Air Date: August 2, 1996
Pesticides Go Modern: The "Delaney Clause" Is Removed
Carol Browner takes questions from Steve Curwood about brand new federal laws that will alter which pesticides are used or banned nationwide. The E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency) will study all kinds of health risks in determining which pesticides may be used, which updates the regulations that have been in use since the 1950's. (07:52)
Democrat vs. Democrat/ John Rudolph
As part of Living on Earth's 1996 political election coverage, reporter John Rudolph does the rounds with upstate New York democratic congressional newcomer Lee Wasserman who is hoping to make gains with his background as an environmental activist, against the democratic incumbent Michael McNulty. (09:18)
Public Transportation: Paranoia Is a Point of View/ Bill McKibben
This week, public television airs a P.O.V. (Point Of View) series documentary titled "Taken For A Ride." Author and commentator Bill McKibben reflects on the theme of the television program which is the dismantling of public trolleys by the auto manufacturer General Motors. (02:47)
The Living on Earth Almanac
Facts about... the whale of a novel Moby Dick. (01:15)
Greening Black Coffee/ Jana Schroeder
In Veracruz State in Mexico, some coffee growers are trying out alternative methods to the otherwise water polluting ones used throughout Latin America. Jana Schroeder reports from the fields. (07:10)
The Case of Methyl Bromide/ Cheryl Colopy
In California, the herbicide methyl bromide was to have been banned, but lobbyists won a five-year reprieve from the ban that may go even longer. Linked to cancer, nerve damage and other health problems, farm workers and others feel the state has made an error in continuing the agricultural use of methyl bromide, as Cheryl Colopy reports. (08:40)
Designing a Garden: The Green Garden Spot
Living on Earth's organic gardening expert Evelyn Tully Costa and host Steve Curwood discuss the art of making a statement or realizing a vision through garden design. (05:58)
Bird Man of Paradise: Roger Tory Peterson
Steve Curwood pays homage to the aviary specialist Roger Tory Peterson who died last month at age 87. Steve relates a personal story of how the bird-loving author of the multi-million selling Peterson's Field Guides to Birds made a lasting impression on him. (02:51)
Copyright c 1996 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: Terry Ward, Jyl Hoyt, John Rudolph, Jana Schroeder, Cheryl Colopy GUESTS: Carol Browner, Evelyn Tully Costa
COMMENTATOR: Bill McKibben
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
New protections for food consumers. Congress passes a pesticide law that requires chemical makers to show their products are reasonably safe before they can go on the market.
BROWNER: For the first time ever, we will not only look at the cancer risks. We'll also be looking at reproductive effects, neurological effects, effects on the immune system, birth defects.
CURWOOD: And in upstate New York, the Democratic primary colors are both green and brown, as a powerful and popular incumbent faces a challenge from an upstart environmentalist.
ENK: This is a test of the local environmental community. Can we mobilize people? Can we fund raise? Can we out-organize the local machine?
CURWOOD: On Living on Earth. First the news.
MULLINS: For Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. A proposed gold mine bordering Yellowstone National Park may never break ground. Published reports say the Federal Government is working with the mine's owners to move operations elsewhere. Government officials, mining executives, and environmentalists involved in the talks would not comment. Other sources close to negotiations say Crown Butte Resources of Toronto would give up mining rights near Yellowstone worth an estimated $600 million in exchange for public land elsewhere in the West. The pact would also urge Congress to pass a law banning mining at the site near Yellowstone forever. Permission to mine near the Yellowstone National Park was granted under a controversial 1872 mining law which provided the mineral-rich land to the company for as little as $5 an acre.
Meanwhile, a proposal to radically increase the no-fly zone over Grand Canyon National Park has been unveiled by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. From KJZZ in Phoenix, Terry Ward has details.
WARD: The sound of fixed wing aircraft of the Grand Canyon has become more common in recent years as tourism has increased at the park. The result has been complaints from hikers and environmentalists who say the canyon's natural quiet has been lost. Secretary Babbitt says his proposal would expand the flight-free zone to cover nearly 90% of the park.
BABBITT: It doubles the areas of where visitors will be within the park and there will not be aircraft overhead.
WARD: The proposed regulation includes a curfew on air traffic with no flights during sunrise and sunset. It also seeks to freeze the number of flights at current levels. Air tour operators oppose the plan. They say it will jeopardize air safety by cramming the same number of flights into a much smaller area. For Living on Earth this is Terry Ward in Phoenix.
MULLINS: A 4-year ban on tuna imports from countries whose fishing fleets kill dolphins may soon be lifted. The House voted to redefine the dolphin-safe standard by allowing a controversial technique of catching tuna while dolphins feed on them. Organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund say the bill continues to safeguard most dolphins as well as strengthen protections for other marine species, but some environmentalists say the new definition would mislead consumers into thinking no dolphins were hurt during the tuna catches. The bill, which has the support of the Clinton Administration, goes to the Senate floor this fall.
"In grave danger of extinction." That's the phrase the Federal Government used in its proposal to put 10 populations of steelhead trout on the Endangered Species List. Details of the steelhead listing are still to be worked out, but many in the Pacific Northwest fear the impact on the economy would be devastating. Jyl Hoyt of KBSU in Boise, Idaho, has the story.
HOYT: There are no regulations attached to this proposal to list the West Coast steelhead trout. That could take a year. Still, people are worried. After numerous other fish runs were listed, the Federal Government limited grazing, timber cutting, irrigation, and fishing. Some worry the same will happen if steelhead trout are listed. Logging and ranching are among the region's most important industries. Steelhead sport fishing alone contributes $90 million and provides 2,700 jobs to Idaho's economy. Not all sites agree on why steelhead trout have declined. Environmentalists blame the 8 hydro-dams on the Snake River for the dwindling fish populations. Industry groups that depend on hydro power say El Nino, a periodic warming of the ocean, is hurting steelhead. They also accuse Native American and commercial fishermen of over-harvesting both wild and hatchery steelhead. For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise.
MULLINS: A 26-year-old shipwreck, its cargo hold containing PCB-contaminated oil, has been successfully raised from the bottom of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Salvaging the Irving Whale, which sank 26 years ago in heavy seas off Prince Edward Island, had been controversial. Environmentalists feared raising the 270-foot-long barge would rupture the hull and disperse the toxic cargo throughout the rich fishing waters. But Canadian officials decided it was worth the risk after tests showed the PCBs slowly leaking from the barge. Divers must now begin the delicate process of removing sections of the sea bed already contaminated by PCBs.
And the memory of Molly Beatty, the first female director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, will be embodied in an 8-million-acre wilderness unit at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Ms. Beatty, who directed the Service since 1993, succumbed to brain cancer this past June at the age of 49. She was described as a passionate defender of the nation's wildlife refuges, and an Interior Department official said Beatty was particularly fond of Alaska. Her husband plans to scatter her ashes at the wilderness site.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The United States likes to boast that it has one of the safest food supplies in the world. But in recent years there's been growing evidence that residues from some pesticides may be threatening our health. Now a new Federal law is likely to result in the banning of a number of these pesticides, and both environmental and agricultural groups are saying they're largely pleased. Thirty years ago Congress imposed a strict ban on even the tiniest amount of chemicals known to cause cancer in processed food, but it exempted fresh foods. Also, there was no law against pesticide residues that may cause subtle birth defects or harm our reproductive, neurological, or immune systems. And there was no consideration given to the special vulnerability of children to pesticides. That's all been changed. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner says the new law brings the nation's 1950s food regulations up to date.
BROWNER: First of all, you'll see certain pesticides come off the market, their use restricted. You'll see safer alternatives: integrated pest management, alternatives to chemicals, getting a greater opportunity, greater availability. making food much safer, for the American public.
CURWOOD: So what's coming off the market? Some of those old 1950s and 60s style pesticides like captan or parathon?
BROWNER: We don't know specifically yet which chemicals will come off. What we do know is that for the first time ever, we will not only look at the cancer risks created by a particular pesticide and herbicide or fungicide. We'll also be looking at reproductive effects, neurological effects, effects on the immune system, birth defects. For the first time ever we will look at all risks. We will look at all foods, not just the canned or the frozen foods that the current law focuses our attention on. And we will be required -- this is something I personally sought in the law -- we will be required to make an explicit finding, an explicit determination, that our children will be protected.
CURWOOD: Now, this law requires you to review all existing pesticides and I think -- what, there are some 600 chemicals that are being used? -- in the next decade.
CURWOOD: And you're going to have to determine whether or not it causes cancer or endocrine problems or any other health risk. Does the Environmental Protection Agency have the money to do this?
BROWNER: There's included in the law, there is an increase in fees that will be collected to fund this work.
CURWOOD: Is it enough? Is it enough? I mean, this sounds like you're going to spend, to review 600 chemicals intensively on these various health risks from their effect on children to whether or not they can cause neurological damage, sounds like a lot of money.
BROWNER: It's a lot of work but it's something that we believe is absolutely essential. It's something we're committed to. We've been very clear with people. If we believe we need additional resources we will be back to Congress.
CURWOOD: Okay. Now, I'm wondering about the science here. It's really just emerging. For example, some scientists based at Tulane University recently reported that when you combine certain chemicals, and some of these are agricultural chemicals, they can become 100 to 1,000, even 16,000 times more poisonous than they are as individuals.
BROWNER: As you point out, this is an emerging area of science. But we are given the ability to look at synergistic effects. Again, to look at what's actually on the dinner plate of the American people-- what are the food combinations that we commonly eat. And when you look at those food combinations, what are the chemical exposures? What are the health risks? And to set a standard based on those combinations. It's not something we've ever been able to do before.
CURWOOD: If a company can show that restricting its pesticide would lead to a disruption in the food supply, then under this new law they can apply for and get a special status where a firm won't have to meet your basic one in a million safety level, the cancer level.
BROWNER: Well, EPA has the discretion to make the decision. The firm can obviously argue their case, but at the end of the day the agency responsible for public health and environmental protection in this country makes the decision.
CURWOOD: How many exemptions like this do you think you're going to have to make?
BROWNER: This is a new provision. It has not existed previously. I think it's hard to know at this point in time. I can tell you as the mother of a young child, I will certainly follow the requirements of the law that we err on the side of protecting our children very rigorously.
CURWOOD: Tell me about the new Right-to-Know provision. What labeling is going to be required on fruits and vegetables? I pick up my tomato, will it tell me the pesticide that's been used on it?
BROWNER: Well, when you go to the store, there will be available to you, probably in the form of a brochure, perhaps a pamphlet, information about what chemicals may have been used, what that means. What you can do to further reduce risks. We were also successful in ensuring that any state program could continue. This doesn't pre-empt those programs; they have to come and get some approval from us at EPA, but they're allowed to continue with those kind of programs.
CURWOOD: One criticism of the new law is that it limits states from imposing stricter standards on the actual use of pesticides.
BROWNER: It doesn't limit them. It creates just an approval mechanism. There were some quite -- there were many, and many in the chemical industry and the pesticide manufacturing industry, that argued for an absolute pre-emption of any state activities, and that's not something that we supported. In fact, we opposed it, and were able to prevail. And so states do retain their authorities to set if they feel the need to [set] a different, more stringent standard. There's an approval process, but they have the authority.
CURWOOD: I would think as a result of this law, we're going to see a number of pesticides banned. Why then do you think that the agriculture industry is so supportive?
BROWNER: I think it's important to distinguish between the farmer who we work very closely with, and the chemical or pesticide manufacturers.
BROWNER: And I think the farmers need the certainty and the predictability which this provides them.
CURWOOD: And the manufacturers?
BROWNER: And they have been very supportive.
CURWOOD: Okay, how about the manufacturers? Are they as supportive?
BROWNER: [Laughs] I think there are some, quite frankly, who have been able to develop safer alternatives, who are very interested in the fact that this law will allow them to sort of get a bump up in the registration process. There' s a preference created in terms of how we manage things in the process for what we refer to as safer alternatives. For those who are still making your basic 1950s chemical or pesticide, they may not be as happy.
CURWOOD: Does the enactment of a new food quality protection law mean that right now on the market we have some unsafe foods?
BROWNER: I don't think that we should be concerned that there are unsafe foods on the market. I think that it is important with all public health and environmental laws to constantly take advantage of the new science, to address emerging problems, to prevent problems. And this particular law being 30 some years old was very narrowly drawn. It was about processed foods, it was about cancer, important obviously, but not the full picture. And now we have the full picture.
CURWOOD: Carol Browner heads the US Environmental Protection Agency. She spoke to us from Tallahassee, Florida.
CURWOOD: In upstate New York it's Democrat versus Democrat on the environment. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. This year activist environmental groups are campaigning against members of Congress who supported rolling back existing environmental laws. Many of those lawmakers are Republicans. An early indication of the strength of the environmental vote may come in September in a Congressional primary in upstate New York. But this race does not pit a green Democrat against a brown Republican. Voters in and around Albany will choose between 2 Democrats: popular incumbent Congressman Michael McNulty and his challenger Lee Wasserman, a longtime environmental activist. John Rudolph has more.
(Chimes and bird song)
WASSERMAN: Nice bell.
RUDOLPH: Several days a week Lee Wasserman campaigns door to door in Albany's residential neighborhoods. In shirtsleeves and a tie, with a clipboard tucked under his arm, Wasserman walks from house to house introducing himself to Democrats who are likely to vote in the upcoming party primary.
(Sound of a door opening)
WASSERMAN: Hi, Mrs. Malone?
WASSERMAN: I'm Lee Wasserman; I'm running for Congress this year in the Democratic primary.
MALONE: Mm hm.
WASSERMAN: I just wanted to come by an introduce myself and quickly tell you why I'm running for Congress.
RUDOLPH: By his own admission Wasserman is fighting an uphill battle against incumbent Democratic Congressman Michael McNulty. Wasserman is a newcomer to Democratic party politics. He spent the last 8 years heading up a nonpartisan environmental lobbying group called Environmental Advocates. But in this race Wasserman claims to be the only true Democrat. He tells virtually every voter he meets that McNulty voted in favor of 13 of the 15 initial bills in the Republican Contract with America.
WASSERMAN: You know, I just think where Newt Gingrich's agenda would take this country would be a disaster for us. And that's why I was really distressed to see that McNulty had supported this Contract With America more than just about any other Democrat in the country.
RUDOLPH: Despite his door-to-door campaign, a lot of voters still don't even know Wasserman's name. Congressman McNulty, on the other hand, is a familiar face. He served 4 terms in Congress, and comes from a family that's been active in upstate New York politics for decades. But McNulty has never before faced a serious challenge within his own party. The Wasserman campaign is trying to change that. Lee Wasserman says Congressman McNulty is too conservative to be a Democrat.
WASSERMAN: He's the fellow, of course, who on Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition scorecard scored higher than Al D'Amato. And he's the fellow who scored a zero on the Human Rights Campaign's scorecard. He's the fellow who was dead last in the League of Conservation Voters scorecard among all Democrats in the state. So it's clear that his votes place him in the middle of the pack for Republicans. When it comes to Democrats he's way off the scale. As a matter of fact he's so far out into the constellation among Democrats, you can't see him with a Hubble telescope.
(People milling. A band plays, "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing")
RUDOLPH: The living room of a fashionably restored townhouse in the city of Troy, New York, is the setting for a Wasserman fundraising party. It's an informal gathering, attended by many of Wasserman's friends from the upstate New York environmental movement. This party is a far cry from the black tie fund-raisers that have become fixtures of many political campaigns. But events like this have proven very effective. According to the latest report filed with the Federal Elections Commission, the Wasserman campaign has raised over $160,000. That's $50,000 more than Congressman McNulty's campaign has reported. Wasserman's clout as a fund-raiser is one reason why the local chapter of the Sierra Club decided to drop its long-standing support of Congressman McNulty and endorse Wasserman instead. The Sierra Club's Roger Gray says switching candidates was difficult. But he says McNulty made it easier when he voted in favor of Republican bills that would have rolled back laws to protect the environment.
GRAY: When people saw that there are elements in the Contract With America that might jeopardize 20 years of protections of clean water and 20 years of protections of clean air, they began to get ticked off. That relates to this campaign because Congressman McNulty voted for 13 out of the 15 provisions of the Contract With America in the first, I believe it was the first, 100 days of the contract votes. And I think people are beginning to make the connection that this campaign pertains to the whole agenda in Washington right now that is a real threat to the environment.
RUDOLPH: McNulty dismisses the Sierra Club endorsement of Wasserman as simply a professional courtesy between environmentalists. Another group that's supporting Wasserman is the League of Conservation Voters. Each year the League rates members of Congress on key environmental votes. In 1993 McNulty rated 79% out of a possible 100. But in 1995 his rating dropped to 54%. Even so McNulty says his record on environmental issues is very strong.
McNULTY: I would estimate that in the last year and a half we've probably had close to 100 environmental votes, and I would imagine if they scored me on all of them I'd be somewhere in the 90s. So I think it's been a very, very strong record through the years and most people in this region recognize that. That's all I care about.
RUDOLPH: In the end, however, the competition to be the best environmentalist in the campaign may not matter much. Voters have other concerns on their minds, especially the need for more jobs and economic development. In fact, Wasserman's identity as an environmentalist could actually hurt him at the polls. That's the view of Helen DesFosses, a professor of Public Administration and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany, and a longtime Democratic activist.
DESFOSSES: I think the environmental issue is both in the plus column and the negative column. It's in the plus column in that obviously I think Americans are more concerned with the environment than they have been in a long time. But it's not an issue that grabs most people in this area of upstate New York. We -- we're not like Love Canal and Buffalo or anything; we haven't had any major thing. And I think another disadvantage for Lee is that people knew him in the environmental community, but nobody knew him in connection with any other type of political activity.
RUDOLPH: Wasserman's status as a party outsider is being used against him by the McNulty campaign. It's a powerful indictment in a city once dominated by a Democratic Party machine, and where party loyalty is still important. McNulty's supporters also call Wasserman a one-issue candidate. Jack McEneny is a member of the New York State Assembly.
McENENY: Finding out that the executive director of the environmental planning lobby is pro-environment is not going to be a big revelation to the voters. I think they're going to ask other questions, where he stands on some of the other things, and to most people he is still an enigma.
RUDOLPH: Wasserman has responded to these doubts by raising a variety of issues in his campaign. He often talks about the need to create jobs, and he contrasts his pro-choice position with McNulty's anti-abortion stance. Wasserman has also been credited with running one of the most professional campaigns that Albany has seen in years. He's even borrowed techniques from the old party machine. Rather than relying on media advertising to blanket the district, he's employing old-style retail politics, attempting to personally contact as many voters as possible before primary day. Wasserman's campaign, well-funded and well-organized, clearly represents a challenge to Congressman McNulty and to the local Democratic Party organization. But it also poses a challenge to Wasserman's own supporters. Judith Enk is an environmental activist.
ENK: Well, I think it's a real test of the environmental movement. I think one thing that has challenged us more than anything is environmental protection shows up pretty well in the polls but, you know, as an activist I can say one thing we have failed at doing is translating this positive poll support into electing our own folks to Congress. So in a way, this is a test of the local environmental community. Can we mobilize people? Can we fund raise? Can we out-organize the local machine?
RUDOLPH: The answer will come when Democrats go to the polls. The September 10th primary is all-important because no candidate is expected to run on the Republican line in the November general election. Whoever wins the Democratic Party nomination is virtually assured of being elected to Congress as the representative from New York's 21st District. For Living on Earth I'm John Rudolph in Albany, New York.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Transportation researches have calculated that the Los Angeles freeway system averages 85 million vehicle miles every day. It's difficult, if not impossible, to say how many car trips could be saved if LA had an extensive mass transit network. Earlier this century, the City of Angels had the beginnings of just such a system. Its demise is chronicled in a new PBS Point of View documentary. Writer and Living on Earth commentator Bill McKibben reviews the program called "Taken For a Ride."
McKIBBEN: For years, rumors have circulated that the big car companies have conspired against us, bought up the patents for solar cars and hidden them away in vaults, joined with the oil barons to block the 100-mile-per-gallon car. Paranoid fantasies? Perhaps. But as everyone knows, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. As a documentary to be broadcast soon on PBS's Point of View series makes clear, the infrastructure of our entire nation really has been the victim of fast-talking car salesmen.
In the early 1920s, only one American in 10 owned a car. Most of the rest got around on the trolley lines that stretched through every metropolis. GM didn't care for those trolleys, crowded with potential car buyers. So what did they do? They slowly and systematically bought up those trolley companies, tearing up their tracks, replacing them with heavily polluting GM diesel buses, which eventually gave way to cars. Los Angeles ran on yellow trolleys, until GM, Standard Oil, and Firestone got through with it.
The analysts' promotion of the automobile chronicled in "Taken For a Ride" is more than ancient history. This year alone, the highway lobby has won funding for 160,000 more miles of pavement, spending dollars that won't go for high-speed trains or nimble light rail. And around the world, especially in Asia, GM and its brother carmakers are pushing hard to hook everybody else on the almighty auto. This time, if they succeed, it'll mean more than grim urban congestion and sprawling suburban development. It'll also derail the fight to stop global warming.
In 1993 Frank Adams and Richard Grossman co-authored a pamphlet explaining that most American corporations were chartered to work for the common good. When they didn't, the pamphlet suggested, their charter should be revoked. They must have had GM in mind. In retrospect, it's clear that the auto makers pulled off the environmental crime of the century in this country, one we'll be paying for well into the next millennium. It's salutary for us to hear this history, but the statute of limitations has expired here. This is one film that most needs to be shown in Beijing, Jakarta, and New Delhi. For Living on Earth, I'm Bill McKibben.
CURWOOD: Bill McKibben lives in upstate New York. His most recent book is Hope, Human and Wild.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Music up and under)
ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major funding provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; 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; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.
(Music up and under)
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: The beans that make up your morning coffee travel many miles before they reach your cup, and there's an environmental toll to pay along the way. The price tag coming up in Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: One hundred and forty five years ago one of the seminal works of American fiction, Herman Melville's Moby Dick, was published. The story of Captain Ahab's obsession with a great white sperm whale, Moby Dick is also a repository of knowledge about these leviathans of the deep. In Melville's time there were many thousands of sperm whales. The creatures were valued for both their oil and the ambergris used to manufacture perfumes. Sperm whales were first protected in 1937 by the League of Nations. The group's treaty placed quotas on the number of females that could be captured. But as more and more males were taken, reproduction declined precipitously. When the hunting of all whales was banned a decade ago, sperm whale numbers began to climb. As for Melville, for us modern readers Moby Dick marked his high water mark as a writer, but when Melville died 40 years after the publication of Moby Dick he was all but forgotten by the public. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth almanac.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: You make take it with caffeine or perhaps you prefer it without. Before you pour in the milk or cream or stir in that spoonful of sugar, pause for a moment to consider just what it takes to bring you that delicious beverage. That wonderful aroma of fresh-brewed coffee has a price, and not just the one you pay at the cafe counter. Harvested beans must pass through an elaborate process before they're ready for roasting and brewing, and the methods traditionally used in this process are blamed for the contamination of many of the waterways in Latin America. Coffee in fact is considered by some to be one of the world's most environmentally hostile agro-industries. But not necessarily in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Some coffee processors are experimenting with alternative technologies that, as Jana Schroeder reports, go easier on the earth.
(People milling, children laughing)
SCHROEDER: All the families living in this remote Veracruz village called Limones are involved in coffee production in one way or another. The lush hillsides surrounding the town at the end of a long dirt road are covered with coffee fields. Residents say there's no other work here, so their small savings from each year's harvest has to get them through the year. But despite their economic dependence on the crop, during the last harvest this community closed down the coffee processing plant located just up the stream that runs through the town. Residents like 16-year-old Maria Garcia complain the plant dumps contaminated water and coffee waste into the stream.
GARCIA: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: First of all it smells really bad. And second of all it leaves us with dirty water that's not good for anything, not even for bathing.
SCHROEDER: Communities throughout coffee growing regions in Mexico have the same experience. Processing plants need lots of water and are almost always located next to rivers or streams. The water is used to soak the beans to help remove first the pulp and then another gelatin-like layer. That exposes the coffee bean itself which will later be dried and roasted. The processors even use water to move the beans from one place to another.
(Footfalls down a hallway)
SCHROEDER: Chemist Gesela Veles works with Mexico's National Water Commission. She says when processing plants return all this water to local streams it's highly acidic and murky, which kills aquatic plants dependent on sunlight.
VELES: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: On top of that the solid waste consumes the water's oxygen, depleting the oxygen available for plants and animals that live in the water.
SCHROEDER: Waste from coffee processing isn't the only nor the most serious problem for these rivers. They're also polluted by human sewage and industrial waste. But coffee processing is contributing to the deterioration of a region once blessed with plentiful fresh water. Most coffee processors admit, at least privately, that it's a big problem, but they don't see many solutions. Mexico has strict laws to protect the waterways. But if they were enforced, most if not all plants would have to close down.
(Bird calls and running water)
SCHROEDER: What's needed, according to Eduardo Aranda, a biologist at the Institute of Ecology in Veracruz, is new technology.
ARANDA: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: These are industrial plants that were mostly designed in the early part of this century. They're huge operations that require lots of water and leave behind lots of waste.
SCHROEDER: But the new technology to upgrade those plants is expensive. Most processors don't have the capital. They're just recuperating after 5 years of low coffee prices. A few large processors, though, are making the investment. Mario Fernandez is repairing and upgrading his plant for the next harvest. His plant in Coatapec has one of the most advanced systems in the state.
FERNANDEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: We use Colombian systems of removing the pulp from coffee beans that don't require any water at all, and we have a very efficient system for washing the beans that uses only a small amount of water. And by recycling the water that is used, this plant uses 20 times less water than traditional plants.
SCHROEDER: Mr. Fernandez has resolved a big part of the problem by using less water, but he still has only a minimal system modeled after a sewage treatment plant for treating the water he does contaminate.
(Sounds of the open road or field, birds)
SCHROEDER: But just an hour and a half down the road in Huatusco, there are some growers trying to solve that problem, too. Chemical engineer Neftali Nagel runs the water treatment system at a plant owned by a growers' cooperative.
NAGEL: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: Some processors aren't investing in water treatment because they don't think they're going to get anything out of it. But we found it's possible to benefit both economically and ecologically.
SCHROEDER: In their system the solids are first filtered out. Then the water passes through a sophisticated anaerobic digester containing microorganisms that feed off the remaining contaminants. The process produces a bio gas that can be used as fuel to run part of the plant. Ultimately these growers hope turning their waste into fuel will save them a lot of money.
SCHROEDER: The idea of using waste as a resource has also inspired biologist Eduardo Aranda at the Institute of Ecology. His front yard is covered with troughs of decomposing coffee pulp, which look like piles of mud in the heavy rain. The pulp makes up 40% of the total weight of a coffee bean, and after it's removed most processors just dump it wherever they can, sometimes nearby or directly in local streams. But biologist Aranda has developed a composting system.
ARANDA: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: Earthworms transform the waste very efficiently. They turn it into a very rich fertilizer that's perfect for coffee plants and for improving soil fertility. It can even be sold for a good price.
SCHROEDER: Mr. Aranda has set up a small business to sell the compost to coffee growers and other farmers. He's trying to convince coffee processors that they can do the same. Some innovative processors in Veracruz are hooking up with progressive coffee importers in the United States and elsewhere to try to sell their coffee as environmentally friendly. They hope to create new markets and show other processors that ecologically sound practices can bring economic benefits. That could help the rivers of Veracruz and other coffee growing regions run a bit clearer. For Living on Earth, I'm Jana Schroeder in Veracruz, Mexico.
(Singer: "I'm feelin' mighty lonesome, haven't slept a wink. I walk the floor and watch the door and in between I drink black coffee ... love the hand-me-down brew ... ")
CURWOOD: We head out to the Green Garden Spot with Evelyn Tully Costa. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. There may be a new Federal pesticide law on the books, but controversy over the use of pesticides is expected to continue. Consider the case of methyl bromide. It's used throughout the world as a fumigant and herbicide, but there's increasing evidence that links the chemical to nerve damage, birth defects, and cancer, as well as to depletion of the earth's ozone layer. A ban on the use of methyl bromide was scheduled to take effect in California in March, but lobbyist won methyl bromide makers and farmers who depend on them a reprieve. And some fear that the Federal ban on methyl bromide, scheduled to take effect in the year 2001, could be pushed aside as well. Cheryl Colopy has our story.
(A motor runs)
RAMOS: They are the most challenging crop that I've ever met. Very challenging from every point of view.
COLOPY: Miguel Ramos is justifiably proud of his strawberries. They're big, vibrantly red and sweet, produced by healthy strawberry plants that march in pairs for row after row, up and down the gently rolling hillsides above the Pacific Ocean, near Monterey, California. Growers here in the Pajaro Valley, say its climate is the most perfect in the world for strawberries: bright sun, cool breezes, and no rain after the fruit forms. But this Eden of strawberry production has its serpents. Miguel Ramos says nematodes and fungi threaten the tender roots of the young plants.
RAMOS: We fumigate with methyl bromide, but for that we go a great length of land preparation. When you're going to fumigate you want that one gas that you inject in a liquid form in the ground to move readily throughout the soil where your roots are going to be growing in the future.
COLOPY: Each of the plants can produce up to 10 pounds of strawberries in a season. Dave Riggs, President of the California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville, says getting the plants off to a good start lets the growers reap the high yields they need.
RIGGS: The advantage of methyl bromide is that it gives us so much stronger plants, so we use a lot less chemicals later on in the production season when there are farm workers in the field and when there's fruit on the vine.
COLOPY: California's legislature was responding to groups like the Strawberry Commission when it postponed a scheduled suspension of methyl bromide earlier this year.
COLOPY: Once a year, before planting, a tractor moves up and down the field injecting a liquid mixture of methyl bromide and chloro-picrin, or teargas, into the soil. The teargas is both an effective pesticide and a warning. Methyl bromide alone is odorless. Because the liquid quickly becomes a gas, a long strip of plastic sheeting, designed to keep the gas in the soil, rolls off the back of the tractor. Workers follow behind, burying the edges of the plastic. They're supposed to wear protective gear, but neighbors say they often don't. And despite precautions there are reports of methyl bromide drifting into nearby homes, causing headaches, nausea, and bloody noses. Methyl bromide is especially toxic to the human nervous system. It's known to have caused 18 deaths in California since 1982.
(Children speak in Spanish)
COLOPY: Schoolchildren may be among the most vulnerable to methyl bromide because schools in this area are so frequently located at the edge of towns where the strawberry fields begin. Terry Ketchie teaches a bilingual class at Ohlone School, where many of the children are from farm worker families. Across the street from the new school is a strawberry field.
KETCHIE: One day I had 9 or 10 kids absent, and a few parents called me and said you know, my kid is just wheezing and he's having an asthma attack and I just can't send him. And 2 parents in particular said I think it must have something to do with what they're putting on the field. Do you know what's under the tarps?
COLOPY: She found out it was methyl bromide. The school reached an agreement with the grower to fumigate only on weekends or after school. He also put up a fence to keep kids and animals out of the field, but Ketchie says she still worries about the long-term effects of the pesticide on children, whose bodies absorb it faster. Strawberry workers have long called the strawberry la fruta del Diablo, or fruit of the Devil, because of the back-breaking work and low wages for picking it. Some can add methyl bromide to the list of hazards. Selia Duarte and her family used to live at the San Andreas Labor Camp near Watsonville. The camp is surrounded by strawberry fields.
S. DUARTE: [Speaks in Spanish]
COLOPY: She says her 5-year-old son Miguel got very sick from asthma when they lived near the fields. But since they moved away from the camp the boy has been fine. Her older son Fernando Duarte remembers the day a few years ago when, just hours after an adjacent field was fumigated, a small boy climbed the fence. He tore the plastic covering and crawled under it.
F. DUARTE: He got like real sick. Then everybody in the camp got like their eyes watery, irritated. They couldn't even sleep. They hurt like at about 10 o'clock at night. So that kid went to the hospital. Then we called the police, the fire department. They came. They told us it was too dangerous to be near the plastic. So they told us to evacuate the whole camp.
COLOPY: Fernando Duarte's mother Celia says that last year growers facing the possible suspension of methyl bromide urged strawberry workers to support its continued use, warning them that losing the pesticide could mean a much smaller harvest and thousands of lost jobs. Teacher Terry Ketchie is frustrated that politicians were swayed by the arguments of growers.
KETCHIE: They're very, very unwilling to take a strong stand for public health. Children's health is much more important than selling a cheap strawberry.
COLOPY: Studies have linked methyl bromide to cancer and birth defects. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies it a Category I acute toxin. In 1984 California required manufacturers to complete a series of toxicity studies by March of this year or face suspension of the fumigant. Most of the studies were completed and they confirmed methyl bromide's toxicity. One of the tests was incomplete but the state delayed the suspension, giving manufacturers until the end of the year to complete the missing study, which will likely mean at least a 5-year reprieve for the growers.
HERGLOTZ: Accidents do occur. I mean, train wrecks happen, things like that. But what you can't do is rid yourself of something that there are no alternatives.
COLOPY: Kevin Herglotz of California's Department of Food and Agriculture dismisses methyl bromide as a serious public health risk. He says the main issue is what its loss would cost California.
HERGLOTZ: California is constantly looking for alternatives but what we can't do is put ourselves at an economic disadvantage with the rest of the nation and the rest of the world. Until economically viable alternatives exist, we can't throw methyl bromide out the door.
COLOPY: The issue reverberates far beyond California. Methyl bromide is used heavily in Florida as well as abroad, and it's become a global issue because the fumigant is known to be a key destroyer of the Earth's ozone layer. Because of this, manufacture and import of methyl bromide will become illegal in 2001. But Ann Schoenfield of Pesticide Action Network warns that this ban could still be undermined.
SCHOENFIELD: The talk is still every month in Congress, let's kill the Clean Air Act and let's get rid of the 2001 phase-out date. And the Clinton Administration is sucked into this. You know, they're the ones that passed the law in the first place, but now, you know, wen they're, like, kind of diddling around and trying to figure out what their environmental stand is, they're saying oh, well, maybe we need to have loopholes. Maybe we need to rethink about 2001.
COLOPY: The EPA says it supports a complete ban of methyl bromide and will keep working to carry it out. The agency says it also supports an international agreement to phase out methyl bromide globally by 2010.
(Crop duster engine)
COLOPY: So in spite of the reprieve California strawberries growers got this year, Miguel Ramos is worried.
RAMOS: There's no way that we're going to be able to grow strawberries, at least the way we do it with the varieties that we have, without methyl bromide.
COLOPY: Others say there are alternatives, but they agree that a ban on methyl bromide will require growers to experiment with new varieties of strawberry and with methods of pest control that may, at least in the short run, lead to a more expensive strawberry. They say state agencies and the big growers who can afford to take some risks will have to lead the way so that growers like Miguel Ramos can stay in business. For Living on Earth I'm Cheryl Colopy in Watsonville, California.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: To many of us, the urge to clip, mow, weed, and dig, is more than just another item in the weekly checklist of chores to do. It's an act of passion. How we shape the bit of nature we call a garden can be as exciting or soothing as any painting, sculpture, or memoir we leave behind. And it's an entree into our moods, our state of minds and heart. Here to discuss the creative side of gardening is our very own garden designer Evelyn Tully Costa. She's out in the Green Garden Spot as usual. Welcome, Evelyn.
TULLY COSTA: Hi, Steve.
CURWOOD: So, let's get right to the heart of the matter. For weeks we've been fussing over technique, you know, the soil, how to and how to dig. And all the mechanics of gardening. But you're saying there's a deeper issue here?
TULLY COSTA: Yeah. Really the main issue. I really think people should know the basics of how to garden, but what I really do for a living when I'm not talking to you is to help others realizing their visions through plants, through cobblestones and soil. It really boils down to design.
CURWOOD: So what if I don't know anything about, you know, designing? I mean, do I need some expert or do I have to go through these slick magazines that have these beautiful pictures in them?
TULLY COSTA: No. I mean, I'm not saying you shouldn't look at those. But just like clothes or jewelry or houses, garden designing is a total manifestation of our personalities, and there's no right or wrong here, Steve. What's interesting is how our state of mind gets played out through the living landscape or the garden. We develop relationships with plants, attachments, since they're living and we have to nurture them to varying degrees. And they're like children. I mean, we even have expectations of how they're supposed to turn out. But often, the best gardens in my opinion happen despite our rigid notions of what's expected from a particular design.
CURWOOD: I thought you weren't going to tell people about my garden here today, Evelyn. [Evelyn laughs] But seriously, I mean, it's hard not to think that, you know, the great garden designers in Japan or in Europe, and especially go to England, you see these perfect little gardens by these perfect brick walls. Can we really compete with that?
TULLY COSTA: Well, I think that we really need to acknowledge the influences. I mean it's just like food or culture or music or anything else. We really need to acknowledge the history. But we also need to come to grips, and this is especially true of gardening, we really need to come to grips with the fact that we're not in Europe. We should look here in the United States at our own incredible landscapes, and we should look there for ideas for inspirations. Suzanne Lipschutz is a featured designer in the most recent issue of Garden Design magazine, and she had a great little quote. She says anyone can do a perfectly gorgeous landscape, but it's the insanity, the abnormal gardens, that inspire. It takes guts, but people should always do their own thing.
CURWOOD: Oh well, I guess I can feel better with that. Tell me, Evelyn, what are your inspirations for this kind of thing?
TULLY COSTA: That's a trade secret, Steve. Of course, I do read and collect design books by the box load, I visit gardens, I talk to other landscapers. But there are really two people whose garden, and their lifestyle, have inspired me over the last 10 years. Noah Baen and Karen Shmeckpeper have a cottage and a garden in Galilee, Pennsylvania, that always gives me pause to think. And what I think in their case is that I'll never have the breadth of knowledge, vision, and skill to pull things together quite the way these 2 have. Now, Noah and Karen have surrounded their 1870s farmhouse with a wonderful combination of native plants, roses, exotics, and annuals, that cause people to slam on the brakes when they drive past.
TULLY COSTA: Karen has, on top of just what's around the house, she's built a maze across the road from their house. And Noah recreated a working Stonehenge using bales of hay further back in the field.
CURWOOD: Oh, okay. So what you've got here are some fine artists who are using the landscape as, like, a canvas.
TULLY COSTA: Yes. But it's also very inviting. In fact, Karen named it the Galilee Gathering Garden. She actually cuts and sells flowers right out of her living painting. And wonderfully enough, people actually use Hay Henge and the Garden Maze as a gathering place. So it's really a stunning example of making the most out of a location. In this particular case, and I think this is probably one of the most important things about designing where you are, we're talking about sky meeting fields that slip into this woodland which is bordered by a stream. The plants blend in and they pop out at you in very refreshing and unusual ways. Noah and Karen have also managed to attract at least a dozen different types of butterfly species, many more birds, and also local residents, who are an interesting mix of farmers, professionals, artists and transplants from other places. Like Brooklyn.
CURWOOD: Aha, so that's where you go when you want to get away from it all.
TULLY COSTA: That's right.
CURWOOD: But now, what about the rest of us if we're not all that artistically inclined or think we're not, anyway. Where do we start?
TULLY COSTA: Well, I would very much recommend any book by garden designer, writer, and photographer Ken Druse. He's one of this country's leading designers and a well-known advocate of the native plant movement. Now, if you really want to learn something about plants that belong in the United States, in settings that are as stunning as anything you'll see in Europe, go out and get a copy of The Natural Garden or The Natural Habitat Garden. Now, I consider both of these books bibles for the work that I do.
CURWOOD: Okay, so those books are by Ken Druse and they are The Natural Garden and The Natural Habitat Garden. And I'll check them out in the library and we'll talk in a few weeks.
TULLY COSTA: Great. Well, good luck, Steve, at the drawing board.
CURWOOD: Thanks, Evelyn. Evelyn Tully Costa designs and builds gardens in Brooklyn. She comes to us from WNYC, New York.
CURWOOD: If you have a question or a comment you can write the Green Garden Spot at Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: By my childhood calendar I remember that it was some time around the fourth grade when my mother finally saved enough money to buy a set of binoculars. They were bulky by today's standards and heavy to hold up. But my mother was always excitedly peering through them and exclaiming that this must be a wood thrush and that must be a whippoorwill. Just to be sure, she would check her book. Her book of course was Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds.
Over the years her copy took a beating, packed for hikes up into the White Mountains or along the Miami River Valley. I know because much of the time I was there. I grumbled when she'd rustle me out of bed to go watch birds on those cold mornings. And sometimes there were bugs everywhere, and always the book.
Years later in high school I found myself volunteering -- yes, volunteering -- to go on bird watching trips. Even the get up early and freeze variety. Peterson's Field Guide always came, too. At 16 I climbed Pennsylvania's Hawk Mountain with some schoolmates. It was a modest peak but it was the best spot around for the big hawks to float in the thermals. Up on the summit I heard someone say "Roger Tory Peterson," and I instinctively began looking for the book. But before I could find it someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Steve, meet Mr. Roger Tory Peterson."
"As in the book?" I stammered, looking up at the tall man.
Everyone laughed and Mr. Peterson nodded as he shook my hand. "I didn't know you were a real person," I said awkwardly. He just smiled.
Mr. Peterson had a pleasant face but it was also craggy, with just a bit of the hawk in it. He carried binoculars and a camera and spoke few words. He watched us watch the raptors soar without offering advice, but was glad to answer questions. It was a thrill to spy so many hawks and even a golden eagle that morning, but there were no bald eagles to be seen. When I turned to ask Mr. Peterson if I might ever see one there, he was gone.
I didn't see him again until 1994, for an interview shortly after he published what would be his last book, a retrospective of his considerable painting and photographic talents. At the time Mr. Peterson seemed robust, but none of us go on forever. He died at 87 late last month.
Mr. Peterson certainly painted and photographed well, but perhaps his most important gift was effective simplicity. His original field guide to the birds sold something approaching 7 million copies, I think, because it was organized in such a way that even bored and bug-bitten kids could swiftly find in it a bird in question and feel satisfied. [Birds sing] It may be something that only a birder can understand, and there are millions of us, though there was only one Roger Tory Peterson. We will miss you, Mr. Peterson. And thanks.
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our senior producer is Chris Ballman and our senior editor is Peter Thomson. Deborah Stavro directs. Our production team includes Liz Lempert, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. Our news editor is Constantine Von Hoffman, and congratulations to Con and his wife Jennifer Tieg on the arrival of their new son, Gregory Tieg von Hoffman. Mother and child are doing well; dad has finally exhaled. We also had help from Heather Kaplan, Jennifer Senkler, and Paul Masari. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Karen Given and Frank DeAngelis. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthellier and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
(Music up an under)
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; and Jennifer and Ted Stanley.
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
This Week's Books
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
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.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
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.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
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