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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 29, 1999

Air Date: October 29, 1999

SEGMENTS

Aromatic Candles / Bill Zeeble

Aromatic candles are more popular than ever, but some new research is raising safety concerns. Studies have found that lead and other compounds in candle wicks and wax can pollute indoor air. Bill Zeeble reports from Dallas. (06:30)

Rocky Flats Cleanup / David Barrett Wilson

The Department of Energy is using Rocky Flats as a model of efficiency in its project to cleanup and close some of the nation's aging nuclear facilities. But, some say the cleanup is going too fast, and not far enough. David Barrett Wilson reports. (09:30)

Baby Teeth Project / Suzanne Elston

Commentator Suzanne Elston notes a new study that finds strontium-90 (STRON-tee-um), a carcinogenic by-product of nuclear reactions, is showing up in the teeth of children living near nuclear reactors. An earlier study, conducted during the Cold War which found strontium-90 in baby teeth, was attributed to nuclear test fallout. (02:45)

Listener Letters

Most listeners reacted to last week's report on mercury-amalgam dental fillings, and one offers a sweet alternative to sugar. (02:05)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about -- Dia de los Muertos (MWER-tohs), the Day of the Dead. (01:30)

Point of No Return, Part III: Salmon Fishing, Part one: On the Water / Terry Fitzpatrick

Living On Earth’s Terry FitzPatrick reports on the controversy over salmon fishing in the Northwest. More than two dozen salmon runs are on the Endangered Species List, yet commercial salmon fishing continues. The apparent contradiction has prompted two major efforts to get commercial boats out of the waters of Washington state. (10:15)

Point of No Return, Part III: Salmon Fishing, Part Two: In the Lab / Terry Fitzpatrick

Terry FitzPatrick visits a genetics lab and a fish hatchery to explore the distinctions among salmon. Scientists and environmentalists say there's a big difference between fish that come from a hatchery and fish born in the wild, but others don't buy it. (09:05)

Tribute to Senator Chafee / Joe Lieberman

The environmental movement lost one of its great champions last week when Republican Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island died of heart failure at the age of 77. Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut remembers his friend and colleague. (04:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Bill Zeeble, David Barrett Wilson, Terry FitzPatrick
COMMENTATORS: Suzanne Elston, Senator Joseph Lieberman

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

A BURNING ISSUE

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Candles provide gentle light and can fill the air with wonderful aromas. But some of them also contain toxic wicks made with lead that can be hazardous to health.

C. FLANDERS: And what makes me so mad is that had this product been labeled --

K. FLANDERS: She wouldn't have bought them and burned them.

C. FLANDERS: ... contains lead, there's no way it would have made it through my front door, much less been burned and floating through the air.

CURWOOD: Also, one of the biggest items in the Energy Department's budget is the cleanup of old nuclear weapons plants. The department says it can finish the job at Rocky Flats before the next decade is out, but others aren't so sure.

NAVARRO: [The year] 2006 isn't an achievable number based on the funding that they have available to accelerate the timetable. And it ought to be open-ended.

CURWOOD: That story and more this week on Living On Earth, right after this news.

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(NPR News follows)

Aromatic Candles

CURWOOD: This is Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The candle business is, well, hot these days. According to the National Candle Association, annual sales in the U. S. are at about $2. 5 billion and rising. Almost half comes from scented candle sales, thanks to interest in aromatherapy. But some new research is raising some serious concerns about safety. In the fashionable North Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas, there's a family living what they call a three-year nightmare. And they blame it on aromatic candles. From member station KERA in Dallas , Bill Zeeble reports.

(Crickets)

ZEEBLE: I'm Bill Zeeble.

FLANDERS: Tim Flanders. Come on in.

ZEEBLE: Cathy and Kip Flanders, with their 14-year-old son Andrew and two cats, have lived in their Plano home nearly 16 years. Framed needlepoint pieces and family heirlooms fill the house and flowered paper walls. The aroma of potpourri permeates the home. But so does something else: an unpleasant, almost imperceptible gray-black powder they didn't really notice until three years ago. Kip Flanders says he, his wife, and her grandmother all had colds at the time.

FLANDERS: This was just shocking to me. It's just so -- ugh sounding. But I remember blowing my nose, and my mucus was dark. And I thought wow, there's something really wrong with me. This is kind of scary. And I mentioned it to my wife, also, and she said she and her grandmother were experiencing the exact same thing.

ZEEBLE: What were the odds, they thought, of their all showing the same symptoms? Then, Kip Flanders says they noticed soot on a white bathrobe, around air vents, on the bottom of white socks that had only tracked across apparently clean carpet. Kip Flanders says soot insidiously appeared like cobwebs.

K. FLANDERS: Everything you see here is penetrated with this submicron particulate matter. All of our furniture, all of our rugs, all of our clothing. Many things that we've collected over the years, ruined inside our home. Literally.

(Pounding)

ZEEBLE: Kip Flanders pounds a sofa pillow, raising a small black cloud.

(Pounding)

K. FLANDERS: You see it going out, just like any pillow. I just saw it.

(Pounding)

ZEEBLE: The Flanders had burned aromatic candles in their home for years, three to four at a time in different rooms for roughly three hours a day, with no apparent problems. But after seeing soot, a test by a local lab revealed it came from the candles.

EDMOND: She must have gotten a batch of candles from hell, because they apparently caused significant damage. ZEEBLE: J. C. Edmond with the General Wax Company has been in the candle business 35 years. Representing the National Candle Association, he says people can safely burn candles if they follow directions stuck on the bottom of every one. Burn them away from drafts, children, and flammable items. And keep an eye on them. The Flanders says they followed the rules.

K. FLANDERS: And then we find out as we're going down the road and having them tested, that we released lead into the air of our home. Lead that we breathed in, lead that our child at the time, who was 11, has breathed in. Lead that is pretty much covering everything you see in this home.

ZEEBLE: A second local EPA-approved lab showed the lead came from lead-core wicks, used to keep candles burning above a pool of liquid wax. It estimated lead in the house at 80 times EPA limits. The National Candle Association's J. C. Edmond says it should not have happened, because his members supposedly stopped using leaded wicks a long time ago.

EDMOND: The National Candle Association, and all the manufacturers at that time, voluntarily abandoned the use of a leaded core wick. That was 25 years ago. We encourage our members to comply with our recommendations, but they are voluntary recommendations.

ZEEBLE: A recent Internet search found several suppliers pushing lead-core wicks in spite of--or unaware of--the Candle Association policy. In fact, the nation's largest seller of candle wicks and supplies, Atkins and Pearce in Kentucky, was still selling them a year ago, according to the company's president. But this should not be cause for worry, according to J. C. Edmond.

EDMOND: I would say to be more politically correct and environmentally compliant, we felt that it wasn't going to be difficult for us to abandon the use of leaded core wicks. Candles are safe. If used properly, you can use them without any fear whatsoever that you're going to have problems with them.

ZEEBLE: The Flanders say their house challenges that safety claim. So does recent research. A study from the University of Michigan found lead core wick candles, burning five hours in a closed room, filled it with 30 times EPA's lead limits. Last month, Australia banned lead wick candles and ordered a continent-wide recall. David Krause, an indoor air quality consultant in Florida, recently tested commonly sold candles and discovered numerous problems.

KRAUSE: [I] found over a dozen different aromatic compounds that are potential carcinogens. [I] identified lead emissions, which we know to be toxic to children. It is believed to cause neurological deficits at very low concentrations.

ZEEBLE: Scientists suspect lead impairs development and mental abilities, especially in children. The Flanders tested their child, and say doctors found only slight elevations of lead in his blood. They tried bringing a class action suit against The Gap, the retailer they bought their candles from, but could not get the class action certified. The Gap says it does not sell lead wick candles any more. But other sellers are out there, and the Flanders are trying to warn buyers. Cathy Flanders has launched an information web site and bulletin board.

C. FLANDERS: And what makes me so mad is that had this product been labeled --

K. FLANDERS: She wouldn't have bought them and burned them.

C. FLANDERS: ... that contains lead, there's no way it would have made it through my front door, much less been burned and floating through the air.

ZEEBLE: The Flanders want labeling on candles so they know what's in the wick and the aromatic wax. Some tests show they contain chemicals including toluene, lymonene, styrene, and, notably, benzene, a carcinogen. Consumers can spot a metal core wick by looking closely at it. But researchers say there is really no way to tell whether it is lead, zinc, or tin. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says it's looking into health concerns raised by aromatic candles, but has made no decisions about them. For Living On Earth, I'm Bill Zeeble in Dallas.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Just ahead: cleaning up the costly legacy of the Cold War. Keep listening to Living On Earth.

(Music up and under)

Rocky Flats Cleanup

CURWOOD: It's Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Plutonium triggers for U.S. nuclear warheads were made during the Cold War at a place 17 miles northwest of Denver, Colorado, called Rocky Flats. Today, Rocky Flats is being shut down. It's also being held up as a model of the Department of Energy's efforts to mount efficient cleanups of its 50-year-old nuclear weapons facilities. But as David Barrett Wilson reports, a number of people who live near Rocky Flats are growing concerned about the accelerated pace of the cleanup, and what will be left behind.

(Fans and bird song)

WILSON: Behind layers of razor wire and security guards armed with assault rifles and Geiger counters, the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility holds one of the world's largest supplies of plutonium, an essential radioactive element in making nuclear weapons.

(A door opens, creaking)

NICKLESS: Okay, we'll go ahead and go on back. We're going to be going into what's called a radiologically contaminated area.

WILSON: Dave Nickless is overseeing the decontamination of Building 779. This sprawling two-story concrete block house is the first nuclear weapons production facility to be tackled in an ambitious plan to clean up Rocky Flats' 400-acre industrial complex. Some day this might be prime commercial real estate with a Rocky Mountain backdrop, that is, if Nickless's workers can remove enough of the radioactive material from these old buildings.

(Engines, fans)

WILSON: Outfitted in huge, inflated suits to protect them from radioactive dust, his workers are in the final stage of gutting the structure's innards before demolition.

(Drills, hammering)

WILSON: Workers are dismantling their first plutonium building so quickly that Kaiser Hill, the company that runs Rocky Flats for the Department of Energy, now believes it can clean up and close the entire facility decades ahead of schedule.

(Door shuts. Bird song, humming, ambient voices)

WILSON: The accelerated cleanup prompted Bill Richardson, the head of the U. S. Department of Energy, to come to Rocky Flats recently and return some of the facility's land back to the community.

RICHARDSON: I am hereby designating the 800 acres you can see behind us as the Rock Creek Reserve, one of the most vital ecosystems and unique habitats in the front range of Colorado.

WILSON: Richardson stood on the short grass prairie that separates Rocky Flats from the encroaching Denver metropolis. It's called a buffer zone, a 6,000-acre parcel that surrounds Rocky Flats' industrial core. It's been off-limits to the public for decades now. And while parts of the buffer zone are contaminated, much of the land was left undisturbed by Rocky Flats activities, creating ideal habitat for wildlife. Richardson says the current focus is on accelerating the cleanup.

RICHARDSON: Just a few years ago, the experts said that this cleanup would take 70 years and cost $36 billion. But an aggressive, creative, and innovative team of managers and workers is shaving years and billions of dollars from the original estimate. Today, we are talking seriously about finishing by 2006.

WILSON: The DOE spends half a billion dollars a year to safely maintain Rocky Flats, so a cleanup by 2006 would dramatically cut the cost of closing the facility. But some observers wonder whether a fast cleanup will be a safe cleanup.

NAVARRO: There's a very real possibility of a dirty closure.

WILSON: David Navarro is vice president of the steelworkers union at Rocky Flats. He fears present cleanup plans will leave behind land and water contaminated with plutonium for hundreds of thousands of years.

NAVARRO: [The year] 2006 isn't an achievable number based on the funding that they have available to accelerate the timetable. And it ought to be open-ended.

WILSON: And David Navarro isn't the only person with that concern.

JONES: I think they have an awful lot of challenges in terms of the ability to get the right people and the right resources involved to be able to do it by 2006.

WILSON: Gary Jones oversees nuclear issues for the federal government's General Accounting Office. Her agency recently released two reports detailing the problems facing Rocky Flats cleanup and closure goals. She says final decisions about the level of cleanup work remain unclear.

JONES: Some of the stakeholders out in the Rocky Flats area, the local communities believe that it should be greenfields, which means that they can bring their children in and have picnics. Others believe that they'll never, ever be able to clean up to that level.

(Flowing water)

WILSON: Today it's hard to imagine a family picnic taking place along this stretch of Walnut Creek, which drains from the Rocky Flats property. During the 1950s and 60s, hazardous and radioactive waste were dumped on the hillside just above here.

LEGERRE: What we're looking at here is called a passive-reactive barrier. And the beauty of...

WILSON: Head of the environmental compliance for the Department of Energy, Joe Legerre points to a spot nearby where several feet underground, contaminated groundwater flows through iron filings, which neutralize several hazardous contaminants. Similar technologies are treating plutonium plumes that have seeped into water and soil. These techniques cost millions of dollars less than older methods of pumping and treating the water, or digging up and removing the soil. And Legerre says they're more effective.

LEGERRE: Are you doing more harm to the environment by excavating acres and acres of land? Or, since the land has been demonstrated to be safe, safe for the intended land use, where do you draw that balance.

WILSON: Joe Legerre believes the technology used to clean the groundwater here will eventually do the job, but not, he says, before the year 2030. Even then, he adds, traces of radioactive and hazardous chemicals will be left behind. A long-term stewardship program will be needed, he says, along with the money to pay for it.

LEGERRE: There's still considerable discussion in the community about the how clean is clean dilemma.

(Beeps; an engine starts up)

WILSON: One of the biggest challenges facing the Rocky Flats cleanup is where to put the radioactive and hazardous waste now being excavated. This spring a federal judge opened one avenue for Rocky Flats managers by dismissing a slew of lawsuits and allowing the Department of Energy to open up the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico. WIPP, as it is called, is a deep underground dump site dug out of an ancient salt formation. And for now, that's where Rocky Flats waste is going, but not without a protest.

(Drums)

CROWD: Stop WIPP! Stop WIPP! Stop WIPP! Stop WIPP!

WILSON: A group of more than 100 people tried to stop the first WIPP-bound truck from leaving Rocky Flats. They're concerned about accidents that could spill plutonium onto highways. They also oppose ending Colorado's problem to New Mexico. Speaking to the crowd of protestors, activist LeRoy Moore said the plutonium should remain at Rocky Flats until better methods are found to neutralize the waste, instead of just burying it underground somewhere else.

MOORE: There is no guarantee that that plutonium put into the environment at that facility in New Mexico will not some day leak from that facility and come to the surface environment and contaminate a non-contaminated area and endanger people that had not had to live in that kind of environment previously.

(Drums and chanting continue)

ANDERSON: ...what may be an expensive solution. They're going to be open whether we're shipping or not. I mean, I think that's pretty obvious. And so the idea is now to take advantage of that, realize the savings for the site, put that savings back into the cleanup, and accomplish the cleanup faster.

WILSON: Scotty Anderson manages Rocky Flats plutonium shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. To achieve the 2006 closure goal, he says he'll need to send a truck a day to New Mexico for the next seven years. So far he's making one shipment a week.

ANDERSON: I'm optimistic now. We've got one down, a couple more thousand to go (laughs). But we've got to start somewhere.

(Traffic; fade to protesters)

WILSON: Rocky Flats is only one of ten nuclear facilities that the Department of Energy is now attempting to clean up. Places like Hanford in Washington state and Oak Ridge in Tennessee. University of Colorado journalism professor Len Ackland calls these sites vivid reminders of the nation's ongoing nuclear legacy.

ACKLAND: People now need to look back, I think, and try to learn from the history of that plant. I mean, here was a plant sitting 16 miles from downtown Denver that created some 70,000 nuclear bombs, bombs that could destroy both our species and many other species. And yet, most of the public simply wasn't concerned about it. And I think that says something about the way our society works.

WILSON: Len Ackland has just published a history of Rocky Flats called Making A Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West. Rocky Flats, he notes, is no longer in the business of building the bomb. But other nuclear facilities like Los Alamos in New Mexico continue to design and produce new nuclear weapons.

ACKLAND: We have to realize that the Cold War is over, but the nuclear weapons age is far from over.

WILSON: For Living On Earth, I'm David Barrett Wilson.

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Baby Teeth Project

CURWOOD: During the Cold War, concern about the health effects from above-ground nuclear testing led to a study dubbed The Baby Teeth Project. The study found dangerous levels of a radioactive element called strontium-90 embedded in the baby teeth of thousands of children born after 1949, a result of nuclear test fallout. Nuclear testing was eventually banned, and the problem was thought to be solved. But as commentator Suzanne Elston says, a new study suggests history may be repeating itself.

ELSTON: I've always been a firm believer that if you imagine the worst thing that could happen, it probably never will. So over the years I've managed to make peace with the fact that I live in the shadow of a nuclear power plant, by worrying about it. And now I find out that some of my fears may be justified. A new study has measured the strontium-90 levels in the baby teeth of children living near nuclear reactors. The study is similar to one conducted 40 years ago that contributed to the banning of above-ground nuclear testing in the U. S. The strontium-90 levels found in this new study are at the same levels that President Kennedy deemed too dangerous in 1963. Strontium-90 is similar to calcium. It enters the bodies of pregnant women through their food and water, where some of it is transferred to the bones of their unborn children. Once there, it irradiates blood and bone cells and can eventually lead to leukemia and bone cancer. Strontium-90 didn't even exist before 1943. It's a byproduct of atomic bomb tests.

After the nuclear test ban it was predicted that strontium-90 levels in baby teeth would decrease. And they did for a while. But in the last 20 years they've been increasing. The reason? Strontium-90 is also a byproduct of nuclear reactors. It's one of the many radioactive substances that form in fuel bundles during a nuclear chain reaction. If the fuel bundle is breached somehow, either by physical damage or by overheating, the strontium-90 is released into the system. We are led to believe that it's contained within the nuclear power plant, but the evidence presented by this study indicates that this is not the case. What I find so troubling about all this is that we've already been here. Forty years ago we realized that what we were doing was harming our unborn children. And yet here we are, decades later, repeating the same mistakes. Nuclear power plants or weapons testing, it doesn't matter where the strontium-90 comes from. The end result is the same. Our children inherit so much from us: the color of our eyes, our personalities. Must they also inherit our mistakes?

CURWOOD: Commentator Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living in Curtis, Ontario. She comes to us via the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

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(Music up and under)

Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now, comments from you, our listeners.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Last week's report on the potential risks from mercury amalgam dental fillings left some listeners wanting more. From Cleveland, Ohio, where he hears us on WCPN, Randy Cunningham wrote, "You neglected to mention the risks that dentists themselves face from mercury vapors. My dentist is aware of it, and monitors the poisoning she receives from the vapors. She intends on moving away from mercury amalgam fillings as soon as practical. "

And James Hastings, a dentist who listens to KQED in San Francisco, wrote to tell us that toxic vapors aren't the only problems with mercury fillings. "The greatest disadvantage of mercury," he states, "is that it is very destructive to healthy tooth structure, and it absolutely dooms the tooth to a lifetime of further repair. The baby boomers that had mercury amalgam fillings installed in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, are job security for the dentist of today. There are wonderful and aesthetic dental restorative materials available today that are far superior to mercury amalgam. "

Our almanac on artificial sweeteners prompted a number of listeners to tell us about another, less well known alternative to sugar. Michael Pearsall listens to KRCC in Colorado Springs.

PEARSALL: I didn't hear anyone mention a sweetener called Stevia, S-T-E-V-I-A. It's the leaf off of a bush from South America. It has zero calories, and yet it's 300 times sweeter than sugar.

CURWOOD: For now, Mr. Pearsall says, Stevia can only be found in health food stores because it's licensed by the Food and Drug Administration as a dietary supplement. You can sweeten our days by calling us any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is loe@npr.org. Once again, loe@npr.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15.

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It's NPR's Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living On Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, for reporting on marine issues; and the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Fishing for species at risk. The Pacific salmon debate is just head on Living On Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living On Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, delivering strategic marketing communications and design for business worldwide: www.barrett.com.

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: This time of year, Halloween gets most of the attention in the United States. But in Latino communities throughout the Americas, another hallowed day falls around this time: El Dio de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. The holiday is festive, but with a serious undertone. On November second, corresponding to All Souls Day of the Catholic Church, spirits are believed to return to their living families for a day of celebration and remembrance. To aid the spirit's journey home, families build ofrendas or altars to their deceased loved ones, and cover them with photos, candies, candles, and flowers. One flower in particular is used, the yellow marigold, which the Aztecs called the flower of the dead. The marigold's brilliant color and strong smell are believed to attract the spirits to their homes. Families line the paths from the streets to doorways with marigold petals to guide the spirits on the last leg of the journey. For the Aztecs, flowers were symbolic of the ephemeral life of humans. They also believed that spirits of the dead return to visit the living in the form of monarch butterflies. They migrate to Mexico each autumn seeking warmth and protection in the oyomel fir trees. And for this week, that's the Living On Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Point of No Return, Part III: Salmon Fishing, Part one: On the Water

CURWOOD: It seemed simple. If an animal goes on the Endangered Species List, you shouldn't be allowed to kill it. But when it comes to the endangered salmon of the Pacific Northwest, nothing is simple. More than two dozen salmon runs are under federal protection, yet commercial fishing continues. This apparent contradiction has prompted two major efforts to get commercial fishing boats out of the waters of Washington state. As part of our ongoing series, The Point of No Return: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest, Living On Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports on the controversy over salmon fishing and its impact on endangered fish.

FITZPATRICK: To understand the debate over fishing for salmon, there's a little something you must first understand about the fish.

(Water flows and gurgles)

FITZPATRICK: Salmon are born in the fresh mountain streams of the Pacific Northwest. They slowly make their way to the ocean, where they grow into adults, and several years later come back to the very stream where they were born to spawn. But these days there is a second type of fish: salmon that are born in government hatcheries. These fish aren't considered wild. They live in captivity for about a year before being released to swim out to sea and back. These days, 80 percent of the salmon in the Pacific Northwest are hatchery fish, and for the most part they're the ones that wind up in the supermarket.

(wind and water, motors, pulleys, creaking net)

FITZPATRICK: It's sunrise on the opening day of salmon season. Frank Fletcher and his son Dave are unspooling green nylon mesh from the stern of their 34-foot gillnetter, the "Rosy C."

F. FLETCHER: There.

FITZPATRICK: The net will create an underwater barrier 80 feet deep and 1,800 feet across.

F. FLETCHER: Fish tend to drive into the gear with their heads. The net passes over their head and gets lodged behind the gill plates. That's it. You have them.

(A boat engine runs)

FITZPATRICK: Frank Fletcher has been gillnetting in Puget Sound for 27 years. With weathered features and a graying beard, he looks the part. He hopes to keep fishing for years to come.

F. FLETCHER: The public perception is there are no healthy stocks of salmon, that all salmon are doomed and the industry that harvests them is doomed. The reality is, there are lots of stocks that are healthy.

FITZPATRICK: Several types of wild salmon are now on the Endangered Species List. But Frank Fletcher isn't looking for wild fish. He's after a healthy hatchery run that was bred specifically so fishermen will have something to catch. In a sense, salmon fishing is now a bit like cattle ranching, and this is the round-up.

(reeling in nets, fish flapping, landing on deck)

FITZPATRICK: After two hours, the Fletchers begin to haul in their net. They've snagged several hatchery chum salmon, each about two feet long.

F. FLETCHER: [Calls over engines] Oh, they don't look too bad size-wise. Here you go.

(Fish drop in)

FITZPATRICK: They untangle each fish from the mesh. Many are still wiggling as they drop to the deck.

(Fish drop)

D. FLETCHER: Lively guy.

FITZPATRICK: It's a tough, bloody job. But to Dave, it's important work.

D. FLETCHER: I know that fish is going to go to the market, and someone is going to eat something that's good for them.

FITZPATRICK: There's a problem, though, with this type of fishing. Wild salmon ply these waters along with the hatchery fish, and inevitably big nets like the Fletchers' will snare some of the wild salmon. This is known in the industry as bycatch. And many Northwest residents believe it is harming fragile wild populations.

MAN: Do you ladies know about our initiative to save salmon by getting the nets out of Puget Sound and the Columbia River? You can help save salmon with just a signature.

WOMEN: Okay. Sure.

MAN: Great, thanks.

FITZPATRICK: Earlier this year, a petition drive netted more than 200,000 signatures to put a proposal on the November ballot in Washington. It could outlaw most types of commercial fishing nets.

MAN: Thanks for your help.

WOMAN: You're welcome.

MAN: You're going to feel better about yourself. You wait and see.

FITZPATRICK: The initiative was written by the editor of a sports fishing publication, Tom Nelson. He's trying to get rid of nets because he says they catch and kill thousands of wild salmon every year.

NELSON: Basically, the idea of the initiative is to stop any net fishing that is an indiscriminate killer in the state of Washington. By that I mean nets that can't release fish alive after they're caught. Can't sort, so they have a huge bycatch. Nets that drown other things than their intended targets.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Nelson's initiative isn't motivated only by concern for wild fish. He feels commercial boats are squeezing out his industry, sports fishing, by catching too great a share of Washington salmon. He says that banning most types of commercial equipment would make more salmon available for sports fishers.

(To Nelson) Well, what's the difference if commercial fishermen kill the fish, or sports fishermen kill the fish?

NELSON: There is no difference. A dead fish is a dead fish. The difference is the commercial fishing technology is so great that in a few hours fishing they catch more than sport fishermen catch all year long.

FITZPATRICK: Many environmentalists, however, feel the focus on fishing is misguided. They think it might actually hurt the salmon's chances of survival.

ZIMMER: Commercial fishing is not the biggest threat, and not all commercial fishing is bad. But the commercial fishing community, it's very easy to target them as a threat.

FITZPATRICK: Chris Zimmer is the spokesman for a partnership of fishing and environmental organizations called the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition.

(Gulls call)

FITZPATRICK: Walking along Seattle's bustling waterfront, which was once prime salmon habitat, Mr. Zimmer says salmon face problems far worse than fishing.

ZIMMER: As we look at the biggest threats to the fish, a lot of that comes from timber and agriculture and development, very powerful industries that are hard to take on.

FITZPATRICK: Because of their unique migratory pattern from freshwater to saltwater and back, wild salmon need a wide range of healthy habitat. But today, huge dams are blocking important rivers. Clear-cut logging is damaging spawning streams. Vast irrigation projects are diverting river water to farms and development is paving over critical wetlands. Mr. Zimmer worries the political will to confront these problems could be lost if voters pass the no nets initiative.

ZIMMER: I think that would tend to leave some of the biggest problems off the hook. If we focus this on what we think is an easy fix on getting rid of harvest, we may stop there. We may not be able to go farther and deal with the habitat issues. And we send a message that we can easily fix this with harvest restrictions, and that's not true.

FITZPATRICK: Most experts agree with Mr. Zimmer that habitat protection is more important to wild salmon recovery than new fishing restrictions. But not everyone agrees. Many farmers, ranchers, and developers insist that fishing is the biggest problem. And some of them have banded together to open a second front in the northwest salmon wars. They've gone to court seeking a fishing moratorium.

WOOSLEY: The suit was filed in frustration with the fact that the National Fisheries Service seems to be focusing on the habitat side, rather than going after where we believe that the real solution will be.

FITZPATRICK: Todd Woosley is a realtor and a leader of the Common Sense Salmon Recovery Coalition. He fears the Northwest economy will nosedive if dams are torn down and development restricted to save wild salmon. He supports some habitat protection, but says drastic steps could be avoided by paying more attention to fishing.

WOOSLEY: I believe that habitat plays a certain role in it, but I think that what we have to do is ask ourselves, where will we get the most bang for the buck out of the limited resources we have to effect the recovery of this endangered species?

FITZPATRICK: The lawsuit and the No Nets Initiative won't settle the debate over wild salmon once and for all. But the ballot initiative will decide whether fishermen like Frank Fletcher can stay in business.

F. FLETCHER: If it passes, I'm a felon. I take offence to that. A felon. For a way of life, I'm a felon, for being a commercial fisherman.

(Engines; fish dropping)

FITZPATRICK: As he and his son clear salmon from their net, Mr. Fletcher concedes overfishing was a big problem in the past. It's part of the reason wild runs began to decline in the first place. But these days he says fishing is highly restricted, to certain days and certain places and certain healthy runs. The number of fishing licenses has been cut in half and harvest quotas have been slashed.

F. FLETCHER: They tell me when I can fish, how I can fish, and with what. I adhere to the law, I go out and I do my job. And I don't feel I'm harming anything when they tell me to go ahead.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Fletcher feels his industry is already doing its part. Still, his son Dave admits fishing has an image problem.

D. FLETCHER: The public perceives commercial fishing as politically incorrect, more or less, that we're out here killing everything that's in contact with this net.

(Engines)

FITZPATRICK: In fact, though, of the 35 fish the Fletchers have netted today, 34 are the target run, hatchery chum. One is a coho, and it came from a hatchery, too. Later in the season, they' pull in bigger hauls of fish, but the proportion will likely be about the same. A government study shows that 96 percent of the fish caught by Washington salmon nets are what the fishermen intend to catch. The rest, about four percent, is bycatch. That's thousands of fish that are caught and killed unintentionally. But nobody knows for sure how many of them are endangered wild salmon.

(Engines; boat cutting through water)

FITZPATRICK: Headed back to port, Frank Fletcher tells me that fishermen are optimists at heart. They have to be to survive the uncertainties of the sea. But these days it's human uncertainty he's worried about. Rightly or wrongly, fishermen are being blamed for the Pacific salmon crisis. And like the wild salmon, many fishermen are afraid that they, too, are on the brink of extinction.

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(Boat cutting through water, up and under)

CURWOOD: The future of salmon fishing families and of the fish themselves may come down to whether voters and the courts accept the subtle scientific distinction between wild fish and fish bred in hatcheries. Most scientists and environmental activists say there are critical genetic differences, but many people with economic interests at stake say that's nonsense. In a minute, Terry FitzPatrick returns with a look at the contentious world of salmon science. Stay tuned to Living On Earth.

(Music up and under)

Point of No Return, Part III: Salmon Fishing, Part Two: In the Lab

CURWOOD: It's Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Some scientists will tell you there's a big difference between a hatchery salmon and a wild one, and between an endangered run of wild salmon and another run that's doing fine. Others will tell you they don't buy it, that basically a salmon is a salmon is a salmon. Here's Living On Earth's Terry FitzPatrick again, with a close-up look at salmon science.

(A door is unlocked; fans)

FITZPATRICK: There's a large windowless room in Seattle that you might think of as the frozen seafood section of the National Marine Fisheries Service regional lab. Fifty freezers here are kept at 112 degrees below zero. Inside are plastic bags filled with salmon specimens from across the northwest.

(A bag crinkles)

WAPLES: Now this is a bag of chinook salmon from the Snake River. These are juveniles, known as parr. They were collected in their first year of life.

FITZPATRICK: Biologist Robin Waples uses these specimens to identify the genetic signature of different groups of salmon.

(Equipment whines)

FITZPATRICK: With specialized equipment, he tests chromosomes and proteins from the muscle, heart, liver, and eye. Dr. Waples says there's quite a difference between different types of fish.

WAPLES: Thinking about the different salmon species, chinook versus coho, sockeye, chum salmon, we can think of those in the same terms we think of differences between primate species. Humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, all of those species are closely related to about the same degree that we see for the different salmon species.

FITZPATRICK: Even within a salmon species, like chinook, there are distinct groups. Some chinook spawn in the spring, and some in the fall. Some at sea level near the mouth of a river, and some 6,000 feet up in the mountains hundreds of miles from the coast. These are genetic adaptations honed over thousands of years, and Dr. Waples says it's vital to preserve them.

WAPLES: The long-term viability of the species as a whole depends on the diversity of the populations that make up the species, the building blocks of the species. FITZPATRICK: The Endangered Species Act recognizes the importance of genetic diversity, and in the early 1990s scientists developed a framework for protecting distinct salmon populations. They decided to call each group an "Evolutionarily Significant Unit." They identified 46 such units among wild Pacific salmon, and so far have listed 26 of them as threatened or endangered. Dr. Waples says this was a big step, one that pushed the Endangered Species Act into new territory.

WAPLES: The Act allows listing of what they call distinct population segments as full species under the ESA. The problem is, the Endangered Species Act doesn't explain how we're supposed to determine when a population is, quote, "distinct. "

FITZPATRICK: Because the law is vague, salmon listings are open to attack by people unhappy with decisions made by the Fisheries Service. The agency is currently in federal court, defending just such a decision.

WOOSLEY: There is a tremendous amount of dispute over the science that was used for this particular listing. . .

FITZPATRICK: That's realtor Todd Woosley of the Common Sense Coalition, the group of farmers, ranchers, and land developers. They're challenging the listing of Puget Sound chinook, a listing with huge economic implications for Seattle and western Washington. Mr. Woosley contends the Fisheries Service, known in the northwest as NMFS, has made a mistake.

WOOSLEY: Rumor has it that NMFS' own staff biologist had a tremendous amount of disagreement over whether or not scientific criteria they used to list the fish was accurate, was valid. Did it meet the legal requirements of the ESA?

FITZPATRICK: In reaching its decision, the agency counted the number of wild chinook, but did not include the millions of chinook born in government hatcheries. Mr. Woosley claims there's no scientific reason to make that distinction. His coalition contends that hatchery fish and wild fish are identical. He says if the hatchery fish had been counted as wild, there wouldn't be an endangered species listing. However, scientists have long considered hatchery fish to be different from their wild cousins because of the different conditions in which they live.

(hatchery sounds, water flowing)

FITZPATRICK: Life inside a hatchery is nothing like life in the wild. This facility on the Lewis River is home to over three million hatchlings. They grow up in large concrete pools for up to a year before being released into the river.

(Clanking)

FITZPATRICK: Every evening hatchery workers pour buckets of dried fish food into a hopper on a special truck. There's a pipe on the back of the truck that looks like a bazooka.

(Engines)

FITZPATRICK: The truck drives around spraying the food onto the surface of the water, and millions of fish begin to nibble simultaneously, a salmon feeding frenzy.

(Churning water)

FITZPATRICK: The hatchery is more like a hog farm than a natural stream. In the wild fish learn to hunt for food and hide from predators. Those that don't, don't live long enough to reproduce. But here in the hatchery the salmon are pampered. There's no natural selection to eliminate weaker fish from the gene pool. That's why biologists say hatchery salmon are different.

(Engines)

FITZPATRICK: According to Washington State's Fish and Wildlife director Jeff Koenings, facilities like this are a relic of an earlier time, before the Endangered Species Act. As development harmed natural salmon habitat and the wild fish began to decline, the answer was to build hatcheries.

KOENINGS: People were looking at hatcheries to replace wild stocks, rather than complement the wild stocks. The mindset was, we didn't need the wild fish.

FITZPATRICK: That mindset changed with the Endangered Species Act, which recognizes the values of animals living and reproducing in the wild. And Dr. Koenings says this facility's purpose has changed. He sees it as a bridge to keep the commercial fishing fleet in business until nature's bounty is eventually restored.

KOENINGS: We provide the opportunities for people to fish by producing fish that people can catch without worrying that they're harming the wild fish.

FITZPATRICK: Dr. Koenings says the realities of fish genetics are inescapable. And if we want wild salmon to recover, protecting their habitat is the way to do it. But science can't say whether or not people should make that happen. That's something that will ultimately be decided not in the laboratory, but in voting booths and in the courts.

(Running water)

FITZPATRICK: Before leaving the hatchery, I was wondering about something. If the differences between wild salmon and hatchery fish are so important, how do fishermen tell them apart? Jeff Koenings showed me how.

(Ambient voices)

FITZPATRICK: The salmon babies here are corralled into a special trailer when they're three inches long.

(Splashing water)

KOENINGS: We're putting them in a bath that puts them to sleep, so they can actually be handled. We clip off the adipose fin with these scissors, and we do about 100,000 fish a day. We've got about three. 3 million to do, so it's going to take about two months to do the entire operation.

FITZPATRICK: Does this hurt the fish?

KOENINGS: No. Because the fish are put to sleep, and they're just cutting off the adipose fin, and the actual impact on a fish nervous system is very minimal.

FITZPATRICK: They don't need that fin?

KOENINGS: No. The adipose fin is not necessary for their survival.

FITZPATRICK: Survival, that is, long enough to wind up as someone's dinner. For Living On Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick at Washington State's Lewis River Fish Hatchery.

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(Splashing, voices, fading to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Next week, producer Sandy Tolan brings us the journey of the salmon from high mountain streams, past dams and rapids to the far reaches of the ocean, and back. It's a saga that's inspired Northwesterners for thousands of years.

WOMAN: When we see pictures of salmon, they're frequently trying to cross some barrier, like a waterfall or something. And when we look at that, we like to say that's me. Against all odds, I'm that persistent, I'm that strong, I'm that graceful. I think it embodies everything that we would like to be ourselves, here in the northwest.

CURWOOD: Our series Point of No Return: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest continues next week on Living On Earth. You can hear the rest of our series by visiting our website, www.loe.org. Click on the salmon icon.

(Music up and under)

Tribute to Senator Chafee

CHAFEE: Quite simply, the problem is this. The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and we're not assuming a position of leadership on the climate change issue.

CURWOOD: Republican Senator John Chafee speaking at a town meeting on climate change in Boston last year. Senator Chafee of Rhode Island died of heart failure on October 24th at the age of 77, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy of forward-looking environmental leadership.

CHAFEE: On the contrary, the tenor of our domestic political debate makes it clear to other nations that the United States is unable to conduct a rational dialogue on the subject. Let's have our nation and our domestic industries be there first with the new technologies and practices that will make reductions everywhere else in the world achievable.

CURWOOD: At the time Senator Chafee was working on ways to provide incentives to companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. His democratic colleague, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, cosponsored the legislation. It was one of many bills the duo developed on the Environment and Public Works Committee, of which John Chafee was the chair. Senator Lieberman has this tribute to his friend and colleague.

LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, when John Chafee announced earlier this year that he was not going to run for re-election, a lot of us who care about the environment looked around, and I think we realized what a great loss John's retirement would be. And now, his sudden death reminds us all too quickly that this was an irreplaceable friend of the environment. It's been really my honor to serve with John Chafee, not only as a fellow senator but on the Environment Committee over the 11 years I've been in the Senate. And he was just a very sturdy, forthright, faithful environmentalist, at a time when unfortunately, within his own Republican party, the ranks of environmental protectors grew smaller. Contrary I think to the tradition of the Republican party that goes back to Teddy Roosevelt, and contrary to what I find to be the opinions of Republicans in Connecticut who were really quite supportive of environmental protection. So John had a tough road to go. And he did it very effectively. He always considered himself a centrist, and I think what that meant was not that he was neutral, but that he was able to bring together different groups and factions within Congress and outside to get things done.

One of my first and really best experiences as a senator was in 1990, when we were considering the Clean Air Act amendments. And Senator George Mitchell, then the majority leader, pulled a group of us together with representatives of the Bush administration into his conference room. John Chafee was there, day after day, night after night, long hard negotiations, but in the end helped to put the pieces together to have us adopt a bill that was signed by President Bush, that has clearly made the air healthier to breathe and cleaner than it otherwise would have been. He was a leader in the Kyoto process. John and I went to Kyoto together. And I think there, in a very difficult setting, he sent a message out to the countries of the world, which were being quite critical about the U. S. position on global warming, that there was bipartisan support in Congress for doing something about it. He and I sponsored what we thought was a really moderate proposal in this session of Congress, to begin to give companies that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions the promise of credit if and when we adopt a mandatory system for that kind of air pollution reduction. And maybe we were convinced that we were on the right path, because we were opposed by both sides of the debate. But it was typical of John that he treated everyone with great civility. He was a great outdoorsman himself. I think some of the work that he did that he was proudest of was to protect natural resources. He was critical in expanding our National Wildlife Refuge system and the work of conserving wetlands, was a great advocate right up to the time of his death in pushing for more funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund that's been so important to the preservation of open spaces in our state.

So this was a good man, an honorable man. Straight talking. Always very respectful to those who came before our committee. Somebody who wanted to get things done. And when it came to the environment, really did get things done. I'll miss him. We'll all miss him. And honestly, the Lord's good Earth will miss him, because he was a good friend.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman remembering Rhode Island Senator John Chafee, who died on October 24th.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living On Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Brent Runyan, Russel Wiedeman, Hannah Day Woodruff , and KPLU Seattle. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Terry FitzPatrick is the acting senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up and under)

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 Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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