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Health Threats in Drinking Water, Unionization of Amazon, Birkenstocks

CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley
The Truth Network Radio
August 21, 2022 3:58 pm

Health Threats in Drinking Water, Unionization of Amazon, Birkenstocks

CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley

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August 21, 2022 3:58 pm

Guest host: Lee Cowan. In our cover story, Cowan examines the health threats posed by the prevalence of long-lasting compounds (known as PFAS) in drinking water sources. Robert Costa interviews retiring Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy; Neil Giraldo; David Pogue looks at the rise in unionization efforts at Amazon and other corporations; and Seth Doane finds out how Birkenstock is going toe-to-toe with counterfeiters.

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Jane Pauley is off this weekend. I'm Lee Cowan, and this is Sunday Morning. Better living through chemistry. That slogan dates back to the 1930s. An optimistic declaration suggesting that science could solve problems both large and small. But one of those intended solutions has led to what's being called a national crisis. PFAS, the acronym for the compound behind products like Teflon, have been linked to cancers and other life-threatening conditions. They've even made their way into our soil and our groundwater. Forever chemicals, threatening forever consequences. It's called PFAS, a family of toxic chemicals that's been around for so long. It's now found, by some estimates anyway, in the blood of nearly every single person on the planet.

Why isn't there more testing, more information? That's the multi-billion dollar question. A lot of people have been asking it, and now so are we, ahead on Sunday Morning. David Poem tells us why, for some of us, the union label is very much back in style.

Seth Doan walks a mile in some Birkenstocks, those familiar sandals that are suddenly almost high fashion. Plus Robert Costa talking with retiring Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. A survival story from our Steve Hartman, and more, on this Sunday Morning, August 21st, 2022.

We'll be back after this. It's a silent threat lurking where you'd least expect it, in our drinking water. We assume of course it's safe, but scientists are warning about a common and potentially dangerous chemical that can survive in the ground and in our water forever. On a cold winter day on the Stone Ridge Dairy Farm in Arundel, Maine, Fred Stone was more worried about his cows being cold than himself, especially his prized brown Swiss, named Blue.

She likes to give me a hard time as much as she can. Fred and his wife Laura are only the latest generation to work this dairy. It's been in the family for over a century. But since November of 2016, every drop of milk, that white gold that's been a reliable livelihood for generations, is now being poured right down the drain.

That's a hell of a waste. Even I can't drink it. He had no idea the wastewater that the state licensed him to use to fertilize his fields was also swimming with potentially toxic chemicals called PFAS. Now his land, his cows, and yes their milk, are all contaminated. Had you ever heard of PFAS or any of these chemicals? Never.

A lot of people haven't. PFAS is an acronym for a family of man-made compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkali substances. The CDC has listed a host of health effects believed to be associated with exposure to those chemicals, including cancer, liver damage, increased cholesterol, and a lot more. The chemicals are so highly mobile they're not only being found in soil and groundwater, but in the atmosphere too.

In fact, they've even been detected in raindrops falling in some of the most remote areas of the world. This story is about a new plastic material trademarked Teflon. PFAS chemicals have been around for decades. Oh, good thing it's Teflon. DuPont was the first to use PFAS in Teflon, giving us those non-stick pots and pans. Half of this piece of carpet has been treated with this new finish.

The other half has not. 3M used a different PFAS in its once popular fabric protector, Scotchgard. Today, those chemical cousins can still be found in almost anything designed to fend off oil or water or grease.

That includes things like pizza boxes, paper plates, rain jackets, ski wax, even guitar strings. PFAS are basically impossible to escape, and scientists say they are likely here to stay. They are nearly indestructible. You just can't get rid of them. You can't get rid of them.

Patrick McRoy, the former deputy director of the advocacy group Defend Our Health in Maine, explains just why that staying power is so very troubling. A lot of chemicals, when they go into your body or when they end up in the environment, they break down. They slowly decompose. PFAS don't do that. Once you put PFAS somewhere, it's going to stay there practically forever.

That means the levels of these so-called forever chemicals can build up and linger in our bloodstreams forever. How high were your levels when they told you about your water? They're supposed to be under 40 pots per trillion. Ours is 26,000. 26,000? Per trillion, yep. Kathy and Bruce Harrington, who live next to a farm, were notified by Maine's Department of Environmental Protection that their drinking water was tainted with PFAS. The likely source was two industrial plants not far away. Your well is right there. Yep, well is right there.

Yeah. They come and tested our water and they said, we'll send you a report in a couple of weeks or whatever. And they called us in a few days and they said, do not drink your water. Don't use it for cooking. Nothing.

Oh, for what? Asks Bruce. Bottom line is we don't need freaking eggs to slide out of pans versus people dying. PFAS contamination is really a national crisis. And the real scale of contamination is staggering.

The more we test, the more we find it. Melanie Benesch, legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, says thousands of sites nationwide are polluted with PFAS. And she lays the blame for that growing crisis squarely at the feet of the companies who invented the chemicals in the first place. It is the manufacturers like DuPont and 3M who have gotten us here today. So they've known for 70 years that they were poisoning the water and they didn't tell the EPA, they didn't tell their neighbors, they didn't tell their workers, they didn't tell anyone because they were making too much money. In the last two decades, thousands of lawsuits have been brought against the manufacturers for allegedly knowing PFAS chemicals were dangerous.

While most deny they did anything wrong, settlement offers have been pouring in to the tune of billions of dollars. But Benesch says the manufacturers aren't the only ones to blame. There has also been regulatory failure. The FDA, new in the 1960s.

The Department of Defense, new in the 1970s. The EPA has known since at least the 90s and they didn't treat the issue with the amount of urgency that it needed. Regulating PFAS is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. DuPont and 3M phased out two of the PFAS suspected of being the most harmful, but they still manufacture others.

In fact, there are thousands of variants. Many of them have real similarities that make it very likely that one is just as toxic as the other. Take this plant DuPont built in North Carolina back in the 70s and then spun off to a different company called Chemours back in 2015. It's almost like a forensic kind of activity. Almost a decade ago, Detlef Knappe, an environmental engineering professor at North Carolina State University, started testing the water near that plant that sits right along the Cape Fear River.

In 2017, his research made headlines. The study said a new PFAS called GenX was clearly present in the water. If you look at this, there's, you know, the water is completely clear and there's really nothing wrong with it, but it does have very high levels of PFAS in it, you know, several thousand nanograms per liter. It's unholy. When we live in America, I should be able to enjoy a shower and not worry that it's going to give me or my kids cancer.

I don't know that I shuffled these cards. Emily Donovan, mother of two, lives about 80 miles downstream from the Chemours plant. The Cape Fear River is a source of drinking water for more than 350,000 people in and around Wilmington.

She, like most people, just always assumed it was safe. The EPA doesn't require utilities to regularly test for them, so there's really no way for the average American to know if it's even in their drinking water right now or in their food or in their air. Based on what it called new evidence, this past June, the EPA did update its drinking water advisories about PFAS, warning that even the tiniest amounts over a lifetime may be enough to cause negative health effects in humans. But it stopped short of creating a new federal drinking water standard.

There has been no new drinking water standard in the United States since the 1990s. 30 years. Do a post with some of that. Emily co-founded Clean Cape Fear. It's a community action group that, among other things, has been fighting for both federal and state agencies to crack down harder on all of the PFAS pollutants. You have two choices.

You can have a breakdown about it, or you can channel that energy and that heartbreak into something productive and create a positive. Chemours was forced by state environmental regulators to install a host of anti-pollution technologies. It's cost them millions. In a statement to CBS News, the company says it's destroying over 99.99 percent of PFAS in the air, and it's reduced PFAS compounds reaching the Cape Fear River by 97 percent. As for PFAS that have built up in the ground over the years, Chemours says it will build a barrier wall that will capture and treat the groundwater, a process it says will remove nearly all of them. The exposure has dropped dramatically for people who live downstream. It's much tougher for the people who live immediately around the plant whose wells are contaminated.

This is two weeks old. What Professor Kanape is now interested in investigating is to see just how much of any PFAS is present in the food grown nearby. We have analyzed some of the produce from backyard gardens in that area that suggests the levels can be quite high.

I'm scared that it is too late. I'm scared that we're going to die because of what we've ingested. Residents like Jane Jacobs, a member of the native Tuscarora Nation, have always seen the land as sacred. But she fears the blight on her tribe's land might just end a way of life. My people have always hunted in these swamps, but they're fed by the rivers. So now the animals are polluted the same way the water is polluted because they drink out of the rivers and out of the swamps. What do you think, Reuben? You're not going to make any sound, are you? No one who lives off the land would willingly poison it.

There you go. Fred is certainly one of those people. As are farmers in nearly every state who use treated wastewater to nourish their fields. He, just like his father and his grandfather before him, saw their soil as part of their soil.

Cold and drought were supposed to be the biggest threats, not a chemical made by man. At some point in time, I'm going to have to tell my father and my grandfather what I did with the farm that they entrusted me with. But this wasn't your fault, though.

It wasn't my fault, but it was under my watch. Now it's going to be gone. So that's it.

That's the end of the road. For more from this week's conversation, follow The Takeout with Major Garrett on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Hi, podcast peeps. It's me, Drew Barrymore.

Oh, my goodness. I want to tell you about our new show. It's The Drew's News Podcast. And in each episode, me and a weekly guest are going to cover all the quirky, fun, inspiring and informative stories that exist out in the world because, well, I need it and maybe Maybe you do too, from the newest interior design trend, Barbie Corps, to the right and wrong way to wash your armpits. Also, we're going to get into things that you just kind of won't believe and were not able to do in daytime television, so watch out.

Listen to True's News wherever you get your podcasts. It's your good news on the go. You might call it the sandal of the summer.

No need to be at the beach to make a splash. As Seth Doan explains, Birkenstocks are so popular, it's criminal. It's proof of popularity that the German footwear brand Birkenstock never wanted. What is the price for this? This is very cheap. In the fight against fakes, the shoemaker has been sending teams of undercover investigators with hidden cameras into what they say are counterfeiting factories.

This is their video. But it is a problem for Birkenstock. We don't just punish the marketplaces or the resellers, we really go to the factories. Birkenstock's CEO Oliver Reichardt is aggressive.

Turkey, Philippines, China, wherever. Sounds like you're running special ops. Yes, but that's necessary. Turkey's unconventional approach is clear at their Munich headquarters. You're sitting at your desk listening at times blasting music. It's not what you expect from a CEO. Probably I'm not the average CEO.

I never tried to be average in anything. And Birkenstock has proved it's not average either. If you haven't noticed, Birkenstocks are everywhere, revealing the toes or, yes, socks of not just the most unfashionable among us, but models and celebrities too. It's undeniable that Birkenstock is having a moment nearly 250 years in the making. This is the perfect casual summertime shoe and everybody should own it there. I hope you saved your Birkenstocks from eighth grade because they're back, baby. And I kid you not, these sandals have changed my life.

And Birks have come a long way from their days as a hippie staple. Since he took over this formerly family-run business in 2009, Oliver Reichardt has tried to inject a startup energy. If you have such a tradition and such a history, the threat is to wake up in your own museum.

And I don't want to have this. He's ruthless regarding brand collaboration requests. They get plenty.

Eight out of 10 will say no. They said yes to Dior. How much is this? And are now producing this felt-covered shoe.

Not enough, I would say. Retailing for over $1,000. It's about supporting the idea behind the product and not harming the DNA of either brand.

It's like a marriage, you know? And there's luxury shoemaker Manolo Blahnik, known for his coveted stilettos. Manolo Blahnik. Manolo Blahnik. They weren't sandals. They were Manolos. But Blahnik is an avid Birkenstock customer, now turned collaborator. You think of Manolo Blahnik and Sex and the City and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Yeah, yeah. But she's wearing Birkenstock as well, even in the private life. No, I meant my stocks and socks. When you see some celebrity pictured with Birkenstocks, what do you think?

I'm proud that they're wearing Birkenstocks. And I know, and this makes me even prouder, they buy for it. You don't give them to some famous person? No, no, no.

We don't have a Hollywood office or something like this, no, no. And if some celebrity says, hey, I'll wear this shoe, you won't send them a shoe? Why?

Come on. If they send me money, I will send them a shoe. They buy the shoe.

Of course. It's a glamorous twist for a company that traces its roots back to a cobbler in central Germany in 1774. In the late 1800s, a descendant, Conrad Birkenstock, began making and selling flexible insoles. For decades, that humble footbed was the family business. In the 60s, Karl Birkenstock was somehow frustrated that, OK, we make the best insole in the world, but nobody sees our product. So he decided to try to bring the footbed out of the shoes, and that's the birthday of the of the sandal. But the shoe stores in America didn't want the product. It was an ugly shoe. You know, they say, oh, OK, are you crazy?

Ugly, perhaps, and for a time uncool. But in just the past decade, Birkenstock reports sales have more than quadrupled. What's the most popular Birkenstock? Definitely the Arizona. This is the Arizona.

Give you another nice picture. This is the Arizona. Then COVID provided another unexpected boost. Unfortunately, we became the number one home office shoe. The demand in the online was crazy.

So why do you say unfortunately? It's painful to have no sales, but it's very painful to have too much sales. Trying to manage this global demand is challenging. We saw that at one of their factories in the east of Germany, where they were racing to fill a backlog of nearly a million pairs. How much stock is here?

Yes, the stock only for 10 days. Managing director Hilmar Knoll juggles the logistics. We're always at the limit of our capacity. Daily, they produce 80,000 footbeds, which all start as a mix of pork from Portugal. This is part of what you call secret recipe. Yes, this is one of our secrets, definitely. That secret mix is heated, then squeezed into molds. So this is chewed, pork latex, chewed, and the leather. Then will be this footbed. The shearling is one of our biggest success in the last years. Birkenstock still makes all its shoes in Germany and is fiercely protective of that quality.

As part of its effort to crack down on counterfeiters, it stopped selling on Amazon, citing the number of fakes being sold. How hard was that? For us? Nothing. Well, it's a huge outlet. Maybe, but not a good one.

I think at the beginning, Amazon was a pioneer in online trading. You have to kill monsters when they are small. If they're getting too big, you can't kill them, OK? They will eat you. And we decide to kill our monsters early. In a statement Amazon told us, fewer than 0.01% of all products sold on Amazon received a counterfeit complaint from customers.

And we won't rest until that number is zero. I mean, those are also very beautiful. The robust market for fakes reinforces, as if anyone needed a reminder, just how popular these sandals are, whatever the reason.

Even the people who hate the brand wear them because they are good. It's like, you know, do you like taking medicine? No.

Yeah, it helps. So you swallow it. You seem almost proud that some people don't like your product. It's a proof of concept.

It doesn't matter for us because once you get the product, you will wear this and you will buy it. So, you know, one day we'll get you. A few days ago, workers at an Amazon warehouse near Albany, New York, petitioned to join a union. As David Pogue explains, they're part of a growing movement driven by a new generation. The number of Americans who belong to labor unions has been dropping for decades.

But suddenly, in the last year or so, the winds have changed. Unionization efforts are underway at tech companies like Apple and Google, media organizations like the New York Times and Condé Nast, and among grad students, delivery drivers, and baristas. Since December, when a Starbucks in Buffalo was the first to vote to unionize, workers at more than 200 Starbucks stores have followed suit. Yes, they vote one store at a time.

We've had a lot of intimidation and a lot of efforts to stop us, but we're here. But then, last April, there was news that stunned the business world about America's second largest employer. It's Amazon versus the people, and the people have spoken. JFK 8, a massive Amazon warehouse on Staten Island that employs 8,300 people, voted to unionize. We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space, because when he was up there, we were signing people up. And weren't there people saying, dude, these efforts never succeed?

Of course. I think everybody wrote us off. You know, everybody didn't believe that we would even get to an election, let alone win. Former Amazon worker Chris Smalls led the union drive, but that wasn't his original plan. It had no intentions on unionizing, just trying to do the right things and protect people from dying from COVID-19. In March 2020, he'd organized a walkout to protest the lack of face masks and other COVID gear at JFK 8. Amazon fired him, and in a leaked memo, an executive called him, what's that quote?

Not smart or articulate, you know. Smalls' strategy to unionize JFK 8 involved a social media campaign and small grassroots gestures, all paid for by donations. We would feed them, you know, pizza, catered food, soul food, different cultural food. That's what the union represents is, you know, taking care of one another. Amazon fought back hard using the standard union-busting playbook. It spent over $4 million on consultants and required every employee to attend anti-union meetings. They'll say, oh, this organization, they're not going to do anything for you. They're just going to take your money. And by the way, they might make you go on strike.

You might not receive any income for that period. Ruth Milkman is a labor expert and professor at the City University of New York. It can be very intimidating and very effective. But not this time. So I think what you're saying is you succeeded because you were smart and articulate.

Pretty much. Amazon declined an interview, but told us in a statement, we don't think unions are the best answer for our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work. Union! Pay! Union!

Pay! In May, the Amazon union lost a vote at a smaller warehouse on Staten Island. To date, the JFK8 warehouse remains the only Amazon location in the country to vote for unionization. Amazon is also challenging the validity of the JFK8 vote and points out that it already offers better than average pay and benefits, $15 an hour starting wage, and health insurance.

But Ruth Milkman says that it's about more than dollars. Workers want respect. They want to be treated with dignity.

And I think you can see that really clearly in the story at Staten Island. They're treated like machines. In what ways are these workforces and these unions different from the old union factory efforts?

What's different, I think, is the zeitgeist that, especially young workers who've lived through a lot of turmoil, they have these high expectations for what their work life is supposed to be about. And then they can't afford the rents. They might have a lot of student debt.

They end up living with their parents. I mean, this is not what they were promised. The pandemic also created a labor shortage, which gave people more leverage and made them less fearful of organizing. Unions are cool again for this generation.

To many of the workers at JFK8, Chris Smalls is definitely cool. One of them drove by during our interview and expressed his own thoughts on the unionization effort. I won't say that word, but I guess he's pro-union. He's one of the longest serving senators in U.S. history. And after 48 years in office, Vermont's Patrick Leahy is retiring.

He took some time to reflect on his decades of service with our Robert Costa. There's an inscription on the side of the Dirksen Senate Office Building and it reads, the Senate is the living symbol of our union of states. Is it? The Senate should be the conscience of the nation. Is the Senate failing now? The Senate has become so bitterly divided on things that they shouldn't be divided on.

All senators now rise and raise their right hand. Political divisions are the bookends to the long career of Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. This is not the swamp.

I think this is where democracy can be and should be. Now 82 and retiring at the end of this term, Leahy was sent to Washington in the wake of Watergate, an idealistic 34-year-old prosecutor. You're elected in 1974, a Watergate baby. Now you're about to leave the Senate after an attack on the U.S. Capitol. What does that say to you? Part of it says to me, have we learned something? Does anybody read a book on history? January 6th shook me to the core, because I thought back to the really wonderful men and women I've served with over all these years, in both parties, who would not have stood for this.

For his new memoir, published by Simon & Schuster, part of CBS parent company Paramount Global, Leahy plays off the title of the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken. Indeed, United States Senator was an unlikely career path for the young attorney, and when Leahy arrived in Congress, he intended to keep his head down. Not easy when you stand six foot two. You really wanted to blend into the background most of the time. Oh, I did. I sat in the first caucus. I came in, I sat way in the back row, against the wall. Next thing I knew, Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson, a couple other very senior ones come in and sit beside me. They said, boy, you learn fast. I said, what do you mean?

Well, you sit here, so if it gets boring, you can sneak out and let anybody see you. One, I'd like to have you read the report. Leahy's no-nonsense approach endeared him to the old lions of the Senate.

But his quiet composure has long hidden a crusader's zeal. Last year, when Chief Justice John Roberts declined to preside over Donald Trump's second impeachment trial, Leahy took on the task. The nays are 43, and he is hereby acquitted of the charge in said article. What would it have meant for the country if more Republicans had voted to convict Trump in that trial? I think it would have helped the country. I don't say this was a partisan thing. It would have sent word to the country in the same way that Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott told Richard Nixon, you've broken the law, it's time to go.

I wish more had been won to stand up and say this was wrong. They'd say it privately, or say it publicly. There's no place where the public and private sides of politics come together more than in rooms like this, Leahy's so-called hideaway.

Amid photos of his wife of 60 years, Marcel, and their family, it's where senators brokered an end to the 2019 government shutdown. I can just go ahead and take pictures. And where Leahy can just be himself. Just got him, and you and your crew. No, that's enough. There, I got two. Too close.

Too close. An avid photographer, Leahy has lined the walls with photos of his home state. I was born basically blind in one eye, and things that require depth perception like baseball or whatnot are more difficult.

You only need one eye for photography. The Vermont senator has another, far more unusual sideline. You remind me of my father, and I hate my father. He's been a bit player in several Batman movies. A lifelong fan of the Caped Crusader, Leahy has spent his career working for Americans with little power of their own. The poor, the hungry, children, and victims of landmines, though he is the fourth longest serving senator in U.S. history.

With the trappings of seniority to show for it, Leahy is the first of his family to have attended college, and he's not afraid to take the gloves off. He opposed all of Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominees. Trump claims he has an absolute right to pardon himself, does he? Making particular umbrage during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. There were a lot of people who should have been questioned this last round by the FBI, but the Trump White House said they couldn't. What do you make of Senator Collins and Senator Manchin saying Justice Kavanaugh misled them during the confirmation hearings? I was in that hearing.

I wasn't misled. I believe the charges against him, and I believe that the White House stymied a full investigation. The FBI did not do a complete investigation.

It was rushed through so you could not have a complete investigation, and it was a farce. But that's my view. The Biden years have proven happier for Leahy, and though he is only three years older than the president, he's not advising Biden to follow suit and retire. Should he run in 2024? That's going to have to be his decision.

If he does, I'll support him. Because there is something about getting to a certain age where you start to maybe reflect about the crossroads of life. Really? And when does that happen, Bob? You tell me, sir. I've got to read the book, The Road Taken. I've got to find out when that time is. Are you going to miss all of this? I'm going to miss this view.

I've taken an awful lot of pictures. As Patrick Leahy prepares to descend from his position of power in Washington, his thoughts turn to the next generation of leaders and to the young man he once was. If you could go back to 1974 and tap the 34-year-old you on the shoulder and give him a little advice, what would you tell him? I'd tell him things that look impossible aren't if you work hard enough at it. It's not going to be done with press releases and look how great I am. It's going to be done with just steady, careful work.

But it can be done. I'm Lee Cowan. Thanks for listening. And please join us when our trumpet sounds again next Sunday morning.

Now streaming. I used to believe in progress that no matter what we do we just end up back at the start. We're in crazy time. The Paramount Plus original series, The Good Fight, returns for its final season. The point isn't the end. The point is winning.

Yes! There are bad people in the world. The best way to protect the good people is to convict the bad. So here's to us. The Good Fight, the final season, now streaming exclusively on Paramount Plus.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-29 21:31:26 / 2023-01-29 21:44:37 / 13

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