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In the summer of 1995, a group of Minnesota children came upon a pond populated by frogs with nine legs, missing legs, a row of limbs fanning out from their backsides, and eyes in the wrong places. Since then, deformed frogs have been turning up in lakes around the world. Written by the only journalist granted access to secret hot spots where these deformed frogs are tested, and brainstorming sessions among the researchers, this compelling, fast-paced narrative is the first to offer a complete picture of what is quite possibly a global catastrophe in the making.
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In 1995, Minnesota schoolchildren at play in a field discovered a strange thing: a pond full of frogs with five legs, nine legs, sometimes no legs, frogs with misplaced eyes and misshapen bodies. Their discovery might well have been overlooked had not Environmental Protection Agency researchers Gary Ankley and Joe Tietge taken an interest in the matter, linking the Minnesota frogs to other amphibian and fish populations that had been exhibiting monstrous patterns of mutation. William Souder, a science journalist, takes us into the workings of EPA labs and government hearing rooms as he traces the story, which quickly became politicized: some scientists sought the origins of the "frog plague" in viruses, others in fungi, others in chemicals; still others maintained that frogs and other amphibians are subject to large-scale mutations for seemingly no cause at all, and a large literature supports their view. Looking at the bigger picture of global warming and environmental change, Souder suggests that multiple causes may be responsible for the Minnesota frogs' misfortune--and for the decline of frog populations around the world. His vigorous, anecdotal narrative is a fine report on scientific detective work and on the politics of environmental science in an increasingly fractious time. --Gregory McNameeFrom Publishers Weekly:
The world's frogs are disappearing, and frog deformities are proliferating--a potential warning sign of a looming, environmentally triggered human health disaster. That's the message of this shocking and important report from journalist Souder, who broke this story in the Washington Post after a group of Minnesota schoolchildren found abnormal frogs with horribly deformed, extra or missing limbs in a farm pond in 1995. While outbreaks of amphibian limb deformities have been recorded for more than two centuries, the current crop of abnormalities is particularly widespread and numerous--affecting up to 50% of some frog species, with reports pouring in from California and Vermont to Canada and Japan, and involving leg, mouth, bone and other deformities in frogs, toads and salamanders. Although the cause of this nightmare remains a mystery, Souder, who visited research labs, interviewed biologists and hunted frogs across the country, ranks pesticides as the prime suspect. Many scientists, he explains, believe that substances that mimic hormones in the environment--pesticides, solvents, dioxin, plastics, natural compounds--are wreaking developmental havoc in wildlife and humans. Souder's labyrinthine investigation also impartially reviews rival theories blaming frog deformities on parasites, disease, predation, traumatic amputation, acid rain, climate change, ultraviolet exposure resulting from a hole in the ozone layer, or some combination of these factors. Because frogs are considered a sentinel species--a kind of biological early-warning system of environmental imbalance--Souder's intriguing scientific detective story, though inconclusive, deserves a wide readership, and his low-keyed, cautious approach adds to its impact. Agent, Elyse Cheney of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates; 3-city author tour. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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