Microwave Popcorn Disease

  • Federal agencies have been aware of a link between artificial butter flavoring in microwave popcorn and a debilitating respiratory illness. The illness has shown up in factory workers - and recently one consumer of microwave popcorn made the news when he also got sick. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Microwave popcorn lovers are thinking twice about their favorite snack. Lester
Graham reports, a lung disease associated with popcorn packers might be a risk for
some popcorn snackers:

Transcript

Microwave popcorn lovers are thinking twice about their favorite snack. Lester
Graham reports, a lung disease associated with popcorn packers might be a risk for
some popcorn snackers:

For years federal agencies have been aware that there’s a link between an artificial
butter flavoring and lung disease. Some workers at factories that pack popcorn in
microwavable bags are exposed to the chemical diacetyl. It causes a debilitating
respiratory illness thatís now called “popcorn workers lung.”


No one really thought consumers were at any risk, since exposure to diacetyl is
limited. But a recent New York Times article revealed a microwave popcorn lover
who ate two bags a day and stuck his nose into the bag to inhale the buttery odor of
diacetyl also contracted “popcorn workers lung.”


Congress is pressuring various federal agencies to set a health standard for
exposure to diacetyl to protect workers in popcorn packaging factories and other
industries that use the chemical.


For the Environment Report, this is Lester Graham.

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Feds Say No to Private Developers

For most of the last century, the federal
government has engaged in a practice known as “land
swapping.” That’s where the federal government sells
or trades land with private property owners. In recent
years, land swapping has become increasingly controversial
as developers build neighborhoods on previously undeveloped
public land. But one federal agency has put an end to the
practice. Some conservationists hope this recent development
represents a new era for the protection of federally-owned
land. Matt Shafer Powell reports:

Transcript

For most of the last century, the federal
government has engaged in a practice known as “land
swapping.” That’s where the federal government sells
or trades land with private property owners. In recent
years, land swapping has become increasingly controversial
as developers build neighborhoods on previously undeveloped
public land. But one federal agency has put an end to the
practice. Some conservationists hope this recent development
represents a new era for the protection of federally-owned
land. Matt Shafer Powell reports:


In the 1930s and 40s the federal government used eminent domain, or the threat of it, to
seize land all over the country. It bought up the land to build dams to make electricity.
One of the biggest projects took place in the Southeastern US. That’s where the federal
government created the Tennessee Valley Authority and flooded much of the Tennessee
River Valley. What was once deep gullies and hillsides became lakes and reservoirs
surrounded by forests. The TVA still owns about 300,000 acres of undeveloped land
throughout the region. For most of the last seventy years, the public has used this land
for recreation and conservation. Billy Minser is a wildlife biologist. He says the public
is very protective of that land:


“It provides outstanding public resource for recreation and beauty, it gives people a place to
rekindle the human spirit, a place to relax, hunt, fish, camp, bird watch or maybe to sit
home and think about how pretty the lakes are.”


In 2003, the TVA angered conservationists like Minser when it traded some of that land
to a residential developer, who built an upscale subdivision on it, and it happened again
last year with another swatch of pristine lakeshore property. Minser claims those deals
betrayed the public, but they also betrayed those families who lost their land to the
government years ago:


“If the government takes your house and bulldozes it down because it’s not enough value
and then sells it to me so I can build another house on it in the same place. Is that right?
That’s wrong. That is absolutely wrong and the public’s done with it.”


Land exchanges are nothing new. Federal agencies like the US Forest Service and the
Bureau of Land Management have been swapping land with private property owners and
state and local governments for decades. The practice is often used to fill in holes in
national forests or get rid of land that the government can’t use. Glenn Collins is with the
Public Lands Foundation. In some cases, he says the feds end up with more and better
land, but that means a lot of previously untouched land ends up in the hands of
developers:


“The federal lands that are placed into private ownership invariably go into development.
Either the land, the large blocks are subdivided into smaller blocks on paper, there may
be roads, improvements, it’ll be put up for sale.”


Over the years, the public has become increasingly wary of these land swaps. In the
Tennessee Valley, public outcry about the deals eventually forced a change in the TVA’s
philosophy. The agency’s Board of Directors recently voted to approve a new policy that
bans the sale or trade of TVA land to private residential developers:


“All those in favor of the committee’s policy on land, say aye.”


“Aye.”


“Opposed?”


“No.”
That one dissenting vote came from board member Bill Baxter, demonstrating the fact
that not everyone is wild about the ban. In explaining his “no” vote, Baxter echoed the
sentiments of economic development officials who worry that an all-out ban on
residential development will compromise their chances of attracting people and money to
the region. Baxter used the example of rural communities that would normally have a
hard time attracting industry:


“Perhaps their best hope for doing some economic development and increasing the tax
base so they can improve the schools for their kids and their roads and their health care is
to have some high-end residential development. It’s a beautiful part of the country and
we’re fortunate that a lot of people want to retire here.”


In the end, Baxter’s claims that residential development is economic development failed
to resonate with either the public or his colleagues on the board. After the vote at the
TVA’s board meeting, Michael Butler of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation called the
new policy a “monumental accomplishment.”


“I think it’s also part of a sound quality-of-life and tax policy into the future to look at
how we use conservation lands to really develop a sustainable way to have a growing
economy, which has got to be part of the equation, and to have a place where these
people can go enjoy themselves that isn’t in front of a television set all the time.”


The fact that the government used eminent domain to acquire a lot of the TVA’s land
means the people in the region are passionately vigilant about what happens to it, but the
public’s passion for land isn’t exclusive to the Tennessee Valley. And so the decisions
made here could have a long-term effect on the way the government approaches future
land exchanges throughout the country.


For the Environment Report, I’m Matt Shafer Powell.

Related Links

New National Board Aims to Protect Native Fish

A new, national effort to protect aquatic species and habitats could bring needed cooperation between state and federal agencies. Individual states aren’t able to deal with the problems themselves, but say the newly-formed coalition of partners might help. The GLRC’s Kaomi Goetz reports:

Transcript

A new, national effort to protect aquatic species and habitats could bring
needed cooperation between state and federal agencies. Individual states
aren’t able to deal with the problems themselves, but say the newly-
formed coalition of partners might help. The GLRC’s Kaomi Goetz
reports:


The goal of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan is to clean up the
nation’s rivers, lakes and coastal areas. It also seeks to protect the more
than 800 different kinds of native fish from extinction. The plan is based
on an earlier successful model focused on the nation’s waterfowl.


Federal agencies, industry, tribal and non-profits groups have signed on.
So have several state Department of Natural Resources. Gary Whelan is
with the Michigan DNR, one of the agencies that’s signed on.


“When you’re trying to deal with things like water quantity in a system, and you
have a 100 dam owners you’re trying to communicate with, a couple
(state) agencies can’t possibly do that, nor do we have the financial
resources so you really need a broad-based coalition of people.”


Whelan says the initiative will mean a lot more money for states to
address water quality problems and fish habitat.


Organizers are creating a national board to coordinate all the efforts.


For the GLRC, I’m Kaomi Goetz.

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States Tackle Wetlands Protection

In response to a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers say they will remove Federal Clean Water Act protection for small wetlands that are considered “isolated” from larger waterways. That leaves it up to the states to decide whether or not to protect them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Corie Wright has more:

Transcript

In response to a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers say they will remove Federal Clean Water Act protection for small wetlands that are considered “isolated” from larger waterways. That leaves it up to the states to decide whether or not to protect them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Corie Wright has more:


Environmentalists say small, isolated wetlands are crucial to local ecosystems. They filter soil
pollutants, prevent erosion, and provide a habitat for fish and wildlife. But the Bush
administration’s plan to redefine wetlands protection could leave twenty percent of the nation’s
wetlands unguarded.


Critics say the move would benefit homebuilders and other developers, who have long
complained that federal agencies have over-extended the Clean Water Act.


Julie Sibbing is a wetlands policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation. She says if
states try to protect these wetlands themselves, they’ll meet opposition from the same interests
that lobbied to limit federal wetlands protection.


“Even if state wetlands were protected all along for the last 30 years under the Clean Water Act, it’s still
very politically difficult for states to change their own laws – that will bring a lot of opponents of
regulation out of the woodwork.”


Despite those difficulties, legislators in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Minnesota have all
pushed for tighter wetlands protection. So far, Wisconsin is the only Great Lakes state to pass a
bill protecting areas no longer covered by the Clean Water Act.


Michigan is one Great Lakes state in the process of trying to preserve wetlands that fall through
the regulatory gap. Under Michigan law, isolated wetlands smaller than five acres don’t qualify for state
protection.


State Senator Paul Condino is championing a bill to preserve those areas. He says it’s
up to the state to protect Michigan’s public wetlands.


“I don’t think President Bush and the folks in office on the federal level have any sense that
they’re going to go out to create further safeguards. Michigan has lost an estimated 5.5 million acres
of wetlands, or almost 50% of its original wetland heritage. That’s significant.”


But the National Wildlife Federation’s Julie Sibbing says it will be an uphill battle for any state to
pass regulation.


“They’re being left with pretty large gaping holes in their own state water quality statutes, and at
a time that couldn’t be worse. Many state governments are really reeling from budget deficits, so
right now is just a really hard time for them to step into that breach.”


Sibbing says her group is pushing for a congressional bill that would slightly modify the Clean
Water Act so the EPA can once again protect smaller isolated waterways.


But she says the bill is certain to meet stiff opposition from House Republicans. Sibbing says if
the bill doesn’t pass, it’s unlikely states can shoulder wetlands protection on their own.


And that means that small, isolated wetlands could be left out to dry.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Corie Wright.

New Wetland Policy Under Fire

Some environmental groups are calling the Army Corps of Engineers “arrogant” for a policy change that the environmentalists say will make it easier for developers to destroy wetland habitat. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has the details:

Transcript

Some environmental groups are calling the Army Corps of Engineers “arrogant” for a policy change that the environmentalists say will make it easier for developers to destroy wetland habitat. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.


Since the first Bush administration, federal agencies have tried to make sure that if a development destroyed wetlands, the developer had to create an equal amount of wetlands somewhere else. The goal was ‘no net loss of wetlands.’ Now, the Army Corps of Engineers has changed its policy through a newly issued guidance letter. Developers will only have to preserve existing wetlands somewhere else. or establish buffer strips along a waterway instead of creating replacement wetlands. Robin Mann is with the Sierra Club.


“Despite the fact that the Corps is denying it, we see this guidance letter as really, basically abandoning that national goal, that policy of ‘no net loss.’


Even with the ‘no net loss’ policy in place, an average of 58-thousand acres of wetland was lost each year. The environmental groups say a lot more wetlands will disappear because of the Army Corps of Engineers new policy. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Lester Graham.