THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
March 12, 2014
Guests: Barbara Peterson, Don Morrison
HAYES: Thank you all.
That is ALL IN for this evening. The "RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, man.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
The Chinese State Science and Technology Commission late today posted these
images on a Chinese government Web site. They are high resolution photos
taken by satellite on March 9th. So taken this past weekend but just
posted publicly today. And these images show what appears to be something
floating in the South China Sea, roughly here, in terms of the location of
where those pictures were taken.
Because of the vague proximity of that location to the expected flight plan
of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 which disappeared this weekend before
these pictures were taken, because of the location, because this is
something that has not been seen before, these pictured posted by the
Chinese government today have raised hopes that if that picture does show
debris related to the plane crash, it might lead people searching for
evidence of what happened to the plane, to a potential recovery site.
Now I should tell you that the Chinese government has not made any
assertions that this picture is of debris that has anything to do with
Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. They are drawing no conclusions about
whether this has anything to do with the disappearance of the plane.
Senior U.S. defense and military officials also tell NBC News tonight that
they have no information on this imagery either, in terms of corroborating
what it is that we`re looking at here, or the crucial question of whether
or not it has anything to do with that missing plane. But this new image,
this new image is raising hopes at least that it might turn out to be a
lead in terms of finding out where that plane might be, which has to be the
first order of business.
And then of course the second question, if it is proven to have come down
in a way that has put its wreckage in the sea. The second question is of
course figuring out what might have brought that plane down. And anybody
speculating on these matters is just speculating, nobody knows, and nobody
knows if we ever will know. But in terms of understanding the realm of
possibility of what might have happened, it is reasonable, I think, to try
to understand what has happened in the past, what have been the causes of
planes, big commercial jetliners coming down.
Sometimes when you get on a plane, even at a big airport, you don`t board
through the jet bridge, that slightly bouncy, often really doubty hallway
that goes right to the door of the plane. Sometimes even at big airports
occasionally even for very big plane you don`t go down the jet bridge and
you instead get to walk across the tarmac, right? And walk upstairs from
the tarmac on to the plane.
I personally always like it when that happens to me. Because it gives you
a good view that you otherwise don`t really get to see as a civilian of
what these enormous, nearly miraculous machines are like up close at human
And on lots of these different planes, these pictures of people boarding a
Boeing 737, and here`s a McDonnell Douglas MD-83. I think we`ve also gone
on Airbus A320. In lots of these different planes, one of the things that
might attract your attention as a layman, as you`re getting on to a plane,
are these acute shaped oddly looking, sort of fragile looking small probe
things that stick out of the fuselage.
You`ve seen these? Right? Sometimes they`d say no step, don`t step here,
and they look kind of fragile, right? This is what they look like on a big
commercial plane. This is what they look like on a military aircraft.
These little things that stick out of the side of the fuselage, they`re
called pitot tubes. The basic technology of a pitot tube, spelled P-I-T-O-
T, the basic technology of the pitot tube dates back to the 1700s. But
it`s basically just an instrument that measures velocity. An instrument
that measures speed.
Planes can`t measure how fast they`re going by rolling distance, right, in
a way that car speedometers do, but it`s important for pilots to be able to
know how fast a plane is going. Part of the speed sensing system on modern
aircraft are these little tubes, these little fragile looking tubes that
stick out of the fuselage. And a malfunction in that speed sensing system
is how we lost an Air France flight in 2009, a crash of a big plane that
killed 228 people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: A commercial jet has disappeared.
Search teams are scouring thousands of miles of open Atlantic Ocean for any
sign of an Air France jet that was carrying 216 passengers, a crew of 12,
including two Americans on a flight last night from Rio to Paris.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Air France 447 left Rio de Janeiro at 6:03 p.m. Eastern
Time bound for Paris. Its last radar contact before heading over the ocean
was at 9:30. At 10:00 p.m. the plane entered an area of extreme weather.
Then at 10:16 the plane transmitted an automated text message to its
maintenance base that its electrical and pressurization systems were
malfunctioning. That`s the last anyone heard from the plane.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Eventually that Air France plane that crashed in 2009, eventually
the wreckage of that plane was found. We`ll have more on that for you in a
But what they were able to determine ultimately about why that plane went
down in 2009 is that one of those pitot tubes which is part of the system
that tells the pilot how fast the plane is going, one of those pitot tubes
clogged with ice and particularly if a plane encounters extreme weather,
that`s not a particularly unusual mechanical problem. But in this case it
ended up being catastrophic. Because the crew misunderstood what had
When it got iced over that pitot tube told the pilot something about the
speed or mechanical condition of that plane that the pilots did not
correctly identify as the pitot tube having iced over. Instead they
thought something else was going on and they made decisions based on what
they believe to be true information that ended up bringing that plane down
into the Atlantic.
And it wasn`t the first time that happened and it`s not just that kind of
plane that it has happened to. That Air France flight that crashed in
2009, that was an Airbus A-320. In 1996, twice it was two different Boeing
757s that crashed, both because of problems with their pitot tubes. These
are fragile instruments, these little tubes, that when the planes are on
the ground, pitot tubes often get covered up, they get little snoozed on
them sort of, to protect them, like from the weather, or if the plane is
getting maintenance work or if it`s getting cleaned.
One of those crashes in 1996 happened when a maintenance crew had put tape
over the pitot tube to cover it up while washing the plane. They
apparently forgot to take the tape off of it after the plane wash and that
inadvertently covered pitot tube led the pilots to a misunderstanding and
ultimately to a plane crash.
In the other instance, that same year, the pitot tube was not blocked by a
piece of ice or a piece of tape, instead the other one that year was an
insect nest covering up the pitot tube, and apparently nobody noticed it.
And it being blocked eventually brought that plane down.
Speed sensors, the speed sensor systems including those little fragile
looking., sharp looking pitot tubes that you can see when you walk up to
any commercial jet on the tarmac, that speed sending system is known to
have caused at least three commercial airlines to come down. All fatal
Sometimes the blame, though, is something much less gadgety. Something
much less fiddly. In 1988 this Aloha Airlines 737 miraculously was landed
by its pilots after the fuselage of the plane itself failed. The body of
the plane just broke apart. Eight people were injured in that incident. A
flight attendant who had not been belted in was ripped out of the plane and
was killed. But that flight attendant amazingly was the only fatality. It
is amazing that the pilots were able to bring that plane down when you look
at the condition of the plane.
But in 2009 you`ll remember the miracle on the Hudson. Captain Sully
Sullenberger was also able to miraculously land his Airbus A-320 on the
Hudson River in New York City. That happened after the plane sucked a
number of Canada geese into its engines on its takeoff from New York`s
LaGuardia Airport. And the crew knew exactly what happened as soon as it
happened and they knew how serious it was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPT. CHESLEY SULLENBERGER, PILOT: This is Cactus 1539, hit birds. We
lost thrust in both engines. We`re turning back toward LaGuardia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Turns out they could not get back to LaGuardia. They couldn`t get
to any other airport. And so they found this nice open spot with only a
little bit of traffic in the form of water taxis on the Hudson River. That
was the miracle on the Hudson, but it was a bird strike that brought down
Large commercial airliners have also been brought down by pilots apparently
committing suicide while on the job. That`s believed to be the cause of
this crash in 1997, it was a Silk Air flight, it crashed in Indonesia.
Pilot suicide is also thought to be the cause of the crash of an Egypt Air
flight out of JFK Airport in New York in 1999. And both of those incidents
it`s contested by various people associated with the pilots, but U.S.
investigators believe that members of the crew of those aircraft brought
them down on purpose to kill themselves -- as pilots, to kill themselves
along with all their passengers.
Commercial airlines have also been brought down not by suicide, but murder
in the cockpit. In this plane crash in 1987 in California, a Pacific
Southwest Airlines flight was brought down when a disgruntled former
employee of the airline walked into the cockpit and shot both of the
pilots. Forty-three people died in that crash in California including the
shooter and the crew that he shot and all of the passengers on board.
Planes have also of course been brought down by terrorism like Lockerbie,
Scotland in 1988. That plane took off from Frankfurt, Germany. There was
a bomb on board. It was packed into a cassette player. It was packed into
A fire on board that was not necessarily a bomb, that was just a cargo
fire, was blamed for this South African Airways 747 in the Indian Ocean in
1987. A cargo fire was also blamed for the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in
the Everglades back in 1996. In that case it was oxygen canisters that
were improperly stored in the cargo hold and they caught fire and that
plane came down.
Lots of different things can bring down commercial airliners. And it is
sometimes hard to believe after a little list like that, but taken in
context, air travel is really safe. I mean, compared to the other ways
that we travel, considering the huge number of commercial flights all over
the world that have taken off and landed safely just since I started this
segment, air travel broadly speaking is safe. But when it`s not there`s a
lot of different ways that it can go wrong. And we have an empirical set
of data, really well documented empirical data all -- from all over the
world about why planes come down when they do come down.
If Malaysia Airways Flight 370 did come down, then finding its wreckage
will be the first and the necessary step in figuring out what was the cause
of that disaster. But when planes do come down, there are as many ways to
find them as there are ways for the plane`s failure to have occurred in the
first place. Sometimes there`s no mystery as to where the plane is, and
that`s true both in heroic and happy circumstances like with that U.S. air
flight on the Hudson.
It`s also true sometimes in unbelievably tragic circumstances like in
Lockerbie, when the wing of Pan Am Flight 103 came down into a densely
populated area in Scotland and killed 11 people on the ground.
On the other hand, sometimes it does feel like these planes just vanish
into thin air. That was the case with that Air France flight in 2009.
They did find some debris right away, right after that plane crashed into
the Atlantic. But it took them about five days to find much of the
wreckage. And in terms of recovering the bulk of the plane, with the Air
France crash, that ended up taking years.
It took until 2011. It took these remotely piloted undersea vehicles to
find and recover the main part of that wreckage, in part because it sank
13,000 feet into the very depths of the sea.
In terms of the missing flight right now, the Malaysian Airways flight, in
terms of where it is, where it might be, where they`re looking for it, it
was a flurry of interest in statements from the Malaysian military over the
last few days when they said they had indications that the plane might have
turned very sharply off course, which could have put it into position to
potentially crash in or near the Straits of Malacca.
If it went down in that water, that water is not just a very busy sea
corridor, it`s also not very deep. If the plane on the other hand followed
its original flight path, it didn`t take a sharp turn like that, it would
likely have been over the Gulf of Thailand when it crashed. The Gulf of
Thailand is also very busily traffic water, it`s also not very deep. Less
than 300 feet. So you would have to do nothing like the kind of undersea
exploration that had to get you down 13,000 feet to find that Air France
In this case, this plane went missing very early morning, in the very early
morning of Saturday local Malaysia time. There have been false leads
before and false hopes before about finding it. You might remember that
initially they said they found an oil slick which might indicate the place
for that plane had gone down. Turns out that oil slick contained no jet
fuel. It`s not thought of -- it`s not thought to have had anything to do
with that plane.
Two different objects have also been found. Both of which initially were
thought to offer some hope of maybe finding the plane. One of them turned
out to be just the lid of a large box that was floating in the water that
was found by Vietnamese authorities. The other one turned out to be a
bunch of logs that were tied together.
So there have been false leads. These latest images from the Chinese
government just found today, again, these were taken on Sunday. They were
taken the day after the plane disappeared. We don`t know if these images
offer more hope than those earlier ultimately false leads. If whatever
these pictures show is related to this plane, it`s worth noting that these
pictures were taken near the actual planned flight path of the plane.
These pictures were taken on the path that that plane had been scheduled to
travel and where it`s still seen to be headed at 1:21 a.m. local time which
is the last time that anything was heard from that plane`s automatic
The silence not only of the crew, but of that plane`s transponder itself is
one of the mysteries that has made this search so frustrating so far, and
has also made it such a mystery.
Coming up, we`re going to be talking with somebody who`s been following
this story from the very beginning and very closely. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The Chinese news agency reporting
these images were taken at about 11:00 a.m. on Sunday from a government
satellite over the South China Sea. The images according to the Chinese
show three objects that seem to be floating in the ocean, large pieces, 43
by 59 feet, 56 by 62, and 78 by 72.
Importantly, these images are identified as being in the very area of the
South China Sea over which this plane was last reported, halfway between
Malaysia and Vietnam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s NBC News correspondent Tom Costello tonight describing
these new images that lots of people are hoping might show evidence of the
Malaysian airliner that went missing this weekend with 239 people on board.
Again, those images were posted by the Chinese government tonight,
essentially with no corroborating assertion from the Chinese government
that they mean anything in particular.
But those are now in the mix in terms of people trying to figure out the
likelihood of finding where this plane is and what made whatever happened
to it, happen to it.
Joining us now is Barbara Peterson. She`s a senior aviation correspondent
for Conde Nast. She`s been covering this story intensely from the
Thank you very much for being here.
BARBARA PETERSON, CONDE NAST AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It`s great to be
MADDOW: What do those pictures mean to you? Can you tell at all what
those satellite images from the Chinese government today might show?
PETERSON: Well, what it does show is that at least we are getting an
incredible amount of air and sea coverage of this search, that they are
using every available means, satellites, helicopters, planes. You know,
they`ve got state-of-the-art military aircraft. So that`s all good. This
is something that may not have been possible, you know, decades ago. So
we`re using all the available technology, as far as what those images mean,
it really it`s too early to tell.
And I know in this type of investigation, there`s a hunger for just
anything that we could go on. However, there have already been several
false leads, that`s the nature of these things. But I think it`s way too
early until they can get to that piece of debris.
MADDOW: The thing I find striking is the contrast, at least cognitively
for me, between the amount of technology it takes to get not just those
pictures but those very specific size measurements that they`re giving us
about what might be the size of those things that we`re looking at in those
images. That seems like incredibly technical data.
And the fact that they don`t even know which ocean to look into probably
speaking. I mean, they don`t know which side of Malaysia to be looking
into. I mean, the areas that they`re searching have not only changed so
much, but they`re so giant it just seems like it`s bigger than a needle in
a haystack. It seems like it`s a needle in a field full of haystacks.
PETERSON: Precisely. And in fact the search areas in fact doubled in just
the last day which is not the direction it should be going in. And this is
what`s really unusual about this situation. Usually at this stage -- you
know, in an aircraft investigation, they have a lot more to go on. Even
with Air France, as you pointed out. They knew within a few days more or
less where they had been. They`ve actually identified debris. This is
really unprecedented almost in recent memory.
MADDOW: Is that specifically because the transponder for whatever reason
PETERSON: Yes, and there again, we don`t know why that happened. I mean,
and you know, there have been a sudden cashed off -- of course it would
have stopped because everything would have stopped. But I think the real
question now is why are we still relying on 1960s era technology to find
Basically it boils down now to a search for the black boxes that contain
really what will be the most important bit of information in sorting out
what happened to this. And that`s -- well, who knows, I mean, possibly at
the bottom of the ocean, we really don`t know. But there is a way to do
that in real time, to stream it over satellite bandwidth, and we would get
that information instantaneously.
MADDOW: So if transponders were higher tech and presumably then more
expensive, if they were essentially checking in not by radio bursts, but
rather in a kind of constant and real time way with satellite, you think
the transponder idea could actually be much more effective? Not just in
catastrophic -- potentially catastrophic situations like this but in
PETERSON: Well, I think that most of the industry resists that latter
option which is in everyday use. I think this would just be really an
alternative to the black boxes which after all are only useful when there
has been a terrible tragedy like this, so essentially what it would be is
we wouldn`t have to wait to find them. This could become available as soon
as the accident happened. And the technology is there to do that.
MADDOW: Do you find it -- obviously you said if there had been an utterly
catastrophic event on board that plane, it would make sense that at that
moment the transponder would cease transponding just as everything would.
Is there any other circumstance in which you can imagine why the
transponder would have stopped? Why a pilot might have shut it off or any
other reason why it would have gone off?
PETERSON: Yes. Well, there`s been a lot of speculation about that in
recent days, and of course most of the interpretations or explanations for
that are not terribly encouraging. There are things like yes, the pilot
turned it off. Now why would the pilot turn off the transponder? You
know, it either suggests a hijacking or something else nefarious. A
suicide scenario. All of which have all happened before, too.
So a lot of these scenarios are things that we know can happen. And yet
there is no evidence to go on in this case, to suggest any of it.
MADDOW: That`s what we`re all waiting for.
Barbara Peterson, aviation correspondent for Conde Nast. Thank you for
helping us understand this matter.
PETERSON: OK. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: Thank you. Thank you.
All right. We`ve got a lot to come tonight including some bizarre and
slightly scary news that is emanating out of an abandoned gas station in
rural North Dakota. Scary story. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Tenafly, New Jersey. It sits right across the Hudson River from
the top of New York City, across from the Bronx. Just under 15,000 people
live in lovely Tenafly, New Jersey. Politics wise there`s a lot more
registered Democrats in Tenafly than there are registered Republicans. But
as you could tell from the pie chart here, independents outnumber them
Still, though, President Obama beat Mitt Romney there by a lot. The mayor
of Tenafly is not a Democrat. He is an independent. And maybe it was that
independent minded yet Democratic leaning political dynamic that made
Tenafly a priority for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie`s re-election
campaign. Endorsements from officials in towns like Tenafly could help
prove that the Republican Governor Chris Christie had bipartisan appeal.
The Chris Christie campaign actively sought re-election endorsements from
local officials in Tenafly. And they got a good one. You can see where
the governor`s campaign wanted this kind of thing. Look at this glowing
story in the local press. This was right before Election Day last year.
Quote, "A borough official on Friday became the latest Democrat to reach
across the aisle and publicly stump for Governor Chris Christie. Anthony
Barcelatto, a two-term councilman in Tenafly, became the 7th Democrat in
Bergen County and the 60th Democrat in New Jersey to endorse Chris Christie
in his bid for a second term."
Well, now, thanks to new reporting for "The New York Times" we know how the
Christie administration internally planned to get those endorsements, in
order to get those very nice headlines heading into Election Day. The "New
York Times" reporting yesterday that one of the ways the Christie campaign
courted their top priority endorsements from local officials was to hand
out pieces of steal salvaged from the ruins of the terrorist attacks of
9/11. To hand those pieces of steal out as political gifts.
The year before the 2013 re-election effort by Governor Christie, Governor
Christie`s top staff appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, he
travelled to cities across the state of New Jersey to bestow upon local
officials pieces of the destroyed World Trade Center. These footages of
Bill Baroni in Tenafly in July 2012. The object he`s touching is a piece
of a beam from the World Trade Center. He is giving this relic to the
And Tenafly was not alone. There were towns all over the state of New
Jersey that got this treatment from the Christie re-election campaign and
not incidentally from Bill Baroni, from Governor Christie`s top appointee
at the Port Authority.
Here`s Mr. Baroni again presenting a piece of steel from the Trade Center
to the mayor of Secaucus, New Jersey. Another top endorsement priority for
the governor. Here are Mr. Baroni and Chris Christie`s lieutenant
governor, Kim Guadagno, presenting again another piece of the World Trade
Center to the town of Sea Girt, New Jersey.
We have no reason to believe that the government officials who were being
courted at these events knew that they were being given these essentially
sacred objects. These physical relics of mass murder as part of election
year politics. There`s no reason to believe that they knew that`s what was
But according to the "Times" the Christie campaign knew that was going on.
That was the Christie campaign`s plan. Handing out pieces of the World
Trade Center to impress people, and hopefully get something of political
benefit for themselves in return. Turns out that New Jersey was the only
place in the world that was treated this way, that allowed a political
appointee at the Port Authority to decide who would get a piece of World
Trade Center steel. For the other 49 states in the union, including New
York, and for the entire rest of the world, there was an application
And anybody who wanted a physical remnant of that terrible day had to apply
and then nonpolitical career staff members at the Port Authority would
handle those requests. That`s how it worked for everyone, except for New
Once Chris Christie got elected at least, New Jersey handled it
differently. In New Jersey after Chris Christie got control of state
government, the process of handing out relics from the World Trade Center
wreckage changed just for his state.
In 2011, Governor Christie`s political appointee Bill Baroni, he came to
the Port Authority. Chris Christie appointed him to his job there and he
decided he would change the rules just for New Jersey. The new procedure
just for New Jersey would be that Bill Baroni would now be the person in
charge of deciding who would get pieces of the Trade Center steel. It
wouldn`t be somebody at the Port Authority who`d been doing it for a decade
and for everyone else in the world. It would be Mr. Baroni.
Yesterday the "New York Times" reported that on its front page. Reported
that that is how the Christie administration managed 9/11 wreckage for
their own political gain. Today the "Times" reported that the Christie
administration has decided to stop doing that. Or at least the Christie
administration appointees at the Port Authority have decided to stop doing
The person who was chosen to replace Bill Baroni when he had to resign in
the bridge scandal has now decided that she will give up the decision
making authority over that 9/11 steel. The decision making authority that
Bill Baroni had ceded to his own office in order to be able to use the
ruins of 9/11 to help Governor Christie`s re-election campaign. Treating
those relics like they were campaign buttons or T-shirts or swag bags at a
The person who has replaced Bill Baroni now has decided to stop doing that,
and instead to allow the person who oversees all of the other states and
all the other countries in the world who might want a piece of 9/11 to also
oversee New Jersey. They`ve made that change.
It`s weird timing, though, right? The same week that "The New York Times"
is reporting out this cringe inducing story about political scheming by the
Christie administration involving one of the most sacred events in American
history. That same week, Governor Christie`s new appointee at the Port
Authority says, publicly, actually nothing to see here, we`re not doing it
that way anymore, we`ve had a change of heart.
The Port Authority told us tonight that the "New York Times" reporting had
nothing to do with their decision to change the rules for how New Jersey
was handling World Trade Center steel. So apparently they were going to
make that change anyway, it`s just coincidence that it changed as soon as
the world was about to find out about it, and collectively wretch in
Just a coincidence. That`s what they say.
MADDOW: Most of the pasta made in America is made from North Dakota wheat.
North Dakota has super low unemployment. The inestimable Angie Dickinson
comes from North Dakota. Also Ed Schultz, Big Eddie, Fargo, North Dakota.
North Dakota is a great place, and at the same time North Dakota is
alarmingly terrible at one very specific thing, that turned up today in an
abandoned gas station on the edge of a small town in a very, very bad way,
and that story is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Marie Curie, a Nobel Prize in physics, Nobel Prize in chemistry.
We have the word radioactive because Marie Curie figured out radio
activity. She came up with that term. The unit we use to describe how
radioactive something is is a Curie, that was named for her.
Marie Curie was Polish by birth. The first radioactive element she
discovered she called polonium after Poland. The second radioactive
element she discovered was radium. Both discovered by Marie Curie, both
radioactive, she worked with and handled radioactive elements all her life,
and it killed her. She died from a form of anemia, brought on by exposure
The second of the two elements that she discovered, radium, has the added
and memorable feature of glowing in the dark, just like everything
radioactive on "The Simpsons." And because radium glows steadily at least
while it radioactively decays over its half life of thousands of years,
some variance of radium for a long time were used on watches.
Before we had the technology to put a light bulb attached to a little
button on your watch to light up the face of your watch, watch makers used
to paint radium on to the hands -- or the hands of watches and the numerals
on the face of watches so you could tell time in the dark. For decades
until the 1960s, lots of people wore radium painted, radioactive watches on
Just being near radium, just wearing that kind of watch would not
necessarily mean that you would be irradiated. Radium, it is radioactive,
but in most cases you need to inhale it in order for it to hurt you. It
needs to be airborne or more efficiently you need to get it in your mouth
somehow. And people don`t tend to lick the face of their watch.
But in the 1920s the factory girls who were hired to paint radium on to
watch faces and watch numerals they did tend to lick the paintbrushes they
were using to apply the radium. They were doing fine work and these were
small brushes they were working with. And they needed them to come to a
really fine point. And so it was standard operating procedure to lick the
radium paintbrush over and over and over again over the course of your
watch-making shift, probably hundreds of times a day. And the radium girls
in those factories died because of it.
In the 1920s, the United States Radium Corporation was sued by their own
low-level employees who were dying from exposure to radioactivity
encountered in their everyday work on the job. The upper level managers
and the scientists knew that radium glowed because it was radioactive, they
protected themselves from it but they didn`t do anything to protect their
lower level workers from their constant exposure.
And a lot of those lower level employees died because of it. And they sued
because of it, and they won and that suit became a foundation of American
law governing just how dangerous our workplaces can be.
Radium is a naturally occurring element. It tends to turn up with
surprising frequency in mining operations, in drilling operations. It`s in
the earth, so much so that in drilling towns in the United States, in
places where there is a lot of deep drilling activity for oil or natural
gas, at the local dump in some of those towns they have now in some places
installed these, giant Geiger counters. Radioactivity sensors on a large
So if you drive a truck full of drilling waste into the town dump and your
truck is full of sludge and drill cuttings and in particular filters for
fracking material, which do have a tendency to get really radioactive,
thanks to Geiger counters like these ones at the McKenzie County landfill
in North Dakota, if you try to drive into the landfill to dump your radium
contaminated, radioactive drilling waste as if it is normal trash, the town
dump should start beeping like a smoke detector caught in a house fire.
Should do. Doesn`t always.
Over the last decade North Dakota has of course experienced a huge oil
boom. North Dakota is the second largest oil producing state now after
Texas. One of the byproducts of all that drilling is that every day in
North Dakota, several dozen tons of these are produced now by the drilling
industry. It kind of looks like a net -- long net. It`s a filter. They
call it a filter sock and it`s used to filter the wastewater from the
fracking sites to capture the solids in the waste water used in hydraulic
Well, that waste water includes high levels of salts and metals and organic
compounds and radioactive materials like radium. Naturally occurring
radium. And because the filters catch all of that solid stuff, the filters
themselves, when they`re done being used, the filters themselves end up
being radioactive. And because these things are radioactive, you need to
take some care in throwing them away.
No landfill in North Dakota is supposed to take any radioactive waste that
clocks in at over 5 picocuries. These filter socks, though, these filter
socks apparently clock in on average at anywhere between 5 picocuries and
80 picocuries per filter. Shale reporter said last summer that in one
case, one of them came in at 374 picocuries. So that`s 75 times the
radioactivity that any North Dakota landfill is supposed to be able to
But the people who are drilling the living daylights out of North Dakota
right now, they are producing dozens of tons of these filters every day,
and there is nowhere to legally dispose of them anywhere in the state. If
you get caught bringing one of these things into a North Dakota landfill,
it`s a $1,000 fine per filter.
So what do you think is happening to them in North Dakota?
This was found at an Indian Reservation called Fort Berthold in North
Dakota last year. Nobody knows who dumped them all there but there they
are. The tribe says they realized they had a problem when one of the
trucks from the reservation that had just been picking up regular consumer
trash at the dumpsters around the reservation tripped the Geiger counters
at the McKenzie County landfill.
They didn`t know they had anything radioactive, but apparently somebody had
been dumping these radioactive filters in the tribe`s trash cans and the
dumpsters, and dumping them just on the side of the road at the
reservation. It`s radioactive waste full of radium, which can kill you.
But heck, who wants to go to the trouble of taking care of it properly?
And it`s happening all over the state now. Last month, look at this.
These leaking trailers loaded with thousands of pounds of radioactive
filters were found just parked outside near Watford City, North Dakota,
leaking radioactive contamination. The company that operates trailers at
that site had already been fined nearly $30,000 by the local country dump
for trying to dump radioactive filters there before.
But this new haul where they were just piling them up, that was the biggest
radioactive illegal dump anyone had ever seen in the state. And it was
really highly radioactive. Some of the filters that were dumped out there,
reportedly maxed out the meters, the Geiger counters. They could read as
high as 1,000 picocuries and these things maxed out the meters. They were
higher than that.
These trailers last month this is the worst anyone had ever seen in North
Dakota. Until now. Yesterday at an abandoned gas station in the remote
Divide County, North Dakota, town of Noonan, population 120. At a 4,000
square foot abandoned gas station on the edge of town. A place that looks
like this from the outside.
Turns out that on the inside of that facility, it was stuffed with hundreds
of bags of industrial sized -- their industrial sized black garbage bags
filled with highly radioactive filters. More than 200 bags of radioactive
waste. These filters in six rooms of this dirt floor abandoned property on
the edge of town.
The guy who owns the property is reportedly a fugitive. He escaped from
law enforcement custody in Wyoming, where he was being held on a larceny
charge recently. So maybe at his abandoned gas station property in Noonan,
North Dakota, he`s not the best landlord. But in his absence, the fact
that North Dakota has no state plan for dealing with the tons of
radioactive material they`re letting the drilling industry to produce every
day, other than telling local cities and counties to charge people 1,000
bucks a filter if they try to throw this stuff away. That genius system
has now earned tiny Noonan, North Dakota, and this site, the distinction of
being five times as radioactive as a site as what humans are supposed to
The worst illegal radioactive dump the state has seen yet but nobody is
expecting it`s going to be the worst one forever. The mayor of Noonan,
North Dakota, says she is furious, telling the "Bismarck Tribune" today,
"Why isn`t the state more on top of this? Why don`t they have a more
stringent plan for getting rid of this stuff?"
Good question, mayor of 120 person Noonan, North Dakota, but in the
meantime one of the consequences of the drilling boom for North Dakota is
literally radioactive toxic waste turning up on Indian reservations and in
the abandoned gas stations of the state, and in municipal trash cans and
commercial dumpsters used by unsuspecting businesses. And sometimes just
dumped along the side of the road.
Drill baby drill, keep licking those paintbrushes, we will handle the
radium issue later, some day.
Joining us is Don Morrison. He`s executive director of the Dakota Resource
Council. A group of more than 700 conservation minded land owners in North
Mr. Morrison, it`s nice to see you again, despite the circumstances.
Thanks for being here.
DON MORRISON, DAKOTA RESOURCE COUNCIL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Thanks for
having me, Rachel. Good to see you.
MADDOW: How common are discoveries like this? Not necessarily just the
filters specifically, but stuff being disposed of improperly from the
drilling industry that poses a threat to public health in your state?
MORRISON: Well, they`re becoming more common. We`re finding out more and
more all the time. And there`s 75 tons of oil waste generated in North
Dakota every day. About a third of that is radioactive. And most of that
is being dumped illegally in North Dakota.
MADDOW: Why aren`t regulations and oversight, even of something as extreme
as radioactive waste, why aren`t regulations and oversight in the state
keeping pace with the growth of that industry?
MORRISON: Well, I think there`s this -- we have -- we have to drill as
fast as possible. We have to get the oil out of the ground as fast as
possible. And other things just take a backseat to that. And it`s -- and
that`s one of the reasons that there is these kind of problems.
MADDOW: In terms of how his --
MORRISON: And it`s not just limited to the waste.
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you about the broader picture about both the
waste and these broader consequences. I mean, looking at those trailers
full of radio -- very hyper radioactive filters on that land in McKenzie
County, looking at this gas station that was discovered today, looking at
that Indian reservation, reading accounts from towns across North Dakota
where they`re finding this stuff just in their city waste, truckers just
dumping it wherever they can so they can avoid getting fined for having to
ship it out of state.
It makes you wonder who should pay for this stuff if the industry is going
to these lengths to not. It`s obviously -- they`re making the cost benefit
calculation that it`s better to just dump it illegally than actually pay
for what they`re creating.
MORRISON: That is absolutely true, Rachel. We have -- we have a great
economy in North Dakota in many ways and people are very thankful for that,
but the costs are growing daily and we`re seeing those costs come out all
Dakota Resource Council members have been tracking and taking photos and
sending them into the state health department and to their newspapers and
for over a year we`ve been talking with the North Dakota Health Department
and showing them that this is happening. We`ve been bringing their
attention to these kinds of illegal dumpings of radioactive waste for over
a year. And we often get a deer in the headlights look from the department
They`re not sure how -- they can`t track it. They don`t know -- and when
the municipal land waste dump facilities turn them away and fine them
$1,000 a filter sock, the health department told us recently, they don`t
know what happens to it after it leaves that dump.
MORRISON: I mean --
MADDOW: Sorry, sir. Go ahead.
MORRISON: Yes. Well, we have -- is that they are -- they have two roles.
And the one role that trumps the other is promotion. Promoting the oil
industry. And the regulatory part of the state government`s job has
definitely taken a backseat.
MADDOW: Don Morrison, the executive director of the Dakota Resource
Council. Again a group of North Dakota land owners, concerned about what`s
going on in their state.
Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Morrison. I appreciate it.
MORRISON: Great to be with you. Thank you.
All right. Hey, thanks to the state of Michigan. There is a new kind of
insurance just for women that starts tomorrow. It`s kind of hard to
describe. I will try in just a moment. You may want to grab, like, your
inhaler or a paper bag or whatever else keeps you from hyperventilating on
your couch if you`re prone to that. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Happy Wednesday to everybody but specifically to the great state
of Michigan because, Michigan, you are getting a new law tomorrow.
Specifically it is a new law just for Michigan`s lady people. And it has
one of the toughest names in all of American politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the fact that rape insurance is even being
discussed by this body is repulsive. And for those of you who want to act
aghast that I`d use a term like rape insurance to describe the proposal
here in front of us, you should be even more offended that it`s absolutely
accurate description of what this proposal requires.
This tells women that were raped and became pregnant that they should have
through ahead and bought special insurance for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Despite that opposition, despite testimony like that at the state
house last year, Michigan Republicans in December passed an anti-abortion
bill that opponents call the rape insurance bill. It`s now law, goes into
effect tomorrow in Michigan. Tomorrow by order of the Michigan legislature
and the Michigan governor, it will now be illegal for your private health
insurance in Michigan to cover your abortion unless you thought ahead and
bought special coverage just for that. As if lots of people plan ahead for
Your insurance cannot even cover you getting an abortion if you got
pregnant because you were raped. That`s why the law`s opponent are calling
it the rape insurance bill. No one plans on having an unplanned pregnancy,
but if you want to make sure your abortion is covered in case you get
raped, you now have to buy special standalone coverage for that in
Michigan. If you can find it.
If you have been getting your health insurance through your job, maybe
there`s a possibility that your insurance company might start offering that
coverage so you can plan ahead for an abortion and pay extra now. But if
you`ve been buying health insurance on your own, maybe you got new
individual coverage as part of Obamacare, then no insurance company will
sell you this new special coverage. None. Not one company.
They`re not offering specific abortion coverage to individuals at any
price. So Michigan law now says that buying separate abortion insurance is
the only way you can have your abortion covered by insurance if you need
one. But also that coverage is not available for purchase in the state.
So they`re saying the only way you can have it is this way. And by the
way, it`s not available this way.
Michigan, you are amazing.
I continue to maintain that over the last few years, Michigan state
government has become way more insane than anyone nationally gives them
credit for. The Michigan rape insurance bill goes into effect tomorrow.
It goes into effect on Thursday.
But the Michigan rape insurance bill is not the most intense thing going on
in Michigan politics. Over the next couple of days we`re going to have a
new exclusive report on something further, something else going on in
Michigan, surprisingly radical and occasionally bizarre state government.
That special report is ahead this week. You will want to watch this space.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow night. Now it`s
time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell.
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