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

July 14, 2006

Air Date: July 14, 2006



Delays over Dioxin / Jeff Young

View the page for this story

An important EPA report on the dangers of dioxin has been fifteen years in the making. Now, the National Academies of Science say EPA still has more work to do. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports on why the effort is taking so long, and what’s riding on the final conclusions. (05:00)

Los Arboles? / Ingrid Lobet

View the page for this story

Los Angeles will soon announce a program to plant one million trees in the city. Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet takes a look at the historic roots and green future of tree planting in L.A. (07:00)

Listener Letters

View the page for this story

We take a dip into the Living on Earth mailbag to see what our listeners have to say. (01:45)

Pleasurable Kingdom

View the page for this story

Most pet owners would tell you it’s quite obvious that their pets feel pleasure. But scientific proof of pleasure sensation in animals has been lacking. Host Steve Curwood talks with Dr. Jonathan Balcombe. He’s an animal behavioral scientist and author of "Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good." (08:45)

A Wriggly Business / Ian Gray

View the page for this story

Maggie Pipkins is a self-employed octogenarian in an unusual line of work. Her business? Growing and selling garden worms. Ian Gray has our portrait. (05:50)

Emerging Science Note/Toxic Breakdown / Allison Smith

View the page for this story

Researchers develop a non-toxic catalyst that breaks down potentially harmful estrogens in water supplies. Living on Earth’s Allison Smith reports. (01:30)

Safeguarding Cameroon’s Rainforest / Eric Whitney

View the page for this story

During the last 40 years the rainforest of Africa’s Congo Basin has been devastated by illegal logging and poaching. But pressure from countries that import lumber has led some of the region’s biggest logging companies to look at the environmental impacts of their business and make changes. Cameroon has some of Africa’s toughest logging regulations and is training the region’s first forest guardians. Eric Whitney reports from Cameroon. (14:45)

This week's EarthEar selection
listen / download

A small band of musicians serenade the sunset in a rocky inlet on the northern coast of Massachusetts.

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Jonathan Balcombe
REPORTER: Jeff Young, Ingrid Lobet, Eric Whitney, Ian Gray
NOTE: Allison Smith


CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living On Earth


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. The dioxin family of chemicals are some of the most toxic substances ever known. But after 15 years of research and deliberation the EPA has yet to decide just how deadly dioxins are. Residents living near contaminated sites say they’re tired of waiting for a final answer.

EZELL: We need some definitive information about what is happening with our health because of exposure to these dioxins.

CURWOOD: Also, the mayor of a city known for its freeways is hoping to plant a million trees.

DANIELS: He very much wants to provide some beauty in areas that don’t have beauty. And he wants to create environmental change in some areas that are suffering. He wants to make this the greenest big city in the nation.

CURWOOD: The greening of Los Angeles. And, homegrown worms are a big business for one woman. That and more, this week on Living On Earth. Stick around.

Back to top


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


Delays over Dioxin

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

CURWOOD: Dioxin, in particular what’s called TCDD dioxin, is one of the most toxic chemicals ever studied, with documented health effects from exposure to trillionths of a gram. The health risks include cancer, immune deficiencies, reproductive disorders and neurological deficits.

Dioxin can be an unwanted by-product from chlorinated pulp paper, pesticides and plastics. Yet for over fifteen years regulators at the US Environmental Protection Agency have wrestled with a comprehensive report on just how dangerous dioxin is. Now the National Academies of Science say EPA’s job is still not quite finished. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports on why the study has taken so long, and what’s riding on the outcome.

YOUNG: The Environmental Protection Agency started to update its science on dioxins in the early years of the Bush administration. Not this Bush administration—the last one.

CLAPP: This was under bush the first – George H W Bush was president and Administrator Reilly said we’ll do it for 18 months.

YOUNG: That’s Boston University public health professor Richard Clapp. Clapp served on the board of scientists who would advise then-EPA Administrator William Reilly on the reassessment of dioxin dangers.

CLAPP: Well, it wasn’t 18 months. It’s now 15 years.

YOUNG: EPA’s dioxin report became an exhaustive review of one of the most thoroughly studied groups of toxic compounds. The draft result, released three years ago, said dioxins could cause cancer in humans in very low amounts and cataloged other ill effects in development, immune and reproductive systems—even as a possible contributor to diabetes.

EPA used statistical models to estimate the risk at very low levels of exposure, and their method found that there might be no safe dose of dioxin. But there was disagreement about that. So the government asked the National Academies of Science to weigh in. The NAS did not question whether dioxin can cause illnesses but said EPA’s method may have overstated some risks, particularly of cancer, at tiny doses. NAS Panelist Joshua Cohen says the agency’s work is not quite done.

COHEN: what we are encouraging EPA to do is to look at the full range of plausible scientific assumptions. And in some cases that may imply higher risk in some cases it may imply lower risks. But it’s important for risk managers to understand how much we know and how much we don’t know; how imprecise are our estimates.

YOUNG: Just what that means for EPA’s report seems open to interpretation. Greg Merrell is with the Chlorine Chemistry Council, which represents companies that produce dioxin emissions.

MERRELL: There’s a great deal of uncertainty, that’s what I heard. I’m pleased that the national academy of science identified a lot of work that needs to be done.

YOUNG: Public health professor Clapp disagrees. He says the Academy report does not change EPA’s main conclusions.

CLAPP: And NAS has, in a sense, said although it still needs some tweaking and dotting of i’s crossing of t’s, the bottom line is, this is bad stuff. This dioxin, and the dioxin-like compounds, are harmful.

YOUNG: Once it’s finalized, the EPA report will guide state and federal agencies in decisions on how strictly dioxin should be regulated. Clapp says that’s a major reason why the EPA report took so long. He says industry-connected scientists delayed conclusions by the advisory board he served on—at one point even demanding additional study of a claim that a little dioxin might be healthy.

CLAPP: Then it became, ok, well, maybe actually there’s, uh, the dose at low levels of exposure maybe dioxin’s actually good for you. So there was another go-around about that and that just muddied up the works.

The Chlorine Chemistry Council’s Merrell denies his industry benefits from delaying the dioxin report.

MERRELL: I think industry has always been concerned about making sure that EPA on this issue as well as all other issues uses the most current science so that it can come to the right conclusions.

YOUNG: Merrell points out that his industry has cut dioxin emissions nearly 90 percent over the last 20 years. But because dioxin persists in the environment and builds up in the food chain, many companies still face potential liability for cleaning up old contamination.

Joy Towles Ezell lives near one such site—a pulp mill, which once pumped dioxins into a Florida river. She traveled from Perry, Florida, to Washington for the Academy briefing.

EZELL: I sure did. It’s that important to me and to my community because we have people there at home who are very sick. The fish in the river—there are two species of fish in the river that are actually changing sex, which is pretty scary. I mean, that should be our canary in a coalmine and EPA should be paying attention to that.

YONG: Local activists like Ezell wonder how long they have to wait for a final answer and just how precise the science has to get before regulators will act. Academy panelists say they think the EPA should be able to address their concerns and complete the dioxin report within a year.

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

Related links:
- EPA’s draft version of the dioxin reassessment report
- The National Academies of Science review of EPA’s work
- Environmental Justice Net’s background page on dioxin

Back to top

[MUSIC: Barr “My List Of Demands” from ‘Sur La Mer Samp-Le-Mer’ (Sur La Mer – 2005)]

Los Arboles?

CURWOOD: Some time in the next few weeks the mayor of an American city best known for freeways will announce what seems like an unlikely goal: the planting of one million trees. If Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa succeeds in getting residents on board, the city's tree cover would increase by nearly 60%. As Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports, it could happen. In fact it did happen once before.

LOBET: Turn back the clock two and a half decades. The air in Los Angeles is so bad, ozone is killing pine trees on the forested slopes east of the city. A young environmental group called Treepeople rallies Angelinos to replant, to replace the dying forests. Ruddy and ready, these volunteers not only plant trees, they seem to show up every time winter flooding and mudslides call for a shovel.

NEWS ARCHIVES: Well, the 'Treepeople' volunteers will be out in force this weekend.

The 'Treepeople,' an environmental group that played such an important role, did so much work in helping Southland residents just survive last month’s storms.

Today the Los Angeles City Council adopted a resolution thanking the 'Treepeople' for their efforts…

LOBET: Treepeople and its energetic founder Andy Lipkis seemed unstoppable. Their efforts generated attention environmental groups today can only dream of. One moment some recall fondly is Lipkis's appearance on the Johnny Carson show.

CARSON SHOW: A great pleasure to introduce the founder and director of this fine organization, Andy Lipkis. Andy?

CARSON: So this little, I guess you’d call this a seedling. And this is going to be a redwood?

LIPKIS: It's already a redwood. (Brings the house down)

CARSON: I can't drive my car through it Andy.

LOBET: Treepeople pushed residents of Los Angeles to plant trees in the forests and in their yards, to plant a million, in time for the 1984 Olympics, and they did.

Now fast forward to 2006. An energetic mayor, L.A.'s first Latino mayor in a hundred years, sees a city where upscale neighborhoods may be leafy, but poorer neighborhoods are often barren stretches of endless pavement. Within 24 hours of his swearing in, Villaraigosa planted a seedling with Treepeople and now he says, the city needs a new tree campaign.

VILLARAIGOSA: We need to accelerate our ambitions. We'll be breaking ground shortly on our initiative to plant a million new trees, here in the city of Los Angeles.

DANIELS: This has been the most incredibly inspiring project I have ever worked on.

LOBET: Environmental activist and city official Paula Daniels was tapped by the mayor to head up the new Million Trees program, one that hopes to benefit from the water, air and urban tree research of the last two decades, one with a shift in emphasis.

DANIELS: I know he very much wants to provide beauty in places that don't have beauty. And he wants to create environmental change in areas that are suffering. He wants to make this the greenest big city in the nation.

LOBET: Los Angeles? The greenest big city in the nation? Chicago, Minneapolis: These cities have had serious greening programs for years. Here, on the other hand, we're often confused about what a tree even is.

DANIELS: I've had a lot of questions about palm trees. Palm trees are iconic to Los Angeles, but they are, by the way, a grass. And they don't actually provide the environmental benefits that we are seeking.

LOBET: "Environmental benefits." That's the way planners talk about the urban forest today. Perhaps the most significant change since LA's last massive tree-planting campaign is that urban tree experts now pride themselves on the ability to quantify ways trees benefit cities—pounds of carbon dioxide removed, gallons of water cleaned, hours of air-conditioning avoided.

TRETHEWAY: My name is Ray Tretheway. I’m the executive director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

LOBET: In the state capital, 400 miles north of L.A., temperatures can stay over 100 degrees, late in the afternoon, for weeks each year. Not too long ago, 350 thousand trees were planted in Sacramento, effectively creating a desert oasis. The tree effort there got some of its advice from the nation's space agency, NASA.

TRETHEWAY: If we doubled our canopy, it lowers our ambient air temperature – by their studies – two point nine degrees fahrenheit.

LOBET: Two point nine degree may not sound like much, but it can reduce the number of days the air violates federal smog standards, since ozone is produced when pollutants bake in the sun. It also translates into shade, and lower demand for air conditioning.

TRETHEWAY: This is all about canopy. A large canopy tree versus small canopy tree; it’s about 12 times the amount of leaf cover – minimum – in a large canopy tree.

LOBET: Cities have increasingly sophisticated tools for this work. This month urban foresters from the US Forest Service will roll out new software that allows cities to quickly estimate their tree canopy, the condition of the trees and potential vacant planting sites. Greg McPherson directs the Center for Urban Forest Research and helped develop the software. He says 15 cities have already compared the cost of pruning and watering their trees with the benefit their trees provide by cooling, removing pollution and CO2, catching rainfall, even increased property taxes from higher home values.

MCPHERSON: So for every dollar invested every year in tree management, the benefits can be in the order of $1.50 to $3.50 per tree.

LOBET: With the software on handheld computers, teams of volunteers can gather the data by measuring a sample of trees at chest height.

MCPHERSON: If you know the species and you know the size, that’s enough to come up with an estimate of the leaf area, the height, the crown diameter of the tree.

LOBET: Then the samples are combined with satellite images to create a picture of the city’s green.

MCPHERSON: So it's great because it allows volunteers to learn about their trees, to meet other people. And it saves cities money because otherwise they would pay anywhere from 2-3 dollars per tree to have a professional inventory these trees.

LOBET: Los Angeles residents will soon encounter these new methods as the million tree campaign launches, in English, Korean and Spanish. Different environmental groups have been assigned city districts, and will organize neighbors to plant purchased and donated Ginkos, Chinese flames, and Coast Live Oaks. Hollywood will no doubt have a role, as it did back in 1983 with this public service announcement featuring Gregory Peck.

PECK: Turn over a new leaf, Los Angeles. Help plant the urban forest.

LOBET: For Living On Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.

Related links:
- Tree-Link: The Urban Forestry Portal
- iTree: Tools for Assessing and Managing Community Forests
- Million Trees LA
- Northeast Trees
- Treepeople

Back to top

[MUSIC: Bob Neary “Trees, Trees, Trees” from ‘Trees, Trees, Trees’ (Bob Neary – 2005)]

CURWOOD: Coming up: we meet a woman who raises and sells little red wigglies…Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Peter Lang “Come Along, Joe” from ‘Guitar’ (Horus – 2004)]

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


Listener Letters

CURWOOD: Time now to hear from you, our listeners.

Charles Estus of Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts hears us on WBUR, and he wrote to say our segment commemorating the 50th anniversary of the US Interstate Highway System ignored its high social costs. Mr. Estus writes “Folks now commute in and out of central cities to maintain their middle and upper middle class suburban life styles while physically, socially, and politically by-passing the central cities where poverty, crime and illness take their daily toll.”

KQED listener Andy Singer of Berkeley, California said our report also failed to mention “the connection between cars, the highway system and the catastrophic global warming the world now faces. The federal government…could have decided to create an interstate, high speed rail system as was done in Europe, but it didn’t,” writes Mr. Singer. He adds that decision “has condemned the U.S. to an oil-dependent, inefficient transportation system and horrific land use patterns.”

Ann Greenwood, who hears our program on WBUR in Boston, wrote to comment on our segment on lawns. Instead of confronting lawn contractors about the chemicals they use, as our Consumer Reports specialist suggested, Ms. Greenwood suggests that lawn owners should seek out an organic option. “Many landscaping companies do have such an option,” Ms. Greenwood writes, “but you have to request it. If more of us requested organic lawn care from these companies, it would send a strong message. “

CURWOOD: Don’t hesitate to send us a message. Call our listener line anytime at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. Or write us at 20 Holland Street, Somerville, Massachusetts 02144. Our e-mail address is comments at l o e dot org. And visit our web page at Living on Earth dot org where you can hear us anytime. That’s Living on Earth dot org.

Back to top


Pleasurable Kingdom

Dr. Jonathan Balcombe with his pet rat, Lucy (Photo: Emily Balcombe)

CURWOOD: Now, this isn’t your neighbor’s lawnmower. For many of us, this familiar sound is a little closer to home, maybe coming from that sunny spot on the windowsill, or even right next to you on the couch.


CURWOOD: To many pet lovers, the purr of a cat is the sound of pure contentment. And for Dr. Jonathan Balcombe, it’s an important subject for research. He’s an animal behavioral scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Dr. Balcombe has written a book called “Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good” and he joins me now. Welcome to Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: Now, I suppose most of us listening to us talk would say, of course animals feel pleasure, but how do you prove that, on a scientific level?

Dr. Jonathan Balcombe with his pet rat, Lucy (Photo: Emily Balcombe)

BALCOMBE: It’s a good question. And that’s really probably why there has been so little about pleasure in the past. Scientists have historically been very reluctant to make assumptions about what’s going on inside an animal’s mind. But fortunately in recent years there’s been a bit of a revolution there. And now the notion of animal emotions, animal feelings, and animal experiences are becoming widely accepted in the scientific community. So no longer is it just one petting one’s cat and seeing pleasure. We are now beginning to talk about that more broadly.

CURWOOD: How about a little empirical evidence.

BALCOMBE: Well as a behaviorist I would try to appeal to what animals, how animals behave. You know ants have a relationship with aphids. And aphids live on plants and they suck the juices from the plant. And they exude what’s called honey dew from the rear end of the aphid. And the ants go for this and they’ve co-evolved with the aphids and they actually tend to them. So the aphids benefit by being protected and the ants benefit by getting this reward. Well, honeydew isn’t just water, it’s sweet. So, if the ants go for sweet things is it just chemical or are they actually experiencing something sweet? I just think it’s an example of that we need to consider the possibility that there is some level of perception and therefore appreciation of the taste.

CURWOOD: Let’s talk about sex among animals. Insects have a lot of sex. Do they have a good time?

BALCOMBE: No idea. I would rather talk about sex in say dolphins and bonobos or pigmy chimpanzees. Those are good examples of animals who are very sexual. In the case of dolphins, both males and females have a genital slit. And they take advantage of that in various social settings. Not just mating to try and produce offspring. They will do what’s called tandem ridding where one dolphin will insert his or her dorsal fin into the dorsal fin of the other dolphin be it male or female. And they will swim along that way. Some dolphins also form these sort of small groups that interact in a sort of sexual orgy. It’s actually got a name for it. It’s called a wuzzle.

And in the case of bonobos, pigmy chimpanzees, they are highly sexual animals. Sex is a sort of daily, if not hourly, aspect of their society. It acts a social lubricant. It acts to defray tensions and it helps to perhaps barter for something. I’ve seen some film footage of bonobos in action and they are pretty remarkable, and I write about them at some length in pleasurable kingdom.

CURWOOD: On what basis do you argue that animals enjoy sex?

BALCOMBE: The reason why I think it’s clear that animals enjoy sex is because not all of animal sex is in the context of making babies. It’s clear that there is a lot of shenanigans out there in the animal kingdom that doesn’t have anything to do with making babies. It is motivated primarily by pleasure.

CURWOOD: Well you know, we all have our preferences for food. Some of us don’t like broccoli, I think there was a president of the United States that didn’t like broccoli, and some of us love broccoli. In your book you argue that animals are the same way, huh?

BALCOMBE: Consider the huge importance of food to an animal. An animal has to get food to survive. So, nature should equip animals with a high motivation to get food. And also with the rewards associated with foods to maintain that motivation. So the animal is motivated to look and search for food.

But let me give you an example. Iguanas were placed in terraria and the iguana would sit on a perch with a bright sun lamp over head. These are tropical lizards and they need to be kept warm. Right below the perch was some processed lizard chow. It’s dry. It’s rather boring, at least to our perception. On the other end of the terrarium was a gourmet treat for an iguana. It happens to be a fresh leaf of lettuce. Now, not something we get too excited about perhaps, but that’s a great treat for an iguana. Well these iguanas were willing to leave their perch and go get the lettuce, even though the lettuce was in a deathly cold corner of the terrarium. The animal is willing to trade off that cold to go and get the gourmet treat. It’s a little like us shunning the fruit bowl and driving out on a wintry night to get some donuts.

CURWOOD: Let’s talk about love for a moment.


CURWOOD: Now it’s tricky enough business among human beings, but how much of what we observe as love among animals is in fact just linked to mating for survival. And how much isn’t?

BALCOMBE: Well, survival and experience go hand in hand. And that’s a key point I make in my book. Evolution and experience are compatible. So even though there may be a survival basis for the bonding between a male and female parrot, say, or penguin or monkey. That doesn’t deny the feelings there. Evolution should favor strong emotional feelings where it’s important that animals work together, for instance to raise their young. So, if an animal has a strong emotional attachment to another then that’s going to keep them together. And if they need to work together to, say, raise their chicks in the nest or to raise their young and wean the young then that should be favored by evolution. So it’s a good example of evolution and experience working hand in hand. And pleasure is very much a part of the dynamic that drives this adaptive behavior.

I would say one other thing about love. And that is of course the negative side of love. Of course, love is very complicated and involves a lot of grief and duress in some situations. An example would be when an animal, or one of us, loses a partner. And just as we grieve for prolonged periods, geese and penguins and certainly parrots will grieve. Certainly parrots and geese are well known for grieving behavior. And monkeys and apes as well, if and when they loose their partner. So, even though that clearly is not pleasurable, it is an indication of the richness of the emotions involved, which in turn suggests that they also derive a lot of pleasure from the interaction when they’re together.

CURWOOD: As you look at this, how do you keep your own perspective as a human being out of this particular area of science? I’m thinking in particular of the movie The March of the Penguins, and it sure looks like Mr. and Mrs. and Baby and everything there. In fact, that movie has such power because really, they look like of bunch of folks in tuxedos.

BALCOMBE: Yeah, that’s probably true, and we should always be guarded against what’s called the sin of anthropomorphism. Never the less, anthropomorphism if it is applied correctly is a very useful thing. In fact it’s unavoidable. We can’t help relating what we see to our own experience. That’s sort of our groundwork that we work from. I think what’s really useful to think about with anthropomorphism, when we are trying to interpret animal behavior, is to think critically. Critical anthropomorphism is a term I’ve heard.

Another interesting way of looking at it is to try and place ourselves in the animal’s position. A colleague of mine named Mark Bekoff says if you are looking at dog behavior, try to practice dogomorphism. Try to think of yourself as a dog and as you observe the dog’s behavior place yourself in the dog’s world, as best we can. Obviously we can not do that completely. But then if we make interpretations about the behavior, we’re more likely to be closer to reality – the dog’s reality – than if we merely place it within our own experience.

CURWOOD: Jonathan Balcombe’s book is called “Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good”. Thank you so much, Sir.

BALCOMBE: You’re very welcome. Thank you.

Related links:
- Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Back to top

[MUSIC: Jayne Fenton Keane “Channel Crossing 2” from ‘Belly Of The Whale’ (Important Records – 2006)]

A Wriggly Business

Maggie shows off the worm beds of The Cape Cod Worm Farm. She's been raising and selling worms from her home in Buzzards Bay, MA since 1974. (Photo: Ian Gray)

CURWOOD: Some people have an unusual ability to improvise. Necessity seems to only make them more creative. Today we bring you the story of one such woman. Maggie Pipkins is 86. Although her husband served in the Air Force, money was always tight. So Mrs. Pipkins, who prefers to be called "Maggie," started a business: a worm farm. These days, she ships out these natural tillers – garden worms – and their castings, by the ton. They go to customers in Europe, Africa, and other parts of the world. From Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Producer Ian Gray has this profile.


GRAY: That’s the sound of Maggie Pipkins, turning over piles of rotting apples with a hoe.


PIPKINS: That’s where the money comes from. I grew up in Louisiana, and I’d had a lot of experience with farm work.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Arkansas Traveler” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. - 1995)]

PIPKINS: The farm belonged to my parents, and they grew a lot of cotton. And my dad grew everything: turnips, mustards, cabbage, watermelon cantaloupes, beets, you name it and he grew it.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

Maggie shows off the worm beds of The Cape Cod Worm Farm. She's been raising and selling worms from her home in Buzzards Bay, MA since 1974. (Photo: Ian Gray)

PIPKINS: My husband was in the military, and we were in Japan and he got assigned to a base in the United States and they sent him to Otis, and that’s why we wound up at Otis.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

PIPKINS: My husband’s income wasn’t enough to put the children through the type of school that I wanted them to be educated from. So, I read this article in the newspaper about the people selling worms to people who would raise them and they would buy them back. But I didn’t go for that because I’d had a lot of experience with that kind of work.

GRAY: To Maggie, raising worms for somebody else seemed too much like raising cotton for somebody else.

PIPKINS: So I decided to try on my own.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

GRAY: She began her business, The Cape Cod Worm Farm, with a handful of leftovers.

PIPKINS: My husband at the time was at Otis, and they do a lot of fishing, the Southern guys that was out there, so he joined the gang. So he had to have earthworms. He bought some.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

PIPKINS: When it was over I took those that were left and began to experiment. And it was a very few worms in there, but it doesn’t take a lot of worms. You put maybe a half a dozen worms together in a container and they do their thing. You know they eat, they mate, they lay eggs and they hatch, and before you know it you have a lot of worms.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

PIPKINS: I tried newspaper, cardboards, coffee grinds, banana peelings, eggshells. All of those things. Not in one container, but in different containers as I went along.


PIPKINS: This is a storage, but this is where…go right on in…should be a light here…if I can find the light, thank you…and I had worms everywhere, I had my bathtub was in here, there’s a lot of junk in there now, but I had a bathtub, a coffee pot, and all kind of containers and buckets, and my boat was right across here, a big boat was right across there.

GRAY: A ten-foot dinghy, full of worms. At one point I made the mistake of referring to the soil the worms were in as dirt.

PIPKINS: No, there’s no dirt, no dirt because they’re eating it and making fertilizer out of it. The soil is three things that you mix together, peat moss…okay…leaf mold, cow manure or horse manure. And they eat that over and over and over along with other food that you put in there. I sell more than three tons of casting at a time.

GRAY: How long does it take to make three tons?

PIPKINS: You leave the worms in it 3 months at the most, and it depends how many worms you have. They’re just eating it and it’s going through them and they’re eating it over and over again.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

PIPKINS: Life has been very good to me. And all of my kids went to college. Yeah!

GRAY: And you sent your husband to college too?

PIPKINS: Yes, he went. And if I wasn’t working then he wouldn’t been able because he would have had to spend more time trying to keep us going.

Being self-employed really help you to be free and to take care of the things you need to take care of the things that you need with your family. So either you are there to help them do what they have to do and give them support, or you’re away working for somebody else. And I don’t know anybody that I would rather work for than to work for Maggie…I really like working for her!

CURWOOD: Our profile of Maggie Pipkins was produced by Ian Gray. To learn more about Maggie and her worm business, visit a website designed by her great-granddaughter, Rotiche. You can get there by way of the Living on Earth website: Living on Earth dot org.

Related link:
Cape Cod Worm Farm

Back to top

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck “Cheeseballs in Cowtown” from ‘Tales from the Acoustic Planet’ (Warner Bros. – 1995)]

CURWOOD: Coming up: sustainable logging in a West African rain forest. First this note on emerging science from Allison Smith.

Emerging Science Note/Toxic Breakdown

SMITH: Hold that tap. Run-off water from animal-rearing facilities and our own sewer water contain estrogen and estrogen-like compounds, such as those found in birth control pills. These compounds have been linked to developmental and reproductive abnormalities within animal populations, including humans.

Scientist have known through research that environmental estrogens play a role in early onset of puberty, increased rates of testicular and breast cancer, and infertility in people. But now there may be good news; a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are testing a catalyst to break those estrogens down, and clean water of additional harmful substances.

Iron-TAML separates two types of estrogens currently found in drinking water. The catalyst interacts with hydrogen peroxide to form an intermediate compound that breaks down toxins via oxidation. Scientists say Iron-TAML is non-toxic and is already used to remove dyes from textile and paper mill wastewater. It can even reverse laundry mishaps and turn that unfortunate pink sock white again. Researchers are currently working with the US Drug Administration to commercialize Iron-TAML to deactivate environmental estrogens in the near future. That’s this week’s note on emerging science, I’m Allison Smith.

Related link:
Carnegie Mellon University press release on Fe-TAML

Back to top

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and: Kashi, whose “Day of Change” tour features yoga lessons, natural food cooking demos, and Kashi cereals, crackers and granola bars. Details at Kashi dot com; The Kresge Foundation, investing in nonprofits to help them catalyze growth, connect to stakeholders, and challenge greater support. On the web at Kresge dot org; and, The Kellogg Foundation, helping people help themselves by investing in individuals, their families, and their communities. On the web at wkkf dot org. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: To Rococo Rot “Sol” from ‘Hotel Morgen’ (Domino – 2004)]

Safeguarding Cameroon’s Rainforest

Logging truck near Mbong Mbang, Cameroon. (Photo: Eric Whitney)

CURWOOD: The destruction of the Amazon Basin rainforest in South America is well known here in the United States. But few people are aware that the world’s second largest rainforest, the Congo Basin in Africa, is in as much or even more trouble.

Now, there is a ray of hope for this corner of the world. Just this year, and for the first time, a major logging company in the Congo Basin met the world’s toughest standards for environmental responsibility. By the end of the year, a half a dozen companies in the Congo Basin could win this certification as well.

Eric Whitney reports from Cameroon, West Africa.


WHITNEY: From the side of a red clay road in Cameroon’s southeast province, the lush, humid, dark green rainforest seems to go on forever.


WHITNEY: And so do the logging trucks. Every day dozens of huge18-wheelers haul load after load of raw logs and cut timber to the Atlantic port at Douala. Most of the trucks carry 3 to 5 logs, but every now and then you’ll see a single, huge tree trunk taking up all of a truck’s capacity.


Logging truck near Mbong Mbang, Cameroon. (Photo: Eric Whitney)

WHITNEY: This has been going on for at least four decades in the Congo Basin, and until very recently, there was little to no control over how much timber was harvested. Corrupt governments, civil wars and consumer ignorance combined to exploit some 80% of the forest with little regard for the future. It’s only in the last decade that things have begun to change, says Susan Minnemeyer of the Global Resources Institute in Washington, D.C.

MINNEMEYER: A lot of this is driven by discussions by the EU about banning wood imports from countries that participate in illegal logging. So companies that operate in central Africa are under a lot of pressure, first to prove that the wood that they produce is produced legally, and then beyond that, to show that it’s done in an environmentally sustainable manner.

WHITEY: The EU is, of course, the European Union, where about half of the big logs are headed. The other half go to Asia, where there is significantly less pressure for sustainably harvested wood. But the European market is big enough to get the attention of some of the region’s largest logging companies.


WHITNEY: Many of the companies operating in the Congo Basin are European owned. This Belgian-owned sawmill is a huge industrial presence, carved out of the towering trees. Stacks of raw logs 30 feet high sit on the bare ground awaiting transformation into planks and beams.

WHITNEY: Jules Esquiles is a manager here. He says his company, Groupe Decolvenare, has always practiced sustainable forestry.

ESQUILES: There haven’t been any changes in the way we exploit the forest. There haven’t been any changes in our relationship with local populations. The only thing we didn’t do for 30 years was to keep records. That’s the only thing we’re missing, proof.

WHITNEY: Because European consumers, and governments, increasingly want proof that the wood they buy comes from green sources, Decolvenare launched an expensive, multi-year effort to have its operation certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, a global non-profit group.

ESQUILES: FSC has it all, all. It’s the most difficult, the most expensive. It has all the inconveniences that are there. It’s really the highest level there is. The advantage they have is they’re recognized worldwide.

WHITNEY: Should it win FSC certification, Decolvenare would be only the second logging company in the Congo Basin region to do so. But about a half dozen others are in line, opening up their operations to independent observers who study and evaluate each company’s environmental and social impacts. Still, most logging in Cameroon and the Congo basin happens with little to no independent oversight.


WHITNEY: Not far from the Decolvenare sawmill the small town of Yokadouma is a bright, busy clearing in a sea of trees. Motorcycle taxis zip around dirt streets between rows of shacks made of rough-cut lumber. Electricity and running water are spotty.
The government’s representative here, Jean Paul Ongba, has few resources to monitor logging operations in the surrounding forest.

ONGBA: Our government doesn’t claim to be able to do 100% verification, but we are gradually working towards this goal.

WHITNEY: Still, Ongba says, Cameroon takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard healthy, productive forests and protect wildlife habitat. The Congo Basin is home to about 50% of Africa’s wildlife, and some 10,000 plants, about 3,000 of them found only here.

ONGBA: Government is looking ahead to the future and thinking of the future, because if we allow anarchy to reign, then there would be poaching, illegal logging, and future generations would no longer have this forest, nor would they have the animals around with them…. Experience has shown that where there has not been any such policy in place, there has been total anarchy and forests have disappeared in little time.

WHITNEY: Cameroon is generally regarded as being the most advanced in the Congo Basin in terms of regulating and monitoring logging. In 1996 the leaders of half-a-dozen Congo Basin countries met here for a rainforest summit, partially to satisfy World Bank requirements for better governance. All the countries now have more stringent rules on logging.

In 1999, the countries mapped out 15 new national parks and reserves totaling more than 17,000 square miles, an area about the size of Maryland and Connecticut combined. But paper parks are one thing, enforcing their protected status is another.


WHITNEY: This spring, under a blazing tropical sun on Yokadouma’s bare dirt town square, 23 new, “eco-guards” celebrated their graduation. The men, and one woman, are paid by the World Wildlife Fund. They patrol the country’s national parks and other forest areas, keeping an eye out for illegal activities.


A Cameroonian policeman with a weapon seized from a suspected poacher, Molundu, Cameroon. The suspect is sitting in the van behind the officer. (Photo: Eric Whitney)

WHITNEY: One of their biggest challenges after receiving their diplomas will be reducing the amount of poaching, both inside and outside the parks. Every year new logging roads push into previously inaccessible areas, making it easy for poachers to get in, kill animals, and ship them quickly to major cities where so-called “bushmeat” fetches high prices.

BONAVONTUE: I must say, the work of an eco guard has a lot of risk.

WHITNEY: Young, fit and thoughtful, Michel Bonavontue graduated with the first class of Cameroon’s eco guards in 2000.

BONAVONTUE: We have to arrest those who are well armed with automatic firearms… and in spite of that we still manage to arrest them, by being careful in the way we approach them.

WHITNEY: This newly graduated class of eco-guards doubles the number in Cameroon to 46. They patrol a thickly wooded area slightly larger than Arizona with few guns or vehicles. Cameroon welcomes World Wildlife Fund’s help in paying and outfitting the guards. It hopes to take over paying their salaries in a few years. But a major currency devaluation in the early 1990’s makes it tough for the government to meet even basic needs.
Tough financial times also push people out of the cities and into the forests to make a living. Desire Dontego Kafak came here from the city of Douala, on the other side of the country. He used to make his living as a poacher.

KAFAK: So, when I came down from the west to the southeast of Cameroon with a friend of my father who was a truck driver, then I realized that there were a lot of elephants around the area we were passing on the way. So I told him that the next trip that you’re coming down I will take along my rifle and I’ll be doing some poaching and I’ll be driving the tusks and the meat. I smoked the meat and we take it to Doulala so I can sell it and get some money.

WHITNEY: Desire used to kill 2-to-3 elephants a week. He says it was the only job he could find, and animals seemed plentiful in the forest.

KAFAK: Yeah, I wasn’t concerned about that. I wasn’t concerned. I thought there were many elephants in the forest, I can kill as many as I can to make my living.

WHITNEY: But then he met an American conservationist, who explained that elephants and other animals were quickly disappearing, that the forest as local people knew it was on the verge of collapse.

KAFAK: When he made me understand this and he was explaining the many advantages people can get from elephants – I mean, I was really having a storm – so that’s one of the reasons I said, OK, I’m going to give up this thing. No more hunting, and he said, OK, he’s going to see how he can get an alternative thing for me to be having some money, even if the money’s not much.

WHITNEY: Desire now works for World Wildlife Fund as a field assistant. He’s one of a handful of local people now making a living in conservation here.


WHITNEY: Inside Lobeke National Park, bird life flourishes. Grey parrots fly in flocks by the hundred, prehistoric looking hornbills are common. – And controls on poaching mean that numbers of other species, like gorilla and elephant, are rebounding as well. That means tourists are more likely to make the long trek to Cameroon’s remote new parks.

JEAN: It’s surprising that people come from so far just to watch animals and go back, but it provides me with the opportunity to work.

WHITNEY: Petit Jean is one of a couple of dozen local people who now make a little cash guiding tourists and carrying their supplies into the new parks. The relatively large populations of elephants and lowland gorillas that draw tourists here mean that it’s not safe, or legal, to enter the parks without guides.

At first, local people were skeptical about the new parks, which are off limits to hunting, agriculture and settlement. But now, Petit Jean says, people understand the parks’ role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

JEAN: I think the creation of the parks is a good thing in terms of conserving animals, because if the number of animals in the parks becomes high, it means these animals will not only remain in the park, but can come closer to our homes, and if we need some animals for food we won’t need to go far. It makes life easier for us.

WHITNEY: Beyond this still very fledgling eco-tourism trade, Cameroon is trying to share the benefits of conservation with local people more fairly, so more people have a stake in preserving the forests for future generations.


WHITNEY: Eya de le Mille shows off a new building that is being constructed with money from a new conservation initiative. It lets local people decide how to manage some of the forest in their area. Some communities keep their forests closed to all but subsistence hunting. Others lease them to guides who charge foreigners big money for sports hunting. The local committees get a cut, and invest in projects they prioritize, like clean water, schools or health clinics. De le Mille manages one of the local committees.

DE LE MILLE: One of the things we do in managing wildlife is sensitizing the local people. We have to make them understand that if the animals are no longer here, no sports hunter will come to get the area on lease, and we won’t have income.

WHITNEY: Sports hunters take far fewer animals than poachers, who generally kill as much as they can to supply city markets with bush meat. De le Mille says this gives local people incentive to help the small number of eco-guards in Cameroon.

DE LE MILLE: Our people serve as informants. We give information to the head of the forestry post who manages a group of eco-guards. So when we provide him with information about the presence of poachers in a particular area, he takes action.


WHITNEY: Back in Yokadouma, the town surrounded by the rainforest in Cameroon, youth day is celebrated every spring. All the school children in town put on their uniforms and parade through town, marching toward the future.


WHITNEY: The odds are increasing that this generation will still have some rainforest left to benefit from in the future. The governments of Cameroon and other countries in the Congo basin are trying to balance pressure to sell off the forests with the benefit of protecting it. The carrots and sticks being offered by governments and consumers in Europe are having a positive impact, but environmentalists say that until Asia starts demanding sustainably harvested wood, the forest will yield more money the old fashioned way- cutting it down.

For Living on Earth, I’m Eric Whitney in Yokadouma, Cameroon.

Related link:
World Wildlife Fund – Central Africa Programme

Back to top


CURWOOD: Next week, after more than twenty years of debate, no one has made a penny drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But the idea of Arctic drilling has been very good for business in Washington.

KRUMHOLZ: It’s no secret that consultants who specialize in this have made a lot of money, especially in recent years.

NUNES: One of the reasons that this continues to be used as propaganda by the environmental community, is because it’s their number one source of fundraising throughout the country to use in political campaigns.

CURWOOD: Following the money in the arctic drilling controversy, next time on Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: We leave you this week in Lane’s Cove. That’s a small rocky inlet on the northern coast of Massachusetts.

[MUSIC: “Lane’s Cove Musicians” recorded by Ashley Ahearn in Lanesville, Massachusetts (July 2006)]

CURWOOD: On a warm summer’s eve, a small band of friends gather together at sunset to make music by the sea. Living on Earth’s Ashley Ahearn captured the scene of this merry troop.

You can hear our program any time on our website, or get a download for your ipod or other personal listening device. The address is loe.org. That’s loe.org. You can reach us at comments at loe.org. Once again, comments at loe.org. Our postal address is 20 Holland Street, Somerville , Massachusetts, 02144. You can call our listener line at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. CDs and transcripts are fifteen dollars.

Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Ashley Ahearn, Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu, Bruce Gellerman, Ingrid Lobet and Jeff Young - with help from Bobby Bascomb, Kelley Cronin, and James Curwood. Our interns are Tobin Hack and Allison Smith. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can find us at loe dot org, anytime. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; Kashi, whose “Day of Change” tour features yoga lessons, natural food cooking demos, and an array of Kashi products. Details at Kashi dot com. Stonyfield Farm (rotated below). Organic yogurt and smoothies. Stonyfield pays its farmers not to use artificial growth hormones on their cows. Details at Stonyfield dot com.

Support also comes from NPR member stations, the Ford Foundation, the Oak 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.

ANNOUNCER 2: This is NPR. National Public Radio.


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

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

Newsletter [Click here]

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

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

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

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

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

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

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

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