• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

May 26, 2000

Air Date: May 26, 2000


Los Alamos Fires Fallout / Viki Monks

According to government scientists, more damage from the Los Alamos fires may be yet to come. Vicki Monks reports that heavy summer rainstorms could produce unprecedented floods that may carry contaminants from the government’s nuclear weapons lab into surrounding communities. (06:40)

Dursban Restrictions

The Environmental Protection Agency is about to make public its new restrictions on Dursban, one of the most widely used pesticides in the U.S. Steve Curwood speaks with Sue Darcey, editor of Pesticide Report, about the potential health risks of the chemical and the uses the EPA is likely to ban. (04:55)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Diane Toomey reports on a promising new treatment for bacterial infections as antibiotic-resistant bacteria reach crisis proportions. (00:59)

Owens Valley Restoration, Pt. 2: Owens Lake / Robin White

The Owens Lake in Central California dried out decades ago after Los Angeles shipped the water across the desert to feed its growing population. Dust from the lake bed is the worst source of particulate air pollution in the country. But now, LA is under court order to control the dust. Robin White reports. (05:45)

Listener Letters

A number of listeners wondered how disinterested the research on the benefits of chocolate was, and a listener also questioned whether poverty played as significant a role as lead in juvenile delinquency. (02:10)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about -- edible flowers, which have been enjoyed in many cultures long before there was la cuisine nouvelle. (01:30)

Civic Environmentalism

Author William Shutkin focuses on the ecological problems of inner-cities in his new book “The Land That Could Be.” He discusses with host Steve Curwood why he’s advocating civic environmentalism as a way of giving urban communities a voice in the environmental movement. (05:35)

Technology Update / Cynthia Graber

Cynthia Graber reports on a new technique to reduce methane in gases released by livestock. (00:59)

In a Fly's Ear / Alex Chadwick

In a Radio Expedition report NPR's Alex Chadwick finds that research into the ear of a fly has led to an unexpected and potentially useful outcome. Radio Expeditions is a co-production of NPR and the National Geographic Society. (08:15)

Growing Mushrooms in Florida / Bill George

In addition to the usual cattle and chickens on their ranch in Brooksville, Florida, Rob and Debbie Morrow also grow shiitake mushrooms. Producer Bill George spent the day with the Morrows to learn the a–b-c’s of shiitake mushroom growing. (06:45)

John Sawhill Remembered

Host Steve Curwood remembers John Sawhill, president of The Nature Conservancy, who died this past week. (01:55)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Vicki Monks, Robin White, Alex Chadwick
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber
GUESTS: Sue Darcey, William Shutkin
SOUND PORTRAIT: Rob and Debbie Morrow

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
In New Mexico, the fires are out. But summer rains could flood the scorched earth and spread contaminants from the nuclear weapons lab across the region. Native communities are at special risk. We'll update the situation in Los Alamos.

Also, Dursban. The EPA may restrict the widely-used pesticide, after studies show it's more persistent than previously thought.

DARCEY: It particularly clung to plush things like carpets, couches, children's toys.

CURWOOD: And waiting to inhale. Los Angeles promises to undo the dust bowl it created when it diverted water from the lakes and rivers of Owens Valley.

RICE: When it has a dust storm, you don't want to be here. You come inside, you close your doors, you put your cooler on, try to filter out as much of it as you can. When it's finished, you come and dust your house.

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and your letters, this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after the news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Los Alamos Fires Fallout

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The recent wildfires in New Mexico destroyed hundreds of homes in the town of Los Alamos and part of the government's nuclear weapons laboratory. But government scientists say more troubles from the blazes may be ahead. Fire on nearly 50,000 acres of steep forest land left the soil unable to hold water. Heavy summer rains could lead to massive floods that wash contaminants from the nuclear weapons lab into surrounding communities. Those include some Native American pueblos. Vicki Monks has our story.

(Footfalls and wind)

MONKS: Santa Clara tribal member Alvin Warren climbs to the top of Puye Cliffs, where the stone walls of an ancient pueblo village still remain. From this elevation, he can see for the first time the extent of the fire's devastation.

WARREN: Four years ago I would never have imagined, standing here, that this whole western view would be dominated by burned-out areas. I'm looking right now at a place where we, you know, usually go hunt -- usually find a lot of elk in there, and there's also quite a bit of bear. That whole little valley is just burned.

MONKS: Firefighters just barely managed to protect the archaeological ruins here. This ancient village is a National Historic Landmark. But many other important cultural sites were destroyed. Santa Clara Governor Denny Guitierrez says the Pueblo people are grieving over the loss.

GUTIERREZ: We hold this very, very sacred within ourselves. And we've always done so.

MONKS: Governor Guitierrez says his people are also worried about what they might have inhaled in the smoke that settled over their village at the height of the fire.

GUITIERREZ: It was thick, and even some of the ash was coming down into Santa Clara and the surrounding areas -- just like a thick, heavy cloud hanging over Santa Clara. I think that was the most concerning to our tribal members.

MONKS: Santa Clara is just downwind from the nuclear weapons laboratory at Los Alamos, where fire scorched nearly 8,000 acres. Much of that land is known to be contaminated with radio nuclides and toxic waste. During the fire, air monitors recorded radiation levels as much as 10 times above normal. But lab officials assured the public the increased radiation came from natural sources and posed no danger. Some scientists are not so sure, including Robert Weeks of the New Mexico Environment Department, who spoke at a public meeting in Santa Fe.

(Milling voices)

WEEKS: When I ask, hey, have you got any documentation of that, any citations in the scientific literature, the answer was no, no I don't. So I don't know where these things were coming from. They might be right. They might be wrong. But I have yet to see any hard numbers, solid things that you can hang your hat on.

MONKS: And smoke is not the only worry.

(Helicopter engines)

MONKS: In the mountains above Los Alamos, helicopters were still carrying water to remote, smoldering hot spots, as government scientists tried to determine just how bad floods might be once summer rains begin.

(Splashing water)

MONKS: Hydrologist Greg Kuymjin is splashing water over burned ground to see whether it will soak in.

KUYMJIN: See, it beaded up and just ran right off.

MONKS: He explains that a hot forest fire can bake soil into a hard water-repellent surface that will send sheets of rainwater rushing down steep slopes in torrents.


KUYMJIN: I'm also looking at the texture of the soil -- and if there's any fine roots or litter or organic material left in the soil.

MONKS: With most of vegetation gone, there's nothing to hold soil or contaminants in place.

KUYMJIN: Even a series of small storms could result in a lot of erosion and runoff.

MONKS: That's especially troubling news for Los Alamos National Laboratory. Over the past 60 years, the lab has dumped its waste directly into canyons here, and several of the most severely-contaminated areas were burned in the fire. Lab geologist Steve Reneau.

RENEAU: The floods will be very, very big. Instead of this small channel carrying water, probably this entire valley bottom will have water up to several feet deep. And the floods are of a concern from the contaminant standpoint, because it's the floods that move the contaminants. A lot of it will end up in the Rio Grande.

MONKS: The contaminants include PCBs, heavy metals, and plutonium, but the geologist insists that contamination levels will be too low to pose a threat.

RENEAU: We are quite certain it's not a potential health problem, because where the contaminants are today, as they are in the canyon bottoms at the levels they are, they're not presenting a health problem. We haven't seen any reason to post any areas or clean areas up in a canyon bottom because of potential human health risk. At the concentration levels they are today, as they get eroded and carried in the floods downstream, the concentrations will become much, much less.

MONKS: But the citizen's group Nuclear Watch of New Mexico points to a 1999 study done by the lab itself, which admits that contaminated sediments could pose risks downstream. Much of the contaminated sediment moving down the Rio Grande will end up in Cochiti Lake on Pueblo land. Los Alamos scientists have already found plutonium from the lab in this lake, and Cochiti Pueblo leaders worry that lab officials are underestimating the danger.

PECOS: We even refer to that reservoir as our trash can. Anything coming off of that plateau is going to remain as sediment or silt in the reservation.

MONKS: Jacob Pecos is director of the Pueblo's Environmental Protection Agency, which must rely on the nuclear weapons lab for funds.

PECOS: We only know what the lab tells us. You know, there's always that aspect of the truth. You know, are they telling us the truth? Are they telling us everything? And we don't know.

MONKS: The huge volume of sediments that are expected to wash into the river and lake may kill fish and smother plants, but the contaminants themselves are not likely to cause immediate harm. Pueblo leaders are more concerned about long-term health effects and damage to the ecosystem as the pollutants work their way through the food chain. For

Living on Earth, I'm Vicki Monks.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Dursban Restrictions

CURWOOD: Dursban is one of the most widely-used insecticides in the U.S. You can find it in consumer roach and ant sprays. It's often the active ingredient in the flea and tick collars put on pets. Exterminators use Dursban to kill termites, and farmers apply it to fruit crops. The chemical is so pervasive that some scientists estimate more than 80 percent of adults have detectable levels of it in their urine. Last year the Environmental Protection Agency said Dursban might pose a health threat, especially to children. The chemical affects the nervous system. With that in mind, the EPA is expected shortly to announce restrictions on the use of Dursban. Sue Darcey is the editor of Pesticide Report, a newsletter covering that industry. Sue, last year the EPA released its preliminary report on the risk of Dursban. The agency cited research that found this chemical, which also goes by the name chlorpyrifos, hung around in the air a lot longer than originally thought. Did those studies consider if it was being used according to directions?

DARCEY: Oh, yeah. There was one primary study, the Rutgers University study, where they took normal levels that a pest control operator would spray around an apartment. And they sprayed it according to label directions, around the perimeters of apartment, crack and crevice-type treatment. And then they just took air monitoring samples over the next three or four days, and they found that the residues of chlorpyrifos did not decrease at the amount that they thought it would. It particularly clung to plush things like carpets, couches, children's toys.

CURWOOD: There are some studies about the effect of Dursban on young brains, on developing brains.

DARCEY: Mm hm. Basically, they show that the young rats and mice have slower reaction times. They might have an awkward gait when they walk. They have problems completing mazes and finishing tasks that normally they could do very easily.

CURWOOD: And it doesn't seem to take much to cause an impact, does it?

DARCEY: No, it doesn't. It all has to do with the day when the fetus is exposed, according to rat or mice studies. If you apply a certain dose at a very low level on the tenth day of gestation, then that's all it takes for the developing mice, when they're born, to start manifesting all these neurological effects.

CURWOOD: The Dow Chemical Company makes Dursban. What does it say in response to these studies?

DARCEY: It says that chlorpyrifos, which is the active ingredient in Dursban, has been thoroughly studied. I think they say they've done 3,600 studies, and that it's perfectly safe. And the only time anyone should experience any harm is if there was a horrible accident. But other than that, they say that normal use according to label directions would never cause harm to a person.

CURWOOD: Now, apparently Dow and the Environmental Protection Agency are in negotiations, or they have been in negotiations over the use of Dursban. Tell me why the EPA would negotiate at all, and what the word is on how those talks are going.

DARCEY: EPA just doesn't go in willy-nilly and, you know, slap a ban down on a pesticide. That would be incredibly unusual. They usually say, are there ways that you can tweak the use of this chemical? Perhaps you might want to stop using it as a termiticide, if that seems to be the main problem. And then we'll continue to allow you to use it on crops, where you're getting your most money from the profit anyway.

CURWOOD: Is Dow in the mood to negotiate?

DARCEY: Dow is facing a lot of lawsuits, in which people say they've been harmed by chlorpyrifos. And they're a little bit concerned that if EPA makes a decision that would ban or cause Dow to voluntarily cancel some uses, that even more people will come out of the woodwork and say, hey, I've been hurt by chlorpyrifos, too, and that they would file a lawsuit. And then Dow would have a real headache on its hands.

CURWOOD: So I'm wondering, if the negotiations between the Environmental Protection Agency and Dow go nowhere, what kind of restrictions do you think the EPA will end up imposing on the use of Dursban?

DARCEY: I think they would probably make it a restricted-use pesticide, where it couldn't be used around people's home except by a professional applicator, who's been licensed and trained to use it properly.

CURWOOD: What about restrictions on crop use?

DARCEY: You know, I would think that would be the last thing EPA would go for, unless they decide to change some of the risk assessment numbers -- instead of -- there's something called the 3x factor and the 10x factor.

CURWOOD: Can you explain that? What do you mean by 10x?

DARCEY: Well, right now the EPA is applying what they call the 3x factor. The 10x factor would apply a larger buffer or a margin of safety to the pesticide. There's been a big push from environmental scientists and pediatricians to up that to a 10x. And if EPA ups it to the 10x, then probably some agricultural uses are going to be hit. I would predict apples, for example, because that's the heaviest use of chlorpyrifos in agriculture.

CURWOOD: Sue Darcey is editor and publisher of Pesticide Report. Sue, thanks for speaking with us today.


Back to top

CURWOOD: Bringing a dry lake back to life. Our series on the restoration of Owens Valley, California, continues in just a few minutes here on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

(Music up and under)

Health Update

TOOMEY: It's a kinder, gentler way to treat bacterial infections. That's the way researchers describe a plant enzyme that prevents bacteria from sticking to cells. Researchers at Miami University in Ohio found a potato extract can prevent both strep and e-coli bacteria from attaching to their targets. They think it's the same enzyme that makes fruits and vegetables turn brown. But in this case, the enzyme disables the amino acid that allows bacteria to adhere to cells. Standard antibiotics kill those micro-organisms outright, but in the last few years the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has reached a crisis. So scientists are looking for alternatives. The researchers, who presented their study at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, say a number of herbal medicines may also fight bacterial infections through this anti-stick mechanism. And that's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

Back to top

CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Owens Valley Restoration, Pt. 2: Owens Lake

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Los Angeles owns most of the land in California's Owens Valley, and diverts almost all the water from there. But the city has lost a string of legal battles, and is now being forced to restore water to some of the areas it sucked dry. Mono Lake is coming back, and the lower Owens River, dry since Los Angeles took its water in 1913, is expected to flow again in 2002. In the second part of his series on the restoration of Owens Valley, Robin White reports that another problem is about to be addressed: air pollution from the parched Owens Lake bed.


WHITE: When the wind picks up at the dry Owens Lake, a toxic mix of salt and clay gets lofted into the air. Los Angeles diverted water from the Owens River 250 miles to the coast, and the lake that used to be at the end of the river dried up in 1924. Now the lake bed is the worst source of particulate air pollution in the U.S. and ruins air quality sometimes as far away as Los Angeles itself. Locals complain of a persistent hacking they call the Owens Valley cough.


WHITE: There's not much around here, just a few ghost towns left over from the days of silver mining. No more than 100 people live in Keeler, on the old lake shore. It's a few houses, a few trailers, and some dead cars.

RICE: When you drive by here on your way to Death Valley, and you look at this town, you're almost afraid to come through here because you don't know what kind of people live here. We're just normal folks, and we've got to breathe just like everybody else.

WHITE: Paul Rice moved to Keeler 10 years ago. He smoked most of his life, and he has asthma. He knew this part of the desert could be dusty, but he wasn't prepared for what comes off the dry Owens Lake.

RICE: Keeler, when it has a dust storm, you don't want to be here. You come inside, you close your doors, you put your cooler on, try to filter out as much of it as you can. When it's finished, you come and dust your house.

WHITE: Now, after years of litigation, the local air district has won a ruling. Los Angeles must bring the lake bed into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. Beginning at the end of 2001, the city will face thousands of dollars of fines daily if it doesn't begin to correct the dust problem. Agronomist Karla Scheidlinger works for a company hired by Los Angeles to help find a solution.

(Wheels over terrain)

WHITE: Out on the lake bed it's 107 degrees, and she's coaxing her four-wheel drive through the sand to an experimental farm plot.

SCHEIDLINGER: Isn't this fun.

WHITE: The gleaming white lake bed is like a scene out of Star Trek. It has violent electrical storms, and once Karla Scheidlinger fell into quicksand up to her neck. It's not a friendly place for vegetation, either.

(Water drops fall)

WHITE: Ms. Scheidlinger is using drip irrigation to leach enough salt out of the soil to grow grass.

SCHEIDLINGER: If you can grow anything out of salinity on the scale of five to eight, you're doing really well. Our soils out here start at about 120. So, for salt grass, if I can get that down into a 20 to 40 range, I'm pretty happy.

WHITE: Los Angeles hopes the salt grass will anchor the dust, but getting it established will take longer than the city has before the fines begin. So they're going to pour on water, 50,000 acre-feet a year. But Los Angeles is a city in a desert. It doesn't have water of its own, so the Water Department is scraping around for other sources. One proposal was to pump ground water out from under the lake bed to use on the surface. That unleashed a storm of protest not unlike a dust storm on the Owens Lake on a bad day. Not good for Los Angeles. Department of Water and Power manager David Freeman says the city is trying to fix a hundred-year history of bad relations with Owens Valley residents.

FREEMAN: They're understandably uptight about that issue, and we're trying to make peace, not war. So, we will find some water that is clearly not putting their groundwater at risk. And over time, I think that when this confidence-building exercise grows and grows, we may find that there are sources of groundwater that wouldn't hurt anyone's well or deplete the resources up there that could be used, also.

WHITE: In the meantime, L.A. is in a bit of a bind. The city's charter makes it difficult to take water out of the aqueduct without a two-thirds vote of the people. Officials admit they don't know how they're going to solve the problem, but say that one way or another the water will be there by the deadline. Even then, critics say they may not be able to completely control the dust just by damping down the trouble spots. Dust storms on the hundred-square-mile lake can start anywhere, depending on the wind direction. Some say the focus on fixing the dust overlooks the one surefire solution: re-filling the lake.

HERBST: I consider myself somebody who is maybe a lonely voice right now, saying there's something missing here.

WHITE: Dave Herbst is an aquatic biologist at the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab.

HERBST: And the unfortunate thing is that for most people, Owens Lake has basically fallen off the map as a habitat.

(Bird song)

WHITE: Dave Herbst says the lake used to be a stopover for sometimes hundreds of thousands of migrating birds. He's been studying the small remnants of wetland that still surround the lake bed, and says the whole thing could be brought back just by adding water. But refilling the lake would take all the water that Los Angeles uses from the Owens Valley for 10 years. City officials say it's hard enough trying to find water just to keep the dust down.

(Bird song)

WHITE: For Living on Earth, I'm Robin White.

Back to top

(Bird song, fading to music up and under: "All day I faced a barren waste without the taste of water. Cool water. Old Dan and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water. And way up there he'll hear our prayer and show us where there's water. Water. Cool, clear water. Keep a movin' Dan, don't you listen to him, Dan. He's a devil not a man. And he spread the burning sand with water. Water. Dan, can you see that big green tree, where the water's running free, and he's waiting there for me and you. Cool, clear water...")

Listener Letters

CURWOOD: Time now for your comments. Many of you were glad to hear our report on preliminary research that chocolate may be good for your heart. But some listeners were suspicious of scientists wearing lab coats embroidered with M&Ms. They thought the brand-name candy makers conducting the research made the story sound like an infomercial. Others warned against jumping to conclusions about the benefits of chocolate, when our modern-day sweets aren't pure cocoa beans picked off a tree.

LADIN: This is not the chocolate that was used by the ancients, the Aztecs and others. That was raw, that was sugarless, that was bitter.

CURWOOD: That's Michael Ladin. He hears us on WNYC in New York City. He says candy bars are full of additives, and chocolate is a known allergen. And William Malloy, who listens to KUHF out of Houston, says the caffeine in chocolate could be addictive. He writes, "I recall a passage from a conquistador's journal, saying that Montezuma was known to have consumed approximately 50 cups of cocoa each day. One wonders if the history of the Western Hemisphere would be different had he not consumed so much cocoa, had he spent his time thinking rationally about strategic matters."
Fred Breeden, who listens to us on WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts, heard our interview with Dr. Herbert Needleman, whose research examines the link between childhood lead poisoning and increased rates of delinquency. Mr. Breeden called to say he wished we had said more about people who get lead poisoning.

BREEDEN: Why didn't you discuss who gets exposed to lead, who has the resources to fight lead poisoning? What I'm speaking of is poverty, which seems to me a bigger issue.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. Once again, www.loe.org. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

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 W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment: www.wajones.org; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues.

CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we come back: trying to curb sprawl by making our inner cities more livable. The movement is called civic environmentalism. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


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

(Music up and under: Tiny Tim singing, "Tiptoe by the window, by the window, that is where I'll be. Come tiptoe through the tulips with me. Oh!")

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Things are a-bloomin' this time of year. And if you want to chow down, consider that edible flowers have a long culinary and medicinal history. The ancient Romans ate them. So did the Chinese. They especially liked chrysanthemums, which are thought to increase longevity and even cause graying hair to turn dark again. And when Spanish conquistador Fernando Cortez arrived in what's now Mexico City, he reportedly found the Aztec ruler Montezuma dining on squash flowers. Now, you've probably already enjoyed some flowers and didn't know it. For example, broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes are all flowers. Capers are the unopened buds of the Mediterranean, you guessed it, caper berry bush. And carnation petals are one of the ingredients used to make the French liqueur Chartreuse. And then there's calendula, cornflower, dandelion, day lilies, freesia, marigolds, nasturtiums and, of course, tulip petals -- which, by the way, make great cups for sorbet. Maybe that's what poet Ezra Pound had in mind when legend has it he devoured all the red tulip petals that were laid out as a decoration. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under: "Tiptoe through the Tulips")

Civic Environmentalism

CURWOOD: Since it's beginning, much of the modern environmental movement has focused on conservation -- protecting and preserving wide-open and often wild spaces. But William Shutkin, author of the new book "The Land That Could Be," says that for too long too many environmental groups have ignored the pressing problems of our inner cities. To combat urban social and ecological woes, Mr. Shutkin is encouraging a new movement. He calls it civic environmentalism.

SHUTKIN: Civic environmentalism is really the response to what has been a narrowly-focused and elitist environmental movement for the last 100, 150 years -- a movement focused largely on the preservation of undeveloped places, of pristine places, where most people don't live. So civic environmentalism is, in a sense, the turn toward a more democratic form of environmentalism, where communities from the local level on up are re-engaging in the process of making decisions, of rolling out programs that fundamentally affect the quality of their lives.

CURWOOD: Over the years, as the environment has degraded, we've also seen a bigger and bigger gap between the haves and the have-nots. Is there a relationship? And if so, explain it to me, please.

SHUTKIN: Sure. Economic well-being has everything to do with environmental quality, within limits. The ability of individuals, families, groups of people, to move away from environmental hazards has in many ways defined the way our environmental law and policy system works. Likewise, the political power, the clout that comes with economic power. We've tended to protect those places and those communities where the wealthier people live, and we've left behind those places where those without means, those who are disenfranchised, live.

CURWOOD: You write about rebuilding our urban centers, and that if we do this, it will in turn protect our wild spaces. How do you see this working?

SHUTKIN: What I argue in the book is that we need to pay better attention to the quality of the places we live in now, so that folks feel less inclined to want to leave. To the extent we're better stewards of our urban communities, of our older suburbs, better stewards in that we're taking care of our natural resources -- we're designing our buildings and our roadways in a way that's friendly to human health, to pedestrians, to bicyclists -- then folks are going to feel less inclined to push further out in search of Jefferson's dream of a pristine farm and will feel more comfortable staying in densely-settled communities, which ultimately are environmentally beneficial places.

CURWOOD: I would be the devil's advocate here for a moment and say, so, how can paying attention to the environment improve this social problem that we seem to have not been able to solve?

SHUTKIN: Take San Francisco, for instance.


SHUTKIN: The Bank of America issued its report several years ago saying that the most dangerous threat to California is sprawl, is its land use and development practices, which are eating up the state and causing all sorts of adverse social consequences. So, San Franciscans and Bay Area residents are doing something about it. In Oakland, the Fruitvale neighborhood, which is an 80 percent Latino neighborhood, is recognizing that it can convert its community, which for the last several decades has, like so many inner cities, been abandoned, been blighted, into a really viable and attractive place. And so, Fruitvale has taken a great neighborhood asset, namely its mass transit station the BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit station, and developed a new commercial center, a mixed-use commercial center around that transit station as a way of not only supporting local residents who for too long have suffered with the air pollution effects of major highway infrastructure running through the neighborhood, but who are also in need of a new commercial center, a mixed-use pedestrian-friendly place where neighborhood residents can congregate. But part of the goal of the development of this transit village was also to attract new residents -- many people hungry to live in Oakland's neighborhoods, who otherwise have felt the need to move out because of unfounded fears about living with other people different from themselves.

CURWOOD: And as they move in, though, don't they push up the rents and make it harder for the people who live there in the first place to stay?

SHUTKIN: Often, unfortunately, they do. And so, what we're seeing as part of a new environmental strategy is that as community organizations, local, state and federal agencies, environmental housing agencies work together, one of the biggest priorities is making sure that affordable housing is part of the strategy. And in the provision there is law that ensures that a certain percentage of housing development will be affordable and not market-based. But also, I think part of the solution here is this notion of a civic environmentalism, taking seriously the idea that all things are connected, and that the public realm and public goods like our environment require a public consciousness. So that we can then act on them to protect them, to use them wisely.

CURWOOD: William Shutkin's new book is called "The Land That Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century." Thanks for coming by today, Bill.

SHUTKIN: Thanks a lot, Steve. It's great to be here.

Back to top

CURWOOD: The art and science of growing shiitake mushrooms is coming up right here on Living on Earth. First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under)

Technology Update

GRABER: Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming. Methane is one of them, and is being released into the environment in amounts that are starting to concern scientists. More than half of human-induced methane is a byproduct of the agriculture industry. And half of that methane comes from livestock in the form of flatulence. Now scientists in Scotland have found a way to reduce this type of methane output, and here's how they did it. Normally, bacteria in the livestock's stomach digest food, releasing methane in the process. So the researchers introduced a different type of bacteria into livestock feed: bacteria that munch on the methane and convert it to carbon dioxide. CO2 is also a greenhouse gas, but with 60 times less warming power than methane. One of the Scottish scientists says this development has the potential to reduce global methane output by about six percent and combat global warming, without of course affecting Bessie's appetite.

(A cow moos)

GRABER: And that's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

Back to top

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth. You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15 each.

(Music up and under)

In a Fly's Ear

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For most scientists, basic research is the pursuit of answers to fascinating questions, though those answers may not always lead to practical results. But in today's National Geographic Radio Expedition, NPR's Alex Chadwick finds that research into the ear of a fly has an unexpected and potentially useful outcome.

CHADWICK: The Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University is in the campus’ Mudd Hall.

(A door opens; crickets chirp)

CHADWICK: Off a linoleum corridor, there's a storage room with a research population of crickets. And a couple of hundred flies that can hear them -- although that's very unusual for a fly. Cornell biologist Dr. Ron Hoy.

HOY: In fact, no fly that we'd ever heard of at all, it's just not known.

(A fly buzzes)

CHADWICK: But for this fly, Ormia ochracia, to hear a cricket, to find one, is to survive. Ormia is a parasitoid, a creature that leaves its young inside others to eventually eat their way out. Like some movie demon.

HOY: You mean Alien, of course.

CHADWICK: Exactly, like Alien. Only Ormia likes crickets. With the postgraduate researcher Dr. Daniel Robert and later another colleague, Dr. Shelley Adamo, Dr. Hoy studied Ormia, which has other odd characteristics to go along with its ears. Most flies, for instance, lay eggs that turn into maggots. Not Ormia.

HOY: They're carrying live maggots, and very small maggots, half a millimeter long. These maggots are quite active and they will actually search out and can find the host.

CHADWICK: In size, these maggots are a fine point pencil dot with teeth and appetites. They cut the hard cuticle of the cricket's upper body and settle in the abdomen.

HOY: And there, they begin feeding voraciously on the fat bodies, as it were, of the cricket.


CHADWICK: This actually is a maggot inside a cricket, recorded by Dr. Hoy.

(Crunching continues)

CHADWICK: Do the crickets seem to know that they have the larvae in them in any way?

HOY: That's a good question. Of course, we'd like to know what a cricket knows, period. But they don't behave in any particular way that would give away the fact that they're infested.

CHADWICK: Eight days after entering as a tiny speck, the maggot is a half-inch worm thing. And it exits exactly like the Alien. The cricket dies. The fly lives, for a week or so. Eats, mates, reproduces, and goes looking for crickets.

(A fly buzzes)

CHADWICK: They had Ormia's life story, but something still nagged at the biologists, and they decided to ask for help.

MILES: I'm Ron Miles. I am a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the State University of New York at Binghamton. My area of research is vibrations and acoustics.

CHADWICK: An engineer, not a biologist, Dr. Miles was still intrigued by Ormia's hearing.

MILES: What was interesting to me is that here is an ear or a pair of ears that are really, really close together. And yet it's obviously really good at localizing sound.

CHADWICK: We know where a sound originates because human ears hear slightly differently, and they do because they are separated.

MILES: If they were right next to each other, you wouldn't be able to tell where sound came from.

(Fly buzzing)

CHADWICK: Ormia is an insect. It wears its ears like a flattened baby snugly on what would be its chest. They're two millimeters across. Even if it can hear a cricket, an extraordinary feat, it should be very difficult to find one. In fact, for Ormia, it should be impossible.

(A cricket chirps)

CHADWICK: In an echoey basement with cricket bright chirp-chirps bouncing on the hard, flat surfaces, I can't tell where it's coming from. Ormia would find Mr. Cricket and hit him in seconds. Completely contrary to what the scientists would expect, that fly is much better at locating sound.

MILES: And that was the puzzle we were trying to figure out.

(Fly buzzing)

CHADWICK: To tether a lab fly for study, place a small dab of wax on the end of a slender wooden probe. The fly sticks to the wax.

MILES: We were looking at some fly ears under a microscope. And I found that if you press on one ear, the other ear pops up. And it was clear then that the two ears are mechanically coupled. And I said, "I know how it works." (Laughs)

CHADWICK: Have you ever seen a hearing device like this before?

MILES: No. I don't think anyone has, as far as I know.

(Fly buzzing)

CHADWICK: The coupling mechanism that connects Ormia's two ears acts to shut off the side that's farthest from the sound. That's how the fly can tell where sound comes from. It evolved a new kind of ear, or new to science. That is good, basic research, but Ron Miles is a mechanical engineer. And making a discovery, he wants to use it.

MILES: To me, the fly's ears are essentially a small directional microphone. And the question was, what can you do with a very small directional microphone?

CHADWICK: Almost 30 million Americans and more scores of millions around the world are deaf or hard of hearing.

MAN: Outdoor recording on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

CHADWICK: A CD from an Illinois hearing products company, Etomodec Research, shows what normal hearing aids do.

MAN: Microphones worn in real ears, female talker in front of listener.

(Music, mulling voices, a woman's faint voice mixed in)

CHADWICK: Most aids boost sound, but do not focus in one direction and don't block sound from another, as we do normally, and Ormia does even better. Here's that same recording from a moment ago, this time with directional mikes.

(Music and mulling voices. A woman says, "The hogs were fed chopped corn and cabbage.")

CHADWICK: Again, non-directional mikes...

(Music, mulling voices, a woman's faint voice mixed in)

CHADWICK: And directional.

(Music and mulling voices. A woman says, "The hogs were fed chopped corn and cabbage.")

CHADWICK: Directional mikes exist now for hearing aids, but too big for the kind of aids people prefer. The kind worn discretely, inside the ear. The National Institutes of Health awarded a grant to Ron Miles and colleagues to design and build a new hearing aid, based on the ear of Ormia.

MILES: The fly, I see it, is an existing prototype. So that gives us some confidence that it's possible to make one of these things. Because Nature certainly has. The challenge that we have is to figure out how to fabricate it, so that it works the same way.

CHADWICK: You think you can do it?

MILES: Yeah, I think we can do it.

CHADWICK: A small fly with an amazing ear caught the attention of an engineering professor, Ron Miles, and a research biologist, Ron Hoy, and now it could help millions of people hear better. And for Dr. Hoy, Ormia ochracia has provided one more unexpected benefit. He is a very accomplished scientist, and still has felt awkward sometimes, devoting his intellect to studying insects. How do you explain that to others? How do you explain it to your mom?

HOY: She usually says, "That's nice." But I know what was going on in her mind was, "Bug ears? Why didn't you become a real doctor?" But when we came upon the fly's ear, and when I heard that, my God, this could actually turn out to be worth something out there in the real world, this has been one of the highlights of my life.

(Fly buzzing)

CHADWICK: For Radio Expeditions, this is Alex Chadwick, NPR News.

(Buzzing continues up and under)

CURWOOD: That Radio Expedition from NPR and the National Geographic Society was produced by Carolyn Jensen, with technical director Charles Johnson.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Growing Mushrooms in Florida

CURWOOD: In the heart of central Florida's rolling hills, it's an unusual ranch. Wind Dancer Acres has cattle and free-range chickens. But many folks know owners Rob and Debbie Morrow for the organic shiitake mushrooms they produce. The Morrows have special permission to cut down non-native laurel oak trees from a nearby state forest. The laurel oak logs are well-suited to cultivating the delicious fungus. Producer Bill George visited the Morrows to learn about growing mushrooms. The day begins in the woods, about a mile and a half from the ranch.


R. MORROW: Are we ready to tromp? (Laughs)


R. MORROW: There, that looks like a good one to start with. It's like it's about six inches in diameter at the base, fairly straight, without any branches up, at least 15 feet. And those are very small ones. We can break those off. So I'm going to crank up the chainsaw now.

(Chainsaw revs up; a tree falls)

D. MORROW: You might want to get a count here, so we get an idea of how many we have.

(Trees are loaded.)

R. MORROW: It's time to wrap it up and go back to the ranch, and do some drilling and complete the process.

(Wheels over terrain, bird song in the distance. The engine is cut; doors close)

R. MORROW: (Groans) Hold it.

(Trees are unloaded)

D. MORROW: Fourteen.

R. MORROW: We have approximately 22 acres here in central, western Florida. And we bought it in 1993 and moved out here. And then decided maybe we needed to pay for it. My wife Debbie came up with several ideas and decided that one of the things she'd like to try was shiitake mushrooms.


R. MORROW: We drill holes in the logs to insert sawdust spawn.


R. MORROW: The spawn is microscopic, mycelium if you will, and it's in a sawdust base, which makes it easier to work with. We drill the holes and inoculate the log, essentially, with that spawn.


D. MORROW: When you inoculate the log, it's very important to do two things. One, as the hole is drilled, it's three-eighths of an inch. Your inoculator is set spring-loaded, so it goes in the exact same depth. You put it over the hole, and as you put it in, it needs to be even. There needs to be no air space down where you put your spawn in. This is probably the most important part of the inoculation process, is getting the spawn in the right place.

(Pounding; other sounds)

R. MORROW: There we are.


R. MORROW: We'll just let that heat for a minute. Right now, my mother-in-law is waxing a log. And when you do that, you essentially just daub liquid wax on the holes where we have put the spawn in. This covers the spawn. It keeps the bugs out and moisture in during the first part of the growing process. The wax itself will fall off eventually, regardless of what kind you have. Probably the first time that this log flushes, which is what it's called when it fruits, at least some of the mushrooms will come through the holes where we have drilled and put the wax on top, simply because that's the weakest point in the log. But by the time they begin to flush, mycelium has grown all the way through the log, and they can literally come out anywhere on that log, including the top or the bottom of the log itself.


R. MORROW: All right, there's two more on the top. We stack these four high and five across, so there are 20 per stack. And it's crib-stacked, so that each layer is hopefully -- the one above is offset so that the water gets all the way down on all the logs. It takes anywhere from three and a half to five or six months laying, at which point you'll see a little bit of white along the end of the log, almost like someone has taken a little pinch of powdered sugar and dropped it on the log. That means that the mycelium [phonetic spelling] has grown completely through the log, and it's time to stand it up and lean it up against the barbed wire. I've never sat and watched a mushroom grow, but I do come down here sometimes when you have a big flush, a lot of logs flushing, you can harvest up to three times a day, off the same logs.

CURWOOD: Rob and Debbie Morrow grow shiitake mushrooms on their ranch in Fernando County, Florida. Our sound portrait was produced by Bill George.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

John Sawhill Remembered

CURWOOD: We note this week that the president of The Nature Conservancy, John Sawhill, died at the age of 63, from complications related to diabetes. And with his passing goes one of the major architects of today's conservation movement. John Sawhill's blueprint was simple: to halt the largest mass extinction of species in the history of the human race by purchasing and protecting habitat. A consummate insider with a gentle smile and an easy laugh, John Sawhill knew how to get things done in the world of high-level politics and corporations. So, when he took over The Nature Conservancy in 1990, he called on contacts he made as president of New York University and as President Carter's Deputy Secretary of Energy, to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to buy natural space. Under John Sawhill's tenure, The Nature Conservancy secured more than seven million acres. But he made sure that the land wasn't simply locked up. Where it made sense, John Sawhill wanted the land kept in the local economy for sustainable use. A few years ago, in an interview with Living on Earth, he explained why he saw no conflict in letting some lands be responsibly logged or drilled for oil.

SAWHILL: We realize that people live in and around the areas that we're trying to protect, that people have to extract value from the land. We just want that to be done in a way which is compatible with protecting the ecology in the area. So, if we don't accommodate the needs of people, we're not going to provide for the needs of nature.

CURWOOD: John Sawhill leaves his wife Isabelle, a son James, two siblings, and a grandson. He also leaves a financial powerhouse for conservation. The Nature Conservancy is now the nation's 14th largest charity, with annual revenues of $800 million. More lasting, though, is John Sawhill's dedication to a network of more than 1,300 private nature reserves, where plants and animals can thrive undisturbed, and where people, if they tread lightly on the land, can enjoy it, too.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, some people who own stocks are out to influence more than the size of their portfolio. They want to change the way companies do business.

WOMAN: Corporations have tremendous power, even more so than governments today. And we ask, who's making the decisions? Why are they making it? Who benefits from those decisions, and who loses?

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, some people who own stocks are out to influence more than the size of their portfolio. They want to change the way companies do business.

WOMAN: Corporations have tremendous power, even more so than governments today. And we ask, who's making the decisions? Why are they making it? Who benefits from those decisions, and who loses?CURWOOD: Inside the shareholder activist movement, next week on Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, and Maggie Villiger, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Christina Russo and Jennifer Chu. Allison Dean composed the theme. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is science editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on sustainable development and environmental issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity; www.wajones.org; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth