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

March 13, 1998

Air Date: March 13, 1998


Lead Series; The Silent Epidemic: Workplace Contact / Deirdre Kennedy

Even though lead is now illegal in house paint and gasoline, thousands of people in the U.S. come in close contact with dangerous lead fumes and dust on the job, sometimes without even knowing it. State and Federal rules are supposed to protect workers from toxic materials, but some employers continue to provide their workers little or no protections against lead poisoning. In the final part of the re- broadcast of our series, Deirdre Kennedy takes us where the "Silent Epidemic" of lead poisoning can be found in the workplace. (09:00)

Wild Chain-Saw Trails / Keith Seinfeld

The chain-saw is the fastest way to remove the record number of fallen trees now obstructing trails in wilderness areas, but some doubt that the noise pollution they create makes it the right way if these places are to remain truly wild. That's what's behind a dispute about chain-saws among back country users in the Pacific Northwest. Keith Seinfeld of member station K-P-L-U in Seattle has our story. (06:10)

A Mountain of a Film Festival / Ken Bader

Since it began in 1976, the annual Banff Festival of Mountain Films has grown from just 10 films viewed in a day, to over 140 entries over a three day extravaganza. The best films are then sent on a continent-wide tour. The current, traveling Banff Festival features two hours of short films, celebrating the mountain environment and spirit of adventure. The Banff Festival of Mountain Films tours across the US and Canada through the month of April, and Living on Earth sent Ken Bader to catch this year's edition at its Boston area screening for this review: (05:10)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Twenty years ago, New York state officials first detected a stew of toxic chemicals seeping up from the ground at place called, Love Canal. (01:15)

Mideast Water Series: The Politics of Water / Sandy Tolan

Today, we conclude the re-broadcast of our special series on water in the Middle East. In the final installment of "Troubled Waters", Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan examines how water is controlled and distributed, and how this is fueling tensions between the Palestinians and the Israelis. (22:00)

Water Insects / Sy montgomery

Sometimes it takes the eye, of a trained naturalist, like Living On Earth commentator Sy Montgomery to point out the more subtle characters in daily life like the bugs of winter. Sy Montgomery is author of "Life's Everyday Mysteries". She comes to us care of New Hampshire Public Radio (03:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Deirdre Kennedy, Keith Seinfeld, Ken Bader, Sandy Tolan
COMMENTATOR: Sy Montgomery

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Our series on lead poisoning moves to the workplace, where some big gaps in law enforcement endanger the health of adults and their children.

POSADA: Most shops, if no one's knocking on their door bugging them, they'll play ignorant, and literally at the lives of their employees, so it's really sad.

CURWOOD: Also, in the nation's wilderness areas, it's the chain versus the blade for clearing fallen trees off trails. The blade is slow and the chain is fast, but some say it doesn't belong in the wild.

PETERS: I certainly don't want to be in an area listening to a chainsaw symphony in the wilderness. A handsaw cross-cut doesn't have the noise, it doesn't have the pollution, it's not using gas and oil.

CURWOOD: Also a look at a mountain of a film festival, this week on Living on Earth. But first this round-up of the day's news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Lead Series; The Silent Epidemic: Workplace Contact

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Even though lead is now illegal in house paint and gasoline, thousands of people in the US come in close contact with dangerous lead fumes and dust on the job, sometimes without even knowing it. State and Federal rules are supposed to protect workers from toxic materials, but some employers continue to provide their workers with little or no protections against lead poisoning. In the final part of the rebroadcast of our series, Deirdre Kennedy takes us to where the silent epidemic of lead poisoning can be found in the workplace.

(Cooking utensils being brushed against each other)

KENNEDY: Luis Zavala spends his days cooking and doing chores at his home in San Jose, California. He quit his job as an automobile radiator repairman last year when he became too sick to work. Luis is a Nicaraguan immigrant who's lived in California for 11 years.

(Zavala converses with family)

KENNEDY: He now relies on his daughter Erica for everything, including driving him to the doctor's and translating.

L. ZAVALA: [Speaks in Spanish]
E. ZAVALA: He started feeling dizzy, and then his neck hurted, and now he forgets a lot of things. He has noticed, too, that you know, that he doesn't sleep. He only sleeps, like, 3 hours.

KENNEDY: At the age of 53, Luis may be permanently disabled from the effects of lead poisoning.

(Luis speaks in Spanish)

KENNEDY: Luis also has pains in his back and arms that make it hard for him to move. His symptoms are typical of long-term lead poisoning. At low levels, lead poisoning in adults can cause anemia, gastrointestinal problems, and loss of sexual function. At more advanced stages it can cause kidney failure, coma, and even death. But like many workers who suffer the gradual effects of lead poisoning, Luis didn't know it was lead until a Santa Clara County Health Worker came to his radiator shop and told him he should get a blood lead test. It turned out his blood lead levels were dangerously high, 58 micrograms per deciliter, just below the level of mandatory hospitalization. For 9 years Luis was the sole employee of a small auto shop. Every day he used a blowtorch to melt lead solder to patch holes in radiators. He says his workplace had no windows, no ventilation, and no protective equipment except for gloves.

L. ZAVALA: [Speaks in Spanish]
E. ZAVALA: He doesn't know, he was never told nothing before. He even told his employer, like a couple times, to buy a fan or something to suck up the air, because the air was so clogged up, like, you know, cloudy. But his employer, you know, ignored that.

KENNEDY: Under Federal law, workers who are diagnosed with lead poisoning must be moved to another job or receive full-paid leave until their lead levels go down. But Luis didn't know he was protected under the law, so he just quit. He's now living on disability, and even if his lead levels come down, he may never fully recover.

(Hissing sounds)

KENNEDY: At RadiatorLand in Santa Clara, workers flush out car radiators and vats of chemicals. This shop couldn't be more different than the one where Luis worked.

POSADA: And then over here is a carburetor ventilation system.

KENNEDY: The company's owner, Carlos Posada, says his shop meets all state and Federal standards and then some. He says he spent thousands of dollars making sure his employees have adequate ventilation, protective gear, and proper changing rooms. His workers get their blood lead levels tested regularly, and he monitors the air quality inside his shop. But, Posada says, many radiator shops don't bother coming up to code, betting that they'll never get caught.

POSADA: Most shops, if no one's knocking on their door bugging them, they'll play ignorant, and literally at the lives of their employees, so it's really sad.

KENNEDY: Posada says he has to charge his customers a few more dollars than other shops, but he says it's worth the extra cost.

POSADA: Economic times are really tight right now, and everybody wants to stretch that dollar. But you've got to ask yourself at what expense, and if your employees are in the community, it really doesn't make any sense. These people are in contact with you and also your children, so you want everybody to just live and work in a safe working environment.

(More hissing sounds)

KENNEDY: Adults who work around lead risk more than just their own health. Barbara Materna, an industrial hygienist with the State of California, says they can also take lead home to their children on their clothes, shoes, and hair. They even risk the health of their unborn children.

MATERNA: Lead has reproductive effects on both women and men, so it can affect sperm quality. If the mother is exposed, there are effects on the menstrual cycle and her fertility and that sort of thing. Also, if the woman is exposed, her blood lead level is the same as any fetus that she's carrying.

KENNEDY: Federal health officials estimate that about 30% of lead-poisoned workers also have children who are lead poisoned. In 1996, 25 states reported nearly 27,000 adults with dangerous lead levels. Researchers believe most of them were exposed at work. Health experts say the real number of lead poisoned adults is probably much higher. As with Luis's case, the symptoms of lead poisoning can often look like other conditions, and doctors rarely think to ask if patients work around lead. Some other industries that involve lead exposure are battery manufacturing, gun firing ranges, and foundries.

(A paint brush sweeps)

KENNEDY: But the industry affecting the highest number of people by far is painting. Up until the 1950s, paint contained as much as 50% lead by weight. Painters used to actually grind the lead into the paint by hand, and that lead is still on millions of buildings across the United States. Frances Doherty owns a painting company in San Francisco.

DOHERTY: It gave good adherence, good color. It was -- it's great. Your paint jobs lasted a whole lot longer than they do now. I had a client tell me, "Oh gosh, I got my house painted 20 years ago and it lasted for, you know, 15, 20 years."

KENNEDY: Even once it's painted over, that lead hazard doesn't go away. Painters can disturb old lead paint when they sand, scrape, wash, or burn off layers of paint. Poor safety practices by painters can hurt not only the workers but also the building's occupants and even neighbors.

(Scraping sounds)

KENNEDY: On San Francisco's Nob Hill, Doherty's painters are prepping a Victorian building. They were called in after state inspectors pulled another team off the job and fined the homeowner thousands of dollars as part of a crackdown on illegal contractors. Frances Doherty says in a city like San Francisco, where 95% of the houses have lead paint, reputable contractors just can't afford to take chances.

DOHERTY: Any job we do, we presume it to be lead. Then, if it doesn't, then fine, you've just got a clean job.

KENNEDY: Frances Doherty switched to safe painting practices about 6 years ago, after her newborn son turned out to have elevated blood lead levels. She realized she was exposed to the lead paint while she was pregnant. Frances Doherty's painters no longer use high-power washers or torches to get old lead paint off buildings: two practices that can disperse lead paint into the air and soil. Now they use a special vacuum cleaner to suck up the lead dust.

(A vacuum cleaner sucks)

KENNEDY: Her workers wear respirators. She even makes them use hand wipes before they eat. Under a new Federal law, states must provide training and certification for such painting contractors. But there's still a big gap between the laws and the reality, since just about anyone with a paint brush can call herself a painter, even where state laws require a license.

L. ZAVALA: [Speaks in Spanish]
KENNEDY: Researchers at the Labor Department say there are fewer adults around like Luis Zavala. They'd like to think that's because more workers are being educated about lead poisoning. But they say it could just be that fewer people are being tested. Until more businesses comply with Federal laws and start to get their workers tested, unprotected workers like Luis will continue to suffer the debilitating effects of lead poisoning.

(Zavala and cooking implements)

KENNEDY: For Living on Earth, I'm Deirdre Kennedy in San Francisco.

(Cooking sounds continue)

CURWOOD: For more information on lead and childhood lead poisoning, you can call the National Safety Council's Lead Information Center at 800-LEAD-FYI. That's 800-532-3394.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our series Lead: The Silent Epidemic was edited by Peter Thomson.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: We'd like to hear from you. Do you have a comment, a question, or a suggestion? The number to call any time is 800-218-9988. That's 800-218- 9988. And our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Coming up: the chainsaw is the fastest way to remove the record number of fallen trees now obstructing trails in wilderness areas. But some doubt that it's the right way if these places are to remain wild. The story is next right here on Living on Earth.

(Trickling water and bird song up and under)

Wild Chain-Saw Trails

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
In the lower 48 states there are few if any places untouched by humans. Even in the deepest reaches of the biggest wilderness area, the Bob Marshall wilderness in Montana, for example, at times the sounds of aircraft can still be heard. But there are those who say wilderness areas should be kept as wild as possible and the drone of machines minimized, even if it can't be completely banished. Other folks agree that these areas should be basically wild, but that some noise is necessary if people are to have access. And that's what's behind a dispute about chainsaws among backcountry users in the Pacific Northwest. Keith Seinfeld of member station KPLU in Seattle has our story.

SEINFELD: In the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon, winter means wind storms and heavy snow, which can bring down hundreds of huge, ancient fir and cedar trees. Trunks and tangled branches commonly create an obstacle course for trail users.

(Sound of a chainsaw running)

SEINFELD: The most efficient solution is obvious: one worker with a chainsaw can quickly slice a path through dozens of fallen trees. That's what officials at the Wenatchee National Forest hope to do this summer. Forest supervisor Sonny O'Neal says severe storms over the last few years have blown down a record number of trees.

O'NEAL: There are a lot of people that really can't understand why we haven't opened these trails up already. And last summer, when people found that they couldn't get to where they wanted to go in a wilderness area, there was a tremendous amount of calls in and out of the office.

SEINFELD: The reason the trails haven't been fully cleared is that official wilderness areas are protected by a strict law. The Federal Wilderness Act protects natural conditions and solitude. The use of chainsaws and other machinery usually requires an environmental review first. National Forest managers here say with 150 miles of wilderness trail currently blocked by downed trees, they should be able to use chainsaws.

(Snowshoers move on hard snow and converse)

SEINFELD: In winter, one of the ways to reach wilderness is with snowshoes. This group of 5 hikers heads into the mountains in Snohomish County, Washington, just across the pass from Winatchee. The 4-foot carpet of snow reveals footprints of deer and hare. Aside from the crunch of snowshoes, the only sound is a distant stream, a distant bird, and silence.

(Water sluices)

PETERS: I certainly don't want to be in an area listening to a chainsaw symphony in the wilderness.

SEINFELD: Thom Peters is a member of the group Wilderness Watch, and a vocal opponent of the chainsaw plan.

PETERS: A handsaw cross-cut doesn't have the noise, it doesn't have the pollution, it's not using gas and oil.

SEINFELD: Mr. Peters admits he's something of a purist when it comes to wilderness. But he says wilderness is meant to be as pure as possible, where the hand of man is practically invisible.

PETERS: What wilderness is all about, and the Wilderness Act is protecting natural conditions and events and processes. And if we have a larger, an abnormal amount of downed trees, that's Mother Nature, and we have to get used to that fact that it's Mother Nature we're working with.

SEINFELD: Mr. Peters says as far as he's concerned, it would be fine not to remove the trees at all. But if they must be cleared, he says, then do it unobtrusively. But other wilderness users are all for using chainsaws.

(A loud whistle; the sound echoes back.)

MURPHY: Hello. (Makes kissing noises) Come on up here. (Whistles more)

SEINFELD: At a small ranch south of Bremerton, Washington, Jim Murphy keeps 3 horses and a pair of mules. Mr. Murphy is director of Backcountry Horsemen of Washington. He leads pack trips into the wilderness and volunteers his time repairing damaged trails. He says it's hard enough to climb over a tree wearing a backpack.

MURPHY: With a horse it becomes nearly impossible, and either you reach, if you keep trying to climb over and get around logs you reach a point where you may injure the horse or yourself, or just turn around and quit trying what you're doing.

SEINFELD: Mr. Murphy says it only makes sense to clear the trails as quickly as possible.

MURPHY: I think the bottom line on this is, we can't afford to do this work under the present budget constraints entirely by hand with crosscut saws. We need the chainsaws to speed that process up and get the most for our money. So that the remaining amounts of Agency funds can be spent on the other aspects of maintaining the wilderness.

SEINFELD: That argument makes snowshoer Thom Peters nervous. He says convenience and efficiency should be irrelevant when it comes to wilderness.

(Sluicing water)

PETERS: There is a reason why we don't have motorized or mechanized equipment allowed. And every little group just wants to bend the rules a little bit from their own perspective. And that's where we end up with the subtle, insidious dilution of wilderness and its values.

SEINFELD: But the values of wilderness are in the eye of the beholder. For Wenatchee Forest Chief Sonny O'Neal, the task is balancing those competing values. He says chainsaws, ironically, are a way to keep wilderness as natural as possible.

O'NEAL: People are still trying to get into these, through these trails, and they're making new routes around these windfall areas, and that's causing wilderness damage.

SEINFELD: The Wenatchee foresters will make their decision on chainsaws this spring. Others in the Forest Service are watching closely, and may take the decision as a cue for managing their own areas. For Living on Earth, I'm Keith Seinfeld in Seattle.

Back to top

(Music up and under: The Grand Canyon Suite)

A Mountain of a Film Festival

CURWOOD: It began in 1976 as a one-day festival of 10 films about mountains. Now the Banff Festival of Mountain Films, still held each year in the Canadian Rockies town of the same name, receives about 140 entries for its 3-day extravaganza. Then it sends the best of the bunch on a continent-wide tour. The current traveling Banff Festival features 2 hours of short films celebrating the mountain environment and the spirit of adventure. Living on Earth sent Ken Bader to catch this year's edition of the festival at its Boston- area screening. He has this review.

(Ambient conversation)

BADER: As moviegoers entered the theater it was easy to pick out the ones who were there to see The Replacement Killers or Spice World or Blues Brothers 2000 from the ones who came for the Banff Festival of Mountain Films. The mountain film fans looked like they ate more Power Bars than popcorn, and they ranged in age from the early 20s all the way up to the late 20s. And their taste in cinema was quite specific.

MAN: The ones that interest me the most are the extreme climbing films. But even the kayaking films are fun.

BADER: That guy's taste was relatively eclectic by this crowd's standards. These moviegoers actually identified with, and in some cases hoped to emulate, the extremists they were about to see. As for me, I'm more like Chance the Gardener: I like to watch.

(Choral music)

BADER: Fortunately, there's plenty to watch in this, the twenty-second annual edition of the Banff Festival of Mountain Films. The Westminster Cathedral Choir provides an appropriately graceful soundtrack to a 17-minute film called Escape, which shows 3 friends soaring through Italy's Dolomite Mountains, carried aloft by wind-powered sails that turn them into human kites. As you might expect, the quality of the films varies, but by and large they are quite good. The best are the shortest and longest of the evening. Tour coordinator Monique Hunkeler describes the shortest, E-900, as a sure-fire crowd pleaser.

HUNKELER: It's a one-minute film and it did receive a special jury award at the festival last November. And it's an animated climbing film, and it's a totally unexpected ending, and people just holler with laughter.

(People hollering with laughter)

BADER: If E-900 is good for a laugh, the Human Race is just plain good. This 56-minute documentary opens with extraordinary shots of Australia's Kimberley Region, which the narrator describes as "a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, where featureless plains of thorny spinifex, or spiny grass, erupt into jagged desert ranges."

NARRATOR: (Backdropped by dramatic music) This is to be the ultimate testing ground for 3 men. Three cultures. Three very different attitudes to life. The challenge: to survive unaided while racing each other for hundreds of kilometers across this forbidding country. It will prove a physical ordeal, and a mental and spiritual odyssey. It will be a human race.

BADER: The 3 men live up to their billing. First, we meet 61-year-old Rudiger Nehberg, German lover of bizarre adventure and wilderness survival.

NEHBERG: It's a contradiction to have a race in a desert. Normally I would move here very cautiously, not race, because I have to save all my water beginning form sweat to urine. And doing a race in a desert, it's completely nonsense. But I like it.

BADER: Then the film introduces 72-year-old Aborigine Jack Jugarie, who tells us that his guardian ancestors give him spirit for walking.

JUGARIE: They give me spirit walking. (Other voices) When I go, probably, the spirit will be behind me.

BADER: The third competitor is 35-year-old American Dave Kolvey, an ultra- marathon runner who believes in winning.

(Water splashes; a bird calls)

KOLVEY: I know I can win. Whether or not I will win, I think that depends upon how smart I am out there with regards to pacing and finding food and such. And maybe a little bit of luck involved, too. My main thing is just to enjoy the experience and survive it.

BADER: The Human Race is the jewel of the festival. It's got what the other movies showing at the cineplex that night spent millions of dollars on and didn't come close to getting: arresting cinematography, rich characters, and a riveting narrative that culminates in a deeply moving climax. None of this made me want to hike through a desert, climb a mountain or kayak through the whitewater, mind you. Why go through the hassle, when you can see it all up there on the big screen and never break a sweat? For Living on Earth, I'm Ken Bader.

CURWOOD: The Banff Festival of Mountain Films continues its tour across the US and Canada through the month of April. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; and Jennifer and Ted Stanley.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Water. It's scarce in the Middle East, and tensions about it are making peace harder to achieve between Palestinians and Israelis. The conclusion of our series Troubled Waters is coming up in just a minute right here on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund, and Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, dedicated to your health and the health of the planet.

(Theme music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Twenty years ago, New York State officials first detected a stew of toxic chemicals seeping up from the ground at a place called Love Canal. The area was named for William T. Love, who started to build a canal in 1893 near the Niagara Falls. The waterway was supposed to provide hydropower for a future metropolis that Mr. Love declared would be "the most perfect city in existence." But the project was abandoned, and a half a century later Hooker Chemical, a plastics company, used the leftover pit to dump tons of toxic chemicals. Later, homes were built on the landfill. One of the most infamous hazardous waste disasters in US history, Love Canal was a major reason why lawmakers created Superfund, which has since helped identify 2,000 hazardous waste sites nationwide. This month, checks are being distributed to 900 former residents of Love Canal, bringing the last court settlements to an end. Today, Love Canal is called Black Creek Village, and the EPA says most of the area is now inhabitable. And while no one is calling it the most perfect city in existence, people are moving back in, buying homes that go for about 20% less than the area average. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

(Running water)

Mideast Water Series: The Politics of Water

CURWOOD: Since civilization began, men and women have gathered at the well. For at the well is the source of life: water. And so it still is here at the edge of a field of squash and cucumbers near the town of Hebron in the West Bank.

(A man speaks in Arabic)

CURWOOD: Water is also the source of conflict between Israel and nearly all its neighbors. Just one example: in April 1967, when Syria began construction to divert the Jordan River across the Golan Heights, Israel bombed the project. Two months later, during the 6-day war, Israel captured the Golan Heights, thwarting Syrian plans to tap the River Jordan. Today, we conclude the rebroadcast of our special series on water in the Middle East. In the final installment of Troubled Waters, Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan examines how water is fueling tension between the Palestinians who need it and the Israelis who need and control it.

(A beeper goes off. Several voices on site and over radio, in Hebrew)

TOLAN: In a cool, carpeted, softly-lit room, a young engineer named Moshe sits in a swivel chair in front of a control panel and a pair of computer screens. We're in Israel's Water Control Station outside of Tel Aviv. The powerful computers in front of Moshe link him to hundreds of miles of pipeline.

MOSHE: We control here something like 70, 75% of the pipes and the reservoir.

(More voices)

TOLAN: This is the nerve center of a dream, a dream to capture the River Jordan and other Middle East waters and make the land of Israel bloom. The flow begins at the Sea of Galilee and courses south through pipelines on its way to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and farms in the desert. If there's a problem along the way, Moshe is likely to know about it. His computers receive messages from hundreds of pumping stations along the pipeline. It's one of the most sophisticated water delivery systems in the world.

MOSHE: Well, all the sides are connected to this control center, and they get the information here every 20 minutes.

MAN: Hello, Shamati, Shamati, Shamati!

TOLAN: This morning a vegetable farmer's pipes are dry. He's irate.

MOSHE: If I can solve the problem from here, I solve it from here.

TOLAN: So you hit a couple of keys? What do you do to solve the problem?

MOSHE: Usually we use the mouse, yeah like this. I show you.

TOLAN: Moshe zooms in on the pipeline, locates the pump, and with the click of the mouse turns it back on.

(Beepers sound)

TOLAN: In a few minutes water will be flowing again.

(More voices, on site and over radio. Fade to a woman shouting)

TOLAN: Bhutta Aziz walks barefoot on a roof in the tiny West Bank village of Bidu. The roof is concrete, flat with a slight incline and a drain at the end. When it rains, water runs down a pipe and into an old stone cistern. Just west is an Israeli settlement, its orange roofs sloping toward the ground.

AZIZ: [Speaks in Arabic]
TRANSLATOR: One Israeli settlement gets as much as 7 Palestinian villages here.

TOLAN: The family's had no running water for 2 months. They can't afford the water trucks. The price of a tankful is half a day's wage for Mr. Aziz, who paints houses for the Israelis. So this morning Bhutta dips into the cistern, pouring water into a small row of 3-gallon jugs.

(Water pours)

TOLAN: She says that's all the family of 9 will use today.

(A pail hits the ground)

AZIZ: [Speaks in Arabic]
TRANSLATOR: This season I haven't been able to wash my curtains or rugs or the windows because I have other priorities. I do dishwashing but I don't allow my daughter to help me because I'm afraid she would waste the water.

(Liquid pours)

TOLAN: Bhutta serves us Tang in a glass of rainwater, and then she and her husband and sisters invite us inside.

(Many voices, children)

TOLAN: In the verandah a vine grows from a coffee cup, spreading out across the ceiling. It gets one cup of water a week. We can see our reflections in the black faux marble floors.

AZIZ: [Speaks in Arabic]
TRANSLATOR: We clean our houses every day, and as Muslims we have to wash up 5 times a day before we pray.

(More voices and children)

TOLAN: In the kitchen there is a sink and a water spout, but nothing in the pipes.

Fish. Fish means nothing?

(More voices)

TOLAN: It's not as if the region is dry. Beneath the family's feet there is a huge underground lake. It's called the Mountain Aquifer because it comes from rain falling in the mountains of the West Bank. Nearly all the aquifer lies beneath the West Bank, with a small tip extending below Israel. But during 3 decades of Israeli occupation, Palestinians have not been allowed to drill a well without permission from military authorities, and that's rarely been granted. Under the Oslo Peace Accords, Israel has allowed a few new wells, but little has changed across the West Bank. And nothing here in the village of Bidu.

(A motor revs up)

AZIZ: [Speaks in Arabic]
TRANSLATOR: We've sent protests and letters to the water authority, but Israel is deaf to our complaints. The Israelis fly reconnaissance planes, and if they discover a new well, they come and close it. Even if you want a new modern toilet, they can close it down if you don't have a permit. We were hoping the Palestinian authority would solve our problems, but they're powerless. We scream and nobody answers. There's no life. Maybe we have to defeat Israel to live like human beings. We have God. That's all we have.

(Motor continues)

TOLAN: Clouds of dust rise up in the wake of the water truck rumbling by. The family watches it pass, moving south toward Jerusalem. In many parts of the West Bank now, the simple dignities of life -- a bath, a freshly-mopped floor, a cold glass of water -- are more and more like luxuries.

(Voices speaking in Arabic)

TOLAN: In Hebron, south of Jerusalem, many people are down to one bath a week.

(Voices continue)

TOLAN: As part of the peace process, Hebron was divided in two: one Palestinian-controlled area, and one under Israeli military control. One afternoon we find ourselves in the remnants of Hebron's old Arab market. Israeli soldiers walk a slow, deliberate patrol, protecting the settlers and their homes behind guard posts and fluttering plastic flags of Israel. Arab fruit vendors do a grim business, their faces sour and weary. Business is down sharply. No rocks or rubber bullets are flying today, yet you can feel the tension. In January an Israeli soldier went crazy here and started shooting Palestinians.

(Voices in Arabic)

TOLAN: Suddenly an Arab man grabs a watermelon and smashes it on the ground.

(Sound of watermelon smashing. Voices continue.)

TOLAN: He takes some bananas he's bought and stomps on them, and stalks off in anger.

(Stomping and squishing sounds)

TOLAN: Pink juice from the melon trickles down the asphalt and gathers in a pool.

(Voices continue)

ISAAC: Water for us is becoming thicker than blood, you know?

TOLAN: Jad Isaac is an analyst with the Applied Research Institute, a private think tank in Bethlehem. He says rage is building from inequities over water.

ISAAC: They see swimming pools in the settlements, lawns and sprinklers going during the hot days, while they do not have water to give to their children to drink. There's no justice, that a settler can enjoy all the water that he needs, and this water is not his water. It's Palestinian water, and he is a settler, a colonialist, while the native Palestinian who has been for centuries, he's not allowed to have his own water.

(Voices speaking in Hebrew)

TOLAN: Ten miles and a world away, in his office in the Israeli Knesset, I ask Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan about these accusations. Are Israelis stealing Palestinian water? Eitan jabs his finger toward me, fixing me in his gaze.

EITAN: [Speaks in Hebrew]
TRANSLATOR: You are perhaps a naive person who has been sucked into a culture that may be based on lies and deception. There are 3 aspects of Arab culture that meet you in this story: deception, lies, and pretentiousness.

TOLAN: Minister Eitan is hard line even for the ruling Likud government. He once called Palestinians "cockroaches in a bottle." He was instrumental in supporting early settlers in the West Bank. Today he has a few simple words about land and water in the mountainous West Bank.

EITAN: [Speaks in Hebrew]
TRANSLATOR: He says it's ours. This is ours. Our whole connection to the land of Israel is on the mountain region. That is what it is based on. He says I have no doubt about Israel's right to be there, and to rule that area.

TOLAN: In 1990 the Agriculture Ministry under Rafael Eitan's direction published a full-page ad in the Jerusalem Post warning of the mortal danger of giving up control of the water lying beneath the West Bank. But it's not just Israeli hard-liners who lay claim to the mountain aquifer. Hillel Shuval is a strong supporter of the Oslo peace process and of accommodation with the Palestinians. He's a professor of environmental science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He says Israel's rights to use that water began long before the occupation.

SHUVAL: Going back 80 years, Jewish farmers in the Jordan Valley and the Jezreel Valley and the lowlands started pumping water from the Mountain Aquifer, and Palestinians pumped water from the Mountain Aquifer, and there were no constraints. But in effect, the Israeli water companies, the Israeli farmers, use modern drilling techniques, invested a lot of money, they thought water was very important. And de facto, before 1967, some 80% of the water of the Mountain Aquifer was pumped by Israelis within the boundaries of Israel, and that was the status quo at the time of the occupation. This water was not stolen from the Palestinians. They were not cheated out of the water. It's just a historic fact that the Israelis used it first. Now, according to international law, international law recognizes the right of prior use.

TOLAN: Israelis say it's not fair to compare our water lifestyles. We're a developed nation and you're still developing. Palestinians counter: who was it that kept us down during 3 decades of occupation, using soldiers to prevent us from drilling wells? Both sides say they have international law on their side. Both sides say they simply want to realize their dreams. It's an endless argument full of claims and counter-claims. Whatever the truth amidst the invective, it's clear that with a blend of technological prowess and military force, Israel now controls vast amounts of water beyond its borders. That control allows it to use more than 3 times as much water per capita. It's allowed Israel to absorb massive waves of Russian Jews. And it's helped fulfill a dream that's survived for centuries in the Jewish diaspora.

(Bird song)

BASKIN: It has to do with the ethos of Zionism, of the national liberation movement and the Jewish people, was to turn the Jewish people from non- landowners to landowners. To turn them into farmers, to dig their hands into the soil, to reconnect them to the land of Israel.

TOLAN: Gershon Baskin is co-director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, a Jerusalem thinktank.

BASKIN: The most connected people to land are people who work the soil. So it has a lot to do with the whole national mythology of who we are, of where we are, of our connection to the place that we live. Jews for 2,000 years wandered. They weren't connected to any one place. Here in the land of Israel, all the historical heritage, planting the roots was more than a metaphor. It meant to plant people physically in the earth.

(A water sprinkler)

TOLAN: It's here in the Negev Desert, where some Israelis are playing out the Zionist dream.

DINSEN: As we speak, I get goosebumps. I've been here for 25 years. I can say that with my hands I made the desert bloom.

TOLAN: At 17, Seymour Dinsen didn't quite picture himself as an Israeli farmer. His parents owned a grocery shop in the Bronx. The neighborhood was in transition, he says. His parents wanted him to have some Jewish friends. So Seymour joined a Zionist youth movement.

DINSEN: I fell in love with Israel. Today I can't imagine myself not being a farmer.

(Sprinklers continue)

TOLAN: Now Seymour grows vegetables in desert sand. We stand before rows of potato plants stretching nearly to the horizon. Each acre gets about 2,000 gallons a day: part Jordan River water, part from the Mountain Aquifer, part from aquifers in Israel. It arrives via pipeline to this desert kibbutz not far from the Egyptian border. When combined with healthy doses of chemical and organic fertilizer, this sweet water makes the desert come alive.

DINSEN: Without that water, we wouldn't be able to grow potatoes. We wouldn't be able to grow anything.

(Traffic sounds in the background)

DINSEN: I mean you can see, there's green all around, whether it's potatoes or watermelons or onion seed.

(Traffic sounds and sprinklers continue)

DINSEN: All of this without water, it wouldn't be here. There would be sand. Just sand and sand.

TOLAN: Israel is famous for its water-saving drip irrigation, and many crops now grow in treated wastewater. Yet water is still cheap, so there's little incentive for conservation. In many Israeli towns, lush greenery adorns the boulevards. On the kibbutz, Seymour doesn't pay full cost for water, so he's not forced to save. The fresh water on the fields of this single kibbutz would supply 40 average-sized Palestinian villages that currently have no running water. Even in their homes kibbutzers here use 10 times the water of an average Palestinian.

You know, one might also say, look, why should this kibbutz be using fresh water when there's such a water shortage very close by?

DINSEN: I have to make a living.

(Water sprinklers continue)

DINSEN: The State of Israel gave me my allotment of water to make a living as an agricultural community. I want to make a living. If I can't make a living because the water prices are too high, if we're talking again about the water, I won't use the water. I feel for people who are in a worse economical state than I am. Question is, how responsible am I? It's unfair. It's unfair. But life is unfair. Life is unfair, what can you do?

(Traffic sounds continue. Fade to a door opening and closing, bird song)

TOLAN: At a farm near the West Bank town of Jenin, Mohammad Tershon, a young hydrologist just out of university, says like his Israeli counterparts Palestinian farmers have their own dreams.

TERSHON: Until now, as a Palestinian, we haven't our key for our house. How can you feel secure without having any key to open your house? And as Palestinians, until now we haven't our key. Our key is water and land, and also the control of our borders.

TOLAN: A half-mile from Israel's border, we stand by a patchwork of vegetable fields interspersed with fallow land. Fallow, Mohammad says, because since the Israeli village to the west sunk a thousand-meter well back in 1973, many of the old Palestinian wells here have gone dry.

TERSHON: You see, that land was irrigated. But after drilling the Israeli wells, it become rain- fed agriculture, wheat and barley and some forages, which depend on rainfall to survive. Financial situation become very low. The Palestinian farmers are searching for new jobs in Israel, mainly in agriculture, and in very low salaries. Most of the farmers now frustrated.

ISAAC: Our land has become desert, while Israel has been taking our water resources in order to make the desert bloom.

TOLAN: Palestinian policy analyst and water expert Jad Isaac

ISAAC: We need all the water resources of Palestinian people in order to promote real economic growth and to move from the occupation and charity, dependent and donors community to like every other nation in the world. Israel is currently taking 85% of our water resources. Israel agriculture is a very marginal sector in the Israeli economy. They have the technology, they have the GNP per capita which can let them give us our water rights without really suffering. In fact, it would be such a very cheap price for peace.

TOLAN: Agriculture represents only 3% of Israel's GNP. It's more important to the Zionist dream than it is to Israel's economy. In light of that, some Israeli policy analysts say Israel should give the Mountain Aquifer to the Palestinians and turn to desalinization of the Mediterranean. Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information.

BASKIN: Let's say that over the next 10 to 15 years Israel turns the entire Mountain Aquifer over to the Palestinians. We're talking about a loss factor to Israel of about $400 million. That's about half a percent of Israel's growth. What we're arguing about is minuscule. Israel's economy is now $90 billion a year. Now, I would propose to Israel, and I have, that Israel be generous toward the Palestinians and water. Work out a schedule over the next 15 years in which all the water of the Mountain Aquifer will be turned over to the Palestinians. In return for Israel's generosity, the international community should help to establish an international research and development fund whose goal would be to bring the cost of desalinization technology down.

TOLAN: But these proposals are getting a cold reception from the Likud government, including Meir Ben Meir, Israel's water commissioner.

BEN MEIR: This (laughs) is an absurd, of course. We are not going to give up our resources and turn to the Mediterranean to fulfill our needs.

TOLAN: Israel's latest proposal, made informally through press leaks, is designed to maintain full Israeli control over water. They'd be willing to give more drinking water to the Palestinians in the process, but only if they're in charge of the system. Commissioner Ben Meir says the Palestinians cannot be trusted to control any share of the water. But if the future is simply Israeli control, Palestinian Water Authority Chief Nabil Sharif says there will be no peace. Peace, he says, can only come with a sovereign state of Palestine in control of its own water.

SHARIF: I don't know what will be in the future. They will give the Palestinian a state, then a state should have its own sources and still cooperate with Israel. If they want the control they have earlier, this is another thing. Nobody will accept that.

TOLAN: And thus, water remains a central obstacle to Middle East peace. In water each side sees the refection of its own national agenda. The weaker side speaks of cooperation. The stronger side speaks of control. And the future to many, like Israeli agriculture minister Rafael Eitan, looks more and more like the past.

EITAN: [Speaks in Hebrew]
TRANSLATOR: We live here 100, 200 years. We know them better than people who come naive from a Western culture. In our struggle, in our fight, in our war, the war is not over a well in Hebron or a water hole in Gaza. It's between 2 cultures. The question is which culture is going to win? That's how it begins and that's how it ends.

TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan reporting.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our series Troubled Waters was edited by Peter Thomson and engineered by Eileen Bolinsky, George Homsy, and Liz Lempert, with production assistance from Betsy Gammons. For a tape or transcript of the series, call toll-free 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988.

(Music up and under)

Water Insects

CURWOOD: And finally this week, a farewell of sorts to winter. The Spring Equinox is just about a week away, and for the etymologicaly challenged there's one reason to lament winter's passing: no bugs, of course. At least none that meet the eye, unless the eye belongs to a trained naturalist. Like Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery.

MONTGOMERY: A few insects like monarchs fly off to Mexico. Some dragonflies, like the familiar green darner and the peripatetic wandering globetrotter, migrate sometimes by the millions to winter in Florida. But most insects actually stick around. The reason we don't see them is, in many cases they've solved the problem of winter by turning into something else. The larvae of the showy cecropia moth transforms itself into a chrysalis. You might find this fist-sized gray silken pouch hanging at the tip of birch or alder at the edge of a swamp.

Some insects actually change the contents of their blood for the season. They replace much of their normal body fluids with glycerol, similar to the glycol used in automobile antifreeze. Some also thicken their blood. These measures lower the freezing point of their blood to minus 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Thanks to this chemistry, the familiar black and brown woolly bear caterpillar, the larva of a tiger moth, can wait out the snow under just a few inches of leaf litter.

Saw flies hide just beneath logs. Perhaps most miraculous of all, the fragile violet-brown morning cloak butterfly survives almost completely exposed. With wings closed, showing only its drab undersides, it's nearly invisible against logs or the dark bark of trees. And after a punishing winter, the morning cloak is one of the first insects to fly again in spring, often even before the snow melts.

Other insects construct shelters. The larch case bearer hollows out the tip of a larch needle, backs into it, and wears it like a camouflage suit of armor. Leaf rollers use silk like a combination of thread and glue. You'll know one of these caterpillars was at work when you notice a leaf that looks like a hand-rolled cigar.

As we rush about shoveling snow and hauling wood, it's good to be humbled by the far more elegant solutions to winter devised by the insect world. They may have brains smaller than the head of a pin, but they have the wisdom of the ages on their side. After all, they've been around 400 million years, and they've seen and survived almost everything the earth has to offer.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery is author of Life's Everyday Mysteries. She comes to us from New Hampshire Public Radio.

Back to top

(Music up and under: "I don't want to worry there, insect. I do not want to fight." Backup singers: "Hey there, little insect. Hey there, little insect." Lead singer: "That's right. I don't even want to worry about an insect bite." Backup singers: "Hey there, little insect." Lead singer: "I don't." Backup singers: "Hey there, little insect." Lead singer: "See, I don't want to worry, so please come down. So we can have fun and fool around." Voices go Bzzzzz...)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our program is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. Kim Motylewski is our associate editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer. George Homsy, Jesse Wegman, Terry FitzPatrick, Daniel Grossman, and Liz Lempert make up our production team, along with Peter Christianson, Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. We had help from Jeremy Jurgens, Vanessa Melendes, Miriam Landman, and Kevin Robinson. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity; www.wajones.org.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth