Polluted waters near your home, 6-legged frogs, and you

It was a reference to the “environmental movement” in government and politics — seniors take the class in Texas.  “What does that mean?”

We have maybe ten minutes in the block to stray.  No time for discovery learning to get this point across in government.

“The movement, the grass-roots political organizing to express concern for clean air, clean water, preservation of green space, preservation of endangered species, protection from toxic chemicals and poisons.  Things really took off after Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. ”

“That’s a funny title.  What’s it about?”  I pause.  It’s dangerous territory to ask what high school kids don’t know these days.

“Is there anyone here who does not know about DDT and its role in threatening our national symbol, the bald eagle?”

Every hand went up.

How can children get to their senior year and not know about Rachel Carson, DDT, or “environmentalism?”

Comes Frontline on PBS this week.  Government and politics teachers, your students should watch and report.


This Week: “Poisoned Waters” (120 minutes),
April 21st at 9pm on PBS (Check local listings)


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


Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support  of PBS viewers. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation. Major funding for Poisoned Waters is provided by The Seattle Foundation, The Russell Family Foundation, The Wallace Genetic Foundation, The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, The Merrill Family Foundation, The Abell Foundation, The Bullitt Foundation, the Park Foundation, and The Rauch Foundation.  Additional funding is provided by The Town Creek Foundation, The Clayton Baker Trust, The Lockhart Vaughan Foundation, The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, The Chesapeake Bay Trust, Louisa and Robert Duemling, Robert and Phyllis Hennigson, Robert Lundeen, The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, The Prince Charitable Trusts, Ron and Kathy McDowell, Valerie and Bill Anders, Bruce and Marty Coffey, The Foundation for Puget Sound, Janet Ketcham, Win Rhodes, The Robert C. and Nani S. Warren Foundation, Jim and Kathy Youngren, Vinton and Amelia Sommerville and Laura Lundgren.


FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation.

See a preview, and read more, here.  Another preview below.  You can watch the entire program online after April 21.

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