Air Date: July 4, 1997
Due to the latest Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak in Tampa, Florida , the U.S. and Florida Departments of Agriculture are spraying the region with the pesticide malathion from airplanes. Local residents concerns for short and long term health effects are being ignored and the spraying continues. Steve Curwood spoke with Dr. Mohammed Akhter, a physician and executive director of the American Public Health Association , and then to Roger Stewart, executive director of Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission. (06:47)
GATOR-AID/ Alexis Muellner
In the 1960's, the American alligator was almost extinct in Florida. Since then, the state's conservation efforts have helped the alligator population bounce back. Over the same period, the number of humans in Florida has skyrocketed. And as Alexis Muellner discovered, when the two groups cross paths, it's not always a pleasant encounter. (02:25)
THE SALMON WARS/ Keith Seinfeld
Fish don't seem to care about borders, but some people do when stocks are low. The United States and Canada have been fighting over quota claims to the sockeye, Chinook and coho salmon for nearly five decades. Keith Seinfeld reports from KPLU in Seattle about the latest breakdown in negotiations. (03:45)
INDOOR SHRIMP FARM/ Wendy Nelson
Shrimp is the premier seafood; and demand for the curved crustaceans is at an all time high. Many of today's shrimp are harvested on farms, part of the burgeoning aqua culture movement. Some say aqua culture is preferable to decimating wild stocks at sea. But, others say it takes an undue toll on the environment. But, one Michigan shrimp farmer says he has an answer: grow the shrimp - indoors. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Wendy Nelson explains. (06:30)
The Living On Earth Almanac
Facts about... Bar-B-Q. (01:15)
BIO-DYNAMIC FARMING/ Jeb Sharp
You can find food products labeled "organic" in almost any supermarket these days. But, most shoppers are unfamiliar with the "biodynamic" label. Biodynamic farmers follow the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner and in 1924 he published his unique recipe for replenishing soil, a recipe that is observed by a persistent movement that continues today. Jeb Sharp of member station WBUR reports on what makes this farming practice different. (08:10)
BEE-AUTIFUL GARDEN ADVICE
Gardeners are not the only ones who work in gardens. Bees are a vital part of making a garden grow. Steve Curwood visits with Living on Earth's new garden expert Michael Weishan to talk about importance of these busy workers. Weishan will be an occasional contributor to Living on Earth. (05:05)
HUDSON RIVER ROLLS/ Richard Schiffman
The magnificent scenery and rich history of New York's Hudson River Valley are the subject of legends like Rip Van Winkle and the Last of the Mohicans. The Hudson's environmental problems are also legendary. Two hundred miles of the river were contaminated by industrial chemicals called PCB's more than twenty years ago. And recent studies by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that potentially dangerous levels of these chemicals are still in the river. Living On Earth contributor, Richard Schiffman has this update on one of the nation's longest running environmental controversies. (11:45)
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Miranda Daniloff
REPORTERS: Willie Albright, Nick Van Der Puy, Erik Anderson,
Keith Seinfeld, Wendy Nelson, Jeb Sharp, Richard Schiffman
GUESTS: Dr. Mohammed Akhter, Roger Stewart, Michael Weishan
COMMENTATOR: Alexis Muellner
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
The pesticide malathion is being sprayed over metropolitan Tampa, Florida, to combat the medfly, and the US Department of Agriculture is being charged with ignoring local concerns.
STEWART: They came in here like the big gorilla, never called a press conference, never leveled with the local people. This community is roughly a million-plus people, is up in arms over this thing--
CURWOOD: Also, warnings about shrimp farming.
ALLEN: It's happened in every single country in the world where shrimp farming has been successful, and grown at a rapid rate, within 3 or 4 years, there's been an environmental crash, and the industry has been completely destroyed.
CURWOOD: But a man in Michigan says he's found a way to sustainably farm shrimp: indoors. Those stories and more, this week in on Living on Earth. First, this news:
DANILOFF: From Living on Earth, I'm Miranda Daniloff.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman hosted a recent workshop on forest restoration at Lake Tahoe. The Sierra Club was also there, and released a report critical of US Forest Service practices. Willie Albright reports.
ALBRIGHT: Everyone agrees that forests in the Lake Tahoe basin are in a serious state of decline, and that the threat of catastrophic fire is high, but not everyone agrees on what to do to restore the forest ecosystem. The US Forest Service is using timber salvage sales to reduce the risk of fire, but Barbara Boyle of the Sierra Club says this policy only results in the logging of larger, more fire-resistant trees, leaving behind a more flammable underbrush.
BOYLE: The large East Shore project was supposed to include removing of all the slash-and-burnable debris. Now we hear that they are $5 million behind in funding the appropriate cleanup efforts that need to be done in the sale.
ALBRIGHT: The Sierra Club report says salvage logging has actually increased the risk of fire, and calls for controlled burning instead. Information gathered at the workshop will be included in a report to be presented at the Presidential summit that will take place here in late July. For Living on Earth, I'm Willie Albright, at Lake Tahoe.
DANILOFF: Officials in charge of popular beaches in Florida, the Carolinas, and Puerto Rico didn't test the water for swimmer safety and didn't post notices to keep swimmers out of polluted water last year. The Natural Resources Defence Council says the beaches at Key West, Myrtle Beach, the Outer Banks, and Panama City, could still have tainted water. After heavy rains, storm drains can overflow with septic pollution and run off into the ocean. Last year, almost 85% of all beach closings and warnings in the US were caused by high bacterial levels.
Nine years ago, Michigan's Upper Peninsula had only three wolves, but a recent study shows packs totalling more than 1000 wolves in the region today. And last winter, some of the wolves may have migrated into Lower Michigan, a place they haven't been seen since the 1930s. Nick Van Der Puy has more.
VAN DER PUY: When the Straits of Mackinaw froze last March, a Coast Guard helicopter reported seeing wolves crossing the ice. Only 5 miles of water here separates Upper and Lower Michigan. Lower Michigan is more populated than rural Northern Michigan, and there's some fear that wolves may interfere with farm livestock. But according to the Michigan Endangered Species Bureau, wolf tracks confirming the sighting were not found. The successful wolf protection efforts in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have led some biologists here to call for down-listing wolf status from 'endangered' to 'threatened.' This would allow a state to kill wolves, causing problems with livestock. For Living on Earth, I'm Nick Van Der Puy, in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
DANILOFF: Americans waste more than 96 billion pounds of food a year. That's more than a quarter of all the food produced. Most of this waste comes from homes and restaurants, and recovering even a fraction of it could feed millions of people. Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture reported these findings in the first national food-waste study since the 1970s. The researchers say shops, restaurants, and farms should donate their excess food to organizations that distribute it to the needy. In September the USDA will hold a national food recovery summit to discuss solutions to the waste problem.
University of California, San Diego researchers have discovered a new compound that could be used to make environmentally friendly fluorescent lighting for homes and offices. Erik Anderson of KPBS in San Diego has details.
ANDERSON: UCSD graduate student Will Green came across the material while studying porous silicon under a black light. The chemical compound, similar to sooty beach sand, could eliminate the need for toxic mercury vapor in fluorescent bulbs. It glows brighter, and longer, than the unstable materials currently in use. UCSD chemist Michael Sailor says the photoluminescent silicates retain their capacity to glow for as long as it takes sand to degrade.
SAILOR: They're easy to make, they're stable, for niche applications they could be used within a year.
ANDERSON: Sailor says the material could also be a major advance in computer displays that rely on fluorescent backlights. He says the screens could be brighter, and boost battery life by using less energy. For Living on Earth, I'm Erik Anderson in San Diego.
DANILOFF: It may be a little quieter on the streets of Los Angeles this week, as a city-wide ban on gas-powered leaf-blowers goes into effect. LA became the latest of 40 California cities to restrict use of the noisy gardening machine. People found using a leaf-blower within 500 feet of a residence can be fined $1000 and jailed for up to six months. That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Miranda Daniloff.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Mediterranean fruit flies have infested the area surrounding Tampa, Florida. The insects can wreak havoc on the state's valuable citrus crops, a $5.5 billion dollar industry. So, to fight back, the US and Florida Departments of Agriculture are spraying the region with the pesticide malathion. The spraying started in early June, and officials say it will continue until the weather turns cold. The malathion is being sprayed from aircraft, and Tampa area residents complained that it's landing on more than food crops. Much is winding up on people's homes and yards, and in local lakes and ponds. In the short term, exposure to the pesticide can make people short of breath, nauseous, and give them rashes. But the long-term health effects of malathion aren't known for sure. Mohammed Akhter is a physician and executive director of the American Public Health Association.
AKHTER: We suspect that there could be some effect on decreasing the person's immunity to fight diseases. There could be some congenital effects of long term, and then there could be long-term neurological effects, and we're not quite sure that it's absolutely safe to use in the long term.
CURWOOD: Congenital effects, you mean, if people are exposed to it, the children they have.
AKHTER: The children might have abnormalities as they are developing. I could not outright recommend to anybody to go ahead and spray a large segment of population with the pesticide, obviously that was designed to kill insects, and is going to have some effect on people.
CURWOOD: Water in one Tampa area lake showed levels of malathion 45 times higher than permitted by state law. That didn't surprise Roger Stewart, executive director of Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission, the agency that did the testing.
STEWART: In fact, the information received yesterday indicates that what we are finding is what one would expect with mass aerial spraying over a place with as much water as we have, and incidentally we found levels up to 250 times the standard.
CURWOOD: Two hundred and fifty times the standard! What kind of impact might this concentration of malathion have on wildlife, do you think?
STEWART: Well, I am concerned about what it does to other insect life, beneficial insect life, to minute aquatic organisms of all kinds. I think it is quite lethal to many things in water.
CURWOOD: As I understand it, the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Environmental Protection Agency has some restrictions on where malathion is sprayed. In particular, it's not supposed to be applied within 600 feet of open water. Is that correct?
STEWART: Well, qualify that, 600 feet of significant quote - unquote water bodies. We have a lot of apparently what are insignificant water. There's an awful lot of water in Hillsborough County, a lot of cypress swamps, cypress bayheads, streams, ponds of all kinds.
CURWOOD: Do you think the spraying is in violation of the law? of Florida's laws?
STEWART: Well, technically it violates my local codes. I run a local operation, with its own laws, and based on a state enabling act, so we have quite a bit of authority locally. However, I'm told that the governor of the state of Florida has issued an emergency dispensation, which essentially pre-empts my local action.
CURWOOD: Now, the US Environmental Protection Agency says that malathion is safe. Do you agree? Are you convinced it is?
STEWART: When you say 'safe,' are you talking about human beings? I can't attest to this, I don't have any medical resources here, but I've had lots of reports of children who broke out in all kinds of hive-type reactions, and were hospitalized with respiratory problems, not a lot, but there've been some reports of this. Whether it's coincidental, or is a cause-and-effect, I don't know.
CURWOOD: Mr. Stewart, I'm wondering. Have you been outside when any of this spraying has gone on?
STEWART: Yes, I have. It seems like I get caught on the interstate traffic jam about the time the C-47 is going over. I've got it all over my car right now. And yes, I have been out. I note with some concern the last time they did it, about 10, 12, 14 years ago, little schoolchildren walking by my office in Ebor City, here near Tampa, and the helicopters going over, spraying the kids. I'm concerned that my kids came home, and I don't know where they got it, but they were told that it wouldn't harm them, and that's not true.
CURWOOD: Now, there've been a number of protests by people living in your area, about the spraying. Do you sympathize with them?
STEWART: Yes, I do. This community of roughly a million-plus people is up in arms over this thing, and the reason is the US and State Department of Agriculture's own fault. They came in here like the big gorilla, never called a press conference, never leveled with the local people. And I think, had they been prudent enough to simply take a half a day, call the local people together, say "This is the problem. This is what we see, this is what we have to do, this is how we have to do it," that the people would have suffered a little bit from it, but they would have been more understanding.
CURWOOD: Are you convinced that this spraying is quote - necessary - unquote?
STEWART: I am convinced that the authorities have failed to adequately fund proper and necessary research on alternatives. I am convinced that they have not put enough effort on the surveillance. They didn't report anything until we had flies everywhere, and I think that the surveillance effort was minimal, and certainly inadequate.
CURWOOD: Now, by surveillance, you mean checking to see if there was even a tiny outbreak of medfly.
STEWART: Yeah. If you had enough surveillance, you'd catch 'em when there's just a few, and it's a much easier problem.
CURWOOD: What are the alternatives to using malathion? I mean, obviously, you could let the medfly infestation go, but what else could people do?
STEWART: Okay, obviously, there is now the use of sterile males, who breed with the viable females and nothing happens, and this is a control that I'm told has been widely used in California. There is now talk locally of setting up a sterile medfly-raising operation at McDill Air Force Base, here in Tampa, and hopefully spreading these sterile males around pretty uniformly, so that they are a nice, safe control. Again, I find it inconceivable that over the last 20-30 years, that the USDA has not sponsored enough research on the alternatives, and we should still have to keep using malathion.
CURWOOD: Roger Stewart is executive director of Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission. He spoke with us from his office in Tampa.
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CURWOOD: By the 1960s, the American alligator had been hunted to the brink of extinction in Florida. But then, a series of conservation efforts helped the gators bounce back, and today there are thousands of the carnivorous reptiles in the state, commanding the top of the food chain throughout the wetlands. Gators will eat just about anything that moves, and as Alexis Muellner discovered, if one fixes those heavy-lidded eyes on you, it may have dinner on its mind.
MUELLNER: A friend and I rented a canoe and headed for Hell's Bay, a remote campsite in a park's southern swampy wetlands. It was a 5-hour paddle through a shallow, twisty waterway, snarled with mangroves, hefty mosquitoes, and nipping horseflies. We heard the campsite came with its own friendly alligator. As we neared Hell's Bay, we ran into a kayaker who'd just stopped there. Sure enough, he said, the Hell's Bay gator had shown up.
I've lived in South Florida for 8 years, so I'm used to seeing gators. In fact, I've nearly run over some while bike-riding on the paved path in the park. They've always seemed passive to me, but that wasn't true of the gator at Hell's Bay. As soon as we pulled up to the hut, our snaggle-toothed host arrived, looking for a tasty tariff. It waddled around the submerged posts of the hut, eyeing our movements, acting like a hungry dog. As night fell, we started dinner. Every few minutes we'd cast the flashlight across the water, and occasionally the alligators cold, hungry stare would reflect. After dinner, I grew cramped from sitting cross-legged. I decided it'd be ok to stretch my legs out over the edge of the hut. The stealthy attack lasted a third of a second. The gator lurched from below, stabbing at my foot. I yanked my legs up and screamed. A moment later I realized I was bleeding. It was a small puncture wound, not a big deal. As my heart slowed, I marvelled at my luck, and shuddered at the thoughts of what could have happened. Then the broader picture set in. Unbelievable. Even in the remote reaches of the swamp, where you'd think visiting canoeists would be conscious about not feeding wildlife, someone had gorged this alligator on Twinkies, or trailmix, or cold-cuts, perhaps. Gators in general don't have much to do with humans, and are in fact afraid of them. But after a few snacks, they get over that fear, and they're out to get aggressive. Hell's Bay closed for a few weeks after my encounter, while rangers successfully drove off what they called "the nuisance alligator," by banging a pipe in the water and using pepper spray. I was told initially that if the gator didn't leave, rangers would resort to "other measures." I later felt a sense of relief, knowing that the gator didn't get killed for taking a swipe at me. After all, who invaded whose habitat, anyway?
CURWOOD: Alexis Muellner is a reporter based in Miami. He comes to us from member station WLRN.
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CURWOOD: Shrimp farming thousands of miles from the ocean, and indoors. It's one Michigan man's environmentally friendly approach to aquaculture. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Fish could care less about political boarders, but the people who catch them do, especially when the stocks are low. So, in the Pacific Northwest, the United States and Canada have been fighting over quota claims to the sockeye, chinook, and coho salmon since the 1950s. This year's spat is more vehement than ever. Last month, talks broke down over the run of sockeye that breeds in British Columbia's Fraser River. The sockeye season is opening with lots of fish at stake, but little hope for an agreement between the neighboring countries. From member station KPLU in Seattle, Keith Seinfeld reports.
SEINFELD: Fishermen in British Columbia are preparing to catch as many sockeye salmon as they can, as fast as they can, before US fishermen can get to them. As many as 18 million of the salmon are heading around Vancouver Island toward the mouth of the Fraser River. US fishermen are at a disadvantage, because this year, the fish are mostly in Canadian waters. Larry Rutter of the US National Marine Fisheries Service says a strategy like this puts the fish at risk. Circumstances were similar in 1994.
RUTTER: They had a desire at that time, also, to prevent the US from catching sockeye, and in fact, shot themselves in the foot somewhat.
SEINFELD: Mr. Rutter says Canadians over-fished one part of the Fraser run to the brink of extinction. His Canadian counterpart in the negotiations, Bud Graham of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada, says there will be no mistakes this year, because they're better prepared to count the fish. Both sides say they'll stop in time to conserve 4 or 5 million fish for spawning. At the core of the dispute are two different ideas of what is equitable. The Canadians want to treat each fish as if it had a nationality. Any fish born in a Canadian river, and heading back there, they say, belongs to Canadian fishermen. Mr. Graham says the Canadians have offered the US a fixed number of fish every year, based on historical precedent, but he says all surpluses should go to Canada, to reward its environmental stewardship.
GRAHAM: In the Fraser River system, which does not have any main- stem dams, we've foregone other economic benefits to ensure that we have long-term salmon production. We have done a good job at protecting our sockeyes and pink stocks to the Fraser River, and should be the major beneficiary.
SEINFELD: In this view, any time US fishermen catch Canadian sockeye, the Canadians should be entitled to an equal number of US-bound coho salmon. US biologists call this an overly simplistic bean-counter approach. Mr. Rutter says the Canadian approach doesn't take into account the ebb and flow of salmon populations over time.
RUTTER: It makes the management of the fisheries very problematic, and in some cases it makes it unwieldy. And so, we think taken to that kind of extreme that Canada would exercise in vimplementing the equity principle, the fisheries would be badly disrupted.
SEINFELD: He says better to give each nation a percentage of each run, rather than a fixed number of fish. The US, for example, wants 20% of the Fraser sockeye. In years with big runs, they'd get more fish, and when the runs are small, they'd get less. But both sides claim they gave their best possible offers during the failed negotiations, so the blame game continues, and there's very little chance talks will resume at all this year. In May, Canadians detained 4 US fishing boats, and cancelled the US Navy contract for a torpedo range on Vancouver Island. Canada says it will not harass any more US boats, but officials won't make any promises about next year. The US says both sides are running out of fresh ideas. Meanwhile, fishermen on both sides of the border are preparing their nets, and as one charter boat captain says, everyone's first concern is conserving the stocks, as long as someone else does it. For Living on Earth, I'm Keith Seinfeld, in Seattle.
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CURWOOD: Deep-fried. Butter-fried. Peel and eat, or drenched in garlic and butter, for many people shrimp is the premier seafood, and demand for the curved crustaceans is at an all-time high. But shrimp fishing and production can be highly destructive to the environment. Ten pounds of other sea creatures are usually thrown away as by-catch, when just one pound of wild shrimp is taken from the oceans, and that practice has decimated fish populations in shrimping waters. In recent years, people in tropical regions have taken to shrimp farming, but at the expense of mangrove swamps. These shrimp farms often have to be closed within a few years, after waste problems lead to infections. But one Michigan shrimp farmer says he has an answer: grow the shrimp indoors. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Wendy Nelson explains.
NELSON: When Russ Allen bought this house and land near Lansing, Michigan, he had his eye on shrimp farming. It seems an unlikely setting, though, since he owns just 6 acres. But Mr. Allen is planning to do something that's never been done successfully before: to mass-produce shrimp indoors. Russ Allen lives in a modest house with his wife and 2 children, but he says in a small blue building behind their home resides the future of shrimp farming.
ALLEN: If we can get the price of shrimp down, through our production costs, there's a huge, unlimited market here in the United States, and I think it can be the cheapest seafood.
NELSON: Russ Allen has been in the shrimp business 20 years, building farms all over Latin America, and consulting around the world. But he says the shrimp industry needs to move away from these outdoor ponds, because they're wreaking environmental havoc.
ALLEN: You can see, it's happened in every single country in the world where shrimp farming has been successful, and grown at a rapid rate, within 3 or 4 years, there's been an environmental crash, and the industry has been completely destroyed.
NELSON: The crashes are caused by high concentrations of shrimp feed and feces in the ponds and coastal wetlands where they're usually grown. These extra nutrients have created a deadly cycle for the shrimp.
ALLEN: You've got effluents out of these ponds, which cause degradation of the estuaries, which ruins the ecosystem, which then creates these diseases, which have come back to affect the farmers.
NELSON: The result is, the shrimp are infected by viruses, and they die, often the farmers don't even know the shrimp have been harmed until harvest. They just keep throwing in feed for 5 months, then when they drain the ponds, they often find only 2% or 3% of the shrimp have survived, compared to the 80% or 90% survival rate in a healthy pond.
ALLEN: The very bad thing about it has been now, is that both in Asia and in Latin America, the farmers go into an area, develop all these farms; as soon as it crashes, they just leave, and slash and burn, and go on to a new area, and build new farms.
NELSON: Russ Allen says, the solution to the problems of nutrient-loading, habitat-destruction, and disease issues plaguing the shrimp industry, is to produce the animals inside.
ALLEN: Down here, we've got the tanks where I bring the well water in, warm it up; the floor in the building is heated with hot water, radiant heat. So I bring in the well water, let it warm up, then I can mix the salt in it.
NELSON: Mr. Allen has spent the last 5 years developing this indoor system, where the crustaceans are grown in what look like shrimp high-rises, wooden crate-like tanks stacked from floor to ceiling.
[Pump motor sounds]
ALLEN: The idea is to put the smaller shrimp up in the top, in the smallest tank. They stay one month in each tank; they're drained down, just like draining a bathtub, from one tank to the next, and then you harvest the bottom tank when they're 5 months old. Having the different tanks allows us to individually feed the animals at different sizes, so we can present the correct feed to the animal at that size. That's really the whole concept of what we're trying to do.
NELSON: Russ Allen makes it all seem so simple, but this way of shrimp farming is still experimental, and most of this harvest won't get anywhere near the dinner table. Instead, Mr. Allen will use many of the shrimp for breeding. He's working with the US Marine Shrimp Farming Program to develop shrimp that will thrive in an indoor system. When these shrimp are 8 to 9 inches long, he'll harvest them, and set aside the hardiest ones for breeding.
ALLEN: The 2 keys, in the long run, to this type of facility's success are going to be genetics, to get the proper genetically engineered animal, #1, and #2, to have the proper feeds to take care of the animal through the various stages of the growth cycle.
NELSON: There's been a lot of excitement about Russ Allen's idea for indoor shrimp farming. He says, within 15 years it's possible shrimp prices will drop to 2 or 3 dollars a pound, because of his system, and consumers can't wait. Mr. Allen also says investors are constantly trying to get in on the process he's developing. But Russ Allen is a cautious man. He knows the key to making his indoor shrimp farm successful is to go slowly. His eventual goal is to move to a facility large enough to produce 50 million pounds of shrimp a year, about 1/3 of the total current US production. But he says what he doesn't want to see is a huge growth in indoor shrimp farming, with disastrous environmental results down the road.
ALLEN: It has to be completely environmentally acceptable, because other you just don't have a future to make the thing grow and be really commercially viable. You just have to face all those issues up front and take care of them all, and that's really what we're trying to do.
NELSON: Russ Allen has already begun to face these issues, minimizing water use by recycling it through a series of tubes and filters, so the only water lost is what evaporates or splashes onto the floor. But Mr. Allen is still considering what to do with the solid waste from the shrimp. He says, right now it's not a big problem, since his 20-tank demonstration project only generates about a pound of waste a day. But once he scales up to a commercially viable size, the waste will increase dramatically. Mr. Allen says experiments have shown the sludge from shrimp ponds, a combination of solid waste and mud, has worked well as a fertilizer. He expects the same will be true for the pure manure he filters out of the shrimp tanks, and he plans to build a greenhouse to test the idea. If it works, he'll package the waste and sell it. Russ Allen hopes to have his commercial operation going by the year 2000, and he says it'll be a few years after that before he's feeding the country with his shrimp. For Living on Earth, I'm Wendy Nelson, in Okemos, Michigan.
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You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream. 1-800-PRO-COWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics.
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CURWOOD: Homeopathic medicine for gardens big and small. The story behind biodynamic farming is coming up on Living on Earth.
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SECOND HALF HOUR
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Did you celebrate the Fourth by pulling out the old grill? The Nation's birthday is the most popular day for barbecues. More than 3/4 of American households now own one, and together we will light up nearly 3 billion times this year, and that's twice as much as a decade ago. Now, how did all this start? Well, the origin of the word 'barbecue' is unknown. Some say it comes from 'barbacoa,' , the word Taino Indians use for their meat- smoking apparatus. Others say it's French. "Barbe a queue" means "whiskers-to-tail," or the parts you're supposed to cook. Well, either way, the craze has spread quickly. Today, barbecue contests are held in Ireland, and Estonia. In the US, barbecuing got a boost in 1920, when Henry Ford accidentally invented the charcoal briquette, using wood scraps and sawdust from his car factory. We buy more than $400 million worth of charcoal each year. But that's changing, as places like California have banned the spraying of lighter fluid on charcoal grills. Today, the more environmentally friendly gas grill is the most popular way to barbecue in America. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth almanac.
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CURWOOD: You can find food products labeled "organic" in many supermarkets these days, but have you ever seen the "biodynamic" label? And is it gobbledygook, or is does it mean something? Biodynamic farmers follow the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, who was also the founder of the Waldorf Schools. In 1924, Herr Steiner published his unique recipe for replenishing the world's soils. The work sparked a small and persistent movement that continues today. Jeb Sharp, of member station WBUR, visited a biodynamic herb garden in Rhode Island, and reports on what makes this farming practice different.
[Various birds chirping]
SHARP: The Meadowbrook Herb Garden, just south of Providence, is small by farm standards, just a few acres along a busy road. It does a steady trade in culinary and medicinal herbs. Owner Heinz Grotzke tills the soil here using biodynamic methods, a practice invented half a century ago by Rudolf Steiner. It's a kind of organic farming, no synthetic chemicals are used, but biodynamic farmers also apply natural remedies, or preparations, to their land, and follow a lunar calendar. Today, Heinz Grotzke is showing the farm to Anne Mendenhall, an inspector from the Demeter Association, which certifies biodynamic farms in the United States.
GROTZKE: This is chopped, and then dried--
[Sounds of pouring granular substance]
GROTZKE:--and it has a different consistency.
SHARP: In the climate-controlled cellar, where Heinz Grotzke stores his product, pungent aromas swirl and mingle above barrels with labels like 'lemon balm,' 'nettle,' and 'celery.' He takes the lids off, one by one, scooping up handfuls for Anne Mendenhall to inspect.
GROTZKE: See how it sifts through?
MENDENHALL: That maintains the essential oils, too.
GROTZKE: Yeah. Right.
[Spade cuts into soil]
SHARP: Outside, the inspector turns her attention to a compost pile, and the soil in each field. Soil quality is the main focus of biodynamic farming, and Anne Mendenhall checks it by look, and feel, and smell, bringing handfuls right to her nostrils.
MENDENHALL: You kind of can see or sense the activity in the soil, and you can sense it through the aroma of the soil. You can use your nose to tell you that this soil is alive.
SHARP: The hallmark of biodynamic farming is the application of preparations, prescribed by Rudolf Steiner, to improve soil and plant life. They're made from cow dung, and quartz crystal, and a variety of herbs, and, like homeopathic medicine, they're applied in tiny amounts. The Demeter Association's Anne Mendenhall says it's pretty easy to explain what farmers like Heinz Grotzke do, but hard to explain why it works.
MENDENHALL: It's real easy to talk about quantitative things, and I can explain to you that, as a biodynamic grower, I got better yields on my wheat and on my soybeans than I ever did as a chemical grower, and you can relate to that. But if I then try to talk to you about how the soil feels and acts more alive, or if I try to say that the food has a lot more vitality in it, those concepts tend to get lost.
[Pounding and scraping]
PROCTOR: We fill this up with very good soil--
[More chalk mark scraping]
SHARP: Three thousand miles away, New Zealand farmer Peter Proctor, the author of "Grasp the Nettle," a new book on biodynamics, is giving a talk in San Francisco. He says to understand biodynamic farming, you must understand what Rudolf Steiner called, "the energy of life."
PROCTOR: He made the statement, of course, that the cosmic activity that is surrounding the Earth, is actually supporting plants. Now if that life force, that life energy, is unable to penetrate the Earth and the soil, it cannot support plant growth. So, the whole idea of the preparations was, to actually re-open the land, to make it able to be able to support, or to bring in, these cosmic energies, these cosmic forces. And it's just really as simple as that.
SHARP: Chemicals have depleted agricultural lands around the world, says Mr. Proctor, and biodynamic preparations are the treatment that can re-invigorate this exhausted soil. The main one is cow-horn dung.
PROCTOR: The cow dung is actually put into a cow's horn, the horn of a cow, and buried during from the fall through to the spring. And when it's dug up, it's completely transformed. No longer is it cow dung, but it's a very sweet-smelling humus material, which is very high in bacteria, and used in very, very small quantities, it's activated by stirring it for one hour, in a clockwise motion, and then reversing it, after you've formed a kind of a crater in the middle of the pile of water you're using, and then it's sprinkled on the soil. In the afternoon, basically in the autumntime, and that has an effect of, you might say, strengthening the soil, to the point where you get a very, very fertile soil.
SHARP: Skeptics could dismiss biodynamic preparations as hocus- pocus, if it weren't for the work of soil scientists like Professor John Reganold of Washington State University. In a 1993 article, in the prestigious journal "Science," he compared 8 biodynamic and 8 conventional farms in New Zealand over 4 years.
REGANOLD: In almost every case, the soil quality was better on the biodynamic farm. In particular, physical and biological properties, and when I say that, I mean there was usually an inch more topsoil, better structure; the soils were less compact, better root development; biologically speaking there were more microorganisms, more earthworms; in fact, most of the conventional farms had no earthworms. When you look at the economics, basically the farms were equally profitable.
SHARP: Initially, Professor Reganold's work raised a few eyebrows, but the results convinced him the alternative farming method warranted further study.
REGANOLD: I mean, I had colleagues that said, here, you're sure you want to do this? I mean, you may be offering up your career if you do something like this, this is so strange." It was like communism, or something, come on, and I said, "Well, you know, it doesn't really matter how strange these are. Let's see if they actually benefit the soil. We're scientists." And so, when I started seeing scientifically, in the lab, and in the field that they were benefitting, I just thought, "Well, to heck with what a--it's really a minority, what a few people are saying."
SHARP: Now, he's comparing biodynamic and organic plots to see if it's really the preparations that make the difference, or simply the chemical-free practices common to both biodynamic and organic farmers. Anne Mendenhall, of the Demeter Association, appreciates Reganold's research, but she doesn't need scientific proof to know biodynamics works. She says she can see the results in a handful of moist soil, and taste the results in a mouthful of fresh herbs and vegetables.
MENDENHALL: So this is just a list I run down to make sure that I've covered everything. We have another form here to go through. I've verified that there is on-farm processing, and there is--
SHARP: It's late in the day now, and she's winding up her inspection of the Meadowbrook Herb Garden. She has walked the fields, perused the crops, checked the soil, and cast her eye over Grotzke's records, to make sure he's not breaking any of the rules of biodynamic farming.
MENDENHALL: I don't find any areas in non-compliance, so I believe we have to look at the restoration--
SHARP: The inspector's approval means Heinz Grotzke can begin labelling his teas and herbs with the Demeter Association's "biodynamic" label, joining the ranks of 28 other officially certified biodynamic farms in the United States. He hopes consumers will learn to recognize the label, and spur a demand for biodynamic products, which he and his colleagues believe are healthier, tastier, and better for the land than anyone else's.
MENDENHALL: You have a layer of stones or--
[Shovel hits on something hard]
MENDENHALL:--something in there, or else it's the plough pan.
SHARP: For Living on Earth, I'm Jeb Sharp.
[Shovel sounds continue]
MENDENHALL: It feels kind of gritty, though, like stones.
MENDENHALL: And then you get through that--
[Still more shovelling]
GROTZKE: But if you hit the stone, like this one...
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. And I'm standing in front of one, two, three, four, five, six different beehives here, in Southboro, Massachusetts, the home of Michael Weishan, who is editor-in-chief of the journal, "Traditional Gardening," and Living on Earth's garden expert. Michael, why do you have all these bees here?
WEISHAN: Well, primarily, other than the fact that I really enjoy harvesting the honey, their primary purpose is to serve as pollinators for the garden and for the orchard. The garden production is 5 times what it was before them.
CURWOOD: Five times what it was?
WEISHAN: Oh, at least. The fruits are much larger, much tastier.
WEISHAN: If you've ever seen cucumbers where they'd sort of dribble to the end, a very narrow ending--it's because they weren't correctly pollinated. That problem has almost disappeared, so you have full, long, beautiful cucumbers, full tomatoes, really quite a difference in the garden.
CURWOOD: Huh... by the way, do you ever get stung?
WEISHAN: [Nonchalantly] Occasionally. We try not to get stung too often--
WEISHAN:--but it's, it's one of those things where, if you don't bother the bees, generally, they don't bother you. You're dressed appropriately, mostly in white. I'm actually in dark blue, so perhaps it would be best to move back. The bees don't seem to like dark colors.
CURWOOD: I wouldn't mind moving back a bit.
WEISHAN: It's fine with me.
[Bees fade with distance]
CURWOOD: So, are bees the only pollinators?
WEISHAN: No, bees aren't the only pollinators. Most people think of honey bees, of course, as being the main pollinators, and for certain crops, they are. But for many crops, especially home garden crops, like tomatoes, for instance, the native pollinators are much more important. Certain types of flies, for instance, moths, butterflies, over 5,000 different species of native bees, are important pollinators in the garden.
CURWOOD: Now, I've heard that there are problems with bee mites, and that, in fact, the number of bees is disappearing quite a bit. How big an impact is that?
WEISHAN: Well, it's of a major concern. About 20 years ago, or so, the first mites were noticed in this country. Essentially, they prey on the young bees and essentially sap them of their strength so that the hives are very susceptible to other type of problems. And that's what's happened in most of our wild bees. There's very few bees, if any, left in the wild. Any honey bee you see is probably a domestic bee from some bee-keeper's hives, in your garden. Of course, simultaneously, the government in its infinite wisdom decided to remove the bee subsidy. We had been subsidizing bee hives since the second World War, because wax had been an important part in armament production. And at the time, when I heard about this, I thought it was a pretty good idea. Why do we need to pay millions of dollars a year for wax, right? Well, unfortunately, what it meant was, that many, many thousands of hives went out of production in this country, just when the populations were under stress and they estimate that we've lost almost $1 billion a year in crops and produce, food consumables, because of lack of pollination.
CURWOOD: Now, for those of us who don't want to get into the bee business, how can we attract pollinators to our gardens, so we can get juicier fruits and vegetables?
WEISHAN: Well, I think the most important thing is, to, first of all, stop killing the bees. A lot of people go out and think they're harmful and spray bushes. I know of one lady that was unhappy with a holly bush, and was spraying it with Raid, when, in effect, the bees were just trying to pollinate her bush and give her the berries she so much liked at Christmastime. I think, secondly, it's very important to think about types of plants that bees need to survive. There are certain things that they absolutely adore. The early flower blooms on fruit trees, for instance, are a major benefit to bees. Later on in the season, clover is an important pollen source, and nectar source. Surprisingly, dandelions, as well, are another major source of pollen and nectar for bees, very early in the season.
CURWOOD: They like that dandelion wine, huh?
WEISHAN: Yeah, exactly. And late in the season, later on, goldenrod, which people seem to think is a weed, which really is a very native, pretty native flower, and the Europeans value highly in their ornamental gardens is a terrific source of late-season pollen and nectar for the bees, very crucial for them for their winter survival. There's a whole series of native pollinators. Our native bees, which are solitary bees; they don't live in hives, and you can simply take a piece of soft wood, and drill a series of holes, about 5/16 of an inch wide, and about 5 inches deep in this wood, and hang it in a tree. And the bee will come, discover this piece of wood, and place honey and pollen in each little cell, and lay an egg there, and thereby make the next generation possible.
CURWOOD: Well, I'm not sure I'm going to keep bees, but it sure has been a lot of fun to find out about 'em, and so far, I haven't been stung, once!
WEISHAN: Not once!
CURWOOD: Before that happens, let me get out of here! Michael Weishan is Editor-in-Chief of "Traditional Gardens," and Living on Earth's new garden expert. Now, over these next weeks and months, Michael will be back to help us with our gardens, and to answer your questions. So send your queries to Living on Earth, 8 Story Street, Cambridge, MA 02138. That's 8 Story Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.
[Hums surge in background]
CURWOOD: And if you have access to the World Wide Web, there's a special page for Living on Earth listeners to send in their questions. The address is www.traditionalgardening.com. That's www.traditionalgardening.com
(Drums and singing "Say, hey, there, little hornet, buzzin' around me, it sounds like a warning and it kind of--scares me. Well, hey, there, little insect, please calm down so we can have fun, and fool around! Buzz, bizz, bizz!")
CURWOOD: More than 20 years after it began, some call the remediation of New York's Hudson River a success story, but others warn, don't eat the fish, just yet. Re-habbing the Hudson is next, on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.
Along the west side of Manhattan, begins one the saddest toxic zones in this country. The mighty and magnificent Hudson River would be a wonderful playground for people, and spawning ground for fish, if only it were safe. But, more than 20 years ago, 200 miles of the river were contaminated by industrial chemicals called "poly-chloro-biphenyls," PCBs. PCBs are close chemical cousins of the dioxins, and nearly as poisonous. Recent studies by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, show that despite some valiant efforts at cleaning up the river, dangerous levels of PCBs still linger. Living on Earth contributor Richard Schiffman has this update on one of the nation's longest-running environmental controversies.
[Waves break against riverbank]
SCHIFFMAN: I'm standing on the banks of the Hudson River, just downstream from the town of Hudson. It's a scene worthy of Mark Twain; an early summer's day, a wide river, and on a rocky spit of land, just east of the railway tracks--
[Train passes, hoots]
SCHIFFMAN:--two young boys sit, fishing. But these boys have to worry about something that never concerned Huck and Tom on the Mississippi. If they catch some fish today, will they dare to eat them? New York State Health advisories suggest that's not such a good idea.
REYNOLDS: Each time you get a fishing license, they give you this book, that tells you what you can eat, what you can't eat, and where. And it tells you the percentages of PCBs in each fish.
SCHIFFMAN: Greg Reynolds lives in the town of Hudson. He still fishes the river, although word of chemical contamination has scared off most people from doing so. Reynolds hopes some day, somebody will find a way to get the PCBs out of the Hudson. About 2 hours north of here, an effort is underway to do just that.
[Massive waterfalls fill the background]
SCHIFFMAN: The Hudson Falls is breath-taking, a mini-Niagara stretching the length of a football field. It's hard to imagine that more than one million pounds of PCB-laden oil were discharged into the river from the General Electric plant on the bluff just above me. Another GE plant in the town of Fort Edward, a few miles downstream, also contributed to the contamination. For more than 3 decades, these plants used PCBs as an insulating fluid, in appliances like refrigerators. PCBs were banned 20 years ago. The Hudson Falls plant was shut down soon after that. But toxic oil still oozes into the river here.
HAGGARD: They did find a seep of oil, and it's--you can see the buoy, just located right down-river about 30 feet.
SCHIFFMAN: John Haggard is in charge of General Electric's state- mandated multi-million dollar clean-up of the site.
[Background falls drumming]
HAGGARD: The sea diver found down here, we were able to measure and monitor and collect that material over a period of time, and what we found is that was giving us about a half a pound of PCB a day.
SCHIFFMAN: This underwater leak has been sealed off, but other seeps may remain. Heavy PCB oil has been migrating through a warren of abandoned pipes and tunnels beneath the plant, into the water table. And from there, into the river.
SCHIFFMAN: To stop the leaks, GE crews are drilling wells to purify the groundwater. In the process, they're siphoning off more than 300 pounds of PCB oil a week. John Haggard says that as a result of these efforts, PCBs can no longer be detected just downstream from here.
HAGGARD: It's this controlling the sources of PCBs in this vicinity. It really is a key to accelerating the recovery of the river. If we want to reduce the PCB levels in the fish and water, it's working up here and solving this problem that's going to do that.
SCHIFFMAN: Not everyone shares Haggard's optimism. A recent report by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, the sixth to come out since 1984 on the subject, suggests that the problems run much deeper: as deep as the river itself. Douglas Tomchuck is EPA's project manager for the Hudson.
TOMCHUCK: What this report does is contradict the idea that the PCBs will go away, okay? And I think a lot of people believe that. Whether that was what GE had actually said or not is irrelevant.
SCHIFFMAN: What GE had been saying is that microbes would break down most of the PCBs already in the Hudson and render them safe. But the EPA claims that after more than 20 years, these chemicals remain as toxic as ever. The report goes on to say that despite GE's success in controlling leaks at their Hudson Falls plant site, PCBs continue to move downstream. The question is, where are these chemicals coming from?
SCHIFFMAN: To answer this and other questions, a small army of researchers and government officials gathered recently in Albany, New York. Some, like geologist Richard Bopp, have been studying the problem for most of their professional lives.
BOPP: Okay, what's the tool that we use? The basic tool is sediment cores and dating sediment cores. The trick is to find areas where sediment is accumulating continuously and at relatively rapid rates. You saw maybe 20 sites...
SCHIFFMAN: Professor Bopp tells his colleagues at the meeting that the answers they're seeking may lie at the bottom of the river. He says his research has confirmed that there are hot spots of PCBs in the Thompson Island Pool, a calm stretch of the Hudson a few miles below the GE plant sites.
BOPP: You can still find the very high levels in sediments that were deposited 20 and 30 years ago. These are areas where we see diving ducks feeding in the bottom of the river, where we see boats anchored and people swimming off those boats. Where it would be quite easy to imagine someone wading into or sticking their arm into mud that's contaminated with PCBs at levels of several hundred parts per million.
SCHIFFMAN: Most experts now agree that the Thompson Island Pool is the major source of the PCBs, which are contaminating the rest of the Hudson all the way to New York Harbor. And which are destroying the once-thriving commercial fishing industry on the river. Joshua Cleland is with the organization Scenic Hudson.
CLELAND: The PCBs are coming from the sediment hot spots at the rate of at least a pound and a half every day, and that will probably continue for at least a decade or decades, unless something is done to control the source.
SCHIFFMAN: Scenic Hudson and other environmental groups are calling on GE to dredge these PCB hot spots. But the company is resisting this idea. Dredging could cost GE hundreds of millions of dollars, and company spokesman Dave Warshaw believes it's unnecessary. He says the PCBs in the river are being covered over by clean sediments and will soon be harmless.
WARSHAW: Dredging would be the most disruptive, riskiest solution. It would address the wrong source of PCBs, and it would not be effective in reducing risk in the environment. And for anyone to choose a solution that is the most disruptive and has the least effect, we think that's bad policy.
(Voices at a diner. Woman: "John, want home fires with your omelette?" John: "No, thanks." Woman: "Homemade toast?" John: "Yeah, that would be great.")
SCHIFFMAN: Lunch time patrons of Vicki's Restaurant in Fort Edward also have their doubts about the wisdom of dredging.
McGUE: My main concern, I think the concern of a lot of people in this area, is if dredging was proven to be effective, what do you do with the material that you take out? It's going to have to go somewhere, and I think there's a lot of concerns locally with what happens in that case.
SCHIFFMAN: The concern is that that the highly toxic mud will be deposited in a local landfill, just moving the problem from the water onto the land. But Randy McGue says he's uneasy living close to the polluted river.
McGUE: When you can't see it, it's not such a big problem. But when you see the frogs with 6 legs and fish floating at the top, you know, you kind of think about it then.
SCHIFFMAN: You've seen that.
McGUE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it's disturbing. I still see people fishing out of there and I don't know what they're doing with that stuff, but I wouldn't do it myself. And I wouldn't let anybody I know consume anything out of there.
SCHIFFMAN: A recent study of tree swallows near Fort Edward shows it's more than just fish that are being affected by the PCBs. Ann Secord is a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
SECORD: We found very high levels of PCBs in those upper Hudson River birds, the highest that have been reported for the species. We also observed some effects on reproduction, growth of these tree swallows, that may be related to PCBs.
SCHIFFMAN: Effects like lower birth rates and developmental problems. Effects similar to those observed in human beings. PCBs are members of a class of synthetic chemicals which mimic hormones that regulate aspects of human growth and development. Dr. David Carpenter, the Dean of the School of Public Health in Albany, says the chemicals may impact a wide range of biological functions.
CARPENTER: We're looking at IQ. We're looking at the incidence of mental illness because of the fact that PCBs decrease the levels of this neurotransmitter, dopamine, that we know to be related. Decreases are related to depression and mental illness. We're looking at physical growth and development because we know PCBs are depressing thyroid function.
SCHIFFMAN: And PCBs may cause cancer in humans, although this is yet to be proven. Dr. Carpenter says the greatest risk from eating PCB-laden fish is for pregnant and nursing mothers and for young children. And these risks are not limited to the Hudson Valley. Recent studies of fish and seal meat in northern Canada show high levels of PCBs. This despite the fact that the nearest industrial sources of the chemicals are thousands of miles away. Like chlorofluorohydrocarbons, which are threatening the Earth's ozone layer, PCBs are now airborne. And they've become a global problem. Brian Bush is a research scientist at New York State's Wadsworth Laboratories. He's been studying the evaporation of Hudson River PCBs into the atmosphere. And he's worried about some of the places they're ending up.
BUSH: The PCB concentrations at both poles were measured, and there are significant levels of PCBs at the North and the South Pole. So they are in fact ubiquitous. And obviously what we should do is stop them being emitted. We've got to start somewhere. A 200-mile long tract of river, like the Hudson River, is a perfect place to start.
SCHIFFMAN: Back at Hudson, New York, the 2 boys we met earlier in the story are packing up their fishing poles. They didn't catch anything today. Perhaps it's just as well. They probably don't know about the PCB controversy that's been swirling like a slow Hudson River tide since before they were born. They also probably don't know that earlier this spring, for the first time in more than 100 years, an eagle chick was born on the Hudson. It happened on an island just across the river from where they were fishing. Some people say the birth is a sign the Hudson is getting cleaner. Others are not so sure. But one thing is certain: the debate over Hudson River PCBs will continue. The EPA is set to publish its recommendations on what to do about the problem some time during 1999. For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Schiffman.
(Incoming splashing tides; fade to music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our program is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. Peter Thomson heads our western bureau. Our production team includes George Homsy, Liz Lempert, Kim Motylewski, Julia Madeson, Peter Christianson, Jesse Wegman, Susan Shepherd, Peter Shaw, and Dan Grossman. We had help from Jill Hecht and Tom Kuo. Our engineer is Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
(Music up and under)
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting; and the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues.
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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