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Archive for the ‘Water’ 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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The Dark Side of the Perfectly Manicured American Lawn: Is It Giving You Cancer?  By McKay Jenkins from the book Contamination 

On a beautiful April day, I decided to meet outside with my students at the University of Delaware, where I teach journalism. We sat on the central lawn between two buildings that just happened to bear the names of two gargantuan chemical companies: DuPont and Gore. In the middle of a conversation about agricultural pesticides, a groundskeeper, dressed from feet to neck in a white chemical suit, drove by us on a mower. He wasn’t cutting the grass, though; he was spraying it. And not from one nozzle, but from half a dozen. Up and back he went, describing parallel lines as neat as those in any Iowa farmer’s cornfield. Not a blade escaped the spray. This became a perfect teaching moment.

“Who’s going to ask him what he’s spraying?” I asked my students. One young woman marched over to the groundskeeper. He turned off his engine, they spoke, and she returned.

“He said he’s spraying 2,4-D,” she said. “He said we didn’t need to worry, because he sprayed where we’re sitting at five this morning.”

Which would mean about seven hours earlier. My students chuckled uneasily. He was wearing a full-body chem suit, and they were sitting on the grass in shorts and bare feet?

They’d never heard of 2,4-D, or 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. But they had heard of Agent Orange, the notorious defoliant used in Vietnam, and 2,4-D, one of the most extensively used herbicides in the world, is a constituent of Agent Orange (it did not cause the bulk of the devastating effects associated with Agent Orange). It was developed during World War II, mostly as a weapon to destroy an enemy’s rice crops. Despite its history, 2,4-D has long been seen as safe for consumer use.

In the 1940s, botanist E. J. Kraus of the University of Chicago fed five and a half grams of pure 2,4-D to a cow every day for three months. The cow was fine, according to Kraus, as was her calf. Kraus said he himself had eaten half a gram of the stuff every day for three weeks and felt great. This was apparently good enough for the rest of the country; within five years, American companies were annually producing 14 million pounds of the stuff. By 1964, the number had jumped to 53 million pounds.

Today, annual sales of 2,4-D have surpassed $300 million worldwide, and it’s found in “weed and feed” products, like Scotts Green Sweep, Ortho Weed B Gon, Salvo, Weedone, and Spectracide. At first, its impact on humans seems mild—skin and eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, stiffness in the arms and legs—and many lawn-care companies have dismissed health concerns. Plus, the businesses add that the amount of chemicals in sprays is very diluted.

With 80 million home lawns and over 16,000 golf courses, you get close to 50 million acres of cultivated turf in America.

But the effects are more worrisome when considered over time. Because 2,4-D is designed to mimic a plant’s natural growth hormone, it causes such rapid cell growth that the stems of treated plants tend to become grotesquely twisted and their roots swollen; the leaves turn yellow and die; and the plants starve to death (2,4-D does not have this effect on grass).

Unsurprisingly, 2,4-D also appears to affect human hormones. The National Institute of Health Sciences lists it as a suspected endocrine disrupter, and several studies point to its possible contribution to reproductive-health problems and genetic mutations. Although the EPA says there isn’t enough evidence to classify 2,4-D as a carcinogen, a growing body of research has begun to link it to a variety of cancers.

A 1986 National Cancer Institute (NCI) study found that farmers exposed to 2,4-D for 20 or more days a year had a sixfold higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Another NCI study showed that dogs were twice as likely to contract lymphoma if their owners used 2,4-D on their lawns.

Like flame retardants, this compound also tends to accumulate inside people’s homes even days after the lawn has been sprayed. One study found 2,4-D in the indoor dust of 63 percent of sampled homes; another showed that levels of the chemical in indoor air and on indoor surfaces increased after lawn applications. After 2,4-D was sprayed, exposure levels for children were ten times higher than before the lawns were treated—an indication of how easily the chemical is tracked inside on the little feet of dogs, cats, and kids.

Thanks to pressure from campus activists, my university replaced 2,4-D with “softer” herbicides and began putting signs on lawns that had just been sprayed. Of course, 2,4-D is one of scores of pesticides in use. According to David Pimentel, professor emeritus of entomology at Cornell University, 110,000 people suffer adverse health effects from pesticides every year, and 10,000 cases of cancer in humans may be attributable to pesticide exposure.

 

The Greening of America

In 1900, 60 percent of Americans lived in rural areas. Today, 83 percent live in cities or suburbs. With that change has come an astonishing shift in the landscape. Over the past half century, Americans have become obsessed with grass. When you add up the country’s 80 million home lawns and over 16,000 golf courses, you get close to 50 million acres of cultivated turf in the United States, an expanse roughly the size of Nebraska. This space is growing by 600 square miles a year.

By 1999, more than two thirds of America’s home lawns had been treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides—14 million by professional lawn-care companies. A year later, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that Americans were spraying 67 million pounds of synthetic chemicals on their grass every year, and annual sales of lawn-care pesticides had grown to $700 million.

The landscaping trucks rolling through our suburban neighborhoods seem to represent something more than a communal desire for lush grass. Could it be relief from anxiety? (Why else call a company Lawn Doctor?) For one thing, hiring lawn-care specialists is a public declaration that you have the money not to take care of your yard yourself.

Diligent lawn maintenance and chemical use are also associated with approval and social status, Ohio State researchers reported in 2012: “The main factor influencing a homeowner’s decision to use lawn chemicals is whether neighbors or other people in the neighborhood use them. Homeowners crave acceptance from their neighbors and generally want their lawns to fit in with their surrounding community, so they adopt their neighbors’ practices.”

We also create manicured lawns to play the most chemically dependent of pastimes: golf. By 2004, there were just under 15,000 golf courses in the United States—a patchwork of chemically treated turf the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Even grass seed comes coated with chemicals. A close look at a bag of Scotts grass seed reveals it has been treated with Apron XL fungicide, whose active ingredient is Metalaxyl-M, or methyl N-(methoxyacetyl)-N-(2,6-xylyl)-D-alaninate. The bag requests that the product be stored away from foodstuffs, kept out of the reach of children, and not be applied near water, storm drains, or drainage ditches. (A Scotts spokesperson says that its products are designed to be safe when used as directed.)

As the use of chemicals has become widespread, lawn companies have found an unexpected source of profits. Herbicides like 2,4-D preserve grass but kill weeds like clover. Clover, however, pulls nitrogen out of the air and fixes it in the soil. Without clover, soil becomes nitrogen poor and fails to support plant life. So chemical companies now replace the depleted nitrogen, which homeowners used to get for free from clover, with synthetic nitrogen, for which they have to pay.

In America’s watersheds, nitrogen runoff is considered among the worst problems for water quality. Since synthetic fertilizers are water soluble, a good amount runs off your lawn after a rain, where it mixes with runoff from other homes and ends up feeding the plants in bodies of water. Doused with chemicals, algae grow and grow, creating “algae blooms” that—as they decay and die—suck most of the oxygen out of rivers, lakes, and bays and lead to massive “dead zones,” in which neither fish nor plants can live.

In 2007, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation published a report card on the bay’s health that showed just how much trouble chemicals can pose. The bay received an F for nitrogen pollution, a D-minus for phosphorous, an F for water quality, an F for dissolved oxygen, and a D for toxics. On a scale of 100 (with 100 being the best), the bay’s health was rated at 28.

In California, scientists are discovering that algae blooms off the coast not only remove oxygen; they also release a toxin, domoic acid. It enters the food chain when fish eat algae, then moves into the sea lions that consume the fish. If a sea lion is pregnant, her fetus can be contaminated, and years later, that mammal may develop epilepsy.

 

One Man’s Chemical Conversion

Paul Tukey knows about pesticides; the man who invented 2,4-D was a distant cousin. When Tukey was a kid in the late 1960s, his grandfather hired a biplane to spray his 300 acres of fields in Maine a couple of times a year. The fields were mostly planted with cattle feed, not with crops intended for human consumption. For Tukey, spraying day was a thrill.

“My grandfather would go out in the field, dressed in his wool underwear and thick heavy pants, and wave the biplane over his field,” Tukey recalled. “They’d drop this white powder, and he’d get back in the truck looking like Frosty the Snowman. Then we’d drive to the next field, and he’d do it again. My grandfather was getting doused 20 times a day, but he would never let me get out of the truck. I always wondered why I couldn’t go out and get dusted.”

Tukey’s grandfather died of a brain tumor at 60.

Tukey also followed his family’s agricultural tradition but charted his own course. For years, he operated one of southern Maine’s largest landscaping services and considered his job ideal. He worked outside in shorts and sandals. He never bothered with putting on protective gear.

In 1993, he started getting nosebleeds. His vision became blurry. But with business booming, Tukey was too busy to worry. One of his jobs was tending the grounds of a hospital where he hired university students for the work. One day, their professor, an eminent horticulturist named Rick Churchill, came by to say hello to his students. Tukey went out to greet him.

Churchill’s eyes were focused on the weeds, which Tukey’s crew had doused with herbicides and which were curling up and turning brown.

Churchill said, “I asked him how anyone in good conscience could be applying pesticides on the grounds of a hospital where there were patients being treated for cancers that could be linked to their exposure to pesticides. I asked whether he knew anything about the toxicity ratings of what he was applying and how dangerous many of these compounds were to an individual compromised by illness.”

The words cut deeply. “It was devastating,” Tukey told me. “In Maine, Rick Churchill is an icon.”

“You have broken bags of poison,” Tukey told the manager. “They all say, ‘Keep out of reach of children’!”

Tukey did some reading, and what he found was troubling. Pediatric cancers in Los Angeles had been linked to parental exposure to pesticides during pregnancy. In Denver, kids whose yards were treated with pesticides were found to be four times more likely to have soft-tissue cancers than kids whose yards were not. Elsewhere, links had been found between brain tumors in children and the use of weed killers, pest strips, and flea collars.

Tukey also learned that exposure to lawn chemicals was particularly alarming for people who spread them for a living. One study showed a threefold increase in lung cancer among lawn-care workers who used 2,4-D; another found a higher rate of birth defects among the children of chemical appliers. When he finally went to the doctor for his rashes and deteriorating eyesight, he learned that he had developed multiple chemical sensitivity. And his son—conceived in 1992, during the height of Tukey’s use of synthetic chemicals—was diagnosed with one of the worst cases of ADHD his physician had ever seen. (Several recent scientific reports suggest that toxic chemicals may play a role in ADHD.)

“All the evidence indicates that you don’t want pregnant women around these products, but I was walking into the house every single night with my legs coated with pesticides from the knees down,” he said. “Even when my son was a year or two old, … [he] would greet me at the door at night by grabbing me around the legs. He was getting pesticides on his hands and probably his face too.”

Tukey’s Breaking Point

In the midst of his research, Tukey was driving one day when he saw a sign: A store was having a big sale on Scotts Turf Builder. Tukey made a beeline. He was going to buy the store’s entire stock. Once inside, he walked to the lawn-care section. Tukey noticed a woman standing by the lawn chemicals. At her feet, a girl was making sand castles from a broken bag of pesticides. Suddenly, something in him burst—the DDT squirting over his grandfather’s fields, the chemicals that he’d sprayed outside the hospital, and now a child in a pile of pesticides.

Tukey told me, “I said, ‘Ma’am, you really shouldn’t let your child play with that. It’s not safe.’ I’m fundamentally shy, but this just came out of me.”

The store wouldn’t sell the stuff if it wasn’t safe, she told Tukey. She took her child and walked away. A manager came up and asked him if there was a problem. Tukey said there was.

“You have broken bags of poison on the floor,” Tukey said to the manager. “All those bags say, ‘Keep out of reach of children’!”

Those labels are there because of government formality, the manager said. The stuff isn’t dangerous. The store wouldn’t carry it if it was.

“That really was the stake in the heart of my chemical career,” Tukey said. “By then, I’d already made myself sick. I’d already been questioned by Rick Churchill. When I saw that girl making sand castles out of the pesticides, [there] was just a sudden gut-level reaction I couldn’t have anticipated. I was shaking when I left the store.”

Tukey issued a decree to his employees: His business was going organic. It was time to start weaning his company—and customers—off synthetic chemicals. Most clients were fine with his decision, just as long as it didn’t cost any more and as long as their lawns continued to look the same.

More than 170 municipalities in Canada have banned lawn pesticides, especially on public spaces like school yards and sports fields. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have banned 2,4-D. In 2009, the European Parliament passed laws banning 22 pesticides that can cause cancer or disrupt human hormones or reproduction.

 

How to Bring Back Butterflies

Certainly, switching to a less toxic lawn company can reduce your family’s—and neighbors’—exposure to synthetic chemicals. It would also reduce the pollutants you contribute to the watershed. But there is another option, one that gets into the more inspiring realm of restoration. There is a way to think of your yard as more than a burden that needs to be mowed and weeded. There is a way to think of your yard as transformational, even magical. Doug Tallamy can show you how.

When Tallamy, former chair of the entomology department at the University of Delaware, walks around his yard, he sees things most of us would not. He can look at a black cherry tree and spot the larvae of 13 tiger swallowtail butterflies. He has planted scores of trees: sweet gums, tulips, white oaks, river birches, and sugar maples. But he’s really interested in bugs and birds—and boosting their numbers.

Suburban development has been devastating to avian populations. Most of the birds we see in our yards are probably house sparrows and starlings, invasive species from Europe. If you study the population numbers for native birds, you’ll find the wood thrush is down 48 percent; the bobwhite, 80 percent; bobolinks, 90 percent. An estimated 72 million birds are killed each year in America by direct exposure to pesticides, a number that does not include baby birds that perish because a parent died from pesticides or birds poisoned by eating contaminated insects or worms. The actual number of birds killed might be closer to 150 million.

In mid-Atlantic gardening circles, Tallamy is a bit of a prophet, his message freighted with both gloom and promise. It is the promise of ecological renewal that he most wants people to understand. His vision is based on three ideas: If you want more birds, you need more native insects; if you want more native insects, you need more native plants; and if you want more native plants, you need to get rid of—or shrink—your lawn.

Tallamy says that when we wake up in the morning to birdsong, it’s often being made by hungry migratory birds that may have just flown 300 miles. What is there to eat? Too frequently, ornamental trees that bear none of the insects the birds need—and chemically treated grass. Tallamy’s prescription: Put in native plants that will make your yard a haven for caterpillars, butterflies, and birds. In the mid-Atlantic region, this can mean swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, buttonbush, joe-pye weed, and a rudbeckia species like black-eyed Susans. At the University of Delaware, Tallamy and a team are restoring native species to the campus.

And me? I ripped up 20 percent of my lawn and planted two flower gardens, two sets of flowering shrubs, and seven vegetable beds. Now my daughter helps me pick eggplants, tomatillos, okra, and Swiss chard. My son can identify not only monarchs and tiger swallowtails but also which plants they like to eat. How? Because last year the butterflies were not here, and this year they are. We replaced the grass, which monarch caterpillars can’t eat, with native flora they can consume. It’s as simple as that. Milkweed and joe-pye weed were born to grow here. All you have to do is plant them and wait for the butterflies.

 

Wise Moves for a Lush Lawn

1. Get tested. “Spending money on fertilizer without a soil test is just guessing,” says Paul Tukey. Good soil is key to a great lawn, and a soil test can tell you what’s in the dirt and what’s missing. For a test, call your county extension office (a national network of agriculture experts).

2. Plant clover with your grass. Clover competes with weeds and fixes nitrogen in the soil. John Bochert, a lawn and garden specialist in York, Maine, recommends a seed mix of white clover, perennial rye (it germinates quickly), fescue, and bluegrass.

3. Mow high, and leave the clippings. Taller grass provides more leaf for photosynthesis, develops deeper roots, and resists weeds. The clippings act as fertilizer. “Lawns mowed at four inches are the most weed-free,” Tukey says. “If you did only one thing, adjusting your mower height would be it.”

4. Cut back on watering. Frequent watering leads to shallow roots, so “water once a week if at all,” says Tukey

5. Apply compost. “Weeds need light to grow,” Tukey says. “Spreading compost on a lawn in the spring prevents weed seeds from germinating.”

6. Listen to weeds … “Weeds are nothing if not messengers,” says Tukey. “Dandelions are telling you the ground needs more calcium. Plantains are telling you the ground is too compact and needs aerating.”

7. … and to insects. Beneficial nematodes, which are microscopic worms, eat some 200 species of insects, including grubs that become Japanese beetles; you can buy them from farm and garden stores. Mix them in water, and spray them on your lawn.

 

 

 

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Camp Lejeune and the U.S. Military’s Polluted Legacy
By Alexander Nazaryan / July 16, 2014 5:36 AM EDT

The old railroad track, now a bike and jogging path, winds through the forest that separates Camp Lejeune from Highway 24, which caters to the thousands of Marines stationed here with cheap barbershops that will trim your high-and-tight for $5, furniture stores for the many young families on base, a couple of gun shops, a few bars and the requisite jiggle joint. None of this familiarly shabby Americana is even remotely visible from the verdant path. Trees crowd the sylvan trail like overeager children at a Fourth of July parade, their branches poking through the base’s barbed wire fence. You hear far more woodpeckers and thrushes than Osprey helicopters. Spend enough time on this lush greenway or on the dunes of nearby Onslow Beach and you might forget that Camp Lejeune may be, as Dan Rather once said, “the worst example of water contamination this country has ever seen.”

Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, is a toxic paradox, a place where young men and women were poisoned while in the service of their nation. They swore to defend this land, and the land made them sick. And there are hundreds of Camp Lejeunes across the country, military sites contaminated with all manner of pollutants, from chemical weapon graveyards to vast groundwater deposits of gasoline. Soldiers know they might be felled by a sniper’s bullet in Baghdad or a roadside bomb in the gullies of Afghanistan. They might even expect it. But waterborne carcinogens are not an enemy whose ambush they prepare for.

That toxic enemy is far more prevalent than most American suspect, not to mention far more intractable. That the Department of Defense is the world’s worst polluter is a refrain one often hears from environmentalists, who have long-standing, unsurprising gripes with the military-industrial complex. But politics aside, the greenies have a convincing point. Dive into the numbers, as I did, and the Pentagon starts to make Koch Industries look like an organic farm.

In size alone, the Department of Defense dwarfs the footprint of any corporation: 4,127 installations spread across 19 million acres of American soil. Maureen Sullivan, who heads the Pentagon’s environmental programs, told me her office must contend with 39,000 contaminated sites (to be fair, a single base can have several, some as small as a single building).

Camp Lejeune is one of the Department of Defense’s 141 Superfund sites; that’s about 10 percent of all Superfund sites, easily topping any other polluter. And if the definition is broadened out beyond proprietary Pentagon installations, then about 900 of the 1,200 or so Superfund sites in the United States are “abandoned military facilities or facilities that produced materials and products for or otherwise supported military needs,” according to a presidential panel on cancer.

“Almost every military site in this country is seriously contaminated,” said John D. Dingell, a soon-to-retire Michigan congressman who served in World War II. “Lejeune is one of many.”

These military sites form a sort of toxic archipelago across the land: Kelly Air Force Base in Texas, where the Air Force allegedly dumped trichloroethylene (TCE) into the soil, part of what some residents call a “toxic triangle” in south-central Texas; McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, which includes not only fuel plumes and industrial solvents but also radioactive waste; Umatilla Chemical Depot in the plains of northern Oregon, where mustard gas and VX nerve gas were stored; Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a onetime sarin stockpile just north of Denver; the Massachusetts Military Reservation on Cape Cod, poisoned by explosives and perchlorate, a rocket fuel component that is emerging as a major Pentagon pollutant. But because Camp Lejeune’s abuses and betrayals are more flagrant, it has become a test case for whether the military can defend our soil without ruining it.

To those who suffered at Camp Lejeune, an ugly truth about the American military has revealed itself, a truth no amount of compensation or self-flagellation can vanquish. “I would never recommend to anyone that they go into the Marine Corps,” said former Marine corporal Peter Devereaux, who has good reason to believe that his breast cancer is the result of drinking Camp Lejeune’s tainted water. The Marines, he said, “are like a mafia.”

As I was finishing this article, one of the Camp Lejeune activists I’d been speaking to sent me a short, sad email. “So much for our environment,” the brief note said, linking to a Supreme Court ruling that was published that morning, June 9. The case, CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, called into question how long defendants in North Carolina had to sue industry for sickness or death caused by pollution. By ruling for CTS, the polluter, the Supremes indirectly but incontrovertibly complicated the efforts of those seeking compensation at Camp Lejeune. The fight, always hard, suddenly got harder.

Methyl-Ethyl Death

Among those who could never again be charmed again by Camp Lejeune’s bucolic seaside surroundings is Jerry Ensminger, who today lives in nearby White Lake, North Carolina. Ensminger joined the Marines during the Vietnam War, in which his brother had been wounded. After a stint in Okinawa, he was assigned to Camp Lejeune in 1973. He and his wife lived in a housing complex on the base’s northern edge. Their second daughter, Janey, was born in 1976. Photographs show a pretty girl with bangs and cheeks like apples. In one picture, she clenches her teeth and proudly shows off invisible biceps, in what looks like an imitation of her ball-busting drill sergeant of a father.

But then, no more happy pictures. At the age of 6, Janey was diagnosed with leukemia. In the photographs that follow, her hair is cut short. Deposits of fat, from treatments, pad her body. You can see that she knows things no child should have to know. On September 24, 1985, Janey Ensminger died. She was 9.

There were many Janeys at Lejeune, and some didn’t even make it through their first year of life. As Mike Magner writes in A Trust Betrayed, his masterfully thorough book on Camp Lejeune, the base hosted a grim dance of miscarriages, stillbirths and inexplicable postnatal deaths, especially during the 1960s and ’70s: Christopher Townsend, dead at 3½ months from a legion of ailments; Michelle McLaughlin, dead at birth; Eileen Marie Stasiak, dead in the womb. Ricky Gagnoni, alive but a single month, started to bleed from his mouth as his mother fed him and died the next day. So many infants perished at Camp Lejeune that a nearby cemetery had a section mourning parents named “Baby Heaven[1] [2] .”

Finding no other answers, grieving parents turned the loaded gun of guilt upon themselves. “I blamed myself for years,” a mother named Mary Freshwater would later testify. “I hated myself, I hated my body, ’cause I thought I had failed my children.” Standing at a podium, unable or unwilling to hide her tears, she held up the pajamas her infant son was wearing when he died. She had never washed the vomit he’d left on them. She said that after his death, base officials urged her and her husband to try again. They did. And their next son died, too.

“I have two graves out in Onslow Memorial Park,” Freshwater said.

Those with plots at Baby Heaven now know that, as early as 1981, officials at the base were told that the millions of gallons of drinking water consumed by the base’s 100,000 or so residents each day were full of what toxicologists call “methyl-ethyl death,” informal shorthand for a variety of known and suspected carcinogens. But the first batch of groundwater wells was not shut down until the fall of 1984 and the winter of 1985. The base became a Superfund site in 1989, but even today, the full extent of the camp’s contamination is not known. Blame that on poor record-keeping, stonewalling, arrogance or just plain ignorance. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn’t even sure how many people have been poisoned by Camp Lejeune’s bad water, though estimates suggest that it was consumed by as many as a million people.

How much the likes of Ensminger deserve in financial compensation for their grief is the most complex question of all: Suffering at once yearns for a dollar amount and resists such crass calculation. Ensminger is one of about 3,500 people involved in litigation against the Department of Defense. They thought the Marine Corps, which proudly professes to leave no man behind, would own up to its mistakes. As they pushed the Marines to reveal what they knew about Lejeune’s drinking water, and when, they figured that the motto Semper Fidelis (“Always Faithful”) was more than just a sales pitch.

Now, they know better.

Kevin Shipp knows better, too. As an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, he was stationed at Camp Stanley, an Army site right near San Antonio’s heavily polluted Kelly Air Force Base. (During our conversation, Shipp would not reveal exactly where he was stationed or his job there, though other outlets had previously identified both.) Shipp and his family lived at the base, which is believed to be a secret weapons storage facility, for two years starting in June 1999.

Unlike the largely unsuspecting residents of Camp Lejeune, the Shipps realized quickly that something was amiss. One of his sons told The New York Times that “the house that our family was moved into was planted on top of a lot of buried ammunition. One time, me and my little brother dug up a mustard gas shell.” Their house was also teeming with mold, which made them ill. “My children were bleeding from their noses, vomiting, had severe headaches and strange rashes on the exposed areas of their skin,” Shipp later wrote. “My wife became bedridden with headaches so severe, she had to be placed on morphine. … I began to have burning in my lungs…and was losing my short-term memory.”

In 2002, Shipp left the CIA and sued his employer for placing him in a mold-ridden house. The case was eventually dismissed on the basis of the State Secrets Privilege.

When we spoke, Shipp, who now lives in Jacksonville, Florida, described Camp Stanley as a “toxic mess.” Not only is it littered with aging munitions, but its water has been poisoned in a fashion strikingly similar to Camp Lejeune’s.

“Frankly,” Shipp told me, “they don’t care.”

Men With Mastectomy Scars

Camp Lejeune, built in 1941, is 240 square miles in area, making it the largest Marine base east of the Mississippi River, and the second largest in the nation after Camp Pendleton, near San Diego. Situated at the swampy mouth of the New River, it is an ideal training ground for the sorts of amphibious assaults that are the Marines’ favored means of arriving at the war dance. From here, leathernecks shipped out to the Pacific theater of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The Marines killed in the 1983 terrorist bombings of a barracks in Beirut had also come from Lejeune; a memorial to them sits in a wooded glade at the camp’s edge.

In the decade before Camp Lejeune was built, the chemical industry saw the advent of the “safety solvents” TCE and tetrachloroethylene (PCE). These were chemical cleaning agents of the organochlorine group: TCE was a degreaser for machine parts; PCE was used in dry cleaning.

A military base is rife with machines. This sounds obvious, but it’s quite striking when you see all those tanks and airplanes and amphibious vehicles that seem perfectly poised for battle, even on a humid North Carolina afternoon when overseas wars might as well be waged in another galaxy. Part of that readiness is cleanliness, which your average military mechanic would have achieved, until very recently, by washing grease-covered parts in TCE.

In 2004, a former Marine named Joseph Paliotti decided to clear his conscience. He was on the verge of perishing from cancer, and he suspected that Camp Lejeune had something to do with it. He had spent 16 years working on the base. “We’d come down there, we used to dump it: DDT, cleaning fluid, batteries, transformers, vehicles,” he told his local television station. “I knew sooner or later something was gonna happen.” Several days later, Paliotti died.

The cleaning of clothes might seem like a more innocuous matter, but that’s only because most people don’t have much of a notion of how a dry cleaning enterprise works. You surrender your clothes; they return immaculate. Magic! As it happens, the chemicals that cleanse a shirt are about as carcinogenic as those that cleanse an airplane engine.

One of the places at Camp Lejeune that could care for your uniform was ABC One Hour Cleaners, which sits just a few yards from the edge of the base. The dry cleaners, which started operation in 1964 and ended on-site cleaning service in 2005, did nothing different from what thousands of other dry cleaners did around the United States: It used PCE as a cleaning solvent. Some of the PCE sludge was used to fill potholes, while much of the liquid waste ended up in the ground, just like the TCE used to clean machines across the road, behind the barbed wire.

The TCE and PCE percolated through the sandy soil of Camp Lejeune and into the shallow Castle Hayne aquifer, from which the base drew its water. Also flowing into the soil was benzene from the Hadnot Point fuel farm. A component of gasoline, benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon. Its name does not mean that it is pleasantly pungent. Instead, the deceptively alluring adjective refers to the strong carbon-hydrogen latticework of the compound. Like other aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene is a carcinogen that readily enters the body.

An Associated Press report found that as “late as spring 1988, the underground tanks at Hadnot Point were leaking about 1,500 gallons of fuel a month—a total of more than 1.1 million gallons, by some estimates.” Eventually, the leaked fuel would form an underground layer 15 feet deep, a carcinogenic band essentially covering the aquifer from which the drinking water was drawn.

Among those who drank that water was Mike Partain, who was born on base. His father was a Marine, as was his grandfather. He lived in the same housing complex where the Ensmingers conceived their daughter Janey. He joined the Navy but was discharged because of a debilitating rash that would overtake his body without explanation. Eventually, Partain ended up in Tallahassee, Florida, where he was a teacher and, later, an insurance adjuster.

Then married with four children, Partain was in good health until the age of 39. (He has since divorced; “my marriage didn’t survive Lejeune,” he told me.) Toxins, like terrorist sleeper cells, are patient. As he would later write for the website of Semper Fi, a documentary about Camp Lejeune, in April 2007 “my wife gave me a hug before bed one night. As she did, her hand came across a curious bump situated above my right nipple. There was no pain, but it felt very odd.” Partain went for tests, which revealed an almost incredible diagnosis: breast cancer.

Male breast cancer is rare enough in the general population, especially for someone like Partain who has no history of the disease in his family. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, only about 7 breast cancer victims out of 1,000 are men. Yet it turned out that many other men who’d lived on Camp Lejeune had developed breast cancer: Partain told me that he knows of 85 victims. Several of these aging men, showing mastectomy scars, posed for a 2011 calendar.

Coincidences do happen, even in cancer epidemiology. What looks like obvious causation to some may be just cruel fate, but the overall infrequency of the disease, combined with its relatively high frequency among the men of Camp Lejeune, as well as the other ailments plaguing those who lived on the base, made clear that there was a connection. “This has all the characteristics of a male breast cancer cluster,” the noted epidemiologist Richard Clapp said at the time. Camp Lejeune is, in fact, now widely believed to be the largest known cluster of the male variant of the disease.

“So Much Audacity”

The Superfund law, passed in 1980, did not apply to federal facilities until 1986. Once it was exposed to litigation, the Department of Defense could no longer dismiss the environmental movement as a mere leftist nuisance. The EPA did better under self-described “environmental president” George H.W. Bush than it had under Ronald Reagan. The Clinton presidency appeared to embolden the regulators, even as the centrist Democrat allowed the Superfund tax on industry to expire in 1995. The presidency of George W. Bush, however, proved a long-sought reprieve for polluters, as the wannabe Texan quickly stocked the EPA with friends of industry.

The attacks of 9/11 proved an especially ripe opportunity for the Pentagon to push back against the oversight implemented in 1986. With the EPA already weakened by the White House and the wounded country in a bellicose mood, the Pentagon asked, in 2003, for a pass on pollution. The Department of Defense figured that Americans were far more afraid of terrorists than polluters. “The manner in which certain environmental laws are being applied is seriously hampering our military training opportunities,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in an April 2003 letter to EPA head Christine Todd Whitman.

Military officials did not anticipate the resistance they would encounter on Capitol Hill. Perhaps the most vociferous critic of the exemptions was Dingell. “Nowhere has a single set of legislative proposals had so much audacity and so little merit,” thundered the aging legislator during one hearing. “I would note that the Defense Department is supposed to defend the nation, not to defile it.”

Despite an industry-friendly White House on its side, the Pentagon failed to earn the exemptions from environmental laws. Just as important, its overreach brought national attention to the then little-known problem of military pollution, with Camp Lejeune coming to serve as an example of what happened when the Department of Defense was left to police itself.

Sullivan, the Pentagon’s chief environmental officer, said that to clean up all of the Pentagon’s pollution would cost American taxpayers $27 billion. Nevertheless, she is upbeat about the challenges before her, noting that the Department of Defense has done all it could to meet new regulations. Its shortcomings, she said, resulted from a widespread ignorance about the danger of certain chemicals, which was hardly restricted to the Pentagon. “We all grew,” she told me, “at the same time.”

Others are skeptical of the Pentagon’s efforts to come clean. One report by the religiously nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office deemed “daunting” the Pentagon’s “task of cleaning up thousands of military bases and other installations across the country.” It concluded that “identifying and investigating these hazards will take decades, and cleanup will cost many billions of dollars.” The GAO has also found that regulators lack the muscle to make the Pentagon clean up its many messes.

“A World Trade Center in Slow Motion”

Today, Camp Lejeune is a tidy base of red-brick buildings and thick groves of pine. Occasionally, one sees vistas of the New River, which opens into a bright blue bowl of a bay. Marines can rent cabins on a beach that recalls untrammeled stretches of Cape Cod. The base is home to a rare variety of woodpecker, as well as the Venus flytrap. The place looks ordinary, even pretty in places, if you can get past the punishing Southern heat. It is like a body whose wounds have healed, though the scars are still visible if you know where to look: the yellow poles of observation wells, empty lots behind barbed wire, groves in which dump sites hide. But most people aren’t looking.

We pass an unexceptional building on the side of the road. Here, the base once stored the toxic pesticide DDT, made infamous by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Later, the same building became a day care center, with kids playing in ground soaked with an incontrovertible poison. I told the environmental officials who led me around the base that I was reminded of something that Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “All things truly wicked start from an innocence.” I don’t think they knew if this was supposed to be condemnation or exculpation. I don’t know, either.

The ignorance argument falls loud and flat when it comes to TCE, which could have been classified as a known carcinogen much earlier than 2011, which was when the EPA finally released its long-awaited determination of the solvent’s manifold dangers. According to a two-part Los Angeles Times series on trichloroethylene, the EPA realized in the 1990s that TCE was “as much as 40 times more likely to cause cancer than [the agency] had previously believed.” Its efforts to classify TCE as a carcinogen were largely hindered by the Pentagon, which produced experts confidently assuring that TCE’s danger was overblown. Those attempts at assuaging concerns failed, but the delay was costly, while the contamination remains vast and the cleanup has been slow. David Ozonoff, an epidemiologist at Boston University, called the nation’s TCE problem “a World Trade Center in slow motion.”

The public affairs and environmental officials who took me around Camp Lejeune were young, informed and sunny in disposition, not quite the clenched-anus Dick Cheney minions one expects of the nefarious military-industrial complex. They told me, proudly, that the water at the base was now probably the cleanest in the nation. One hears a similar refrain about both Woburn, Massachusetts, and Toms River, New Jersey, the infamous cancer clusters where water was also tainted with TCE. What they don’t say is that today’s pristine water has been paid for by past generations, many times over.

Yet several dozen sites remain, each benzene plume, munitions dump and TCE-laden lot its own private battlefield. It will be decades before the base is fully clean, though past neglect appears to have been replaced by penitent diligence. Solar thermal panels have already been installed on 2,000 homes, improbably making Camp Lejeune one of the largest residential communities in the nation to use solar energy. Even more improbable, earlier this year Camp Lejeune won an environmental restoration award from the Pentagon, beating out bases across the various services. Of course, that’s partly because there was so much here to restore.

“They’re Slick”

In 2012, advocates like Jerry Ensminger and Mike Partain won a victory when President Barack Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act, which is supposed to ensure that those sickened by Lejeune water get medical treatment from the Department of Veteran Affairs. The law is also known as the Janey Ensminger Act, a nod to the father who turned his howling grief into righteous anger. In the Oval Office, Ensminger stood next to the president and looked over his shoulder, as if to make sure the bill was properly signed.

Ensminger said working on Camp Lejeune has been like “pulling teeth.” He wasn’t exaggerating all that much. Earlier this spring, Obama’s Department of Justice filed an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, in which 25 Asheville, North Carolina, residents were suing an electronic firm for contaminating their well water. The brief was in favor the polluter, not the alleged victims. That seemed to put the administration at odds with its position on the treatment of victims of toxic exposure.

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of CTS in June, it essentially said that North Carolina’s 10-year statute of repose trumps the Superfund law’s statute of limitations. A statute of repose is much friendlier to business, while a statute of limitations favors those, like Ensminger, who might want to sue a potential polluter, since it gives them much more time to discover the result of their illness (which could take far more than a single decade to manifest). Some observers noted that the Supreme Court ruling could make it difficult for the Camp Lejeune lawsuits to proceed.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ensminger said a couple of days before the Supreme Court decision. “I’m not quitting.” In the hours after the ruling, he and his lawyers quickly identified a seeming loophole in the majority opinion that they were eager to exploit, while North Carolina legislators rushed to pass legislation that would preserve the legal claims of both CTS and Camp Lejeune victims. (North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill in late June.)

“You gotta watch these people like a hawk, man,” Ensminger told me of the Marines. “They’re slick.” The armed forces took his daughter. They took so many other lives, too, without firing a single shot.

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2014 marks the 25th memorial of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, an event that altered lives of everyone it touched––and the Prince William Sound ecosystem, perhaps forever.

I recall with stark clarity the shock of flying over the tanker wreck on March 24, 1989, and seeing the black inky stain of some 11 to 33 million gallons of oil on the water. I made a personal vow that day to work upstream of oil spills to help our nation transition off fossil fuels. With my PhD in marine toxicology, I figured I knew enough to make a difference. More importantly, I cared enough. Certainly, at the time, I didn’t know this would become my life’s work––or where this path would lead.

During the twenty years before the Exxon Valdez oil spill, as I trained to become a marine toxicologist, laws were passed to protect air and water quality, worker safety, and public health and welfare. Back then the science focused only on part of crude oil, the “light ends” that easily dissolved into water or evaporated into air. During the twenty years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, scientists’ understanding of oil impacts in the natural world changed when they focused on another part of crude oil, the heavy black stuff that persists on beaches––the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs.

Ah-hah moments in science, like when Columbus “discovered” that the world was round, are “paradigm shifts.” The world was always round: it was peoples’ understanding of it that changed. Likewise, crude oil was always toxic: scientists’ understanding of it changed when they understood that PAHs were 1,000 times more toxic to wildlife than the light ends. When breathed or absorbed through skin or consumed, PAHs enter cells and jam cell function, causing respiratory problems, central nervous system problems, skin and blood disorders, weakening of the immune system, and chronic problems such as liver and kidney damage and reproductive dysfunction. In short, crude oil is a systemic poison––not just in wildlife, but in people, too. A whole new field of “environmental medicine” emerged as medical researchers and doctors began to understand the symptoms and effects of “chemical illnesses” on the human body from exposure to oil, synthetic oil-based products, chemicals, and other toxins.

Ideally, science drives public policy and education; as science changes, so should the science-based laws and lore. But I had learned, while growing up in Wisconsin and watching my father in his successful battle to ban the systemic poison DDT, that when ordinary people understand the science, the lore changes, then the laws change. So I spent three years writing my first book on the oil spill, Sound Truth and Corporate Myths, to explain how scientists came to “discover” that oil is more toxic than thought in the 1970s and what laws need to be changed to better protect people, wildlife, and our environment. But no laws changed.

Disappointed, but determined, I began to focus more on “the lore” to understand how community experience and teachings change as the collective intelligence adjusts to new information. I learned from experience and writing my second book on the oil spill, Not One Drop, that the Cordova community began to recover from the social, economic and emotional spill trauma when people learned to put aside their differences and work together on strengthening or creating projects that would benefit everyone. My personal ah-hah moment occurred when I realized that shifting this nation off fossil fuels would take a social movement of people who understood the need and were just as determined as me. I left Alaska to help build this movement.

Then the BP Deepwater Horizon well blew in the Gulf of Mexico, creating an oil disaster 10 to 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. I realized this disaster would have deadly consequences, because the lessons learned since the Exxon Valdez spill had not changed the lore and laws of the land. But I didn’t realize how deadly. The unprecedented use of over 2,000,000 gallons of toxic Corexit dispersants resulted in unprecedented harm to people and wildlife, perhaps forever. The ah-hah moment has dawned on scientists and people sickened by the exposure: the oil industry’s cure for oil spills, dispersants, and oil-dispersant combined are far worse than the harm caused by the oil alone. Yet the EPA and U.S. Coast Guard continue to sanction use of toxic dispersants without consideration of these consequences.

Dispersants are petroleum distillates and industrial solvents. The oil industry mixes large volumes of solvents as dispersants to break up oil slicks, as diluents to thin tar sands oil for transportation, and as fracking fluids to extract oil from oil-bearing shale. The same properties that facilitate the movement of solvents through oil also make it easier for them to move through skin and into the human body. It should not be surprising that people harmed by oil and gas activities, such as the BP DWH disaster (solvent-crude oil combined), tar sands oil spills (solvent-tar sands oil combined), [link] and fracking activities (solvent-light oil combined) are reporting similar sicknesses and symptoms characteristic of exposure to crude oil and oil-based solvents.

It is my hope that, as people’s health, livelihoods, and property are harmed by these extreme oil activities, people will understand the need to shift off oil to safer energy options and take action to achieve true energy independence. This is the movement that I see growing in all regions of our country. This is the movement that I am committed to building.

See you on the Road.

Riki

http://www.rikiott.dreamholsters.com/

“The transformation starts when we believe that we have the power to act. When enough of us prove another way is possible and demand change, the politicians will have no choice but to follow the people’s lead and make things right in America.

We have the power to stop the oil industry and the federal government from doing more harm. It is time to exercise our power in our communities.” – Riki Ott

For more on Riki Ott please visit her website here http://www.rikiott.dreamhosters.com/

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How a Big Agribusiness Firm Infiltrated the EPA and Made a Mockery of Science By Kamil Ahsan for AlterNet

Expensive coverups have kept a dangerous chemical in America’s water supply.

June 5, 2014

Earlier this year, in an exposé in The New Yorker, Rachel Aviv detailed the story of Syngenta, an agribusiness firm that was sued by the community water systems of six states in a class-action lawsuit over the firm’s herbicide atrazine.

Atrazine is the second most commonly used herbicide in the US and is used on more than 50% of all corn crops. It is one of Syngenta’s most profitable chemicals with sales at over $300 million a year. Banned in the EU, atrazine remains on the market in the US despite scores of scientific publications demonstrating its role in abnormal sexual development. Almost insoluble in water, atrazine contaminates drinking water supplies at 30 times the concentration demonstrated to cause severe sexual abnormalities in animal models.

Recently unsealed court documents from the lawsuit have disclosed how Syngenta launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to disrepute and suppress scientific research, and influence the US Environmental Protection Agency to prevent a ban on atrazine.

Tyrone Hayes, a professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley has demonstrated in his research that atrazine leads to health problems, reproductive issues and birth defects. Hayes is a vocal proponent of legislative action to ban the dissemination of atrazine in water supplies. The court documents showed that Syngenta specifically attacked Hayes’ work with its smear campaign.

In addition to smear campaigns, Syngenta hired a private detective agency to look into the personal backgrounds of scientists on an advisory panel at the EPA, the judge presiding over the lawsuit, and Hayes. The documents also reveal a host of third-party organizations and independent “experts” who were on Syngenta’s payroll and supplied with Syngenta’s data in order to make public statements or write op-ed pieces in support of atrazine. Often, these experts were supplied directly with material that company employees edited or wrote.

Syngenta’s Coverup

It all started in 1997 when Hayes was employed by Syngenta to study atrazine, which was under review by the EPA. Hayes’ experimental research on the developmental growth of frogs began to reveal that even at levels of atrazine as low as 0.1 parts per billion (ppb), the chemical was capable of causing males to develop as hermaphrodites. Some males developed female organs and were even capable of mating with normal males and producing eggs. As reported in top peer-reviewed journals such as PNAS and Nature, at exposure to 0.1 ppb atrazine the frogs showed extremely reduced levels of testosterone and feminized voice boxes.

As Hayes amassed data, Syngenta downplayed his results, citing problems with statistics or asking him to repeat studies, often nitpicking or questioning his credibility or scientific skills.

In 2000, Hayes resigned from the panel. He continued to speak at conferences, publicizing his ongoing research in the lab. Meanwhile, Syngenta employees began to show up at conferences to publicly besmirch his data. Sporadically, the campaign turned into threats of violence. In a Democracy Now interview with Amy Goodman, Hayes said:

“Tim Pastoor, for example, before I would give a talk, would literally threaten, whisper in my ear that he could have me lynched, or he said he would send some of his ‘good ol’ boys to show me what it’s like to be gay,’ or at one point he threatened my wife and my daughter with sexual violence.”

Shockingly, even though Syngenta settled the lawsuit for $105 million in late 2012 after eight years of litigation, it still maintains that amount of atrazine present in the water is much lower than would be required to cause damage. In an article in Forbes published a week after the New Yorker story, Jon Entine criticized Hayes and claimed that “after numerous follow up studies by the EPA and a score of scientists… evidence of endocrine related problems Hayes claimed to have identified… are nowhere to be found.”

This is a patently false assertion. A mere scientific literature search shows dozens of peer-reviewed articles showing atrazine-induced defects in animal models. A number of papers on salmon and fish find similar results to those in frog: fish exposed to atrazine showed major reproductive abnormalities in both males and females, low sperm counts and low testosterone levels in males. Similar defects have been observed in reptiles. Research in rats has demonstrated decreased fertility, effects on sperm count, increased prostate disease in males and poor mammary development. A collaborative effort of an international team of scientists confirmed these studies by demonstrating feminization of male gonads across vertebrate species.

All signs point toward the same being true for humans. Said Hayes:

“A number of epidemiological studies in humans have associated atrazine with impaired reproduction and a decline in sperm count and fertility. Another study looking at increased prostrate disease in workers who are exposed to atrazine in the production plant in St. Gabriel, Louisiana. A number of studies now show birth defects in humans exposed to atrazine: gastroschisis where the intestines are on the outside of the baby when it’s born, choanal atresia, an effect where the oral cavity and the nasal cavity close up. Most recently, there’s been work showing atrazine associating with three different types of genital abnormalities in males.”

Corruption Within the EPA

Interestingly, the scientific advisory panel to the EPA recognizes this wealth of scientific data. In a memo from the 2012 review the advisory panel repeatedly calls attention to the biased methodology employed by the EPA. In fact, the advisory panel disagreed with almost every conclusion the EPA made.

Hayes explained: “The panel was only making recommendations, they don’t make decisions and so the EPA doesn’t need to listen to them. This really undermines the role of the scientific advisory panel.”

Syngenta was closely involved with the EPA’s decision. The EPA mainly considered just one study that found inconclusive effects of atrazine. This was the sole premise for the EPA’s decision. It was based on the research of a group led by Kloas Werner. Said Hayes:

“Kloas Werner was originally on the EPA scientific advisory panel that I presented my data to. He at that time was hired by Syngenta and subsequent to being on the panel he conducted a study in collaboration with the EPA and Syngenta and reported back to the panel that he was on. The panel’s conclusion was that more work needed to be done, and then he presented back to that panel. Essentially, his previous decision helped him get the money for his study. Furthermore, they selected a strain of frogs that don’t respond even to estrogen, which was acknowledged by the advisory panel which reviewed their work.”

But Syngenta wasn’t satisfied with bad science and corruption within the EPA. As Syngenta was hiring Werner, a scientific advisory panel member who could sway the EPA review process, it also held scores of closed-door meetings with panel members. As the documents reveal, Syngenta also hired a communications consultancy, the White House Writers’ Group, to set up meetings with members of Congress and Washington bigwigs to discuss upcoming EPA reviews.

The information about Syngenta’s misdeeds has had little to no effect. The fiction that Hayes is a scientific hack continues to pervade the work of pro-Syngenta writers like Entine. These columnists, who write from corporation-apologist perspectives, bolster the fiction by glossing over critiques of the EPA and pretending like its conclusions represent uncontroversial scientific consensus.

Time and time again, these “third-party allies” of Syngenta hyperbolically talk about the “scientific method,” and suggest that science is science, regardless of the angle of the investigator (none have much to say about Werner’s estrogen-insensitive frogs). For them, it seems, there is no conceivable way Syngenta employed techniques that would furnish them with results to protect its multimillion-dollar profits.

In other words, for them, “conflict of interest” means nothing. Scientific publishing is uncompromising about this: journals require the disclosure of conflicts of interest in publications. Obviously, political and financial incentives are sufficient criteria to change scientific results because they deeply influence the way experimenters do science.

Unsurprisingly, the Kloas paper failed to declare any conflict of interest.

“How can you declare no conflict of interest when clearly the manufacturer benefits from the conclusions drawn by that paper as well as benefits from the decisions made by the EPA advisory panel?” Hayes said. “Especially when the member was both on the panel and was paid by Syngenta.”

Corporation v. Science

Syngenta frequently alleges that Hayes never made his data on atrazine publicly available, a damning indictment that makes it seem like his data could have been fabricated. Hayes said this is not the case.

“The work that I did for Syngenta, Syngenta owns all that raw data,” he said. “This includes the generated raw data, the transcribed typed data, and really everything. The EPA actually visited my lab. Members of the EPA actually were in my laboratory, they observed all of our processes and data collection. Mary Frankenberry, a statistician, actually analyzed the data herself.”

Syngenta and its supporters also rely heavily on the vitriol that Hayes hardly seems like a disinterested, objective scientist. Rich criticism from a company that hires people to obtain the scientific results it wants.

Hayes has spoken widely, set up a website AtrazineLovers.com and rapped about Syngenta’s powerful lobbying to keep atrazine on the market. There is, however, a fundamental distinction between a company lobbying to get its favored scientific result, and a scientist who vocally defends his scientific results. Hayes’ response isn’t surprising or unusual. Scientists often claim ownership over their results and will doggedly defend them at conferences.

The actions of big corporations like Syngenta, especially when dealing with highly profitable products, reveal a broader truth about the nature of corporate power. There is a dangerous trend in which corporate fiat is used to call scientific research into question and sway governmental policy. This trend puts millions of lives at risk as hazardous products avoid regulation and remain on the market.

One wonders why the burden isn’t on Syngenta for proving without a doubt that atrazine has no effects before plying the entire population with a highly dangerous chemical. Even if it wasn’t a near-certainty that atrazine causes birth defects, why wouldn’t we require regulatory bodies such as the EPA to err on the side of caution?

Today, atrazine remains legal and in the water supplies of millions of Americans, despite evidence from scores of labs outside Tyrone Hayes’ showing it to be hazardous.

“In the 15 plus years that I’ve had experience with the EPA, I don’t really have a lot of faith that we’re going to get an objective review that’s really going to focus on environmental health and public health with regards to atrazine, or any other chemical for that matter,” Hayes said.

Who can blame him?

http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/how-big-agribusiness-firm-infiltrated-epa-and-made-mockery-science?paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

The Expose

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/02/10/140210fa_fact_aviv?currentPage=all

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“Our Stolen Future,” by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers.
Hand-Me-Down Poisons Excerpt

Gilbertson had given Colborn complete access to his meticulously organized collection of material on each animal species that breeds in the Great Lakes basin–data that he had gathered over the years and arranged in chronological order in three-ring binders. Colborn was awed by the elegance of the effort and by the years of dedication and scholarly consideration that it reflected. With a sense of history, Gilbertson had gone to great lengths to collect papers and studies dating back a half century or more–literature documenting that the problems seen today in the birds and wildlife along the lakes had not been reported before World War II. In the bald eagle file, she found evidence of parallel declines in the postwar period in the bald eagle in North America and in its European cousin, the white-tailed sea eagle, along with a collection of reports detailing the concentrations of synthetic chemical contaminants found in both species. Photocopies from Gilbertson’s archive had greatly enriched Colborn’s files, but their conversations, during which Gilbertson generously shared his broad experience, had proven even more valuable.

Over lunch in the Canadian Wildlife Service cafeteria, Colborn, Gilbertson, and Fox had discussed the wildlife evidence contradicting the frequent claims that the lakes had been cleaned up. The two Canadians shared the conviction the wildlife work had likely implications for human health and constituted a warning humans ought to heed. In her survey of the scientific literature, Colborn had been fascinated by some of Fox’s work, which reported evidence of behavioral changes in wildlife as well as signs of physical damage.

In herring gull colonies, particularly in highly polluted areas of Lakes Ontario and Michigan, Fox and his colleagues had found nests with twice the normal number of eggs–a sign that the birds occupying the nests were two females instead of the expected male-female pair. The phenomenon, which persisted in some areas, had been particularly prevalent in the mid to late 1970s. During this period, Fox had collected and preserved seventeen near-term embryos and newly hatched chicks from the affected colonies in hopes that he might eventually discover what was causing this unusual behavior and other reproduction problems.

A few years later, Fox encountered a scientist who might help him find the answer. Michael Fry, a wildlife toxicologist at the University of California at Davis, had investigated how the pesticide DDT and other synthetic chemicals disrupt the sexual development of birds after hearing reports of nests with female pairs in western gull colonies in southern California. While some looked for an evolutionary explanation for the phenomenon, Fry had suspected contamination. Reports in scientific literature indicated that a number of synthetic chemicals, including the pesticide DDT, could somehow act like the female hormone estrogen.

To test his theory, Fry had injected eggs taken from western gull and California gull colonies in relatively uncontaminated areas with four substances–two forms of DDT; DDE, the breakdown product of DDT; and methoxychlor, another synthetic pesticide that had also been reported to act like the hormone estrogen. The experiment showed that the levels of DDT reported in contaminated areas would disrupt the sexual development of male birds. Fry noted a feminization of the males’ reproductive tracts, evident by the presence of typically female cell types in the testicles or, in cases of higher doses, by the presence of an oviduct, the egg-laying canal normally found in females. Despite all this internal disruption, the chicks had no visible defects and looked completely normal.

As soon as he could make arrangements, Fox shipped the preserved embryos and chicks off to Fry in California. In his examination of the birds’ reproductive tracts, Fry found that five of the seven males were significantly feminized and two had visibly abnormal sex organs. Five of the nine females showed significant signs of disrupted development as well, including the presence of two egg-laying canals instead of the one that is normal in gulls. Such disruption, Fry noted, could indicate that the birds had been exposed to chemicals that acted like the female hormone estrogen.

Earlier experiments by other researchers had shown that exposing male birds to estrogen during development affects the brain as well as the reproductive tract and permanently suppresses sexual behavior. When chicken and Japanese quail eggs received estrogen injections, the males that hatched never crowed, strutted, or exhibited mating behavior as adults.

Taken together, the evidence in the Great Lakes suggested that the females were nesting together because of a shortage of males, which might be absent because they were disinterested in mating or incapable of reproducing. Though most eggs in these same sex nests were infertile, these females sometimes managed to mate with an already paired male and hatch a chick. The female pairs appeared to be an effort to make the best of a bad situation.

Fox and others had noticed other behavioral abnormalities as well, particularly in birds that had high levels of chemical contamination. In Lake Ontario colonies, the birds showed aberrant parental behavior, including less inclination to defend their nests or sit on their eggs. In unsuccessful nests, the incubating eggs were unattended for three times as long as in the nests where birds successfully produced offspring. A study comparing reproduction in Forster’s terns nesting in clean and contaminated areas reported that nest abandonment and egg disappearance, often due to theft by predators, was substantial in the contaminated area on Lake Michigan but virtually nonexistent in the clean colony on a smaller lake in Wisconsin. Parental inattentiveness clearly diminished the chances that the eggs would hatch and the chicks would survive.

What Colborn remembered afterward about the conversation was how cautious they had all been. Despite the shared view that wildlife findings had implications for humans, no one wanted to acknowledge the unspoken question hanging in the air. No one dared ask whether synthetic chemicals might be having similar disrupting effects on human behavior. Those were treacherous waters they all preferred to avoid.

pages 20 – 22

For additional information – http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/

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TedX talk with Tyrone Hayes & Penelope Jagessar Chaffer

Filmmaker Penelope Jagessar Chaffer was curious about the chemicals she was exposed to while pregnant: Could they affect her unborn child? So she asked scientist Tyrone Hayes to brief her on one he studied closely: atrazine, a herbicide used on corn. (Hayes, an expert on amphibians, is a critic of atrazine, which displays a disturbing effect on frog development.) Onstage together at TEDWomen, Hayes and Chaffer tell their story.

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