Tomato Blight Spreading

  • The blight hitting tomatoes is actually the same blight responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-19 century. (Photo by T. A. Zitter, courtesy of Cornell University)

If you’ve been waiting all season
for that quintessential taste of
summer – a juicy, ripe tomato from
the garden – you might be disappointed.
This year a tomato blight has swept
across the Northeast and is moving
into Midwestern gardens and farms.
Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

If you’ve been waiting all season
for that quintessential taste of
summer – a juicy, ripe tomato from
the garden – you might be disappointed.
This year a tomato blight has swept
across the Northeast and is moving
into Midwestern gardens and farms.
Julie Grant reports:

Walk around this outdoor farm market in Cleveland and just say the words ‘tomato blight’ – nearly anyone in earshot has a story to tell.

Susan Myers says her home garden has given over to what she thinks is late blight.

“But it’s pretty serious. I mean, it’s like wiping out everything. I have lots of tomatoes and all the leaves are dropping. I’ve never, ever had that before.”

It doesn’t look like the farmers here are having trouble with tomato blight. Most tables are piled high with bright reds and yellows.

Skip Conant has a beautiful display of heirloom tomatoes – but he’s not sure how many more weeks he’ll have fruit to offer.

Conant: “We definitely have tomato blight. It’s been a cool, wet spring, so, yeah. There’s a fair amount tomato blight.”

Grant: “What does it look like?”

Conant: “You’ll see a yellowing and curling on the leaves and then the stem will turn brown. The plant will become a very brown. Die from basically the inside out or the bottom up.”

It’s hard to tell yet if these Midwestern growers are starting to see the same blight that decimated the northeast tomatoes.

Bill Fry is a plant pathologist at Cornell University. He’s studied late blight for 35 years. Fry says it looks like irregular shaped black spots, and can appear on the leaves or the fruit. It can destroy an entire crop in just a few days.

This is the same blight responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-19 century. Growers have seen late blight since then. But Fry says, not at these epidemic proportions.

“The fact that it’s just everywhere is, I think, is the major difference from previous years.”

This wasn’t the first cool, wet spring on record. So, why has the blight so bad this year?

It’s kind of ironic. Fry and his colleagues have been studying the problem and think it’s probably because so many people are gardening. Millions more than just last year. And lots of those people bought tomato plants at stores like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart.

“Infected plants were sold throughout the northeast in the box stores. They were transplanted to home gardens and from there the pathogen disbursed to other home gardens, to conventional and organic farms.”

Fry says you might not even notice at the supermarket. Commercial tomato growers spray lots of fungicide to keep away the blight. But organic tomatoes are getting harder to find.

But chefs and tomato lovers who’ve waited all season for those locally-grown heirloom – and especially organic – tomatoes aren’t finding what they want in markets in the northeast.

Back at the Cleveland market, chef and restaurant owner Karen Small has been waiting for tomato season – and it finally hit. She depends on this market for her produce and stops at just about every stand.

But as Small hears farmer after farmer describe what they think is late blight – she’s worried about the weeks to come.

“We’re accustomed to having tomatoes well into September, and maybe that’s not going to happen this year.”

Small plans to go home and rip out the tomato plants in her home garden – after hearing late blight described so many times, she’s pretty sure her tomatoes are infected.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Fish Farmers Add to Drug Resistance Problem

Fish farmers in some parts of the world are using large amounts of antibiotics to prevent infections. Some scientists are concerned that could cause problems for the industry and human health. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams explains:

Transcript

Fish farmers in some parts of the world are using large amounts of
antibiotics to prevent infections. Some scientists are concerned that could
cause problems for the industry and human health. The GLRC’s Rebecca
Williams reports:


Fish that are raised in farms can get stressed. That makes them more
susceptible to infections. Researchers are finding it’s common for farmers
to give their fish extra antibiotics to prevent illness instead of just
treating fish once they’re sick.


Dr. Felipe Cabello is the author of a report in the journal Environmental
Microbiology
. He says the overuse of antibiotics in fish farming is leading
to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. He says that could mean more infections,
not only in fish but also in people:


“I think as aquaculture increases, the antibiotic use is going to increase
in the industry and then this is going to bring an increase in antibiotic
resistance.”


Cabello says antibiotic use is especially heavy in developing countries,
where it’s mostly unregulated.


For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Benefits of Eating Fish Outweigh Mercury Risk

A recent study finds that the benefits of eating fish could outweigh the harmful effects of slightly elevated levels of mercury in the body. The GLRC’s Christina Shockley reports:

Transcript

A recent study finds that the benefits of eating fish could outweigh the
harmful effects of slightly elevated levels of mercury in the body. The
GLRC’s Christina Shockley reports:


Mercury from air pollution falls into the water and accumulates in fish.
The toxin can cause health problems and birth defects.


John Dellinger is from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee. He
spent 12-years looking at Native Americans, who tend to eat 10 times
more fish than the average American. He says participants had higher
than average levels of mercury in their bodies, but reported few cases of
illness or infection. Dellinger says one reason could be they types of fish
they eat.


“They’re eating primarily a wide variety of fish, and predominantly a
moderate size fish. This is different than the sport fishing person who
goes out on the Great Lakes and is going for the really big fish.”


Dellinger says big fish tend to contain more mercury. He says it’s not
known exactly how much mercury is harmful, but the federal
government says women of child-bearing age, and children, should eat
only two servings per week of fish that are low in mercury.


For the GLRC, I’m Christina Shockley.

Related Links

Could Humans Get Chronic Wasting Disease?

  • A deer wasting away from Chronic Wasting Disease. (Photo courtesy of Michigan's Department of Natural Resources.)

A disease that infects deer and elk has been alarming wildlife officials and hunters for years. But now it seems the disease could be more dangerous than previously thought. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:

Transcript

A disease that infects deer and elk has been alarming wildlife officials
and hunters for years, but now it seems the disease could be more
dangerous than previously thought. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Christina Shockley reports:


Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, affects the brain tissue of deer and
elk. Sponge-like holes form in the brains of sick animals. The deer
begin to waste away, become weak, and then die.


Since CWD was discovered in Colorado nearly forty years ago, wild deer
in nine other states have tested positive for the disease. Little is known
about CWD – including how to stop it.


What scientists do know is that the infectious proteins-called prions –
thought to cause CWD are found in the brain and spinal cord areas of
infected animals, but officials still don’t have the answer to the big
question.


Judd Aiken is a professor of Animal Health and Biomedical Sciences at
the University of Wisconsin.


“The ultimate question is whether venison from infected animals, CWD infected
deer, poses a risk to humans. Clearly the first question that needed to be
asked and addressed was whether there was infectivity in muscle.”


Recent findings say there is.


Researchers at the University of Kentucky injected muscle from an
infected deer into the brains of genetically altered mice. The mice
displayed signs of CWD. This is the first time the infectious proteins
blamed for CWD have been found in deer meat.


The finding raises questions about whether eating venison is safe.
Researchers including Aiken say the study is important, but has limits.
For example, he says it doesn’t replicate what would happen in real life.
Plus, he says it’s probably unlikely humans can even get CWD. He says
studies suggest it’s difficult for the disease to jump to other species. Still,
he urges caution. Hunters should get the meat tested before they eat deer
from an area where CWD has been found.


“I, in no way, can advocate the consumption of infected deer, and indeed,
I would suggest due to the limitations of the CW tests, I don’t advocate
the consumption of deer obtained from a CWD endemic area.”


Even if the test comes back negative, Aiken says a negative result isn’t
always accurate, and infected animals in the beginning stages of the
disease can look and act normal.


(Sound of sporting goods store)


John White is a deer hunter from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He’s in the
hunting section of a nearby sporting goods store. White isn’t too
concerned about Chronic Wasting Disease.


“Not a whole lot of people are worried about it. I mean, when it first
came out, some people were a little leery about it and didn’t want to hunt
that year, but they kinda got over it. I’m not really worried about it being
in the meat at all, because by the time the test comes back I’ll probably
have the deer eaten already and then it’s already too late.”


State wildlife officials say… that’s not a good idea. They recommend that
if you hunt deer in areas where the disease has been found, get the deer
tested before eating it. That message hasn’t changed… since learning the
prions could be in the meat. Some argue… it should change.


John Stauber is with a government watchdog group in Wisconsin, and
is co-author of “Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?”
He says officials are keeping quiet about the risk of CWD so they don’t
lose revenue from hunting licenses.


A large portion of state conservation agency budgets are dependent on
fees from hunting licenses. He says all deer that die should be tested for
the disease. Stauber also says CWD is a major human health concern.


“The biggest risk might not be the people who would die from
eating venison, but rather, the people who would die from the
contamination of the blood supply. This is a problem that would unfold
not in days or months or years, but even over decades.”


Stauber says it’s just a matter of time before Chronic Wasting Disease
spreads to people… he says some might even have the disease already,
and not know it.


But researchers like Judd Aiken from the University of Wisconsin say
people shouldn’t over-react.


“People should be concerned, but I don’t want people to panic, either. If
you think you may have consumed venison from infected animals, I don’t
think it’s likely that you’ll ever develop a human prion disease.”


But, Aiken says there’s too much we don’t know about the disease, and
since studies can take years to complete, we might be in the dark for a
while longer.


For the GLRC, I’m Christina Shockley.

Related Links

Deer Lady Defies Feeding Ban

A hotly debated environmental issue goes on trial this week. New York’s notorious “Deer Lady” faces criminal charges of breaking the state’s feeding ban. Some states, including New York, have imposed bans hoping to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. The fatal brain disease has been found in deer and elk as far east as Wisconsin. But many animal activists say they don’t understand the need for feeding bans. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, Joyce Kryszak followed the “Deer Lady” into the park . . . and to the deer:

Transcript

A hotly debated environmental issue goes on trial this week. New York’s notorious Deer Lady
faces criminal charges of breaking the state’s feeding ban. Some states, including New York,
have imposed bans hoping to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. The fatal brain disease
has been found in deer and elk as far east as Wisconsin. But many animal activists say they don’t
understand the need for feeding bans. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, Joyce Kryszak
followed the Deer Lady into the park . . . and to the deer:


Anita Depczynski is almost deer-like in appearance herself. The sixty-three year old retired
cleaning woman, now arthritic, is spirited, but a bit timid moving. And her big brown eyes peer
skittishly at those who recognize her in the park where she still goes to feed the deer.


“Are you the Deer Lady?”


“No, I’m not.”


This shy, relative newcomer to animal advocacy tries to avoid the attention the year-long case has
focused on her. Still, Depczynski isn’t easily frightened away. About a dozen deer, many she
calls by name, make their way across the snow covered path to greet her. They huddle around as
the Deer Lady scatters corn near her feet.


“Faline, that’s enough now, because I don’t have much. See? You can’t come in here with this
little bag like this – forget it.”


Depczynski faces up to forty-five days in jail if found guilty of breaking the state’s feeding ban.
But Depczynski says she won’t stop. As we trudge along the cold, windy nature trail, she
suddenly stops to explain. Depczynski says the deer living in this park would starve without her.


“I’m afraid about going to jail…but I have to stand my ground. Many people before me have been
brought down.”


Depczynski says people were feeding the deer in this park, long before she arrived. But she says
most have been intimidated to stop, or else deny they still do because of the new feeding ban.
Most of the park visitors we meet say they support Depczynski. And most say they don’t
understand what Chronic Wasting Disease and the feeding ban are all about.


Despite the confusion, wildlife experts say the feeding ban is necessary. They say it’s part of the
effort to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. The disease hasn’t hit this part of the world
yet. But the bans are intended to prevent the introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease. Experts
say the bans help discourage deer from artificially congregating together. And that’s important,
because it’s believed Chronic Wasting Disease could be passed along through deer feces and
urine. Wildlife expert Joel Thomas says he knows Depczynski and others think they’re helping.
But Thomas says this isn’t a Disney movie. And he says feeding wildlife, especially deer, is
never a good idea.


“It sustains them, and that’s all it does. And in the long term, it really upsets herd health when
people get involved with feeding them. We feed deer the wrong things, we feed them at the
wrong time, we feed them for the wrong reasons. So, they’re just not a species that benefits from
that type of human intervention.”


And Thomas says there’s scientific evidence suggesting that the well-intentioned meddling could
do a lot more than throw off the balance. He says it could encourage the spread of Chronic
Wasting Disease and devastate the North America’s deer population.


“If the deer are left to browse, and live their lives, largely without this type of artificial
concentration that we provide with feeding, then any kind of disease – Chronic Wasting or
otherwise – that enters into an animal population, won’t be spread so fast so severely. It’s a health
check, if you will. It’s kind of like a fire wall.”


But the Deer Lady, Anita Depczynski, says that’s an imaginary firewall in this case – and in many
other suburban areas. She says generations of the same deer have been congregating in her park
and being fed by residents for years. She says they’re trapped here, surrounded by houses and
highways. And she says when they have to go looking for food, the results are heart wrenching.
We saw that, first hand, a little while later on the trail.


“Oh no, look he’s wounded? Look at his leg, it’s infected…I know, they told me about her
yesterday. Leave her alone. I don’t want her destroyed. See what happens?”


The yearling stood shaking on three legs in a thicket along the trail. Her fourth leg was ripped off
below the hip, presumably by a car. The DEC came later that day, and put her down.
Depczynski says the deer was another casualty of the state’s feeding ban. But wildlife expert Joel
Thomas says it’s nature taking it’s course.


“Not all animals are intended to survive in a population. It’s population dynamics, it’s biology, it’s
nature, it’s the way the planet spins.”


And Thomas says to interfere with that is to risk the spread of diseases – such as Chronic Wasting
Disease – that could wipe out an entire species. But Depczynski believes New York is over-
reacting to a disease that is still many states away.


“If I thought I was harming wildlife, I’d be the first one to stop.”


Wildlife experts say convincing people like Depczynski is the biggest challenge in their fight
against Chronic Wasting Disease. Because they say, by the time the presence of the disease is
obvious, it’s already too late.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.

Related Links

Frog Deformity Study Points to Parasite as Culprit

A new study on deformities in frogs and other amphibians offers more signs that a parasite might be causing the problems. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

A new study on deformities in frogs and other amphibians offers more signs that a parasite may
be causing the problems. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:


The study is in the magazine Conservation Biology. University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate
student Pieter Johnson led the study. His team looked a half-century of research on extra legs and
other deformities in amphibians. Johnson says a lot of the deformities have occurred in bodies of
water that contain a parasitic flatworm.


He says the number of those malformation “hot spots” is growing. Johnson says he’s now looking
at whether pollution is making it easier for the parasite to affect the frogs.


“Pesticide contamination has been suggested to inhibit the immune response of amphibians and
that could be increasing their susceptibility to infection.”


Johnson says fertilizer pollution may also be indirectly increasing the number of parasites. Other
scientists are praising Johnson’s work, but say it’s too soon to think that parasitic flatworms are
the only cause of the deformities.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

Insecticides to Curb West Nile Best Choice?

  • The Culex pipiens quinquefasciatus mosquito - one of the mosquitoes responsible for the transmission of West Nile virus. (Photo courtesy of the USGS.)

Some health experts and politicians are struggling with balancing the risk of West Nile virus with the perceived hazards associated with spraying insecticides to kill the mosquitoes carrying the virus. The big question is – to spray or not to spray? Last year… public health officials in many communities decided to spray pesticides on adult mosquitoes, hoping to reduce the chance of West Nile virus infection in humans. But spraying was met by a public outcry from some residents concerned about the immediate and possible long-term health effects of the chemicals. This year, some health departments have chosen to focus their control efforts on killing mosquito larvae before they hatch with chemicals that are relatively benign. Others still plan to spray. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer reports:

Transcript

Some health experts and politicians are struggling with balancing the
risk of West Nile virus with the perceived hazards associated with spraying
insecticides to kill the mosquitoes carrying the virus. The big question is –
to spray or not to spray? Last year… public health officials in many
communities decided to spray pesticides on adult mosquitoes, hoping to reduce
the chance of West Nile virus infection in humans. But spraying was met by a
public outcry from some residents concerned about the immediate and possible
long-term health effects of the chemicals. This year, some health departments
have chosen to focus their control efforts on killing mosquito larvae before
they hatch with chemicals that are relatively benign. Others still plan to
spray. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer reports:


Last year there were more than 4,000 reported cases of West Nile virus
in the United States. The virus hit some Great Lakes states especially
hard. In Ohio, in Cuyahoga County – which surrounds Cleveland – 211 cases
were confirmed and 14 people died. The County’s health district decided to
do a sero-survey, taking blood samples from about 1200 residents to
find out just how many people actually got West Nile virus without noticing
any symptoms. Assistant Administrator Terry Allen says the results were
surprising.


“We found that between four and about six and a half-percent of
residents were exposed to West Nile virus. That equates to perhaps 50 to
80,000 people in Cuyahoga County that were exposed last year.”


Allen concedes that one way of looking at those figures is to see that the
number of deaths in the infected population was extremely low. But Allen is
concerned that a new outbreak of West Nile could infect thousands of people
who weren’t exposed last year and could cause even more deaths. So he says
the county has decided to take all possible precautions – including spraying
a pesticide on adult mosquitoes in areas where human cases are reported.


“You have to put this in context. Most counties in Ohio do not
spray for mosquito control.”


That’s Barry Zucker, president of the Ohio Coalition Against the Misuse of
Pesticides. He’s one of many county residents who oppose spraying.


“What the doctors tell us and what the medical studies tell us
is that there are real and potential health consequences from pesticides –
everything from upper respiratory diseases to possible neurological damage
to possible increase in breast cancer. The bottom line is that the pesticide
spraying for adult mosquitoes does not work.”


Others have come to the same conclusion. Bill Tomko is president of the
village council of the Cleveland suburb of Chagrin Falls.

“Our concerns relative to the county board of health was they
didn’t really have any data that indicated that the spraying would do any
good. And we became quite concerned that it was being done to have the
appearance of action in order to quell the emotional response of, you
know, ‘Do something, protect me.'”


Tomko say his community is one of many in the region that have decided not
to spray.


“My first reaction is just to extrapolate from the medical
profession when you’re looking at spraying versus not spraying, first do no
harm. The better way to do it is to apply individual protection
measures and to go after the breeding of the mosquitoes themselves, which is
what we adopted to do in Chagrin Falls by adopting a larvacide program.”


Tomko says his community will pepper catch basins and areas of standing
water with a chemical briquette that kills only mosquito larvae. Combined
with a reduction of breeding sites like removing old tires, continued
surveillance, and a public information campaign about the need for personal
protection, Tomko hopes to keep residents safe from infection by West Nile
virus. Last year, no one in Chagrin Falls got sick.


But Cuyahoga County Health Director Tim Horgan says, with the high infection rate seen
last year in urban areas, he just can’t take that risk. So in addition to larvacide,
surveillance, and all the rest, he says the county will use pesticide sprays
if conditions warrant. Health Director Horgan warns that even residents on
the county’s no-spray list could see pesticide spraying in their
neighborhoods this summer.


“With the problems we had last year, we might have areas where’s
there’s a number of houses on an individual street where people would rather not be
sprayed. And then we might have a case or two of human disease right in that area. If
that happens to us this year, we’re going to notify people on the list, let them
know we’re going to be there. But I think we’re going to try to go in and
make sure that area gets sprayed and that’s very consistent with the
recommendations of the CDC.”


But even the head of the Centers for Disease Control admits there’s not
enough good scientific evidence to be sure spraying works. So while some
health districts such as Cuyahoga County and the city of Cleveland plan to
spray, Chagrin Falls and many other communities do not. What all health
officials do agree on is that avoiding getting bitten is the best way to
keep West Nile at bay.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Schaefer in Cleveland.

Related Links

Doctors Urge Kyoto Sign-On

Some physicians are concerned about the United States not attending the final talks on the Kyoto Protocol on global warming held in early November. The physicians say global warming is already a problem and is adding to a number of public health threats. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Some physicians are concerned about the United States not attending the final talks on the Kyoto Protocol on global warming held in early November. The physicians say global warming is already a problem and is adding to a number of public health threats. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.


Some physicians believe the increase in infectious disease outbreaks such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and Hantavirus are connected to global warming. They say the warming already seen contributes to the spread of the viruses. The warming also could be causing more volatile weather –such as sudden storms in some parts of the Great Lakes region. That can cause flooding of sewer systems that lead to illnesses. Bob Musil is the Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He says the group is encouraging politicians to upgrade sewer systems to cope with the changes.


“There are sudden storm surges, sudden precipitation leads to flooding in combined sewage and storm drains. In the state of Michigan in our report we discussed this problem. And we actually, as physicians, go and talk to the responsible officials.”


But the physician’s group says adapting to the changes only treats the symptoms. Musil says the long-term problem can only be dealt with by reducing air pollutants that cause global warming, something the group says the U-S is refusing to do right now. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Lester Graham.