The Great Lakes region’s largest city has become the first in thenation to ban a gas additive that has been linked to groundwatercontamination. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
The Great Lakes region’s largest city has become the first in the nation to ban a gas
additive that has been linked to groundwater contamination. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports.
The Chicago City Council recently banned all manufacture, sale, and use of MTBE
within the city. MTBE is a fuel additive that is used to decrease air pollution. However,
it has been found to be a potent water pollutant. Some environmentalists are hailing
Chicago’s the move. Eric Vaughn is the president of the Renewable Fuels Association.
“But I think that Chicago recognizes the threat that MTBE poses and just
looks at the Great Lakes and finds it unacceptable that you could contaminate the Great
Lakes with an unnecessary, highly toxic chemical.”
Vaughn says this move is a major step toward a nationwide ban of the gas additive that is
intended to decrease air pollution. Eleven states are in the process of phasing out MTBE
over the next two years. Chicago currently uses corn-based ethanol as an additive to fuel
to lower emissions and comply with federal clean air standards. For the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.
Peter Montague is the editor of Rachel's Environment and Health News,
which is available free online at www.rachel.org
Many people think pollution is as inevitable as death and taxes. ButGreat Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Peter Montague tells us that anew philosophy of environmental protection has sprung up around theGreat Lakes:
To me, one of the most important measures of human health is the rising rate of cancer
in young children. Young children aren’t exposed to the major causes of cancer — they don’t
smoke tobacco; they don’t breathe toxic chemicals on the job, and their lives aren’t subject
to great stress.
Children’s lives today aren’t much different from the lives of children 50 years ago —
and yet there’s a lot more cancer in children today than there was 50 years ago. What this means is that there’s something in the environment causing cancer in children — something in the air, the water, the soil, the food. This is a bad sign, and it’s happening in every industrialized country.
The good news is that a small government agency located on the Great Lakes is trying to do
something about the situation. It is called the International Joint Commission, or IJC. Fifteen years ago, scientists working for the IJC became convinced that Great Lakes pollution was making people sick, and the IJC began to develop a new philosophy of environmental protection. To me, this new philosophy is one of the most exciting developments of the 20th century.
The first principle is that persistent toxic chemicals should be eliminated from the
ecosystem. The IJC said the proper philosophy is “Zero discharge.” If a chemical is toxic and persistent, then the only acceptable amount to discharge into the environment is zero.
The second principle is called reverse onus, or “reversing the burden of proof.” As things
stand today, the burden of proof is on the public to show that industrial pollution is harmful. The IJC says the burden should be shifted onto industrial polluters: before they are allowed to dump anything into the Great Lakes– or anywhere else — they should have to show that they are not going to harm wildlife or humans.
And lastly, the IJC recommends a precautionary approach: if you have reason to believe that what you’re doing is harmful, you should stop doing it even before you’ve got scientific proof of harm.
Together these 3 principles add up to something entirely new. As you might imagine,
industrial polluters think the IJC was sent here by the devil, so the IJC needs all the help it can get from the public.
To get involved, check out their web site: www.ijc.org
Peter Montague is the editor of Rachel's Environment and Health News,
which is available free online at www.rachel.org
Preventing environmental problems and preventing cancer have never been mainstream ideas. Traditionally, government agencies have created programs to manage environmental problems and to try to cure cancer. But as Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Peter Montague tells us, the philosophy of prevention is beginning to catch on:
Preventing environmental problems and preventing cancer have never been mainstream ideas. Traditionally, government agencies have created programs to mmanage environmental problems and to try to cure cancer. But as Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Peter Montague tells us, the philosophy of prevention is beginning to catch on.
With all the fuss that’s being made about human genes these days, it is good to remember
that most cancer is not caused by our genes. In other words, most cancers are not inherited
from our parents. A recent medical study of 44,000 twins re-affirmed that most cancers are
caused by exposure to environmental factors. This is good news, because it means that most
cancers can be prevented, by preventing exposure to cancer-causing agents.
This cancer prevention philosophy is new. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars trying
to find a cure for cancer, but very little trying to prevent it. Now cancer prevention is
beginning to be taken seriously, and a leader in cancer prevention has focused its work
on the Great Lakes. I’m talking about a small government agency called the International
Joint Commission, or IJC, which focuses on water quality in the Great Lakes. For the past
decade, the IJC has been preaching the virtues of keeping cancer-causing chemicals out of the
Lakes. In fact, the IJC is now recommending that we keep all persistent toxic chemicals out of the Lakes. The IJC says we must eliminate persistent toxic chemicals because once we create them, there’s no safe way to manage them — they get loose and come back to bite us, or give us cancer.
In 1992 the IJC said we must “recognize that all persistent toxic substances are dangerous
to the environment, deleterious to the human condition, and can no longer be tolerated in the
In other words, instead of trying to decide how much pollution is safe to allow in our
water or on our cornflakes, the IJC says we should take a preventive approach — we should
eliminate toxic substances. And you know what? Preventing pollution can pay off in more ways than one: as we prevent cancer, there will be a lot of new jobs created as people develop non-toxic products to replace all the toxic chemicals we now use. No doubt about it, cancer prevention is a good policy — good for public health and good for the economy.
On winter days, snow and freezing temperatures force many people to
stay indoors. But that air you’re breathing while inside your home
could be hurting your health. That’s led some people to recommend the
use of houseplants to improve indoor air quality. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Karen Kelly has the story:
According to the World Health Organization, up to twelve million cases
of head lice are reported each year. School-aged children, between
three and ten, are most likely to get lice. At most schools, kids with
lice are sent home, where the parents are left to deal with the
problem. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson
reports, some lice-fighting experts are trying a new, proactive
Winter has come to the Great Lakes and for thousands of people thatmeans mothballing the canoe or the kayak and strapping on thecross-country skis. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brian Manndecided to make one last paddle as the ice was closing in on LakeChamplain. He found a rare stretch of waterfront that’s been protectedfrom development. He sent this audio postcard:
Winter has come to the Great Lakes and for thousands of people that means mothballing the canoe or the kayak and strapping on the cross-country skis. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brian Mann decided to make one last paddle as the ice was closing in on Lake Champlain. He found a rare stretch of waterfront that’s been protected from development. He sent this audio postcard.
It’s mid-morning, wintry cold and overcast, and a first, fragile sheet of ice hovers around the edge of Lake Champlain. Mike Karr – my partner for the day — steadies the two-seater kayak as I climb aboard.
(ambient sound of splashing and getting in kayak)
We take a moment to button down our splash skirts. The wind is blowing sharply, but once we’re tucked in the boat, we’re surprisingly sheltered.
“We’re in South Bay, the headwaters of Lake Champlain, which runs north from here, all the way to the Canadian border.”
Mike heads the Adirondack chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Last year, his outfit bought a big chunk of land here, an effort to protect the lake’s shoreline. Today, we’re heading up-stream, exploring, cutting through the crust of ice to open water:
(ambient sound of paddling through crunching ice)
Much of Lake Champlain is busy with power boats and ferries. Houses lie thick along the shore. But here, the only noise is the distant cry of gulls and the swish of our paddles through the dark water.
“We typically see bald eagles here. Turkey vultures circling in the thermals above the cliffs. Although, on warmer days than today.”
To the west, coming slowly into view, are the Diameters, a pair of amazing 800-foot high cliffs.
“Just up from the black streak that runs down the face of the cliff, there’s a perch where the peregrines roost. You can see their droppings on the cliff. We’ve actually seen them take ducks from the wetlands on the other side of the lake. They dive in and strike the duck
in the air.”
(ambient sound of paddling)
Soon the bay starts to narrow. It’s a strange landscape this time of year. Wild rice stalks stubble the water. Dotted here and there are muskrat lodges, like hayricks – each with its halo of ice. Soon, we come to our first dam.
(ambient sound of beaver dam waterfall)
The work of beavers or muskrats, it’s hard to say which. The wall of twigs and grass has made a small waterfall. We scramble gingerly out of our narrow kayak seats and tug the boat over the top.
(ambient sound of boat scraping over dam)
As we set off again, the black face of the Diameters catches a sudden
weight of sunshine. As the clouds shift, the muskrat lodges are illuminated on
the water, bright yellow against the blues and grays of a winter day.
(ambient sound of paddling)
Upstream we come to marsh island – a few trees and a bit of solid ground
– where we can have lunch. And there, next to his skiff, we find a man named
Tim Kingsley. He lives a few miles north and he’s been trapping here
for twenty years.
“There’s a lot of wildlife up here. Anybody who likes the outdoors, this is the place to be.”
In Kingsley’s boat lies the skinned carcass of a muskrat. He’ll use it as bait in one of his mink traps. He’s a middle-aged man, dressed in heavy fatigues against the cold. When I ask to see how his traps work, Kingsley nods for me to follow and heads off through the swampy grass.
(ambient sound of walking through marsh)
“That’s an old abandoned muskrat house. The mink’ll hunt
there a lot.”
In summer, this part of the bay is thick with life. Now, it’s dormant and still, the grasses and trees shrunk down against the cold months that lie ahead. Kneeling, Kingsley shows me the gap under a stump where his metal snare is laid.
“Those are called conobar traps. How do they work? — They would catch ’em right around the neck and dispatch them right there. They would kill them instantly. They hit those triggers right there and it would collapse over their neck and boom.”
This is wonderful trapping country, Kingsley says. Mink, otter, bobcat, even coyotes. What you don’t see much of is people. A few fishermen in the spring, he says, but then it quiets down again. In buying a parcel of land here – and developing partnerships with local landowners – the Nature Conservancy hopes to protect this area’s wildness.
“It does represent a real shift in the Nature Conservancy’s thinking. Moving away from small, isolated sites out to a larger landscape scale. We need to employ tools to protect this watershed, the headwaters of the lake.”
We paddle on a bit, but soon South Bay contracts around us and the great weight of Lake Champlain is reduced to a winding bijou. A fallen log blocks our passage and we turn reluctantly for home. It’s colder now and long shadows have already fallen across the cliffs. As we cut again through the barrier of ice, it’s good to know that this is one place on the lake that will remain quiet and undisturbed.
(Paddling ambience, ice breaking)
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Brian Mann on Lake Champlain.
For years, shoppers have seen ”organic” labels in grocery stores. Now,environmental groups are hoping that a ”green” label will catch on withthe timber industry. The idea is that consumers will ask for paper andlumber that are produced responsibly – in ways that don’t damageforests. The program has its critics, but as Brian Mann reports, somebig corporations are signing up:
For years, shoppers have seen “organic” labels in grocery stores. Now,
environmental groups are hoping that a “green” label will catch on with the
timber industry. The idea is that consumers will ask for paper and lumber
that are produced responsibly – in ways that don’t damage forests. The program
has its critics, but as Brian Mann reports, some big corporations are
Twelve years ago, a group of environmentalists gathered in New York City to
talk about the destruction of rain forests in Burma and Indonesia and
Some people came into that meeting and said, the way to address it is to
boycott any wood that comes out of rainforests.
Richard Donovan is head of Smartwood, a group based in Vermont that got its
start when some at the meeting raised an objection to the boycott plan.
“Wait a minute. There are people who live in those forests. There are
communities that live in those forests. If somebody does a really good job
of forest management, shouldn’t we be able to wood from those types of
Over the last decade, Smartwood has worked with timber operations in 28
countries that were willing to adopt environmentally sensitive methods.
Those green guidelines were drawn up by an international group called the Forest
Stewardship Council. And slowly the idea has come home to the United
States. Here, more than 250 companies – loggers, processors, and retailers – are
working under Smartwood’s green guidelines.
(Car door slam)
On a cold winter day, forester Wayne Young parks his truck in a sorting yard
on the slope of Lyon Mountain, in the northeast corner of New York state. A saw
blade the size of an airplane propeller is slicing easily through massive red pine.
(sound of blade whine)
The company Young works for – Domtar Communications Paper, based in
Montreal, Quebec – owns more than a hundred thousand acres here. Last summer, the
operation was audited by Smartwood, whose team spent a week hiking the forest and
examining the company’s records.
“We were apprehensive two or three years ago like some of the other
industries. The more we dealt with them, they were very business-like. Very
clear and established principles and guidelines that we’re judged against.
It was good doing business with them.”
In exchange for Smartwood’s stamp of approval, Domtar agreed to tighten
their harvest plans, charting more precise buffers around the forest’s streams and
(saw blade sound fades out)
There was a time, when environmentalists would have rejected a compromise
that still allows aggressive timber harvesting. But many conservation groups now
see this kind of certified logging as a green alternative to more
destructive forms of development – like the spread of suburbs.
Logging companies and mills have their own reasons for agreeing to
certification. Some are weary after decades of bad public relations. They’re
tired of protests and boycotts. For some companies, an endorsement by
Smartwood means public recognition of a long tradition of good forest
“Those initial operations that got involved in this, Menome Tribal
Enterprises in Wisconsin, Kewenol Land Association in Michigan, their main
reason actually initially for doing it was pride.”
But timber companies have another motive for going green. Many think
consumers will pay extra for products that are produced in ways that don’t damage
forests. This idea got a boost last year, when Home Depot announced that it
would certify all 1100 of its outlets. But not everyone thinks certification is a great idea.
After decades of ill-will, there are companies that want nothing to do with
environmentalists. Others say consumers may reject the notion, scared off by higher
prices. Eric Johnson is editor of The Northern Logger, a magazine based in Old
Forge, New York.
“Everybody says they want a clean environment and everyone says they’re
all for environmental protection. But I think what people say and what they do
are quite often different. I think if the major retailers think they’re going
to have a large consumer demand and a large consumer willingness to pay a
premium for lumber, I think maybe they’re misleading themselves.”
There’s also confusion over the type of certification. The timber industry
has launched its own, voluntary set of standards, which environmental groups say
are less stringent. Still, Johnson agrees that groups like Smartwood are
gaining influence fast. The supply of certified wood has grown in recent
years to around five percent of the total market.
(road rumble ambience)
Driving down a logging road, through stands of snow-covered pine and maple,
Domtar’s Wayne Young says he thinks green marketing will keep growing. The
timber industry is intensely competitive, he says. Companies looking for an
edge will have to adopt the new standards.
“I think eventually the market and the public will dictate that all
people need to follow those, so the public is going to decide.”
In order to keep Smartwood’s endorsement, Domtar will have to maintain its
tighter standards. The company will be audited each year by Smartwood’s
team of independent foresters. But the project here in New York is only a
beginning. Domtar is now in the process of certifying its international
operations – more than thirty-six million acres of timberland in Maine,
Ontario, and Quebec.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Brian Mann in Lyon Mountain, New
A landmark study of asthma is looking at the environmental and socialaspects of a disease that tends to have a greater effect on minoritychildren who live in urban areas. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’sLester Graham reports:
A landmark study of asthma is looking at the environmental and social
aspects of a disease that tends to have a greater effect on minority children who live in
urban areas. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
This five year program is researching asthma in eight centers
Across the nation. The Detroit portion looks at African-
American children who suffer from asthma. Tim Dvonch is with
The university of Michigan. He says the study looks at a broad
Spectrum of factors that affect the disease,
Everything from pollutants that trigger it to how families
“Medical doctors with direct clinical experience teamed with
environmental scientists teamed with social research scientists, all of
these different people that are on our research teams that are coming
together makes it a very unique strength.”
Besides looking at local environmental factors, the study
Will also look at whether pollutants from smokestack
Industries hundreds of miles away aggravate asthma in
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester graham.
Researchers are trying to find out what’s causing increasing numbers of asthma cases among children in urban areas. The latest study is one of the largest of its kind ever undertaken. Those involved believe they might find evidence that pollutants from distant sources play a bigger role in asthma attacks than had been previously thought. In the final segment of a three-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports that if those links are confirmed, only stricter government regulations can reduce the number of cases of asthma:
Researchers are trying to find out what’s causing increasing numbers of
asthma cases among children in urban areas. The latest study is one of the
largest of its kind ever undertaken. Those involved believe they might find
evidence that pollutants from distant sources play a bigger role in asthma
attacks than had been previously thought. In the final segment of a
three-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports
that if those links are confirmed, only stricter government regulations can
reduce the number of cases of asthma.
The study is being funded by a couple of government agencies.
As part of their work, researchers are giving families tools they can use to help reduce the occurrence of asthma
attacks. But they’re also trying to learn
more about what causes those attacks in the first place. So, they’re monitoring air quality in the homes and neighborhoods where children with asthma live and play. And depending on what the researchers find, these tests, they say, could prove to be a turning point in the debate over emissions and public health.
Previous studies have found that some types of pollution can travel very long distances. For example, scientists have
tracked soot and ozone from power plant smokestacks for hundreds of miles. University of Michigan researcher Tim
Dvonch says this new study will now try to determine whether those pollutants can affect the health of children downwind. Dvonch is setting up air quality monitoring in Detroit. He says part of that research will be looking for different sizes of soot, or what the researchers call particulate matter. That’s because earlier studies have linked smaller particulate matter to respiratory illnesses.
“And that’s actually helping to dictate which sized fractions — why we’re looking at different sized fractions of particulate matter in the air. We’re also looking at ozone. Ozone in the past has been linked to health effects in various high risk groups.”
Advocates are hoping the results of this study will give them more evidence to use in a push for government regulations.
Previous studies have already proven to be useful. Data from them have been used to lobby Congress for more restrictions on emissions.
One of those studies was commissioned this year by the Clean Air Task Force. It found that soot from power plants led to
about 603,000 asthma attacks in one year and more than 7,000 emergency room visits. Andy Igrejas is with the National Environmental Trust, one of the task force members. He says while soot is a major health problem, it’s not even the worst one they’re studying.
“Ozone has an even more profound affect on asthma attacks. A study by the same consulting firm found that the ozone for power plants was responsible for approximately 6.2 million asthma attacks and 16,000 asthma related emergency room visits as well as some other
respiratory symptoms. So, ozone is another major problem that power plants
Igrejas says those studies can become powerful tools in an effort to strengthen government regulation of air pollution.
“There’s a lot of consensus on the need to clean up power plants and beginnings of a very, uh finer points of policy debate here and we want to add this piece of research to illuminate the trade-offs involved, that
you really can quantify with reasonable accuracy how many people are — how
many lives are going to be cut short, how many asthma attacks you can save
by cleaning up power plant pollution by particular levels.”
Igrejas says when you start balancing lives and public health with profit margins and economics, the dynamics of the debate
change. Other advocacy groups see the value of the data from the various studies and how it can be used to reduce pollution.
Douglas Klegon is the CEO of the American Lung Association of Michigan.
“We’ve been very supportive of the EPA efforts on air pollution. There’s clear evidence that particulate matters do make a difference. And so we’re looking forward to more stringent regulations that will clean up our air and improve people’s health.”
So, if the Detroit study confirms direct links between soot and ozone pollution and asthma attacks, advocacy groups could use the results to argue for further restrictions on power plants and other sources of the pollutants. And the
EPA and the environmental groups that lobby Congress might finally have the direct evidence they need to tighten regulations in spite of the economic costs to the smokestack industries and consumers.
However, Tim Dvonch and his colleagues say right now they’re more worried about helping the children they’ve come to
know as they conduct the study. Right now they’re concentrating on helping those families manage the disease.
“It really is a first step. But we’re very hopeful and feel pretty confident with the research team that we have assembled and the study that we’ve laid out for this five years that, yes, we can get through that first
line of questions. What are the triggers? And through our intervention at
least begin to assess what are effective ways to help children and families
deal with asthma.”
But depending on the results, the Detroit findings along with seven other similar studies in cities across the nation could have an effect far beyond the neighborhoods being studied.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
In order to reduce asthma attacks, many people who experience them tryto reduce their exposure to the environmental factors that can triggerthose attacks. Now, a new study is trying to help, by determining whatenvironmental factors affect asthma. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’sLester Graham reports:
In order to reduce asthma attacks, many people who experience them try to
reduce their exposure to the environmental factors that can trigger those
attacks. And now a new study is trying to help, by determining what
environmental factors affect asthma. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lester Graham reports.
People suffering from asthma can control a lot of the
Allergens found at home. But outside it’s a different story.
Katherine Edgren is with the university of Michigan and heads
Up the group community action against asthma. She is working
On the study in Detroit, where 3000 families will be involved.
“We’re going to be looking at factors in the neighborhood that may be
making children’s asthma worse. And then we’re going to be working with
existing groups and organizations to try to address some of those outdoor
factors in the neighborhood.”
That might mean approaching nearby factories and asking
Them to reduce emissions that might trigger asthma attacks. If
That doesn’t work, the groups say they could then go to
Regulatory agencies or the courts.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.