The TV news world may be getting sillier, but CNN keeps making strong, solid documentaries.
A prime example is "Toxic Towns" on Saturday, the first of a string of documentaries this month. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
Towering over the Louisiana landscape,
plastic factories dominate life.
They bring jobs and prosperity, but do
they also bring health disasters? That's the question Dr. Sanjay
Gupta faces in “Toxic Towns,” which is launching a month of major
“There is always a fight between
science and anecdotal evidence,” Gupta said.
His background is on the science side;
he's a surgeon and the son of two engineers. But in his alternate
work as news correspondent, he's jolted by the specific stories.
Gupta went to Mossville, La., where
plastics factories rule. “You can't miss them,” he said. “You're
surrounded by 14 of them.”
There, he met locals with cancer, women
with early hysterectomies, one family in which eight of 10 people had
severe problems. So far, there's no statistical link to the
“That's the same thing that was said
about Thalidomide or lead,” Gupta said. “It takes decades to
gather data …. In 1960, we believed (lead) was OK; it took 30 years
to figure it out.”
Growing up in Michigan, Gupta was used
to factories. “You always look at that smoke coming out and wonder
what's in it.”
In recent generations, factories were
lured to Louisiana by a promise of no taxes. One debate is whether
there was also an unstated promise of no regulation.
If states do regulate lightly, then the
federal government becomes the last stop. Gupta is optimistic about
current Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson, but said
the odds are steep in the U.S. “Our whole philosophy has been …
innocent until proven guilty.”
In Europe, he said, industry must prove
they are safe. In the U.S., government must prove it isn't safe. That
takes research that is just starting in places like Mossville.
CNN documentaries this month:
– “Toxic Towns, USA,” 8 p.m.
Saturday, rerunning at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.
– “Toxic Childhood,” at the same
times Sunday. Sanjay Gupta views ways to minimize the risks of
harmful chemicals in everyday lives.
– “The Atlanta Child Murders,”
9-11 p.m. June 10; rerunning at midnight; also, same times June
12-13. Soledad O'Brien interviews Wayne Williams, who was convicted
after more than 25 children were killed; he continues to profess his
– “Dads For My Daughters,” 8 p.m.
June 19 and 20, rerunning at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. Gupta profiles author
Bruce Feiler, who created a “Council of Dads,” after he came down
with a rare cancer.
– “Gary & Tony Have a Baby,”
8 p.m. June 24, rerunning at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.; also, same times
June 26-27. O'Brien interviews two gay men who faced medical and
legal battles, while trying to have a baby that has a biological
connection to both.