West Nile Virus has swept the nation from east to west, but it’s hitting some areas
harder than others. Lester Graham reports:
West Nile Virus has swept the nation from east to west, but it’s hitting some areas
harder than others. Lester Graham reports:
Nationwide this year, there have been 576 cases of West Nile Virus reported in humans this
year. The mosquito-borne disease has spread across the nation. Emily Zielinski-
Gutierrez, with the Centers for Disease Control, says some areas are worse than
others. There are West Nile Virus hotspots in the Dakotas and Nebraska, but it can
pop up anwhere… especially where there’s been a lot of rain or flooding:
“Basically, if you’re anywhere in the United States, you need to worry about a
mosquito bite that you get. If you’re in these states that have experienced and
communities that have experienced more intense activity, you need to be even that
much more concerned about protecting yourself from mosquito bites.”
She says look for the ingredient DEET in mosquito repellant. The CDC warns just
because you’ve not heard a lot about West Nile Virus in the news this year doesn’t mean it’s
not a problem in your area.
For the Environment Report, this is Lester Graham.
A new report finds the average person carries pesticide residue in their body that exceeds government-approved levels. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:
A new report finds the average person carries pesticide residue in their body that exceeds
government-approved levels. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:
The Pesticide Action Network analyzed blood and urine samples of more than 9,000
people. The samples were collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
According to the report, every sample contained pesticide residue. The highest
concentrations were found in adult women, children and Mexican Americans, who were
more likely to work in agriculture.
Angelica Barrera is with the Pesticide Action Network. She says the current testing of
these products isn’t enough, and they’re calling on Congress to impose tougher
“To put the burden of proof on the chemical manufacturers, that before they put anything
on the market, they need to prove that that pesticide is in fact safe for public use.”
The most commonly found pesticide residue was from chlorpyrifos, an chemical used in
agriculture. A spokesperson for Dow Chemical, which makes the pesticide, said their
products are safe if used properly.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.
A type of genetically engineered corn that was pulled from the market more than three years ago is still showing up in small amounts of the nation’s corn supply. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
A type of genetically engineered corn that was pulled from the market more than
three years ago is still showing up in small amounts of the nation’s corn supply.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
Starlink corn was designed to be resistant to certain pests. But concerns over
possible health effects on humans led the government to limit its use to corn
grown for feeding livestock.
But when traces of Starlink were detected in taco shells in 2000, the genetically
modified corn was pulled from the market. Today, voluntary testing is conducted
by the USDA on growers who suspect their corn might be contaminated with
Starlink. Those tests have shown that Starlink is still present in trace amounts.
Rick Johns is an associate biology professor at Northern Illinois University. He
says it’s possible Starlink will be around for many years to come.
“Farmers aren’t necessarily good at keeping everything separate. The grain bins,
for example, are not well segregated – human food versus animal food – it’s all
together in one big bin. Even if you clean the bin out there’s lots of excess seeds
left inside of it. Similarly for the trucks, similarly for the grain elevators.”
A study by the Centers for Disease Control found no conclusive evidence of
allergic reaction to Starlink corn.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.
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:
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
“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
“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.
People who suspect they’re sick because of something they ate can go to a new Web site to find out if others are having similar symptoms. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner has more:
People who suspect they’re sick because of something they ate can go to a new Web site to find
out if others are having similar symptoms. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner has
The Web site was created at Michigan State University’s National Food Safety and Toxicology
Center. It started as a pilot project in three mid-Michigan counties. But now it’s being expanded
because people from all over the country are logging on. Holly Wethington manages the project.
“If they became sick and they thought that they had eaten something that was bad or maybe
something didn’t taste right, and then they started to experience either vomiting or diarrhea, they
would log on to the Web site and report their symptoms and food that they had eaten, to see if
others had reported those too.”
Wethington says state and local health agencies check the site regularly. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention say about 5000 people die of food poisoning every year in the U.S. The
Web site is the letters R-U-sick and the number two, RUsick2.msu.edu.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
A new study indicates that more children might be at risk from the effects of lead in their environment than previously thought. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:
A new study indicates that more children might be at risk from the effects of lead in their
environment than previously estimated. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has
Elevated levels of lead in a child’s bloodstream are known to cause mental development
problems. The question is…how much lead is too much? Today, the danger level is set at 10
micrograms per deciliter of blood. But new research published in the New England Journal of
Medicine shows that levels below ten micrograms might also cause problems. Richard Canfield
is a researcher at Cornell University. He headed up the latest study:
“Instead of finding that as lead levels increase the power of lead to cause
problems increases, which most people would think, we found that most of the
damage seems to be done at the low levels.”
Canfield and his group found that IQ levels in young children dropped even at lead levels below
the current standard. He notes that, on the whole, the problem of lead poisoning in children is
decreasing, but it’s still a major concern.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
Children are typically exposed to lead in older homes with lead based paint or lead in the home’s
piping system, and by playing in soil next to roadways contaminated by cars that burned leaded
gasoline in the past. To find out more about lead poisoning visit the Center’s for
Disease Control’s website at www.cdc.gov.
Zoos have helped public health officials
monitor the spread of the West Nile virus. Besides concerns
about human health, zoos are worried about the birds in their care.
Cooler weather sweeping the Great Lakes region means the end of the mosquito season. It also means a temporary halt to the spread of West Nile virus in the area. But this past summer the virus made headway into the region much faster than experts had expected. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Cooler weather sweeping the Great Lakes region means the end of the mosquito season. It also means a temporary halt to the spread of West Nile virus in the area. But, this past summer the virus made headway into the region much faster than experts had expected. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
It’s extremely rare that West Nile virus causes severe illness in humans. But it does happen. While most people won’t even realize they’re infected, about one fourth of those infected will exhibit some mild symptoms. However, the virus can cause encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain. In very rare cases it can be fatal.
Zoos have been helpful in monitoring the spread of the disease. It was first identified here in the U.S. by the Bronx zoo in the fall of 1999 after crows started dying in the New York area. Since then, zoos across the U-S have kept watch on their birds and animals. In part to protect them and in part to help health officials track the progress of the virus.
Scientists thought the virus would slowly make its way to neighboring states. But, it’s spread much more quickly than expected. It wasn’t supposed to hit states as far west as Illinois and Wisconsin until sometime next year. But it made it even farther west with reports of it in Missouri.
Researchers have learned the virus is carried by birds such as crows, blue jays, hawks and Canada geese. Dominic Travis is a veterinary epidemiologist at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. He says since West Nile virus infects birds, experts suggested it would spread southward from New York. That’s because many birds, including some infected with the virus would travel south for the winter. Others, though, said it could spread west.
“And, the westward race won. We were fairly surprised that it came past the Michigan and western Ohio area, but we’ve been prepared because we started this surveillance system and started working with the CDC and USDA and everybody last spring for this specific eventuality.”
Travis says zoos across the Midwest started monitoring for West Nile virus this past spring. They worked with local health officials to determine if the disease had spread to birds in the area.
While birds carry the disease, mosquitoes spread it. So, officials at he Lincoln Park Zoo have been trapping mosquitoes and drawing blood from its animals, testing for West Nile virus. They’ve also been working to reduce the chance that animals will be bitten by mosquitoes. Again. Dominic Travis.
“The two strategies are try and limit the mosquito and if you can’t limit the mosquito, limit the contact.”
Most zoos are hesitant to use insecticides to kill the mosquitoes. So, instead, they try to eliminate places where they can breed. Basically, that’s anywhere a puddle of water stands for more than four days. Travis says that helps meet strategy number one, limiting the mosquito.
“So, a) if you don’t have mosquitoes, the risk is fairly low, and b) if you can’t get rid of all your mosquitoes, then you want to stop mosquitoes from biting the animals and so you do things to keep them separate. And those are –depending on the birds, the size, the situation, the zoo– those are keeping them in during mosquito feeding hours or some people have mosquito nets that they’re incorporating and so on and so forth.”
Zoos are especially worried because they’re responsible for some very rare birds, in some cases the last of a species.
At the Saint Louis Zoo, a huge outdoor flight cage and several other outdoor cages make up the zoo’s bird garden. Zookeeper Frank Fischer says outside bird exhibits are at highest risk.
“We’re making sure that, trying to make sure that none of our birds, even the birds in the outside exhibits here in the bird garden don’t contract any of that disease, say, from crows or our blue jays or birds of that type.”
While birds are most at risk of infection, they’re not the only species hit by the virus. In the U.S., as many as a dozen people have died after being bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile virus. And even more horses have died. People and horses are considered incidental victims. That is, they don’t carry the disease and they don’t spread it. But they can be infected. A veterinarian in southwestern Illinois, Don Van Walleghen, says he’s gotten a lot of calls from worried customers, asking about West Nile virus.
“Basically, they want to know, is it here? Is it a concern for me?”
And because it’s such a recent phenomenon Van Walleghen’s customers have a lot of other questions. They bring in dead birds, wondering if their dog or cat that was playing with the bird might be infected. So far, aside from horses and people, there have been no reports of other animals, livestock or pets, being infected by West Nile virus, or spreading it.
“In humans, if you are a human bitten by a mosquito that had this disease, you could not transmit it to your kids or to anything else. So, at least that limits the disease from even being thought of as any kind of epidemic.”
But it is spreading. Experts hope that weather conditions next year are not good for mosquito production. But even a relatively normal to dry season as this past year was has not seemed to slow the spread of West Nile virus. If next year is wetter, experts say the virus could spread farther and infection rates could rise. That’s why health and agriculture experts are reminding people to work toward reducing the mosquito population next year. They recommend everything from keeping roof gutters unclogged to prevent standing water, to landscaping yards and driveways to eliminate puddles. Anything that will slow mosquito production next year will hopefully slow the spread of the West Nile virus. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Americans are getting mixed signals from officials about just how safe their drinking water is. The federal government is trying to calm fears that terrorists might poison public water supplies. But at the same time the government and water utilities are asking the public to help keep an eye on reservoirs and storage tanks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Americans are getting mixed signals from officials about just how safe their drinking water is. The federal government is trying to calm fears that terrorists might poison public water supplies. But, at the same time the government and water utilities are asking the public to help keep an eye on reservoirs and storage tanks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
Since the attacks, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Whitman, has been traveling the country, assuring groups that water supplies are safe from terrorism. Speaking recently to a group of journalists, Whitman explained that security at water utilities has been increased and that water is now tested more frequently. And she said that given the size of most reservoirs, it would take a very large amount of any chemical or biological contaminant before any such attack would have an effect.
“It would be extremely difficult for someone to perform this kind of act, taking a truckload –and that’s what it would be, a tanker truckload– up to a reservoir and dumping it in, given the heightened security we have today. And that’s a security that’s not just being provided by the water companies, which it is, but it’s also citizen heightened security, believe me. People are calling in all the time when they see things that they think they shouldn’t be seeing near water supply systems.”
But, Whitman’s view is not shared by a number of experts in the field of terrorism prevention. Jim Snyder is a professor at the University of Michigan. He was a member of a team of experts that worked with the Defense Department to determine possible threats against public water supplies.
“There are a number of contaminants, several bio-toxins and a large number of chemicals that are more or less readily available that could be put into, let’s say, a ten-million gallon reservoir which could in amounts something between a backpack and a pickup truck could achieve a lethal dose of 50-percent. That is, 50-percent of the people who drank one cup would die.”
And Snyder adds, water contamination wouldn’t have to be lethal, just contaminated enough that it caused panic and made the water unusable. Snyder also points out that the tests that production chemists run on water would not detect the kind of contaminants terrorists would use. The first clue something was wrong would be sick or dead people.
EPA Administrator Whitman concedes that there are some contaminants that would not be filtered out or killed by disinfectants used in water treatment. but she says water systems across the U-S are prepared for most kinds of attacks.
“The vast majority of contaminants about which we’re worried, we know how to treat. We know what steps to take. And those where we’re not sure of what we need to do, we’re working with the CDC to develop a protocol to respond. And we’re sharing that information as we get it with the water companies to make sure even those small ones know what to look for and how to treat it if they find it.”
Besides the Center for Disease Control, the EPA is working with the FBI and the water utilities to prepare for the worst, while telling the public that there’s little to worry about. The EPA could have helped those water systems prepare earlier. The terrorism prevention team Jim Snyder sat on drafted a manual for water system operators, outlining security measures that could be taken. The EPA buried that manual in part because the agency didn’t want to unnecessarily alarm the public.
The water utility industry is working with the EPA to try to calm any fears the consumers might have. The American Water Works Association has held joint news conferences with Administrator Whitman, echoing the statement that poisons would be diluted or that it would take a tanker of contaminants to cause a problem. Pam Krider is a spokesperson for the American Water Works Association.
“When you get into a specific discussion about types of chemicals or quantities of chemicals, whether it’s a backpack or whether it’s a tanker, I mean, those are not as useful as discussing what are the processes that a utility has in place for monitoring what is and is not in its water, ensuring that they can provide safe, clean drinking water to the consumers within their city.”
So, the American Water Works Association is encouraging water utilities to step up testing water and quietly meet with emergency planners to prepare for the worst..
“What we have been discussing is the need for every utility to work very closely with local officials, to have a crisis preparedness and response plan in place, to have back-up systems in place, and most important, to engage their local community in keeping an eye out on the different reservoirs, storage tanks and treatment facilities and reporting any kind of suspicious activity that they might see both to the utility as well as to the police department.”
Water terrorism prevention expert Jim Snyder says simple things such as locking gates and posting security guards go a long way to discourage would-be terrorists from attacking a water treatment plant, storage tanks, wells or a reservoir. However, he notes. there’s little that can be done to stop a determined terrorist from contaminating a public water supply. And it seems that’s a message the EPA and the water utilities don’t want to talk about because it might worry the public.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Researchers might soon have a vaccine to protect birds from the West Nile virus. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Researchers might soon have a vaccine to protect birds from the West Nile virus. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
The centers for disease control and the U.S. Army are getting help to develop a vaccine for prevention of the mosquito borne West Nile virus. Here in the U.S. in the past couple of years, the virus has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of birds from more than seventy species. Michael Hutchins is with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. He says research into a vaccine ahs been driven by the need to protect birds in zoos.
“The current studies are to develop an injectable vaccine, but the intention is to try to take that and develop an ingestible variety that could be spread on bird feed and would therefore have a hopefully-big impact on wild birds as well.”
Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, the Walt Disney Foundation, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the American Bird Conservancy have all contributed to the project. Hutchins says a vaccine could be developed as soon as the next month or so. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.