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

June 15, 2001

Air Date: June 15, 2001


State Renewables

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Biodiversity Days

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Health Note

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The Living on Earth Almanac

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Kihansi Spray Toads

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Listener Letters

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News Follow-up

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Tech Note

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Dry Cleaning

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This week's EarthEar selection
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State Renewables

TOOMEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey, sitting in for Steve Curwood. In its proposed federal budget, the Bush administration dealt a blow to renewable energy by slashing funds for research. But some states have programs already in progress that pick up some of the slack. For instance, in New York, Governor George Pataki just announced that by the year 2010, one fifth of the energy used in state buildings must come from renewable sources such as solar and wind.

Daniel Kammen is director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab at the University of California at Berkeley. We asked him to describe what other states are doing, as well as the significance of the New York announcement.

KAMMEN: That's actually very significant. It's got a couple key aspects to it. One is that it sets a target that's enough years off that you can work towards it. So you can make souarteinancial choices to put those renewable sources-- solar, wind, and fuel cells-- on line in time. It also starts with some of the biggest sectors: the federal buildings, the state buildings are a big source of energy use. Targeting them first will send a key signal to business that this is a good sector to invest in and a good market to be involved in in the future.

TOOMEY: How does the New York state program compare with what's going on in other states at this point?

KAMMEN: In Texas they have a much lower standard, four percent, which sounds quite uninteresting to most people, because it's really a very low standard, except that it is a little broader across the board: both the state buildings and also on the residential and business side. Well, we're seeing other efforts, though, that really put this in context. The New York 20 percent one is a very impressive level. Connecticut, however, has just said that they want to be known as the fuel cell state. So they're investing in a whole range of resources. Fuel cells are devices that run like batteries in reverse. You need a fuel like hydrogen, and you can make electricity. But the only output is electricity and hot water. Connecticut right now plans to invest in a number of faculty positions at their state universities as well as Yale University, and they also plan to aggressively draw fuel cell companies into the state so that there will be production there, there will be a big industry base, and so they'll get both the industry benefits and they'll also get the benefits by having fuel cells as an available source of power.

TOOMEY: California is in the middle of a severe energy crisis, and it would seem to make sense that that state would promote renewable energy. Is that what is being done in California?

KAMMEN: Well, California's a mixed bag. California has the longest history in the United States of promoting renewables. There's been strong programs to, for example, have a buy down program for photovoltaics. So that if you buy and install a photovoltaic system on the roof for your home or on your business, you can get around 30 to 40 percent of the cost of that back. That's a program that has recently been refunded with some more money, based on the charge on use of power we have in the state. But we've also got areas where we've really fallen down, and so it really is a mixed piece. One area where we've fallen down is a number of companies that installed quite large wind arrays in California aren't making a penny. In fact, their windmills are spinning without generating power, because the utilities refuse to build power lines to connect them. That's a very bad mixed message: build the gizmos, don't get them connected up to the system. California has also not fully set out any kind of a clear policy so that companies can say, "Ah, the California market is setting a standard." For example, ten percent renewables now, 12 percent later on. And that's the kind of standard that companies really need to see to move into an area.

TOOMEY: Why has New York gone so far, at this point? Governor Pataki is a Republican, and this seems to be going against the grain of the Bush administration's agenda right now.

KAMMEN: Well, New York is already bracing for price spikes like California sees this summer, and blackouts. And so I don't think it's particularly a green statement that Governor Pataki's making. It's one that's based on the realities of a power supply that's constrained and some, like California , some bad market choices in terms of how they're managing the system, so that they need to achieve those levels of reduction.

TOOMEY: So does it go too far if one says that renewable energy is a bipartisan issue at a state level?

KAMMEN: Well, it should be, because renewable energy isn't like taking all the money away from rich industry types and giving it all to organic soy farmers in northern California. It's a way to diversify the energy mix. And the real tragedy that we're seeing in the current California and now spurring the federal energy crisis is that the way everyone seems to try to get out of it is by tightening their belts for the summer, getting through it, and then building more gas plants next year. Now Bush and Cheney have a plan that basically calls for a new gas fired power plant to be built every week for the next three or four years. That's absurd. That makes the United States more dependent on a single fuel than at any time in the past, even more than during the OPEC oil crisis in the '70s. Getting renewables into the mixture is a good business decision for both the green and the fossil fuel types of energy players.

TOOMEY: Daniel Kammen directs the Renewables and Appropriate Energy Lab at the University of California at Berkeley. Thanks for speaking with us today.

KAMMEN: Thank you.

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Biodiversity Days

TOOMEY: More is better, of course, when it comes to biodiversity. But counting the variety of life found in a region can require lots of people power. Massachusetts is the first state in the country to recruit thousands of volunteers to go out and count as many different species of plants and animals they can find, and in doing so, help get a reading on the state of the state's environment. Pippin Ross has our story.

ROSS: Armed with butterfly nets and binoculars, about 200 people gather in a pasture surrounded by forest. They're receiving marching orders for a three-hour foray into the woods.

MAN: There had been quite a few reports of a mother bear and cubs in the neighborhood. So be alert. She'll probably stay the hell from us, but pay attention.

ROSS: Although there's a chance the group will encounter a large critter or two, their attention will be focused on much tinier plants and animals.

MAN: For those who would like to do insects or mainly dragon flies, bees, wasps, butterflies, can you remain behind here?

ROSS: This trek is one of hundreds that took place during three Biodiversity Days, an all volunteer effort to count the flora and fauna of Massachusetts. Bob Durand is the secretary of the state's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

DURAND: For me, this is a great way to reconnect people to the natural world. At the same time, collect all the data, which we're doing, and we're developing an enhanced bio-map for the state of Massachusetts that will identify critical habitat so that we can use our land protection program and provide long term protection.

ROSS: The state recently set a goal to protect 200,000 acres of open space by 2010. The information gathered during Biodiversity Days will be used to determine which tracts will be preserved.

MAN: That was a ...

WOMAN: Mm-hmm. And this?

PIPPIN ROSS: Convincing the flak-jacketed, bird guide bearing crowd who have come to this woodsy hillside that they need to care about biodiversity is a bit like preaching to the choir. Most are avid amateur naturalists with a passion for botanic names and devotion to the several well-known naturalists who lent their support to the cause. Peter Alden is the author if 14 books, including several Audobon bird watching guides.

(Bird song in background.)

ALDEN: So we listen now. We're going to hear a bird that sings 20,000 times a day. Its name is the red eyed veri. It goes "Chureep, churoop." And the other bird in the background is the eastern wood peewee, which comes in from the Amazon. Listen.

ROSS: In the company of someone like naturalist Noble Proctor, a biologist at Southern Connecticut State University, combing through a pile of leaves and dirt is like going on safari.

PROCTOR: In here there will be pseudo-scorpions, there will be mites, there will be spiders. Within six square feet, you could do 200 species with no problem at all.

ROSS: Still, the state has far fewer species than it did just a decade ago. What scares Proctor and the other naturalists, more than dwindling numbers, is the invasion of more aggressive species.

PROCTOR: So we have fewer species of birds, but within them are cowbirds and grackles, and we may have a thousand times as many of those. And so you can still see the same number of species, but the total numbers are fewer.

ROSS: These invasives can snuff out variety, resulting in an unhealthy ecosystem dominated by just a few species.

MAN: Well, the nice thing with these, when you look at the land....

ROSS: After digging and plucking minuscule bugs and beatles, larvae and lichen, the group gathered at a hilltop, standing beside sand dunes erected by Allegheny mountain building ants. Renowned author and ant expert E.O. Wilson gives a riveting description of the complex, highly socialized insects.

WILSON: In Switzerland, a similar ant is used by the mountaineers as a compass. You can always tell where south is.

ROSS: Wilson says if development continues at its current rate -- 44 acres of open space are being lost in Massachusetts each day -- delicate ecosystems dating back millions of years won't survive the next 100. The trick, he says, is convincing people there's economic value to conservation.

WILSON: The natural ecosystems of the world provide us some 33 trillion -- trillion --dollars' worth of free services like control and cleansing of the water supply. Maintaining the richness of soil and the very air we breathe, of course, is vital. Thirty-three trillion every year. And they give it to us free.

ROSS: If the turnout for Massachusetts' second annual Biodiversity Days is any indication, people are beginning to see a connection between the quality of life and healthy ecosystems. The number of volunteers tripled from last year, and twice as many cities and towns participated in the species count. It's now up to the Office of Environmental Affairs to compile the data to get an idea of how many plants and animals share the state with its residents. For Living on Earth, I'm Pippin Ross in Groton, Massachusetts.

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Health Note

TOOMEY: Coming up: a mammoth effort to save a tiny toad. First, this Health Note from Jennifer Chu.

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CHU: Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have found evidence that people allergic to latex may develop adverse reactions from the natural rubber stoppers that cap off drug bottles. In a study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers tested a dozen people who are allergic to latex and 11 who are not. Volunteers were injected with solution stored in bottles with either natural or synthetic rubber stoppers. Five of the 12 latex-allergic volunteers developed rashes from solution stored with a natural rubber stopper. None of them, however, developed an allergic reaction to the solution kept with the synthetic stopper. In addition, researchers from the non-allergic group had no reaction to either stopper. Scientists discovered that latex proteins from the natural rubber stoppers did, in fact, seep into the bottle's solution, increasing the chance of an allergic reaction. Bottles with rubber stoppers are mainly used in pharmacies and hospital settings, for drugs like saline and insulin. Scientists in this study are now encouraging the Food and Drug Administration to label all bottles containing natural rubber. That's this week's health note. I'm Jennifer Chu.

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TOOMEY: And you're listening to Living on Earth.


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The Living on Earth Almanac

TOOMEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey.

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Sixty-five years ago this week, the small town of Racine, Wisconsin was put on the national trivia map when a local policeman set up the first bicycle traffic court in America. For seven years, Officer Al Costible held court at his police desk, presiding over 6,000 cases of bicycle ordinance violations. He recruited several teenage boys to form a bike patrol. Bikers who broke the rules were handed a citation and ordered into the police department, usually on a Saturday afternoon. The bicycle court was intended for children. The less serious offenders -- say those who failed to stop at stop signs -- were ordered to write over and over, "I must stop at stop signs." If the offense was more egregious, the bike was seized until the offender learned his or her lesson. When Officer Costible was later promoted to sergeant, the bicycle court fell by the wayside. In the 1980s, the town tried a new tactic. Law abiding bikers received gift certificates for sticking to bicycle safety laws. Today, Racine's wayward cyclists get a ticket and are sent to municipal court just like every other traffic violator. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.


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Kihansi Spray Toads

TOOMEY: The Kihansi spray toad is found in only one place on earth. The tiny amphibian lives in the mist around a single remote Tanzanian waterfall. And unfortunately for the toad, this is now the site of a hydroelectric dam, designed to provide a quarter of that African nation's electricity. Later on we'll hear about a captive breeding program for the toad at the Bronx Zoo. But first, we talk to Interpress Service reporter, Danielle Knight, who recently traveled to the Kihansi River Gorge. She learned about the conflicting attempts to preserve the endangered toad's habitat while trying to meet the power needs of the Tanzanian people. Danielle, thanks for joining us.

KNIGHT: Hi. Thank you.

TOOMEY: First off, what do these toads look like?

KNIGHT: Well, it's very small. It's about the size of a fingernail, and it's a yellowish-green, or lime green color, and lives in this one specific area where the spray from the waterfall that's created when the Kihansi river goes over and through the gorge. And it's a small gorge. I mean, I hiked down it in about three hours. It's nothing like the Grand Canyon or anything like that.

TOOMEY: Now since this toad wasn't even known about until after the hydroelectric dam project was well under way, talk to me about how carefully officials considered the environmental impacts of the dam in the gorge area. Were they looking hard enough?

KNIGHT: Well, in the early 1990s, the World Bank commissioned some environmental impact studies. But these studies only seemed to look at the impact the reservoir created by the dam would have on the area and on the surrounding eco-system. But they didn't look at the downstream impacts of cutting off the water supply from the gorge so that it could go through the turbines. When I was in Tanzania I spoke with Francis Nyange, who's the coordinator of the Journalists' Environmental Association of Tanzania, which is an environmental advocacy group. Here's what he had to say about his concerns about the environmental impact assessments.

NYANGE: We're not against the dam. We like electricity and we really appreciate the initiative taken by the government and donors to support this important Kihansi dam, because it was aimed at alleviating poverty and improving standard of living. But our concern is the way the question of environmental assessment was treated. I think it was not given sufficient attention.

KNIGHT: This is a concern that you hear a lot also from environmentalists in the United States, with Friends of the Earth, and also with Norwegian environmental activists, that the World Bank should have done more thorough environmental assessments so that this toad could have been discovered before the construction was underway. Because by the time the toad was discovered in 1996, tens of millions of dollars had already been spent on the construction of the dam so there was no turning back at that point.

TOOMEY: How important is this dam for meeting Tanzania's energy needs?

KNIGHT: Well the dam, when it runs at full capacity, is about 180 megawatts, which by U.S. standards is a pretty small dam. But Tanzania's a developing country, and so their electricity needs are not as great. But the dam would provide about one-fourth of Tanzania's energy needs.

TOOMEY: So the Tanzania Electric Supply Company, known as TANESCO, is now trying to do something to preserve the toad's habitat. Correct?

KNIGHT: Right. In order to protect the toad, there have been a number of mitigation efforts underway. And one of them is diverting part of the Kihansi River away from the power project and through a pipe to go to a sprinkler system for the toad that keeps the gorge moist and keeps the toad's habitat intact. When I was in Tanzania I spoke with Decklan Mhaiki, who's the plant manager at Kihansi. And he stressed the need for balancing the environment and Tanzania's energy needs. And this is what he had to say:

MHAIKI: During construction, there was a bypass pipe which was constructed, and it was releasing two cubic meters per second. And we've been doing that throughout the plant operation period. That has impacted our energy needs, definitely. We are losing about 25 percent of what we could generate, particularly in the dry period.

TOOMEY: So the toads don't get their habitat the way it was, and the Tanzanian people don't get all the electricity they expected?

KNIGHT: Right. So this is what TANESCO means by a balance between environment and development of Tanzania's electricity.

TOOMEY: What do the local people, on the ground in Tanzania, have to say about all this?

KNIGHT: Most people that I spoke with, especially in the larger cities, really saw the issue as the toad versus Tanzania's development. And they saw the western scientists and western donors and the western environmentalists telling Tanzania what to do. You know, telling them how they should develop. So there's some resentment. But also if you talk with local people, some local people say the gorge is sacred. And it is a very special place. I mean, it's very beautiful, and there's a waterfall, and it's very lush. Some local people think that if the toads are tampered with, something bad will happen.

TOOMEY: So what's the ultimate fate of the Kihansi spray toad?

KNIGHT: Well, some scientists are trying to find out if some water from nearby streams can be diverted so that the water for the sprinkler system isn't coming from the Kihansi River, so that the power plant could run at full capacity. But, you know, this could impact that and other ecosystems. So scientists are still trying to figure out what the best long-term solution would be. Also they're looking to see if the toad can live in other areas, in other gorges nearby. But so far they haven't had any success. One of the other things that scientists are looking at is captive breeding programs. About 500 toads were brought to the United States to the Bronx Zoo and the Detroit Zoo so that scientists could study the toads in captivity to find out, you know, what kind of food they need and what they need to survive, and also to try and make sure that the toads survive. If they don't survive in the Kihansi Gorge, at least there's a captive bunch of toads that they hopefully can keep protected.

TOOMEY: Danielle Knight is the Environment Correspondent with Interpress Service, based in Washington, D.C. Thanks for joining us today.

KNIGHT: Thank you.

(sound up and under)

EDDINGS: This is Amy Eddings at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. This is the zoo's popular sea lion exhibit. This species, along with others like lions, tigers, elephants and bears, are considered charismatic megafauna by zoologists. By contrast, the fingernail-sized Kihansi spray toad lives in plastic cages, in a quarantined room that's off limits to throngs of cheering children. An unassuming microfauna.

(chirping up and under)

SEARLE: Today at the Bronx we have 82 adults. So we've lost about 190 adults. And we have 258 offspring.

EDDINGS: Zoologist Jason Searle heads up the Bronx Zoo's efforts to save the Kihansi spray toad from extinction. After a year of negotiations with the Tanzanian government Searle visited the Kihansi Gorge last November and collected 500 toads. Some went to the Detroit Zoo. The rest stayed in the Bronx. John Behler is the curator of herpetology at the New York Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo.

BEHLER: Our basic goal is to develop a captive population that will be self-sustaining, and from which we can draw genetic material for restocking areas in Tanzania.

EDDINGS: The Wildlife Conservation Society's most famous effort was saving the American bison from extinction at the turn of the 20th century. But conservationists were familiar with that species. The Kihansi spray toad was unknown to the world until 1996. Conservationists are learning about them through trial and error.

(Mister noise up and under)

SEARLE: You can see this is a fairly fine mist. This misting system replicates the mist that forms when the water going over the waterfall hits the rocks and water below.

EDDINGS: Jason Searle is trying to make the toad feel at home and ready to mate. Then there's the matter of food. Most toads lay eggs. But the Kihansi spray toad gives birth to incredibly tiny live young, so tiny they couldn't eat fruit flies or even minuscule pinhead crickets.

SEARLE: There's another small toad called Mantellas, which are from Madagascar. And the young of that species will eat springtails. So we took a page out of that book and tried it as one of these last - let's just give it a shot. And they ate them, and it was like joy. Thank goodness.

EDDINGS: The toads also brought with them a parasitic and fatal lung worm that Searle and his small team are trying to understand and eradicate before they kill off the toads. No one knows anything about how these rare toads breed, how often they give birth, or how long they live. Curator John Behler says the zoo's effort is open-ended and that it may be a long time before these questions are successfully answered.

BEHLER: Our biggest concern concerning the timeline is that we may become a babysitter for this species and its conservation for many, many years. And so we are voicing this concern to all those that will listen.

EDDINGS: Other zoos in Oklahoma City, Toledo, and Baltimore are joining the effort to breed the toad in captivity, using young toads from the Detroit and Bronx zoos. The zoos are financing these efforts themselves. At the Bronx Zoo, the Toad Conservation Project takes up most of Jason Searle's time and costs about $50,000 annually. The World Bank, which helped finance the Tanzanian hydroelectric dam, is considering loaning Tanzania $6,000,000 to help it start its own breeding program.

(chirping up and under)

EDDINGS: Back in the Bronx, Jason Searle thinks the effort to preserve the toad's Tanzanian home and native population may be too late. He realizes the number of Kihansi spray toads in the gorge has dropped nearly 90 percent since the dam opened last year.

SEARLE: This is why we're here. We're here for these little, nondescript, who-knows-anything-about toads. For the most part, people in the world, they'll sit there and they'll think that I'm a wacko and they think, you know, "What are you doing? It's only a toad. Bit deal," you know. "What's all the fuss about?" But these guys have just as much right to be where they are as you and I do to be standing here.

EDDINGS: For Living on Earth, I'm Amy Eddings at the Bronx Zoo in New York City.

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Listener Letters

TOOMEY: Time now to hear from you, our listeners. Mike Sandman, from Brookline, Massachusetts, hears us on WBUR. He says that we missed the point in our story when we compared Amtrak's high-speed train to its French counterpart. "Acela doesn't compete with a TGV from Paris to Brussels," writes Mr. Sandman. "It competes with the air shuttle from Boston to New York. On a perfect travel day, it takes two-and-three-quarter hours, door-to-door, to get from a home outside Boston to mid-town Manhattan via airplane. That compares with three-and-a-half hours on the train. But there aren't many perfect air travel days in the northeast corridor. If you travel on a day when the air traffic control system goes down, or at peak periods during the day, or when the weather is bad, or when central parking is full, it can take four to six hours to complete the door-to-door journey by plane."

Scott Leonard, of Washington, D.C. heard our Acela piece on the Web. He wrote in to say that we didn't concentrate enough on the environmental benefits of riding the train. "Trains use less energy per passenger mile than planes or autos," writes Mr. Leonard. "So any railroad improvement that seeks to increase market share in that corridor should be welcomed by environmentalists."

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We welcome your comments on our program. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. Our e-mail is letters@loe.org. And visit our webpage at www.loe.org. CDs, tapes and transcripts are $15.00. You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.

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News Follow-up

TOOMEY: Time now to follow up on some of the new stories we've been tracking lately. In a rose garden press briefing, President Bush acknowledged that climate change is a big problem, but he remained adamant that the Kyoto Protocol is not the best way to deal with greenhouse gas emissions.

BUSH: Kyoto is in many ways unrealistic. Many countries cannot meet their Kyoto targets. The targets themselves were arbitrary and not based upon science. For America, complying with those mandates would have a negative economic impact, with layoffs of workers and price increases for consumers. And when you evaluate all these flaws, most reasonable people will understand that it's not sound public policy.

TOOMEY: President Bush pledged to invest more money in climate change research, but in sharp contrast to many European nations, he did not propose any mandatory steps to reduce greenhouse gases. Mr. Bush recently conferred with European union leaders in Sweden. After the meeting, the current EU president said his organization and President Bush agreed to disagree about the Kyoto treaty. Jan Pronk, Chair of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations unveiled a new document which may persuade some countries to ratify the treaty even without the U.S. Key elements in the paper include a concession to Japan regarding carbon sinks. It would give that company greater ability to count carbon absorption by its farms and forests in order to achieve its emissions reduction target. Negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol will resume in Bonn in mid-July.

(Theme music intro)

TOOMEY: Last year we reported on protests against U.S. bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Now the Navy has announced plans to stop using the island for military exercises and bombing practice by May, 2003. Manuel Rodriguez is a former senator in Puerto Rico. He says, protests will continue on the island especially since the next round of Navy training is set to begin soon.

RODRIGUEZ: The idea is not that the Navy should leave in 2003. The idea is that it should stop the bombing and the abuses against the island of Vieques now.

TOOMEY: Activists contend that the island has been contaminated with heavy metals, depleted uranium, and other carcinogens.

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TOOMEY: Further news on possibilities for a green afterlife. How about sleeping with the fishes, literally. Now you're cremated remains can be mixed with cement and cast into a giant dome-like structure. The company offering the service says the so-called "reef-ball" is dropped into the ocean in a marine sanctuary or recreational area. Then you become part of an artificial reef, soon to be colonized by marine life.

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And that's this week's follow up on the news from Living on Earth.

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Tech Note

Just ahead, cleaning up the dry cleaning industry and sustainable wood stoves. But first, this environmental tech note from Cynthia Graber.

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GRABER: Farmers can't drive their tractors at night or in heavy fog, but they probably never thought that help would come from a satellite. Usually, global position system, or GPS, technology can pinpoint a location to within a few feet. This isn't good enough for farmers who need to know within inches where they're driving. Now, NASA scientists may have a solution. Researchers studying the earth wanted more precise GPS systems to help pinpoint the effects of natural disasters and target relief efforts, among other goals. So scientists developed a computer system that actually corrects the positioning errors of the GPS satellite. With this new system, GPS can pinpoint your location to within only about four inches. When employees of an American tractor manufacturer heard about this technology, they immediately thought about how it could help American farmers. If the tractors are equipped with this new system, drivers will be able to navigate through inclimate weather and even at night. A little help from the heavens could give farmers the option to work in all conditions. That's this week's technology note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

TOOMEY: And you're listening to Living on Earth.


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Dry Cleaning

TOOMEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey. Most dry cleaning is actually a wet process where clothes soak in chemical solvents rather than water. More than 90 percent of the 34,000 dry cleaning shops in the U.S. use the toxic solvent, perchloroethylene, commonly known as perc, to clean clothes. During the past decade, perc has been heavily regulated by the government. But some groups feel that's not enough. Now there's legislation in Congress that would give a tax credit to cleaners who voluntarily switch to safer solvents. Gary Johnson reports from Chicago on an industry of mostly family-owned businesses that's facing some big decisions.

JOHNSON: Perchloroethylene, or "perc," is a chlorinated solvent primarily used in this country to make refrigerants, degrease metals, and dry clean clothes. Studies show perc is a known animal carcinogen, and a probably human carcinogen. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Study, released in February, concluded that dry cleaning workers exposed to perc suffer excess cancer deaths. In the early 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency set up strict regulations for dry cleaners for the use and disposal of perc. Rick Hind is the legislative director of the Greenpeace Toxic Campaign. He believes the regulations are inadequate, and that a phase-out of perc is overdue.

HIND: Maybe a hundred million pounds of perc a year are allowed to be released into the environment, and an equal number of people are exposed to that perc throughout the United States. So, it represents a serious health problem, but the good news is there's safe materials, safe processes available.

JOHNSON: A new bill now before Congress would give a 20 to 40 percent tax credit to cleaners who switch over to non-hazardous solvents. Representative Donald Manzullo is cosponsor of the Small Business Pollution Prevention and Opportunity Act of 2001. The legislation has bipartisan support in Congress, and the endorsement of twenty environmental groups. Offering a tax credit, says the Illinois Republican is a way to create a market for safe solvents.

MANZULLO: Unless something is done, perc may be outlawed, who knows, five, ten years from now, and there may be no alternative technology. Then we'll have to use disposable clothing, and then that will fill up the landfill. The best way to replace the old technology would be with something that's environmentally friendly, and to do that through a very generous tax credit.

JOHNSON: While some dry cleaners are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new alternative solvents, others are voluntarily embracing change.

(dry-cleaning noises)

USTANEK: Your clothes are ready.

JOHNSON: It's the end of a wash cycle at Tom Ustanek's Lansing Cleaners, just outside Chicago. The siren signals that his machine has just depressurized. Seven hundred pounds per square inch of pressure is used to keep the liquid carbon dioxide, or CO2 cleaning solvent, at approximately 55(, which is optimum for textile cleaning. Ustanek reaches for the handle of the heavy door on his 10 foot tall, 10 ton washer.

USTANEK: And yes, it does look like we're -- we're getting ready to launch a missile or something out of this thing. (laughter) Uh, but actually it's -- just going to take out your clothes.


USTANEK: Cold, cool, crisp, and ready to press.

JOHNSON: Ustanek is the second commercial liquid CO2 machine manufactured 2 years ago by U.S.-based Micell Technologies. He uses it to clean fire-damaged garments for insurance companies, which makes up a quarter of his business. He says the process is environmentally friendly; most of the CO2 used for cleaning is recycled. Less that 3% is vented into the air. But the machine's price tag of $175,000 is two and a half times that of new perc equipment, which means its cost and size are beyond what most cleaner dry cleaners could handle.

(different dry-cleaning noises)

CHUNG: It's a very big day, yeah?


JOHNSON: Across town, there's a noticeable absence of chemical cells among the familiar carrouseling garment bags and noisy pressing machine of Byeong Chung's Bright Cleaners.

CHUNG: My customers very happy. They like to me, my store, they like to, actually.

JOHNSON: Chung's suburban Oak Park shop is the first in Illinois to switch to the new GreenEarth Cleaning System, which uses a liquid silicone solvent. Her new machine cost over $15,000 more than a new perc machine, but she said she wanted to stop exposing her customers, her workers, and the environment to perc.

CHUNG: It's a big problem now, anyway. Every day you've got the environment problem, ground cleaning, it's too much money.

JOHNSON: Chung and Ustanek are two dry cleaner pioneers who have invested in perc-alternative processes identified by the tax credit legislation, which also includes a sophisticated soap and water process called wet cleaning. Anthony Star of Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology helped spearhead the Alternative Clothes Cleaning Demonstration Project. The program, which was partially funded by the EPA, researched the viability of wet cleaning. Star says wet cleaning is less expensive than some of the other alternatives, and is gentler on garments, workers' health, and the environment.

STAR: The future of the cleaning industry is likely to be cleaners who use wet cleaning plus one or more of the other new alternative solvents that are being commercialized. What I think we're likely to see is that perc will never be banned, but as the new technologies come along, perc will gradually grow to be obsolete.

(dry cleaning noises)

JOHNSON: But not everyone in the dry-cleaning business believes there's a need for alternatives. George Vaselakos has owned and operated Poly Cleaners in Oak Park for over 30 years. He's president of the Illinois State Fabricare Association, and owner of the latest generation of perc machines. Vaselakos insists the industry has handled perc very responsibly since the government imposed tighter regulations.

VASELAKOS: Well, I don't think that there's enough economic reason for me to go to these alternative solvents, and I don't think that they've been proven.

JOHNSON: Vaselakos says the new, efficient perc machines use 73% less perc than 10 years ago, and he'd like to see the tax credit bill amended to include advanced perc equipment. Perc manufacturer Dow Chemical would also like Congress to amend the legislation to include perc. A recent letter obtained by Living On Earth, and sent by Dow to dry cleaning businesses, states that the current bill will "actually disadvantage the vast majority of dry cleaners seeking to become more environmentally friendly." Representatives from Dow declined to go on tape, but Janet Hickman, Dow Industry development manager, one of two authors of the letter, did offer some comments. She says the company is not lobbying Congress, but Dow feels the responsibility to educate dry cleaners about the bill, so that they may inform members of Congress about newer perc technologies. Greenpeace's Rick Hind says Dow doesn't want cheaper alternatives to perc to succeed. The company has fought perc regulations in the past, he says, and including perc would undermine the very purpose of the bill. In fact, Hind has concerns about the inclusion of liquid silicone in the bill, because chlorines are used in the manufacturing process.

HIND: Greenpeace's position is clear that the alternatives to perc are not more toxic or untested solvents. The alternatives are materials or processes that have been proven safe. And those, so far, to us, uh, include wet cleaning and the liquid CO2. If you don't have toxic chemicals going in to the process or disposal, you won't have them coming out.

(dry cleaning noises)

JOHNSON: Meanwhile, Tom Ustanek believes his family's gamble on a first-generation liquid CO2 machine has paid off, but he believes other mom and pop operators are feeling trapped between the old and new ways of doing things. They need a break from the federal government, he says, to invest in new technologies. That way the corner dry cleaners will no longer be looked upon as a major polluter of the environment.

USTANEK: We are all neighborhood operations. The tax credit would be very good because it would just help any of these technologies advance and take over and replace, at a much faster rate than could be possible in our industry otherwise.

JOHNSON: Legislative action on the Small Business Pollution Prevention Act could come as early as this summer. For Living On Earth, I'm Gary Johnson in Chicago.

(drawn out hissing noises)

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TOOMEY: At least a quarter of the world's people depend on cut wood for cooking. This is a major cause of deforestation, and the smoke is a health hazard, especially for women and children, who spend the most time in the house. But there are efforts to improve the traditional cookstove. Ingrid Lobet traveled to Honduras, and found that relief and development organizations are increasingly interested in finding and funding more sustainable wood cookstoves.

(birds chirping, footsteps)

LOBET: Most mornings it's pretty quiet here at the home of Dona Leticia Rodriguez. The only sound, really, is the birdsong.

(conversation in Spanish, and hammering)

LOBET: But today, the house in Suyapa, Honduras, 30 miles from the capital, is buzzing with activity and anticipation. The household is getting a new stove. Dona Leticia and her daughter Isaura tell what a trial their old stove has been.

LETICIA: (speaking in Spanish)

TRANSLATOR: It always take a long time to light the stove, and I have to tend it constantly in order to keep it lit. I have to relight it every time I need it, because it doesn't hold heat at all.

ISAURA: (speaking in Spanish)

TRANSLATOR: Normally it takes us almost all morning to make breakfast. Only then can we start with the tortillas.

LOBET: Not only can traditional stoves be hard to light and require frequent stoking, they burn through lots of wood, forcing families to fork over scarce cash to the firewood man. Worst, they often have no chimney, so women and young children, especially, inhale high daily doses of dangerous particulate smoke. In fact, experts say most exposure to air pollution worldwide happens in the countryside, indoors, in kitchens like Marta Berea's. She's one of Dona Leticia's neighbors, who's come by to watch the creation of the new stove.

BAREA: (speaking Spanish)

TRANSLATOR: I cough, I always feel like I'm suffocating. I know it is the smoke, and I try to move away from it, but I have no choice. I'm cooking, I have to be there, breathing it.

LOBET: International development groups have long promoted alternative cookstoves, often out of a desire to preserve forests. But the supposedly improves stoves didn't always deliver. One widely-built model, the Lorena, was designed at the Aprovecho Commune in Oregon, which is devoted to sustainability. But today Aprovecho trainer Dean Still candidly admits they no longer promote the Lorena because it had a significant flaw: it was packed with mud, and designers didn't realize the earth mass would absorb heat away from the stove top.

STILL: People didn't have an understanding of the difference between insulation and thermal mass, so that people were using earth and thinking that it was insulation.

LOBET: Since then, Aprovecho's technicians have become more sophisticated. They collaborate with scientists and test their stoves in the lab and in the field. Several years ago, they developed the basic guts for a hotter, cleaner stove. Then, in the surge of interest that followed Hurricane Mitch, they got a grant to take the prototype to Honduras and adapt it to local needs. Saul Guzman works with Prolena, a non-profit that works on what here they call socio-forestry issues.

GUZMAN: (speaking Spanish)

TRANSLATOR: So, in January of 1999, some friends from Aprovecho came and brought us a model that they hadn't tested yet. So, it was here that we really were able to test and improve the stove.

LOBET: These stoves, known as Dona Justa stoves, can be built of metal, clay, brick, or mud, depending what's available. In Suyapa, they're handsome, burnished earthen boxes that can be whitewashed or even tiled. But the breakthrough is inside, where combustion takes place in an improbably small 5-inch diameter clay elbow that takes pieces of wood too small to have been useful in the past. The elbow channels the heat upward toward the cooking pots.

(burning and cooking noises)

LOBET: The stove at Dona Leticia's is now done, and she and her neighbors carefully gauge how well it heats up.

BEREA: (speaking Spanish)

TRANSLATOR: To me, it looks good, economical, very little wood. So little wood. We are used to putting whole branches in there, and only then to get a fire. This is more efficient and more decent, less smoke filling in your face.

LETICIA: (speaking Spanish)

TRANSLATOR: It's good. I believe it is working. I think I will be able to buy less wood and save some money.

(pinging noise)

LOBET: Dona Leticia's savings on wood will depend very much on how efficient a firebuilder she was with her old stove, and how careful she is with her new one. She'll save at least 1/4 and up to 4/5 of the wood she's been using.

(conversations in Spanish, clanking)

LOBET: Dona Leticia begins pressing tortillas between wax paper. Then, her tiny frame becomes a blur as she moves between the stove and the press. Her guests joke about whether she'll be able to keep up with the new stove, which fits 16 tortillas, 4 times as many as before -- but she does.

(conversations in Spanish, laughing)

LOBET: "So fast, little grandma," says one, "How old did you say you are?" "72," she answers. "72? You're as strong as an oak." "No," jokes one neighbor, "that kind of wood you can't get anymore." People are starting to hear about the Dona Justa stoves. A non-profit group in Colorado called Trees, Water, People, is funding several hundred stoves in Honduras. The people at Aprovecho are trying to teach technicians in Russia how to build the stove via email, and the group Prolena, in Nicaragua, has applied for a $1,000,000 grant from Finland to build a factory. They want every family in Nicaragua to switch to the Dona Justa stoves to protect the health of the country's remaining forests, and the respiratory health of it's people.

For Living On Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet in Suyapa, Honduras.

(Spanish conversation, music, birdsong)

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TOOMEY: And for this week, that's Living On Earth. Next week we'll hear about a Canadian province where a rat patrol stands ever vigilant at it's borders.

CANADIAN: The job was -- when I first started was -- was action-packed. There was no time to even think. It was just go, go, go and -- and seek and destroy. And that was actually (laughter) a lot of fun.

TOOMEY: Rat-free in Alberta: next time on Living on Earth.

(music louder)

(Music down and Coll Island soundscape up)

TOOMEY: Before we go today, a quick visit to the Scottish Island of Coll. Chris Watson-Sunsets recorded the dusk flights of snipes. The birds dive vertically towards the water, with their tail feathers buzzing in the air.

(snipes etc)

TOOMEY: Living On Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Milisa Muniz, and Bunny Lester. We had help this week from Gernot Wagner. Allison Dean composed our themes, environmental sound art courtesy of Earth Ear. Our technical director is Dennis Foley, Liz Lempert is our Western editor, Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor, Chris Ballman is the senior producer, and Steve Curwood is the executive producer of Living On Earth. I'm Diane Toomey. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living On Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting reporting on Western issues; the Oak Foundation for coverage of marine issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity, www.wajones.org; the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education; the Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change; the Town Creek Foundation; and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.


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