Episode 43: After the Flood

Times Beach was a town that was wiped off the map by an environmental disaster. But once the houses and streets were gone, the town was wiped away a second time, this time in a way that may make it difficult to learn from the mistakes of the past.

US Geological survey map from 1947 with Times Beach highlighted. | Source:  USGS.gov

US Geological survey map from 1947 with Times Beach highlighted. | Source: USGS.gov

Marilyn Leistner knew the drill when it came to floods. In her hometown of Times Beach, Missouri—a small town that hugged the Meramec River outside St. Louis—flooding was a fact of life. Every time the waters rose, she and her family would put the furniture up on concrete blocks and tie up the drapes just in case, but the water almost never got into their home.  

But the flood of 1982 was different. 

“We barely got out with our lives,” Marilyn says. “We were at the last minute—with the floodwaters lapping at the front porch—putting things up in a safe place.” 

With the water rising fast, Marilyn, her husband, one of their daughters, and the family’s dog all got on a boat to leave. The water was swift, and a pallet rushing by hit the motor. It knocked out the forward gears and they had to escape in reverse, but they motored to safety through the streets of the flooded town. 

Times Beach was a close knit working-class neighborhood of about 2,000 people, many of whom worked at the Chrysler plant just down the highway. There was a baseball diamond where the hometown team, The Sons of the Beach, played. It was the kind of place where kids grew up to marry their high school sweethearts and stayed to start a family.  

But when the floodwaters crested 24 feet above normal on December 6, 1982 all of that was underwater. It was a 500-year flood; homes were wrecked, heirlooms and photo albums ruined.  

“I was really devastated,” Marilyn says. “Sometime through the flood event [the] back door on our home came open and a lot of stuff floated out. I have no pictures of my kids back then.” 

She didn’t yet know it then but they would lose a lot more than just those old photos. Marilyn and her family would never live in their home again or in Times Beach for that matter. No one would. But not because of the flood.  

The Men in White Suits

As the water receded after the 1982 floods, when people would typically be getting ready to clean up, rebuild, reclaim their homes, the people of Times Beach got some bad news. Times Beach was about to be the site of one of the biggest environmental cleanups in U.S. history.   

The beginning of the end of Times Beach actually started 10 years before. In the summer of 1971 dozens of horses in the area started to die. Next, birds and cats started to drop dead, and a few months later, two little girls came down with a mysterious illness. At first it seemed like the flu, with headaches and diarrhea, but then one day the family had to rush one of their daughters to the hospital with terrible stomach pain: it turned out her bladder was inflamed and bleeding. Other people started getting nasty symptoms too: nausea, headaches, hair loss.

Federal health officials launched an investigation but ten years went by without much action. That is, until November 1982, just before the flood, when the men in white suits showed up in Times Beach.  

Marilyn remembers it like something out of a science-fiction movie. “Kids were out there playing in regular clothes—shorts, no shoes—and here are these men in these moon suits taking soil samples,” she says. “It was scary.” Another longterm Times Beach resident, Cindy Reid, says the workers in hazmat suits on her street wouldn’t say why they were taking samples.  

But the 2000 residents of Times Beach didn’t have time to worry about the men in the moon suits. They had a bigger problem on their hands: the river.  

Just weeks after the EPA started testing the soil, heavy rain hit Times Beach, and didn’t stop for four days. Cindy, her son Michael, and her husband Nick, watched as the flood waters rose through the town. The water was warm, she remembers, as it rose around her ankles and then her knees and finally her chest. They decided to leave.  

Cindy and her family walked four miles to a dry spot overlooking Times Beach. The town was wrecked. The streets where Michael and the other kids would have block-wide snowball fights and the field where the Sons of the Beach softball team played was sitting under swirling, muddy river water. The grocery store where Cindy would do the family’s shopping was gone. There was five feet of river water lapping at the walls of their living room. 

Looking over the flooded town below, Cindy’s family tried to figure out what they would do next. They took a vote between them and decided to stay and rebuild. “You do what you have to do,” she says.   

But they never got that chance. On December 23, 1982, federal and state authorities told everyone to evacuate Times Beach. If residents already left their homes, they were told not to come back.

That’s because the men in white suits had found something: there were dangerously high levels of something called dioxin on the streets of Times Beach. Dioxin is a toxic byproduct of a lot of chemicals but it’s best known as an ingredient in Agent Orange.

The U.S. military used a herbicide called Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. It’s been linked to skin burns, cancer, and liver failure in veterans. Mothers who were exposed to it had babies with terrible birth defects. Experts found levels of this stuff in Times Beach that were 100 times higher than what was considered safe.

So, how did dioxin end up in a small town in Missouri?  

The Making of a Superfund Site

Well, like a lot of small towns with modest budgets, most of the roads in Times Beach were unpaved and dirt roads can get dusty. Back then, one cost-efficient way to control the dust was to spray motor oil on the roads.  

And that’s where a waste-oil hauler named Russell Martin Bliss comes into the story. A chemical plant in southwest Missouri hired Russell to dispose of waste from the facility. Now, guess what this factory used to produce? Agent Orange. Russell has always claimed he didn’t know the sludge he had was dangerous and so he did what he had always done before: mixed the sludge with waste oil and started spraying. He sprayed it at stables, church parking lots, his own farm, and the dirt roads in Times Beach.

Cindy remembers the neighborhood kids used to ride their bikes behind the Russell’s truck as he sprayed the roads. “There wasn't a kid down there who didn't wear that oil,” she says.

In 1983—just a few months after the flood—and shortly after the guys in white suits discovered dangerously high levels of dioxin in its soil, Times Beach was named one of the first Superfund sites in the United States.

If you’re like most people, and only have a nebulous idea of what the Superfund law actually entails, here’s a quick history lesson. People back in the 1970s and 1980s were really freaked out by toxic waste—and rightly so. There were two cases in particular that made headlines. One of them is called Love Canal, which was a town in western New York outside of Niagara Falls where toxic waste had been buried for years. A local school was built on top of the waste dump, and the result was disastrous. There was also the so-called Valley of the Drums near Louisville, Kentucky. The name kind of says it all: thousands of barrels piled up in shallow pits leaking toxic waste into the groundwater.

US Geological survey map from 1985, with Times Beach highlighted. | Source:  USGS.gov

US Geological survey map from 1985, with Times Beach highlighted. | Source: USGS.gov

So, in response to these and other cases, President Jimmy Carter signed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 that set aside a “superfund” of more than $1.5 billion to clean up these places. The money is also used to buyout the people who were living in these dangerously polluted areas because—let’s face it—nobody is going to buy a house in a toxic waste dump. And that’s what the government did next: buyout the folks who lived in Times Beach.

In 1985 the last family left. By this time, Marilyn was mayor but she was a mayor with no town. The city disincorporated. Times Beach was officially a ghost town. 

The Cleanup 

When Gary Pendergrass, the project coordinator for the cleanup, arrived in Times Beach the first time he found an eerie sight.  

“There were a lot of Christmas decorations outside in the yards,” he remembers. “A lot of the houses were like the people had just basically stood up and walked out and never came back.”  

Now that everyone was out of the town, the cleanup could begin.  

The EPA’s plan said that everything had to go. Bulldozers rolled through the streets of Times Beach knocking down homes and shops. All the debris—from the abandoned Christmas decorations to the town’s water tower—was gathered and piled in a mound that covered four football fields.

One afternoon, Marilyn points out the unassuming grass-covered hill that holds the remains of the town.  

“In that mound are all the homes, everything that was precious to the people who lived here,” she says, driving past it and the empty land around it that once was the town.  

The EPA buried the debris from Times Beach under a watertight barrier and capped it with a foot of clean soil. It took less than a year to tear down the 700 some odd buildings in the town. The technical name for that mound is a sarcophagus: a tomb for an entire town. 

Anything that wasn’t buried was burned. And there was a lot to burn. The newly razed town of Times Beach became the home of a giant incinerator dedicated to burning the dioxin out of the contaminated soil from Times Beach and more than two dozen other sites sprayed by Russell Bliss.  

“We’re not talking about a big bonfire,” says David Shorr, who was the director of the MIssouri Department of Natural Resources during the cleanup.  

“We’re talking about dirt and there was a lot of dirt!” he laughs.  

Any soil that had more than 10 parts per billion of dioxin was burned at temperatures as high as 2,000 F. Soil with less than 10 parts per billion of dioxin was buried under 12-inches of clean dirt. All told, more than 250,000 tons of soil was processed at Times Beach.  

So, picture that scene: homes razed, streets are all torn up. All the material is feeding into either a giant tomb in the ground or the fiery maw of an incinerator. It sounds like some kind of hellscape, right?

But, during all this, something else was happening. Mother Nature was taking over.  

“I remember sitting in Times Beach, a beautiful sunny day with one of my good friends and colleagues, John Young, who was responsible for the project,” remembers David, “and we were eating lunch and we’re both looking at each other going, be a hell of a park.”  

That’s right. Times Beach—the Superfund site—was about to become a Missouri State Park.  

 

From Superfund to State Park 

Photo: Zach Dyer

Photo: Zach Dyer

It might seem crazy—turning a place that was once so polluted that an entire town had to be bulldozed into a park—but it happens all the time. According to the EPA, as of 2011 there were more than 100 cleaned up Superfund sites in use as recreational green space. That means parks, soccer pitches, baseball diamonds. 

So if it’s safe enough for a park, why not just build homes on it again? Well, while the surface is safe there’s still this layer of moderately dioxin-laced soil just a foot below. Officials don’t want people digging around out there. The idea is for people to visit but not stay.

“People are not supposed to be living in state parks,” says David. “You can come every day and still not get the exposures that would be there for somebody who’s living there or an exposure that would put you at risk.” 

The cleanup work was finished in 1997 after 12 years and more than $200 million. So, with the remediation complete, a decision had to be made: What to call this newly-minted state park?

David had his doubts about embracing the site’s history directly.  

“A cleaned up waste site alone is not a theme for a state park, but it’s Route 66,” David says,  referring to the historic U.S. highway that forms the southern border of the erstwhile town.  

Route 66 State Park opened to the public in 1999.

Marilyn was happy to see the land safe and open to the public but she has some misgivings about the attempt to move past the stigma around the town of Times Beach. 

“With the former residents it's like they feel like they have wiped out everything that they knew and loved here,” she says. “That's part of the reason why there are residents who won't come here anymore. There are residents that wouldn't come back here for any reason.” 

Photo: Zach Dyer

Photo: Zach Dyer

Visitors to the park today won’t see any information or signs on the grounds that say the town of Times Beach was ever there. There’s nothing but a few groundwell monitors sticking out of the unmarked landfill.

There is a visitor center for the Route 66 State Park. Inside there is a small display about Times Beach with photos of what the town used to look like and there is a bit about the dioxin scare. A plaque commemorates it as “one of America's greatest triumphs over environmental disasters.”

But to get to that exhibit, visitors would need to walk into the back of the center, past a gift shop and nostalgic neon road signs for gasoline and restaurants. And that’s only if they knew to drive a couple miles down the highway from the actual park and, well, it’s just not much.

“I think everybody from the Beach kind of thought that visitor's center would have a lot more,” says Cindy Reid. “Times Beach was there and it was a place and it's not anything to be ashamed of that you're from there.” 

“The dioxin part is a half inch,” she says. “The history part and the family part is two foot. So why should this half inch overrun everything that went before it?” 

It’s easy to lose sight of the story of Times Beach in favor of the park that’s there today, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Just 30 minutes north there’s another park that was also once a Superfund site. It’s called Weldon Spring. It’s a former munitions factory that processed uranium ore as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II.  

But at Weldon Spring, the site’s history is celebrated, not hidden. There’s a 10,000 square-foot museum. Tourists are encouraged to hike to the top of the concrete dome that caps off the radioactive waste. There’s even a nice view of the Missouri River.

The sarcophagus at Weldon Spring isn’t a tomb. It’s a plaque. And by comparison Times Beach feels like a coverup.

It’s not hard to understand why someone would want to highlight the role Weldon Spring played in developing the atomic bomb and sidestep around the story of dioxin and Times Beach. But the story of Times Beach—of the people who lost everything—has a lot to say when it comes to problems we’re still wrestling with today: things like, how do we responsibly get rid of toxic waste? Who’s keeping an eye on it? And what’s at stake if something goes terribly, terribly wrong like it did in Times Beach?

If we don’t know about it, aren’t we just destined to repeat it? Marilyn Leistner thinks so. 

“There are times when I go out that the name Times Beach comes up and people don't know about Times Beach. They've never heard of it. Probably you didn’t until you got to research it [...] It's coming up on 35 years since the dual disasters and I go to the schools and I talk to the students in the 7th and 8th grade; freshmen and sophomores in high school. And, the teachers do it because it was an environmental disaster that they want their students to know that happened. And that these things can happen. And it's part of history.”

A part of history just as long as there’s somebody still alive to tell it.


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Outside/In was produced this week by Zach Dyer with help from: Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Logan Shannon, Molly Donahue, and Jimmy Gutierrez.

Special thanks to Ylan Vo and David Havlick for their insights on Superfund sites.

Music from this week’s episode came from Kimashoo Aoi, Ari de Niro, Podington Bear and Blue Dot Sessions.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder.

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-844-GO-OTTER (844-466-8837). Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

Episode 41: S.O.S.

Global Rescue is a business that, should you get yourself into trouble, will drop everything to come and save you, anywhere in the world. They employ former Navy Seals, helicopters, airplanes, and even yaks to get the job done. But this service comes at a price, and when disaster strikes, is it fair that a service that won’t save everyone can rush in pull out those who can afford it?

Say you’re going on an adventure somewhere you’ve never been before, you don’t speak the language, and you don’t feel 100 percent safe. You’re nervous about getting stranded on a glacier, or getting bitten by a poisonous snake, or maybe you just really want to avoid traveler’s diarrhea. You’re worried that if you’re not even sure how to ask for a hospital, you won’t know where you would turn for help. Hmm. This could go badly.  

Cancel the trip? 

Well, wait. A little company called Global Rescue might be able to give you a hand.

Running Out of Time on Top of the World

Mount Everest | Photo: Gunther Hageitner

Mount Everest | Photo: Gunther Hageitner

Robert Kay summited Everest on May 19th, 2016. The skies were clear and sunny and there wasn’t much wind. Stepping foot onto the summit was something Kay had been dreaming of since he was 15 years old. He was so elated, he barely felt the cold. Kay reached the top, along with two days worth of climbers, because bad weather the day before had caused a backup. At points the hiker traffic was so thick that Kay and his team were stalled for ten or fifteen minutes at a time.

But he made it. Fulfilled his dream. And then started down the mountain

The going was slow. Too slow. Coming down from the summit to the south summit is about a 15 or 20 minute trip normally, but it took Kay and his Sherpas two hours because of crowding on the trail. And, to make matters worse, Kay began to have trouble breathing.

“Imagine putting a plastic bag over your face and tightening it up,” he says. “That’s how it feels. It’s like breathing through a garden hose. You’ve got 50 feet of garden hose and you’re underwater and you’re trying to suck air through this thing and you just can’t get enough air.”

Kay was developing a severe case of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, or “HAPE.” It’s the lungs’ response to getting too little air for too long: ;they start filling up with fluid and eventually you drown.  

Image Credit: Robert and Talbot Trudeau

Image Credit: Robert and Talbot Trudeau

He spent the night in Camp 4, at about 26,000 feet, where his friends kept him awake, so he wouldn’t go into shock,  and gave him medications to get him alive  through to morning. The next day, the team made the long, nearly vertical climb from Camp 4 to Camp 2, with Kay’s Sherpas and teammates unclipping and clipping Kay from every anchor point on the mountain and carrying his pack. At one point they had to switch out his oxygen tank for a new one and taking away that last bit of oxygen nearly did him in.

“I started convulsing and spasming on the ground and I couldn’t even sit up,” he remembers. He says he thought to himself: “I’m going to die in the next few seconds.” 

But he didn’t die. Because someone was there to intervene.

In the Business of Saving Lives

Before Kay left for Everest, he bought a membership with a company called Global Rescue. It’s a New Hampshire-based company, with offices around the world, that provides medical evacuations, security extractions, information and intelligence, and virtual health care systems in the U.S. and abroad.  

It’s like breathing through a garden hose. You’ve got 50 feet of garden hose and you’re underwater and you’re trying to suck air through this thing and you just can’t get enough air.
— Robert Kay

CEO Dan Richards founded the company  in 2004 and he explains that a membership is structured, “a little bit like AAA, but not for your car, for your body.” If something goes wrong, you can call them. They will direct you to local hospitals and provide all the consultation you need to get properly treated. They’ve partnered with doctors at Johns Hopkins, so they are ready to dish out top-notch advice to their clients over the phone or via Skype if needed, and if something goes seriously wrong, Global Rescue will come and get you out of the field, stabilize you, and bring you all the way back home.

All that for $329 a year.

Although a membership with Global Rescue doesn’t cover the cost of treatment (it’s not medical insurance), it’s a good deal if you want to avoid the hefty cost of a private helicopter rescue, which could add up to $15-20,000. The company also provides security services for an additional fee, in case you’re traveling somewhere that erupts into war or civil unrest. Their employees rescued clients trapped in Alexandria, Cairo, and parts of Tunisia during the uprisings there in 2011, as well as after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.  

CEO of Global Rescue, Dan Richards, participating in the Global Rescue Readiness Test | Photo courtesy of Global Rescue

Last year Global Rescue had about one million clients, ranging from individuals, to NASA, the U.S. Government, and National Geographic.

And who are the super humans rescuing all these people? 

Many of their employees come from a military background, and they go through some intense training to make sure they’re up for the task. They even have a biennial office-wide fitness test, just in case anyone has been slacking since they got hired. 

Besides the manpower they have to get things done, they also have the resources. Between helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes, Global Rescue has thousands of aircraft around the world under contract. Additionally, they use all sorts of ground transportation, ambulances, vans—you name it. And Dan Richards says if the weather is too bad, or if motorized vehicles can’t reach the patient, “we’ll put them on a yak or a horse, sometimes accompanied by one of our personnel, as soon as possible.”

Global Rescue will come get you anywhere in the world…except North Korea.

Not all their clients need rescues, which is the reason they make any money at all. Most people go on their trips, it goes smoothly, and they never need the backup. But occasionally, something does go very wrong. Which brings us back to Robert Kay, who is near the top of Mount Everest.

Here Comes the Cavalry

As Kay’s lungs began filling with fluid, he realized he didn’t have much time left.

“At that point,” he remembers, “it just became an interesting fact. It was like, ‘huh, I get to know where and when I die, that’s interesting; the pain’s going to stop—that’s good.’ I didn’t even care that I was about to die.”

But fortunately he never had to face that fate. At 21,000 feet, Global Rescue sent a helicopter to pick up Robert Kay.

Kay says it was like seeing the cavalry coming. “You don’t know for sure if you’re going to live or die for 48 hours, and all of a sudden, you know, guaranteed, you’re going to make it.”

[Global Rescue Plans are] a little bit like AAA, but not for your car, for your body.
— Dan Richards

They flew Kay to a small clinic in Luklah, a town at the base of Everest. From there he was transferred to a bigger hospital in Kathmandu, where he rested and recovered before he caught a flight back to the United States.

And the remarkable thing is that Global Rescue’s work with Kay didn’t stop there. Although Kay expected them to drop him off and say, “we’ll pay the bills, good luck,” they didn’t. “They came to visit me in the hospital everyday,” Kay says, “just to check on me and see how I was doing. They were an amazing group of people. It wasn’t simply ‘pay the claim and move on,’ it was how were you doing as a person.”

And that seems to be the story from the majority of their clients—that Global Rescue really cares.

But parts of this story get tricky, too. Hundreds of people climb Everest each year. Some of those people are signed up to get saved if something happens, and some of them are not—like the Sherpas—because they can’t pay for a service like Global Rescue. Out of about 280 people that have died on Everest, an estimated 114 of them have been Sherpas.  

So is Global Rescue really making the mountain safer?

Ben Ayers, the Country Director for the dZi Foundation in Nepal, says maybe, but not across the board. “It’s making extreme adventure easier and safer for the privileged,” he says, “and it’s not making it easier and safer for everybody else.” 

Ayers has been helping improve working conditions for mountain porters and their communities for the past 18 years. Ben says companies like Global Rescue might be contributing to a culture of mountaineers taking greater risks than they would if they had to rescue themselves—risks that could endanger lives besides their own.

This leads us to our second rescue story, where the ethical implications of getting rescued become much hazier.

A Fundamental Inequality

Courtney Christman, Emily Schlegel, a Haitian teen, and Sara Trupp build a fence. | Credit: Megan Trupp

In 2010, Courtney Christman was in her senior year of college in Pennsylvania. She’d been going to the Christ Mertz Lutheran Church in Fleetwood, PA since she was little, and had gone on a few mission trips when she was younger. She liked them so much that she decided to lead her own week-long mission trip to Haiti her senior year. Her group of 12 people from the church flew down to Croix-des-Bouquets, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. There they volunteered for a nonprofit that provides rural people educational opportunities and basic health care called “Village of Hope.”

Courtney’s group helped paint the church and spent time with children in the Village of Hope school. “You couldn’t walk somewhere without somebody giving you a hug,” she says. And although hugs might not be a measure of real impact, Courtney says she felt good about being there.  

“You get there and you start building relationships and you realize: this is where God wants me to be.”

And then, disaster.  

At 4:53 pm on January 12th, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just south of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Courtney remembers this moment perfectly.

“The ground started shaking, and I remember looking at my friend Megan, thinking, ‘What is happening?’ And I heard her yell out, almost in slow-motion, ‘It’s an earthquake!’ The ground was moving and it looked like waves. It looked like ocean waves. The ground rose two or three feet in the air and then dropped.” 

Courtney and her group were back at their living accommodations after a day of work.They were staying in a complex of one-story buildings that had bunks and a kitchen. Fortunately, most of them were sitting outside.  

No one in Courtney’s group was hurt.

But many other people were. The death count is highly disputed, but ranges from 200,000 to 300,000. One million people were left homeless and an estimated 3 million people were affected. Today, 2.5 million Haitians are still in need of humanitarian aid.

Following the earthquake, Courtney and her group tried to help. But after a few days they started to get worried about their supply of food and water, and their safety. Trying to secure a ride home, Courtney took the group to the U.S. Embassy, where they were told 200 people stood ahead of them in line to get out of the country; it would take weeks for them to get out. So Courtney called her insurance company, which informed her that they had bought them a subscription to Global Rescue.  

The ground started shaking, and I remember looking at my friend Megan, thinking, ‘What is happening?’ And I heard her yell out, almost in slow-motion, ‘It’s an earthquake!’
— Courtney Christman

The earthquake was on Tuesday. On Saturday, two Global Rescue employees arrived in Haiti, and whisked the group to the airport at 5 am the next morning. In front of several hundred people waiting in Embassy lines and several thousand more who would never be able to afford to leave their ruined country, Courtney’s group boarded one of the first chartered flights out of Haiti.  

The moment she boarded the plane, Courtney says she wanted to tell the pilot, “turn around, let me out! Our work is not done.” She says she felt guilty leaving, especially because they had come to Haiti to make an impact. “It just felt like we had so much more work to do,” she says, “and we got to go home.”

Courtney and her group had come to Haiti to help spread their privilege—to give back. But when the time came, they used that same privilege to get out. 

Nealin Parker, the former Deputy Director of the Office of Transition Initiatives at the U.S. Agency for International Development, thinks this is more about the pre-existing systems of inequality than any kind of individual choice. “My experience in aid in general,” she says, “is that there is just a fundamental inequality and injustice in place. In the moments when you are getting on a plane and somebody else isn’t getting on a plane are those moments where there is the least amount you can do to fix that inequality and it is the most morally troubling.”

A Moral Question

As long as it doesn’t risk their own clients’ survival, Global Rescue does help non-members as much as they can—they’ll bring in medical supplies for free and evacuate non-members. But in the end they are not the Red Cross; they’re a business, with clients who are willing to pay for the services they offer.  

Dan Richards, the CEO of Global Rescue, thinks the choice not to insure your life raises its own moral questions. “You could argue that that is one of the most selfish things you could do, going to a place like Haiti. You could leave your family and the people who love you in the lurch.”

Still, there are people who prefer to travel without a fire escape. Mark Jenkins is the Writer in Residence for University of Wyoming, as well as contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine. He’s been on all sorts of dangerous adventures and often goes without any kind of backup.  

We’re always faced with this. This is the human condition. What do we really owe our fellow man?
— Mark Jenkins

Jenkins says, “the difficulty obviously arises when affluence gives one person a better chance of survival than another person—a person of lesser means. But this is precisely how the world works. If you get cancer in Holland your chances of survival are much higher than if you get cancer in the Congo. We are living not in the world of our choosing but in the world we have, which is packed full of the haves and the have-nots.” 

So maybe paying to insure your life is just a proxy for the greater inequities of the world? Mark Jenkins thinks so.

“We’re always faced with this. This is the human condition. What do we really owe our fellow man?”

And when it comes to saving your own life and the lives of the people you love, that question can get pretty hard to answer.

As for Dan Richards, he thinks it doesn’t need to be a question at all. “You’re talking to the wrong guy if you want an in-depth, microscopic examination of the moral implications. l’ll never be able to understand why there might be a moral question about rescuing somebody. Particularly at the risk of your own life. That’s just not a moral question in my mind.”


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Outside/In was produced this week by Cordelia Zars with help from: Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Logan Shannon, Molly Donahue, and Jimmy Gutierrez.

Special thanks to Frank Mauceri, Ben Ayers, Ann Shannon, and Megan Trupp for their help making this story come together. Thanks also to Robert Kay and Courtney Cristman for sharing their stories with us. A post-script: Robert has adopted two girls from Nepal. One of them is applying to med school this year. And Courtney is hoping to set up a physical therapy clinic in Haiti as soon as she can.

Music from this week’s episode was composed by Cordelia Zars.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder.

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-844-GO-OTTER (844-466-8837). Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

S03|E04: Full Disclosure & Hoofprints on the Heart

In this week's episode, we look into the wonderful world of nature documentaries and find that truth behind the lens and the microphone is sometimes hard to find. Also, a heartwarming story from our podcasting friends in Montana, HumaNature, about a man who set out on a long journey with his trusty sidekick who just happens to be a real ass. 

Note: This is an hour-long broadcast version of our show made especially for the radio. This show is made up of stories subscribers to the podcast have already heard so it won't show up in your podcast feed. If you'd like to hear us on the airwaves instead of just in your earbuds, consider asking your local public radio station to air the show! And if you'd like to support the work that we do, consider supporting NHPR, the NPR member station for the great state of New Hampshire, and the entity that pays our bills. Thanks!

Click on the individual segment titles to see photos, videos, and more!

Parts 1 & 2

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Full Disclosure

Nature documentaries and wildlife films transport us to places in the world that still feel wild, but what if the wilderness they present is staged? What if, in order to capture nature’s unvarnished beauty and conflict, filmmakers have to engage in a bit of fakery? In this episode we examine how deception is used to enhance the drama of nature documentaries, from Disney’s Oscar-winning film White Wilderness, to the incredible footage featured in the BBC’s Planet Earth II. Plus, we own up to some of the production tricks we use to make this podcast. 


Part 3

HumaNature: Hoofprints on the Heart

This week on the show we’re bringing you something a little different, a story from someone else. Caroline Ballard and Micah Schweizer started HumaNature, which is based in Wyoming, and they’re part of the team responsible for bringing us the story of a man, his walk through an unfamiliar culture and an unexpected friendship, in a couple of different ways. 

Jon set out on the longest, toughest walk of his life. But along the way, he met someone who helped carry the weight.

The piece was produced by Erin JonesAnna Rader, and Micah Schweizer and hosted by Caroline BallardHumaNature is a production of Wyoming Public Media.

Seattle Denver Arms (Instrumental) by Loch Lomond is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License. Based on a work at http://needledrop.co/artists/Loch-Lomond


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Special thanks to Phineas Quimby and Dan Barrick this week for being participants in our experiment in radio deception. Also thanks to Cynthia Chris and to Elizabeth White, she and the rest of the folks at Planet Earth have actually put out some behind-the-scenes footage of how they made the iguana snake scene that we reference earlier in the show, and have been really candid about their practices, in case you want to learn more about how they do it.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-844-GO-OTTER (844-466-8837). Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

This week’s episode includes tracks from Mon Plaisir. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from this artist.

S03|E02: The Accidental History of Solar Power & The Company Man

In this week's episode, solar power is all the rage these days, but how did it get its start? And what the heck is net-metering? Also we'll hear about the resurgence of a deadly form of black lung in coal country and why, despite the severity of these health hazards, it's not getting a lot of attention.

Note: This is an hour-long broadcast version of our show made especially for the radio. This show is made up of stories subscribers to the podcast have already heard so it won't show up in your podcast feed. If you'd like to support the work that we do, consider supporting NHPR, the NPR member station for the great state of New Hampshire, and the entity that pays our bills. Thanks!

Click on the individual segment titles to see photos, videos, and more!

Part 1 & 2

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The Accidental History of Solar Power

If you’re even the least bit interested in taking some sort of personal action on climate change, you inevitably wind up researching solar power. And when you research solar power, you come across an obscure, hard-to-parse, seemingly content free term: net metering. Buckle up folks, we're going full energy nerd.


Part 3

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The Company Man

When he was just 38 years old, Mackie Branham Jr., a coal miner, was diagnosed with progressive massive fibrosis, a debilitating and terminal form of black lung, a disease that was thought to be a relic of the past; a problem when coal mining was at its peak. In this episode we hear from Branham and his family, in a collaboration with Producer Benny Becker who reported on the resurgence of black lung in coal country. We'll look into why, despite the severity of the illness and the large number of miners being diagnosed, it's not getting a lot of attention.


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-844-GO-OTTER (844-466-8837). Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

This week’s episode includes tracks from Mon Plaisir, Jahzzar, Jason Leonard, Blue Dot Sessions and Podington Bear. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from these artists.

Episode 34: The Company Man

When he was just 38 years old, Mackie Branham Jr., a coal miner, was diagnosed with progressive massive fibrosis, a debilitating and terminal form of black lung, a disease that was thought to be a relic of the past; a problem when coal mining was at its peak. In this episode we hear from Branham and his family, in a collaboration with Producer Benny Becker who reported on the resurgence of black lung in coal country. We'll look into why, despite the severity of the illness and the large number of miners being diagnosed, it's not getting a lot of attention.

Mackie Branham Jr. | Photo: Benny Becker/Ohio Valley ReSource

Mackie Branham Jr. | Photo: Benny Becker/Ohio Valley ReSource

For more information on the plight of Mackie Branham Jr. and other coal miners like him, and the resurgence of black lung, we encourage you to read/listen to the reporting done by Benny for Ohio Valley ReSource back in December of last year: "Fighting for Breath: Black Lung's Deadliest Form Increases"

After the story first aired, Benny and the Ohio Valley ReSource received many requests asking how they could help the Branhams. This is a follow-up to the story: "How to Help Those 'Fighting for Breath'"

These stories resulted from an investigation by NPR's Howard Berkes which uncovered an alarming trend of progressive massive fibrosis in Appalachia. Howard's original story can be found here: "Advanced Black Lung Cases Surge in Appalachia"

We also recommend watching Harlan County USA, the Academy Award-winning documentary from Barbara Kopple which follows a grueling coal miners' strike in Kentucky in the mid 70s. 


In 2008, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) produced this film, Faces of Black Lung which shares the stories of two miners suffering from black lung disease.


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Benny Becker and Sam Evans-Brown, with help from, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby,  Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Thanks to NPR and to Howard Berkes for sharing some of Howard’s audio from his reporting. Also, thanks to Jeff Young of the Ohio Valley Resource and to WMMT, Appalshop’s community radio station.

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-603-223-2448. Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

Music this week from Mon Plaisir. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from this artist.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

Outside/In is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Episode 26: HumaNature - Hoofprints on the Heart

This week on the show we’re bringing you something a little different, a story from someone else. Caroline Ballard and Micah Schweizer started HumaNature, which is based in Wyoming, and they’re part of the team responsible for bringing us the story of a man, his walk through an unfamiliar culture and an unexpected friendship, in a couple of different ways. 

Jon set out on the longest, toughest walk of his life. But along the way, he met someone who helped carry the weight.

See more photos from Jon and listen to more episodes from HumaNature at this link: HumaNaturePodcast.org


The piece was produced by Erin Jones, Anna Rader, and Micah Schweizer and hosted by Caroline Ballard. HumaNature is a production of Wyoming Public Media.

Seattle Denver Arms (Instrumental) by Loch Lomond is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License. Based on a work at http://needledrop.co/artists/Loch-Lomond