Hair is now a way to test people for mercury levels, as opposed to more invasive tests of blood and urine. (Photo by Anna Miller)
Health officials are experimenting with another way to gauge the level of mercury in people who eat a lot of fish. The only test sample needed is… hair. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach
Health officials are experimenting with another way to gauge the level of mercury in people who eat a lot of fish. The only test sample needed is… hair. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Doctors can already test your blood and urine for mercury. Now, as a less invasive technique, some health officials can test the hair near your scalp for the toxic chemical. There’s some debate over the quality of the tests, the lab analyses, and over what a high test reading means. The federal health warning for mercury in hair is one part per million. But that’s for susceptible populations like an unborn fetus.
Jack Spengler is a professor of environmental health at Harvard University. he recently ate a lot of fish and says his hair tested out at 3 parts per million of mercury.
“But I’m not going apoplectic about it because I know if I just watch my consumption, I can moderate that over time… and there’s that safety margin…that I suspect I’d have to be much higher for much longer to really have symptoms. ”
Prolonged high levels of the most toxic form of mercury, methyl mercury can trigger various health problems in adults such as memory loss and cardiovascular damage.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.
American chestnuts (left) are smaller than Chinese and European chestnuts. The Chinese and European varieties are also resistant to the blight, making the imports more desirable to growers. (Photo by Lester Graham)
American chestnuts were an important food source for wildlife because there was a more consistent crop each year than acorns. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Bill Nash of Nash Nurseries holds the spiny husks that hold the chestnuts. The American chestnut grove behind him is 20 years old and has not yet been hit by blight. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Food is always a big part of the holidays. But one
traditional food has – for the most part – disappeared from American tables. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Food is always a big part of the holidays. But one traditional food has – for the most part – disapeared from American tables. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
(Sound of Nat King Cole singing, “Chestnuts roasing on an open fire…”)
That old chestnut of a song romanticizes roasting chestnuts as a part of the holidays. But a lot of us have never even seen chestnuts, let alone roasted them on an open fire. Chestnuts used to be a major part of the Eastern hardwood forest. There were millions of them. In fact, 25 percent of all the mature trees were chestnuts. But a blight, imported with some Chinese chestnut trees, slowly wiped out the American chestnuts. Now, they’re gone.
Well… almost. Much of the root stock is still alive. Sprouts grow until the blight knocks them back again. A blight only hurts the standing tree where it branches out.
And, in a few isolated pockets in the Midwest, the blight hasn’t reached the trees. A few American chestnuts are alive and growing and some of them are free of the blight. At Nash Nursuries in central Michigan, owner Bill Nash is guiding us through a rare sight… a grove of American chestnuts.
“These are 20 years old and as you can see, they’re fairly good sized. The American chestnut is quite a rapid growing tree. It’s well-suited for our climate, so it doesn’t have any of the problems that some of the hybrids do as far as growing and cultural care you have to take care of them. The Americans, you get them started and they’re pretty much on their own.”
In a few places in Michigan and Wisconsin there are small groves of chestnuts. They’re prized trees. They’re great for shade. The hardwood is rot resistant and makes great furniture and fence posts. And the chestnuts are eaten by humans and wildlife alike. Bill Nash says the tree will be popular again if it ever overcomes the blight that’s hit it so hard.
“The American chestnut will make another big comeback in this country as a yard tree, as a timber tree, as a wildlife tree.”
That part about a wildlife tree is more important than just worrying about the squirrels and bunnies. Chestnuts were an important food source for all kinds of animals.
Andrew Jarosz is a plant biologist at Michigan State University. He says the loss of chestnuts has been hard on wildlife populations.
“Chestnuts shed nuts in a more regular pattern than oaks, which will have what are called mast years – where they’ll have major crops, massive crops one year and very small crops in other years – which means it’s either feast or famine if you’re depending on oaks.”
Since the blight first began hitting American chestnuts about a century ago, researchers have been looking into all kinds of ways to stop it. One way is to cross it with the Chinese chestnut which has a couple of genes that resist the blight. But it takes a long time to breed out the Chinese characteristics from the American chestnuts and still keep the resistant genes.
Another approach is genetic manipulation. Genetically modifying the American chestnut tree to make it disease resistant. Again, work is underway, but it takes a long time. And even after success, it’s likely some people won’t like the idea of releasing a genetically modified organism into the wild.
The final approach worked in Europe when the blight hit there. It seems there’s a naturally occuring virus that kills the blight. It spread naturally in Europe. There are a few groves in Michigan that have naturally acquired the virus and it’s working to keep the blight at bay. Andrew Jarosz is working on the research. He says the trick is figuring out how to get the virus to spread to other trees short of manually spreading it on cankers infected by the blight.
“If we’re literally talking about millions of trees across probably, you know, the eastern third of the country, we obviously can’t treat every canker on every tree. And we need to be able to figure out a way to deploy the virus in a way that it can spread.”
Even with all that hopeful research, it’ll be ten years at least before some practical solutions end up in the forests, and Jarosz believes a couple of centuries before the American chestnut holds the place it once did in the forests.
Bill Nash knows it’ll be a while before there are major changes, but he is optimistic about the American chestnut.
“Oh, I would think the tree has a bright future. There’s enough people working on that, enough programs going on now… So, I would suspect that in the not-too-distant future we should have some of this progress made. You know, Robert Frost in his poem predicted the comeback of the American chestnut, that something would arise to offset that blight. And we’re starting to see that.”
Frost put it this way: “Will the blight end the chestnut? The farmers rather guess not, It keeps smoldering at the roots And sending up new shoots Till another parasite Shall come to end the blight.”
Seems Frost was an optimist too.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
While people are now aware of the health benefits of eating fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids like salmon, a study has shown that the risk of high mercury levels and heart disease might counteract those benefits. (Photo by Bartlomiej Stroinski)
Researchers in one state in the region are trying to
find out how much mercury load their residents are carrying.
So far, 300 samples have been collected for the study. And
the researchers have found that one-quarter of Wisconsin men participating in the study have high levels of mercury. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Researchers in one state in the region are trying to find out how much mercury load
their residents are carrying. So far, 300 samples have been collected for the study.
And the researchers have found that one-quarter of Wisconsin men participating in the
study have high levels of mercury. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
The EPA says the safe level for mercury is one part per million. In the ongoing Wisconsin
study, one in four men and one in eight women have more than that in their bodies. The
study subjects volunteered for the study, so officials say they may not represent the
Eating fish contaminated with mercury has long been thought to cause developmental
problems in young children. But now there’s research from Europe showing it can also
contribute to heart disease in adult men.
Lynda Knobeloch is a toxicologist with the Wisconsin Department of Health.
“There have been several studies that show that people who eat fish have less heart
disease because of omega 3 fatty acids, but the European study was able to sort out the
good effects of omega 3s from the bad effects of methyl mercury, and see that the mercury
actually can overwhelm the beneficial effects of omega 3s and actually cause heart disease.”
Wisconsin is requiring its utilities to reduce mercury emissions by 75% over ten years.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
An Ohio jury has awarded neighbors of a large factory farm $19.7 million in damages. People living near Buckeye Egg Farm in central Ohio have complained for years of fly infestations and odors. The outcome is seen as a victory by those living next to large-scale farm operations throughout the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston has the story:
An Ohio jury has awarded neighbors of a large factory farm 19.7 million dollars in damages. People living near Buckeye Egg Farm in Central Ohio have complained for years of fly infestations and odors. The outcome of the lawsuit may or may not affect similar cases in other states. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports.
(Natural sound of locusts, wind, dog barking in the distance)
Freda Douthitt’s house sits at the end of a gravel lane. The driveway is surrounded by trees and wild flowers. She’s always liked it here because it’s secluded … she’s a couple miles from a rural road. She likes to sit on the multi-tiered back patio that overlooks a small pond. That’s where she grades composition papers from her Freshman English class at Ohio University.
(sound of flies)
But she has also had to swat at flies for the past ten years. Douthitt collects flies in a container that is nearly the size of a gallon milk jug. She estimates this one has about 2-3 inches worth of decomposing flies and maggots collected since August 22.
“It smells out here. That’s the flytrap. That keeps some of them from getting in the house. Today there’s a few flies out here. There are days when that wall would be just polka dotted with them.
Douthitt has frozen the containers of flies and collected them over the years. She took them to court with her to prove the problems she deals with living near a factory farm.
That’s what helped her win a 1.2 million dollar share of a settlement with Buckeye Egg Farm. It’s one of the world’s largest egg-laying producers. Douthitt’s house is three-quarters of a mile from one of the company’s egg-laying plants. The flies come from the vast amounts of manure produced by millions of chickens housed at the company’s barns. The manure gets spread on farm fields that surround Douthitt’s house after harvest season in the fall. Since then … she has watched as run-off from Buckeye Egg properties killed tens-of-thousands of fish in a nearby creek. She has even seen the creek water turn purple.
She says she never expected to win in court against the company when she began the legal battle 9 years ago.
“I never thought about suing. Until one of the neighbors I’d been working hard with trying to get the EPA to do something … trying to get the county health department interested … um, we were both frustrated at that point. She called up one evening and said we’re ready to call a lawyer, are you? And I said, yeah, I’ll meet with you.
As the years went by I became pretty frustrated, and wondered what would make a difference.”
Douthitt and 20 of her neighbors won a 19.7 million dollar lawsuit against Buckeye Egg.
This win has other people in Great Lakes states hopeful they too can win in court against large factory farms.
Julie Janson of Olivia, Minnesota knows Douthitt’s story all too well. Janson has been fighting hog factory farm owner Valadco for 6 years. Her house sits sandwiched between two of the company’s hog barns. Janson and her husband filed a lawsuit this spring against the company. They are asking for close to 200-thousand dollars because Janson says her family of eight gets sick from manure odors.
Janson says she took her 11-year-old daughter to a specialist in California to prove she has brain damage from smelling hydrogen sulfide.
Decomposing manure creates hydrogen sulfide gas and ammonia that smells like rotten eggs.
“Sometimes it’s enough to gag a maggot. The stink is putrid. And, it penetrates through your house, through the windows and doors. Every little crack in your home.”
Janson says her family has spent one hundred thousand dollars to fight Valadco.
She had to close her daycare center, which she ran from her home, partly because of the stench. Her husband is supporting the family with his truck-driving job that brings in nearly 38-thousand dollars a year.
She says a win over Buckeye Egg farm in Ohio is a victory that can help her cause.
“There’s finally been some justice served. Some of these people have been fighting for over ten years. And … to me … it just says no matter how long and painful it is, you need to fight for justice because if us citizens don’t fight it’s never gonna happen.”
Both Janson and Douthitt say it’s not the money that will make them happy.
Douthitt says she will probably never see the money that she is owed.
But … she says the county judge may force the company to clean up its farms and the surrounding communities.
“How can they have that many animals and that much manure and let it just pour out and not treat it? They let it just pour out onto the land.”
Buckeye egg farm officials have said they may appeal the verdict. The company says it has already spent millions of dollars to try and clean up its facilities. Earlier this year, Buckeye Egg settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit with Ohio’s attorney general’s office. The state sued the company for dumping dead chickens in a field and polluting creeks by spilling contaminated water. The state has since filed seven sets of contempt charges against Buckeye Egg for not correcting the problems. It’s still undecided whether Buckeye Egg will file for bankruptcy following the verdict.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.
Mercury emissions from more than 150 coal-burning power plants across the Great Lakes are coming under greater scrutiny this summer. Several states are considering ways to reduce those emissions. Wisconsin could become the first state in the nation to issue rules requiring large mercury reductions. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has the story:
The report card on fitness is in – and it concludes that there’s a lotof room for improvement. The federal government has been keeping trackof Americans’ heights and weights for more than 30 years now. And eachtime the survey is taken, it shows that the population is heavier. TheUpper Midwest is the heaviest region in the country. The Great LakesRadio Consortium’s Joan Siefert-Rose reports on the theories behind thisdramatic increase in obesity … and the special problems faced bychildren:
Many inner-city homes built before World War Two still contain lead paint-making them harmful environments for children. An estimated twenty-percent of inner-city children have dangerous levels of lead that could be hampering their central nervous systems. Researchers are trying to find out what long-term effects lead exposure in the home has on children. And they’re testing a drug that might reverse those effects. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve Hirschberg has more: