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

October 14, 2005

Air Date: October 14, 2005



Flu Preparedness

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As the dangerous avian flu spreads from Asia into Eastern Europe the White House comes up with a readiness plan. We assess the preparations when host Steve Curwood talks with John Barry, author of "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History." (06:15)

Cities Get Ready

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The federal government has its emergency plan for a possible pandemic, but what about local governments? Host Steve Curwood talks with Doctor Jonathan Fielding, director of public health in L.A. County. (04:40)

Toxic Warning

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We hear from local officials and residents of a housing development that was built atop New Orleans' old Agriculture Street Landfill. The EPA has placed health risk warning signs in the area because of high levels of bacteria and toxicity. (02:00)

Post-Katrina Energy / Jeff Young

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In the wake of widespread damage to natural gas, oil rigs and refineries during this year’s hurricane season, the government has approved a controversial bill to expand refineries and limit some environmental regulations. And now some lawmakers want to go further to expand offshore drilling. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports from Capitol Hill. (04:30)

An Unreasonable Woman

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Diane Wilson, shrimp fisherwoman turned activist from Seadrift, Texas, talks with Steve Curwood about her book, "An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas." (10:30)

Tensions High for the Kalahari Bushmen

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The Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana are fighting to remain on their ancestral land and continue their traditional way of life. Rupert Isaacson, author of “The Healing Land: The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert,” tells Living on Earth host Steve Curwood that the government is stepping up its efforts to relocate the Bushmen because of an impending court case challenging the so-called “forced removals.” We’ll also hear from John Moreti, deputy ambassador of the Embassy of the Republic of Botswana, who says the Bushmen were never forcibly relocated. (08:15)

Return of the King / Diane Toomey

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The American Chestnut tree once covered more than a quarter of the eastern woodlands from Michigan to Maine, and down into Georgia. But more than a century ago, a lethal fungus began killing off the great trees. Three and a half billion trees died. But they may be coming back. Diane Toomey reports. (08:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: John Barry, Jonathan Fielding, Diane Wilson, Rupert Isaacson
REPORTERS: Jeff Young, Diane Toomey


CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. As the dangerous avian flu spreads from Asia into Eastern Europe, an alarm bell goes off at the White House.

BUSH: I am concerned about avian flu. I’m concern about what an avian flu could mean for the United States, and the world.

CURWOOD: We’ll assess the government’s emergency readiness plan to deal with a possible pandemic. And we’ll tell you the story of one woman’s ultimate sacrifice to stop a Texas chemical company from polluting her fishing grounds.

WILSON: I was going to take the thing I held most precious which was my shrimp boat, it was the way I made a living, and I was going to take it and I was going to sink it right on top of that discharge. Because for me, it was an act of defiance over what they did to that bay, the crime they did to that bay.

CURWOOD: We’ll have those stories and more, this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

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ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.


Flu Preparedness

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

As the deadly H5N1 influenza virus continues to spread into poultry flocks in Asia and, more recently, into Turkey and Eastern Europe, President Bush has joined the mounting chorus of concern.

BUSH: I am concerned about avian flu. I’m concerned about what an avian flu outbreak could mean for the United States and the world.

CURWOOD: So far, the human-to-human transmission of the H5 bird flu has been limited to a handful of cases in Asia. But public health officials are making plans should the virus mutate into a more contagious form. President Bush says the military may have to enforce quarantines, and he urged all nations to make prompt and open reports if a virulent strain erupts in their populations. He says we have to be prepared.

BUSH: I have thought through the scenarios of what an avian flu outbreak could mean. I tried to get a better handle on what the decision making process would be by reading Mr. Barry’s book on the influenza outbreak in 1918. I would recommend it.

CURWOOD: Joining me is John Barry, the author of the book President Bush mentioned. It's called "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History." John, glad you could talk with me today.

BARRY: Well, thank you. Glad to be here.

CURWOOD: Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has said recently that the likelihood of a flu pandemic in the future is very high, if not certain. So can you tell me a bit about the Bush administration’s plan to deal with such an outbreak?

BARRY: I think, in fairness to the administration, prior to the current hoopla, they had been trying to get a little ahead of the curve. But one of the things they’re going to do, and I think they’re all important, put more money into surveillance. Buy more anti-virals – I think they’re a little bit slow on that. Put more money into vaccine infrastructure development, which they have been doing. They are actually ahead of the rest of the world in developing a vaccine for the H5 virus.

Although, since the virus mutates so rapidly, that vaccine may not work if and when – hopefully, it won’t happen – but if and when this virus does jump to humans, and becomes a human virus. I think, generally speaking, with the possible exception of not enough money to basic research, I think they’re doing generally the right things right now

CURWOOD: Now, the president has said that he wants to use the military to effect a quarantine. What do you think of that idea?

BARRY: The first question, of course, is whether you do quarantine at all. If you are going to do one I don’t know how you would enforce it without the military. You know, most people have dumped all over the plan, and the reality is it’s not quite as ridiculous as it seems, and the reason is that I don’t think anybody believes they could actually contain influenza. The disease is simply too contagious and too explosive.

But if the 1918 virus is a pattern, then even slowing the transmission of the virus could make a big difference. And even over a period of two or three weeks from its peak virulence, the 1918 virus dropped precipitously in terms of the death toll. So, anything that slows the virus’s movement might make a difference in saving lives. You know, that doesn’t automatically mean that a quarantine would work, and I’m not sure that they’ve committed to it; it’s just something that you need to look at very hard.

I think the thing that’s gotten the least attention – the least amount of money – that may be the most important thing, ultimately, is basic research. Because the real answer to influenza is going to be a vaccine that works against all influenza viruses.

CURWOOD: Give me a breakdown of what the Bush administration plans to spend the money that it says it’s going to have towards flu preparedness.

BARRY: One thing they’re certainly going to want to do is buy a lot more of Tamiflu.

CURWOOD: Tell me what Tamiflu is.

BARRY: Tamiflu is an anti-viral drug and, unfortunately, it’s only made in one factory in the world, by Roche. And all the Western countries have already placed orders for it. The U.S., this is one thing you could fault the administration for, seemed to be last in line and placed its order late and did not have enough.

On the other hand, I don’t have a lot of confidence personally that the virus won’t develop resistance to Tamiflu. It hasn’t yet done so in the laboratory but, again, it’s one of the fastest mutating viruses in existence. I think chances are, you know, reasonably decent that it would. Plus, Tamiflu is by no means a cure-all. In fact, there are some studies that indicate that it doesn’t cut the mortality rate at all, which is a little bit counter-intuitive because it does seem to cut down the severity of an attack.

CURWOOD: How much Tamiflu would be available if we had a worldwide flu pandemic?

BARRY: Well, it depends on when the pandemic comes.


BARRY: Today, there’s not much out there.

CURWOOD: John, do you have any Tamiflu yourself?


CURWOOD: Would you recommend other people get it?

BARRY: Well, you know, I guess by definition if I have it. By the same token, I don’t want to start a stampede or panic. It might do some good, it might not.

CURWOOD: What’s happening right now with this H5N1 influenza virus that everyone’s worried about? What similarities do you see to the Great Flu of 1918?

BARRY: Well, I mean, certainly there’s real reason to be concerned but like 1918, it seems to be targeting young adults. Some of the symptoms are similar. There’s no guarantee, thankfully, that this virus is going to jump. I know one of the leading scientists in the world on influenza, although he has a minority view, but I find reassuring, he doesn’t think it will jump because he thinks so many people have been exposed to it so far. There are actually several million people in China who have some antibodies to an H5 virus. He thinks it would have jumped by now if it were going to. But he recognizes it’s a minority view and that he could be wrong. Most people think this is fairly likely to jump.

CURWOOD: John Barry is author of the book "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History." John, I hope this was all speculation.

BARRY: Unfortunately, whether it’s H5 or not, there will be another pandemic. If it comes in the next couple years we’ll have a real problem, even if it’s a mild virus. However, if it comes in ten or 15 years, with the attention we are now giving to the problem, things will go a lot better.

CURWOOD: Thank you, John Barry.

BARRY: Thank you.

Related link:
"The Great Influenza" by John Barry

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Cities Get Ready

CURWOOD: The federal government has an emergency plan, but what about local governments? They are going to be the ones shouldering most of the burden of preparing for a possible pandemic, and then dealing with the devastating effects of one if it does come. With me to talk about what Los Angeles County is doing is Dr. Jonathan Fielding. He’s director of public health there.

Dr. Fielding, it sounds to me like a mind-boggling task. I mean, how do you run a county that may have up to 40 percent of its 10 million residents sick?

FIELDING: Well, it depends on how it shows up. I think we’ve been working closely with the quarantine unit of the Centers for Disease Control. We are a major stopping off point for travelers and it’s likely if something came here it would come via air. Although there are certainly other possibilities, as well. We’re also working to get our lab so that it can, in fact, identify this strain. At this point only one lab in California can. Within a month ours and several others will be able to as well.

CURWOOD: One of the issues that can happen if there’s widespread illness is that health care workers themselves get hit and it kind of knocks out the system that will be caring for people. What do you do about that factor?

FIELDING: You’re absolutely right, and there’s two aspects to that. One is making sure that they understand and remember and observe the protections that we need to do to try and reduce transmission from patients to healthcare workers, and from healthcare workers to other patients. But, in addition, we have to be concerned about the mental health aspects, about the psychological aspects.

Because that was one of the issues that Toronto had dealing with SARs. You have to make sure that people feel comfortable coming to work, and that they’re not going to be put at excessive risk, that their families are not going to be put at excessive risk. And we’ve, in fact, embarked on a training program for all our personnel talking about families first and how to make sure you’re protecting your family.

CURWOOD: Back in 1918, when the big flu epidemic killed so many people, medicine hadn’t gotten to the stage where it is today. What are some of the basic things that can be done to treat somebody who might come down with a very aggressive flu that we can do today that we couldn’t do back then? And that could be done on a widespread basis? Not necessarily in a very sophisticated setting, but in a, you know, very simple setting?

FIELDING: I’m not sure that we’ve progressed all that much. Most of the treatment for influenza is symptomatic treatment. For our usual garden variety of influenza it’s treating the symptoms. But we do have anti-viral medication, that is a big difference. And there are a number of anti-virals that work against type A flu. Of those, the one that appears to be effective at this point is Tamiflu against H5N1. Again, there’s been a limited experience base with that. But that’s the primary.

The second thing we have which we didn’t have then is preventing complications through giving pneumococcal vaccine. If you look at the garden variety flus, most of the people who die from that die from the complications of the flu, not from the flu itself. And the most common is pneumonia, and particularly in the elderly. And so pneumococcal vaccine, which is routinely recommended, reduces that risk very substantially.

So we’re much better – we have a lot of antibiotics to treat bacterial super infection, which is one of the most common complications. But to treat basic flu, it’s really the anti-virals that have been the major advance.

CURWOOD: Now, what kind of stockpiling of anti-virals do you have there in Los Angeles that you could use if this were to show up?

FIELDING: There’s a very limited number of antivirals. There’s a long waiting list to get it from the sole manufacturer. The federal government has a couple million doses. There’s another million and a half doses, as I understand it broadly, in the private pipeline. So, there’s no stockpile. We’re on the list with a lot of others to get a limited number, but it’s going to wind up a federal distribution. And our hope is that there will be a ramp-up in the manufacture in time should avian flu become a problem here. And again, I don’t think it’s inevitable, but we have to plan as if it will.

CURWOOD: Can you go anywhere in your public and private life without people asking you about this right now?

FIELDING: It seems to be top of mind for most people. But what I tell people is, this is a time of great urgency for public health because our job is to focus on the things that may not happen, but could and that could be very serious. It is not a time for people to panic. It’s hard not to be concerned about it, but it’s not a time for panic. And it’s a time, basically, to focus on what you need to do for your regular flu season – that’s here and now, and don’t forget about that.

CURWOOD: Dr. Jonathan Fielding is the director of public health for the county of Los Angeles. Thanks for talking with me.

FIELDING: My pleasure.

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[MUSIC: Boards of Canada “Kaini Industries” from ‘Music Has The Right To Children’ (Warp Records – 2004)]

CURWOOD: Coming up: A conversation with an unreasonable woman. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Boards of Canada “Kaini Industries” from ‘Music Has The Right To Children’ (Warp Records – 2004)]

Toxic Warning

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

SAMUELS: Yes, this is my place. Like Vietnam, a horrible mess. I wasn’t prepared for what I see. I had hoped that when I came here, I was just going to have a little something. There’s nothing to even salvage.

CURWOOD: Kemberly Samuels came back to what used to be a home.

SAMUELS: Oh Lord, have mercy.

CURWOOD: Home was a housing development built atop New Orleans’ old Agriculture Street Landfill. This area was a city dump in the 1960s before it was filled in, capped, and homes like Samuel's built on it. Samuel’s neighborhood was, like many, flooded by a levee breach during Hurricane Katrina. Now, home is something she can only visit with gloves, boots, and a facemask.

SAFETY ANNOUNCEMENT: Limit your contact with floodwater. Don’t even breathe mists from contaminated water. When cleaning, wear gloves, goggles and a respirator or a dust mask.

CURWOOD: The Environmental Protection Agency is airing public service announcements to warn returning residents of potential risks. Amid the concerns, there is some good news though. The most recent study of floodwater quality, by Louisiana State University, found high levels of bacteria and toxic metals, but study leader John Pardue says the levels were not as toxic as previously thought.

PARDUE: We were so concerned that that water was essentially a hazardous waste that might have been even acutely toxic to people who were in the water. And I think what our results show is that the water’s most like the normal storm water that runs through the city. It does have some contamination in it, but nothing that rises to the level of a concern for people who might have been wading around in that water. From a chemical standpoint. From a bacteriological or a pathogen standpoint, we can’t speak to that. Our suspicion is that the material that’s left behind is more toxic than the water was.

CURWOOD: What’s left behind is what Wilma Subra is studying. She runs an independent testing company based in Louisiana. She sampled the sediment in five New Orleans neighborhoods, and found three sites, including Agriculture Street, with levels of arsenic, benzene, and petroleum hydrocarbons at three to ten times the EPA’s residential standards.

SUBRA: We’re also finding some of those same components in the floodwaters that were remaining at Agriculture Street, about the middle of September. Now, those floodwaters have all drained off or evaporated, and the toxins are still there in the sedimenty sludge layer.

CURWOOD: Ms. Subra says the Agriculture Street area should be classified as an hazardous waste site, and says the EPA should be doing more to protect residents.

SUBRA: They should be coming up with a mechanism to go in there and remove the contaminated sedimenty sludge out of these residential areas before they allow the people to go back in and become contaminated with this material.

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Post-Katrina Energy

CURWOOD: EPA officials say they are testing the soil in the Agriculture Street neighborhood, but they have not released their results yet. Meanwhile, Congress has swung into action in the wake of widespread damage to natural gas and oil rigs and refineries during this year’s hurricane season. The House of Representatives has already narrowly approved a controversial bill to expand refineries and limit some environmental regulations. And now some lawmakers want to go further to expand offshore drilling. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports.

YOUNG: When viewed from Capitol Hill, the swirling satellite images of hurricanes could well be Dr. Rorschach’s famous inkblots. Politicians tend to see in them what they want to see. Some Democrats see a need for more investment in renewable energy and conservation measures. Some Republicans see something else.

BUSH: They highlighted a problem I've been talking about since I've come to Washington: We need more refining capacity.

YOUNG: The Republican controlled House of Representatives took its cue from President Bush in its first energy vote since the storms. The House rejected renewable energy and fuel efficiency proposals and narrowly approved subsidies for refinery construction. The bill by Energy Chairman Joe Barton of Texas would encourage new refineries with tax breaks and relaxed environmental regulation. A proposal from Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo of California would also have encouraged more offshore drilling. The drilling provisions were dropped after opposition from coastal states. Even then, Barton’s stripped-down bill struggled on the floor.

HOUSE SPEAKER: House will be in order!


HOUSE SPEAKER: House will be in order!

YOUNG: Moderate Republicans joined Democrats in what looked like a two vote defeat for Barton’s bill. The vote was supposed to take five minutes, but the gavel did not fall. For ten, 20, then 30 minutes, Republican leaders kept the floor open until they convinced enough moderates to switch their votes.

HOUSE FLOOR: Mr. Speaker! The Democratic leader is trying to be recognized.

YOUNG: Democrats like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were outraged.

PELOSI: Mr. Speaker, my parliamentary inquiry, is it not bringing dishonor to the House of Representatives for this body to act in…


SPEAKER: Gentlelady is not…

PELOSI: In the shameful way it is…Is not part of culture of corruption…

SPEAKER: Does the gentlelady have a parliamentary inquiry?

PELOSI: …of the Republican Party? To dishonor the wishes of the American people? When are you gonna honor the will of the people who have just spoken?

SPEAKER : Does the gentlelady have a parliamentary inquiry?

PELOSI: I have a parliamentary inquiry: when are you gonna honor them?

SPEAKER: House will be in order! [GAVEL SOUNDS]


YOUNG: After nearly 45 minutes, Barton’s bill passed and the House floor was in bedlam.

SPEAKER : On this vote the ayes are 212, the nays 210. Majority voting in the affirmative, the bill is passed.

CHANTING: Shame! Shame! Shame!

YOUNG: Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey sought to seize political momentum in anticipation of the next big energy vote: an upcoming budget bill likely to include more drilling.

MARKEY : I think that this vote today, in anticipation of what the same moderate Republicans are going to be asked to vote on, is going to raise questions. How long can they go before their own political careers are put in jeopardy?

YOUNG: Drilling proponents plan to use budget reconciliation bills in both the House and Senate to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. There’s also speculation the House version will renew calls for more offshore drilling. Florida politicians have defeated past drilling attempts to protect their beaches. But recent comments by Florida Governor Jeb Bush indicate a shift in the political sands. Bush told reporters he must engage a new reality of likely drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

J. BUSH: There are two approaches. One is to be politically correct and, basically, be ineffective, or to have a chance to influence events and to enhance our position.

YOUNG: Florida environmental advocates say Governor Bush is negotiating with House Resources Chair Pombo on new drilling boundaries in the Gulf. Mark Ferrulo of the Florida Public Interest Research Group says Bush has broken his election year pledge against drilling.

FERRULO: Now we are seeing a retreat, and that retreat is embodied in a compromise that he’s looking at that would allow drilling as close as 100 to 125 miles off our coastline. And that is cause for alarm.

YOUNG: Ferrulo says it’s beginning to undermine what was once a solid front among Florida’s Congressional delegation.

FERRULO: Now what we’re seeing under this latest attack is, we’re circling the wagons but some of the wagons are missing.

YOUNG: As all eyes focus on what is expected to be close budget votes later this month, it’s still up in the air which energy lesson Congress will heed from the hurricanes.

For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

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[MUSIC: The Grassy Knoll “Of All Possible Worlds (Part 2)” from ‘III’ (Polygram Records – 1998)]

An Unreasonable Woman

(© Kate McConnico, The Texas Observer)

CURWOOD: On October 6, 11 workers were injured in an explosion at the Formosa Plastic Corporation plant in Point Comfort, Texas. In the past decade, the facility has been cited five times for safety violations. And last April, the state of Texas fined the plant $150,000 for fouling the air with toxic chemicals.

Years ago, when Diane Wilson found out she lived in the most polluted county in the nation, she turned her eyes and her anger towards Formosa Plastics, and she began what's become a 16-year protest of operations there. She's chronicled her experiences in a new book that, well, it reads faster than many adventure novels. It's called "An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas."

Diane Wilson, a fourth generation shrimp fisherwoman from Seadrift, Texas, joins me today from New York City. Thanks for being here today, Diane.

WILSON: Oh, I’m delighted to be here.

CURWOOD: You’ve got a job, five kids. What made you take an action to the point of hunger striking? What’s the event that pushed you over the edge?

(© Kate McConnico, The Texas Observer)

WILSON: Well, there definitely was an event. But I’ve been shrimping since I’ve been eight years old so I’ve been on the water my entire life. And when I was 40 years old, shrimping was so bad I had to tie up my shrimp boat. And I was running a fish house and one of my shrimpers, I had about 20 shrimpers that I took care of down at the bay, and one them, he had three different types of cancer. He had these huge lumps all over his arms like tennis balls that were underneath his skin.

And he brought me an Associated Press story that said that Calhoun County, which is my county – and it’s a real tiny county, it’s a real rural county, I think we got 15,000 people in the entire county – we were the number one county in the nation for toxic disposal to the land. That information just blew my mind. You know, sometimes there’s just information that if you don’t do something with it, it changes who you are as a person. And so I did something I’d normally never do.

CURWOOD: And this Formosa Plastics, what, there’s a plant at Point Comfort, and that’s where the recent explosions occurred. What kind of things were coming out of that plant that you were worried about?

WILSON: This was a plant that has, from the very beginning, just spewed out vinyl chloride, ethelynedichloride, and chloroform benzene, and you name it. Matter of fact, I know one of their emissions was vinyl chloride and in one single day – you know, people find this hard to believe because vinyl chloride, if you release one pound of it, you have to report it to the EPA, that’s how serious vinyl chloride is – in one single day they released 148,000 pounds across the street from a schoolyard. In one day.

CURWOOD: What’s the EPA done about this kind of pollution?

WILSON: Well, I know when Formosa was coming in there was not a single word said about their environmental record. And I know at the time that Phil Gramm, who was at that time running for, he was thinking about running for president and was developing this war chest for his campaign contributions – and so he was getting all the credit for bringing Formosa Plastics and this huge expansion to the Texas Gulf Coast. And he was, like, guaranteeing that they wouldn’t have to do these long involved impact studies, that they could cut their permit time in half, they could give all these visas to their engineers. And the reason why Phil Gramm and them could guarantee it is because the head of the EPA was Phil Gramm’s campaign manager.

CURWOOD: Phil Gramm being the senator from Texas at the time.

WILSON: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

CURWOOD: Now, in your book you highlight the cronyism between local officials and the large corporations – large and small corporations – that do refining and chemical manufacture. After the explosion October 6, your county commissioner said it appeared there were no toxic materials that had been released into the air. How accurate do you think that is? I mean, do you believe him?

WILSON: No, I don’t believe him at all. And most of them, as much power as they have down there, is that no, the truth does not come out. And I might mention, when they said that there was no emissions, I do know the unit, I believe it was the glycol unit, that went out. Maybe three or four months ago, I talked to a former Formosa worker, and he had been in a glycol tank. And at the moment, both of his kidneys were gone, he was on dialysis, and his doctor was probably giving him seven months to live. This was a 32 year old man. And his coworker was dead from being in there. And this is that unit they were talking about that no, there was no emissions. I don’t believe a word that comes out of their mouths.

CURWOOD: There’s a story that you tell in your book where an EPA attorney thinks that you, Diane, are a woman Diana, who’s a lawyer for the Formosa company--

WILSON: Right, Diana Dutton. Matter of fact, I think she’s a pretty well-known lawyer.

CURWOOD: …And had a conversation. What did she tell you in that conversation before you finally disclosed you weren’t a chemical company lawyer?

WILSON: She thought I was Formosa’s lawyer so she was just talking about, “oh, how’s that discharge doing? How many gallons are you working up now? Do you have any problems with it?” And just on and on and on. And I’m like, what? And finally I was like, “um, ma’am, this is the Diane on the other side”. So apparently they were already discharging. They did not have a permit, the EPA knew it, the state environmental agency, and it did not matter.

And I was outraged. Because when the law doesn’t matter and they just use it wherever they will it just, it destroys your whole concept of your government and your agencies and what democracy…you know, it gets into much bigger issues. And that’s why I took my shrimp boat out and attempted to sink it. Because when you hear something like that that is so outrageous, I had to do something that would break this heavy shield over people that it doesn’t matter. It’s like yeah, it’s illegal. Yeah, we know it.

CURWOOD: So you tried to sink your sink boat? What were you trying to do? And what happened?

WILSON: Well, it was, the discharge was illegal. They were discharging probably five million gallons of wastewater a day. I was in defiance. I was going to take the thing I held most precious, which was my shrimp boat, it was the way I made a living, I was going to take it and I was going to sink in right on top of that discharge. Because for me it was an act of defiance over what they did to that bay, the crime they did to that bay. So I was gonna leave kind of a monument, and my boat was gonna be the monument.

So I got a shrimper to pull me out in the dead of night. And we were sneaking around to Formosa’s discharge and this crazy freak storm came up. I mean, talk about wild. And when I got around to sink it there was three boatloads of Coast Guard. There were these two big cruisers out there and they were saying I was a terrorist on the high seas and 19 years in the federal penitentiary and $500,000 fine. And I was like, I don’t care. I was sinking that boat. And they confiscated my boat.

But something I totally didn’t expect is the fishermen who had been up to that point so depressed, you know, they just don’t believe anything will save them anymore, they were so taken with what I tried to do, and what the Coast Guard were doing, they took their boats out there in the middle of that bay. And it was so rough it could have sunk their boats, that’s how bad it was. And they started doing this demonstration out in the middle of the bay. And the Coast Guard went nuts. So they were zipping all over that bay, trying to cite the shrimpers with their boats.

And Formosa was so sick and tired of my antics and all those boats out there and the Coast Guard that they said, “what will it take to shut you up?” And I said, “well, it’s your discharge, which is recycling of your waste stream.” And so that’s how I got the first plant to do zero-discharge of their waste stream.

CURWOOD: And they do it to this day?

WILSON: Well…(LAUGHS). I got 33 percent of their waste stream recycled.

CURWOOD: There’s something else that I want you to explain to me. There’s that quote where you say the first bad thing about working with two men, is that they’re two men. You’re referring to are your lawyer and activist friends. And then you go on to say, the next worse thing is that their war playing was liable to be as different as heck from mine, and it was. Rick believed in hand-to-hand combat and gouging the opponent’s eyes out, and Blackburn believed in guerilla warfare. What did you believe in?

WILSON: I believed in nonviolent civil disobedience because I think your technique is your path. You know, that’s my foundation. Like when I was a little girl and I’d go to the bay, I could see her. She was a woman. She was as clear as my mother. I could go down there and I could see this woman and she was just all over that bay. She had this personality, it was like walking into a room that’s full of perfume. There’s no way you could miss her. And so I have always had this real mystical vision of being a part of the bay, and so my technique has been this nonviolence, and I truly believe to make change you have to put yourself out there. I think that has to do with commitment.

CURWOOD: Diane Wilson is the author of "An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas." Diane, thanks for joining us today.

WILSON: Well, I can’t think of a better place to be.

CURWOOD: By the way, Diane Wilson won't be going home anytime soon. If she sets foot back in Texas, she’ll be going to jail. In 2003, Ms. Wilson was convicted and sentenced to four months for trespassing after she scaled a tower at a Dow Chemical plant in Seadrift, Texas. After chaining herself down, Diane flew a banner demanding the company be held responsible for the deaths of thousands of people who died in Bhopal, India when a chemical plant exploded there in 1984.

Related link:
"An Unreasonable Woman – A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas"

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[MUSIC: Ry Cooder “Theme from Southern Comfort” from ‘Music By Ry Cooder’ (Warner Bros./WEA – 1995)]

CURWOOD: Coming up: the return of the king. No, not Aragorn or Elvis. We’re talking about bringing back the cherished chestnut tree. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and: The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, online at m-o-t-t dot org, supporting efforts to promote a just, equitable and sustainable society; The Kresge Foundation. Building the capacity of nonprofit organizations through challenge grants since 1924. On the web at k-r-e-s-g-e dot org; The Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and, The W-K Kellogg Foundation. ‘From Vision to Innovative Impact: 75 Years of Philanthropy; This is NPR, National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: Sufjan Stevens “They Are Night Zombies!!…” ‘(Come On Feel The) Illinoise’ (Asthmatic Kitty - 2005)]

Tensions High for the Kalahari Bushmen

This Bushman man lives on the tribal homeland inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.(© Survival)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the 1960s, just before the African nation of Botswana was about to achieve independence from Britain, the colonial government took an unusual step. It set aside a remote area called the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to allow the indigenous Bushmen to continue their traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle. The Bushmen of Kalahari are thought to be the world's oldest aboriginal tribe, with a culture that dates back tens of thousands of years.

This Bushman man lives on the tribal homeland inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. (© Survival)

Despite the mandate to protect their land, the government is now relocating many Bushmen outside the reserve, in the face of protests. Rupert Isaacson is the author of “The Healing Land: The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert,” and he's just returned from a trip to Botswana. Rupert, how many Bushmen remain in the reserve and under what kind of conditions?

ISAACSON: Well, the government will tell you there’s about 17, and they’ve been keeping to this figure for the last three years. In fact, there’s a fluctuating population of between 230 and 260. It’s families living around three confluences of underground rivers where there’s sufficient biodiversity in the wild plants that can produce, you know, wild foods that even without being allowed to hunt they can basically hang on.

But the problem for them is several fold. In the dry season, like right now, when nothing is growing, there’s one source of water in the whole Kalahari, and that is a thing called the tsamma melon. And it grows above ground on these runners and it’s a miracle of this dry land, arid place. So that’s how they’ve been surviving.

Unfortunately now, in the new government push to get them out, there are armed personnel units of anti-poaching wildlife police, and something more sinister called the SSG, which is the Special Support Group, it’s the paramilitary wing of the police, it’s like the SWAT team here. They’re camped out next to these villages now. And if people go into the bush trying to gather, they get hassled and intimidated. The melon patches that they’d grown have been destroyed. Their radios have been taken away.

Bushman children of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. (© Survival)

When I was just out there, about two days before the radios were confiscated, we were getting broadcasts coming in from these communities saying, “they’re firing over our heads, they’re beating us, we don’t know if we can hang on.” And then a few days later a couple of guys were picked up again, supposedly for illegal hunting. One of them had lost the use of his arm through the beating that he’d had. They were in appalling shape.

CURWOOD: Last year on our program, you talked about a court case that the First People, the Kalahari, have brought against the Botswana government. The Bushmen are charging that the relocation of them off the reserve was illegal. Where does that case stand now?

ISAACSON: Right. The case is currently adjourned till February while Bushmen, as usual, run out of money, as the government spins the case out over the years. They’re now having to go and try and get donors to give them more money to see the court case through its next session. What seems to be different this time, as opposed to any other time the case has come to court in the last three years, is that the three judges in the case appear to be getting impatient for a verdict. They appear to be worried that this obvious bankrupting of the Bushmen by the government lawyers; this obvious stalling in order to bankrupt them by the government is starting to make a mockery of the Botswana judicial system. The government, reacting in alarm to this, decided to up the brutality to try and push the people out. So over the course of the summer the incidences of violence and brutality have gone way up.

CURWOOD: Briefly, what is in this case? What exactly is the case that’s been brought?

ISAACSON: Well, all the Bushmen want is their existing rights to dwell, hunt, gather, keep a small number of livestock, and raise small melon patches – melons are how you get water in the dry season – those are the rights they were given when the reserve was declared. All they’re asking for is for those to be upheld.

They’re not asking for mineral rights, even though all the land they were kicked off of has been given over diamond mining companies for exploration, companies like De Beers and BHP Billiton. They’re not asking for anything more than what they originally had.

Bushman woman from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. (© Survival)

They’re saying, we are happy to work with the wildlife department. You set the quotas of what we’re allowed to hunt, you set the quotas of how many goats we can keep, we will absolutely fall into line with the ecological management of the reserve. We believe in this, too. Just please don’t dispossess us. Mine it if you will, there’s nothing we can do, but don’t dispossess us.

CURWOOD: Now, the government of Botswana says that they never have forcefully removed Bushmen from the reserve, that they’ve negotiated with them over a long period of time, more than a dozen years. They say to resettle outside the reserve so they can, quote, “enjoy the benefits of development.” Why do you believe the government wants to remove the Bushmen out of the Kalahari Reserve?

ISAACSON: Well, it was a complicated history. There are a number of things that come in. Diamonds are a part of it. An idea about humans and wild animals not being able to coexist is part of it. And ideas about development having to look a certain way. These three things are combined into an unholy cocktail.

So the government line, as you say, is we never kicked these people out. They moved voluntarily, they were all compensated handsomely. We’ve given them schools, we’ve given them clinics, etc., etc. And there’s enough half and quarter-truths in this to render the Botswana government’s propaganda machine quite effective.

When they moved the first round of people out in ’96, some of those people were compensated, and some of them were not. Not by a whole lot. And some of them were given livestock and some of them were not. Most of them did not want to move. They said repeatedly that they didn’t want to move. They moved fairly fatalistically when the trucks showed up to pick them up, because their bore hole that they’d been getting their water from was cut off to them.

Then there was a big human rights outcry about this. Immediately, these people were moved, they were moved to an area that had been grazed out about ten years before the Bushmen were moved there. So there’s no way to make a living off that land. You can’t hunt it, you can’t gather anything, there’s no wild food. You certainly can’t farm it.

So immediately they were place on what are called “destitute rations” – government destitute rations – so they were turned from people who were living a very self-sufficient life to people who were now reduced to waiting for government to give them a certain amount of flour every month and a bit of money, about fifteen U.S. dollars, which promptly gets spent on alcohol. When people are in that kind of despair the alcohol rates spike. People come in from the outside towns, they start selling alcohol there. They couldn’t get into the reserve and sell alcohol before that. It was too remote.

CURWOOD: Rupert Isaacson is the author of “The Healing Land: The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert.” In November, the African Commission on Human Rights will hear arguments on whether the Botswanan government is causing the Bushmen ongoing, irreparable harm and blocking their attempts to find redress in the fight over their ancestral land.

But John Moreti, deputy ambassador of the Republic of Botswana in Washington, D.C., says since the 1960s there has been diamond exploration all over Botswana, including in the Kalahari Game Reserve, and that the Bushmen have not been asked to leave to make way for mining.

Mr. Moreti says while the government prefers the Bushmen to live outside the park in order to benefit from the quote "fruits of development,” it has never forced the Bushmen, whom he calls “the Basarwa,” to relocate.

MORETI: It took twelve years for the government to consult with the Basarwa about the proposed moves from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. That can never be forced removals. If you want to force somebody to move out of an area, you don’t take twelve years negotiating and putting in place arrangements that would make them relocate easily.

CURWOOD: Mr. Moreti says the Bushmen are welcome to stay in the Reserve, as long as they don’t violate any government regulations. He denies his government has beaten or used force against the Bushmen. As for the purported conditions in the resettlement areas:

MORETI: You know, interestingly, some of the people who tell these stories have never even been to those areas. The people who go to these areas to witness firsthand the development on the ground and talk to the people’s feelings about what the government has done for them reveal something completely different.

CURWOOD: John Moreti is deputy ambassador of the Republic of Botswana in Washington, D.C.

Related links:
- Living on Earth interview with Rupert Isaacson (Sept. 2004)
- Survival International
- Indigenous Land Rights Fund
- Presentation by John Moreti, "The Relocation of Former Residents of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve"

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[MUSIC: Mickey Hart & Planet Drum (Pan Global Percussion) “Bones” from ‘Planet Drum’ (Rykodisc - 1991)]

Return of the King

CURWOOD: It was called the “King of Trees,” “The Redwood of the East.” The American chestnut tree once covered more than a quarter of the eastern woodlands from Michigan to Maine, and down into Georgia. Growing up to 100 feet tall with trunks as wide as five feet, American chestnuts were a critical food source for wildlife, and one of the best sources of lumber

Then, disaster struck. More than a century ago, a lethal fungus began to lay these great trees low. And it took only a few decades to kill an estimated three and a half billion trees. But a Connecticut researcher has been working for close to three decades to bring them back, and may be on the verge of success. Producer Diane Toomey reports.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: An orchard of American chestnut trees.

Dr. Anagnostakis in her experimental orchard near New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo: Diane Toomey)

TOOMEY: An orchard of American chestnuts. You can tell that Sandy Anagnostakis likes the sound of that by the smile on her face as she walks through this plot of about 70 trees. Dr. Sandy, as she’s known, is a horticultural scientist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the state agency that owns this land near New Haven.

And, like everywhere chestnut trees are found, chestnut blight is here in full force. Some of these trees look like no more than small shrubs. Dr. Sandy, a woman quick of smile and sensible of shoe, walks over to one infected little tree to offer a word of sympathy.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: Poor thing. This is a chestnut blight canker. You can see the orange on the bark. And the fungus has broken through the bark here to make these little orange spots. That’s where the spores are formed. And those spores will be carried by insects and animals to a wound on another chestnut stem and start another disease.

Chestnut Blight cankers. (Photo: Diane Toomey)

TOOMEY: Cankers, areas of sunken-in bark, are the telltale sign of chestnut blight infection. The fungus made its way into the U.S. in the late 1800s, hitching a ride on imported Asian chestnut trees. They’re much smaller than their American counterparts, but are naturally resistant to the blight. Even though the tale of the American chestnut is a tragedy, things could have been much worse. While the blight kills a tree’s branches and trunk, its root system usually survives.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: I keep telling people that no, chestnuts are not extinct, and they are not all gone. There just much shorter than they used to be (laughing)!

TOOMEY: That’s because an infected tree can, as least for a while, form new sprouts from its base. But like Sysiphus pushing his rock uphill, each time these stumps start to sprout again, they become infected and die back and then the process begins all over again. However, here in this orchard, something unusual is going on and Dr. Sandy’s trained eye easily spots it.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: Okay. Here’s a canker. Now this is a canker that started, probably, at a broken branch. The fungus got into bark and started distorting the bark, as you can see. But the tree is fighting back by producing callus and this is all swollen up.

TOOMEY: And that’s a good thing, because that swelling is a sign the tree is successfully fighting off the blight. That’s not because this tree is particularly strong, but because this blight is particularly weak, made so by a virus.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: It’s the old, big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.

TOOMEY: Dr. Sandy was part of the team that discovered that lesser flea. In the 1970s, she worked with a French researcher who noticed that many European chestnut trees were surviving bouts with the blight. It turned out the fungus had been disabled by a viral parasite which Dr. Sandy helped to identify. It still isn’t clear how the virus cripples the blight, but the fact that it does was reason enough for Dr. Sandy to try to get it into blight here in the U.S.


SLUTTON: Okay, here comes the slurry. Just squish it into the hole! This is like a pastry bag or decorating a cake, frosting coming out.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: Yes! Experience in cake decorating would be helpful here!

Applying hypo-virulent fungus. (Photo: Diane Toomey)

TOOMEY: Pamela Slutton, Dr. Sandy’s assistant, bends toward the trunk of a chestnut tree, holds a plastic bag with a hole at the bottom, and squeezes out…well, let her tell you.

SLUTTON: This is a sandwich-sized zip lock bag containing a gelatinous mass of tawny flecked goo!

TOOMEY: That goo is actually blight fungus, grown and infected with the disabling virus in the lab. Any killer blight it comes into contact with will also come down with the virus. The plan today is to infect all the killer blight here in this experimental orchard.

Dr. Sandy is the only U.S. researcher working extensively with weakened chestnut blight, also known as hypovirulent blight. And it seems to be paying off. Pam points to the results of last year’s work, an area on a tree surrounded by old treatment holes.

SLUTTON: And now, the canker is swollen because the tree has calloused underneath there, healed around the canker. The hypovirulence did its job and stopped the virulent fungus from spreading. And the tree was able to catch up and get ahead of it! So knotty as they may be looking, that is a beautiful sight.

TOOMEY: Still, this approach alone won’t bring back the giants of the eastern forests, those 100-foot tall chestnut trees of yore. That’s because the trees must expend a great deal of energy to fight off even the weakened blight, so they stay small. But they do live to flower and produce nuts every year. So the wealth of that native genetic diversity can be preserved and put to use.


Experimental chestnut orchard in Windsor, Connecticut. Therese trees are farthest along in Dr. Anagnostakis’ breeding program. (Photo: Diane Toomey)

ANAGNOSTAKIS: That tree is a hybrid between a pure American and a pure Japanese.

TOOMEY: Not far from where Pam is spreading fungus goop, Dr. Sandy stands next to a small tree of mixed ancestry. It’s part of a time-consuming crossbreeding program. The goal? Trees that will grow as straight and tall as a pure American.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: And you can see it has fairly good timber form. It’s nice and straight.

TOOMEY: But with the blight resistance of the Asian species.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: There are very few cankers and the cankers that are present are not doing as much damage to the bark of the tree. So there is virus there, but even so, it looks a lot better than the Americans. So, even 50 percent Japanese allows the tree to have a fair amount of resistance.

TOOMEY: But that’s not good enough. To achieve complete resistance, two copies of all three genes that control for it must make their way from an Asian chestnut into a tree that will grow like an American. It takes a number of crossbreeding steps, using the trees kept alive with weakened blight to do that. Blight resistance can’t really be tested in these hybrids until they’re about five years old. So it’s been one long experiment for Dr. Sandy. But in another orchard, an hour’s drive away in Windsor, Connecticut, she believes she’s on the verge of success.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: I really like the way these look. It pleases me to see all of these nice timber trees.


TOOMEY: As cars drive by this experimental plot on the edge of forested land, Dr. Sandy walks through the seven neat rows of chestnut trees here. These are the ones farthest along in her breeding program, about 150 in all. Most of these six-year old hybrids are a healthy ten to 15 feet tall, and blight-free. It has taken a long time to get to this breakthrough, but over the past 27 years, Dr. Sandy has learned to operate on chestnut time.

ANAGNOSTAKIS: You have to be really patient. You have to live a long time and you can never retire.

TOOMEY: There’s a Chinese proverb that says a nation grows great when its old men plant trees whose shade they will never know. At 66, Sandy Anagnostakis won’t experience the shade of a 100-ft tall American chestnut tree, but she hopes to leave that legacy to future generations. For Living on Earth, I’m Diane Toomey Diane Toomey in Windsor, Connecticut.

Related links:
- Dr. Anagnostakis bio
- "Chestnuts and the Introduction of Chestnut Blight" by Dr. Sandra Anagnostakis
- American Chestnut Foundation

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[MUSIC: Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band “The Chestnut Tree,” ‘Everybody Dance: The Very Best Of British Dance Bands’ (Avid Records – 2005)]

CURWOOD: On the next Living on Earth: After years of atomic testing left their tropical homes in the Pacific Ocean contaminated, many residents of the Marshall Islands left to start new lives elsewhere. And most have settled, in of all places, Arkansas' Ozark Mountains.

MAN: I miss the water, the clear water. I miss the ocean, I miss fishing! There are many things that are really different from back home. I have not seen any sailing canoes over here (laughs)!.

CURWOOD: From the Marshalls to the Mountains – next week on Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, and Susan Shepherd - with help from Christopher Bolick, Kelley Cronin, James Curwood and Michelle Kweder. Our interns are Brianna Asbury and Emily Torgrimson. Our Technical Director is Dennis Foley. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find us at loe dot org. I'm Steve Curwood. And, hey, thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; and Stonyfield Farm. Organic yogurt, smoothies, and milk. Ten percent of profits are donated to efforts that help protect and restore the Earth. Details at Stonyfield dot com. Support also comes from NPR member stations, the Ford Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the Saunders Hotel Group of Boston’s Lennox and Copley Square Hotels. Serving you and the environment while helping preserve the past and protect the future, 800-225-7676.

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