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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Planet in Peril

Aired April 23, 2008 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It's one of the fundamental laws of physics, of nature. Nothing occurs in a vacuum in the natural world. There are ripple effects and that is putting our planet in peril.

This journey around the globe is an investigation into the reasons our planet is changing. It's about the front lines, the places where threats aren't just forecasts of the future, but are happening now.

Where forests are lost.

JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST: We're destroying nature's natural regulator.

COOPER: Where islands are discovered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This island exists because of global warming.

COOPER: Where water is poisoned.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people live around here and are dependent on this water.

COOPER: Where endangered animals are bought and sold and killed.

CORWIN: There's a lot of animals right here that range the gamut of critical status.

COOPER: Where people are dying.

GUPTA: We're hearing people are getting cancer from drinking water.

COOPER: This is a planet under assault. This is a planet in peril.

Previously on "Planet in Peril" our journey started in the markets Thailand where our hidden cameras captured endangered animals for sell.

In Madagascar we captured some of the first images of the black sifaka and witnessed the habitat under assault. Our story continues in Cambodia where Jeff Corwin and I are on the trail of poachers in Bokor National Park where we just found some of their cruelest weapons. On a hunt for snares with a team of rangers deep inside the jungle of Cambodia's Bokor National Park, we're told that probably all around us, but finding them is easy, but you have to know what to look for.

It's very well camouflaged. This is where the trigger mechanism is. And I'll show you how it works. It's very simple but it's very effective.

We never find this last tiger of Bokor injured by a poacher's snare. The rangers can't even be sure if it's still alive. If it is, from what we've seen, it had better watch its step. In the roughly one hour we spend in this patch of jungle, we find more than a dozen snares.

CORWIN: Despite the power and strength of a tiger or even a young elephant, the more it pulls, the more it resists, the more strength it uses, the tighter the knot gets.

COOPER: So they'll actually tug at it enough?

CORWIN: They'll work, tug, in some cases actually chew on their wrist to try to free themselves. Thousands and thousands of animals every year in this forest and other habitats throughout Cambodia and Southeast Asia fall prey to this terrible, terrible fate.

Some of the victims of that terrible fate can be found here at the Wild Life Rescue Center in central Cambodia. This is Tiu, a 1- 1/2-year-old Asian elephant fighting for his life. After a snare like the ones we saw in Bokor ripped off part of his front foot.

In order to treat this young elephant, veterinarians have to be able to sedate it; they use this blow gun to shoot a dart into the elephant. They do this once a week. The only way they can safely treat the elephant's wound. Once the sedative takes hold, the veterinarians quickly get to work.

Is he in pain most of the time?

NICK MARTZ, WILDLIFE ALLIANCE: Yes. Yes. When we started, he was in grate great pain. He was worrying about it -- you can see he's rubbing it the whole time. There were maggots in the wound. We just recently now started integrating --

COOPER: Nick Martz runs the Rescue Center for Wild Life Alliance.

Can he learn to walk with three?

MARTZ: If the skin doesn't thicken, he can walk up, maybe try and form a -- like an artificial foot to ease his walk -- to enable him to walk on that foot. It's been done before.

COOPER: But he couldn't be released into the wild? MARTZ: No. Unfortunately not.

COOPER: Wildlife Alliance say there's 200 to 300 Asian elephants left in the wild in Cambodia. Scientists called them a keystone species because their behavior, like the tigers and wolves, impacts an entire ecosystem. Holes they dig for drinking water become watering holes for hundreds of animals. Paths elephant herds made through a forest become corridors for other species.

CORWIN: Hey, Anderson --

COOPER: What, what?

CORWIN: How is this for a treat?

So what we do is just grab water, throw it up, and just rub it on.

COOPER: These animals are playful and powerful. Watch what happens to Jeff's left arm.

CORWIN: So anyway, where were we? So sometimes Anderson, there's conflict between human beings and elephants.

COOPER: Aside from some serious bruising, Jeff is unharmed. That conflict between human beings and every animal is a theme that plays out over and over again here. All of the roughly 800 animals here were rescued from the black market trade. From Burmese pythons --

CORWIN: Hunted for flesh. People love to eat snake in this part of the world and also for this beautiful hide.

COOPER: To Asian sun bearers.

This is a very --

CORWIN: Isn't that amazing face though?

COOPER: They're hunted for their organs?

CORWIN: They're hunted for their organs. These creatures are killed for their gall bladders.

COOPER: These tigers were cubs when they were caught by a trafficker who tried to sell them on the black market.

CORWIN: With regard the enforcement, the guy, the poacher, the wild life was peddling the tiger cubs, what sort of fines was he paid? How was he punished?

MARTZ: Often guys don't get punished. Guys do get fined. It's a very serious crime. They'll end up in prison if they can't buy their way out. But not everyone gets punished, I'm afraid. We're trying to ensure that the penalties are served.

COOPER: Traffickers know in Cambodia they can bribe authorities to ignore their crimes.

This is an illegal animal trader. We've agreed not to show his face or reveal his name. He shows us his snares; they're similar to the ones we've seen in the forest. He says he can sell a tiger for roughly $100 per kilogram. With the average male tiger weighing 170 kilos, that's more than $25,000. He's not concerned about plundering the forest.

Remember one thing, he tells us -- the less the supply, the higher the demand. He sends most of the wild life he kills or captures through Thailand to China. The Chinese, he tells us, eat everything.

The Chinese eat everything. That's probably an overstatement. But we do know this much, according to the Wildlife Alliance, China is the number one destination in the world for illegal wild life. Exactly why it's going there is rooted in centuries of tradition, something Dr. Sanjay Gupta went to investigate.

GUPTA: It's one of the oldest civilizations in the world -- traditions cultivated over thousands of years; some out in the open, others hidden from view. The Chinese like their exotic wildlife. It's used in traditional medicine. And it's served as a delicacy.

Some of the animals are extremely rare and endangered. Others are more common. In either case, the appetite is enormous. A population of 1.3 billion people has made China a vacuum for the world's wildlife.

You really want to get the sense of just what the demand was here, just how much consumption. Take a look. We are in this one back store here and these are all turtles. You're just looking at just thousands of turtles. This is, again, just one small store. It gives you a sense of the demand for this type of wildlife here in China.

The turtles are legal. And so is most of the wildlife we found in this market. Punishment is stiff in China if you're caught selling endangered species. But that doesn't stop it from happening.

This is a store front here. I just want to show you something. This is actually deer antler inside that box. And over here is deer bone. These have both been sold. And over here is actually deer penis. All of that is being sold here. And it's important to emphasize that none of that is actually illegal.

But the concern, though, is what else might be getting sold at places like this. This is actually a restaurant called "Strength in a Pot." Let's go inside and take a look at the menu.

There's no public feeding area inside. It's all private dining rooms. We are shown to one in the back. I'm sitting here with Mr. Chen, who is not only the manager but also a nutritionist. And he has suggested that we get one of the most popular dishes on the menu. So we are going to give it a try.

After we order, a toast with Mr. Chen; the drink is a specialty here, deer antler and blood wine.

MR. CHEN: What do you think?

GUPTA: It's okay. It's a little bitter, but it's okay.

Mr. Chen leaves to check on the food, when we notice a second menu. The first page actually has a platter of dishes that cost about $1,500. What we saw here is Canadian seal, Australian lobster, but they also have tiger paw and tiger penis. This is something we are definitely going to ask Mr. Chen about when he gets back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: In the back room of a Beijing restaurant, I'm getting a taste of China's -- well, let's call it eclectic culinary cuisine.

Mr. Chen just told me that this is stud bull penis, this is deer penis. These are lamb testicles. That's Russian dog penis, and this is just deer meat, venison. Exotic, maybe, but perfectly legal, so far.

Now, Mr. Chen, if I wanted to order some tiger paw, tiger paw or tiger penis, can I order that here? He tells me they do not have it because the tiger is a protected species. Doesn't this say tiger paw here and tiger penis? They use the name Mr. Chen says only to impress their clients.

When we see tiger paw and tiger penis on the menu, Mr. Chen was adamant that they don't have it here and that's just the name. They won't let us back in the kitchen to actually see for ourselves.

There is no way of knowing if indeed this restaurant serves tiger, but we do know it's happening throughout China. According to Wildlife Alliance, China is the number one destination for tiger and other endangered species. Fines are stiff. Around $14,000 if you're caught trafficking. So the practice has gone underground.

It's 5:30 in the morning in the southern city of Guangzhou (ph) and business is booming at this illegal trading spot. We are trying to stay out of sight, but our cameras pick up images of vendors selling from the back of their vans.

I'm with Craig Kirkpatrick of the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, traffic. We decide to get out of the van for a closer look. Our arrival isn't well received. Dealers quickly disperse.

Look over here, hey, Craig, Craig.

But we are able to catch a glimpse of some of the illegal activity; The sale of ferret badgers and civet cats.

CRAIG KIRKPATRICK, WILDLIFE TRADE MONITORING NETWORK: Little baby civets here and then the cats.

GUPTA: The consumption of these animals is believed to be a source of the SARS outbreak in 2002, which killed at least 700 people around the world. Despite a crackdown by the Chinese government in 2003, the illegal consumption is growing again.

They are buying it because they want to eat the meat. They are buying it for medicine purposes as well.

KIRKPATRICK: Yes, it's more of a generalized health tonic rather than a specific medicine prescribed for a particular ailment.

GUPTA: Walking the legal markets in Guangzhou, it's easy to see why over-exploitation is the number one threat to China's animals. Thousands of turtles, poisonous scorpions and snakes fill the stalls. Dry bags of sea horse, shark fin and deer tails pile up along the streets. There's even pillaging from other countries to satisfy the almost endless demand.

KIRKPATRICK: It truly is a global trade coming in from Southeast Asia or from the United States.

GUPTA: In this stall, endangered turtles from Madagascar, for sale here illegally.

This is illegal. Are the police going to come here and shut a place like this down?

KIRKPATRICK: There are so many other priorities that they've got going in this very large country that is expanding at a tremendous rate, wildlife trade just doesn't really register very high on their priority list.

GUPTA: These animals are not just delicacies. Many of them are consumed as a form of medicine. Practiced for thousands of years, traditional Chinese medicine draws on at least 500 species of plants and animals.

Dr. Paul Bot (ph) is a professor at a Chinese university in Hong Kong. He's been studying the use of wildlife in traditional Chinese medicine for over 30 years.

DR. PAUL BOT: This is bear bile, yes, from bear farms. They got it direct from live bears.

GUPTA: In China, over 7,500 bears are kept in cages while their bile is extracted several times a day through a steel catheter. It's a process that critics call barbaric but traditional Chinese medicine uses it to treat everything from heart disease to impotence.

BOT: In Chinese medicine, the bear bile has been used for over 12,000 years. And it still is very good medicine.

GUPTA: Dr. Bot is not alone in his beliefs. 95 percent of hospitals in China offer traditional remedies. That coupled with a growing Chinese population, causes concern that traditional Chinese medicine is driving species to extinction.

BOT: This is really a dilemma because we, too, wish to protect those endangered species. But at the same time it would be difficult for us to decide whether we should simply save them or in emergency occasions ignore our child or beloved ones lying sick in bed.

GUPTA: You're saying sometimes it's worth it?

BOT: Well, we have to find out.

GUPTA: As a doctor, I can't say if these treatments work or not. Most are so obscure they haven't been tested by western science. But whether or not the western world thinks it works is not going to stop the practice. In fact, it's only growing.

The market for exotic and endangered species is simply a matter of supply and demand. But it's a problem made worse when the number of animal species continues to decline, and our own species, mankind, continues to grow at such a staggering pace.

In fact our population has grown by more than 400 percent over the last 100 years and that translates into a breathtaking consumption of just about every natural resource this planet has to offer. And there are no signs of slowing down.

According to a United Nations report, by the year 2050, there will be 9.1 billion human beings on earth. That's nearly 50 percent more than today. It's not that there isn't enough physical space for that many people, there simply are not enough natural resources on this planet to support everyone.

Already scientists say we are consuming 30 percent more each year than the natural world can regenerate. Thirty percent, and that's at current population and consumption levels.

Now consider China. As its economy has exploded by 1,000 percent over the past 30 years, so has its consumption of nearly everything. China now consumes more meat, grains, steel and cement than any other country. It extracts more coal from the ground than anywhere else. It builds roughly two coal fired power plants each week.

Scientists have long thought it would take decades for China to surpass the United States as the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxides. And those scientists were wrong. A new report just showed China is already right now the world's largest CO2 emitter.

But that kind of growth comes with a cost. 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China. But the pollution is not just in the air. More than half of all of the rivers here are severely polluted. According to Chinese media, 300 million people, that's roughly the population of the United States, do not have access to clean drinking water. The central government does recognize it has a problem with pollution and is looking to better balance its economic growth with environmental protection. But that's easier said than done. We're told some of the worst pollution is actually outside the big cities, in some of the smaller villages, which is where we are traveling. In fact, there's a river called the Heilongjiang (ph). It's a very polluted river, and we're told the water actually affects people's health there. After a couple of hours in the car into the countryside of China, we arrive at the river.

Well, this is it. The first thing that struck me was just how awful this smells. This is the Heilongjiang River, and just take a look at it; it's covered with this layer of black muck. It just looks dead to me.

The problem is a lot of people live around here. And in fairness you may find rivers like this in the United States, but they actually use this water here to irrigate crops.

Outside the industrial city of Tianjin, brown, stinking water from local chemical factories was flowing into ditches near the river. We learned quickly that pollution is a touchy subject in China.

As we left the river, word of our presence started to get around. So it didn't take long for the police to find us.

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Many of China's polluted rivers are outside of the big cities, in the countryside. It's there where crops are irrigated by these rivers. And people are getting sick.

When we stopped to talk to farmers just beyond the banks of the Heilongjiang River we got a quick introduction into how touchy the topic of pollution is around here. We were almost immediately stopped by the police. They wanted to see our passports and to find out what we were doing. After ten minutes of tense questioning, they let us go.

We are not too far away from where we just got stopped by the police and had to show our passports. We finally made our way into the fields, trying to ask people about their concerns regarding the dirty water and the irrigation of the crops. What we are hearing is pretty much the same thing, not much. We are finding out, it's really tough to get answers.

We finally made our way into the fields and asked this man about the water here.

The water here is so dirty. How do you irrigate all of the crops?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [ speaking in foreign language ]

GUPTA: But before he could answer, he got a phone call from a passenger in a car that had been following us. There are some foreigners here asking about the water, he said. How should I answer? It didn't take us long to find out.

"We have been doing a lot of things to improve the environment here," he says. "So while the water might look scary, it's actually okay."

But in fact, the Heilongjiang has tested as one of the most polluted rivers in this region. And it's that kind of toxic water that is dangerous to people's health.

The World Bank and China's own environmental agency, SEPA, estimates that polluted water causes roughly 60,000 premature deaths every year and is linked to rising cancer rates. The Ministry of Health reports that increased pollution has made cancer China's leading cause of death. Those are the statistics. This is what they look like.

In a small village in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Zhu Chon Yun (ph) doesn't have a husband anymore. Her daughter, 12- year-old Shushon (ph), doesn't have a father. He died of colon cancer.

Do you have any idea how he got it or why he got colon cancer?

"He got it because of the brown red water," she says.

The brown and red water from the Hengshui River.

So because of the water, because of the food that was irrigated by the water and because of the drinking of the water, you think your husband got cancer?

"The doctor in the hospital told us not to live here. He said, don't eat the rice and don't drink the water," she says.

If the water is so dirty, so polluted, why do you drink it? Why do you use it to irrigate crops?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have no choice.

GUPTA: They have no other options.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No other options.

GUPTA: While Zhu's husband was able to get medical treatment, many people living with cancer in rural China have little access to health care and virtually no screening for the disease.

Do you have some pictures? Can you show me the pictures? Can you describe your husband, what kind of person was he?

"He liked driving, but after he got cancer, he couldn't do many things. He couldn't work. He didn't want to talk to me," she says.

Was he a good father? "He was a good father for sure," she says. "He didn't want to go to the hospital because he worried we didn't have enough money to bring up our daughter."

He was only 30 years old when he died. But Zhu's husband wasn't the first person here to succumb to cancer. Liangxiao (ph), you see, is known as a cancer village. Village leaders say out of 400 people, 28 have died here in the past 10 years. That's more than 50 times the average cancer rate in China.

We are investigating, trying to figure out where all of the pollution is coming from, people keep pointing us to the Dabaoshan mine. We've actually just entered the ground of this particular mine. We are kind of surprised we were able to get into this particular area. Haven't had much luck in other places.

We're going to go to the mine. We're going to actually walk right up to the mine, knock on the front door and see what we find and ask people about the pollution and ask people why it's happening.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill. We'll turn to "Planet in Peril" in just a moment. First though this 360 bulletin.

Hillary Clinton rolling into Indianapolis today riding high on her nearly 10-point margin of victory in Pennsylvania and with a $10 million donation since last night. She's also now claiming to be ahead in the popular vote, but you can see, she's taking some heat for that math.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very proud that as of today, I have received more votes by the people who have voted than anybody else. And I am proud of that because it's a very close race but if you count, as I count, the 2.3 million people who voted in Michigan and Florida, then we are going to build on that.

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HILL: The Obama campaign takes issue with that as does the Democratic Party. Senator Obama also stepping in Indiana today telling voters he'll win in the end by winning in the weeks ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The way we're going to close the deal is by winning. And right now, we're winning. And, you know, what we'll do is keep on campaigning in Indiana and North Carolina and Oregon and these other states. And at the conclusion of all of the contests, people will go back and take a look and say who's won? I think apparent that we'll be in the strongest position to win in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: As we've mentioned the DNC is currently not counting the results of Michigan and Florida. Consequently, Senator Obama is ahead in the popular vote and total delegates. Senator Clinton is up by about 30 superdelegates.

Over on the Republican side, presumptive nominee John McCain spent the day in Kentucky focusing on the economy. Unlike President Bush who calls it a slowdown, Senator McCain used the R word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe we are in a recession. I think the numbers indicate that. And I will be glad to discuss the technical aspect of what's a recession or not technically IS recession. But I think the reality is, and I don't have to tell you here, that American families are hurting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: And that's a look at the headlines. We'll return you to "Planet in Peril" after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: Why did 30-year-old Hu Xiaoping (ph) die? Why have 28 people out of 400 in the last ten years die in a place now known as a cancer village? Why is the water from the mountain running red? Everyone points us up towards the Dabaoshan mine.

We are going to go to the mine. We are going to actually right walk up to the mine, knock on the front door, and see what we find. Ask people about the pollution and ask people why it's happening.

The roads on the way to the headquarters gave us a view of the sprawling operation. Dabaoshan is a state-run iron-ore mine that goes on for miles. Mountaintops are ripped apart. The water color alternates only between dark red and brown.

After about 30 minutes, we arrive at the mine office. We locate the mine director's office.

Hello. We're with CNN. We are wondering if we can ask you a couple of questions. Thank you.

The director of the mine invited us into his office but at first refused to answer our questions. But we continued to ask about the pollution.

We are very concerned about what we have seen here with the water and with the cancer deaths and that's why we are sitting here talking to you. We want to get your point of view. "It's a complicated issue," he says. The government leaders do realize it's a problem, and there have been some environmental issues."

Why is it still happening if they have known about it for so long?

"It's not something you can solve overnight," he also said. "Smaller, privately owned mines share some of the blame."

When we asked him if he would eat the food irrigated by the water or even drink it, he said, "Of course not."

The State Environmental Agency in Beijing has oversight over issues like this. But they declined to comment. That's not good enough for Jingjing Zhang.

You're talking about suing the government of China. Can you do that?

JINGJING ZHANG, ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY: Yes, we can. We have administration litigation law that gives us the right to sue a government agency.

GUPTA: Jingjing, an environmental attorney, is suing the government on behalf of the villagers in Liangxiao. Jingjing grew up near a chemical factory where her parents worked and next to a heavily polluted river, like the Hengshui.

ZHANG: I want to do this work as an environmental lawyer. I always had a dream to live in a place which there's a clean river I can swim in. It's my dream. And, you know, this dream seems very difficult to achieve in China now.

GUPTA: She tells me that the Dabaoshan mine has been polluting the Hengshui River for decades.

If you said to them look, if you build a water treatment plant, you could potentially save lives, what would they say to that?

ZHANG: They already take measures to clean up the water. This is what they told the villagers. They already meet all these measures clean up the water. This is what they told the villagers, they already met all these environmental standards.

GUPTA: But it seems they are not. Mining for iron ore exposes heavy metals like lead and cadmium. Past studies from (inaudible) Agricultural University concluded that the high levels of lead, cadmium and other heavy metals polluting the Hengshui River have made the water too toxic for human use.

And recent tests of the soil from scientists Jingjing hired revealed high levels of lead, much higher than Chinese environmental standards. High levels of lead have been linked to some forms of cancer. While the people of Liangxiao are getting sick, the mine is profiting. The company's own Web site said they made $6 million in the first half of 2006 alone. The mine has given the village some compensation.

ZHANG: Guess how much they pay the whole village?

GUPTA: How much is it worth for a village to develop cancer?

ZHANG: The pay compensation per year is 1,700 rmb for whole village?

GUPTA: How many dollars is that, about $200?

ZHANG: $200.

GUPTA: $200 for an entire village for a year?

ZHANG: Yes, yes.

GUPTA: That's compensation.

ZHANG: Yes, for compensation.

GUPTA: That's just 50 cents per person. Jingjing continues to build her case, trying to win compensation for medical testing, health care and damage to the village's rice crops. She hopes to go to trial next year.

As for Zhu, she never saw any of those $200 paid to the village. She tells me she doesn't have time to be sad. All she worries about is caring for her small plot of land and for her daughter, who has lost a father.

Problems like this one here may seem so far away from our lives back in the United States. But they are not. Chemical contaminants are showing up in people at alarming rates all across the United States. And as Anderson found out, no one is sure exactly why. But they are pretty sure the situation is getting worse.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: All of us are products of our environment. What we eat, what we drink, the air we breathe. All of it shows up inside of us. And doctors don't like what they are finding in adults, and especially in kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's 18 months old. He's been on the planet for 18 months and he's loaded with a chemical I never even heard of.

COOPER: Discovering the chemicals inside you and me.

I think we have about a gallon so far.

When we come back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: I don't like going to the doctor, so this is no fun.

I'm not a big fan of needles.

I'm here for what's called a body burden test. It's not the most pleasant of procedures. It will take 100 ccs of blood, almost a pint for scientists to look at traces of 250 industrial chemicals in my body.

This exactly is -- did anyone ever pass out from giving so much blood?

DR. LEO TRASANDE: I have not had anyone pass out. I have had people get nauseated a little bit. Let's get you some orange juice. So you can -- fuel up after --

COOPER: Public health experts are only beginning to understand what harm, if any, low-level chemical exposure can cause. Dr. Leo Trasande worries most about children.

TRASANDE: We are currently in an epidemic of chronic disease among American children; rates of asthma, childhood cancers, birth defects and developmental disabilities are all on the rise and increasingly they're being attributed to chemicals that we're all exposed to on a daily basis.

COOPER: You really consider it an epidemic?

TRASANDE: I do consider it an epidemic.

COOPER: Rowan and Mikaela Holland are some of the first children to sound the alarm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the beginning, I wasn't worried at all. I was fascinated.

COOPER: Three years ago when this video was taken, this entire Holland family decided to get body burden testing for a story in the "Oakland Tribune."

Their son was just 18 months old. At the time he was the youngest to be tested for chemical exposure. Mikaela was just 5 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought that would be really interesting to see if, you know, if mom and dad are high on something, would the kids be high on it, too.

COOPER: Their chemical exposure levels were high but then they got the kids' results and they were shocked. Rowan and Mikaela's levels of chemical exposure were two, three and four times of that of their parents.

Phthalates, also called plasticizers, found in plastic bottles, personal care products and medical devices. For PCBs -- they were used in electrical insulators and refrigerators and microwave ovens and banned in the late 1970s.

But one number stood out. Rowan's level of PBDEs, a class of flame retardants found in everything from foam cushions to rugs to mattresses to casings of electronics. They were nearly seven times the levels of his mom and dad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has two to three -- at the time of testing -- had two to three times the level of flame retardant in his body that's been found to cause thyroid dysfunction in lab rats.

COOPER: PBDEs are neurotoxins. They throw off normal brain function in lab animals. Could they be doing the same to children or adults? The answer is we don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The federal government had never even received any studies looking at the effects of this chemical on human health because the federal government does not require chemical manufacturers to submit this type of data before bringing the chemical to market.

COOPER: You heard right, the Environmental Protection Agency which is responsible for chemical regulation, doesn't require manufacturers to test for the effects of new chemicals on human health before getting approved. What's more, the approval process can take as little as 90 days. Compare that to the years it can take for pharmaceutical companies to get new drug as proved.

The EPA declined to do an interview with us but told us in an e- mail -- "if during the new chemical review process the EPA determines it may have concerns regarding risk or exposure, the EPA has the authority to require additional testing." But of the 1500 new chemicals submitted each year, their records show that only happens 10 percent of the time.

Back in New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center, it's taken two months but I'm finally about to learn the results of my body burden test from Dr. Leo Trasande.

So, how are the results?

TRASANDE: Well, as you recall, a couple of months back we drew quite a lot of blood.

COOPER: I'm nervous here. You're not reassuring me.

TRASANDE: We tested you for 246 synthetic chemicals and you tested positive for more than 100.

COOPER: Wow.

TRASANDE: Even a chemical back to the 1970s, DDT which we detected in your body.

COOPER: So I have DDT in my body?

TRASANDE: You have DDT in your body. PCBs, another chemical that was banned in the 1970s --

COOPER: I got it.

TRASANDE: You've got it, as well.

COOPER: Doctors think I probably got the DDT from a trip to Africa. Some countries there still use it to kill mosquitoes. As far as the PCBs, it has something to do with where I grew up, New York City.

Growing up on the street, eating fish, those fish probably came from the Hudson River.

TRASANDE: Right. Back in the 1970s, there was a major dump of PCBS into the Hudson River. The PCBS were eaten up by fish.

COOPER: Which were then, of course, eaten by me. Next my results for monobutylphthalates, the stuff found in cosmetics like the makeup I put on before going in front of the cameras. I tested above the 95th percentile.

What does that mean?

TRASANDE: The most alarming one is the potential for infertility. We asked Jack Gerard, the President of the American Chemistry Council if phthalates could cause infertility.

JACK GERARD, AMERICAN CHEMISTRY COUNCIL: There's no risk to the human health. Just because we find chemicals in the body doesn't mean that it causes disease.

COOPER: Some scientists disagree and point to this -- these slides may look like comets but they are actually sperm. The sperm on the right was exposed to higher levels of phthalates. It has a longer comma-like tail which indicates more general DNA damage.

TRASANDE: I suspect the reason you have a very high level is phthalate is you probably put a lot of makeup on a lot of the time.

COOPER: So this is a potential lawsuit against CNN right here. You can't say for certain what the effects are of these chemicals in somebody's system?

TRASANDE: What little we know is just the tip of the iceberg. And unfortunately, I think that is enough to begin to act and proactively intercede and prevent chemical exposure.

COOPER: Are the chemicals running through my bloodstream, through your bloodstream dangerous? Bottom line seems to be no one really knows. The question is, is that good enough?

Is that good enough? That's a question each of us will have to answer for ourselves.

It took us six months to shoot our first two episodes. So we want to update you on a few of the stories.

Jingjing, the environmental attorney in China says she's close to filing her lawsuit against the Dabaoshan mine. There's now a new law on the books in China that makes penalties much more severe against executives whose companies are involved in water pollution incidents. And instead of filing individual claims, another new law allows her to file a class-action lawsuit against the mine on behalf of the entire village.

Scientists determined the lizard we found in Madagascar is not a new species but the first time it's ever been found in that Adrafiamena forest.

And Tiu, the baby Asian elephant with the wounded foot -- he survived. He's eating a full elephant diet and learning slowly to walk on three feet. His caretakers say he'll eventually need a prosthetic foot.

Tomorrow night, our journey continues. We'll take you to places no one has gone before.

No one's ever been here, really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're the first to ever walk here.

COOPER: We'll start in Greenland, go to Alaska, and visit the South Pacific where there's too much water. And end in Africa, where there's simply not enough.

We hope you'll join us.

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