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Archive for the ‘Lead’ Category

Poisoned Waters

SENIOR PRODUCER AND CORRESPONDENT
Hedrick Smith

PRODUCED BY
Marc Shaffer

WRITTEN BY
Hedrick Smith and Rick Young

DIRECTED BY
Rick Young

ANNOUNCER: Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay- they are America’s great coastal estuaries, and they are in peril.

KATHY FLETCHER, People for Puget Sound: I would put Puget Sound in the intensive care unit. The situation is critical.

WILL BAKER, Chesapeake Bay Foundation: The Chesapeake Bay is like the canary in the coal mine. It is an indicator of what we are now learning to expect in any body of water across the planet.

ANNOUNCER: Three decades after the Clean Water Act, FRONTLINE takes a hard look at why America has failed for so long to clean up the nation’s waterways-

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: Agriculture is by far the largest source of pollution to all of the waters in the country.

EXPERT: We’re not talking about little Ma and Pa on the farm anymore. We are talking about industrial production. It is industrial waste.

ANNOUNCER: And how contaminated waters threaten not only wildlife-

ROBERT LAWRENCE, M.D., Johns Hopkins School of Public Health: You have frogs with six legs, male frogs with ovaries-

ANNOUNCER: -but ultimately threaten our own health, as well.

EXPERT: The same things that are killing animals will kill people, too.

ANNOUNCER: In a two-hour special report, FRONTLINE correspondent Hedrick Smith uncovers the danger to the nation’s waterways, tracking new threats-

HEDRICK SMITH, Correspondent: If you were living in Washington, D.C., would you drink water coming out of the Potomac?

VICKI BLAZER, U.S. Geological Survey: Probably not.

ANNOUNCER: -confronting new challenges-

HEDRICK SMITH: This is sick?

MIKE RACINE, Wash. Scuba Divers Assn.: This is sick!

EXPERT: It’s like a cancer. It’s growing.

ANNOUNCER: -and discovering the ultimate problem.

JAY MANNING, Director, Wash. Dept. of Ecology: It’s about the way we all live. And unfortunately, we are all polluters. I am. You are. All of us are.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, FRONTLINE investigates what’s poisoning America’s waters.

HEDRICK SMITH, Correspondent: [voice-over] The Chesapeake Bay at dawn, one of those magical moments when you feel at peace and in harmony with nature. For me, the Chesapeake is a special place, an extraordinary natural treasure. Over the past 30 years, I’ve spent a lot of time on the bay, sailing, hiking, swimming, crabbing. I love the water, its calm, its beauty, its majesty, and I’m fascinated by its meandering shorelines.

In the early morning light, the bay can look so pure and pristine. But that’s deceiving. I know that like most of America’s waterways, Chesapeake Bay is in trouble despite years of trying to save it, and that worries me.

I wanted a firsthand look, and so I headed out on the water with Larry Simns, a waterman who’s been commercially fishing the bay for 60 years.

LARRY SIMNS, Waterman: In its peak time, if you drained the bay, the crabs and the fish and oysters and everything would probably be 10 foot deep on the bottom all over the whole bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: Over the past several decades, Simns has watched the good times of bountiful harvests slip away.

[on camera] It’s about like your home waters here.

LARRY SIMNS: Yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: Huh?

LARRY SIMNS: Yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: What is the Chesapeake Bay like today for watermen?

LARRY SIMNS: The only thing that we have in abundance that we had back then was the striped bass, the rockfish. Other than that, everything else is diminished. The oysters, we used to catch two million bushel a year. Now we catch a hundred thousand bushel. I never, ever dreamed that I wouldn’t be catching shad anymore, I wouldn’t be catching yellow perch anymore, I wouldn’t be catching tarpon anymore. I never, ever dreamed that that would come to an end.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Simns took me to the old fishing town of Rock Hall, where watermen were bringing in the day’s crab catch. Crabs have long been the trademark of Chesapeake Bay, but the catch is now down more than 50 percent from 25 years ago.

[on camera] So how was the catch today?

DAVID KIRWAN, Crabber: Well, it dropped off a little bit today.

HEDRICK SMITH: Dropped off. So what are you coming in with, six, seven, eight bushels?

DAVID KIRWAN: I think it was nine altogether.

HEDRICK SMITH: Nine bushels? Ten years ago, how many would you have caught on an average day?

DAVID KIRWAN: Be about 30.

HEDRICK SMITH: About 30 bushels, about three times as many.

DAVID KIRWAN: Yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: How do you feel about the bay and what’s happened to it?

DAVID KIRWAN: I think it’s a tragedy. I think- a little upset that my children can’t enjoy this way of life that I cherish, you know?

LARRY SIMNS: In Rock Hall harbor, all that used to be processing houses for striped bass, for oysters, for clams, for everything that we was harvesting.

HEDRICK SMITH: So a lot of people in the fish and crab and oyster business went out of business.

LARRY SIMNS: Yeah.

TOM HORTON, Bay Author and Reporter: You’re talking about billions of dollars of economic impact with oysters, crabs, shad, striped bass. The decline in the fisheries has just been dramatic. I wouldn’t have thought even 10 or 15 years ago that we would literally lose oysters as a commercial fishery. We have. It’s done.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Watermen are seeing the symptoms of decline, but the deeper problem, I learned, is that the very dynamics of the bay’s ecosystem are being fundamentally altered by human impact. The bay is acutely vulnerable because its watershed is so large, 11,000 miles of shoreline, and it drains big rivers from six states.

TOM HORTON: In all of North America, it’s the largest estuary. We’re talking a sixth of the East Coast, from Cooperstown, New York, out into West Virginia, almost down to North Carolina.

HEDRICK SMITH: It is the receptacle of an enormous volume of water in a uniquely shallow basin. Its average depth is only 21 feet, making the bay an ecological hothouse.

TOM HORTON: It’s fabulously productive but also exquisitely vulnerable to land use because it has a huge drainage basin. So you have, you know, the classic place for trying to determine whether humans and nature can coexist.

HEDRICK SMITH: One problem for Chesapeake Bay is that humans have drastically overfished the resources, especially crabs. But scientists have also tied the dramatic decline in fisheries here to man-made pollution and a growing phenomenon called “dead zones.”

TOM HORTON: Dead zones happen when too much fertilizer – nitrogen, phosphorous – comes in. It grows lots of excess algae. The algae die, decompose, suck up the oxygen from the deeper waters, which aquatic life needs to live.

HEDRICK SMITH: This is what a healthy, oxygen-rich bay bottom looks like, full of lush grasses where fish and crabs can grow. A dead zone is completely different, barren and empty.

HOWARD ERNST, Bay Historian: The bottom of the bay, when there’s an algae bloom or when you have a dead zone, is as dead as the face of the moon. There is absolutely no oxygen in these dead zones, and nothing can grow that requires oxygen for survival.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Crabs can’t make it? Fish can’t-

HOWARD ERNST: Crabs can’t make it. Oysters can’t make it. Fish that get caught in the dead zone will literally die if they can’t get out of the dead zone. They’ll float up to the surface. Their bellies will explode. And you’ll see fish kills throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] In the heat of summer, dead zones now occupy as much as 40 percent of the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay. But it’s not just a bay-wide problem, it’s worldwide. All across the planet, dead zones have been doubling in frequency and size every decade. There’s one in the Gulf of Mexico the size of the state of Massachusetts.

[http://www.pbs.org: More about dead zones]

Pollution is not just creating dead zones, it’s playing havoc with human health and recreation.

NEWSCASTER: -and those health advisories at Sandy Point Beach are still in effect and will be-

HEDRICK SMITH: Every year, more beaches have to close periodically because of pollution.

NEWSCASTER: People are urged to avoid direct contact with the water on the east-

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: The unfortunate reality is that people get sick from contact with water every single day, and we have information suggesting that that problem is getting worse today than it was 10 years ago. And this is a result of a number of different contaminants being in the water that ultimately can make people sick.

WILL BAKER, Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Today we’re at a point at which this system called the Chesapeake Bay may be on the verge of ceasing to function in its most basic capacities. And what do I mean by that? Providing a place for people to swim – recreation – providing a source of seafood – shellfish, finfish, oysters, crabs – underwater grasses which support the crab population – and being a system that is absolutely wonderful to look at, to support tourism, to be a source of real pride to the region.

We are at the verge where all of those functions of the Chesapeake Bay that we value could be lost to the next generation unless we take dramatic and fundamental action today.

HEDRICK SMITH: What leaves the bay’s defenders distraught is not only its perilous condition but the public’s evident loss of interest and the failure of federal and state governments to stick to their repeated promises over the past 25 years to clean up the bay.

J. CHARLES FOX: There has been so much investment in science and in modeling and in monitoring. We know today precisely what is necessary to save the Chesapeake, and now it’s very clear that it comes down to the question of political will.

TOM HORTON: You know, there’s a tendency to blame it on lack of political will. Well, hell, who elects the politicians and who reelects them? Last time I looked, it was us. We ran out of excuses for delaying many, many years ago around the Chesapeake. We can afford it. We don’t necessarily want to pay for it, but we can afford it. So I have to say that, collectively, we don’t care enough.

HEDRICK SMITH: There was a time when we as a nation did care enough to demand action, four decades ago, when the country was rocked by a series of environmental disasters.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance: Well, I remember what it was like before Earth Day. I remember when the Cuyahoga River burned with flames that were eight stories high. I remember when- the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 that closed virtually all the beaches in southern California. I remember when they declared Lake Erie dead. I remember that I couldn’t swim in the Hudson or the Charles or the Potomac when I was growing up.

HEDRICK SMITH: We could see the pollution, smell it, even touch it. The problem was in our faces, and the public demand for action exploded on Earth Day.

ROBERT KENNEDY, Jr.: In 1970, this accumulation of insults drove 20 million Americans out onto the street, 10 percent of our population, the largest public demonstration in American history.

WILL BAKER: There was anger at the state of the world, at the state of your own back yard, whether it be a water body or the air or your mountain range, whatever it was you related to as the environment. There was anger that we as a country had let it go, and there was very much of a grass roots rebellion saying this has got to stop.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS, EPA Administrator, 1970-’73: It was a big issue. It exploded on the country. It forced the a Republican administration and a president which had never really- he had never thought about this very much, President Nixon- it forced him to deal with it because public- the public said, “This is intolerable. We’ve got to do something about it.”

HEDRICK SMITH: Responding to congressional pressure, Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. He picked Bill Ruckelshaus, a Justice Department lawyer with a solid Republican pedigree, as its first administrator, and Ruckleshaus quickly took charge.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: We had to select some big, visible polluters, both industrial and municipal, go after them, make sure the public understood we were being responsive to their concerns, and that would energize the agency and get us in a position to do things that needed to be done in order to address the problem.

HEDRICK SMITH: Congress armed Ruckelshaus and the EPA with a raft of new environmental laws, like the Clean Water Act, that imposed strict pollution limits and penalties for violators. The act called for America’s waterways to be fishable and swimmable again by 1983. It had strong bipartisan support in Congress, but not, it turns out, from President Nixon.

LEON BILLINGS, U.S. Senate staff, 1966-’80: When we finally passed the Clean Water Act in the Senate and the House, Nixon vetoed it. And for the first time in the Nixon administration, he had a veto overridden, substantially and significantly.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] And what does that say, Nixon was out of step with the country, Nixon didn’t care about the problem?

LEON BILLINGS: It was my impression- and I’m a Democrat, so I’ve got to be forgiven for that, but it was my impression that Nixon’s interest in the environment was strictly political.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: He didn’t know much about the environment, and frankly, he wasn’t very curious about it. He never asked me the whole time I was at EPA, “Is the air really dirty? Is something wrong with the water? What are we worried about here?” He would warn me. He said, “You’ve got to be worried about that”- “eh-pa.” He called it “eh-pa.” He was the only one person in the country that called it “eh-pa.” Everybody else in the country-

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] EPA-

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: EPA. He’d call it “eh-pa.” And he said, “Those people over there- now, don’t get captured by that bureaucracy.”

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] But with bipartisan backing in Congress, Ruckelshaus took strong action anyway. He banned DDT, imposed a tight deadline for reducing auto emissions, sued several cities and big steel and chemical companies for polluting the air and water. His tough approach made enemies.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: Most of the people running big American manufacturing facilities in those days believed this was all a fad, it was going to go away, and and all they had to do was sort of hunker down until the public opinion subsided, public concern subsided, and it would go away.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] When you went after the big polluters, you sued them, you took them to court, what was the reaction of U.S. Steel?

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: Oh, boy, they didn’t like it. I remember going up to see Ed Cott, who was the CEO of U.S. Steel, he told me, he said, “You know we don’t like you very much.” And he said, “We don’t- we certainly don’t like your agency.” And I said, “Well, if that’s your attitude, then we’re probably going to get into a fight over it.”

HEDRICK SMITH: So you had to enforce the law. You had to be a tough regulator.

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS: That’s right. You had to reassure the public that this was a problem the government was taking seriously. We had to be tough. We had to issue standards and we had to enforce them.

[http://www.pbs.org: Read the Ruckleshaus interview]

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] One of the first big regulatory success stories came right here on the Potomac River.

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: The Potomac River goes up to the mountains of Appalachia. It comes past our nation’s capital, and then it enters the estuary of the Chesapeake Bay. And what we saw in the Potomac River in the l960s was what was seen in many rivers around the country, where it smelled so bad, you didn’t want to get anywhere near it. And that odor was in large part created by poorly treated sewage.

WILL BAKER, Chesapeake Bay Foundation: If you were out sailing in a small boat and capsized, you had to go in and get a shot or two. I mean, it was literally hazardous to your health to come in contact with the water.

HEDRICK SMITH: Restoring the Potomac meant modernizing the sewage treatment plants along the river like this one, called Blue Plains, just south of Washington. Blue Plains handles the waste of two million people and it embodies just the kind of pollution targeted by the Clean Water Act, pollution coming out of a pipe. And in the 1970s, Blue Plains was the biggest single source of pollution to the Potomac.

CLIFF RANDALL, Wastewater Scientist: Blue Plains was the key wastewater treatment plant that had to be modified if we were really going to make a good effort at restoring the water quality in both the river and in the bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: The Potomac had become overrun with acres of green algae caused by excess nutrients from human waste, like phosphorous and nitrogen.

CLIFF RANDALL: The regulators said, “OK, phosphorus is the problem in the Potomac. Therefore, you people running the wastewater treatment plants will upgrade to remove phosphorus.” And it happened in a very short period of time.

HEDRICK SMITH: But the river didn’t improve all that much. It turned out that they needed to remove nitrogen, too, a costly process. But Cliff Randall found an answer, a new, more economical technology called biological nutrient removal, or BNR.

CLIFF RANDALL: The way we treat sewage is we take in the sewage and we feed it to a large mass of bacteria and other microorganisms, and basically, they eat the sewage.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] They eat the sewage.

CLIFF RANDALL: That’s correct.

HEDRICK SMITH: Munch, munch, munch.

CLIFF RANDALL: That’s right.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] It took a billion dollars in federal and state funds to modernize Blue Plains with several new technologies, including BNR, but the effort paid off. And more than 100 sewage treatment plants around the bay adopted BNR technology.

[on camera] How much of these early gains were not only the result of technology but of a pretty tough regulatory stick from the EPA and the state governments?

TOM HORTON, Bay Author and Reporter: Well, you know, that was a tried and true formula. I mean, with sewage treatment, where we made the biggest gains early on and continue to make the biggest gains, you have very clear laws. You have penalties. You have deadlines. You have enforcement. You have inspection. I mean, we know what works.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] But the 1980s brought a new era, and the political climate on the environment changed. The winds of deregulation were blowing through Washington, especially during the Reagan years.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: [January 20, 1981] It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment.

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: There’s no question that the Reagan administration, in fact, brought to Washington a deregulatory agenda. I remember back in the Reagan days of seeing memos that would come out from the White House to the Chamber of Commerce and other big businesses, asking them for a list of regulations from which they would want relief.

HEDRICK SMITH: Environmental regulation was a prime target of the Reagan White House for giving relief to American business.

LEON BILLINGS, U.S. Senate staff, 1966-’80: The Reagan administration essentially gutted the EPA. They stopped it in its tracks for a period of six, seven years. Reagan and his White House appointed people to run the Environmental Protection Agency who were flat-out opposed to the mission of the agency and were set to undo that mission.

HEDRICK SMITH: The Reagan administration not only handcuffed EPA on enforcement, it shifted to a new strategy of voluntary compliance, a strategy typified by the Reagan EPA’s new program for Chesapeake Bay.

HOWARD ERNST, Bay Historian: What we created in the Chesapeake Bay was a grand experiment. It was going to be an alternative to the regulatory approach that had swept the EPA, that had swept the federal system. They were going to try to do this in a non-regulatory, cooperative manner,

HEDRICK SMITH: The new approach was long on promises and targets but short on hard deadlines and clear accountability.

LEON BILLINGS: It is a voluntary program. You are never going to effectively deal with a multi-state pollution problem with a voluntary program.

HEDRICK SMITH: The result was the Chesapeake Bay program repeatedly missed its targets, leaving unfulfilled the Clean Water Act’s promise to radically reduce water pollution.

I saw the consequences of how deregulation has played out here on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore, where huge factory-scale farms now dominate the landscape and where half the pollution flowing into the bay, much of it from agriculture, remains essentially unregulated.

I had come here to meet Rick Dove, a professional photographer and environmental consultant, who under the authority of the Clean Water Act has been gathering information for a potential citizens’ lawsuit against agricultural polluters. Dove took me up on a small plane and gave me a bird’s-eye view of his detective work on the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

[on camera] You can actually get a really clear picture up here. It’s almost like a diagram up here, looking at it.

RICK DOVE, Waterkeeper Alliance: That’s one of the interesting things about flying, and that is that there are no “No trespassing” signs. You can look straight down and you can see everything you need to see. You can document it and-

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Dove is investigating the pollution from big chicken farms. As we fly, he points out rows of long, flat sheds, each a couple of hundred yards long, each holding up to 40,000 chickens.

RICK DOVE: No matter where you fly on the Eastern Shore, it’s loaded with these chicken farms.

HEDRICK SMITH: The problem is, where there are chickens, there’s manure.

RICK DOVE: We know there’s bad stuff in poultry waste. Once it gets in those ditches and once those ditches begin to flow down to all these rivers on the Eastern Shore, it’s on its way to the bay. These rivers are delivery systems. Whatever nutrients are flowing in that river are being delivered to the bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: Chicken manure is loaded with nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. Remember the dead zones in the bay? They were caused by algae, which is fed by nitrogen and phosphorous.

RICK DOVE: We’ll shoot 400, 500, 600 pictures in an afternoon. And we’re going to blow them up and we’re going to take a look at all the details because that’s how you really are able to identify exactly how that poultry waste is leaving that farm and getting to the bay. Today, some of the pictures I took, we’re going to go to the site and we’re going to see that on the ground.

HEDRICK SMITH: The aerial photos lead Dove to a chicken farm he’s been watching for more than a year.

[on camera] That’s Lessig up there?

RICK DOVE: Yes, it is. That’s Lessig’s Farm right there. Those four barns on the right are the original barns, and in the last year, he’s added these two on the end over here.

HEDRICK SMITH: That’s a pretty big place. So we are talking 240,00, 250,000 chickens there at any one time.

[voice-over] Dove can check on farm run-off from public roadways, and the photos give him a clear map of how polluted rainwater moves from the farm to the bay.

RICK DOVE: This is the Lessig Farm. This is animal waste, poultry litter.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Big piles of it.

RICK DOVE: Yeah, it is a big pile. But what’s really alarming about this is you can see what’s happened when it’s rained. All of this water has collected around it and it has formed some leachate. And you can see how this leachate is running down alongside, in between these barns.

HEDRICK SMITH: With all the stuff in it.

RICK DOVE: With whatever it’s collected from that poultry waste. It comes out of these pipes here, comes in there, comes over to here, and then it goes under the road and right on down to the Minocan River and right on out to the bay.

HEDRICK SMITH: Wow. And have you tested this water right here?

RICK DOVE: This is where we’ve tested- here, there, over there.

HEDRICK SMITH: And what kind of readings did you get?

RICK DOVE: Extremely high. The E. coli standard is 126 colonies. Theirs was 48,392. And nitrogen and phosphorous all elevated, clearly indicating that animal waste is involved here, and even arsenic at nine times what the normal background level would be. So it was a lot happening here.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Farm owner Aaron Lessig did not respond to FRONTLINE’s repeated efforts to ask him about the water tests, which Dove’s team turned over to the EPA.

[on camera] So look who he’s growing for. Lessig is growing these chickens for Perdue.

RICK DOVE: That’s what the sign advertises, says it’s Perdue, Lessing Farm.

FRANK PERDUE: [television commercial] Every Perdue chicken has one of these tags on it. It means you’re getting a fresh, tender, tasty young chicken. I make sure of that because every one of these tags has my name on it.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Over five decades, Perdue Farms grew from a family business to the dominant poultry processor on the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore. And as Perdue grew, it transformed the chicken industry.

JIM PERDUE, Chairman, Perdue Farms, Inc.: There used to be 200 companies on the Shore involved in the poultry industry, but they were all independent. So you had an independent hatchery, an independent processing plant. The story of the poultry industry and of Perdue is vertical integration.

HEDRICK SMITH: Integration meant a few big chicken companies controlling all aspects of production. Perdue mushroomed into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate. Small family chicken farms became chicken factories.

JIM PERDUE: Well, I think capitalism in general stimulates efficiency, and efficiency often is size. And so, you know, I think things had to become bigger in order to keep costs lower so you could maintain, you know, your price structure.

HEDRICK SMITH: Factory-style poultry production drove down chicken prices, and Americans responded. Over the past 50 years, per capita consumption of chicken has tripled. But there’s been another price to all those cheap chickens.

TOM HORTON, Bay Author and Reporter: Poultry farming, like most animal farming, has become much more intense, much more concentrated. Where you had 50,000 chickens on a given plot of ground, you’ve got a half million or two million now, which produces a huge problem of what to do with the manure.

HEDRICK SMITH: In 2008, Delmarva peninsula poultry farms raised more than 570 million chickens, and all those chickens produced massive mountains of manure, 1.5 billion pounds a year. That’s more manure than the annual human waste from four big cities- New York, Washington, San Francisco and Atlanta- all put together.

Before mass production chicken farms, local crop farmers used to absorb the chicken manure. Now there’s way too much for them to absorb.

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: Agriculture is by far the largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and it is arguably the single biggest source of pollution to all of the waters in the country.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So the problem isn’t just manure, but it’s too much manure.

J. CHARLES FOX: It’s too much manure and arguably too many animals under the current structure. Now there’s all-

HEDRICK SMITH: You mean too many animals in one place.

J. CHARLES FOX: Exactly.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] It’s a problem all over the country- hog farms in the Carolinas and Iowa, poultry farms in Arkansas and Texas, cattle farms in Wisconsin and along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance: In terms of just damage to the ecosystems, you know, the destruction of entire ecosystems, of aquatic communities, of fish going extinct, there’s nothing as bad as these factory farm operations. Nothing.

HEDRICK SMITH: So to save the bay, the EPA says it’s essential to get control over the animal manure. What’s made that hard is deciding just who’s responsible for all that manure.

To understand how the chicken business is organized and how it’s run, I checked in with Carole Morison, a successful Perdue grower for many years.

CAROLE MORISON, Chicken Grower: Typically, the farmer has a contract with the company, whether it be Perdue, Tyson’s, whoever, and you contract to raise their chickens. They own the chickens. They just drop them off on the farm for us to raise to a marketable age, and then they come and pick up the chickens, take them for processing.

HEDRICK SMITH: When Perdue required that Morison modernize her chicken houses at a cost of $150,000 or more, she decided to get out of the business. This is her last batch of Perdue chickens.

[on camera] Now, what’s the relationship here? Do you bargain with one company or another as a grower?

CAROLE MORISON: There’s no bargaining in the contracts. Contracts are designed by the company, brought out to the farm, and you either sign it and get chickens, or not sign it and not get chickens and ultimately lose the farm.

HEDRICK SMITH: So you’re saying that the processors dictate the terms. They run the show.

CAROLE MORISON: Yes, the processors dictate all of the terms,

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The terms are very specific. The big chicken companies own the chickens, supply the feed, dictate the growing regimen, do all the processing. They own it all- except the chicken waste.

CAROLE MORISON: Well, anybody else who owns an animal is responsible for their waste. If the company owns the animal, why are they not responsible for their waste? I’ve never understood that. I have horses. I have a dog that’s outside. I’m responsible for their mess. Now, chickens are owned by these companies, like Perdue and Tyson. How is it they’re not responsible for it?

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Help me understand one thing. How do you wind up by owning the chickens, owning the feed, and not owning, in the sense of legal responsibility, the manure?

JIM PERDUE: The manure is considered a resource, actually. The producers want the litter. They want the chicken litter. It’s not a matter of who owns or doesn’t own it, it’s a matter of what use is being made from it.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] As factory farming has grown, the volume of excess manure has mushroomed, and there’s been an increasing push to regulate farm pollution. But American agriculture has fought off pollution controls for three decades.

TOM HORTON: The whole agricultural community has remained maybe the last big or the biggest unregulated- largely unregulated area of water pollution. And it’s why EPA tells you across the country agriculture’s responsible for 60 percent or something like that of our water quality problems.

[http://www.pbs.org: More on the agricultural industry]

J. CHARLES FOX: We are talking the equivalent of medium-size cities in terms of the waste that is generated that is virtually untreated, going into the Chesapeake Bay and-

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So cities have their waste treated, go through water treatment plants. Farming, agriculture, these concentrated animal raising operations, they’re not treated the same way.

J. CHARLES FOX: That is absolutely correct.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The Delmarva poultry industry on the bay’s Eastern Shore doesn’t see it that way. It contends that there’s a fundamental difference between industrial pollution, or urban sewage, and agricultural waste. Industry spokesman Bill Satterfield,

[on camera] Shouldn’t the poultry farms be subject to the same kind of limitations as sewage treatment plants or industrial plants?

BILL SATTERFIELD, Delmarva Poultry Industry: A small industrial site that has to have a permit knows the source of what goes into that pipe. With non-point source pollution, there are various ways that nutrients can get into the groundwater and maybe flow through that pipe. Farm fields-

HEDRICK SMITH: I’m not talking about fields. I’m talking about growers and sheds where- I mean, I’ve literally stood in front of farms and I’ve literally looked at chicken houses, and I’ve seen pipes coming into the drainage ditches coming from ditches between the chicken houses. The source visibly is quite clear.

BILL SATTERFIELD: To know where those nutrients came in would require an investigation. And if the pipe passed under a chicken house and started over here in a field, who’s to say what entered that pipe on that end? Who’s to say whether the nutrients, if there are any, came from chickens or fox or deer or birds or something else?

HEDRICK SMITH: Russell Long, famous senator from Louisiana, used to say when people gave an answer like that, “It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s that guy behind the tree.” It seems to me as though every time we get to this, even though the evidence is pointing to most highest concentrations right near agriculture poultry operations, you’re saying, “Well, it could be the foxes or the geese.”

BILL SATTERFIELD: If there were proof positive that those nutrients are from chickens, then we can accelerate our programs and do a better job. But we can’t solve all the river’s problems with all the people, all the growth, all the other animals on the back of the chicken and the poultry farmers.

CAROLE MORISON: I’ll be the first one to say I did it. I’ve said this before. We’re all part of it. And yes, I think agriculture is a big contributor to the pollution, to the run-off into the Chesapeake Bay. The industry knows it. And what I am tired of is everyone wasting all their time and energy in saying, “I didn’t do it.” I did it! Why can’t they admit it? I mean, you know, let’s all say, “OK, we’re a part of it. Now let’s find an answer.”

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] But finding an answer has been politically impossible. In the late 1990s, a bill went before the Maryland legislature to require mandatory nutrient management by farmers to curb run-off from chicken manure. Big chicken didn’t like that idea at all.

JIM PERDUE: I think the survival of poultry industry is at stake on the Eastern Shore-

HEDRICK SMITH: The poultry industry, among the most financially powerful lobbies in Maryland, pushed for a looser alternative.

HOWARD ERNST, Bay Historian: The alternative was to have voluntary goals. It was going to be cooperative. It was going to have no regulatory teeth, and it was going to be overseen by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, a non-regulatory agency, rather than the Maryland Department of Environment.

FARMER: The farming industry can’t live with mandatory nutrient regulations. We’ve got to keep it voluntary.

HEDRICK SMITH: And the industry bill won. And since then, the industry has been successful in blocking or tying up subsequent efforts to regulate their waste.

[on camera] You sat in the Maryland legislature for 12 years. During that period, did you see the big chicken companies steadily resist regulation on manure run-off?

LEON BILLINGS, Maryland Legislator, 1991-’03: Absolutely. Big chicken companies were a presence. Jim Perdue, the son of Frank Perdue, was a constant presence, whether he was sitting in my chairman’s office or holding a reception in the evening or whatever. The chicken lobby was well represented. They hired the top guns in the lobbying community in Annapolis and they made every effort to prevent us from enacting tough regulations on agriculture.

HEDRICK SMITH: Some people have said to us that you’d clean up the whole situation much faster if the integrators, the poultry processors, were responsible. You got to clean it up and you all are responsible.

JIM PERDUE: Well, we can only do what we can do. The farmer certainly is, you know, his own businessman out there on the farm. And I think it works better if it’s a cooperative effort.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] So Perdue pioneered a process to recycle part of the chicken growers’ excess manure, to ship it across the country. And Perdue launched a voluntary program to teach its growers better manure management.

[on camera] And the programs that we’re looking at are an alternative to more regulation, I guess.

JIM PERDUE: More regulation and enforcement, which nobody likes. I mean, nobody likes, you know, somebody coming onto your farm, you know, without any warning, and those kinds of things.

[http://www.pbs.org: Read the interview]

J. CHARLES FOX, EPA Asst. Administrator, 1998-’01: There’s no question that the influence of the agricultural farm lobby in general has had a very successful role in limiting the amount of pollution control regulations that we see in the Chesapeake Bay watershed or nationwide.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, Jr.: You know, corporations are externalizing machines. They’re constantly devising ways to get somebody else to pay their costs of production. And you know, if you’re in a polluting industry, the most obvious way to do that is to shift your clean-up costs to the public, make yourself a billionaire by poisoning the rest of us.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] Are you saying the market’s distorted?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, Jr.: You show me a polluter, I’ll show you a subsidy.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Chicken farmers bristled when the Obama EPA started demanding pollution discharge permits this spring. The industry claims it’s already doing enough.

BILL SATTERFIELD: The poultry industry is doing more every year. We’re seeing more best management practices on farms. Our program to put trees on poultry farms to uptake the nutrients is a very progressive thing. There are more and more programs offered to help farmers put in manure storage buildings. And as the science says we can do more without putting our people out of business, I’m sure we will do more.

HEDRICK SMITH: But environmentalists like Rick Dove remain skeptical.

RICK DOVE: Now, this industry says they’re doing better, and you know, I can’t say if that’s true or false. But I can tell you that what I’m seeing here on the ground right now is absolutely terrible. So if it was worse before, then I can understand why the bay is in such bad trouble.

HEDRICK SMITH: While the bay is beseiged by run-off from the big chicken and cattle farms along its rivers, I learned about a whole new kind of pollution as I traveled up the Potomac as it winds its way past Washington up towards the hill country of West Virginia.

Up here, near the headwaters of the Potomac, I heard about the big new pollution threat not even known when the Clean Water Act was passed. Six years ago, marine biologists became alarmed at reports of massive fish kills on the rivers in this region. Every year, smallmouth bass were being decimated by some mysterious problem. Spring and fall, hundreds of fish would be found floating in the water belly-up.

I caught up with Vicki Blazer, a fish pathologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who was trying to figure out why the fish were dying.

[on camera] What have you got here?

VICKI BLAZER, U.S. Geological Survey: So here we have this large discolored area in the liver, and then you see all these little white spots. Here’s another totally discolored area.

HEDRICK SMITH: And that’s a signal of some bigger problem.

VICKI BLAZER: Yes, when we see a really high prevalence in a population, that indicates there’s some problem going on in that water.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] And when Blazer dug deeper, she found a surprise.

VICKI BLAZER: One of the major and most interesting findings was intersex in the male bass. When we look at the male gonads, or testes, what we find is immature eggs within the male testes.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So you got a sort of feminization of male fish. Is that a big, alarming finding in marine biology, aquatic biology?

VICKI BLAZER: Yes, and that has certainly attracted a lot of concern and attention.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Scientific studies have linked abnormal mutations in marine creatures, like intersex, to exposure to chemical compounds that mimic or imitate natural hormones in the body. These chemicals are called endocrine disrupters.

ROBERT LAWRENCE, M.D., Johns Hopkins School of Public Health: Endocrine disruptors are very, very potent chemicals at infinitesimally small quantification. I mean, you’re talking about parts per million or parts per billion. They interrupt the normal way in which the body controls everything from growth and development to thyroid function to reproductive function to estrogen levels, testosterone levels. So they’re very, very important, and they are of deep concern because there are so many of them now.

HEDRICK SMITH: There are thousands of these worrisome chemicals that have gotten into the environment, and one reason is that they’re part of everything we do.

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: The list of things that bring these organic pollutants into our bodies is a long list, and it ranges from home care products – soaps, toothpaste, cleaning agents in the household – to things we put on our lawns, the things that we use all the time- the plastic industry, the rubber industry, lubricants, fuels, the highways.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] When you see scientists like Vicky Blazer cutting open fish, finding intersex in the male fish, seeing high levels of fish kills, seeing immune systems disrupted, seeing other damage to the fish, is that a warning to you, potentially, about human health?

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: Oh, absolutely. The warning- not just from the smallmouth bass in the Potomac but from amphibians all across the country. You have frogs with six legs, hermaphroditic frogs, male frogs with ovaries, female frogs with male genitalia. These are the canaries, the modern canary in the mine that we haven’t been paying enough attention to.

[http://www.pbs.org: More on endocrine disruptors]

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] So many new chemicals have emerged lately that scientists and regulators are playing catch-up to industry, trying to spot which chemicals they think pose new danger in our water.

VICKI BLAZER: EPA does not regulate any of these things yet. And in many cases, there isn’t even the methods to measure them in the amounts that they actually have a biological effect.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So science and the regulators are behind the curve dealing with what industry and society is producing or wants.

VICKI BLAZER: Correct.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Playing catch-up in regulating these new chemicals may be a problem for more than just these fish.

VICKI BLAZER: The endocrine system of fish is very similar to the endocrine system of humans. Fish have thyroid glands. They have the functional equivalent of adrenal glands. They pretty much have all the same hormone systems as humans, which, again, is why we use them as sort of indicator species.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So if fish are having intersex, or lesions, that’s kind of spooky.

VICKI BLAZER: It is. You know, we can’t help but make that jump to ask the question, “How are these things influencing people?”

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] To get a handle on that question, I headed downriver. Just above Washington, I found another USGS team sampling water from the Potomac, part of a nationwide survey checking for 300 emerging contaminants in our drinking water.

They were looking for well-known pollutants, like pesticides, and for newly detected contaminants found in pharmaceuticals, body lotions, soaps and deodorants. In all, they found 85 compounds on their watch list.

JUDY DENVER, U.S. Geological Survey: Many of them are chemicals we’re just now starting to be able to even analyze for in water, but the treatment isn’t intended to remove those products.

HEDRICK SMITH: What makes this a matter of concern is that this is the intake for the Washington Aqueduct, where one million people in the D.C. area get their drinking water. Few of us may realize it, but people downstream use the wastewater from people upstream. The Potomac, like other rivers, serves as both the place where we dump our wastewater and the place where we get our drinking water. It’s one big, continuous recycling operation from the toilet or the shower to the tap.

THOMAS JACOBUS, Gen. Mgr., Washington Aqueduct: The river flows down, a community takes water out of the river, puts it back through a wastewater plant a few miles down- out, back, out, back. And with proper regulation and proper processes at the wastewater plant and proper processes at the drinking water plant, it works very well. So we sort of continuously recycle this.

HEDRICK SMITH: The recycling process works well for known contaminants, but what about the new chemicals for which the EPA has not yet set safety standards?

[on camera] How tough is the challenge just to keep up with all that, new sources of pollutants?

THOMAS JACOBUS: As new elements come in – synthetics, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals – as those things enter the water stream in concentrations because of more advanced development, more human activity, more animal activity, more commercial activity, those things as they get in the river make it harder for us to do our job. There’s no question about that.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Not just harder but actually impossible to stop all the new contaminants, according to the USGS findings, because the old filters weren’t designed to catch the new threats.

JUDY DENVER: We sampled the finished water at the Washington Aqueduct and we found about two thirds of the compounds we detected were still detected in finished water.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So you’re saying that roughly two thirds of these emerging contaminants that you found in the river water at the intakes for the Washington Aqueduct came all the way through-

JUDY DENVER: Yes.

HEDRICK SMITH: -the filtering system and were in-

JUDY DENVER: Right.

HEDRICK SMITH: -the drinking water, the tap water in the District.

JUDY DENVER: And that’s what we saw at all the studies that were done.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Denver’s findings mirrored what USGS has found all across the country. Everywhere, they saw lots of new contaminants in America’s drinking water, even if at low doses.

[on camera] Were you surprised by the findings of this USGS study, or did you- did that fit what you thought was probably going on?

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: I was surprised by the number of different compounds that were detectable. I knew we were swimming in a sea of chemical soup, but I didn’t realize the soup was quite as concentrated as it is.

HEDRICK SMITH: You talk about a soup. Some people have used the term “toxic cocktail.” Is there a danger that if a level of a particular compound were acceptable and another one were acceptable, that you start to put a bunch of them together and then that’s no longer a safe level?

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: You put your finger on one of the real concerns about toxicology. It may be safe to have a little bit of compound A or a little bit of compound B, but when the two of them are together, there’s synergism and they become really deadly.

HEDRICK SMITH: If you were living in Washington, D.C., would you drink water coming out of the Potomac?

VICKI BLAZER: Probably not.

HEDRICK SMITH: Because?

VICKI BLAZER: Because we really don’t know what all is in there.

THOMAS JACOBUS: Today I drink the water with great confidence because our water meets the regulations. But of course, the question is, “Do the regulations match the threat?”

HEDRICK SMITH: Were there endocrine disruptors, chemical compounds in the Washington Aqueduct intake water that were of concern to you in terms of their potential impact on human health?

LINDA BIRNBAUM, Dir., Natl. Inst. of Environmental Health Sciences: Are there chemicals of concern? Yes. I think at this point, the levels are very, very low, so I don’t have a great deal of concern that something needs to be done imminently. But it would certainly be nice to reduce what’s getting into the water. We can show that people with higher levels of some of these chemicals may have a higher incidence of a certain kind of effect than people with lower levels of these chemicals.

HEDRICK SMITH: Like what kind of effect?

LINDA BIRNBAUM: There are associations with what’s called male testicular disgenesis syndrome. That’s a big term, but it means-

HEDRICK SMITH: Lower sperm count?

LINDA BIRNBAUM: Lower sperm count.

HEDRICK SMITH: Are we facing a long-term, slow-motion risk that we don’t recognize because it’s not readily apparent?

Dr. ROBERT LAWRENCE: We are. There are five million people being exposed to endocrine disruptors just in the mid-Atlantic region, and yet we don’t know precisely how many of them are going to develop premature breast cancer, are going to have problems with reproduction, going to have all kinds of congenital anomalies of the male genitalia, things that are happening. We know they’re happening. But they’re happening at a broad low level so that they don’t raise the alarm in the general public.

HEDRICK SMITH: Do you know what the safe levels are?

LINDA BIRNBAUM: In most cases, we don’t know what the safe levels are. And some of the new science is suggesting that levels that we used to think were safe may, in fact, not be safe.

HEDRICK SMITH: For humans.

LINDA BIRNBAUM: For humans. So we’re finding in certain cases that much lower levels than we previously thought were a problem may, in fact, have the potential to harm at least some segment of the population.

HEDRICK SMITH: Do we have an adequate system of regulation, or should we be regulating on a different standard?

LINDA BIRNBAUM: I’m not a regulator, I’m a researcher. But in my personal opinion, I would like to know that a chemical is unlikely to cause harm before we expose our population to it.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] It’s our failure to control toxic chemicals before they cause trouble in the environment that haunts our waters all across the nation, places like Puget Sound, which I’ve come to know well in recent years. The sound, lying off the coast of Seattle, is a place that I’ve come to cherish as a phenomenal resource, a gorgeous natural playground, gateway to the Pacific, and historically a treasure house of fish and wildlife. But today, the sound is in peril.

KATHY FLETCHER, People for Puget Sound: I would put Puget Sound in the intensive care unit. The situation is critical. We’ve known for decades that Puget Sound had serious issues, but we’re at a point now where the species that are almost extinct are telling us we’ve got some real bottom line problems here.

HEDRICK SMITH: Take these regional icons, the killer whales, or orcas. They’re a major tourist attraction, but increasingly, Puget Sound orcas are being closely studied by scientists as a barometer of the health of the entire sound. To see what scientists are learning, i headed out with Brad Hanson, a team leader with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

BRAD HANSON, NOAA Wildlife Biologist: Over there! Over there!

HEDRICK SMITH: Hanson and his colleagues have been studying the orca population for several years.

[on camera] Why study these whales?

BRAD HANSON: They’re the top predator in the food chain, so they’re essentially accumulating all the contaminants. They’re the last stop in the food chain.

HEDRICK SMITH: So they’re a laboratory, in a way.

BRAD HANSON: Yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: A laboratory that tells us what’s going on in the whole ecosystem.

BRAD HANSON: Yes.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The orca story is troubling. In one year, seven local orcas died. Their population is now down to 86, so low that in 2005, NOAA listed Puget Sound orcas as an endangered species. To figure out why the orca population is in decline, Hanson’s team goes out after biological samples.

[on camera] You get up pretty close to these whales in order to take samples.

BRAD HANSON: We get to about four or five meters.

HEDRICK SMITH: Four or five meters. So that’s pretty close. OK, so let’s see how it works.

BRAD HANSON: OK.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] they shoot darts into the orcas and extract small samples of blubber. That blubber is sent to the lab to be tested for a slew of contaminants, especially telltale toxins like PCBs. The lab results have been alarming.

PETER ROSS, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada: Our research over the last 10 to 13 years has been able to demonstrate that these killer whales are the most PCB-contaminated marine mammals in the world. So we’re very, very concerned about what that might mean to their health.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] PCBs are cancer-causing chemicals so toxic that Congress banned them three decades ago. But they keep showing up.

PETER ROSS: PCBs are probably the number one persistent contaminant of concern anywhere in the northern hemisphere. They bioaccumulate in food webs.

HEDRICK SMITH: You mean they build up.

PETER ROSS: They build up in food webs and in organisms. We have trouble getting rid of them. We have a lot of trouble getting them out of our system. When I say “we,” I mean humans, rats, killer whales, harbor seals, doesn’t really matter.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Increasingly, scientists worry that PCBs are a problem not just for orca whales.

BRAD HANSON, NOAA Wildlife Biologist: Well, we need to pay attention to what’s going on to these guys because if we don’t, we’re going to have the same problems coming back and affecting us. These animals are eating wild fish we want to eat. Wild fish is good for us, too. But if there’s contaminants in it, it’s going to have an adverse impact on us. That’s the thing. That’s why these animals are important sentinel species not just for the ecosystem in general, but also for humans.

HEDRICK SMITH: At the Center for Whale Research, director Ken Balcomb has been keeping records for three decades on the whales that make Puget Sound their regular home.

KEN BALCOMB, Center for Whale Research: Fewer whales are making it to maturity. The population is declining. We are seeing- probably the next 20 years, we’ll be witnessing the departure of this population.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] You think they’re gone, they’re going to die out.

KEN BALCOMB: I’ve already told our government folks that we can go through this for about 20 more years if we don’t provide a remedy, and we will see the end of this population.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Balcomb and his staff know these whales so well by sight that they can track them from birth to death.

[on camera] So what’s this? What are these charts?

KEN BALCOMB: These are the family trees of all the whales we’ve been studying for the last 32 years.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The tombstone markers, Balcomb told me, underscore a worrisome trend among the youngest, most vulnerable, orcas.

[on camera] These older whales up here, they died. That’s kind of normal. But you get all these, the young ones dying. Is that a bad sign?

KEN BALCOMB: Yes, that’s the disturbing part of the mortality pattern we’re seeing now is that young whales are dying way before they even mature.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] He’s alarmed at the high levels of PCBs that Hanson’s team found in younger whales which absorbed PCBs from their mother’s milk.

[on camera] Are there enough parallels between the way the human body works, the chemistry and biology of the human body, and the whales so we can actually take lessons from them?

KEN BALCOMB: Yes. We can take lessons from not only the whales but the seals and the fish. And it’s been demonstrated in the health statistics in especially Arctic environments, cold environments where there’s a high-fat diet, and the children of these high Arctic people are suffering these same problems- immune deficiencies, reproductive problems, nervous disorders- are affecting humans as well as the other mammals.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] At NOAA testing labs like this one, scientists have established that king salmon are more heavily contaminated with PCBs than salmon in other Pacific coastal waters

PETER ROSS: Everything we see points to Puget Sound being a hot spot for PCBs and a persistent problem. We’ve seen contamination of animals. We’ve seen no improvement in the levels of PCBs in the last 20-odd years, despite regulations implemented in the l970s. And that to me indicates there are continuous inputs from land-based sources, from the sediments, and delivering them right into that food web.

HEDRICK SMITH: One big reason PCBs are a persistent problem is that it takes so long to clean up places like the Duwamish River, Seattle’s industrial corridor. Some of Seattle’s heaviest industry settled here decades ago, and today it’s the region’s largest hot spot for PCBs.

B.J. CUMMINGS, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition: My name is B.J. Cummings. I represent the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition.

HEDRICK SMITH: B.J. Cummings leads tours of the river. But this isn’t your typical tourist outing, it’s an environmental wake-up call.

B.J. CUMMINGS: The EPA did an investigation here on Duwamish River about 10 years ago and concluded that industrial history had left such legacy of toxic pollution that the river was declared a federal Superfund site in 2001.

HEDRICK SMITH: Superfund is one of EPA’s big sticks. It was the regulatory program created in 1980 to clean up America’s worst pollution problems.

B.J. CUMMINGS: Your typical Superfund site used to be factory, pipe, Superfund site-right at the bottom of your pipe. That’s not what we have here. We have what’s called a mega-site. We have a five, five-and-a-half-mile stretch of river, end to end, that’s being investigated for clean-up. This is one of the largest Superfund sites in the country. The river was listed as a Superfund site because of an accumulation, a legacy of toxic pollution that has built up in the mud at the bottom of the river.

PETER ROSS: There’s a direct link between contaminated sediments in certain areas and contamination of the food web above those sediments. In fact, one might even think of the PCBs riding an elevator up from the sediments up into plankton, up into little fish, big fish, harbor seals, killer whales, eagles, humans.

HEDRICK SMITH: The toxic build-up in the Duwamish river-bottom is the product of more than a half century of industrial development along the river. Boeing, for example, the area’s biggest corporation, had its main operations here during World War II.

BOEING PROMOTIONAL VIDEO: We are the builders. We are the builders of the B-17. With our hands a million strong, we built and drilled and-

HEDRICK SMITH: The success of Boeing mirrored the 20th century boom in the American economy, an era when industrial progress brought unprecedented expansion.

BOEING PROMOTIONAL VIDEO: Ours were the hands that built the queen, the B-17-

HEDRICK SMITH: But that progress also left behind an unprecedented amount of pollution, or what’s called legacy pollutants.

STEVE TOCHKO, Boeing Environmental Officer: The term “legacy pollutants” is when its historical practices what, what was acceptable in the ’40s and ’50s is we would find very objectionable today in the ’90s, in the ’80s and beyond. People did not know the damage that some of these materials caused at the time. They did not know the long-term effects of them that we do today.

HEDRICK SMITH: PCBs are a classic legacy pollutant found here at Boeing, a toxic chemical once widely used by industry, often as a high stress lubricant in power stations and also in building materials. Frequently, it takes a lot of detective work to find hidden PCBs.

[on camera] So Steve, you found a contamination problem in the flight line out here.

STEVE TOCHKO: Yeah, it’s this material that we see between the concrete panels. It’s called joint compound. Material that was installed in the late ’60s contained very high levels of PCBs. And you know, since we had made this discovery, you know, in the late ’90s, we have now removed about 50 miles of this throughout all.

HEDRICK SMITH: Fifty miles of this black tar-looking stuff.

STEVE TOCHKO: This material throughout all of the Boeing facilities here in the Northwest.

HEDRICK SMITH: Why was it so hard to find?

STEVE TOCHKO: Well, it wasn’t obvious to us. It was- you know, normally, when people talk about PCBs, you think about electrical equipment, you think about hydraulics. That’s where it normally PCBs are used. The fact that they were used in something that was right in front of us was, you know, difficult. It was really difficult that we- we overlooked it.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Making sure that Boeing doesn’t overlook any of its legacy pollution is the job of Shawn Blocker, a former Marine who has been EPA’s point man on the clean-up at Boeing.

SHAWN BLOCKER, EPA Boeing Site Manager: OK, what I want to talk about today is based on some additional data we have that’s on the sediments outside the current boundaries of the clean-up for Boeing Plant 2.

The significance of the Boeing facility is the number of contaminants that originate from the facility. It has over 24 things in the ground water, 40-some-odd different things that are in the soil that are above clean-up levels. So it’s the biggest accumulation of contaminants in that area.

HEDRICK SMITH: From the get-go, Boeing and EPA have clashed over how to clean up those legacy pollutants, and the arguments have led to long delays.

[on camera] When were you first ready to go with a clean-up plan?

STEVE TOCHKO: We submitted a plan to EPA in 1999, when, you know, to dredge- we call it an interim measure- to take what is adjacent to Boeing and excavate that material.

HEDRICK SMITH: Boeing says that over a decade ago, it was ready to clean up, and all that held it up was bureaucratic red tape from the EPA.

SHAWN BLOCKER: I would disagree with that. From my review of what they were going to do, I didn’t think they had fully defined where all the bad stuff was. They didn’t know the totality of what the contamination was even in the ground water or soil.

HEDRICK SMITH: But you obviously had a higher threshold for “Let’s get to the bottom of how bad this pollution is” than Boeing did.

SHAWN BLOCKER: Boeing is doing what they’re asked to do. No more, no less.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] So time and again, Blocker pressed Boeing to do more- more work and more tests. By now, Boeing has spent $80 million on testing and interim clean-ups.

STEVE TOCHKO: There’s over 500 sampling locations at this facility that have been drilled over time, you know?

HEDRICK SMITH: If you came here 10 years ago, how many would there have been.

STEVE TOCHKO: Fifty.

HEDRICK SMITH: So hundreds more have been drilled since because of this back and forth with the EPA.

STEVE TOCHKO: That’s correct, yeah.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Not only has Boeing been feuding with the EPA, but it’s been locked in a fierce battle with with the city of Seattle, which used to operate a steam plant next door to Boeing Field.

Typical of Superfund sites, these two powerful neighbors have been wrangling over who’s responsible for PCBs flowing through this ditch, or flume, when it rains. The flume runs from the now defunct steam plant through boeing’s territory to the river. Boeing says it’s the city’s PCBs.

[on camera] So was this just for City Lights steam plant, or did Boeing and others put storm drains into this and use it?

STEVE TOCHKO: Pretty much just for cooling water from steam plant.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] The city flat-out disagrees, and it has taken Boeing to court.

MARTIN BAKER, Seattle Public Utilities: PCBs are coming by connections of other people to our ditch. They come through drainage lines. They come from other properties, most specifically Boeing’s property.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So Boeing was attaching its drainage pipes to your flume, sending some of its dirty stuff down your flume to the river.

MARTIN BAKER: There are over 20 lines attached to our ditch that came from the Boeing property.

HEDRICK SMITH: Twenty lines? So it’s a protracted argument between you and Boeing over who actually put the dirty contaminants in that flume.

MARTIN BAKER: It’s a continuing argument.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] And that argument is holding up the big cleanup on the Duwamish River. Jay Manning, who heads Washington’s Department of Ecology, which helps EPA supervise the clean-up, showed me the cost of this continued delay to Puget Sound.

JAY MANNING, Director, Wash. Dept. of Ecology: We’re looking at four very large outfalls of drainage pipes that carry stormwater from more than 30 square miles of this area. You can see the one there to the right.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] So this is an industrial dumping ground, in effect.

JAY MANNING: This stormwater drains a very large industrial area.

HEDRICK SMITH: Are you all still finding PCBs and other contaminants in that water?

JAY MANNING: Unfortunately, the stormwater coming out of those drain pipes, we’re still detecting PCBs.

This is going to cost millions to clean up, maybe tens of millions, and owning 90 percent of that liability is not a place you want to be. So these folks, who are not stupid, are busy trying to prove that it’s somebody other than them that is the source.

HEDRICK SMITH: Pointing the finger at everybody else.

JAY MANNING: That’s right. They’re trying to prove, probably not that they have no liability, because that’s pretty hard to do, but proving that they have very little compared to their neighbor. That’s what it’s about, and it’s about money.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Ultimately, the issues of clean-up – time and money – are tied to a larger question for all of us. That is, how clean do we expect our waterways to be?

Here on the Duwamish, the state has posted warnings not to eat local fish and shellfish because of pollution, and so the fight now is over whether the river can be cleaned up enough to let the locals fish the river once again without risk.

SHAWN BLOCKER, EPA Boeing Site Manager: And what we determined was that the most sensitive population we had out there were our Native Americans that eat the fish out of the Duwamish.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] And they eat a lot more fish than most of us.

SHAWN BLOCKER: They do.

HEDRICK SMITH: And so that was the standard you wanted to set, clean it up so the tribes can eat the fish safely without getting poisoned from PCBs.

SHAWN BLOCKER: Yes.

HEDRICK SMITH: And Boeing objected to that?

SHAWN BLOCKER: Basically, they don’t feel that that stretch of the river can ever be returned to where you could harvest these kind of fish and shellfish. We disagree with that.

STEVE TOCHKO, Boeing Environmental Officer: So I think people need to understand is that there are going to be certain uses of the Duwamish River that aren’t going to be possible in the future. I’ll give you an example. I don’t think people are going to be able to subsistence fish out of the species that are in the Duwamish. I think we have to set reasonable expectations for clean-up in industrial areas. I don’t think that you can say it’s going back to zero.

HEDRICK SMITH: Where do you come down on that? [voice-over] Do we need to get rivers back to where people can fish and safely eat the fish without fear to their health?

Gov. CHRIS GREGOIRE (D), Washington: That is the goal. That has to be the goal because every one of those rivers and streams are going into Puget Sound. So it’s not as though it’s that river or that stream alone, it’s about the whole ecosystem.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Just across the river from Boeing, the threat of legacy pollution and the question of how clean is clean became personal right here in South Park, where in 2004, the community was rocked by news that some of its streets and people’s yards were contaminated with PCBs.

B.J. CUMMINGS, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition: People in South Park, particularly people with families, with small children, got incredibly nervous- I mean, out and out scared about what this might mean. We- you know, I pushed my kid’s stroller down that street every day. I go down there and I fish. My dog runs along that waterfront. What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my health?

RESIDENT: I mean, you’re trying to do the best for your kids, and all of a sudden, something like this comes out.

RESIDENT: It is so scary, what you said-

NEWSCASTER: PCBs, cancer-causing microbes banned in the ’70s but now taking an emotional toll on the residents of South Park today.

HEDRICK SMITH: The city of Seattle realized it had a crisis and moved quickly to pave the contaminated streets, clean up the polluted yards, and tell people how to take safety precautions. Suddenly, South Park, a largely immigrant working-class neighborhood surrounded by industry, was galvanized into action. Residents demanded a long promised clean-up of an abandoned industrial site called Malarkey Asphalt.

B.J. CUMMINGS: Malarkey Asphalt for years operated directly across the street from homes in South Park and was a really, really dirty business. For many years, there was open dumping on the riverbank. There was waste oil that was sprayed in the area to keep the dust in the unpaved streets down, and that contaminated the roads and yards, right in people’s gardens around the property.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] Years earlier, the old Malarkey site had been bought by the port of Seattle, which did a PCB cleanup on part of Malarkey’s property. But people in South Park suspected there were still many more, undiscovered PCB hotspots upland from the riverbank at Malarkey.

B.J. CUMMINGS: So the neighborhood said, “Go take some tests there. Tell us what’s there.” EPA and the port said, “Oh, no, no. We did the upland. It’s finished.” We eventually were able to succeed in getting just a few more tests. “Just assure us, show us it’s OK.”

HEDRICK SMITH: Doug Hotchkiss, the port’s manager for the Malarkey site, ran tests, and what he found surprised everyone.

[on camera] So what was the hottest spot you found? How high was it?

DOUG HOTCHKISS, Site Manager, Seattle Port: The hottest spot for PCBs was right in this area here, and it was about 9,000 parts per million.

HEDRICK SMITH: Nine thousand? And the federal limit is 25. I mean, so this was a really hot spot.

DOUG HOTCHKISS: Yeah. And luckily, it was under asphalt, but it was still something that even under asphalt, you couldn’t just leave there.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] So Hotchkiss drafted a plan to clean up Malarkey. But it backfired.

DOUG HOTCHKISS: We would be cleaning up to 25 parts per million, which was the cleanup level that EPA had accepted before.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] And how did the community take that? How’d they react?

DOUG HOTCHKISS: They were- they were not happy with it. They didn’t find it acceptable.

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Mother Jones

Meet the Mom Who Helped Expose Flint’s Toxic Water Nightmare

 

LeeAnne Walters’ tap water tested at 27 times the EPA limit for lead. The city offered her a garden hose.

On a chilly evening last March in Flint, Michigan, LeeAnne Walters was getting ready for bed when she heard her daughter shriek from the bathroom of the family’s two-story clapboard house. She ran upstairs to find 18-year-old Kaylie standing in the shower, staring at a clump of long brown hair that had fallen from her head.

Walters, a 37-year-old mother of four, was alarmed but not surprised—the entire family was losing hair. There had been other strange maladies over the previous few months: The twins, three-year-old Gavin and Garrett, kept breaking out in rashes. Gavin had stopped growing. On several occasions, 14-year-old JD had suffered abdominal pains so severe that Walters took him to the hospital. At one point, all of LeeAnne’s own eyelashes fell out.

The family, as you have probably guessed, was suffering from the effects of lead in Flint’s water supply—contamination that will have long-term, irreversible neurological consequences on the city’s children. The exposure has quietly devastated Flint since April 2014, when, in an effort to cut costs, a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source from Detroit’s water system over to the Flint River.

Elected officials toasted the change with glasses of water, but some longtime residents were skeptical, particularly since Flint-based General Motors had once used the river as a dumping ground. “I thought it was one of those Onion articles,” said Rhonda Kelso, a 52-year-old Flint native. “We already knew the Flint River was toxic waste.”

The lead exposure persisted for 17 months, despite repeated complaints from residents of this majority-black city. It is in no small part thanks to Walters, a no-nonsense stay-at-home mom with a husband in the Navy, that the Flint situation is now a full-blown national scandal complete with a class-action lawsuit, a federal investigation, National Guard troops, and many people—including Bernie Sanders—calling for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder. “Without [Walters] we would be nowhere,” Mona Hanna-Attisha, the head of pediatrics at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, told me. “She’s the crux of all of this.”

It was the summer of 2014 when Walters first realized something was very wrong: Each time she bathed the three-year-olds, they would break out in tiny red bumps. Sometimes, when Gavin had soaked in the tub for a while, scaly red skin would form across his chest at the water line. That November, after brown water started flowing from her taps, Walters decided it was time to stock up on bottled water.

The family developed a routine: For toothbrushing, a gallon of water was left by the bathroom sink. Crates of water for drinking and cooking crowded the kitchen. The adults and teenagers showered whenever possible at friends’ houses outside Flint; when they had to do it at home, they flushed out the taps first and limited showers to five minutes. Gavin and Garrett got weekly baths in bottled water and sponge baths with baby wipes on the other days. Slowly, the acute symptoms began to wane.

In January 2015, Flint officials sent out a notice declaring that the city’s water contained high levels of trihalomethanes, the byproduct of a disinfectant used to treat the water. Over time, these chemicals can cause liver, kidney, and nervous system problems. The advisory warned that sick and elderly people might be at an increased risk, but it said the water was otherwise safe to drink. “That was when I went to my first city council meeting,” Walters told me.

She wasn’t the only one. Flint residents showed up in droves, many complaining of stinky, tainted water coming out of their taps. They cited symptoms ranging from hair loss and rashes to memory and vision loss.

The problem was exacerbated by a lack of alternatives. Flint is one of America’s poorest cities, with 41 percent of its residents living in poverty. Many couldn’t afford bottled water or make the trek to obtain it—the city of 100,000 only has one major grocery store, on the far side of town. Kelso, a stroke survivor who lives with her 12-year-old daughter, relied on relatives to take her on water runs outside the city. “Sometimes there’s no water,” she said. “People who can buy water, they buy it up.”

Throughout most of 2015, the city and state maintained there was nothing to worry about. “I want to assure everyone that the city is sensitive to the public’s concerns,” Dayne Walling, then Flint’s mayor, declared at a press conference that January. “The city water is safe to drink. My family and I drink it and use it every day.” Walters and others, dubbing themselves “water warriors,” began staging regular protests outside City Hall.

In February, at Walters’ urging, the city sent an employee to test the water coming from her taps. A few days later, she received a voice mail from the water department, warning her to keep her kids away from the water. “You know when somebody calls and you can just hear the panic in their voice? It was that,” Walters recalled. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there’s no safe level of lead in drinking water. The maximum concentration allowed by law is 15 parts per billion. The Walters’ tap water measured nearly 400 ppb.

Walters began compulsively researching lead exposure. She learned, to her horror, that the element has a particularly dramatic effect on young children, with long-term symptoms that can include a lower IQ, shortened attention span, and increases in violence and antisocial behavior—not to mention effects on reproductive and other organs. Studies also have tied higher lead levels to significantly increased rates of crime and teen pregnancy. The neurological and behavioral effects, notes the World Health Organization, “are believed to be irreversible.”

Walters rushed to get her children tested, and the results confirmed her worst fears: All four kids had been exposed to lead, and Gavin, who already had immune system problems, had bona fide lead poisoning, which put him at far greater risk. “I was hysterical,” said Walters. “At first, it was self-blame. And then there’s that anger: How are they letting them do this?”

The city’s initial response was to hook up a garden hose to her neighbor’s house to provide water for her family—officials claimed that the problem probably had to do with the Walters’ own plumbing. Just days after Walters got the results of her children’s blood tests, Gov. Snyder’s office assured residents that “Flint’s water system is producing water that meets all state and federal standards.” (Representatives from the city and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality declined to comment for this story.)

Walters, who is trained as a medical assistant, began staying up late at night to go through reams of Flint water quality reports. She learned that Flint River water is more corrosive than Detroit tap water, and she wondered why Flint hadn’t applied standard chemicals—known as corrosion controls—to prevent the leaching of metal from its aging pipes into the water supply. This treatment is critical in a city such as Flint, where half of households are connected to a lead water line. She also didn’t understand why the city employee who tested her water ran the tap for several minutes before taking a sample. If something were building up in her pipes, wouldn’t flushing it out understate the results?

Frustrated with the city’s lackadaisical response, Walters called Miguel Del Toral, a manager at the EPA’s Midwest water division, last March. She explained that Flint didn’t appear to be using corrosion controls and that it was flushing pipes before conducting lead tests. She also emailed him water quality reports for the previous year. Del Toral was floored. “From a technical standpoint, there’s just no justification for the way Flint is conducting its tests,” he later told the American Civil Liberties Union. “Any credible scientist will tell you [the city’s] method is not the way to catch worst-case conditions.”

By contacting Del Toral, Walters unwittingly unleashed a chain of investigations. He introduced her to Marc Edwards, an expert in lead corrosion at Virginia Tech who instructed her to collect new samples from her house without pre-flushing the pipes. In those samples, Edwards found lead concentrations of 13,200 ppb—more than twice the level the EPA classifies as hazardous waste. “At that point, you do not just have smoke, you have a three-alarm fire and should respond immediately,” he told the Detroit News.

Edwards put together a team to conduct field tests in Flint and to seek data from the city and the state. Del Toral, meanwhile, relayed his concerns to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, setting off a slow, bureaucratic back-and-forth between the state and the EPA. News that that the Virginia Tech team and the EPA were looking into the matter alarmed Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center. She began researching the blood lead levels of Flint’s youngest children before and after the change of water supply, comparing them with children living elsewhere in Genesee County.

The results from both investigations came back last September. Edwards’ tests suggested that one in six Flint homes had lead water levels exceeding the EPA’s safety threshold. Hanna-Attisha found that the rate of children younger than five with elevated lead concentrations in their blood had doubled—and in some areas, tripled—following the switch to Flint River water. The effect, she told CNN, would be analogous to “drinking through lead-painted straws.”

The day after Hanna-Attisha’s findings came out, the city released a lead advisory. State officials remained skeptical, insisting that the results were incorrect and that Flint’s water met federal standards. But by mid-October, after weeks of deliberations and lots of bad press, Gov. Snyder ordered that Flint’s water supply be switched back to the Detroit system. “It recently has become clear that our drinking-water program staff made a mistake while working with the city of Flint,” said Dan Wyant, the state’s Environmental Quality Director, who resigned not long after. “Simply stated, staff employed a federal protocol they believed was appropriate, and it was not.”

Earlier this month, Snyder deployed National Guard troops to work alongside Red Cross volunteers, delivering bottled water, water filters, and lead-testing kits to Flint residents—who still can’t drink from the tap thanks to the corroded lead pipes. On Saturday, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, entitling the city to federal disaster relief funds. Several residents, including Rhonda Kelso, have joined together in a class-action suit targeting city and state officials, including ex-Mayor Walling and Gov. Snyder. The US Attorney’s Office for Michigan’s Eastern District has launched its own investigation into the crisis.

The Walters no longer live in Flint—they moved to Virginia in October, partly in response to the contamination. But the water issue continues to consume LeeAnne, who regularly Skypes into meetings and fields calls with politicians and activists. She recently traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with EPA officials. Other Flint moms seek her out for advice; one telephoned after tests found that her 15-year-old daughter had the liver function of a 75-year-old. Walters won’t let her family drink Virginia tap water until she’s had it tested—or eat at a restaurant without reviewing its health reports in advance.

At five years old, Gavin weighs a mere 35 pounds to his twin brother’s 53.

The hardest thing, she says, is not knowing how the lead exposure will affect her kids in the long term. Gavin was the “party animal” of the twins, but lately he’s lost his appetite and sleeps more. At five, he weighs a mere 35 pounds to Garrett’s 53, and he mispronounces words that he could once handle. Garrett was recently diagnosed with ADHD. Both boys continue to ask, when handed a cup of water, whether it is “good water or bad water.”

When I asked Walters what she makes of all the national attention, she paused. “Everybody’s been asking, ‘How do you feel now that people are finally listening? Do you feel satisfied?'”

Then she was crying. “Every time I get a call from another mother whose child is sick,” she managed, “it doesn’t feel like a victory.”

Meet the mom who helped expose Flint’s toxic water nightmare

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Potential Health Risks to DOD FIRING-RANGE PERSONNEL from Recurrent Lead Exposure

Committee on Potential Health Risks from Recurrent
Lead Exposure of DOD Firing Range Personnel

Committee on Toxicology

Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology

Division on Earth and Life Studies

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

Washington, D.C.

 

“…High risk of heart disease, kidney damage, and dementia.”

“A review of the epidemiologic and toxicologic data allowed the committee to conclude that there is overwhelming evidence that the OSHA standard provides inadequate protection for DOD firing-range personnel and for any other worker populations covered by the general industry standard. Specifically, the premise that maintaining BLLs under 40 μg/dL for a working lifetime will protect workers adequately is not valid; by inference, the OSHA PEL and action level are also inadequate for protecting firing-range workers. The committee found sufficient evidence to infer causal relationships between BLLs under 40 μg/dL and adverse neurologic, hematopoietic, renal, reproductive, and cardio-vascular effects. The committee also found compelling evidence of developmental effects in offspring exposed to lead in utero and during breastfeeding, and this raises additional concerns about exposures of women of childbearing age….

Despite changes in military tactics and technology, proficiency in the handling of weapons remains a cornerstone in the training of the modern combat soldier. Modern military forces are trained on one or more small arms, including handguns, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns. Many of the projectiles used in military small arms contain lead. Exposure to lead during weapons training on firing ranges therefore is an important occupational-health concern.

Lead is a ubiquitous metal in the environment, and its adverse effects on human health are well documented. The nervous system is an important target of lead toxicity, which causes adverse cognitive, mood, and psychiatric effects in the central nervous system of adults; causes various peripheral nervous system effects; and has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Lead exposure also causes anemia, nephrotoxicity, a variety of adverse reproductive and developmental effects, small increases in blood pressure and an increased risk of hypertension particularly in middle-aged and older people, and various effects in other organ systems, including joint pain and gastrointestinal pain (ATSDR 2007; EPA 2012; NTP 2012).”

___________________

1After the committee completed its evaluation and released the prepublication draft of this report, the Army submitted data on BLLs for Department of the Army civilian personnel working at shoot houses. The Army’s submission can be obtained by contacting the National Research Council’s Public Access Records Office at (202) 334-3543 or paro@nas.edu.”

 

• Characterization of exposure on firing ranges. The committee focused its attention on airborne lead exposures that are most likely to occur on DOD firing ranges. Measurements and evaluations conducted at DOD ranges were used primarily and were supplemented with information on other types of firing ranges.

 http://www.nap.edu/read/18249/chapter/2#4

Potential Health Risks to DOD FIRING-RANGE PERSONNEL from Recurrent Lead Exposure

 

 

 

 

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The Lake Effect by Nancy Nichols

By the time the PCB problem was isolated in January 1976, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency believed that Outboard Marine was delivering approximately nine to ten tons of PCBs to the harbor each day. The PCB content of the sludge at the bottom of the harbor ranged from 240,000 to 500,000 parts per million depending on when and where the sample was taken. That means that either one in two or one in four grains of sand or silt at the bottom of the harbor was not actually sand or silt, but was a PCB instead. page 43

Waukegan would take its turn on the national stage two years later, in 1984,when a U.S. Environmental Protection official, Rita Lavelle, was accused of secretly meeting with lakefront polluters in an effort to strike a cleanup deal that heavily favored industry… In the aftermath of the scandal, the full extent of Waukegan’s chemical contamination was revealed… Eventually, three separate Superfund sites, named after the 1980 federal legislation that allocated funds to clean them up, were designated in Waukegan. Two of the sites are adjacent to the lake… In addition, more than a dozen other sites form what federal and state regulators call an expanded study area, which stretches along the lakefront from one end of town to the other. These smaller sites contain the waste products from a tannery, a steel company, a paint factory, a pharmaceutical company, and a scrap yard. Together these sites contain not just PCBs, but an alphabet soup of pollutants. “Just about every chemical we know to be dangerous to human health is in one of those sites,” Says Margaret Quinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, who specializes in human exposure assessment. In addition to PCBs, these chemicals include benzene and other volatile organic compounds, arsenic. lead, asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, vinyl chloride, and ammonia. Various chemicals among these have been associated with reproductive diseases, learning and attention deficits in children, birth defects, immune system deficiencies, and some forms of cancer.

Was there a relationship between my sister’s cancer and the toxins of our childhood? My sister certainly thought so. And many other people have suspected, often correctly, that elements in their environment have had an effect on their health. Yet because of the long time it takes for a cancer to develop and because of relative mobility of our lives today, it can be challenging to establish a casual link between a disease and its origin.

pages 5 -6

“Ovaries are approximately three centimeters long by one and one-half centimeters wide by one centimeter thick,” writes Ethel Sloan in, “The Biology of Women.”… Whichever edition you consult will tell you that the ovary is about the size of an almond and that it produces the female hormone estrogen. During the monthly menstrual cycle, each ovary forces an egg through a wall of tissue and afterward repairs that rupture in a process called ovulation. “The ovary is no beauty,” writes Natalie Angier in “Woman: An Intimate Geography, “It is scarred and pitted, for each cycle of ovulation leaves behind a blemish where an egg follicle has been emptied of its contents. The older the woman, the more scarred her ovaries will be. It is this continual bursting and repairing–part and parcel of the ovarian life cycle–that makes the ovary vulnerable to cancer.

Scientists have long theorized that as cells multiply each month to repair the breach in the ovarian wall, more opportunities are created for mistakes in the DNA copying process, which in turn increases the chances of a malignant mutation. More ovulations, in other words, mean more chances for mistakes.

Risk factors for the disease therefore include never giving your ovaries a break by being pregnant or having a child. The other risk factor is having a close relative with the disease. That would be my sister, of course, and that would bring our story back home….

Doctors at this hospital and elsewhere have long speculated that there were significant environmental factors associated with ovarian cancer. The vagina provides a runway to the ovaries not simply for sperm but for many other substances as well. Significantly, women who have their tubes tied experience a lower rate of ovarian cancer than those who do not. Some have theorized that this may be because the pathways to the ovaries has been blocked, keeping outside agents at bay.

For example, some researchers have found a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer–though several other studies have produced conflicting results. Some early forms of talcum may have contained asbestos and thus given researchers their positive findings. Indeed, at least one retrospective study found a much higher disease rate among women who used talc prior to 1960 than those who used is after–giving at least some credence to the idea that the use of asbestos-laden talc increases a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.

My sister speculated that asbestos had contributed to her illness. A group of naturally occurring fibrous materials that are fire-resistant, asbestos has been thought to cause adverse health effects since the first century. Yet, as writer Paul Brodeur tells us in his book on asbestos, Outrageous Misconduct, its role in causing the disease asbestosis, a noncancerous condition in which the lungs scar so badly that they won’t expand and contract properly, was not well established in medical literature until the 1970s.

In the years before my sister died, when I was an editor for the Harvard Business Review, I worked on a piece written by Bill Sells, the man who had run the Johns-Manville plants in Waukegan in the early 1970s–a time when deaths from asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases were beginning to occur in the workforce at an alarming rate. After noting that his job included the unenviable task of visiting his sick and dying employees at the local hospital, he offered this description of his first visit to the factory: “The plant lay at the back of a sprawling complex built in the 1920s. Its view of Lake Michigan was obscured by a landfill several stories high. A road wound through this mountain of asbestos-laden scrap, and as I drove through it for the first time I stopped to watch a bulldozer crush a 36-inch sewer pipe. A cloud of dust swirled around my car.” Inside the plant, he said, he found “asbestos-laden dust coating almost every visible surface.”

An EPA official charged with overseeing the cleanup of the Johns-Manville plant, Brad Bradley, has a similar recollection. Standing at the edge of the 350-acre Superfund site that overlooks Lake Michigan, Bradley recalled his first visit there in 1982. He remembers asking an asbestos expert where he thought they would find the fibers. “I think they are everywhere,” said the expert. Indeed, virtually anywhere on the site that Bradley scuffed the ground with his boot, he found the telltale fibers.

People are more likely to connect the fiber with asbestosis than with ovarian cancer. However, a thirty-year study of nearly two thousand women who worked with asbestos while manufacturing gas masks during World War II showed these women to be seven times more likely to die from ovarian cancer than a control group. My sister’s medical history seems to tell a different story, though, and the link between asbestos and ovarian cancer in general does not appear to be a strong one. The ovarian cancer specialist I saw at the clinic was quick to point out that my sister’s record indicated that her cancer was preceded by endometriosis.

The phrase “painful periods” does not begin to describe the torture that my mother and sister endured during menstruation. White and sweating, doubled over with pain, they retreated to the bed or the couch until the pain and the bleeding passed. When I recounted my mother’s experience, the ovarian cancer specialist suggests that my mother also likely suffered from endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a once rare disease that is now common. When the disease was first named and discovered in 1921 by a New York physician, there were only twenty reports of the illness in the medical literature. Today, the National Institutes of Health estimates that roughly 5.5 million women suffer from the disease in the United States, and as many as 89 million women may have it worldwide. An exact number is hard to come by, since the disease can only properly be diagnosed during surgery. Still, about one-third of women of childbearing age suffer some symptoms–including pelvic pain and infertility–and in the United States at least, the average age of onset has been declining…

Endometriosis is a complex condition, and no one is certain what causes it. Some scientists believe it is an immune system disorder. Others believe that women with endometriosis lack the ability to shed cells that have migrated and are growing where they should not be. Other scientists have focused on a genetic component of the disease since it can run in families. A woman with a sister or mother with endometriosis, for example, is three to seven times more likely to get the disease.

The mechanisms of endometriosis are not that different from those that create cancer: they involve cell proliferation, the migration of cells, and a change in their cellular nature. Endometriosis grows unchecked and invades surrounding tissues, and the body’s immune system fails to rid itself of the misplaced lesions. In the same way, the body fails to rid itself of cancerous lesions.

It is often but not always the case that the kind of cancer my sister suffered from, ovarian clear-cell adenocarcinoma, is preceded by endometriosis, and many believe that there is a relationship between the two diseases. Some scientists believe that endometriosis–in certain cases–is a kind of precancerous condition, and others believe that the two diseases spring forth in unison. Other experts theorize that the endometrial cells themselves drive the proliferation of cancer once it has started by producing their own estrogen. Each lesion is capable of increasing the local production of estrogen, so that once the disease takes hold it is capable of feeding itself.

In my sister’s case, cancerous growths arose within her endometrial lesions. Whatever the exact mechanism of disease development, women with the type of ovarian cancer that my sister suffered from have higher rates of endometriosis that the general female population. In one study, about 70 percent of the women with clear-cell ovarian cancer also had endometriosis.

Scientists have long suspected that chemicals of the type found in Waukegan–dioxins, PCBs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)–play a role in human endometriosis.

pages 75 – 81

Carson died in 1964, but her work and her life serve as a warning to everyone who struggles with cancer. “As we pour millions into research and invest all our hopes in vast programs to find cures for established cases of cancer,” she wrote, “we are neglecting the golden opportunity to prevent, even while we seek to cure.”

Carson’s favorite quote, from Abraham Lincoln, can be found snuggled into her almost daily letters to Freeman, where she explains what keeps her going through her treatments and on to finish her groundbreaking book. It reads: “To sin by silence when they should protest, makes cowards of men.”

page 122

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Inhibition of progenitor cell proliferation in the dentate gyrus of rats following post-weaning lead exposure.

Schneider JS1, Anderson DW, Wade TV, Smith MG, Leibrandt P, Zuck L, Lidsky TI.
Author information

Abstract
Although lead is a potent developmental neurotoxin, the effects of postnatal lead exposure on progenitor cell proliferation in the hippocampus has not been examined. Postnatal day 25 rats were fed a lead containing diet (1500 ppm lead acetate) for 30-35 days and administered bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU, 50 mg/kg, i.p.) during the last 5 days of lead exposure. Animals were killed 24 h after the last BrdU injection. Proliferation of new cells in the subgranular zone and dentate gyrus was significantly decreased in lead-exposed rats compared to control animals that ate a similar diet devoid of lead. These results suggest that postnatal lead exposure can have significant deleterious effects on progenitor cell proliferation and thus the structure and function of the hippocampus.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15527882

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MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic Documentary on Lead Poisoning in the US

 

 

The question on many minds today: what is the source of the sudden, alarming rise in the number of American children with ADD, ADHD, Autism Spectrum symptoms and similar neurological disorders—expensive impairments/disabilities that create challenges for families and cost our society more than $50,000,000,000 annually?

MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic is the first documentary film that undertakes an intellectually rigorous, emotionally compelling and illuminating inquiry into a hidden epidemic that impacts one in three American children today. Tamara Rubin, an Oregon mother whose children were poisoned, travels the country talking with parents and top experts across many fields—uncovering surprising answers.

To access the film’s website click on the link below
misLEAD the movie

“Ammunition that contains lead-based primer or lead bullets will create smoke that contains lead. This lead can be inhaled or can settle on the floor, counters, doorknobs, and other surfaces in the range. Shooters and instructors can ingest lead if they touch contaminated surfaces and then eat, drink, or smoke without washing their hands. Range operators are at higher risk of lead exposure than recreational shooters – while periodic cleaning of the range is recommended, this activity can stir up settled dust and persons conducting the cleaning can be overexposed if they are not protected.” Firearm use should be added to potential lead exposures for children.

Taken from The Commonwealth of Massachusetts “Shooting Range Lead Safety Precautions”

http://www.mass.gov/lwd/labor-standards/occupational-lead-poisoning-registry/olr-shooting-range-bulletin.pdf

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Where does lead go? Into bones.

By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY

10/28/2007

Lead was once so pervasive that, even three decades after the government banned the chemical in paint and began phasing it out of gasoline, the country has still not shaken free of its legacy.
Much of the lead that once swirled around us has been lurking in the most intimate of hiding places: our own bodies.

Scientists have long known that lead, like calcium, is stored in our bones. Only recently, however, have doctors begun to investigate what happens when that long-stored lead is released.

Lead leaches into the blood whenever the bones release calcium — during pregnancy, breast-feeding, menopause and, for men and women, old age, says Ellen Silbergeld, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who helped launch the study of bone lead in the early 1990s.

Once in the blood, lead’s poisonous effects spread throughout the body. Research by Silbergeld and others shows that lead may contribute to many ailments associated with aging: hypertension, kidney disease and possibly dementia.

Lead seeps into the womb and breast milk, too, exposing developing babies when their brains are most vulnerable, says Adrienne Ettinger, a leading expert in bone lead at the Harvard School of Public Health.

That means lead could pose risks for Americans for decades to come, says Howard Hu, chairman of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan Schools of Public Health and Medicine.

Not all Americans are at equal risk, says Mary Jean Brown, chief of the lead-poisoning prevention branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Doctors worry most about those who are exposed to lead at work or who grew up in countries that still use leaded gas.

Mom’s lead level affects baby

Women of childbearing age today — who were children during the leaded-gas phase-out from 1973 to 1995 — have the lowest blood lead levels of any demographic group, according to the CDC. And the number of children ages 1 to 5 with elevated blood lead — defined as 10 micrograms per deciliter or more — has declined from 88% in the 1970s to 1.6% in 2005.

Yet sophisticated tests show that even people with little lead in their blood could have substantial amounts stored in their skeletons, Hu says. And because of lead’s potential to damage the central nervous system, Ettinger says, “any amount of lead to the fetus is not a good thing.”

Studies show that babies born to mothers with high bone and blood levels tend to be smaller, gain less weight in the first month of life and get lower scores on tests of mental development at age 2.

Lead impairs communication, attention, memory, abstract thinking and fine motor skills, says John Rosen, a pediatrics professor at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center.

Mothers with high lead exposure can pass on a toxic legacy. Women who survived lead poisoning as children are three times as likely as other mothers to have children with learning disabilities, Hu says.

Lead poses risks for mothers as well. In a 2002 study of pregnant women in inner-city Los Angeles, those with higher bone lead levels had higher rates of hypertension, which can endanger the unborn baby and, in severe cases, the mother.

Accumulated lead can cause problems throughout a woman’s life, Silbergeld and others say. For example, lead may increase women’s risk of heart disease, especially after menopause, when bones begin to thin and lead once more leaches into the blood.

Silbergeld’s research shows that postmenopausal women have significantly more blood lead than younger women, even when they have had no additional environmental exposure. Blood lead levels may rise as much as 25% in the five years after menopause.

Men aren’t immune to the dangers of bone lead, either. They also lose bone mass as they age. Hu’s work shows that older men with high lead levels are more likely to develop kidney problems.

In midlife and old age, lead may also contribute to “cognitive decline,” or deterioration in the ability to think, learn and remember, says Brian Schwartz, also a professor at Hopkins’ school of public health.

In studies over the past seven years, Schwartz has found that adults with high lead exposure lost more of their cognitive skills than their unexposed peers. Men with higher bone lead levels had lower scores in manual dexterity, decision-making and verbal skills than men with lower levels.

Overall, patients with large bone lead accumulations appear to suffer from “accelerated aging,” Schwartz says.

In his studies, people in the top quarter of lead exposure function as if one to five years older than those in the bottom range of exposure. That has led Schwartz to reconsider the concept of what doctors typically describe as “normal” age-related cognitive decline. Much of that decline, he says, may result not from age, but from lead.

In search of answers

Researchers are looking for ways to protect children and adults alike.

Those concerned about lead-related heart disease have many ways — from medication to exercise and healthy eating — to prevent, treat and monitor the condition, Brown says.

Ettinger is working with the CDC on recommendations, expected to be released within the next year, to help doctors identify and treat mothers and babies at greatest risk.

Blood tests for lead are simple to perform, doctors say, and many insurance plans pay for them.

Brown says babies exposed in the womb can still catch up to their peers “if you can control the lead hazards that the baby comes home to.” Children exposed in the womb are at much greater risk if they continue to have high lead levels by age 2, Brown says.

At-risk mothers also may benefit from calcium supplements, which reduce the body’s need to draw the mineral out of bone, Ettinger says. Research shows that nursing mothers who take 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day lowered their blood lead levels up to 20% and reduced the amount of lead in their breast milk up to 10%.

Hu’s recent research suggests that calcium supplements may also alleviate high blood pressure in men and women with elevated bone lead levels.

To view the original story click on the link below
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-10-28-lead-bone_N.htm

Where does lead go? Into bones By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY

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