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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

December 4, 1998

Air Date: December 4, 1998
(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

Testing Pesticides on Peopl / John Rudolph

Pesticides -- those poisons designed to kill bugs, weeds, and other forms of life that many people find undesirable -- are increasingly being tested directly on human beings. Until recently, most of the testing was on laboratory animals. This upsurge in experiments on humans has prompted a review panel at the U S Environmental Protection Agency to ask if the procedures are necessary or ethical. John Rudolph has our report. (8:50)

Commentary: Holiday Overconsumption / Suzanne Elston

According to the United Nations, the richest one-fifth of the world's populace uses almost 90% of the planet's resources. And much of that consumption occurs now, during the December holiday season. That got commentator Suzanne Elston of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium thinking. (2:00)

Chip Plant Threatens Chilean Rainforest / Lake Sagaris

Boise Cascade, the U.S. wood product giant, has teamed up with a local Chilean partner to open a new operation in Chile. The companies plan to spend $180 million dollars to build a port and a processing plant in the village of Ilque (eel-kay). The Chilean national government is boosting the project as good for economic growth, but many people in Ilque worry about the loss of their traditional way of life and damage to the ecosystem. Lake Sagaris sent us this report from the nearby town of Puerto Montt. (9:15)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... the Aurora Borealis. (1:30)

New Jersey Closes Unused Carpool Lanes

Years ago, special carpool lanes were touted as remedies for traffic gridlock and air pollution. But over time what the bureaucrats called high-occupancy-vehicle lanes have become unpopular and unsuccessful in a number of states. Some environmental activists say federal funding for them simply encourages wider highways. And for drivers who don't use them, the lanes are a highly visible source of frustration. Recently New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman closed thirty miles of carpool lanes on two of the state’s main highways. She persuaded the federal government to let New Jersey keep more than two hundred million dollars it had received with the promise of putting in the carpool lanes. David Kocieniewski (coach-in-EV-ski) covers New Jersey for the New York Times. He says sprawling development in North Jersey may have doomed the two carpool lanes from the start. (5:55)

Estuaries Series Part 5: Jersey Shores Up / Paul Conlow

If you just hurry through New Jersey along the interstate highways, you can get the impression that the state is a gritty concrete jungle of smokestacks and superfund sites. But if you get off the big roads and into state's coastal regions, you'll find plenty of beauty. New Jersey's pine estuaries, forests, and beaches support a sweeping array of plant and animal life and provide a relaxing landscape. In fact, the region is so attractive to human life that development is putting a mighty strain on this complex ecosystem -- a strain that regulators are having a tough time reigning in. In the next installment of our series on America's estuaries, Paul Conlow reports on challenges facing New Jersey's coastal areas -- and what happens when a state attempts to protect both natural resources and real estate. (8:40)

Sydney Goes for the Gold... and the Green / Margaret Evans

AND THE GREEN – It may be winter in the northern latitudes, but Down Under in Sydney, Australia, residents are basking in sunshine, and thinking about warm-weather sports as they prepare to host the Summer 2000 Olympics. The upcoming games are the first to make protecting the environment an officially sanctioned priority. Australian environmental activists have been involved from the start, working with government officials in drafting the guidelines that helped Sydney win the Olympics bid in 1993. They are also monitoring the construction of the sports complexes and Olympic villages. Along the way, they've uncovered some problems that clash with the promises of "Green Games" in the year 2000. Margaret Evans reports. (8:05)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: John Rudolph, Lake Sagaris, Paul Conlow, Margaret Evans
GUEST: David Kocieniewski
COMMENTATOR: Suzanne Elston

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Chemical pesticides can be hazardous to the health of humans. So, to check the limits of safety, some manufacturers are conducting tests on people.

McCARTHY: These are not toxicity studies. These are studies at levels at which there are no effect in animals, and we want to see if that is indeed the same case in humans.

CURWOOD: But officials at the US Environmental Protection Agency say the risks of human testing may outweigh the benefits.

GUZY: We're very, very concerned that humans not be inappropriately subjected to environmental and health insults in a way that cannot be justified.

CURWOOD: Also, a giant US timber firm looks to convert some of Chile's rainforest into wood chips. Locals are asking if the deal makes sense. That and more this week on Living on Earth. First the news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Testing Pesticides on Peopl

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Pesticides, those poisons designed to kill bugs, weeds, and other forms of life that many people find undesirable, are increasingly being tested directly on human beings. Until recently most of the testing was on laboratory animals. This upsurge in experiments on humans has prompted a review panel at the US Environmental Protection Agency to ask if the procedures are necessary or ethical. John Rudolph has our report.

(A supermarket: rolling carts, ambient voices)

RUDOLPH: A glittering display of fresh fruits and vegetables greets shoppers at a supermarket in Washington, DC. Shiny red applies, fragrant melons, and plump green grapes are piled high, tempting the eye and the palate. But take this produce home and make a fruit salad, and you may be adding some ingredients that you hadn't counted on.

HETTENBACH: There's a high potential for pesticide exposure from some of these foods.

RUDOLPH: Todd Hettenbach is with the Environmental Working Group. It's an organization that wants to see reductions in the amount of pesticides found on fruits and vegetables.

HETTENBACH: Some of the worst for a particular class of pesticides that we care about, the organophosphate pesticides, are apples, grapes, peaches, and pears.

RUDOLPH: Watchdog organizations like the Environmental Working Group aren't the only ones concerned about pesticides in food. In 1996 Congress was so worried about unhealthy pesticide residues that it overwhelmingly passed a sweeping new law. The Food Quality Protection Act aims to dramatically cut the amount of pesticides many Americans are exposed to. The Act mainly tries to protect people that scientists believe are especially susceptible to pesticide poisoning: babies, young children, and pregnant women.

HETTENBACH: There is a precautionary principle that's been built into this law that says that if you're not sure, you need to err on the side of safety. And what we're dealing with, is we're dealing with pesticides that affect the nervous system, affect the brain, and children, since their brains are developing, are especially vulnerable.

RUDOLPH: But something unexpected has happened as the Federal Government has tried to put the Food Quality Protection Act into practice. The Act builds in an extra margin of safety for pesticides on food. Acceptable pesticide levels are now supposed to be 10 times smaller than they've been in the past. The only way around this is if reliable scientific evidence shows that a less strict safety factor can be used. Now, in what many see as an attempt to skirt the law, some pesticide manufacturers are increasingly testing their products directly on human beings. The human test results are intended to support the manufacturers' contention that pesticides are safe at levels that were permitted before the new law was passed. These experiments appear to be legal under Federal rules governing all types of human testing, including drug trials. But many people wonder, are they ethically and scientifically sound:

(A phone is dialed; another rings; a busy office)

RUDOLPH: The Environmental Protection Agency in Washington is one place where concern is growing over human testing of pesticides. Gary Guzy is the EPA's top lawyer.

GUZY: It may be that this is a technique that is being used to avoid the consequences of the application of some of the tougher standards of the new law, by instead of doing testing as traditionally has been done on animals, doing the testing directly on humans. And the consequence of that may be that companies are trying to make an argument for somewhat less stringent regulation of pesticides.

RUDOLPH: Under the Food Quality Protection Act, the EPA is responsible for setting new acceptable exposure levels for hundreds of different pesticides. So far, human test results make up only a tiny fraction of the scientific evidence that's been submitted to the EPA. Even so, the EPA's Gary Guzy says human testing is on the rise and it poses unique ethical problems.

GUZY: We're very, very concerned that humans not be inappropriately subjected to environmental and health insults in a way that cannot be justified. It is really difficult to construct a rationale for allowing extensive testing of humans when there aren't clear benefits, when there may not be fully informed consent, when the risks may not be fully known, and when some of those risks may not be reversible.

RUDOLPH: This is the first time that the EPA has clearly articulated its concerns over human testing. In the past the Agency didn't encourage human studies, but it didn't automatically reject them, either. The EPA can't say exactly how many human studies are currently being conducted. But according to published reports, pesticides made by several different companies are now being tested on volunteers, mainly healthy adult males, primarily at 2 laboratories in Britain. The volunteers are asked to swallow capsules, or cups of juice, containing pesticides. The tests can last for a few weeks. For their trouble volunteers have reportedly been paid between $500 and $1,500. Pesticide manufacturers argue that human studies provide valuable scientific information on the safety of pesticides, information that is not always available from tests on laboratory animals.

McCARTHY: I think you can always say, or safely say, that more knowledge is always better. Otherwise we're arguing on the basis of hypothetical and theoretical considerations.

RUDOLPH: John McCarthy is a scientist with the American Crop Protection Association, a group representing companies that make and sell pesticides. McCarthy believes that human test data could lead to changes in the acceptable exposure levels of one very large and important category of pesticides: organophosphates. They're sprayed on a wide range of food crops, and a number of organophosphates have been linked to cancer. According to McCarthy, human studies could show that Food Quality Protection Act standards for organophosphates are too strict.

McCARTHY: In the case of the Food Quality Protection Act, the use of animal information for this class of compounds results in a very conservative estimate of what a safe level would be.

RUDOLPH: McCarthy argues that the only way to find out if safety levels for organophosphates are too stringent is to test them on humans. But he points out human testing does not mean giving pesticides to people to intentionally make them sick.

McCARTHY: These are not toxicity studies. These are studies at levels at which there are no effect in animals, and we want to see if that is indeed the same case in humans.

RUDOLPH: Despite industry assurances that human pesticide experiments are safe, many people believe they are unnecessarily risky. David Wallinga is a physician who works with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

WALLINGA: I tell you, I have to draw a real distinction between different kinds of human studies. There are epidemiologic studies, for example, that look at people that have been dosed accidentally. And I think that we're obliged to try to learn from those people, to try to learn what the long-term health effects are of these toxic chemicals. But that's a far cry from doing a prospective study, a study that looks forward, and to intentionally dose people who may or may not be informed enough to participate in a study, and then to use that as a basis for determining the levels at which these chemicals should be regulated.

RUDOLPH: But are there situations where human testing of pesticides is appropriate? To answer this question, the EPA is looking to other government agencies with years of experience supervising and evaluating human experiments. Officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health have been named to a panel that will attempt to develop a human testing policy for the EPA. However, these agencies face their own ethical dilemma right now. There's a growing sense that the Federal rules governing human drug tests are out of date. That greater oversight is needed to protect people who participate in drug trials. If the EPA adopts the current procedures for monitoring drug experiments and applies them to human testing of pesticides, it will be heading down a well-worn path. The danger is that in catching up with other government agencies, EPA could be implementing a system that's already inadequate. For Living on Earth, I'm John Rudolph.

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Commentary: Holiday Overconsumption

CURWOOD: Coming up: with growing restrictions on forests in the United States, a major timber company looks south to Chile for a source of wood chips. But first, a look at global spending habits. According to the United Nations, the richest one fifth of the world's populace uses almost 90% of the planet's resources, and much of that consumption occurs now during the December holiday season. That got commentator Suzanne Elston thinking.

ELSTON: It's that time of the year again. Like most kids, mine are making their lists and checking them twice, while I'm wondering where we're going to put all the stuff they expect to get from Santa. My daughter's the worst. She wants Barbies and plenty of them. I don't like denying her things, but when does it get to the point where she has enough? She already has a dozen or so Barbies in various states of undress lying on her bedroom floor. She doesn't need another one.

I was picking up her room the other day when I noticed the stamp on the back of one of her naked Barbies. It was made in Malaysia. I began to wonder how many of the workers that make these dolls will actually be able to afford to buy them for their own children. When you look at the statistics, you realize that it's highly unlikely that the gifts they give each other are anything like ours. Malaysia is a developing nation. Its gross domestic product is only about a third of ours.

The UN tells us that we and the developed world consume 86% of goods, while only representing 20% of the world's population. That leaves about 14% for the rest of the 4 and a half billion people on the planet. That's hardly fair.

But it wasn't always this unbalanced. When my mother was growing up, she'd get the same thing in her Christmas stocking every year: an orange, an apple, a handful of candies, a bright shiny penny, and one very small new toy. And yet she never felt deprived. In fact, she says the kids back then seemed to enjoy Christmas a lot more, because they weren't overwhelmed with the stuff they got. They simply had enough.

Years ago when my son was only 4 and he hadn't yet discovered the Christmas toy catalogue, he told me that he didn't want anything for Christmas. He said he already had more toys than he could play with. He asked if Santa could kindly take his toys to children that didn't have anything. He had the right idea. He had enough.

CURWOOD: Suzanne Elston writes from the north shore of Lake Ontario. She comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. I'm Steve Curwood. It's Living on Earth.

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Chip Plant Threatens Chilean Rainforest

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Boise Cascade, the US wood product giant, has teamed up with a local Chilean partner to open a new operation in Chile. The companies plan to spend $180 million to build a port and a processing plant in the village of Ilque. The Chilean national government is boosting the project as good for economic growth, but many people in Ilque worry about the loss of their traditional way of life and damage to the ecosystem. Lake Sagaris sent us this report from the nearby town of Puerto Montt.

(A man speaks in Spanish on radio, clacking sounds)

SAGARIS: In a modest 2-room house in the village of Ilque, Carmen Cortes is making lunch. She scrubs mussels and other shellfish freshly harvested from the bay. Three years ago she gave up teaching to move back to Ilque and cultivate shellfish.

CORTES: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: I've learned the terminology, the objectives, how to be a business woman, how to work with nature. It's been very good. I would not go back to teaching.

SAGARIS: Many of Ilque's 800 people work independently as Carmen does. Another 150 work at the local salmon farm, which settled into the peaceful rhythm of this place some 20 years ago. Still others look after tourists on a new circuit that's being developed. But if Boise Cascade, the US forestry company, gets its way, Ilque may soon turn into an industrial center with a large plant that will consume thousands of tons of chips to produce a kind of fiberboard for export back to the US. The project also includes a major new port that will see cargo ships stopping in this quiet bay. For Doug Bartels, Boise's communications manager, Chile offers a stable economy, the right wood, and good conditions for investment.

BARTELS: There is a good work force that we can train that we think will be very interested in working on our operations.

SAGARIS: Bartels says the project will respect Chile's strict environmental laws.

BARTELS: It's surprising how many similarities, in fact, there are between Chilean environmental regulations and ones that we're familiar with in the US and in North America. I think that the Chileans can really be proud of the fact that they do have very stringent requirements for emission control and protection of water.

SAGARIS: But laws are one thing. Enforcement is another. And Chile has a rather spotty record on that score. Carmen Cortes believes that both the plant and the port will pollute the bay so badly that cultivating shellfish or salmon will become impossible. And she also has powerful moral reasons for opposing Boise's plans.

CORTES: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: These rainforests are the planet's last remaining green lungs. We have to protect them as part of humanity's heritage.

SAGARIS: Carmen shares her love for the trees that would be chipped for Boise's boards with most Chileans. Throughout the country, people wax poetic when they speak of the huge Sequoia-like Coywai trees or the purple-barked Manillo. Others like the water-loving Canilo are woven into the beliefs of native peoples. These trees are part of a landscape that draws thousands of tourists to the lakes region every year.

(An engine runs; beeping sounds)

SAGARIS: Here in the city of Puerto Montt just 20 minutes' drive from Ilque there's already a port. Trucks go in and out all day, feeding mountains of chips to markets in Japan and the US. For Mauricio Fierro, a founder of the Committee to Defend Ilque, these mountains of chips symbolize what's wrong with the local economy. Fierro holds a diploma in forestry management and works as a tourism consultant. He gestures angrily at the chips as he speaks.

FIERRO: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: For Puerto Montt, this symbolizes the bad use of our region's resources, a terrible waste. Better to sell the forest a thousand times through tourism than once through chips.

SAGARIS: Fierro says that Boise's plant could as much as double the amount of wood chips extracted from this region. Mike McGreevy, Boise's forestry economist, doesn't dispute that figure. But he argues that having a regular market will encourage more careful and rational management of the forests. He promises education and controls on the plant's suppliers, and suggests critics are doing more harm than good.

McGreevy: We believe that our impact will be extremely positive, especially in those areas that have been previously harvested, where little active management has occurred. And it is a tremendous resource, and I think we do have the technology, the understanding of managing native forests that will greatly benefit the forests in the tenth region.

QUINTEROS: [Speaks in Spanish]

SAGARIS: Rabindranath Quinteros, the regional governor, says the plant and port are a chance to sharpen the region's competitive edge and get the most out of its natural resources. He has actively sought for an investment, and believes it will bring progress and jobs. But Quinteros is also president of the environmental board. Later this year, he and other governmental appointees will decide the project's future.

QUINTEROS: [Speaks in Spanish]

SAGARIS: Quinteros says that in a democracy, everyone has the right to express an opinion. But in making the final decision, some opinions may be given more weight than others. Among the project's opponents are Chilean environmental groups and Greenpeace's Santiago office, which the company dismisses as extremists. Douglas Bartels, Boise's communications manager.

BARTELS: We're familiar with many of the several organizations here that are critical. The tactics that they use are similar to those that are used worldwide. But here they go way beyond reality or truth. The frustration to us, however, has been that we would like to have people representative of the community involved in it. What we've had so far has just been some of the very extreme special interest groups.

SAGARIS: The community of Ilque itself is divided on Boise's project. Some like the idea of paved roads and new jobs. But opponents like Carmen Cortes complain that they are not getting heard.

CORTES: [Speaks in Spanish]

SAGARIS: Cortes describes how a delegation was invited to speak to the regional developmental commission but was then turned away at the door. Still other say they have been threatened if they speak out. Such threats have strong resonance in a country still haunted by the violence of the former military regime.

(A boat engine revs up)

SAGARIS: Carmen Cortes borrows a boat and we scoot across the bay. The sun turns the waves into glistening rolls of quicksilver. On shore, the trees shiver, their leaves blinking like green lamps. On the beach, a green mound sits like a giant table 200 meters long, 3 meters high, with a deep white slash in one end. In late August a bulldozer gouged the mound, revealing an archaeological site, right where Boise plans to put its dock.

CORTES: [Speaks in Spanish] TRANSLATOR: The experts believe these relics could be related to the Monteverde site just 20 kilometers from here.

SAGARIS: Monteverde revolutionized thinking about settlement in the Americas, shattering time-honored assumptions when it proved people were here 13,000 years ago. That could make this site very important and a draw for tourists. But it's right where Boise plans to put its port.

(A bell rings. Children sing.)

SAGARIS: At the Ilque school, the bell is ringing children into classes as it has for the past 100 years. The children know about the conflict. Some have been hired by the company to deliver colorful fliers. Others speak out against the plant in the port. Whatever they think of the project, they all want progress to come gently, without destroying the landscape, the rural fabric of their lives. That's what Boise Cascade says its project will bring. The environmental board has 3 months to decide whether the company will have a chance to prove it. For Living on Earth, this is Lake Sagaris in Ilque.

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(Children continue singing)

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W.A. Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to eliminate environmental threats to children's health: www.wajones.org; the Surdna Foundation; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: New Jersey bows to the wishes of solo drivers and scraps some carpool lanes. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream; 800-PROCOWS.

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

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: This time of year some folks start slipping off to winter vacations in balmy tropical climes. But those who decide to head to the high latitudes for a break might get a special reward. That's because the closer you get to the north pole in winter, the better your chance of sighting the Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights. Auroras happen around the globe and around the calendar, but clear, dark skies provide the best conditions for seeing them. Auroras look like glowing rays or ribbons of colored light, sometimes red, blue, or purple, but most often a vivid yellow-green. Some say the aurora effect looks like shifting or "dancing" draperies. Electrically-charged particles from the solar wind interacting with the Earth's magnetic field create the effect. The Northern Lights have sparked plenty of folklore. The Inuit people of the Hudson Bay like to say the aurora are the torches lit by spirits to guide the recently deceased into the heavens. Europeans of the Middle Ages believed the glow reflected the breath of slain warriors. Some observers of the Northern Lights report they hear swishing or staticky crackling sounds, but so far attempts to record those sounds have failed. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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New Jersey Closes Unused Carpool Lanes

CURWOOD: Years ago special carpool lanes were touted as remedies for traffic gridlock and air pollution, but over time what the bureaucrats called "high occupancy vehicle lanes"have become unpopular and unsuccessful in a number of states. Recently, New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman closed 30 miles of carpool lanes on 2 of the state's main highways. She persuaded the Federal Government to let New Jersey keep more than $200 million it had received with a promise of putting in the carpool lanes. Many don't like the lanes. Some environmental activists say federal funding for them simply encourages wider highways. And for drivers who don't use them, the lanes are a highly visible source of frustration. A New Jersey study showed little usage of carpool lanes on the 2 interstates, although one on the New Jersey Turnpike was found to be effective. David Kocieniewski covers New Jersey for the New York Times. He says sprawling development in North Jersey may have doomed the 2 carpool lanes from the start.

KOCIENIEWSKI: To understand the problem you have to understand that New Jersey is a very diffuse state. It's a suburbanized state. It's also a state that loves its cars. And there aren't the kind of hubs that make it easy or convenient to carpool. If you're going from one suburb to one downtown, it can make sense to do that. But in New Jersey there are small businesses scattered throughout the state. There are people who commute at different hours to different places. So, what you had was during rush hours there would be, you know, 40,000 rush hour commuters sitting jammed in traffic and looking at this empty lane with only a few cars per hour going on it, and they got angry, and they got on their car phones and they called talk radio and called politicians. And ultimately they got what they wanted.

CURWOOD: The Federal law that hands out this money asks states to come up with trip reduction plans to encourage carpooling. How did New Jersey respond to that part of the law?

KOCIENIEWSKI: There was some effort, but I think that is where critics of the New Jersey plan, you know, make some interesting points. They say that New Jersey did a few low-level organizing campaigns. They funded a few not-for-profit groups, which encouraged transportation alternatives. But a lot of environmentalists and a lot of people who were critical of the governor's move say that New Jersey was too quick to throw up its hands and say we'll undo it, rather than to try to change commuters' habits.

CURWOOD: So, then, the state of New Jersey didn't really encourage people to carpool that much.

KOCIENIEWSKI: There are a lot of critics who believe that, and believe that, you know, the state was easier and more politically palatable to just say to the angry motorists, we'll give you what you want, than it was to try to encourage a more kind of esoteric goal like fuel economy and pollution reduction.

CURWOOD: So how do the drivers feel about this now? What's the commute like there?

KOCIENIEWSKI: I think the drivers feel liberated. It's kind of (laughs) -- it's kind of like, you know, one of the columnists compared it to the first day after Prohibition, where people just feel like there was this unfair government regulation being imposed upon them, and finally common sense has prevailed. So there's a great deal of relief. Although there's also an understanding by most people that this is probably not going to last long. You know, the more you build highways, the more development tends to pop up around it, and so even the people who were against the HOV lane acknowledge that within 6 or 7 years the relief that they're now feeling will probably be mitigated by development and you'll just have all the lanes jammed the way that the non-HOV lanes are jammed now.

CURWOOD: Is there something wrong with the concept of a high occupancy vehicle, this HOV, lane? Is it an idea that doesn't really work, or it does really work and it's not being properly applied by the states who've tried it?

KOCIENIEWSKI: I think it depends where. I think that a lot of commuters feel that it is unrealistic to expect them to change their habits, you know, the American family is so diffuse and people have to stop to pick up children on the way home from work. They have to stop to do grocery shopping. There is such a crunch for time that a lot of people feel it is too much for government to ask. And Americans love their cars and love the freedom and mobility that their cars offer them.

CURWOOD: Have carpool lanes been successful elsewhere?

KOCIENIEWSKI: I think in California they've been received fairly well in a lot of parts of California, although there have been other states where people have rebelled against carpool lanes. In Houston, for example, there was a carpool lane that they decommissioned. Houston has to repay the Federal Government the money, however, so they've started it as a pay as you go lane, where if you want to drive in that lane you have to buy a permit for, I think it's $50 a month. I think they have been successful and embraced in some places, but it depends upon the community and what the New Jersey experience is, is that the way the communities are set up here, the way working hours are scheduled, the way people live vis a vis their workplace, it did not make sense.

CURWOOD: Now, New Jersey took some money here. Is it going to have to pay back the Federal Government?

KOCIENIEWSKI: So far no, and that to me is the most interesting part about this and probably has the most far-ranging implications. New Jersey got $240 million and through some lobbying with the state's two US Senators, they managed to write a provision in the last budget which allowed New Jersey to not repay the money for decommissioning HOV on these 2 roads. In the places where carpools are working and there is not a great deal of opposition, they'll probably stay where they are. But there are probably between half a dozen and a dozen other localities where there is a great deal of discontent. And now that New Jersey set the precedent, I think it will be harder for the DOT to say you must repay.

CURWOOD: David Kocieniewski spoke with us from the Trenton desk of the New York Times. Thanks for joining us, David.

KOCIENIEWSKI: Thank you.

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CURWOOD: What do you think about carpool lanes? Should we have them? And why? Call our listener line any time with your comments at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or send us an e-mail at LOE@NPR.ORG.

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Estuaries Series Part 5: Jersey Shores Up

CURWOOD: If you just hurry through New Jersey along the interstate highways, you can get the impression that the state is a gritty concrete jungle of smokestacks and Superfund sites. But if you get off the big roads and into the state's coastal regions, you'll find plenty of beauty. New Jersey's estuaries, pine forests, and beaches support a sweeping array of plant and animal life and provide a relaxing landscape. In fact, the region is so attractive to human life that development is putting a mighty strain on this complex ecosystem, a strain that regulators are having a tough time reigning in. In the next installment of our series on America's estuaries, Paul Conlow reports on the challenges facing New Jersey's coastal areas and what happens when a state attempts to protect both natural resources and real estate.

(Engines and travel over boards)

CONLOW: The Great Bay Boulevard on the New Jersey coast just north of Atlantic City meanders along a long marshy peninsula and over a series of wooden bridges. On a brilliant fall day the bridges are lined with anglers casting for the fish which are streaming out of the Mullica River and Great Bay Estuary on their annual fall migrations to warmer waters. Among the anglers is Ed Blinn.

BLINN: Heard they've been catching some small stripers. They've had their little striper fishing. And we fish, mainly it's what I've been looking for. And they've been catching a little bit of everything here, some herring, tog, small sea bass. So it's a little bit of everything off this bridge.

CONLOW: Blinn has cast his line into one of the many interlocking estuarine systems that run along the length of the New Jersey coast. Dozens of small rivers and streams fed by vast underground aquifers wind through the sandy soil of New Jersey's pine barrens, through wetlands and salt marshes, and empty into shallow bays sheltered by barrier islands. All manner of marine, plant, and animal life thrive in these estuaries where salt and fresh water mix. People, too, are drawn here, and they are dramatically altering the environment which attracted them in the first place.

(Loud surf)

CONLOW: Every summer millions of vacationers flock to more than 120 miles of New Jersey ocean beaches. They pump billions of dollars into the state economy. Meanwhile, more and more year round residents are settling near the coast. Ocean County, about 50 miles south of Manhattan, is New Jersey's fastest-growing county. The population has more than doubled in the last 30 years. Sonny Yannon is a realtor in Brick Township, Ocean County. He offers a simple reason for the migration.

YANNON: It's living in the area. You get up on a Saturday morning, you're already at the shore, everything's at your fingertip.

CONLOW: Many of the new residents, he says, have relocated from crowded and expensive communities in north Jersey and New York, trading longer commutes to work for a home near the shore. New construction in Ocean County and throughout New Jersey's coastal areas is regulated by a complex mix of local, regional, state, and Federal laws designed to balance growth with environmental protection. State officials, for instance, must approve construction in ocean and bay shore communities. And regional zoning rules limit and in some cases stop development in more than 1 million acres of environmentally sensitive pine lands. Not everyone agrees on the effectiveness or the fairness of the regulations. Sonny Yannon says zoning laws which limit development in environmentally sensitive areas are unfair to land owners whose properties lose value when development is restricted.

YANNON: There are people that have their lifetime savings tied up in land and they lose it without compensation. Certainly I don't think anybody would agree that's right. I tend to think that development is something that can be achieved without destroying the environment.

CONLOW: Environmental activists also find the complex regulations frustrating, but for different reasons. Willy DeCamp is president of Save Barnegat Bay, the Ocean County branch of the Isaac Walton League. He says too much new development is allowed in the region through rule waivers and loopholes in regulations.

DeCAMP: You get these complex interactions of overlapping interrelated laws, which few people can understand and which things slip through. And which are very hard to watchdog because it's hard for anyone to understand them.

CONLOW: There are many consequences to the growth in Ocean County and DeCamp and a group of volunteers grapple with one of them.

(Loud clanking sounds; engines)

CONLOW: They've spent a brisk autumn morning combing trash and debris from a 1,200-acre wildlife refuge on Barnegat Bay in Brick Township. Vinny Turner of the US Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the volunteers and describes some of the day's haul.

TURNER: Anything from plastic culverts to old wire fencing, some bicycles to empty 55-gallon drums to more than enough cinder blocks to shake a stick at.

(Much clanking and bumping of trash)

CONLOW: This tract once was slated to become an 800-unit housing development, but Save Barnegat Bay spearheaded an effort to purchase the land bit by bit and preserve it as a wildlife refuge. Conservation efforts like this one have become a high priority in New Jersey where voters recently approved a ballot measure to preserve open space. At one time, DeCamp says, local officials welcomed new development as a source of tax revenues. But they found that as populations grew, so did the taxes it needed to pay for more community services, infrastructure, and schools. Now he says officials in heavily developed communities embrace open space preservation, recognizing that by keeping down development they keep taxes down, too.

DeCAMP: As towns approach build out, public officials become very much aware that the tax ratable chase did not work. So, you know, we have the most wonderful relationship with the public officials here in Brick Township, where, you know, we sit down together and try to figure out conservation projects.

CONLOW: Prospects of land conservation are improving. So, too, is water quality in the bay and ocean. That's in part because Ocean County has eliminated major stationary, or point sources, of water pollution, like municipal sewage and industrial waste. But this county, which depends on underground aquifers for drinking water, still must tackle nonpoint pollution sources associated with heavy development, like pesticides and fertilizers which wash off lawns.

SCROW: Most of the problem has been shown to be nonpoint source pollution, which comes from a variety of sources and land use types that are harder to identify and harder to control.

CONLOW: That's Bob Scrow, who represents the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on the Barnegat Bay Estuary Program. The 2,000 square mile watershed was accepted into the national program in 1995. Since then, program officials have been preparing a comprehensive management plan for the region, which will address ways to reduce nonpoint sources of pollution. The planning process is a year behind schedule, a pace which frustrates some environmentalists. But others say the plan and the environmental protections it will provide will be worth the wait.

(Geese call)

CONLOW: Snow geese launch themselves from salt marshes in a Federal wildlife refuge in the Great Bay-Mullica River Estuary. The casinos of Atlantic City are clearly visible across the bay, and trees blazing with autumn colors intermingle with green pines on the mainland. Refuges like this one are popular with ecotourists, who are becoming more important to the Jersey Shore economy. Gloria Goldschrafe is spending the day with her husband Carl observing some of the more than 300 bird species which visit the refuge every year, from bald eagles to peregrine falcons to snowy owls.

GOLDSCHRAFE: We just saw the little pie-billed grebe up there, and a coot, coot's a nice little old bird. So when they call me an old coot I don't care. (Laughs) They're cute. In fact, there it is now; it just came into view.

(More bird calls)

CONLOW: Scientists say this Great Bay-Mullica River system is one of the most pristine estuaries in the northeastern United States, in part because of the rules and regulations which control growth and protect water quality in the region. The continuing health of this estuary and of estuarine environments all along the New Jersey coast depend in large part on whether these complex rules, regulations, and management plans can work effectively in the face of development pressures. For Living on Earth, I'm Paul Conlow.

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(Bird calls; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: going for the gold and the green. The eco-friendly Australian summer Olympics is next. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Sydney Goes for the Gold... and the Green

CURWOOD: It may be winter in the northern latitudes, but down under in Sydney, Australia, residents are basking in sunshine and thinking about warm weather sports as they prepare to host the Summer Olympics in the year 2000. The upcoming games are the first to make protecting the environment an officially sanctioned priority. Australian environmental activists have been involved from the start, helping to draft the guidelines that helped Sydney win the Olympics bid in 1993. They're also monitoring the construction of the sports complexes and the Olympic villages. Along the way they've uncovered some problems that clash with the promises of green games in the year 2000. Margaret Evans reports.

(Construction sounds: engines, hammering)

EVANS: Construction is in overdrive here at Homebush Bay, the centerpiece of the Sydney Olympics. Some 45,000 athletes, team officials, and media, plus about half a million tourists are expected to flood in for the event. In past global games such an influx combined with a construction boom have overwhelmed the environment of host cities. The International Olympic Committee says it chose Sydney in part because the city promised to handle that strain and still deliver green games.

(Construction continues)

EVANS: Sydney's Homebush Bay may seem an unlikely choice for environment- friendly Olympics. In recent decades the area has hosted garbage dumps, an abattoir, salt works, brick works, and a naval armaments depot.

JAMES: It's a human disaster area which has nevertheless allowed various other species to flourish.

EVANS: Peggy James is an independent environment consultant. She's monitoring the Olympics for Green Games Watch, a government-funded group. James says Homebush is a degraded and fragile environment.

JAMES: Because it's been excluded from a lot of human access in recent years, it's allowed these, you know, a number of endangered species to flourish. We've got an endangered frog that's living out there amidst this horrible pollution. We've got a remnant woodland. We've got a wetland which supports a lot of migratory birds. So it's a really interesting challenge, because it is a wasteland, but it's one that needs to be repaired very carefully and with consideration of other species in mind, too.

EVANS: Homebush was chosen, James said, despite its pollution, because it was large enough and close enough to downtown Sydney. The government is spending some $130 million Australian dollars to rid the Olympic venues of pollution. And 2 years before the event the Australian branch of the group Greenpeace says Sydney's Green Games are generally on track.

BLAND: We have to keep in mind that the Olympic site now, the precinct where the athletes will be, where the officials will be, where the media will be, where all the spectators will be, is a very clean site.

EVANS: Michael Bland is the Olympics Campaigner for Greenpeace. He recently released the group's first report card on the Green Games.

BLAND: The good news first. We will have the world's largest solar suburb at the Olympic site, that's the Athletes Village. That means not just that it has solar electric cells on the roof and not just that it's got solar water heaters on the roof. The design and construction has been revolutionary in the housing context in this part of the world. That's a big plus.

EVANS: But the big minus, according to Bland, is contamination on the doorstep of the Olympics.

(Water splashes)

EVANS: The eastern shore of Homebush Bay is about 2 miles from the game stadium. It's adjacent to but not part of the Olympics precinct.

(More splashes)

EVANS: Originally, Homebush Bay was to be the Olympic ceremonial gateway, with athletes and dignitaries arriving by ferry from across Sydney Harbor. That plan has been scrapped, Bland says, because of concerns over dioxin in the sediments of the bay.

BLAND: It is the only place in Australia where it's illegal to catch the fish because of toxicity in the marine muds. We've found fish that we've caught in Homebush Bay that have a chemical signature when they're analyzed that's exactly the same as the chemical signature of the various forms of dioxin that are on the site.

EVANS: The dioxin waste at Homebush Bay was a byproduct of herbicides made in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Environmental activists and the Sydney Olympics organizers agree on the dangers of dioxin. They disagree on how to handle it. Greenpeace has dubbed Homebush a dioxin capitol of the world since mid last year, when it first took the media to the shores of the bay.

(News music up and under. Announcer: "Greenpeace has raised the alarm about an illegal stockpile of toxic waste right next to the main Olympic site...")

EVANS: The group's Olympics campaigner, Michael Bland, says activists have known about the former chemical site since the 1980s. Greenpeace investigators were on a routine inspection of the area last year when they found 70 44-gallon drums of chemical waste, most of which contained dioxin.

BLAND: Some of the drums were rusted open. They were in a small compound which was basically a chain-link fence with an handful of upright posts holding it up. It was a real mess, and it was exposed to the air and the sun and the rain.

EVANS: Greenpeace has secured the drums and isolated them in containers that are still on location. There's been no remediation or cleanup yet of the bay's sediments, as the government is still considering what to do with the contamination. Some activists claim Olympic officials are slow in responding to the dioxin dilemma on their doorstep, but Dr. Kate Hughes, a special advisor to the state-funded Olympic Coordination Authority, says the agency is not downplaying the problem.

HUGHES: Yes, the Olympic site was once a waste dump. Yes, we have dug up drum remnants containing scheduled waste. Yes, Homebush Bay, the bay itself, is next to the Olympic site. That's got nothing to do with the OCI, it's outside our jurisdiction. My concern is with the mixture of hazardous chemicals. Our approach has been to close exposure pathways. The issue with dioxin is not its toxicity, it's whether or not people are exposed, and they are not exposed.

EVANS: Dr. Hughes, along with environmental activists, claim that Union Carbide is responsible for the dioxide contamination. The company manufactured pesticides and other chemicals at a site on the eastern shore of Homebush Bay form 1957 to 1986. Union Carbide says it stopped sending dioxin to disposal in 1970, after scientists identified its toxicity. The company closed its plant in 1986 and started an environmental cleanup program, which it completed during negotiations to sell the property.

COX: So those drums that you saw on the television, we viewed as very highly unlikely that it came from a Carbide plant.

EVANS: Bill Cox is Union Carbide's managing director in Australia.

COX: And the company was sold under full disclosure. And our view is that responsibilities passed on to the buyer of the company and any future claims emanating from the site.

EVANS: Right now the state government is considering whether to take action against past polluters. In the meantime it has committed some $21 million Australian dollars for remediation of the marine muds. Even so, the State Environmental Protection Authority warns the bay itself might not be contamination-free by the year 2000. But Peter Yates, the EPA's Director of Special Projects, insists the problem will not affect people attending the Olympics.

YATES: That land is not to be used for the Games, nor is the waterway to be used for the Games. And the fact that those sediments and land very tightly bind up the dioxin that is there means that there will be no effect at all in terms of environmental impact or on human health of anyone that's associated with the Games.

(Construction sounds continue)

EVANS: With bulldozers and back hoes, the cleanup continues at the Olympics complex. The International Olympic Committee says Sydney is following its environmental guidelines and respecting its pledge to stage the first official Green Games. Committee members say they're aware of dioxin contamination near the Games in Homebush Bay, but they argue that site is out of the Olympics jurisdiction. And they say its safety rests in the hands of the Australian government. For Living on Earth, this is Margaret Evans in Sydney.

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, the story behind a civil action. The Hollywood film is based on the Jonathan Harr bestseller, and it's set for theater release in a few weeks. We revisit Woburn, Massachusetts, where contaminated drinking water caused cancer and led to the deaths of children. We'll update the story and assess the lessons Woburn has left the nation.

TRAVOLTA: Maybe someone will go away and say you know, I didn't know that. I didn't know that toxic waste could penetrate the ground and go into water wells and then inadvertently cause cancers and things like that. I mean, maybe that will be a revelation to some. Be too far-fetched, you know.

CURWOOD: That's Woburn revisited, next time on Living on Earth. Our production staff includes Jesse Wegman, George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta deAvila, Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Bree Horwitz, and Julia Madeson. And they had help this week from David Winickoff, Stephanie Pindyck, Alexandra Davidson, and Laura Colbert. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads the Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for reporting on science in the environment; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

Our series on estuaries is funded in part by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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