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tv   Earth Focus  LINKTV  February 19, 2014 12:30am-1:01am PST

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>> today on "earth focus" -- chemical pollution. an american city fights back. and the toxic legacy of gold mining in peru. oming up on "earth focus." >> on a warm summer night, you can see where people choose to live on toms river, riverboats, beaches, the promise of relaxing days and good health. but years ago the town became famous for a different reason, chemicals and cancer. >> we had no idea they were discharging toxic chemicals.
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>> they never should have let the people of toms river drink that water. >> i know where my son's cancer came from. >> the company got caught. >> it's part of the duty of government to protect the public health and that didn't happen. >> if it happened here, it really can happen any place. >> the chemical history of toms river began in 1962 when giba geigy, a chemical dye company built a industrial manufacturing plant. >> there wasn't much happening at toms river. chicken farming was the biggest industry. there was a little bit of tourism but not much. when this very large chemical concern said we want to build a factory to make dye in your town, we said come along. >> the company brought jobs but brought about poor waste management practices. >> it was very clear as much of
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the major dye manufacturers in that era that they had big issues with pollution. they created contamination problems wherever they were and ciba was no exception. ciba een 1962-1966, geigy had about 20 sites. on the days the plant was operating, over five million gallons of chemical waste were dumped directly in the river. these were days when the philosophy was out of sight, out of mind and didn't have the proper waste disposal. >> don bennett grew up in toms river and ran in the river as a young boy, just downstream from where the plant dumps. dd >> it was bizarre to a teenage kid swimming in what looked to be just another river. the water was always ice cold even in the middle of the
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summer. when you came over here, the swinging bridge, it was a popular swimming place with young people. if your nose was working and your eyes were working, you would certainly recognize something was really wrong. >> don's connection to toms river isn't just water. for over 30 years, he worked at the local newspaper and was one of the first reporters to ciba geigy chemical dumping. >> according early on to the report ciba geigy commissioned was about a million gallons a day was seeping in the seepage pits they had created on the plant site. i was going into the ground water. that was a million gallons and they thought that was 40% of the waste they were creating every day. >> the rest, the 60% were being discharged directly into this river.
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>> when they come here in 1962, there wasn't anybody nearby to notice as the garden state parkway brought more and more people to the area and more and more homes were built closer to the plant. more people became aware of the nighttime boaters that sometimes we had to close your windows it was so obnoxious. >> the plant was portrayed by the local politicians as a good neighbor and was supposed to be no problems with it. so yeah, we felt fairly safe moving in because the political structure said it was safe. >> it fences the boundary of the ciba geigy property and you can see in the background the proximity of some of the homes along cardinal drive. the homes you see were all built long after ciba geigy began its chemical dye making here. and i would venture most of the people who bought here had no idea who their neighbor was. i mean, there was no requirement to disclose
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anything in those days. >> part of the reason ciba chose to move to this area was the ideal condition, dumping waste, the sandy soil in the nearby river. but that also made the area great for finding fresh drinking water. the water provider, toms river water company, supplied the entire township from a shallow well field just two miles downstream from the plant. if you lived in town and were a customer, it was quite possible you would drink whatever contom nationals ciba was dumping in the ground and river. >> we had evidence by 1964 they had contaminated the well field. >> in the summer of 1965 was particularly dry and the demand for water was high. the water company chose to continue operations despite warnings of contamination, which the local water company and ciba geigy concealed from the public. the following year, ciba geigy obtained a permit from the u.s.
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corps of engineers to construct a 10-mile pipeline. for the first time, they could dump their chemical waste directly into the ocean. ciba thought their troubles were over. but the chemical problems in toms river continued to grow. >> the second big thing that happened in toms rer that is ermane to the story is illegal dumpers started coming down in central and southern new jersey where there was lots of open space and not a lot of people watching, carrying trucks with hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of barrels of hazardous waste. that they didn't want to dispose of legally because it was too expensive. there was one very fateful illegal dumping incident that occurred in the early 1970's in the back two acres of a chicken farm. this trucker took several thousand rusting barrels of hazardous waste from union
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carbide into north jersey and just started digging trenches in the back of this chicken farm and dumping these barrels, many of which were already coming apart. and union carbide did not take a lot of interest in what this guy was doing, they were happy to be rid of their barrel also. >> in just three months, september-november, 1971, over 5,000 barrels were illegally dumped. that december, the culprits were arrested for dumping without a permit. but it took another seven months before the barrels were removed from the ground by union carbide. no other efforts were taken to clean the site. that summer of 1972, the water mpany added six new wells, miles out from the farm. for the next 12 years, toms river would remain a normal american town, and in fact the beaches incurred population growth. but for some families, cancer
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was causing their worst nightmare. >> i was 30. the first 30 years of our lives were carefree, like any young couple, trying to pay your bills, enjoy life and doing hings. then you get a child that has cancer and your whole life changes completely. it now is surrounded and revolves around your child that is sick. >> i was diagnosed with a cancer of the synthetic nervous system and still have effects of it today. >> michael is alive. he's a miracle. he's received the last rite many times. he's 34 years old. he has very limited normalcy to his life. >> the tumor is pushing my spine pretty much out of my
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body, like it's wearing away the skin. t's also encompassed, it wraps around like all my organs, heart, lungs and kidneys and all that and there's no surgical way to remove it. without me either bleeding out on the table or becoming a vegetable, i was told. >> i would buy the powdered similac and i would mix it with tap water. and so everything that my son got was mixed from the toms river tap water. i really believed that that is where his cancer came from. >> in the late 1970's when michael was first diagnosed, there initially was no connection made to drinking water. it wasn't until a dramatic day in 1984 that would spur linda and any others in the community
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to investigate their water quality. ciba's ocean pipeline that had now been operating for 18 years burst at the intersection of bay and vaughn, right in the iddle of one of toms river's busiest intersection. the stink of the pipe couldn't be ignored. >> a lot of people were new to this area and weren't even aware this pipeline existed and the reality was that the pipeline ran from the toms river chemical plant 10 miles across the mainland of toms river and then out into the ocean. into some of the most heavily used tourist beaches along the east coast. it was the leak heard around the world i have sometimes called it because it mobilized citizenry both here and on the beach and what we ban that april day still hasn't stopped.
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>> journalists, including don, took the break as a reason for further investigating the chemical life of toms river and for the first time, ciba's plant and the dumping at the farm were made public attention. >> the people in the town started to realize something was going on. that was within the first two years after the pipeline break. >> it was probably more than 10 years before we understood the full consequences of what was going on. >> between 1986-1996, the facts slowly emerged about the chemical pollution, all the while, more kids got cancer. >> my third daughter was born in 1989, and unfortunately, she became sick relatively quickly. when she was about 10 months old, we discovered she had cancer. and unfortunately, only survived until she was 14 months old. at that time in 1990 when she passed away, there was really not a thought that it was
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related to any type of the environmental problems. >> by this time linda gillick had started her own cancer assistance nonprofit, ocean of law. and it was her early observations of cancer in the community that drove further investigation. >> i put up a map of the whole county so that we could see where our children were located for our case workers. and as the years went on, we noticed that toms river had . come one big dark area and it was a big concern. i did reach out to the state health department numerous times and told them of my concern and was told over and over again that there was not a problem. >> only later in the 1990's, the mid 1990's was there more and more information that was coming out. but, you know, some of the water supply had been contaminated with certain
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chemicals. >> 1996 was particularly crucial for people of toms river. the state health authorities reported the rate of childhood brain and central nervous system cancer was excessive. with iver is now a town cancer. >> 69 families, 69 children and their parents are usually considered a cluster. but epidemiology tells us in a community there may be an unusual pattern of disease, either defined in space, geographically, or in time that develops over a period of time. when that happens we call it a cluster and a cluster is a clue, a piece of evidence that something may be happening in that community. that's what happened in toms river. >> because of the unusual number of rare childhood cancers, the community demanded answers. and the finger pointed back to
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ciba geigy and the toxic waste drums union carbide dumped at the farm. a decade earlier, two wells at e farm had been tested and trichloralethylene was found. >> once it was found coming from the farm, the government absolutely dropped the ball. that ever should have let happen and let the people drink that water. >> the e.p.a. and union carbide adopted a remediation plant. it's a superfund site. we will let these chemicals go into the public drinking waters and aerate them out and then the water will be safe to drink. someone said, why don't we put carbon filters on that water just to make sure nothing gets through. they said it's going to aerate out, you don't need carbon. well, that was a mistake that
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cost lives. because it turns out the only thing, there was a lot of other stuff in the water they weren't looking for because they weren't on e.p.a.'s priority pollutant list so the group included other chemicals, thyrene and acilorites is known to cause cancer and they let it go 10 years and it wasn't until they saw the high rate of cancer that they took another look at the water and they found this. every critical fact community need to learn. you may think you're safe. you're not safe because there may be things in there you're not looking for. the priority pollutant list of the e.p.a. >> in 1996 when these cancer causing chemicals were found, all eight wells of the parkway were shut down. and it was the first step in cleaning up the pollution. over the next five years, union
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carbide would install carbon filters on the wells near the farm, a settlement would be reached by the families in the cancer cluster and ciba geigy paid $92 million to begin the 30-year process of making the contaminated ground water safe. today toms river water is clean. but from the mistake made and lessons learned could not be ignored by other communities. >> the overall societal cost and actual dollar cost would have been a lot less if back in the 1970's that we had a problem here, we can't keep this well field anymore. the chemical companies may be a big dollar item right now, but you're going to have to fund moving this well field to another spot. that's not what we've done here. and, you know, i think that the overall citizens of toms river paid a very heavy price over that 40-year span.
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>> you need to have tests and you need to have levels of safety for all of these chemicals that we're ingesting. as long as we do not have this information and regulation on these thousands of chemicals that are being ingested all over the country in water supplies, we are not going to be able to protect the future of this country. of these children. >> no corporation, no politician is bigger than a combined voice of people. when people join together and form their voice into one that's loud, we're not going to stand for this, there's no standing up against that. ♪
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>> chemical pollution isn't limited to industrialized nations. in peru, south america, mercury poisoning is impacting human health and it's the mining of gold driving this contamination. a new film "amazon gold" documents a deadly twist in an's quest for gold. >> the jungle begin with a patch here and a patch here and a patch here and then there's chunks of trees here and chunks of tree there is and it's mud. because you have motors down over there. so we walk across here and come upon this enormous hole. >> the gold mining is an issue
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that's hit bigtime the image of peru and concern. >> mercury is one of the most toxic natural substances we know of. the amount of mercury that goes into gold mining is estimated to be on the order of about 30 tons per year. that's a tremendous amount of mercury. >> what we see today about gold mining are no different than the drug trade. illegal gold mining and drug trafficking and the mafias are tied to there. >> we went down to have a look at gold mining because gold mining is one of the underlying things that's destroying this enormous forest. >> what we're seeing here is an
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example of something that's happening where there's been a boom of destruction. > amazing. >> it has taken the miners a week to destroy a habitat that took millions of years to volve. >> for over ounce of gold extracted, the miners add an equal amount of mercury. the metal mercury is generally a liquid and has a particular affinity for gold. poured into a slurey with tiny flecks of gold, the mercury binds to them, making them easy to retrieve.
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>> mercury poisoning affects the human body by affecting the nervous system. when you have high levels of mercury that are in the blood, hair, or urine which are the major bioindicators, it indicates there is going to be an effect on the brain, people have lower i.q. levels. they have balance issues, aggressiveness issues. they have problems with hearing, with sight, with taste. much of the mercury that's used in the process of concentrating that gold is lost, dumped into the rivers and lakes of the area that you have the mining. mercury has the unusual ability of concentrating and magnifying. and as it moves up the food chain as one animal eats another, in this case fish, it concentrates and accumulates. they have concentrations that
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are millions or tens of millions of times higher than the water that they live in. it's a perfect mechanism to be able to concentrate it in a form that affects the next consumer, and in many cases hose are people. the carnegie institution for science has crubblingted -- conducted research since 2008 and found the levels of mercury are increasing in line with the gold production that's been occurring in the region. in a study published in match in the we found that capital, not 60% of the species old in the food markets exceed e.p.a. limits for safe consumption of fish because of mercury. the problem is a very difficult one. because it is not just an environmental problem or an economic problem, it's a social
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problem. these are people that are poor, subsistence farmers trying to find a better life and taking advantage of the opportunities that they have, namely that the price of gold is nearly at an all-time high. they're using the technology that they have available, which is one that's been used for nearly 2,000 years. but they are unaware of the price that they pay for doing this, not just for themselves but for the animals and plants that are affected. because of the economic opportunity, no one wants to hear bad news about something that's making hem hundreds of times more money than they did the year before.
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[speaking a foreign language] >> yeah. >> this is our future. >> i don't know. one of the most real experiences i've ever had in my life and it was breaking my heart. i know they fall one by one. in this place we're looking at it. and there were these machines and just hell. things i me, all the know are fading territories.
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♪ >> there is a message of hope and that's one of the things i want to emphasize. you may feel hopelessness but truly speaking there is a good reason for hope. weeks ago, there was a city demonstration in the streets. and it made a very important statement. it's where the movie takes place. this is the first time there were people demonstrating in the city demanding action. and this is very strong and is something motivating me bigtime because this is what is going to make the change. isgg99ññwçça7guc
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