High Ozone Levels Found in Rural Air, Genes Migrating from Crops to Weeds, Remaining World Wilderness Area Estimated, and More

High concentrations of ozone are found in country air, modified genes are migrating from crops to weeds, cows in a Dutch town have a curfew, one-third of the world’s landmass is estimated wild, short stature is linked to reduced cancer risk, and a food scientist finds a way to improve the flavor of frozen corn.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
November/December 1989

A study conducted by a Harvard atmospheric scientist shows that rural air in the eastern U.S. can have ozone concentrations as high or higher than those in urban regions.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/KWEST


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High Ozone Levels Found in Rural Air

It comes as no surprise that the air in most American cities contains excessively high levels of ozone—the major irritant in smog. But the results of a study conducted by Harvard atmospheric scientist Jennifer Logan show that rural air in the eastern U.S. can be laced with ozone concentrations as high or higher than those reported in urban regions. For two years, Logan collected daily ozone readings from 18 rural monitoring stations. She found that high-ozone periods lasting up to three days occurred—often at the same time, or within a day or two of each other—at sites hundreds of miles apart. The scientist also observed that the outbreaks were associated with slow-moving high-pressure weather systems that keep low-altitude pollutants from dispersing into the upper atmosphere. Airborne hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides then have an opportunity to mix and generate ozone concentrations high enough to cause (among other problems) poor crop yields. There may well come a day, say some observers, when meteorologists will include high-ozone warnings in their forecasts, to give farmers enough time to apply chemical protectants (now being developed) designed to shield plants from ozone damage.

Gene Migration from Super Crops to Monster Weeds

Genetic engineers are hard at work developing "super crops"—corn that grows faster, beans that repel insects, tomatoes that ripen on the vine and stay firm for shipping. But they may also be creating monster weeds. Recent research suggests that some commercial crops genetically engineered to thrive amidst drought, disease, and pestilence may be able to pass their super powers on to close but undesirable relatives. Scientists have found that plants distribute their pollen much more widely than previously believed, and that when some plants receive pollen from close kin, a gene exchange takes place. As a result, the recipient plant may later produce hybrid progeny. Some commercial crops (potatoes, for one) have no domestic wild relatives, but others do—sorghum, for instance, breeds with Johnsongrass, a notorious pest weed. Ecologists caution that great care should be taken to consider an individual crop plant's potential for gene exchange before growing genetically altered strains in the field.

Dutch Cow Curfew

It's 8:00 PM, and farmers in Vierlingsbeek, Holland, had best know where their cows are. If the animals are out grazing around on pasture instead of sequestered in the barn between the hours of 8:00 PM and 6:00 AM, their owners are subject to stiff fines. U.S. Water News reports that local authorities in Vierlingsbeek imposed the cow curfew as a part of regulations designed to protect groundwater from nitrate pollution.

One-Third of World Landmass Estimated Wild

How much of planet earth remains truly wild, more or less untouched by man's heavy hand? After carefully studying and interpreting U.S. Defense aerial navigation charts, environmental analyst J. Michael McCloskey and geographer Heather Spalding have come up with an estimate: approximately 18.56 million square miles, or about one-third of the globe's landmass. Antarctica is the largest single untouched region (100% wilderness), followed by North America (37.5%), the Soviet Union (33.6%), Australasia, which encompasses all islands of the southwest Pacific (27.9%), Africa (27.5%), South America (20.8%), Asia (13.6%), and Europe (2.8%). Most of the area deemed wilderness in North America makes up a bandlike tract stretching across northern Canada and Alaska. Unfortunately, less than 20% of the pristine lands identified in the global inventory are protected by law. In addition, write the researchers in the journal Ambio, "at least half of the remaining stock of wilderness is not self-protecting by virtue of its forbidding nature. It can slip away easily with little notice…as billions more are added to the human population." The study supports the urgent efforts of many to dramatically increase the size and number of protected wilderness areas. "The new inventory shows it's still not too late," says McCloskey.

Eating Smart Guides: Additives, Fast Food, Fat

For the past several years the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has published a series of helpful posters providing useful facts about food. Among them are "Chemical Cuisine" (which lists and describes common food additives), "Fast Food Eating Guide" (an analysis of the fat, sodium, sugar, and calorie content of more than 200 fast-food items), and "Life Saver Fat and Calorie Guide" (a breakdown of several hundred common foods). Now, in addition to the attractive 18" × 24" posters, CSPI is offering the same information in compact, hand-held slide charts; they are titled, respectively, "Eating Smart Additive Guide," "Eating Smart Fast Food Guide," and "Eating Smart Fat Guide."

Energy Efficiency Career Training

Rekindled interest in energy efficiency and environmental awareness suggests meaningful futures for students of Colorado Mountain College's Energy Efficient Building Technology Program. The unusual one-year occupational program takes a holistic approach to energy-efficient building, incorporating a broad-based education in theory and design with instruction in diverse practical skills-such as blueprint reading, electrical wiring, lighting and heating, photovoltaics, and energy auditing. Intended for people who want a career in making buildings more efficient or who want to learn about renewable energies such as solar, the certification program claims an impressive record: More than 75% of CMC graduates are employed as consultants, builders, contractors, designers, and researchers, and in other capacities in energy efficiency-related industries.

Short Stature Linked to Reduced Cancer Risk

"Short stature is associated with reduced risk of cancer, particularly in men," reads a report by researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health. In a study of over 12,000 people divided into four height categories, the shortest 25% had about 50% less cancer over a 10-year period than the three taller groups. The study suggests that height may be an especially significant risk factor in colon cancer among men: The tallest 25% were more than twice as likely to get colon cancer as the shortest group.

Frozen Corn Flavor Improved by Hole in the Cob

If you've ever eaten frozen corn on the cob, you may already know that the corn can have an odd, cardboardlike flavor if it has been in the freezer for more than a few months. But C. Y. Lee, a Cornell University food scientist studying the chemistry of enzymes blamed for bad taste in frozen corn, has discovered a unique solution: drilling a hole through the middle of the cob before blanching it. Lee found that the taste-tainting enzymes, peroxidase and lipoxygenase, are mostly on the outside of the cob and in the bottom portion of the corn kernels. When corn on the cob is prepared for freezing, it is blanched for several minutes—but not long enough to deactivate the offending enzymes, which therefore remain able to influence the corn's flavor. Longer blanching times help, but also make the corn unappetizingly soft. A hole drilled lengthwise through the cob before blanching allows the corn to be cooked quickly, from both sides of the kernels, and the enzymes' flavor-wrecking abilities are destroyed. Taste testers who compared drilled and undrilled corn on the cob consistently preferred the bored variety.


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