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

January 31, 1997

Air Date: January 31, 1997


Reducing Global Warming: Clearer Goals

Steve Curwood speaks with representatives from two of the leading industrialized nations about their plans to stem greenhouse gas emissions. The first guest is U.S. Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth. Following is a conversation with John Gummer, Great Britain's Secretary of State for the Environment. (08:06)

Warning: Breathing Air Can Be Hazardous to Your Health / Daniel Grossman

Last year some 64,000 deaths were attributed to effects of air pollution. Daniel Grossman reports from Boston on some technological fixes to this rampant public health problem being recommended by the EPA. (12:07)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... musical instruments. (01:15)

Congress & Family Planning Funding / Kim Motylewski

Citing abortion controversy, the U.S. Congress has delayed the release of funds for international family planning. But a house vote coming up in February will be a sign of future relations between Congress and the White House on the financing of our population program. Kim Motylewski reports. (04:24)

New Lead-Free Rules: Get the Lead Out

According to new federal right-to-know regulations, all leases and sales contracts need to include information on known lead hazards; homes may be tested before purchase; and pamphlets on testing are to be provided to tenants. David Jacobs, Director of the Office of Lead Hazard Control at HUD (Housing and Urban Development) speaks with Steve Curwood on the new standards. For more information on rights and responsibilites, listeners can contact the National Lead Clearinghouse at (800) 424-LEAD. (04:55)

Industrial Hemp Harvest in Deutschland / Michael Lawton

Newly legalized, textile mills are processing the country's first modern harvest of industrial hemp. Michael Lawton reports from Germany on the new varieties of the crop, which cannot be made into marijuana, and the forecast for the multi-purpose crop's financial success. (08:08)

Mushers / Wendy Nelson

Wendy Nelson of Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports on a recent ban on public lands against the old far north tranportation mode of dog mushing. (06:25)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1997 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Brian Sanders, Pam Doyle, Daniel Grossman, Kim Motylewski, Michael Lawton, Wendy Nelson
GUESTS: Tim Wirth, John Gummer, David Jacobs

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

As international negotiations continue on a treaty to limit gases linked to global warming and other climate changes, pressure is mounting on the US to cut its emissions.

GUMMER: The United States cannot go on being a country which wastes more energy than any other known nation on Earth.

CURWOOD: Also the Federal Government wants new rules to protect the public from microscopic air pollution. New research shows that tiny particles from smokestacks and exhaust pipes may kill more than 60,000 people a year.

DOCKERY: We've observed, on days following episodes of high particle pollution, we can see increased numbers of people dying as a result of cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth; first news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. Labor and environmental groups are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to strip Colorado and Ohio of their ability to enforce Federal environmental laws. The groups say state laws protecting companies from punishment for disclosing pollution problems are a violation of Federal statutes. Most Federal environmental laws are enforced by the states under monitoring from the EPA, but activists charge that several states, including Colorado and Ohio, have enacted laws that favor business more than the EPA does. A spokeswoman for an industry group says the state laws are just another way to win compliance with environmental regulations.

Scientists have found further links between endocrine disruption in fish and pollution in water and sediment. One of the studies focuses on Lake Mead, Nevada. From KNPR, Brian Sanders reports.

SANDERS: The United States Geological Survey has found lake carp with abnormal endocrine systems, higher than normal hormone levels in female fish, and female proteins showing up in blood samples taken from males. Reproductive systems in animals are especially susceptible to the effects of chemical pollution. The study looked for synthetic organic compounds in the water, bottom sediment, and fish of Las Vegas Wash, about 18 miles east of the city. The wash area, the only natural drainage for the Vegas valley and its million-plus residents, showed elevated levels of pollutants compared to Callville Bay, another 6 miles upstream. Rain washes city street waste, such as petroleum products and motor oil, and chemical fertilizers and pesticides into the lake. A desalinization plant is already on line to remove salts from Vegas's runoff, a product of the many home water-softening systems here. But chemical pollutants drain into the lake virtually unchecked. Not only is Lake Mead the primary source of water for Las Vegas, but it's big business, attracting over 6 million visitors a year for sport fishing, boating, and swimming. For Living on Earth, this is Brian Sanders in Las Vegas.

MULLINS: Florida officials have approved a plan to protect coral reefs in the Florida Keys. The plan limits fishing and diving and keeps big ships miles away from the only living reef near the shores of the contiguous 48 states. For generations freighters hugging the coast to avoid powerful currents have run aground on the reefs. Smaller boats carrying tourists have also damaged the coral. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was created in 1990, but because two thirds of the sanctuary lies in state-controlled waters the plan also needs state approval.

Scientists have found vast stores of natural gas locked beneath the ocean floor off the Carolina coast. Writing in the journal Nature, researchers say the deposits beneath Blake Ridge hold enough natural gas to meet the nation's needs for the next century, but there's no way to get the gas out. The methane within Blake Ridge is contained both in tiny bubbles and as a solid called methane hydrate. The solid, a combination of methane and water, is maintained by low temperature and high pressure. When brought to the surface, it fizzes as methane escapes.

The US Geological Survey and the Audubon Society are conducting the 18th annual bald eagle survey. Volunteers around the nation are helping to determine the health of the eagle population. From Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Pam Doyle reports.

DOYLE: In last year's survey a total of 15,476 eagles were spotted nationwide, 97 of those in Alabama. Corps of Engineers park ranger Charles Miller says the state is a prime survey site because its warm climate and abundant waterways are favored by nesting eagles. It's Miller's tenth year on the survey team, which spotted 6 eagles this year. He's optimistic the region will develop a permanent population due to the release of 15 baby eagles in the area 6 years ago. Miller says they expect some of the now matured eagles to return to lay eggs this year. Nationwide, the number of eagles has remained fairly stable over the last 3 years. But when the survey started in 1979, the count was just over 8,500. Scientists say the current figures are encouraging and likely represent a recovery of the eagle population in the 25 years since the banning of the insecticide DDT. That chemical was cited as a major threat to the eagle population because it softens the shells of their eggs. For Living on Earth, I'm Pam Doyle in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

MULLINS: And virtual chickens are overrunning Japan. A key chain-sized computer game called The Cute Little Egg is selling faster than, well, real eggs. When you turn the game on an egg hatches and a chicken is born. The owner then uses 3 tiny buttons to feed, play with, and clean up after the chick. The video game can go on for several days if the chicken is cared for properly and grows. But if owners forget to feed it or clean up messes, it peeps loudly. The chicken will grow sickly and angry looking if it's ignored. Eventually it dies, ending the game. The game is so popular that at one store 2,000 people showed up on rumors a shipment of the eggs were arriving. And that's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

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Reducing Global Warming: Clearer Goals

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In late February, diplomats from around the world will gather in Bonn, Germany, to continue negotiations about what should be done to fend off global warming and avert climate change. By the end of the year the parties hope to reach an agreement on limiting the emission of gases known to trap the sun's heat, including carbon dioxide. The present treaty to limit so-called greenhouse gases that was signed in Rio in 1992 has proved to be largely unsuccessful. Only 2 industrial nations, Great Britain and Germany, will meet that agreement's voluntary goals. The United States is the biggest single human source of carbon dioxide, so there is special concern that the US has fallen far short of its promises. In response, the Clinton Administration has drafted a plan that it would like to see adopted during the climate change negotiations. And joining us now to discuss that plan is Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, Timothy Wirth. Secretary Wirth, in your view, how much reduction in greenhouse gases is needed to stabilize the climate?

WIRTH: I think what we have to do, Steve, is work backwards from the issue of how much concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is acceptable. That really isn't known.

CURWOOD: Without a specific milestone, though, how can we really judge the success of any particular treaty?

WIRTH: Well it's very, that's a very good question, so we're taking it one step at a time. We believe that it's important for the world to have what we would call a binding treaty. So far, all of the efforts that came out of Rio were non-binding. We're trying to get the world to agree that there have to be major reductions in activities done by the developing world, so there are a number of elements preliminary to determining exactly what the level of greenhouse gases ought to be.

CURWOOD: At a minimum, what do you think we should do?

WIRTH: Well, at a minimum I think that we in the United States ought to seek to at least stabilize our emissions of greenhouse gases. And it would be my guess that we want to try to have that done some time early in the 21st century, in the year revolving around the year 2010, 2015, something like that.

CURWOOD: Now, in this next plan, do you think we should have higher prices for energy?

WIRTH: Well, I think that we're not going to get into any kind of a taxing regime. My hunch is that we're going to end up with a kind of cap on greenhouse gases, and that will then allow a kind of trading to occur. That will have to be accompanied by the ability of the developed world to work with the developing world. If, for example, it would cost us in the United States $100 to limit a ton of carbon dioxide, but you could limit a ton in China for $5, it's obviously much more cost effective to limit that ton of carbon in China.

CURWOOD: In shorthand we're talking about essentially paying the Chinese not to use their coal reserves?

WIRTH: What we're saying to them, it's, they're going to be building a lot of power plants in the future. We're saying to them, you build these power plants, but we would like to work with you in terms of making them as clean and as modern as possible.

CURWOOD: What impact would these reductions have on the workers and consumers in the United States, do you think?

WIRTH: Well, it can be a net positive, again, if we do it right. If you think of the turn of the century before, people were developing better horse blankets and were developing better saddles and were developing better wagons. And suddenly the automobile came along. You know part of my family in Cleveland was in the horse blanket making business and they went out of business. There are going to be displacements and changes, but ultimately, the automobile developed a much broader employment base, and its potential, if we do it right in the 21st century, for a great deal of new technologies to come in that provide a more modern job base and one that reflects the ultimate imperative of climate change.

CURWOOD: Tim Wirth is Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs. Thanks for joining us.

WIRTH: Nice to be with you, Steve.

CURWOOD: One of the countries that stands a good chance of meeting its obligations under the 1992 climate change treaty is Great Britain. Joining us now from the BBC studios in London to discuss how it's able to do this, and Britain's position on the current climate change negotiations, is Great Britain's Secretary of State for the Environment John Gummer. Mr. Gummer, just a few months ago you were criticizing the US position in the climate change negotiations that had called for implementing binding restrictions in the year 2010. What do you think now of Washington's latest proposal?

GUMMER: Well, I think the problem is that although I welcome the United States' positive suggestions, the fact is that these targets need to be absolutely clear to everybody. Unless the United States can say we are going to commit ourselves to reduce greenhouse gases in the United States by 10% by the year 2010 I don't believe we'll begin to get others on our side.

CURWOOD: You're saying that we should reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by the year 2010, 10% below what we were doing in 1990?

GUMMER: That's right. That is what the United Kingdom is prepared to do.

CURWOOD: Is the United Kingdom willing to go along with Washington's proposal to allow countries to buy and sell emission credits?

GUMMER: Well, we are not opposed to emission credits. Indeed, I have proposed a very large-scale operation in Europe. The only thing we say to the United States is that this has got to be foolproof. It's got to be real. And it can't be a substitute for a real change in the United States. The United States cannot go on being a country which wastes more energy than any other known nation on Earth. I mean after all, for us Europeans coming to the United States, we find this incredible thing, that during the summer you have to put your coat on because it's so cold in every air conditioned office. And during the winter, you have to take your coat off because it's so hot. Just a slight change in the level of air conditioning, which would be more comfortable for everybody, can make a huge difference. The stopping of subsidies on fossil fuels. Our first step was to stop the subsidies on coal and other fossil fuels. You could introduce more competition into energy markets. The home of free enterprise could do that. And you would find that has a huge effect. You could look at increasing road fuel duties. Do you know, we do it. Every year, by 5% ahead of the rise in the cost of living. And the result of that is that our cars are becoming more and more efficient, better users of gasoline, and of course therefore much less emitters of the greenhouse gases.

CURWOOD: Do you think Washington is really paying attention to this issue?

GUMMER: I believe that many people in Washington would like it all to go away. So they really hope that the funded lobby groups who try to distort and change the science backed by the American coal and oil industry, they'd love that to be true. But increasingly they recognize that science shows quite clearly that climate change is happening. And therefore they are beginning to take notice. And I must say, I just wish that many of those, particularly those like myself on the right, who believe in the word "conservative," were to remember that conservative means to conserve. To hand on to the next generation at least as good a world as we've got, and which is certainly better for the future.

CURWOOD: John Gummer is British Secretary of State for the Environment. He spoke to us from the BBC studios in London. Thank you, sir.

GUMMER: Thank you.

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CURWOOD: If you think those dirty fumes from that bus or truck in front of you are deadly, you're right. And the government wants new rules for that whole class of air pollutants. Tiny airborne particles under fire, just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Warning: Breathing Air Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

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

(People gathering.)

DeVILLERS: Good morning. My name is John DeVillers. I'm the administrator of the EPA's New England office...

CURWOOD: On a chilly winter day in Boston recently, scores of citizens packed a conference room in a downtown hotel. They came to sound off about a controversial and far-reaching proposal to help clean the nation's air.

WOMAN: We tell our children not to smoke. And then we send them out to play in an environment where at times breathing the air is equivalent to smoking a half pack of cigarettes.

CURWOOD: The US Environmental Protection Agency wants to set new limits on tiny particles of soot and dust produced mostly by vehicle exhaust and industrial smokestacks. The government has proposed these rules in the wake of new studies that tie fine particulates to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths. But some producers of particulate pollution say the government is acting hastily, and they're vowing to fight the new regulations. Daniel Grossman reports from Boston.

(Traffic sounds, including heavy industrial)

GROSSMAN: At a congested intersection near downtown Boston, auto exhaust and black truck smoke mingle and then dissipate in the breeze. On some days exhaust from these vehicles, combined with pollution from local industries and distant power plants, create a noxious mixture barely fit for human lungs. But this is the air people here breathe. And this intersection is the entrance to Boston Medical Center's Adult Asthma Clinic.

NURSE: How is your breathing in terms of shortness of breath or wheezing or coughing, tightness in your chest?

SPRING: I had a couple of days, like Thursday...

GROSSMAN: Inside, 55-year-old Helen Spring is receiving a routine checkup. She feels good today, but often with little warning her asthma kicks up.

SPRING: It feels like someone's got your lungs and they're tying them in knots, and you just can't, and then you start gasping for breath. And then all of a sudden there's none there, and you need help to breathe.

GROSSMAN: A nurse pulls out Mrs. Spring's pink sweatshirt, presses a stethoscope against her back, and takes a listen.

NURSE: Big breath.

(Spring inhales, exhales)

NURSE: Big breath. All right.

GROSSMAN: Like others here, Mrs. Spring can easily recall breathing troubles brought on by dirty air.

SPRING: When we got stuck in traffic, it was like a Saturday morning, and the fumes from the cars, by the time I got to the hospital I was in the hospital for 5 days later, because of the pollution from the cars and the trucks.

GROSSMAN: Helen Spring's case is not unusual. In the past several years, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that children, the elderly, as well as patients with troubled breathing, are put at risk by polluted air. The chief culprit, they're discovered, is soot and dust, known as particle pollution. Harvard epidemiologist Doug Dockery is one of the nation's leading experts on pollution and health.

DOCKERY: We've observed, on days following episodes of high particle pollution, there are more people coming into the hospital with respiratory illnesses, with cardiovascular illnesses. There are more people coming to the emergency rooms following these particulate air pollution episodes.

GROSSMAN: From his 14th-floor office at the Public Health School's Boston campus, Professor Dockery has a panoramic view. From his desk he can see many of the region's sources of particle pollution, like industrial smokestacks, wood stove chimneys, and major highways. In the early 1990s, studies here substantiated what doctors had long suspected: that on days when particle pollution is high, there is an immediate increase in deaths.

DOCKERY: We can see increased numbers of people dying as a result of cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease.

GROSSMAN: But the studies didn't tell researchers if those who were struck down were terminal patients with only a few days to live, or relatively healthy individuals. The answer came in a 1993 study that followed 8,000 adults in 6 cities for nearly 20 years. It was authored by Professor Dockery.

DOCKERY: Between the cleanest and the dirtiest community that we looked out, there was a difference of 2 to 3 years in reduced life expectancy, which is actually a very substantial amount.

GROSSMAN: Professor Dockery estimated that airborne soot and dust put residents of the dirtiest city, Steubenville, Ohio, at a 26% greater risk of premature death than inhabitants of the cleanest city. This finding and results from related studies are the basis of new estimates that particle pollution kills at least 64,000 Americans every year. Researchers at Harvard also discovered that some particles are more deadly than others. Large, coarse particles are primarily made of ground stone and dirt. The finest particles, less than 2.5 microns across, or one tenth the thickness of a human hair, are created when things burn, like coal in a power plant or fuel in a truck. And they often contain toxic metals and acids. Because fine particles are so small, they evade biological defenses like nose hairs and are breathed deeply into the lungs. Professor Dockery says his 6-city study confirmed earlier research on particle size.

DOCKERY: When we've compared small particles to the larger particles in terms of their effect on mortality or hospital admissions or changes in pulmonary function or any of the many health effects we've looked at, the observed associations are with the measures of small particles.

GROSSMAN: While the EPA has regulated coarse particles since the 1970s, there are no rules specifically addressing find particle pollution. That could change. Last fall for the first time, the Agency drafted daily and annual limits on the amount of fine particle pollution permitted. Mary Nichols is the Environmental Protection Agency's assistant administrator for air and radiation.

NICHOLS: We began this process because there was the mounting body of evidence that we were probably not focusing most of our attention on the most important form of air pollution that's out there in the community.

GROSSMAN: Actually, that's only half the story. The EPA didn't act until a Federal judge forced the Agency to consider the studies done at Harvard and elsewhere. Ron White is a top official at the American Lung Association.

WHITE: The American Lung Association was compelled to sue the Agency several times, not only on the particulate level of standards but on other standards as well, in order to force them to review the most recent scientific information, which we believe demonstrates that the current standards are not protective of public health.

GROSSMAN: But so far, hardly anyone is happy with what the EPA is proposing. Ron White, like many health activists, says the rules are too weak, and recommends stiffer standards.

WHITE: The bottom line is that about 89 million people would not be protected from levels that we certainly believe would be unhealthy under the EPA proposal. And that includes, literally, tens of millions of people who are sensitive to air pollution.

GROSSMAN: The industries most responsible for particle pollution, including many petrochemical companies, utilities, and steel producers, say the rules would be too expensive.

DRY: This could be the costliest regulation that has ever been imposed on US industry.

GROSSMAN: Owen Dry is an official with the American Manufacturers Association.

DRY: From every indication, this could eclipse the amount that's spent every year on the total Clean Air Act. Which we're talking in the hundreds of billions range.

GROSSMAN: The EPA says it would cost much less, 6 to 8 billion, to comply with the proposal and new ozone rules also under consideration. But there is little question that cutting back on fine particle pollution will not be easy. Since coal-fired power plants are by far the largest single source of particle pollution, they might be required to get new stack scrubbers, or use cleaner-burning fuels. It might also take replacing many of the nation's dirty diesel engines. The industry's Owen Dry says such requirements would be too extreme, since he says particle pollution has not been proven conclusively to cause illness and death.

DRY: At this point it's a speculation. And there's such a great potential that it is the wrong pollutant which EPA is attempting to regulate, that I don't believe the American public is willing to take the gamble that EPA is correct on this one.

GROSSMAN: Industry nay-sayers often prefer to wait until the final word is in before acting. But in this case, the evidence that fine particle pollution is unsafe appears overwhelming.

NICHOLS: This is very similar to the debate that went on around the linkage between smoking and lung cancer.

GROSSMAN: The EPA's Mary Nichols acknowledges that some questions remain. But she says waiting for certainty has its own risks.

NICHOLS: It was many, many years after the link was very well established before scientists were confident that they understood exactly how the smoke was causing the lung cancer. But the issue here is not really whether science is good. The issue is whether you have enough science based on the epidemiology to say as a society, we should be doing something about limiting the amount of these particles that we're exposing our population to.

GROSSMAN: And there are ways to reduce particle pollution that may not be all that hard. Attorney David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council says one place to start is on urban streets.

HAWKINS: One of the things that is one of the most obvious to anyone who walks down city streets is doing something about polluting diesel buses and trucks. These vehicles are basically filthy. We know how to clean them up. We can modify the fuel they use. We can require the engines to be built cleaner, and we can require them to be maintained in a cleaner fashion.

(Shuttle engine running)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Logan International Airport. This shuttle service is provided free for your comfort and convenience. If you would like...

GROSSMAN: Cities are already beginning to replace belching diesel buses with cleaner models. In Boston, 6 natural gas shuttles carry travelers to their flights. These buses look and sound like any coach, but their exhaust contains one tenth as many particles.

ANNOUNCER: The next stop is Terminal C, serving Delta Airlines, Delta Connection Com Air, Delta...

GROSSMAN: Some urban areas could cut particle pollution by nearly half in one fell swoop by replacing their fleets of diesel buses. Besides the natural gas vehicles, Boston's Logan Airport has 25 shuttles that use a cleaner blend of diesel. Many cities have even more ambitious programs including Houston, Sacramento, and Seattle. New York is about to purchase 500 low-pollution models.

(Shuttle engine revs up)

GROSSMAN: The EPA plans to announce a final rule in June. If the standards are issued, it will be up to states to craft nuts and bolts plans to achieve the pollution limits. But industry lobbyists are waging a fierce campaign to avoid these new rules. The battle has spilled into the halls of Congress, where Senator John Chaffee, a Republican many environmentalists consider an ally, has raised serious doubts about the draft regulations and has asked EPA Administrator Carol Browner to defend them in an upcoming hearing. Washington insiders say the final decision may be made behind closed doors in the White House. In his first administration, President Clinton was reluctant to antagonize industry with expensive regulations. The proposal may be an early environmental test of his second administration.

(Belching buses)

GROSSMAN: Whatever happens, it's likely it will still be years before commuters, like those on this Boston street corner, can breathe easier.

(Traffic sounds; horns)

GROSSMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Daniel Grossman.

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

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ANNOUNCER: Major contributors to Living on Earth include all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and Patagonia: a clothing company committed to making quality outdoor clothing with the earth in mind. For a free catalogue call 1-800-336-9090.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Before you buy or rent a new house or apartment, do you know if it's free of lead paint? There are new rules from the government to help you find out. Stick around for the story, right here on Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And now, a musical note.

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: This year marks the 360th anniversary of the death of the most renowned violin maker in history. By the time he died in Crimona, Italy, in 1737, Antonio Stradivari had made about 500 stringed instruments including violins, violas, cellos, and a few guitars. A Stradivarius is a cherished instrument these days, but if Stradivari were alive today, he might be hard pressed to practice his craft. Many of the tropical hardwoods, such as ebony and rosewood required to make the finest violins, are in short supply. While today's violin bodies are made from spruce, maple, and fir, the fingerboards, tail pieces, nuts, and pegs, come from those scarce and in some cases endangered tropical hardwoods. By the way, the finest strings are still made from catgut, which has nothing to do with cats. It actually comes from the nerves that encircle the surface of sheep intestines. Of course, horsehair is still used for bows.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Congress & Family Planning Funding

CURWOOD: For more than 30 years the United States has been supporting family planning services in scores of developing countries. One of the first votes expected in the new Congress will be on payments to continue these programs. Despite a US pledge in 1994 to achieve universal access to family planning early next century, budgets for population programs have been severely cut in the last 2 years. The vote, which Congress must take before the end of February, is too close to call right now, and it may be a bellwether of relations between the 105th Congress and the White House. It will also determine the US commitment to family planning programs worldwide. Living on Earth's Kim Motylewski has our report.

MOTYLEWSKI: It's the second year in a row that international family planning organizations have been struggling with funding restrictions that seem devised to hobble their programs. Groups supported by the Agency for International Development, or AID, won't get a single dime of this year's $380 million budget until July, 9 months into the budget year. And then the money will come in a slow trickle instead of a lump sum.

POLLACK: We're trying to pledge thirst with drops of water instead of with a full glass of water.

MOTYLEWSKI: Amy Pollack is president of AVSC International, an agency which provides a wide range of reproductive health services in 50 countries. Everything from contraception to post-partum care to vasectomies. Dr. Pollack says her agency made it through last year by using up its cash reserves.

POLLACK: Which means that this year we really will experience the disastrous problem of having to cut back, by half, let's say, on the service deliveries that we would normally be involved with.

MOTYLEWSKI: For example, AVSC provides most of the reproductive health services in Nepal. Dr. Pollack estimates that if the funding delays continue, hundreds of pregnant women in that country are likely to become very sick from inadequate pre-natal care, unattended births, and unsafe abortions. It's the abortion issue that's caused these money problems to begin with. For years, it's been against the law for health care providers to use US tax dollars to cover the cost of abortions at home or abroad. Two years ago, a group of conservative lawmakers tried to reinstate an old policy that would go even further. It would cut off funding to family planning agencies if they provided abortions or abortion counseling, even if the money used for these services didn't come from the US government. The effort failed, but the conservative House still managed to cut funding for international family planning by a third. Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth is the Administration's point man on this issue. He says Congress has no business trying to set global health policy.

WIRTH: What's at stake here, however, is some people in the Congress, who are saying that the United States ought to be dictating to the rest of the world how the rest of the world uses their funds. And we just don't think that that's appropriate.

MOTYLEWSKI: But Congressman Christopher Smith of New Jersey, who's leading the fight to reimpose the old abortion policy, says US tax dollars should not even indirectly support what he calls the international abortion industry.

SMITH: If they're killing babies with the other money that's freed up because the money we provide goes into the more legitimate things, and then it frees up their money to kill babies as a manner of birth control, then we have certainly put children at risk.

WIRTH: That it seems to me is an absolutely preposterous position to put us in.

MOTYLEWSKI: The State Department's Tim Wirth.

WIRTH: I think that they're very, you know, their logical extension of the argument that Congressman Smith is making is that any country where there's any kind of abortion going on should not receive any kind of engagement from the US at all.

MOTYLEWSKI: The Administration will try to drive this point home later this month when Congress votes whether to release international family planning dollars ahead of schedule. A decision to provide early funding won't fill the glass of thirsty family planning agencies, but it would safeguard the services for people who need them most, and it would signal a truce between the White House and Congress on the increasingly contentious issue of family planning. For Living on Earth, I'm Kim Motylewski reporting.

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New Lead-Free Rules: Get the Lead Out

CURWOOD: Lead poisoning in America has been described as an epidemic. Today it's the number one environmental health hazard facing children under the age of 6. Recently the Federal Government instituted 4 new rules to help people protect children for lead. It's now illegal for landlords or people selling their homes to conceal any information they have about lead paint in the house. All leases and sales contracts must now include language describing all known lead hazards. Home sellers and landlords must distribute safety pamphlets describing how to get homes tested and what to do if lead is found. And home buyers have the right to have their new homes tested for lead before purchasing them. The new rules do not provide for lead removal. These are simply right-to-know regulations. Still, David Jacobs, director of the Office of Lead Hazard Control in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development says as home buyers and tenants learn more about the dangers of lead, market forces will pressure landlords and people selling homes to get the lead out.

JACOBS: We think this rule will dramatically increase the demand for testing and abatement services. We asked home appraisers why it is that when people set the price of a house they do not consider the presence or absence of lead-based paint. And the response we get was the public doesn't demand it right now. So what we realized was it's important that people get the information. If there's no system in place to enable them to get the information they need, then the market simply cannot work. If they do have the information, then the market will set the price based on how much it cost to repair it. So the presence of lead-based paint will become just like any other housing defect. If a house has a leaky roof, for example, then the price will be adjusted accordingly to fix the leaky roof. Lead-based paint really is no different than that. If the property has lead-based paint hazards and they need to be fixed, then there will be an adjustment in the price to take care of that problem.

CURWOOD: I think that this would all upset landlords and realtors to have on more rule to worry about.

JACOBS: Well, that's an interesting story, actually. The National Association of Realtors was also one of our partners in introducing this rule, and they are in fact very much in favor of it. Why? Because it defines their standards of care. That is, it defines what they are supposed to do during property transactions. Some realtors have in fact been sued by parents of poisoned children who felt that the defect in the house had not been disclosed prior to the sale, and the last thing a realtor wants of course is to have a deal go sour afterwards.

CURWOOD: Now, are there any cases that you know of where the rules that have gone into effect would have stopped lead poisoning?

JACOBS: Yes. In fact, one of the parents who helped us introduce the rule basically said that if only I had known the fact that lead paint was present in my home, when I renovated the home I would not have poisoned my 2 little boys. What happened was she bought a home, and then, as many parents do, decided to fix it up. Part of that involved scraping and sanding some old paint, which happened to be lead-based paint. In the process of doing that, she produced a great deal of dust. The dust then contaminated soil, found its way into the child's body, she was pregnant at the time, and there were also effects on her unborn child. Now happily, those children are now doing reasonably well. But the reality is that if she had been told ahead of time, she could have taken some rather simple steps to make sure that they were not exposed. And there are many stories like that.

CURWOOD: How far do you think these rules are going to go to actually preventing lead poisoning?

JACOBS: Well, I hope it goes a very far way. This remains a major problem. There are still 1.7 million children who have elevated blood lead levels in this country. That's down from 4 and a half million 20 years ago, so the phase-out of lead in gasoline and food canning has worked. The major remaining high dose source that most children have in this country today is lead-based paint in housing and the contaminated dust and soil that it generates. So the hope here is that by putting these rules into place and by doing some other things, we will enable people to take the steps to protect their children.

CURWOOD: David Jacobs is director of the office of lead hazard control and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Thanks, sir, for joining us.

JACOBS: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

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CURWOOD: And for anyone interested in learning more about their rights or responsibilities under the new Federal regulations, you can call the National Lead Clearinghouse at 1-800-424-LEAD. That number again is 1-800-424-LEAD.

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CURWOOD: Hemp is making a comeback as a source of fiber in Europe. German farmers bring in their first harvest just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Industrial Hemp Harvest in Deutschland

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In Germany, textile mills are busy processing the country's first modern harvest of industrial hemp. Last year government officials finally gave their blessing to the crop after advocates reassured them that new agricultural varieties cannot be turned into the illegal drug marijuana. German farmers are now hoping they can renew interest in the tough fiber, which long ago was the material of choice for making sails for ships, rope, even the original Levi jeans worn by gold prospectors. But while hemp appears to be thriving in German soils, questions remain about just how lucrative this crop will be. Correspondent Michael Lawton traveled to the German countryside in search of some answers, and here's his report.

(A cow lows; a dog barks)

LAWTON: Bernt Schmidt farms 135 acres near Bonn. In the cow shed he forks out the grass for his herd of dairy cows, but dairy farmers are going through a tough time, and so Bernt Schmidts is looking for other sources of income. That's why last year he planted one and a half acres of hemp as an experiment. Up on the hill, he shows me the results of the harvest.

(Footfalls on soil)

SCHMIDT: [Speaks in German]

LAWTON: It's been out here drying since the fall, he tells me, and the big bales now look like straw. The fibers will eventually be turned into everything from clothes to building materials. Back at the farmhouse he explains why he decided to take advantage of the legalization to grow hemp.

SCHMIDT [Speaks in German]
TRANSLATOR: In Germany, we're in the difficult position that we have to look for new sources of income. And because I'm interested in ecology, and I was looking for a plant which might be some kind of renewable resource, I ended up with hemp.

LAWTON: In fact, a hemp industry may once long ago have flourished in this area, although there's no firm proof of it. Schmidts's village is actually called Hemp or Hanf in German. It's no surprise that TV crews turned up to watch Germany's first modern hemp crop being planted in the village of Hemp. There's been a lot of public interest in the crop, partly because of its links with marijuana. Hans Bert Hansman of the Association of Hemp Farmers in the region says there's still a certain suspicion about hemp and growers must help educate the public.

HANSMAN: In Germany there's really a lot of fear against drug hemp. For the introduction of fiber hemp, it is necessary to have it first a strategy against this fear in the society, and we have to inform what is going on, what we can do out of hemp. And that the new hemp is no hemp which can be smoked.

LAWTON: Indeed, if someone did stick a real marijuana plant in the middle of an industrial hemp field, it would lose its narcotic effect because the pollination would be all wrong. But it doesn't stop people from trying. Some farmers even found trespassers in their fields rolling their own in a vain attempt to get high. There's little chance of that. One study found you'd need to smoke 80 industrial hemp cigarettes in 10 minutes to get the same effect as from one joint. But another reason for the public interest is hemp's ecological advantages. Hemp production requires no herbicides, because it grows so fast the weeds don't have a chance. It doesn't need pesticides because it gives off its own pest inhibitor. Gera Lezon is a specialist on the German hemp industry with the Nova Institute, a private environmental research organization, and he says hemp certainly has the environmental advantages claimed for it. But he warns there may be pitfalls in how the fiber is processed.

LEZON: For instance, if you want to compare hemp to cotton, what we find is that much of the energy in producing textiles actually is consumed in the downstream processes, i.e., pre-spinning, spinning, and weaving. So there the crucial question is, will hemp be processed as energy efficiently as cotton is? And is hemp fiber going to, or hemp jeans, are they going to live as long as the cotton jean does?

(A truck unloads)

LAWTON: This is one place where you can buy hemp jeans, at Dusseldorf's Hemp House. It's part of a successful franchise chain with 18 stores around the country. Here you can buy not just hemp clothing but hemp shoes, hemp paper, hemp oil, hemp cosmetics, hemp seeds for eating, hemp washing powder, even hemp beer. It provides a steady living for the owner, Daniel Kruzer, who says his customers aren't just an average cross-section of society.

KRUZER: The people who come to the Hemp House are ecological on another level. They think that there has to be a change in thinking and in global thinking. They want to do their part to change something.

LAWTON: But none of the products here are made of hemp which has been grown in Germany, which is not surprising since the crop is so new there's scarcely yet been time for it to enter the retail market. Most hemp comes from Eastern Europe and China. But Daniel Kruzer wants to see German hemp in his shop as soon as possible. He says it doesn't matter to his business, but it matters to the environment.

KRUZER: What is our idea is that the hemp grows here and then gets fabricated on German ground, and you've got the inner market circle of a production.

LAWTON: But hemp is still mainly a niche product. The real breakthrough, say the experts, won't come until big industry starts using it to replace other natural and synthetic fibers in such things as building materials or automobile dashboards. German hemp growers hope their product will be more attractive to industry than what's already on the market with a higher quality. But Gera Lazon of the Nova Institute says that industry is still waiting for developments.

LAZON: A nice example is Mercedes Benz, who has experimented with natural fibers to use in cars for a number of years now. And they have shown an interest in hemp, but their statement is, well, as long as -- as soon as you can provide us large enough quantities at a very high quality and a very low price that beats import fibers from other countries, we're certainly going to be glad to purchase hemp. But that's a situation to get into first.

LAWTON: It's a chicken and egg, and the egg may well only be hatched if someone warms the nest with money. So far, hemp has had a certain subsidy from the European Union, but farmers would be unwise to rely on that continuing forever. Gera Lazon says without the right financial framework, it may be impossible to give hemp the boost it needs to enter the market in a big way.

LAZON: I really think which way it's going to fall is going to depend so much on how the tax system, particularly in Western Europe, is going to shape up. Whether there will be penalties for the emission of greenhouse gases in the future or not. But I would say that both of those areas, textile and industrial applications, in particular the use of the fiber for structural purposes, have a potential future.

SCHMIDTS: [Speaks in German]

LAWTON: Berndt Schmidts isn't quite sure. Back at the farm he shows me his photograph album with the record of his first year's hemp crop.

SCHMIDTS: [Speaks in German]

LAWTON: He says he was himself surprised at how big the plants turned out to be. While he didn't make a profit on the harvest this year, he did at least cover his costs. He says he'll try another small field next year. For the moment he still regards it as an experiment. Meanwhile, several other European countries, including England, have also started on the industrial hemp business. But as for the German crop, it did prove one thing: hemp can be grown successfully here and it is an environmentally sound crop. The next step is to see who wants it. For Living on Earth, this is Michael Lawton in the village of Hanf in Germany.

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CURWOOD: In Michigan, tempers started flaring this winter just as temperatures started dropping. A recent order from the state's Department of Natural Resources banned the popular sport of dog sledding on state-owned snowmobile trails. And that caused a rift between snowmobilers and dog sledders, 2 groups that had previously coexisted peacefully. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Wendy Nelson reports.

(High winds and falling sleet)

NELSON: Winters are harsh in Michigan's upper peninsula. Today, sleet is coming down hard, the winds have kicked up, and the forecast calls for another foot of snow by day's end. Most residents here brace themselves for another onslaught of bitter cold. They bundle up and hope for an early spring. But for some, winter is a glorious time of year.

(A woman calls to baying dogs)

NELSON: Michelle Peterson is a dog sledder. She's been sledding for 8 years, has 27 dogs, and knows all of them by name.

PETERSON: What I say is R-E-A-D-Y. You know, if I say it, then they are, you know what I mean? Ready? Let's go, hike on!

(Sled over snow)

PETERSON: Hike on, that's the way!

NELSON: Peterson says dog sledding, or mushing as it's also known, offers her a way to enjoy the beauty that characterizes Michigan's wild places.

PETERSON: I've spotted wolves, bobcats, eagles, seen deer do all kinds of interesting things. My husband's seen one deer disappear into the snow, lay down into the snow, completely, the snow just covered her last winter. (To the dogs) On by, on by, on by...

NELSON: Peterson says dog sledding is a solitary sport. She says mushers are the kind of people who don't usually join groups. But this year, that's changed. Peterson and other mushers are banding together to defend their right to travel over state-owned snowmobile trails. A new order from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources banned dog sledding for more than 1000 miles of groomed trails, unless it's part of an approved event like an organized race. But Peterson says sometimes the only route between 2 places is over a snowmobile trail, and taking away that access would have a definite impact.

PETERSON: It will stop me from visiting some of my neighbors. It will stop me from attending some of the stores. And sometimes we go for lunch at different places. And that brings in business to some of the local business owners. They see the dog team stopped out in front of the restaurant or such and people do stop in, and see what's going on. They like to see us.

NELSON: There are nearly 235,000 licensed snowmobilers in Michigan. Estimates place the number of mushers at a few hundred. Still, some snowmobilers don't want to share the trails. Wally Bushy has been an avid snowmachiner for more than 25 years. He says the issue is safety on the trails.

BUSHY: You're playing with dynamite with dogs on the trail and snowmobilers. I mean, because snowmobilers travel now, you know. I mean, especially when you groom trails they go fast. And you meet a dog team on a curve, I don't know what's going to happen.

NELSON: It's anyone's guess what might happen, since there have been no documented accidents caused by mushers. And that leaves Michelle Peterson wondering what's really behind the dog sled ban.

PETERSON: And I don't believe this is a safety issue. I believe it's a land use issue. And I'm just wondering, are they trying to create a wilderness for snowmachiners, you know? Should a special interest group be allowed to purchase sole rights to the trail?

NELSON: If sheer numbers are any indication of who will triumph in this conflict, Michelle Peterson says mushers don't stand a chance. Though the number of mushers is comparatively small, Michigan's snowmobile program manager Dan Moore maintains that even one musher in the wrong place at the wrong time is one too many.

MOORE: I dread the day that I see an accident between a snowmobile and a dog sled, where they flash across a TV a picture of a dead dog and the snowmobiler takes it on the chin. No matter what happened, the snowmobiler's going to take the blame.

NELSON: Conflicts over public land use aren't new, but they are growing as competition for open space intensifies. Disputes have also been seen on waterways, where anglers have clashed with boaters, and where now the issue is over the use of jet skis. According to one conservation organization, these conflicts might best be resolved by the user groups themselves.

MARSHALL: On the whole the groups can usually broker some sort of negotiation that would result in everyone being able to use the area with the understanding that the other user group is going to be out there at some point.

NELSON: Lori Marshall is director of the Outdoor Ethics Program at the Isaac Walton League, one of the country's oldest conservation groups.

MARSHALL: And often these types of decisions don't necessarily need to get to the regulatory level. And I think it's much more effective when those decisions are made by the users themselves, as opposed to becoming an enforcement issue.

NELSON: And that's where the standoff in Michigan is right now. Because of the controversy, the state has temporarily suspended its ban while state officials, snowmobilers, and mushers hold a series of meetings to reach a consensus on who gets what access to the trails.

(Sled over snow)

NELSON: Dog sledder Michelle Peterson says she's never had a conflict with a snowmachiner. And while she's wary of the snowmobilers' lobbying clout, she says she's willing to meet with them to work out a way to share the trails.

PETERSON: Ho, ho, ho. (A snowmobile motors by) Okay, good, thanks. He had control of his machine and he did let me know that there was someone else coming. So I'm going to slow my team down and put my Cat right down.

NELSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Wendy Nelson in Norway, Michigan.

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(A dog pants. Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our program is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. Our engineers are Dan Donovan at WBUR and Jeff Martini at Harvard. Our production team includes Peter Shaw, Constantine Von Hoffman, George Homsy, Liz Lempert, Susan Shepherd, and Julia Madeson. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. Jennifer Schmidt edited this week's program. And Peter Thomson heads our western bureau. We also had help from Kim Chainey, Jason Kral, and Colin Studds. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes Reporting; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and in part by Patagonia: a clothing company committed to making quality outdoor clothing with the earth in mind. For a free catalogue call 1-800-336-9090.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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