The latest environmental news includes emerging research on roaches, radon and other topics of interest.
Gardening for School Credit: Cassina High School in Sonora, Calif. — pending permission from the local school board — will offer gardening as a physical education course. State Department of Education officials reason that the elective will promote physical stamina and fulfill the education code which requires P.E. programs to be conducive to the "health and vigor of mind and body."
Offering Low-Risk Housing: Large U.S. business concerns and universities — which are having difficulty recruiting and relocating employees to work in areas with high housing costs — are reviving the "company town" concept. Stanford and Pepperdine Universities have begun constructing condominiums to sell to staff at below market rates while some West Coast aerospace, computer, and electronics firms are exploring the possibility of leasing and/or building affordable housing for their employees.
Elevated Radon Risk in Green Homes: A General Electric study claims that the level of radon — a cancer-causing by-product of radium, which is released by soil, rocks, and contaminated ground water — is higher in energy-efficient homes than in conventional buildings. Two factors may be at work here: The air is exchanged less often in weather-tight houses and some solar-heated dwellings rely on sand, crushed rock, or concrete slabs — all potential radon sources — for heat storage.
Potential Punishment for Pranksters: In Providence, Rhode Island, officials are testing a cylindrical, bright-red booth that locks up a blaze-spotter for five minutes after he or she has triggered the alarm. Fire department officers claim that each false alarm costs the city about $300 and they're hoping the threat of "imprisonment" will deter pranksters.
Super Roaches: University of Maryland scientists believe they've discovered a strain of cockroaches that has developed an immunity to all of the commonly used pesticides. "Super roaches" were found in Baltimore's housing projects and researchers theorize that extensive pesticide spraying by city workers sped up the bugs' ability to detoxify poisons.
Hedgeapples Deter Roaches: The answer to Baltimore's problems may have been found in North Lima, Ohio, where Xellinger's Nursery has been deluged with requests for hedgeballs (or hedgeapples), the knobby, chartreuse fruit of the Osage Orange tree. Mellinger's was mystified, until the firm discovered that folks were buying the inedible "oranges" to deter roaches (the fruit's citrusy odor is said to be objectionable to the insects). In fact, the nursery is contemplating adding a new building to keep abreast of the hedgeapple boom.
The Community Cost of Rabies: The Center for Disease Control reports that a single rabid dog in California generated $108,790 worth of health care expenditures. The total included $93,680 for human anti-rabies treatment for 73 persons, $4,190 for animal vaccinations and veterinary services (only 30 percent of the pets in the area had up-to-date shots, so special clinics were held) and $8,980 for health department and animal control programs.
Sour Grapes: Faced with the skyrocketing cost of cherries, the Safeway supermarket chain decided to substitute less expensive grapes in its cherry pies. Well, some customers noticed the difference and now Safeway's agreed to pay penalties for its role in the switch.
Danger of Pennyroyal Oil: Pennyroyal Oil is an herbal extract that's long been used in attempts to induce menstruation and abortion can cause liver damage, and possibly death, when consumed in large quantities. University of Washington researchers began studying the oil in 1979, when a woman died after drinking it. Scientists hope to determine whether the folk medicine is actually an abortifacient, and to discover at what dosages it becomes deadly.
Tecopa Pupfish Go Extinct: The Tecopa pupfish has become the first species to be removed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species list because of its extinction. The desert fish — which was native to a river system in California's Death Valley — likely disappeared because of habitat alteration and the introduction of non-native competing piscine species.