Air Date: August 30, 1996
Growing Coca in the Rainforest/ Bob Carty
The United States is working hard with the Peruvian government to stop coca plant growth in the jungles of Peru. Bob Carty of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports on the impact of these efforts. Among the results, peasants are burning and cultivating increasing acres of remote rainforest to elude detection. Some would like to help solve this problem of land encroachment by creating a legal coca market for the plant's medicinal properties. (10:39)
Green Auto Body Shop/ Stephanie Hemphill
Instead of wasting paint, thinners and other toxic substances, an auto body shop in Duluth has used some inventiveness to reduce harmful waste. Stephanie Hemphill reports from Minnesota Public Radio. (04:57)
Listener Action: Furniture from Retired Tires
A Living on Earth listener in Winterville, Georgia takes old tires and turns them into new upholstered furniture. Steve Curwood catches up with him to find out more about his products. (03:02)
Web Site Address Announcement
This is where Living on Earth announces the LOE Web site with the help of "Votrax.". The Living on Earth Web site address is: http://www.loe.org (01:30)
The Living on Earth Almanac
Facts about.. mining. (01:15)
Wet Cleaning: What's Old is New/ Terry FitzPatrick
Chemical drycleaning is seen as risky business by some as the primary chemical used in the process has been linked to health problems. The Greener Cleaner in Chicago is using improved washing machines and detergent to clean clothes with minimal toxicity with a technique known as "wet clean." Terry FitzPatrick of Living on Earth's Northwest bureau in Seattle reports. (05:56)
The Bee's Knees/ Ruth Page
Due to recent innovations, some honeybees can now carry pesticides that kill viruses, along with the usual pollen as they carry out their flights. Commentator Ruth Page remarks on this and other notable scientific discoveries. (02:54)
Reaching for New Heights/ Virginia Biggar
The outdoor clothing gear company Patagonia combines work with play at its California headquarters. Virginia Biggar profiles this privately held company which is coming out with a new line of active-wear clothing manufactured from organically grown cotton. (10:15)
From the Living on Earth Profile Series #8: Wendell Berry: Philosophical Farmer/ John Gregory
Farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry has written some thirty books. Most of them deal with issues firmly rooted in Berry’s native rural Kentucky. John Gregory of member station KFPL in Kentucky spent some time with Berry and has this profile. (05:02)
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: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Gordon Evans, Lorna Jordan, Kelley Griffin, Bob Carty, Stephanie Hemphill, Terry FitzPatrick, Virginia Biggar, John Gregory
GUEST: Jack Doubrley
COMMENTATOR: Ruth Page
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Cocaine addiction in the US is bringing disaster to many of our families and communities. Cocaine production in Peru is also wiping out parts of the Amazon rainforest.
CAMINO: If you grow illegally, you're not going to put a lot of effort on protecting your soil. You just grow your crop, take out the harvest as fast as you can, and run away.
CURWOOD: Also, an auto body shop owner finds a way to improve his bottom line and soothe his conscience with new, low-pollution equipment.
OGSTEN: Any time anybody before had mentioned environment, it was always how am I going to skirt the issue? And whether you want to believe it or not, you carry that burden around on your shoulders.
CURWOOD: Those stories and more on Living on Earth, right after this news.
NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. President Clinton has unveiled a $2 billion package of environmental initiatives. The announcement came during a campaign whistle stop in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Gordon Evans of member station WMUK reports.
EVANS: President Clinton called for a new commitment to cleaning up the environment. He told the audience in Comstock Township that many toxic waste sites are sitting too long before they get cleaned up. The President said he would accelerate the pace of the Federal Superfund so that two thirds of the top priority polluted sites were clean by the year 2000. The President also called for expansion of a program that cleans up polluted industrial sites known as brownfields.
CLINTON: The most important thing that I am working on with the mayors of America today is cleaning up these brownfields so we can create jobs in the city. Again I tell you, good environmental policy is good for the economy. It creates jobs, it creates a future for America, and we have to be prepared to do it.
EVANS: But Republicans in Michigan say the state is already ahead of the Federal Government in taking care of the environment. Ken Sikema, a Republican state representative, says the President wants to pour more money into a failed Federal program. For Living on Earth, this is Gordon Evans in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
NUNLEY: Residents living near one of the nation's nuclear weapons plants are at a higher risk of getting cancer. That's according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control. From Cincinnati, Lorna Jordan reports.
JORDAN: The people living near the former Fernauld uranium processing plant outside Cincinnati have been concerned for decades about the amount of radiation they've received over the years. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some answers. The 6-year, $4 million study indicates there's an increased cancer risk of 1 to 9% for those living in the shadow of the plant. The CDC study used mathematical models to estimate radiation releases near the plant. Perhaps one of the most stunning findings is that the main risk posed to residents was not uranium releases or groundwater contamination. Rather, it was the radon emissions from the nuclear weapons plant. Residents may use the study results to file suit against the Department of Energy for causing an increased cancer risk. They already won a lawsuit against the DOE for emotional damages, declining property values, and lifetime medical monitoring. For Living on Earth, this is Lorna Jordan from Cincinnati.
NUNLEY: Automakers have backed down from threats they made to walk out of negotiations with northeastern states over cleaner car standards. Massachusetts and New York have adopted versions of California's requirements to usher electric vehicles into their fleets. But automakers are urging the northeast states to drop their electric car mandates in exchange for a nationwide standard reducing emissions from gas-powered cars. The 7 major automakers argue that current electric vehicles lack the range and performance that drivers demand. But Massachusetts and New York State officials say they will continue to insist on their quotas.
The US Justice Department is attempting to force the former chairman of a Colorado mining company to pay $152 million out of his own pocket to clean up pollution in his old mine. The Justice Department got help last week when a Denver Federal
District Judge and 2 Canadian courts froze the assets of Robert Friedland, former chairman of the Summitville Mine. From Denver, Kelley Griffin reports.
GRIFFIN: The Summitville Mine leaked toxic wastes in 1992 that wiped out fish and plant life along 17 miles of river and prompted an emergency takeover by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Summitville Consolidated Mining Company earlier this year pleaded guilty to 40 environmental felonies and was assessed $20 million in fines. But that still leaves the costly clean-up of the mine, now a Superfund site. Lois Shiffert, the lead attorney representing the Justice Department, says the extraordinary action against Robert Friedland is necessary because he has not cooperated in that clean-up.
SHIFFERT: It's very important to us that people who cause pollution in this country pay to clean up the contamination that they've caused. Mr. Friedland has seemed to have a plan to walk away from the pollution that he caused at the Summitville Mine.
GRIFFIN: Friedland, a citizen of both the US and Canada, severed ties with the mining company in 1990. He's quoted as saying he'll challenge the court actions. Friedland denies any wrongdoing, saying key environmental decisions at the mine were made by others. But Federal attorneys site several memos and testimony by former Friedland associates claiming the former executive was familiar with Summitville's environmental failures. For Living on Earth, I'm Kelley Griffin in Denver.
NUNLEY: Next time you buy or rent a house or apartment built before 1978 the seller or landlord must tell you about any known lead hazards. New lead disclosure regulations take effect September 6th. About three quarters of houses built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint. Prospective buyers and renters will also receive a government pamphlet detailing how to protect children from lead. Lead poisoning causes nervous system damage, IQ loss, and learning disabilities, and affects nearly 2 million children in the US.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood, and this is an encore edition of Living on Earth. Cocaine. A hundred years ago it was a common ingredient of patent medicines used to cure headaches, toothaches, in fact just about any illness you could name. Now it evokes images of ruthless drug cartels and decaying inner cities, children on crack and violent death in the streets. But cocaine has other harmful effects that North Americans don't usually see, in the remote regions of South America. There the raw material for the drug is extracted from the leaf of the coca plant, a process which is destroying large tracts of Amazon rainforest. Some Peruvians say an all-out war on coca farmers won't stop the ecological damage, but legalizing coca very well might.
Bob Carty of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation explains.
(Birdcalls in the rainforest. A man speaks Spanish. Translator: "This is the coca leaf plant. You begin the harvest like this. Just pull off the leaves like this." Sound of leaves being pulled.)
CARTY: The coca plant looks like just an ordinary shrub, about chest high on Jose as he strips its branches bare. Behind Jose, a jungle-covered mountainside slopes down to the Huallaga River, a tributary of the Amazon. Here in the highlands of Peru, peasants like Jose grow two thirds of the world's coca. Jose does not use his real name. He knows he's on the first rung of the international cocaine trade. Jose says he grows coca because it's the only thing between survival and abject poverty, and survival comes before the environment.
JOSE: (Speaks in Spanish)
TRANSLATOR: What you do first is you go into the jungle so people can't see the coca, and the police can't get in. Then you cut all the underbrush. You let it dry for about 3 weeks. Then you cut down the big trees and you let them dry out. And then you do the burning.
CARTY: And the burning to clear the land has taken its toll. Forest experts say that since large scale cocaine trade began in the 1970s, 15 million acres of jungle have been lost. These are only estimates. The Shining Path guerrillas and the army's counter-insurgency warfare make it impossible to really know how much damage has been done. But Alejandro Camino has seen it with his own eyes. Alejandro Camino is the head of the Trust Fund for Parks and Protected Areas, a Peruvian organization supported by the United Nations.
CAMINO: As an anthropologist, I used to work in some areas of the Peruvian rainforest, in the eastern slopes of the Andes. Now the areas are planted with coca for the drug trafficking, and this is true for many valleys. The destruction of biological diversity of the forest is cut. But also you have soil destruction, no jungle left.
(A helicopter flies overhead)
CARTY: Coca cultivation does not go uncontested, however. Almost daily, American helicopters fly up and down the Huallaga River valley. They are part of Washington's drug war, a $25 million a year effort to help Peru destroy coca plants. US diplomat Sherman Henson runs the program out of the embassy in Lima, and from there he directs the helicopter squadron.
HENSON: They support activities of the Peruvian government interior ministry agency that manually eradicates. They chop up with machetes the seedbeds from which new coca plants come. The end result has to be the elimination of the plant.
(Bird calls in the jungle)
CARTY: Now, given the damage caused by coca cultivation, you might think this steely resolve to wipe out coca plants would make ecologists happy. Not so. Eradication efforts have just made things worse, according to Alejandro Camino.
CAMINO: The actions against the growers have made the growers move further and further into the forest, and cut more and more forest. And areas which were formally grown with coca, due to repression on the cultivation, have been abandoned and the coca wars have moved into more and more remote areas. So now you have coca being grown in the lowland rainforest.
CARTY: Despite all the efforts to eradicate coca, there is 4 times more land under cultivation today than a decade ago, and the war against drugs has had another effect. Because of police raids against the cartels of Colombia, the drug lords have moved part of their cocaine processing right here to the jungles of Peru. These operations use tons of chemicals, such as sulfuric acid, kerosene, gasoline, acetone, ether, something called methylethylketone if that's how you say it. And Alejandro Camino says sometimes they even use a bit of cement.
CAMINO: And once the processing is done, the chemicals are thrown right on the side so this is another environmental impact of the coca, illegal coca trade. There are rivers where there is no more fish. There's no more wildlife in the river. The river has been extremely polluted.
CARTY: So for ecologists, the problem is twofold. Drug related demand for coca leads to rainforest destruction. But attempts to wipe out the plant exacerbate the damage. What then to be done? Many Peruvians insist the solution begins in recognizing that the coca plant itself is not the problem.
(Singers sing about coca.)
CABIESES: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: The coca leaf is 5,000 years old. It's part of our customs. It plays the same role as coffee for North Americans or tea for the English or wine for the French.
CARTY: Hugo Cabieses is an economist and one of many scientists, government officials, and even musicians who are trying to change coca's image. Coca, they insist, is not the same as cocaine hydrochloride, the illicit drug. The coca leaf contains less than one percent of the ingredient which is processed into the narcotic. And by itself it's not addictive. Eight million people in the Andes regularly chew coca leaves or drink coca tea.
CABIESES: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: Coca has always been fundamental in religious rituals, but it also has medicinal properties. It improves blood circulation. It combats the effect of altitude, of the cold, and of fatigue. It's very good for digestion. It prevents diarrhea. It has many uses. It's known as mama coca and also the sacred leaf.
CARTY: Hugo Cabieses argues that ironic as it may seem, the coca leaf could be a weapon in the fight against both the cocaine trade and environmental destruction. The idea is that poor peasants can be weaned off illegal coca cultivation if there are profitable alternatives. Throughout Peru there are attempts to help peasants produce citrus fruits, tea, and organic cotton. Hugo Cabieses says let them also grow coca. Legally.
CABIESES: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: If we marketed the benefits of coca for humanity, if we made products like coca tea or coca toothpaste or coca pills, it would be much more profitable for farmers to produce coca for this legal market rather than for the illegal market. So farmers would not have to get involved with narco traffickers in order to survive.
CARTY: Ecologist Alejandro Camino agrees that the idea has merit. That the marketing of coca leaves as a mild stimulant or a health product could help get a good number of farmers out of the drug trade. And it would have an environmental dividend.
CAMINO: If you look at the traditional coca field, usually the coca is planted on very well-done furrows. The soil is prepared in such a way that when it rains, the soil won't be washed away. Also, the use of pesticides, you never use pesticides on a traditional coca plantation used for traditional chewing. But if you grow it illegally, you're not going to put a lot of effort on protecting your soil; you just grow your crop, take out the harvest as fast as you can, and run away.
CARTY: The idea of marketing legal coca leaves faces major hurdles. The leaf itself is on a UN list of restricted substances not to be traded internationally. Coca supporters say that's unfair, like blaming grapes for the effect of wine. Peru and Bolivia are lobbying to get the leaf legalized. And North American scientists are investigating its medicinal properties. But Washington strongly opposes legalizing the leaf. US Diplomat Sherman Hinson.
HINSON: You can't treat coca quite as benignly as some of its advocates would want. The fact is, if there is demand for the drug, people will process the leaf to produce the drug. Total production of any agro-industrial product basically increases to satisfy the demand for that product. There's no reason to expect the coca industry, even though it's illegal to behave any differently and observed evidence suggests that it doesn't.
CARTY: Coca supporters counter that if demand is the main problem, then Washington should be putting more effort at curbing cocaine use at home than on stamping out the coca plant in the highlands of Peru. Ecologists here agree that a legal coca industry will not solve the cocaine problem. But the continuing campaign to eradicate the plant will only lead to more rainforest destruction. So, they say, why not give the coca plant and a cup of coca tea a chance? For Living on Earth I'm Bob Carty in Peru.
(Musicians sing about coca)
CURWOOD: An auto body shop finds that preventing pollution pays. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As the folks around the Great Lakes have become more aware of environmental change, they're asking more questions about where water pollution comes from. People are often quick to point a finger at big business, but small businesses can help or hurt the environment as well. Stephanie Hemphill of member station KUMD in Duluth visited an auto body shop near Lake Superior that is finding that cutting down on pollution is boosting profits.
(Auto shop sounds)
HEMPHILL: Nobody likes to have to take their car to a body shop. You worry about the cost, the workmanship, and how do you know if the shop is honest? Well, here's something new to ask yourself: what is the shop doing with the hazardous waste that comes from fixing your car? Paint, paint cleaner, solvents, coolant. The thousands of body shops around the country generate tons of hazardous waste each year. Among the most dangerous are volatile organic compounds, which escape into the air and contribute to urban smog; and heavy metals, which are flushed down the drain and can cause nerve damage and reproductive problems.
OGSTEN: In the auto repair business, where we produce most of the waste is in the paint department. And the first place...
HEMPHILL: Joe Ogsten owns Ogsten Body and Paint in Duluth. He says the steps he's taken in the last couple of years to reduce waste are saving him about $30,000 a year. You can see his approach as you look around his bright, spotless shop.
OGSTEN: This is our paint mixing system, and with the colors that you see here we can mix any variety of colors that we need in the shop. In conjunction to this bank of mixing paints, we also have a computerized scale, and rather than going to the jobber to buy a pint or a quart of mixed material that we might only use one or two ounces of and end up with 14 ounces of waste, we can mix down to one ounce here. So if we have a small job where we only need an ounce or two of paint, we can only mix an ounce or two of paint. So right off the bat we've eliminated possibly 80, 90% of the waste on certain jobs.
HEMPHILL: Then there's the equipment for washing the paint guns. Ogsten used to use up to 2 quarts of thinner to clean each gun after a paint job. Now he's got a closed loop system that reuses thinner over and over.
OGSTEN: This piece of equipment in here is a solvent recycler, and anybody from Prohibition days would recognize this as almost being a still. The heating element reaches a point where the solvent turns into a vapor. The vapor goes into a cooling condenser and comes out as pure solvent again. The piece of equipment paid for itself probably the first year we had it. So then anything after that has gone in strictly to profit.
HEMPHILL: Ogsten found out about the solvent recycler in a trade magazine. When he saw how much he was saving, $5,000 to $6,000 a year, it led him to other new technologies designed to reduce waste. For Ogsten, the bottom line is the money he's saving; the environmental benefits come second.
HEMPHILL: Here at the Western Lake Superior Sewage Treatment Plant, they see it the other way around. Heidi Ringhoffer runs a program that helps small businesses cut down on their waste. She commends Ogsten's shop for its progressive actions.
RINGHOFFER: They've really looked at the issues and decided what was right, and they're really protecting the environment. The emissions, what they might be putting down the drain that might be coming to us that our sewer system has to process, that would just mean less chemicals, less hazardous waste that has to be dealt with by us.
HEMPHILL: Joe Ogsten wasn't always an environmentalist. He spent years looking over his shoulder, waiting in dread for the knock on the door from the pollution police.
OGSTEN: Any time anybody before mentioned environment, there was always: how am I going to skirt the issue? Some day they're going to come here in the little white suits and they're going to haul me away. And whether you want to believe it or not, you carry that burden around on your shoulders. And the fact that we've gotten involved now and can feel good about what we're doing, and then the byproduct of that is a better bottom line, how can you afford not to be excited?
HEMPHILL: With help from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Ogsten is sharing his ideas with competitors in a newly revived trade group. He says more and more shops around the country are realizing that by cutting down on hazardous waste they can improve their bottom line.
(Hammering, motorized sounds)
HEMPHILL: For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie Hemphill in Duluth.
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CURWOOD: Americans throw out more than a quarter of a billion automobile tires a year. Now, some of that round rubber is recycled into roadways, sneakers, or homes, but most of it ends up in tire dumps. A listener in Georgia has a solution in part to this problem.
His name is Jack Daubrley, and he's turning old rubber into new upholstered furniture. As part of our series of listener suggestions to help the environment, we caught up with Mr. Doubrley at his office at Classic City Mechanical in Winterville, Georgia. Sitting down on the job, so to speak, in one of his own creations.
DAUBRLEY: It's round. Like people. But it looks more comfortable and real dressed up as much as anything else.
CURWOOD: Why did you start making furniture from old tires?
DAUBRLEY: Well, I noticed personally that tires were getting to be a problem for me. I had used the tread off of a tire which is actually less than 10% of the material it's made out of, and I myself had to find something to do with this good material that is left when you use the little bit of a tire that you're going to use in driving. So it just looked like furniture to me. It looked comfortable.
CURWOOD: You know, I've got to tell you, though. Sitting on tires doesn't really sound all that comfortable.
DAUBRLEY: Well, there again, if you think about the fact that the tire manufacturers have spent the better part of 80 years trying to make them indestructible, and yet they still have an inherent resilience and pliability that you're not going to get in a piece of furniture made out of a hardwood frame. If you look at the frame of a hardwood piece of furniture, it's all squared off angles; I've never known anybody that had a square butt. So my concept is something round, soft, and pliable.
CURWOOD: Have you sold many of these yet?
DAUBRLEY: It's like the old joke, I've sold literally dozens of them. It's a one-man operation right now. You know, if you get a piece at this point, you're getting it hand finished by the inventor.
CURWOOD: Sounds like they're expensive, though, if they're hand finished by you personally.
DOUBRLEY: I like to think it's one of the better bargains for a dollar now, because I price them, I think what is a moderate piece of furniture. But I've got something that will last you forever, and all you have to do is have it re-upholstered. Like any piece.
CURWOOD: Well, I'm waiting to try one. Thanks so much for taking this time with us today.
DOUBRLEY: Yes, thank you. I certainly appreciate it.
CURWOOD: Jack Daubrley is a furniture maker and hails from Crawford, Georgia. And if you or someone you know has an interesting environmental story to tell, give us a call. Our listener line number is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And to mail us a letter, the address is Living on Earth, Post Office Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238.
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CURWOOD: Oh, right. I almost did forget. Webby brings us our new and improved Home Page on the World Wide Web.
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CURWOOD: News, transcript links. Sounds great, Webby. Hey, what's the address?
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CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, Harvard University, and Webby. I'm Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: How to get whiter whites and greener greens without taking the environment to the cleaners. That's just ahead in the second half of Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: This is NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: One hundred years ago 3 men -- George Carmack, Skookum Jim, and Tagish Charley, discovered what they called a ton of gold on the Klondike River in Canada's Yukon Territory. In the following year alone more than 60,000 people journeyed to the territory as part of the biggest gold rush in North America. Despite their great numbers, the miners of 1896 did little long-term damage to the land. They were limited to panning, digging with hand tools, and blasting in their search for precious ore. And today, much of the area where the miners lived and worked has been turned into parks. Nowadays, because of more powerful and sophisticated technology, mining can cause major environmental problems. One of the biggest dangers is polluted waters from the mines running off into rivers, streams, and aquifers. Mercury and cyanide are often used today in the mining process, and they can be especially deadly in groundwater supplies. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: You might not think of your neighborhood dry cleaner as a potential threat to public health, but they're coming under increasing scrutiny because of a toxic chemical used in the dry cleaning machines. The chemical is called perchloroethylene, or PERC, and it's suspected to cause severe health problems. In the past few years dry cleaners have dramatically reduced PERC emissions. But now a unique project in Chicago is investigating whether PERC can be replaced by old fashioned soap and water. We sent Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick to take a look.
(Traffic sounds; horns)
FITZPATRICK: From the street, the Greener Cleaner looks like any neighborhood dry cleaning establishment. But inside, you notice a big difference.
HARGROVE: Everyone that comes through the door remarks about how wonderful it smells here. You smell the clothes; the clothes smell wonderful.
FITZPATRICK: Ann Hargrove runs a cleaning shop that produces no chemical fumes. That's because the Greener Cleaner uses soap and water instead of dry cleaning solvents.
(Sounds of machines)
FITZPATRICK: A newly designed machine allows Hargrove to put delicate fabrics in the wash.
HARGROVE: I can clean anything that says dry clean only. There are very few things I can't do, and the reason I can do it is because I'm able to control the water level, the way it agitates, the RPMs in extraction, and the way I dry it.
FITZPATRICK: The process is called wet cleaning. It uses a specially formulated detergent that Hargrove claims works better than dry cleaning chemicals.
HARGROVE: The prints are brighter. The wools have more luster to them. And that's I think why the people continue to come back.
(An extractor slows down)
FITZPATRICK: The Greener Cleaner is privately owned, but the EPA is funding an analysis of its first year in business. Jo Patton of Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology developed the program.
PATTON: We proposed that a critical part of evaluating wet cleaning was to put it through a real world test. That a lab test with garment swatches really wouldn't test whether you could have a profitable business.
(A computer keyboard)
FITZPATRICK: From her computer, Patton tracks every garment washed at the Greener Cleaner.
PATTON: Okay, we've got 13% pants, blouses 7%, then we have...
FITZPATRICK: She also monitors the nuts and bolts of the business: gross receipts, labor costs, customer complaints. This information will be available to the country's 30,000 dry cleaners, some of whom might want to switch from perchloroethylene, or PERC. Dry cleaners have used PERC for decades because it's a proven stain remover that doesn't cause fabric to shrink or colors to run. However, there's growing evidence that PERC can cause serious health problems, including damage to the liver and central nervous system. It might even cause cancer. There's also concern that PERC contamination is spreading beyond dry cleaning establishments, to the air in nearby apartments and the food in nearby grocery stores. PERC can even contaminate household closets, where dry cleaned clothes are kept. The manufacturers of PERC acknowledge it's dangerous, but not at these short-term or low-level exposures. Steve Risotto directs the Center for Emissions Control, an organization funded by PERC manufacturers.
RISOTTO: People exposed to high levels in occupational settings have, you know, passed out, been, you know, been lightheaded, etcetera. It is a chemical that needs to be controlled, and where exposures, individuals' exposures need to be controlled. But it is not a chemical that is so bad that it shouldn't, it can't be used any more or it should not be used any more.
FITZPATRICK: Still, under pressure from the EPA, the dry cleaning industry has cut emissions of PERC by 40%. Bill Seitz, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Cleaners Association, thinks that's enough to protect employees and neighbors. He dismisses attempts to completely replace PERC with water.
SEITZ: If water were as good as everybody says it was, or is, then there'd never be a dry cleaning industry. I mean we exist, the dry cleaning industry, exists because of the limitations of water.
FITZPATRICK: Wet cleaning proponents say their new technology overcomes most of those limitations. But they do admit it can't clean everything.
FITZPATRICK: The Greener Cleaner still has problems with stubborn grease and oil stains. So staffers apply small amounts of industrial spot remover before putting clothes into the wet cleaning machine. They say they can live with a few drops of toxic chemicals if it avoids the need to clean an entire garment with PERC.
FITZPATRICK: Ultimately the final judge of wet cleaning will be the customer. And on this count, the Greener Cleaner seems successful.
MAN: I can't say that I've noticed a difference in the cleaning or the quality. But I mean it's just as good as anything else that we've tried, I think.
WOMAN: Yeah. I mean there are certainly cleaners that are cheaper, but I'm willing to pay a little bit more for things that I feel are safer. And what I like is that the clothes never smell.
FITZPATRICK: Already the Greener Cleaner staff is looking toward the next step in building consumer and industry acceptance for water-based cleaning. They want clothing manufacturers to stop labeling garments "dry clean only." For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick in Chicago.
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CURWOOD: While you and I worry about the potential human health costs of pesticides and herbicides being sprayed on crops, farmers worry about the high cost of these chemicals and the delivery system: les than precise hand held sprayers, or low-flying airplanes. But, as commentator Ruth page explains, there is a cheap and natural alternative.
PAGE: Finding a way to lessen both danger and cost would be, in my mom's expression, the bee's knees. Funny she should say that, because a new technique for delivering a bug control to crops is the honeybee express: USDA employees have invented an addition to the beehive entrance, so that when bees plunge out for a pollen picnic, their exit floor is covered with virus-laced talc. The powdery stuff clings to bees' legs and feet, but doesn't harm them. It's a natural bug control. When a bee sips nectar from a flower, she leaves behind a powder trail that kills only the pests targeted by that virus. The inventors first tested the new technique with a virus that kills corn earworm and tobacco bugworm caterpillars. The dusty bee visits killed up to 85% of those larvae in the field.
There's also a better way to clean up after using dangerous chemicals. If you focus ultrasound at an intensity of several million Hertz into a liquid, the vibrations cause tiny bubbles to form. In micro-seconds, the bubbles superheat, expand, collapse. Temperatures in the bubbles can hit 5,500 degrees Celsius. That makes complex molecules in the fluid break up, and who can blame them?
Michael R. Hoffman, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology, calls the process liquid incineration. It doesn't leave any polluting residues. For example, Hoffman has found the noise-tormented bubbles can break down a frighteningly dangerous and persistent pesticide called parathion in 30 minutes. He hopes he can use this bubble ploy to help get rid of chemicals like PCBs, and some of the polluting solvents used in industry.
Then there's the story of an inveterate golfer's solution to what he considered a problem. Some golfers like to hit balls off the decks of cruise ships, lest they get withdrawal symptoms when away from the home course. In 1990 an international treaty was signed to halt the practice of dumping any plastics, and that includes golf balls, into the ocean. Too many sea animals thought they were dinner and were damaged or killed after swallowing them. California inventor and golfer Patrick E. Kane couldn't bear the new ruling. He spent 2 years creating and environment-friendly golf ball. He combines ground citrus peel with the animal protein collagen and calls the ball Aqua Flight. It's a natural food for fish. So if you're at the beach or on shipboard and hear a shout of "Four!" don't panic. It's just a golfer feeding the fish.
CURWOOD: Ruth Page lives in Burlington, Vermont. She comes to us from Vermont Public Radio.
Coming up, a journey to the Kentucky countryside, and a visit with farmer philosopher Wendell Berry, on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: Most outdoor enthusiasts are familiar with the Patagonia label. The Ventura, California-based company caters to buyers of clothing and gear for activities like hiking and rock climbing, along with people who are fishing for trout or just fishing for a fashion compliment. In addition to designing top-shelf products, Patagonia also prides itself on being environmentally responsible in its everyday operations. And as Virginia Biggar reports, the company also hopes to act as a guide for other businesses trying to become greener.
(A door opening and closing, silverware clanking)
BIGGAR: It's lunchtime at Patagonia. A group of employees is just back from a midday run.
MAN: All right. Pepper...
WOMAN: All of the essentials.
BIGGAR: Today's meal is baked potatoes with all the toppings. People sit around long tables chatting and eating. Open windows allow the sea breeze in. A bulletin board gives the daily surf report: nice high waves, but it's summer vacation, look out.
(A baby cries. Woman: "Oh, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." Another woman: "What did you say?")
BIGGAR: In an adjoining room, mothers visit their babies in one of Patagonia's daycare centers. They feed their kids or just play until lunch hour is over.
CHOUINARD: We like to blur that distinction between work and play here.
BIGGAR: That's Yvon Chouinard, who founded Patagonia over 20 years ago and is the driving force behind the company's laid-back philosophy.
CHOUINARD: So you see everybody, you know, dress casually, the surfboards laying around. There's wetsuits hanging all over the, you know, fences and stuff, and I think we all have that same attitude that if we're going to go to work let's enjoy it and not drag ourselves to work and then our real life starts when we get home.
BIGGAR: Chouinard's life story is told as company legend. In the late 1950s he was a sometimes detective tracking Howard Hughes's girlfriends. He was also an accomplished rock climber and started forging his own pitons, the spikes that climbers bang into rocks and use as footing. For his pitons Chouinard used steel, which proved to be superior to the usual iron. He sold his wares out of his car at climbing hot spots. In 1973, Chouinard started making outdoor clothes for customers he affectionately calls "dirt bags."
CHOUINARD: The dirt bag is the person that lives and breathes their passion, which is their sport. But in reality most of the dirt bags can't even afford Patagonia, and in fact they progress beyond needing any kind of equipment, you know. They've gotten so good at their game that they don't need our stuff. But that's who we focus our product on and that's who we try to design for.
BIGGAR: Patagonia now sells shirts, shorts, long underwear, rain gear, jackets -- in short, everything you need to stay warm, cool, or dry outdoors and in style. The company has grown to 600 employees worldwide with $154 million in sales. But Chouinard says he never wanted to be a businessman.
CHOUINARD: One day I woke up and I realized I was a businessman, and I was going to be a businessman for a long time, that I decided to do it on my own terms. I want to run this company just like a sustainable farmer would run his farm. In other words, no intention of ever selling it, 10,000 years from now it's going to be farmed. And so, with an attitude like that, you don't use pesticides, you don't use fertilizers. You don't till the soil so that, you know, you lose a inch of topsoil every year and stuff like that.
BIGGAR: At Patagonia, sustainability takes a number of forms. The work as play ethic is one. And growth is held to 5 to 6% a year. The company also gives away 1% of its sales. Environmental programs director Jill Zilligan explains.
ZILLIGAN: We give money to grassroots environmental groups all over the country and in other countries in which we operate. So generally, they're groups that are pretty hard-hitting, front line kinds of groups. A lot of them are working on the kinds of projects that can't necessarily always get funding from more mainstream funding sources.
BIGGAR: The list includes a range of organizations, from a women's resource center to the Ski Area Containment Coalition. This last cause has raised eyebrows among some in the ski industry who think Patagonia shouldn't support groups in favor of restricting ski areas when so many skiers buy Patagonia products. The company also wears its philosophy on its sleeve. For example, fleece for its clothing is made out of recycled plastic soda bottles. Patagonia keeps packaging to a minimum and the company now uses only organic cotton. Conventional cotton is one of the most pesticide-intensive crops in the world. Nearly half a billion tons of chemicals are used annually to control insects and weeds and to defoliate cotton for harvesting. That amounts to about 10% of the agricultural chemicals used worldwide every year. Evon Chouinard.
CHOUINARD: Once I found out how bad using conventional cotton is to make clothing or to make anything, I just could not justify ever making clothing out of this stuff again. I mean it's that bad. And so we made a commitment that we would rather go out of business, or rather not make clothing out of cotton again if we have to use industrial cotton.
BIGGAR: Chouinard says this move is a risk. Patagonia has had to raise some prices to cover the greater cost of organic cotton. But Chouinard says he's counting on loyal and environmentally aware customers to buy the product.
(Discussion echoes in a room)
BIGGAR: Recreational Equipment Incorporated, or REI in Los Angeles, is part of a major chain of outdoor retailers. Sherry Squires and Dorothy Winter are shopping for new summer clothes.
SQUIRES: We were just talking about Patagonia and how much we love it, but it's so expensive.
WINTER: They always hang the signs off their thing about how it's made and, you know, recycling and that kind of stuff. But when it comes down to price, I mean, I'm not going buy their product over another product because of that. You know, if the other product's cheaper.
BIGGAR: Does the price ever stop you from buying anything?
SQUIRES: I usually think twice about it and make sure I'm going to use it real well. But everything I've ever purchased I've been very happy with.
BIGGAR: The difference in price between Patagonia and some other brands can be significant. In fleece jackets, for example, REI's Judy Anderson says the store brand runs about $55. Patagonia, $95.
ANDERSON: You want to try on one of the zippered fleeces?
(Takes jacket off the rack)
ANDERSON: This is a full zip. (Zips) Cinchilla jacket. They're cut straighter, usually a little bit slender. They don't have that extra bagginess around. So I found for people that are layering, sometimes they fit better underneath because you don't have as much bulk.
BIGGAR: Anderson says this extra attention to fit and workmanship makes Patagonia especially popular among expeditionists. Those who spend time ice camping or hiking in remote areas, for example. She says the store also gets busloads of foreign tourists who in part come for the name. While many companies talk about being environmentally responsible, few follow through as thoroughly as Patagonia, according to Joel Makower, who edits the Green Business Letter for businesses trying to improve environmentally. And, says Makower, the company also makes smart business decisions.
MAKOWER: I wouldn't view their move toward organic cotton as being without regard for the market or the bottom line. I think in some ways it's a smart thing that they're doing by committing to large purchases of organically grown cotton. At this point they're locking into what is really a tight market. I think they're going to have a competitive advantage later on, when everyone else tries to go organic, and the supply isn't there or it's just plain expensive.
BIGGAR: The move to organic cotton, Makower notes, is more feasible for Patagonia than many of its competitors. Yvon Chouinard owns the company and therefore doesn't answer to shareholders. Also, Makower says, Patagonia doesn't have to manufacture any of its own products.
MAKOWER: Everything they sell is made by someone else. The real question that we need to be looking at is not just what are Patagonia's principles, but how are those principles being followed by all of the people they do business with? And I know they've had some successes. But I also know most companies that have tried to impose environmental standards on their trading partners have been frustrated by the lack of complete success doing that.
BIGGAR: It's hard to tell if Patagonia's move to organic cotton will attract more customers. Sales figures for fiscal year 1996 are up $4 million over last year, but the company doesn't separate out the cotton line from the rest of its goods. Either way, owner Yvon Chouinard doesn't seem concerned.
CHOUINARD: The only downside is, you know, I'm kind of trapped. I'll never get away from this thing. I'll never sell it, I'll never go public, and I've got to figure out how it's going to continue without me.
BIGGAR: Patagonia has recently hired a CEO to handle most company responsibilities. So for the moment Chouinard isn't complaining too loudly. And he just got back from a Hawaiian surfing trip where he was testing out the merchandise. For Living on Earth, I'm Virginia Biggar reporting.
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CURWOOD: For more than 25 years, Wendell Berry has farmed a small piece of river bottom in his native Henry County, Kentucky. Along with tobacco, sheep, and vegetables, Mr. Berry has also cultivated a garden of literature: poetry, short stories, novels, and essays about the people and the land around him and the issues that deeply concern him, from racism and international trade to sustainable agriculture. John Gregory produced this profile of Wendell Berry.
(People singing to guitar)
GREGORY: There's something fitting about seeing Wendell Berry in a church beneath a stained glass window. His long, lean body folded into a chair, as his knees bounce in time to a song about gardening.
(Singing continues and finishes)
GREGORY: At 60 years old, Berry makes few appearances these days and gives even fewer interviews. He's all talked out, he says. But for the crowd of about 100 faithful gathered at a church in Louisville, Kentucky, Berry gives a speech that is equal parts lecture, conversation, and sermon.
BERRY: I've often explained my work as an essayist by saying that I'm a scared man. And I think I really have mainly written in, as a way of dealing with my own fears.
GREGORY: This night Berry says he is troubled by the industrial development along a favorite stretch of country road. And the reckless cutting of trees in southeastern Kentucky. These are extensions of a theme that Berry has written about for years.
CLAY: He fears that people aren't going to listen, and that we're going to destroy the Earth.
GREGORY: Pam Clay is the director of the Kentucky Organic Growers. The project is based on one of Wendell Berry's basic philosophies in which small family farms grow food for their neighbors, not for people thousands of miles away. Berry says this helps strengthen their communities and makes them more self-sufficient. Clay says Berry writes out of a sense of responsibility to share his insights.
CLAY: There's a scripture that "Where much light is given, much is required." And Wendell really does have an understanding that comes to him before it reaches the rest of us.
GREGORY: Berry makes his home in a narrow river valley of north central Kentucky, near where his family has lived for generations. It's populated by people much like the characters in Berry's fiction: humble, hardworking farmers bound, sometimes stubbornly so, to their agricultural traditions. Wes Jackson, a writer and the founder of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, is a long-time friend of Wendell Berry.
JACKSON: Wendell was grounded in community life. And he saw the decency that was inherent in that way of life, and he saw it disappearing. And he's a man of loyalties.
GREGORY: So loyal that in the mid 1960s Berry returned to Kentucky after studying at Stanford University, traveling to Italy on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and teaching at New York University. He bought some land, and with his wife Tanya began farming.
JACKSON: What I think is extraordinary is that we find somebody that is as gifted as he is, intellectually, that puts himself right into the problem. And throws his elbows out and insists on working at it right from the inside.
GREGORY: The titles of some of Berry's 30 books reflect the issues he's tackled: The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, The Gift of Good Land, Fidelity, What Are People For?, and Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community. Berry says he's accepted the fact that he may be unable to get people to change.
BERRY: I think you've got to be ready to pounce on whatever success comes your way and trust that that process will accumulate force and intelligence and allegiance and go on. If it doesn't, then I'm ready for that, too.
GREGORY: Berry's ideas have been criticized as simplistic, antiquated, and utopian. He's also been heralded as the prophetic American voice. Pam Clay describes Berry as a painfully shy man who is loyal to his friends and enjoys a good laugh.
CLAY: And it's not that Wendell is an idol and we need to all do what Wendell does. We all need to be thoughtful about how we meet our basic fundamental needs. How am I going to feed myself? How am I going to move around in this community? That's what Wendell's been saying.
GREGORY: For Living on Earth, I'm John Gregory in Louisville, Kentucky.
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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our comment line is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try our e-mail address, that's LOE@NPR.ORG. LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $12.
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CURWOOD: Living on Earth's senior producer is Chris Ballman. Our senior editor is Peter Thomson and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, Julia Madeson, and Peter Shaw. We also had help from Jennifer Senkler, Heather Kaplan, and Paul Masari. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Walter Dickson and Mark Navin. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthellier and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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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 Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; and the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment.
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