMRIID employee. Press Officer Vander Linden has no comment on that. In the early 90s, a USAMRIID inventory could not account for some stocks of anthrax and other specimens. Vander Linden insists the material was inert and was later accounted for. She says the only exposures have been to workers, usually when a needle or animal bite goes through a glove. When that happens, the worker goes here, to a medical room with the same containment technology and thick doors as a Level 4 lab. It's called "the slammer."

[DOOR SLAMS]

VANDER LINDEN: There have been 16 cases where we had a close enough call that someone had to be isolated here for observation purposes. And, fortunately, none of those people became ill as a result of that incident. The most recent was last year we had a person who had a needle stick with a weakened form of Ebola virus and she spent 21 days in here.

[DOOR SLAMS]

YOUNG: It's an ominous reminder of the risk workers face. And, Vander Linden says what drives that work is a need to be prepared for another threat almost too terrible to contemplate--such germs being used as weapons.

VANDER LINDEN: We have a dedicated work force. They're highly trained. They want to do things safely. So, I think, it's research that we can't do without.

YOUNG: That research will expand here soon as USAMRIID joins with the Department of Homeland Security for a new biodefense center at Fort Detrick, scheduled to open in 2008. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young in Frederick, Maryland.

[MUSIC: Stewart Copeland "Ay Manu Wata Hai" Exotic Sounds From Many Worlds (Milan) 1996]

Related links:
- NIAID Biodefense Research site
- Alternatives for Community & Environment
- USAMRIID site
- Department of Homeland Security fact sheet on the biodefense program
- Biodefense References
- Info on New Facility at Fort Detrick

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Environmental Health Note/Brush Up

GELLERMAN: Just ahead...Win some, lose some: The discovery and disappearance of new species on the bio-rich island of Madagascar. But first, this Environmental Health Note from Jennifer Chu.

CHU: Mom always told you to brush your teeth, but she probably didn't know that it just might save your life. According to the Columbia University Medical Center, brushing up daily could decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. Six hundred and fifty seven patients opened wide as scientists measured the levels of different kinds of bacteria in their mouths.

They also measured the thickness of their patient's carotid arteries because the thicker the arteries, the higher the risk for heart disease. Scientists discovered that patients with thick carotid arteries also had high levels of the bacteria that causes gum disease--a condition characterized by bleeding and sensitive gums. Although there's a concrete connection between the two, it is unclear which comes first – thick arteries or gum disease.

One explanation could be that as the bacteria moves through the body's bloodstream, it causes inflammation that clogs arteries and, ultimately, leads to a heart attack. The next step for researchers is to conduct a long-term study in which patients gum disease and heart health will be monitored and the connection between the two will be clarified.

But before altering your schedule to brush ten times a day, be warned: only the specific bacteria associated with gum disease has any connection with cardiac health. Scientists say there are benefits to other bacteria, which could help keep your teeth clean of tiny pests. That's this week's health note, I'm Jennifer Chu.

GELLERMAN: And, you're listening to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and: The Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund, supporting the creation, performance and recording of new music; The Kresge Foundation. Building the capacity of nonprofit organizations through challenge grants since 1924. On the web at k-r-e-s-g-e dot org; The Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and, The W-K Kellogg Foundation. 'From Vision to Innovative Impact: 75 Years of Philanthropy'; This is NPR--National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: Rick 'l.a. holmes' Holmstrom "Tacos de Pescado" Lookout (Black Top) 1995]

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Listener Letters

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. And, coming up, over the river and through the woods of Wisconsin. The dogs know the way! Mush, you huskies.

But first...time for your comments.

[LETTERS THEME UP AND UNDER]

GELLERMAN: We received some emotional responses to our recent story about how the people of Newfoundland have dealt with the demise of their economic foundation, the Northern Cod. In its hey-day, the industry employed more than 30,000 people but then the cod were fished near-extinction and the island lost part of its heritage.

Mary Zukas, who hears us on KIOS in Omaha, Nebraska, writes, "I listened with tears in my eyes. I was driving home from work thinking about how the world is moving in fast- forward and so much history is being lost."

Rebecca Bell, who listens to us on KOUW in Seattle, expressed a similar sentiment. Her mother and aunts used to vacation on the island. "Because I grew up hearing about these magical vacations," she writes, "I visited there one summer. The best meal I ever had was at a small, crowded, noisy restaurant and it was cod in a creamy sauce. I was sad to hear about the loss of the fishing culture. What can we learn from it?"

Our story about the greening of the Super Bowl drew a number of responses. The NFL planted a forest to neutralize carbon dioxide released from the big event. But Peter Wang, who listens to Living on Earth on KQED San Francisco, laments the fact that the NFL didn't promote the project. He writes, "Finding no trace of 'carbon neutral' on the Superbowl.com web site suggests that the publicity associated with the Super Bowl wasn't fully taken advantage of. It would really make a lot of Americans sit up and take notice if they knew the NFL was supporting the fight against global warming."

Lee Tobin hears Living on Earth on WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and she appreciated our story on the reactionary pedestrian, Abner Serd, who walked thousands of miles across the United States; a journey that left him disgusted with the automobile. "As a bicycle commuter for the past 20 years," Tobin writes, "I can very much relate to his sentiment. I've grown to despise the automobile and all of the costly side effects its overuse and dependency have brought to American culture."

We'd like to hear from you. Your comments are always welcome. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988.

Or write us at 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts 02144. Our e-mail address is comments at loe dot org. Once again, comments at loe dot org. And you can hear our program anytime on our web site, livingonearth dot org. That's livingonearth dot org.

[LETTERS THEME UP AND OUT]

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Exploring Madagascar

GELLERMAN: Environmental reporter Dan Grossman recently returned from his second trip to Madagascar. Located about 400 miles off Africa's southeast coast, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in world and considered one of the ecologically richest countries. In fact, most of the creatures there you won't find anywhere else on the planet, including 99 percent of the world's frogs and toads and all of the world's lemurs.

But Madagascar is one of the poorest nations in the world, which is part of the reason why less than 15 percent of its original forest cover remains. Slash and burn agricultural practices, use of firewood, and other human activities have devastated the island's forests.

A giraffe-necked weevil. (Photo: Dan Grossman)

Dan Grossman joins me. Welcome back, Dan. Why Madagascar? And, not once, but twice!

GROSSMAN: I went on several expeditions. One of them was quite amazing. This particular trip was organized by a biologist named Steve Goodman who's a mammal expert, and I'd like to play you a little part of a recording I made where he described to me some of the conditions that he's encountered on some of these expeditions.

GOODMAN: We would come to what formerly was just a small creek and there was this raging torrent where you couldn't imagine how you would ever get across it. And we would find someone with a canoe and we'd attach a rope to the other side of the river – either someone would swim across to attach the rope and, you know, person by person, different portions of equipment going across, get to the other side. Then walk to the next village, find another oxen cart, load the oxen cart, go to the next river. And so there's this long sequence and, with all of this, it was still pouring rain. It was difficult to make a fire to eat.

GELLERMAN: Boy, that sounds really rough!

GROSSMAN: Yeah, yeah. Well, the funny thing is, is that the best time to see the wildlife is the rainy season…that's the worst time to get around. Now, I'd like to play you a little piece of a recording I did with Patricia Wright who's a pretty famous lemur expert. And while I was there she actually discovered a new species of lemur. It hasn't been scientifically verified yet, but she believes it's a new species. And she describes what it was like looking for that new species.

WRIGHT: We had been tipped off by one of our Malagasy graduate students, Felix, who told us that he thought there were two kinds of fat-tailed dwarf lemurs in this forest. And I'd never seen one in the areas that I'd been. So, we took a darting team, a capture team, and we captured it, we took some samples, and weighed it and measured it and then released it the next morning. I sat there with this little animal in my hand thinking, 'my God, you know, it had been since 1986 that I'd really discovered a new species and here it was happening again.' Of course, the graduate student really is the one that discovered it. And then I suddenly realized there were 13 species of primates in this park. It was just a thrilling moment at 2:18 in the morning. It was amazing!

[CACOPHONY OF FOREST SOUNDS]

GELLERMAN: This tape that we're listening to now, those are the lemurs?

A black and white ruffed lemur (varecia). (Photo: Dan Grossman)

GROSSMAN: Yes. Lemurs don't exist anywhere else in the world. Madagascar is the only place where lemurs exist in the wild. And, what you're listening to is a, the scientific term is a varecia. It's also called a black and white ruffed lemur. This barking sound is just amazing. I went on one of these expeditions doing a survey of wildlife and it was in a steep little valley and these sounds were just echoing through the valley.

[BARKING LEMUR CALLS]

GELLERMAN: What a racket!

GROSSMAN: Yeah, yeah. It was amazing to hear those sounds; it was just amazing. Now, Steve Goodman told me a very interesting story about one time when he discovered a new micro-mammal. A micro-mammal is, you know, a small mammal, a little mouse-like or shrew-like thing.

GOODMAN: We're up at the summit of a maltan in northern Madagascar, a maltan called Agananawi (sp?). And, the summit is kind of this mystical place. Everything is covered with dripping moss and epiphytes. And, it was on the second or third morning after I had put out my traps. I remember the trap was on a branch that was covered with very, very thick moss. And I picked up the trap and it was clearly a very, very small animal. And, I thought, well, it's probably just a young of one of the larger rodents that occur in the forest. And, you know, it sounds a bit silly but I know the smell of these animals. And, I smelled the trap and it had a very strange smell. And I knew that it was something that I hadn't encountered before. Kind of opened the trap a little bit to see what was inside but I didn't want the thing to jump out. So, I, kind of, put the closed trap in my trap bag and with, you know, incredible anticipation went back to the camp and pulled it out of the trap. And, I had no idea what it was, absolutely no idea. In fact, it turned out to be not only a new species to science, but a new genus to science.

GELLERMAN: Dan, you know I remember looking at a National Geographic a few years ago and it had a couple of decades of satellite images of Madagascar and you could see the forests just shrinking. It was as if it was a lake that had just dried up.

GROSSMAN: Steve Goodman told me a really sad story about a colleague of his who discovered some new animals in a block of forest that he was visiting. And, he asked Steve Goodman if that when he was in that area if he could take some pictures of it to go with the scientific paper that the scientist was publishing. And so he went down there and when he got there, the forest had been cut. So, by the time the article was published the species that this researcher had discovered was extinct. So, it was supposed to be a paper about a new species that had been discovered. Instead it really was an article about a species that had just become extinct.

GELLERMAN: You going back to Madagascar?

GROSSMAN: As a matter of fact, I do intend to go back. I am working on a bunch of short radio pieces about the wildlife of Madagascar that I'm going to translate into Malagasy, which is the national language along with French. And, I'm hoping to go with a radio producer there around the country to play these pieces to kids in the towns that surround some of these forest areas. Because what people have told me is that people there don't really understand just how special the wildlife is. I mean, a lemur to them is like a gray squirrel to us. They don't realize that it only exists in Madagascar. So, the idea is that if they knew more about how special the wildlife there was that maybe they'd be a little bit more protective of it.

Newly discovered chameleon, found in the Marotandrano Special Reserve in northeastern Madagascar in November 2004. (Photo: Dan Grossman)

GELLERMAN: How do you say "thank you" in Malagasy?

GROSSMAN: Well, there are a lot of words in Malagasy where the word's kind of long and then they have various short versions. Uh, so you say, "misoutra" or "soutra" or "sout" depending on how fast you're trying to get away.

GELLERMAN: Then, sout. Environmental Reporter Dan Grossman.

GROSSMAN: [LAUGHS]

[MUSIC: Eric Manana "Tsara Ny Hiran'ny Taniko" Gardens of Eden (Putomayo) 2001]

Related link:
Dan Grossman Madagascar Special on WBUR

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Mush On!

GELLERMAN: Winter driving, driving you crazy? For a change of pace, try guiding a team of dogs through two feet of snow. Producer Ed Janus traveled to the Bayfield Peninsula of northern Wisconsin to learn the fine art of mushing.

He recorded Wolfsong Adventure owners John and Mary Thiel as they showed him and other first time mushers how to ride on the back of a sled at 12 miles an hour, with eight dogs pulling as one.

[FOOTFALLS IN SNOW, BIRD SONG. DOGS YELPING]

MARY THIEL: Hey, Java. Starbuck. They love what they do. They just love it.

JOHN THIEL: People like to do hands-on stuff. I mean, that's the big thing. What they really want to do is handle the dogs. I mean that's the best part of it. So, we have them do everything. They harness the dogs and hook ‘em up and drive a team. When we're done they can come back and feed ‘em. And that's people's favorite part.

[DOGS BARKING]

JOHN: Hi, guys.

[DOGS BARKING]

MARY: Kennels often name litters by categories so you can keep track of who the brothers and sisters are. And, my family's very Norwegian, so this is Lefsa, there's a Lutefisk. This is Krumkaka, which is a Christmas cookie.

JOHN: We have a blues litter – B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Luther Allison.

MARY: This big fella is Gonzo and he's just awesome. He pulls so hard. Good boy, Gonz.

When people go to harness Gonzo, he lays down on the ground with his legs up so they can scratch his belly. (Photo courtesy of Wolfsong Adventures.)

[DOGS YELPING]

JOHN: You can see in the dogs now, they're starting to get fired up a little bit. You're really working with that enthusiasm. Trying to keep them feeling happy all the time.

[YELPING, JINGLE OF HARNESSES]

MARY: I'm getting the harnesses ready. We'll lay them out … hey, Jitti, go for a little run? You want to go for a little run? Some of these older guys will just about dress themselves, though. Lift their paw for you.

[JINGLING]

JOHN: There you go. Slip it right over his head. Sort of pull it back…

[YELPING]

MARY: I'm going to do a little sled instruction with you before we hook anybody up. The skies are called runners; you'll stand there most of the time. The sled will track behind the dogs quite well and you don't have to do a whole lot of steering. You've got a couple different break systems here, which you will use a good deal of the time out on the trail…

[BARKING]

MARY: Let's go ahead and hook up my team first. Ready to go, Gonz? Let's go, girls! Let's go, girls! Good dogs.

[QUIET SOUND OF SLED ON SNOW, NO BARKING]

MARY: This is the best part. All that excitement and noise and chaos hooking up and you pull the hook, and it's just instant silence. Good dogs!

[CROW CALL, JINGLING]

JOHN: On-by, on-by. I don't know if you saw it up there but Lucy, the little one, she was trying to go right, which would have been "gee." And Lutie, the old experienced leader, said, "no, no, we're not going that way."

[WHISPER OF MOVING SLED]

JOHN: We're going about ten miles, 12 – Gee! – miles an hour. Haw, haw. Good boy, Lutie, good boy. Come on guys, come on.

[JINGLE OF CHAINS, SLED ON SNOW]

JOHN: About this time in the run the dogs usually get in to a bit of a rhythm. And, you can just, sort of, just go through the woods like this, look around a little bit, snow hanging up in the trees. And, we're just, kind of, slipping through the woods now.

MARY: You look out over your team and you see them when they really get in the groove, the dogs will move like a wave, you know? Like one animal. It's just a beautiful thing to see them running and doing what they love to do. And they're happy and excited and you can't help but be the same.

[FEET RUNNING IN SNOW, SQUEAK OF MOVING SLED]

JOHN: Going to run up this hill here. The only way to stay warm in the winter when it's really cold out is to run. Take ten steps, jump back on, rest a little bit. I help them up the hills a bit.

[RUNNING SOUNDS]

JOHN: Straight ahead. Straight ahead. Try to kick your sled forward as we turn here. Just give a couple of good hard kicks. It'll help you around this corner. Haw. Good dogs. [GASP THEN LAUGH] Alright! Just hop back on. There you go.

[SLED WHOOSHING IN SNOW]

JOHN: Well, I think they're fired up. Now they know they're going home so they're going to – they might want to run a little extra fast. Let's go. Let's go.

[SLED STOPS, THEN YELPING AND HOWLING]

GELLERMAN: John and Mary Thiel run Wolfsong Adventures in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Our sound portrait was produced by Ed Janus.

MALE: That was a great ride, kid!

[BARKING]

Related link:
Wolfsong Adventures

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GELLERMAN: Every week, Living on Earth brings you stories about the environment. Now, it's your turn. We want you to send us your stories. Just visit Living on Earth dot org for complete details. We'll tell you how to make a recording, which could be as simple as sitting down with a friend and talking into a tape recorder, or picking up the phone, like this listener did to tell us about her up close and personal encounter with a deer in the woods.

WOMAN: Once the deer came to me, I won something or I had him. The second I had that feeling of ownership, he looked me right in the eye and that's when he bolted away.

GELLERMAN: Oh, dear. What's your story? We'll choose some of your recordings and posted them on our Web site. We might even put it on the air. This is not a contest. There are no winners, no losers. It's simply a call for self-expression. Visit Living on Earth dot org for directions, sample submissions and a chance to tell your story.

[EARTHEAR: "Highway 49" Howlin' Wolf: Killing Floor (Magnum America) 1996]

GELLERMAN: We leave you this week, baying at the moon. On a hot summer's night, Jonathan Storm recorded this pack of wolves reclaiming its home in Smoky Mountains National Park.

[SOUNDS OF WOLVES HOWLING]

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is a production of the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Steve Gregory and Susan Shepherd - with help from Carl Lindemann and Jennie Cecil-Moore. Our interns are the Katies - Katie Oliveri and Katie Zemtseff. Our technical director is Paul Wabrek. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find us at livingonearth dot org. Steve Curwood returns next week. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science and Stonyfield Farm, organic yogurt, smoothies and cultured soy. Ten percent of profits are donated to efforts that help protect and restore the earth. Details at Stonyfield dot com. Support also comes from NPR member stations, and the Ford Foundation, for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for coverage of western issues.

ANNOUNCER2: This is NPR. National Public Radio.

 

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