Sunday, April 19, 2009

If Male Amphibians Are Being Born With Ovaries (Or 6 Legs), What's Happening To Us?

photo by Yamanaka Tamaki

This Week: "Poisoned Waters" (120 minutes),
Tuesday April 21st at 9pm on PBS (Check local listings)
You can also watch this show online.


For years, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith has reported from the corridors of power in Washington, on Wall Street, and overseas. But these days, he's worried about something that he's found much closer to home -- something mysterious that's appeared in waters that he knows well: frogs with six legs, male amphibians with ovaries, "dead zones" where nothing can live or grow.

What's causing the trouble? Smith suspects the answers might lie close to home as well.

This Tuesday night, in a special two-hour FRONTLINE broadcast --"Poisoned Waters"-- Smith takes a hard look at a new wave of pollution that's imperiling the nation's waterways, focusing on two of our most iconic: the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound. He also examines three decades of environmental regulation that are failing to meet this new threat, and have yet to clean up the ongoing mess of PCBs, the staggering waste from factory farms, and the fall-out from unchecked suburban sprawl.

"The environment has slipped off our radar screen because it's not a hot crisis like the financial meltdown, war, or terrorism," Smith says. "But pollution is a ticking time bomb. It's a chronic cancer that is slowly eating away the natural resources that are vital to our very lives."

Among the most worrisome of the new contaminants are "endocrine disruptors," chemical compounds found in common household products that mimic hormones in the human body and cause freakish mutations in frogs and amphibians.

"There are five million people being exposed to endocrine disruptors just in the Mid-Atlantic region," a doctor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tells Smith. "And yet we don't know precisely how many of them are going to develop premature breast cancer, going to have problems with reproduction, going to have all kinds of congenital anomalies of the male genitalia that are happening at a broad low level so that they don't raise the alarm in the general public."

Can new models of "smart growth" and regulation reverse decades of damage? Are the most real and lasting changes likely to come from the top down, given an already overstretched Obama administration? Or will the greatest reasons for hope come from the bottom up, through the action of a growing number of grassroots groups trying to effect environmental change?

Join us for the broadcast this Tuesday night. Online, you can watch "Poisoned Waters" again, find out how safe your drinking water is, and learn how you can get involved.

Ken Dornstein
Senior Editor of Frontline

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