May 27, 2010

Pt 1: Dispersants - We look at the controversial dispersants being used to mitigate the effect of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And fishermen hired to help with the clean-up effort are complaining of headaches, dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing ... things they attribute to proximity with the oil and the dispersants being used.  (Read More)

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Pt 2: - Somewhere Inside: Last year she was sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean labour camp before a timely visit from former president Bill Clinton secured her release. Laura Ling talks to us about that experience and the regime that's threatening a political show-down in the Korean peninsula. (Read More)

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Pt 3: Letters -.It's mail day. We hear your thoughts on women in science, Malawi's anti-homosexual laws and ensuring the future of your long-term disability insurance. (Read More)

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Whole Show Blow-by-Blow

It's Thursday, May 27th.

Fishermen working to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are reporting severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing.

Currently, which is why BP plans to give each fisherman a top hat.

This is The Current.

Dispersants - Fisherman

We started this segment with a clip from Lisa Jackson. She's the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA.. And she's talking about the EPA's initial decision to allow the use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the meantime, dispersants are being used to mitigate the effect of oil spills even as you've been hearing in the news, BP says it will know later today if this latest attempt to cap it's deep horizon well will actually work. Now the EPA says dispersants can be effective but they've never been used in this volume before. And so far, just over three million litres of dispersants called COREXIT have been poured into the Gulf.

The EPA says there have not been any proven environmental problems associated with it. However, it's core the EPA's data indicates COREXIT may not be the least toxic or the most effective. And last week, it ordered BP to switch to a less toxic dispersant within 24 hours. BP refused saying one potential alternative could degrade into a chemical disruptive to hormone systems. And listening to Lisa Jackson it seems the EPA is now wary of dispersants.

Some of the fishermen who have signed on to work on the clean-up effort claim their encounters with dispersants being used have made them sick. George Jackson is among them. He's a fisherman in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.

Dispersants - Nalco

There is no proof that the health problems the fishermen say they are experiencing are caused by the dispersants being used. Charlie Pajor believes the dispersants are safe. He is the Senior Manager of External Communications with Nalco, the company that makes COREXIT dispersants that are being used in the Gulf of Mexico. He was in Naperville, Illinois.

We requested an interview with BP about its use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico. The company said that at this time, its officials are only willing to speak publicly about it's new "top kill" approach which is underway now. That's the attempt to plug the leak with mud and cement.

At a press conference however on Monday, BP's Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles did address the issue of dispersants at that time he said the following:

We did considerable work, and found there weren't any alternatives that were less toxic and available. If we can find an alternative that is less toxic and available, we will switch to that product.

Bruce Gebhardt disputes that statement. He's the President of the U.S. Polychemical Corporation. It produces another dispersant called Dispersit. Bruce Gebhardt says he had some preliminary discussions with BP, but that the company hasn't yet ordered any of his product even though it got a significantly higher efficiency rating from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dispersants: Scientist

For an independent assessment of the benefits and dangers of dispersants, we reached Christopher D'Elia. He's the Dean of the School of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University. He was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

We're going to continue our look at the Gulf Oil spill in our letters segment in our last half-hour. We'll talk to a marine expert who witnessed the Gulf of Mexico's worst-ever offshore oil-spill -- the Ixtoc 1 in 1979. And we'll find out how it compares to this one and whether there's any room for hope.


Somewhere Inside

The war of words between North and South Korea continues to escalate. South Korea says North Korea is once again its number one enemy while North Korea says the South will "pay dearly" for its "psychological warfare." Just today, North Korea cut off its naval hotline used to try to avoid clashes on its disputed sea border with South Korea.

The bad blood is the result of a South Korean investigation released last week - that was held up as proof that in March, North Korea killed 46 soldiers from the South when it deliberately sank one of its warships. Since then, North Korea has severed all ties with South Korea. And threats of all-out war have returned to the Korean Peninsula.

That's a disheartening development for Laura Ling. She's the American journalist who, last year, along with her colleague Euna Lee became the first Americans to be sentenced to a North Korean labour camp. The two had been in Northern China working on a documentary about North Korean refugees - when they were seized for trespassing on North Korean soil.

It took more than five months, a personal visit by former US president Bill Clinton, and intense behind the scenes work -- mainly by Laura's well-known sister -- journalist Lisa Ling -- to finally free the two women. Laura and Lisa Ling write about those experiences in a new book called Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home. Laura Ling was in Los Angeles.



It's time for our weekly look at the mail. And our Friday host, Erica Johnson joined Anna Maria from Vancouver to help read your letters.

Oil Spill: Yesterday on The Current, we devoted a full hour to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And many of you wrote in with your concerns, thoughts, and suggestions about how to deal with the disaster including one letter from a listener, Michelle Eve who asked us to do a story comparing the Ixtoc 1 blowout of 1979 that took 10 months to cap to the current BP situation.

Well, Michelle Eve, thanks for asking. The Ixtoc accident happened in much shallower waters and closer to the Mexican coast of the Gulf. Dr. Wes Tunnell remembers it well. He's the Associate Director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi. Good morning!

And for the record, the Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling into a reserve called the Macondo Prospect. BP estimates there could be as much as 50 million barrels of oil in there. Others say it could be as high as 100 million barrels. That's between 8 Billion and 16 Billion one litre bottles.

LTD Insurance: The plight of former Nortel workers on long term disability has left many clamouring for changes to the rules that govern Long Term Disability insurance. Many Large corporations use self insured benefit plans to save costs and to give the corporation tax benefits.

About one in ten Canadian workers are served by this kind of plan. But if the corporation goes into bankruptcy -- as Nortel has -- then the insurance plan becomes defunct. On Tuesday, we heard from Jackie Beaudie. She's a former Nortel worker in Calgary. She was diagnosed with Parkinson's at the age of 33 and has been on LTD since 2005. After hearing this segment, we heard from you.

Bill 104: The language debate in Quebec has been simmering on the back burner lately. But a Supreme Court deadline is rapidly changing that. The court has given the Quebec government until October to change Bill 104 which it ruled unconstitutional.

Bill 104 was designed to close a loophole by which parents could send their children to English private schools in order to get them into publicly funded English school afterwards. Last Thursday we dealt with this issue and then heard from our listeners with their added thoughts on the debate.

Women Research Chairs: The Current's story on the Canada Excellence Research Chairs evoked a mitt full of comments from listeners. Last week's announcement of 19 successful research candidates poached from around the world - prestigious scientists, celebrated as an intellectual coup for Canada - drew criticism because not a single woman made the list.

Last Thursday on The Current, we hashed out the selection process with Suzanne Fortier. She's a member of the steering committee that oversees the program. And with Wendy Robbins who launched a successful human rights complaint against the selection process.

Wendy Robbins' contention that Rosalind Franklin whose work contributed to the discovery of the structure of DNA was snubbed for a Nobel is a debate that continues to this day. And a number of you wrote in pointing that out. Franklin was a crystallographer and she produced X-rays at King's College in London. Those X-rays helped discover the double helix structure, the one we picture today when we think of DNA.

We asked Brenda Maddox for a deeper look at this. She's the biographer who wrote Rosalind Franklin, The Dark Lady of DNA. She was in London, England. (By the way, the book won her the Los Angeles Times Science Book Prize.)

Last Word - Oil Spill Names

BP has chosen some memorable names for its attempts to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico ... "Top Hat" ... "Junk Shot" ... "Top Kill." And that got our friends at The Content Factory wondering if there might be some expert team of lexicographers and ad executives brainstorming names for the next big idea. Some crack investigative work led them to one of those sessions. We ended the program with what they uncovered ... well, okay ... made up.

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