PCB Contamination, Left Handed Sugar, Space Junk, and Other News Items

A report on indoor airborne PCB contamination, the invention of "left handed" sugar, and the accumulation of space junk were among the stories covered in this installment of a regular feature.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
November/December 1981

In addition to 1,156 working spacecraft, there were about 3,419 pieces of space junk orbiting the earth as of 1981.
ILLUSTRATION: FOTOLIA/PAUL FLEET


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AIRBORNE PCB CONTAMINATION: A new study shows that cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) are not only carried in the indoor air of commercial, industrial, and residential buildings, but are present in such places at a level of at least one order of magnitude higher than in most outdoor locations. Defective fluorescent light ballasts are a significant source of interior PCB contamination.

OUT OF LEFT FIELD: A Rockville, Maryland company has patented "left-handed" sugar, a substance that contains the same chemical components as the common processed sweetener but has a mirror-image molecular arrangement. L-sugar is said to provide the same flavor as the real thing, to lack the aftertaste of the well-known substitutes, and to be noncaloric , since it can pass through the human digestive tract without being absorbed!

JUNKYARD IN THE SKY: About 1,156 spacecraft are currently orbiting the earth, as well as 3,419 pieces of space exploration debris such as spent rocket bodies and other flotsam. The North American Air Defense Command—the agency responsible for monitoring the space junk—says that the U.S. is accountable for some 2,371 celestial castoffs.

  COMPUTERIZED CONJUGAL BLISS: The Universal Life Church of Sunnyvale, California now boasts the world's first ordained computer: "Rev. Apple", named in honor of the electronics company that built it. So far, the terminal has married six couples, who punched in a "y" for "yes" when exchanging vows. The church is now planning to add a computerized "unwedding program" (or "digital divorce") to the services it offers.

COLA BREAK: The average U.S. citizen drank 410 twelve-ounce soft drinks during 1980—up from 128 bottles in 1960—which works out to more than 38 gallons a year per individual. Soda pop has now surpassed coffee as America's favorite beverage and accounts for about 8% of the calories consumed daily by the typical person!

STRONG LANGUAGE: The National Audubon Society is "rolling up its sleeves and taking on, in direct confrontation, the policies of our federal government with regard to conservation and environmental protection." The organization is "taking off the gloves" because it's alarmed by Reagan administration actions that, the society feels, have undermined the stewardship of natural areas, weakened toxic-waste-disposal and cleanup laws, and gutted the Council on Environmental Quality.

A VALUE ON HUMAN LIFE: A newspaper recently quoted an oil company representative—who was protesting new clean-air standards affecting the firm's operations in Montana—as saying, "Some of the people who will die from air pollution are unemployed, and therefore have no economic value."

PESTICIDES FOR CORD AND CABLELICE —the elusive, biting insects that plague telephone operators and airline reservations clerks—are ineffective because the bugs don't exist, according to a California entomologist. The researcher claims that the dermatitis thought to be caused by such mite infestations is actually "delusionary parasitosis", a psychological syndrome brought about by a work environment with low humidity and high job pressure ... plus the power of suggestion.

WANT TO HEAR THE LATEST SCOOP? Then dial the Sierra Club's new Washington hotline, which brings folks up to date on national legislation affecting water policies, clean air, nuclear waste, MX missiles, wilderness preservation, and more. Call 202 / 547-5550 day or night—while Congress is in session—for a two-minute digest , of what's happening on the Hill.

MELTDOWN MEDICINE: The Food and Drug Administration is recommending that state health officials begin stockpiling supplies of potassium iodide, a controversial thyroid blocking agent, to dispense to the public in case of "radiation emergencies" such as nuclear reactor accidents. (The FDA also warns that the drug has numerous side effects, including goiters, hyperthyroidism, and "iodine mumps".)

THE FED FEEDS THE METER: The General Services Administration, the giant housekeeping agency of the federal government, is spending $239,000 a year to rent a run-down 60-year-old garage to house the presidential motor pool and State Department automobiles. That's about $400 a month for each of the 80 vehicles!

A TALKING EXIT SIGN that can tell people how to get out of a building in case of fire or a power failure—or even warn of danger on the far side of a closed door—has been invented by a Connecticut company .... PEPSICOLA HAS BARTERED WITH BULGARIA to recoup the cost of establishing five Pizza Huts and two bottling plants in that country. Pepsi will receive mineral water, confectionery, forklifts, bottles, and wine in exchange for its investment .... Travelers Insurance Company has started REHIRING RETIRED EMPLOYEES ON A PART-TIME BASIS . The Hartford, Connecticut concern says it gains experienced workers, .and the pensioners enjoy the added activity and income .... LARGE AMOUNTS OF LICORICE OR CHEWING TOBACCO, when ingested over a long period of time, can rob the body of the vital mineral potassium, according to a recent medical journal report .... Brown University has begun an URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL LABORATORY for its students: a nineteenth-century carriage house in Providence, Rhode island will be retrofitted with a solar greenhouse, aquaculture, and composting facilities, and an energy-efficient heating system.


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