Air Date: June 11, 1993
Dismantling Dams in Washington State/ Jennifer Schmidt
Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU in Seattle looks at the future of the Elwha River. Two hydroelectric dams on the Elwha have seriously depleted the river's salmon population; now, with an OK from Congress, environmentalists hope to remove the dams and restore the river to a more natural state. (06:35)
Lead in Mexican Pottery Threatens Children's Health/ B.B. Crouse
B.B. Crouse reports from Mexico City on lead-glazed pottery and its impact upon children. Tougher lead laws by the Mexican government and substitutes for the lead glaze may help to eliminate the problem. (05:50)
Starwars -- or Billboards?/ John Carroll
Commentator John Carroll looks at recent plans to launch advertising into space. (02:17)
Making a Difference Winners Part II
16-year-old Catherine Reeser reads her winning entry and talks to Steve about her ideas. (06:09)
Copyright (c) 1993 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or retransmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Stephen Beard, Steve Inskeep, Peter Klein, Jennifer Schmidt, Bebe Crouse
COMMENTATOR: John Carroll
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Hydroelectric power may be clean and renewable, but it also has ecological costs. Now in Washington State, there's a move afoot to clear the dams from one river so that salmon and other species can flourish.
CANTRELL: Past damage, whether it be caused by dams or other human activities, don't have to be a forever thing. You can go back and recover and restore ecosystems that have been damaged by past exploitation.
CURWOOD: In Mexico, worries that lead in pottery has led to a poisoning epidemic.
ROTHENBURG: If, in Mexico, 50 percent of the kids are exposed to lead level of over 10 micrograms per deciliter for much of their growing years, these kids are not going to develop as a population to their full potential.
CURWOOD: And contest winners, on Living on Earth, right after the news.
NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.
As Congress and the Administration haggle over the fate of President Clinton's proposed energy tax, the European Community has rejected its own plans for an energy tax. The proposal was aimed primarily at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Stephen Beard reports from London.
BEARD: Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany, the most environmentally-conscious countries in the EC, are in favor of the tax. But Britain is opposed, believing that taxation should be a national matter. Some of the member states say the tax should apply to all energy sources, while France insists it should be confined to carbon fuels. Most French electricity is generated by nuclear power. Given the differences, the proposal seemed doomed from the outset. Howls of protest from many recession-hit industries haven't helped. The European Commission says that, without the tax, carbon dioxide output in the community will increase by up to ten percent by the year 2000. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephen Beard in London.
NUNLEY: The leader of the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu says global warming could wipe out his low-lying country, unless the industrialized world curbs greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu says the storms and flooding which many scientists believe will accompany global warming pose a grave threat to his nation.
PAENIU: After all, we don't have anything to do with this global warming. We don't contribute to it at all, and yet we will be the first one to suffer.
NUNLEY: Paeniu was in the US to urge industrialized nations to fund an international energy conservation agency.
Federal standards for ground-level ozone pollution are too lax to protect children's health. That's according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Ozone is the chief component of urban smog. Recent studies show that children's asthma attacks increase with rising ozone levels, even when they're still below the current standard. The pediatricians say that when air quality is poor, children should reduce mid-day outdoor activity.
New Jersey's legislature is moving to make clean-up requirements on industrial land more flexible. Supporters of the move say the laws are keeping new jobs from cities, and encouraging industrial sprawl in rural areas. From WBGO in Newark, Steve Inskeep reports.
INSKEEP: New Jersey's Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act has its greatest effect in old industrial areas like the Ironbound section of Newark, where factory owners must clean up their contaminated property before selling it. Some sellers find the cleanup too expensive, and business leaders say buyers may not need pristine land for new industry. The New Jersey Senate has passed a bill that would lower some cleanup standards. But some environmentalists, like Dan Weiss of the Sierra Club, say changing the rules will only encourage polluters.
WEISS: If they know that down the road they're responsible for cleaning up their property, they're going to take better care of the land today.
INSKEEP: Environmentalists fear the fight over this law could affect efforts to cut back the similar Federal Superfund legislation which applies to all 50 states. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Inskeep in Newark, New Jersey.
NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth.
A reversible and effective male contraceptive may be within reach. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have developed a drug which combines the male hormone testosterone with a substance which blocks sperm production. Dr. Spyros Pavlou, who heads the research team, says there's particular interest in the project in countries such as China and India, where population pressures are high. Doctors say the drug could be available as an implant, injection or nasal-spray in five years.
Gulf War veterans have told a House subcommittee that the war caused their health problems, and that the Department of Veterans Affairs isn't helping them get well. Veterans complain of flu-like symptoms, fatigue, rashes and aches, but say their problems are dismissed by V-A doctors as "post-traumatic stress disorder." Army and Veterans Affairs officials say they're studying possible causes of the illnesses, ranging from exposure to smoke from oil well fires over Kuwait to possible inhalation of dust from explosions of uranium-tipped shells.
In a move that parallels new Federal legislation, regional water officials in California have begun letting the marketplace allocate some water supplies. Peter Klein reports from San Francisco.
KLEIN: With California's population expected to jump from 30 to 50 million in the next 25 years, city planners are worried about meeting future water demands. And farmers here are concerned about ailing markets for certain crops. So they struck a deal: the experiment in California's Central Valley is allowed 63 farmers to sell some of their water to southern California for a period of two years. The farmers will receive $25 million dollars to leave a quarter of their land unfarmed. That's more than they would have made raising wheat, cotton, or alfalfa. Some environmentalists hope the freemarket will allow them to purchase water for rivers and wildlife, but they worry the open market may encourage urban sprawl and further development of California's cities. For Living on Earth, this is Peter Klein in San Francisco.
NUNLEY: That's this week's environmental news, I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.
The power of falling water. When it was first harnessed to make electricity more than a century ago, it promised to bring clean and virtually limitless power to nearly every corner of the globe. If there was a river, chances were there was a spot for a hydroelectric dam. Today, hydropower is still relatively cheap and clean. But there can be some stiff environmental costs. Large areas can be flooded, and fish migrations can be stymied. In Washington State, where huge salmon runs are now history, there's a movement to unblock a key river by removing two dams. Jennifer Schmidt, of member station KPLU in Tacoma reports that after years of debate Congress has endorsed the effort to restore the river, but a major obstacle remains: money.
(Sound of river)
SCHMIDT: On its 44-mile journey from the snowfields of the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the northern edge of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, the Elwha River courses through some of the most pristine wilderness in America. Native people in the area still tell stories of a time before the dams were built, when the Elwha was one of just a few rivers in the Northwest to support all five species of Pacific salmon, including giant 100-pound King salmon.
(Sound of water over dam)
SCHMIDT: The dams are a place of mourning for many members of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. Tribal member Rachel Kowalski often comes here to contemplate the loss of the salmon. Kowalski says tribal elders protested back in 1911, when the first Elwha dam was built without a fish ladder, but she says nobody listened.
KOWALSKI: They raised their voices, they, you know, let everyone know, go over there, look at all the dead fish, there's nothing but millions of dead fish, go check it out. Stop it, do something. And they were disregarded.
SCHMIDT: In 1926, another dam, known as the Glines Canyon dam, was erected further upstream. Together the aging concrete structures block all but the first five miles of the Elwha to migrating salmon.
(Sound of fish hatchery)
SCHMIDT: At a fish hatchery run by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe near the mouth of the river, fisheries manager Patrick Crain tosses feed to a new batch of juvenile salmon.
CRAIN: This year we are raising about 700, 000 Coho, so each of these tanks has about 100,000 fish in the tank.
SCHMIDT: Crain says the hatchery has been trying to maintain the purity of the last remaining Elwha salmon. But as stacks of studies in his office reveal, each year fewer wild salmon return to the river, and Crain says it's becoming increasingly hard to sustain the genetic diversity vital for healthy fish.
CRAIN: The race we are in is to try to build up the runs again, and restore the runs to the river before we start losing that gene pool which the successful restoration depends upon.
SCHMIDT: The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe has been fighting for decades to have the dams removed. But in recent years, they've gained some important allies. Environmentalists, state and Federal fish and wildlife agencies and the National Park Service have also joined the fight. The upper dam lies entirely within Olympic National Park, and park officials say it's incompatible with the park's mission. They also say, unlike other rivers, the potential for returning the Elwha to its natural state is extremely high, because most of the watershed has been protected from development. Last fall, in an unprecedented move, Congress authorized the Elwha's complete restoration, including, if necessary, dam removal. However, it didn't appropriate any money for the project. Still, environmentalists say the vote was an important one. Shawn Cantrell is with Friends of the Earth.
CANTRELL: The precedent we do feel that it sets is that it says that past damage, whether it be caused by dams or other human activities, don't have to be a forever thing. That you can go back and recover and restore ecosystems that have been damaged by past exploitation.
SCHMIDT: But dismantling the dams will mean a pulp-and-paper mill in nearby Port Angeles will lose an important source of cheap electricity. In response to the company's concerns, Congress agreed to compensate the mill for the cost of acquiring higher-priced electricity elsewhere. Orville Campbell, who manages the dams for their owner, the James River Corporation, remains unenthusiastic about tearing the dams down. But, he says, overall, the legislation is fair.
CAMPBELL: The good that is coming out of this is that the companies' interests have been substantially met and that the companies will be out of a contentious conflict and we can get back to the business we know best, which is making paper.
SCHMIDT: Last year's legislation directed the Interior Department to prepare a report by early 1994 on the feasibility, costs, and benefits of removing the dams. Environmentalists are hoping Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt will make a strong case for dismantling the projects. And in fact Babbitt has already stated that there is an extraordinarily compelling case to be made for restoration of the Elwha and perhaps other rivers.
BABBITT: I think in a fair number of cases we are going to find that the environmental benefits in terms of more salmon, healthier streams, more livelihood, more jobs for fishermen, actually justify the economic investment in restoration and in some cases the actual removal of structures.
SCHMIDT: A recent report, commissioned by the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, found that if the dams were removed, increased commercial and sport fishing and tourism could bring in about $280 million dollars over the next 75 years. Still, Babbitt says he hasn't made up his mind.
BABBITT: It is one thing to look at a dam and say, gee, wouldn't it be interesting to have a pristine river chock-a-block full of King salmon. It is something else to say, I can show you that in the context of these times, this budget, the costs of replacement power, that this is something that I actually recommend that we do.
SCHMIDT: Even if Babbitt does come out in favor of removing the Elwha dams, he still has to convince Congress to come up with the estimated $135 million dollars it will take to restore the river. But if lawmakers do not appropriate the money, environmentalists vow to resume the battle over the Elwha dams in Federal court. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt reporting.
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CURWOOD: The element lead is one of the most potent natural toxins, and it is most toxic to those who are least able to understand its dangers: children. As a neurotoxin, lead has its strongest effect on growing brains, those of children under the age of six. And research shows that even small amounts of lead in young children can reduce intelligence levels, and increase learning disabilities and school dropout rates. Here in the U-S, many children are poisoned by lead dust from deteriorating paint. But in Mexico, children face an even more pervasive threat. Researchers say as many as half of all Mexican children have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies because their families cook with lead-glazed pottery. Bebe Crouse has our story.
(Sound of restaurant - dishes clattering)
CROUSE: For 500 years, the people of Mexico have used pottery to cook, serve, and store food. Some cooks swear their well-used ceramic pots are crucial to the rich flavor of Mexican cuisine. The fact is some of that flavor is probably the taste of poisonous lead that has leached out of the pots' glaze. Lead-glazed pots are crucial to many Mexicans. Without access to ovens, millions here cook everything over an open flame, and low-fire, lead-glazed pots are the only durable and cheap cookware that can stand up to that heat. Dr. Cristina Cortinas is investigating the problem of lead for Mexico's National Institute of Ecology. She says it's a particularly Mexican dilemma.
CORTINAS: Nosotros, como Usted sabe, somos un pais con una tradicion artisanal que era tarde la epoca prehispanica . . . (fade under translator)
TRANSLATOR: Our ceramic tradition goes back to pre-Hispanic times, with a richness and diversity seen in few other parts of the world. And though we've changed to a much more demanding standard for lead in pottery, we must reach it without destroying this tradition.
CROUSE: But while the government searches for a solution, millions of Mexicans are being exposed to dangerous levels of lead. And the most vulnerable of those exposed are children. Dr. Stephen Rothenburg of the National Institute of Perinatology.
ROTHENBURG: Women who use this type of pottery in their home, who are pregnant, give birth to children who have almost 70 percent more lead in their blood at the moment of birth that children born to women who don't use this stuff.
(Doctor's office sound)
CROUSE: Dr. Rothenburg is conducting long-term lead studies on several hundred Mexican children, among them, four-year-old Perlita Ugalde.
(Little girl talking with woman: "¿No tiene los rompe cabezas de Mickey Mouse? Woman: "No." Little girl: "Yo, si. . . ." Fade under)
CROUSE: On the day she was born, Perlita had as much lead in her blood as someone would normally accumulate in a lifetime. And so, ever since her birth, she has been put through a regular battery of tests to check her mental and physical development.
(Sound of child playing with blocks; woman's voice: "Cuentame todos esos." Child: "Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve . . ." Fade under)
CROUSE: The good news is that Perlita is developing at an average rate. The bad is that her blood lead levels have gone up since her last visit. Nearly half the children in the study were born with lead levels at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood - a level where Dr. Rothenburg says damage occurs.
ROTHENBURG: If, in Mexico, 50 percent of the kids are exposed to lead levels of over than 10 micrograms per deciliter for much of their growing years, these kids are not going to develop as a population to their full potential.
CROUSE: And that, he believes, threatens the development and vitality of the entire society. But he also realizes that getting rid of leaded pottery has impacts as well. More than half a million Mexicans earn a living making pottery. If the country's tough new lead standards were rigorously enforced, many of them would be put out of work, and a lot of people would be left with no pots. Despite the new regulations, the Mexican government has not made finding a solution a top priority. So far, it has invested only $30,000 dollars in the search for new glazes. but that doesn't mean there is no hope in sight. In a small workshop just north of Mexico City, potter Mario Covarrubias believes he may have found a safe alternative to leaded glaze.
(Sound of kiln open)
CROUSE: Unbolting the door of a roaring, red-hot kiln, Covarrubias lifts out a small casserole dish that still glows with heat. It's the type you would find in any Mexican kitchen. What's different is that the glaze contains absolutely no lead.
COVARRUBIAS: No he descubierta nada, yo . . . (fade under translator)
TRANSLATOR: I haven't discovered anything. I've just studied the literature and gained the knowledge of something that has existed since the 14th and 15th centuries.
CROUSE: By substituting lithium for lead, Covarrubias gets a hard, shiny glaze at low temperature. Researchers at US glaze companies say lithium poses no inherent dangers, but that it can double costs. Even so, Covarrubias' pots are being tested for safety. In the meantime, Mexico's strict new standards are widely ignored.
COVARRUBIAS: Esta norma, nadie la respecta porque hoy por hoy, nadia ha dado al alfarerro. . . (fade under translator)
TRANSLATOR: No one respects the standard, because no one has given potters a glaze that can meet it. I don't understand how you can have a law that regulates lead in pottery, but which doesn't regulate the factories that make the glazes.
CROUSE: Covarrubias thinks that if the government banned leaded glaze, it would force companies to develop an alternative. Dr. Cortinas doesn't think a ban would produce a solution, although she acknowledged that the government's current efforts are not successful either. Researchers at a couple of big US glaze companies have asked for a copy of Covarrubias' formula. They think he might be on to something. Whether he is or not won't be known until many more tests for safety and durability are finished. In the meantime, Mexican potters are left to hope that sometime soon, someone will find a solution that preserves their livelihoods without endangering lives. For Living on Earth, this is Bebe Crouse in Mexico City.
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CURWOOD: Space: The Final Frontier - soon to be conquered in the name of advertising. That 's the intention of a company which recently said it wants to send a giant billboard into Earth orbit. Commentator John Carroll says this is one idea which should never get off the ground.
CARROLL: Maybe it was just a coincidence, but on the same day this spring that the Strategic Defense Initiative was retired to the Ronald Reagan Hall of Mirrors, a whole new Star Wars broke out over the proposal to send a billboard into space. Apparently it's not just nature that abhors a vacuum. But beyond that, SDI and the space ad have something else in common: both are more exciting in concept than in reality. Dubbed the Environmental Billboard by its Orwellian parent, the space ad has been more accurately labeled "intergalactic pollution" by critics. The cosmic Carl Sagan went so far as to call it "the thin wedge which may destroy optical ground-based astronomy." I think that's stargazing, to us earthlings. All this uproar has Space Marketing, Inc. backpedaling like a deadbeat Dad on payday. Initially, the plan was to sell the ad to a global marketer for some $15 to $30 million dollars. But recently, a company spokesman told the Boston Globe, "We will not allow it to be giant beer cans or golden arches. Our hope is it will be some sort of environmental symbol." Uh-huh - that's going to be one expensive baby seal floating around. But that's not the only area where the company is doing the moonwalk. Early on, they said the billboard would orbit for a month and burn up on re-entry, possibly releasing some ozone to help replenish the depleted ozone layer. Now they're saying that part of the billboard would disintegrate, but the rest would continue orbiting for a year, and monitor ozone data, which we need like another Amy Fisher movie. Either way, it sure smells like something's burning. As Space Marketing scans the skies for other ways of justifying its project, this version of Star Wars is taking on a decidedly Wild West flavor. One consumer advocate has said, "Any company crazy enough to advertise on a space billboard will be sorry." Those sound like fighting words to me. Maybe there's some use for SDI after all.
CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator John Carroll is the head of Carroll Creative. He comes to us through member station WBUR in Boston.
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CURWOOD: And now, some of our own news: the Grand Prize winners of the Living on Earth / Stonyfield Farm Yogurt contest . We challenged our listeners to tell us what they'd do to make a difference in the environment in 1993 if they were President. We received entries from the young and old all over the country. The deluge challenged the postal service, exhausted our staff, and brought out the keenest deliberative powers of our judges. But finally, the selections were made - one adult, Delilah Flynn from Seattle, and we'll hear from her next week, and one youth, Catherine Reeser. She's a 16-year-old high school junior from New Berlin, New York. Catherine Reeser travelled to the studios of WSKG, in nearby Binghamton, New York to talk with us, and to read her winning essay.
REESER: When I was elected in 1993, I wanted to make the retention of a clean environment the mission of all Americans. I knew it was not new laws alone that made it happen. It was the people who were ready to change, ready to care about their environment, supporting a whole new lifestyle that centered around the "green attitude." The "green attitude" is the pledge that the Earth comes first, always. The pioneer step under its rule is to stop refuse. The number of materials that could be recycled has increased, and unrecyclable products were no longer manufactured. Regulations were passed, gradually getting stiffer, until landfills would only take recyclables. It became habit to sort and recycle, and became easier to find recycling bins in public places than general garbage cans. Information on composting was circulated, and every household began composting food scraps into fertilizer to use in the increasing number of backyard gardens. GEPA was formed, the Green Earth Packaging Association. They made the stores mass-package, using paper instead of plastic wrapping, and using only one layer of packaging instead of three or four. Dry substances such as flour and sugar were kept in reusable barrels, and customers brought their own containers. Sewage treatment systems were remade and repaired, reducing the pollution of drinking water and rivers dramatically. The money for these repairs came from the defense budget, and the military personnel who would have been laid off were reemployed temporarily in city work crews, breaking down gas stations and planting gardens in their place. All gas stations are obsolete now, because every car bought in America was run only by electricity. I also helped open up Federally-owned lots to volunteer tree planters. Old, unused land tracts in cities began turning into flourishing gardens, open to the public and to the carbon dioxide that the leaves used up. Carbon dioxide emissions were cut incredibly. Laws were passed that made factories plant and maintain several square acres of forest around a factory to help clean the air. Soon there was no open habitable spot in cities around factories that was not striped with green vegetation. Huge hedges grow on highways, reducing noise pollution and granting a better view for roadside houses. As I was leaving office, the last few days of my two terms racing away, there is a fresh environmental President-elect following me. She already had many foreign meetings lined up, and she would be tackling the worldwide environmental changes that included UN regulations on toxic emissions and huge tracts of preserved rainforest. I knew the improvement to our environment was only beginning.
CURWOOD: Good. Well, I'm quite impressed with this, and let me say congratulations.
REESER: Thank you.
CURWOOD: I want to ask you about this wonderful essay, and it really is so thoughtful. First question is, why did you decide to write it as a matter of history, rather than as a matter of promises?
REESER: Well, I thought it was a lot stronger that way. I think that actions mean a lot more when you've done them rather than say you're going to do them. I mean, a lot of people make promises.
CURWOOD: Catherine Reeser, when you first sat down to write this essay, about what you would do if you were President of the United States, where did you first turn for your inspiration?
REESER: I turned mostly to personal observations - little things I'd seen, and I started to build on the little things, and try to expand them to help out larger problems than they had been. Some things that we've done, my community and me, myself, is in our school we have recycling bins. This is very new, this is only this year we've had recycling bins in every one of the classrooms for all the paper, and if one kid tries not to, you know, if one kid just sort of absent-mindedly throws something in the garbage can, the entire class would get up and make him go over, pick it out of the garbage can, unfold it, and stick it back in the recycling bin. It's just something you have to do now.
CURWOOD: And I think you translate that to the world at large. What do you think we should change, those of us who aren't in class but who are out here making livings, raising families - what should we do?
REESER: They're very small, personal things. Like I, what I do a lot is even though we live far away from everything, and we have to drive, we have to use a car all the time, I try not to, I walk home from practice a lot, from softball practice. It's three miles, but it's a really nice walk. Unless it's raining, I usually walk home. And I car-pool a lot, a lot with my friends. I even car-pooled to the prom.
CURWOOD: Thank you. Catherine Reeser, of New Berlin, New York. Pretty soon she won't have to walk home from softball practice - she can ride the new bike she's won as the Grand Prize winner in the under-18 division of our Living on Earth / Stonyfield Farm Yogurt "Making a Difference" Contest. She'll also receive a thousand-dollar US savings bond. Next week, the Grand Prize winner in the adult division - Delilah Flynn, of Seattle, Washington.
(Contest music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. If you have a comment, call our listener comment line, at 617-868-7454. Or write to us, at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Mass., 02238. Transcripts and tapes are ten dollars.
Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. The coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe, Reyna Lounsbury and Jessika Bella Mura. Our engineer is Laurie Azaria, with help from Mark Navin, Rita Sand, and Ron Mitchell. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon. Special thanks this week to member station WSKG in Binghamton, New York.
Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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