Railway Mushrooms, Solar Sneeze Reflex and the Video Fireplace

This short series of reports includes news on Japan's railway mushrooms, the solar sneeze reflex and the video fireplace.


| July/August 1987



106-019-01

The "Video Fireplace," a 60-minute color tape of a roaring fire, complete with andirons and authentic crackling sound.


ILLUSTRATION: R.J. KAUFMAN

This short series of reports includes news on Japan's idea to use old railway tunnels to grow mushrooms, a treatment for the solar sneeze reflex and the safest, most boring hearth, the video fireplace. 

Railway Mushrooms, Solar Sneeze Reflex and the Video Fireplace

If your days don't seem as sunny and bright as they used to be, don't blame your attitude—it's the weather. A recent study indicates that the country is becoming cloudier. Using U.S. National Weather Service data, William L. Seaver of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and James E. Lee of the MITRE Corporation compared the number of cloudless days in 45 U.S. cities during two periods, 1900-1936 and 1950-1982. All but one of the cities, they found, had more sunny days during the first half of the century than during the second half. St. Louis dropped from 7.2 to 4.7 cloudless days per month, Washington, D.C., went from 5.3 to 4.4 sunny days and Los Angeles lost nearly three days of sun per month—from 10 cloudless days to 7.6. Fort Worth, Texas, showed an "insignificant" increase in sunny days: from 7.4 to 7.5. Climatologists don't know for sure why the change is occurring. One theory suggests that jet contrails are "seeding" the skies, encouraging condensation and cloud formation. Another blames air pollutant particles for creating the seeding effect. And a third theory holds that the polar weather front has been shifting southward and is bringing in more clouds.

Tunnel Vision

In an attempt to find ways to augment its otherwise dwindling income, Japan National Railways has discovered that old railway tunnels are perfect for growing mushrooms. The abandoned tunnels—dark, moist and stable in temperature—offer ideal conditions for growing shimeji mushrooms, popular in Japan. The company is turning the cast-off caverns into profitable fungus farms.

Bad Combination

Natural-foods cooks have long scorned aluminum utensils, saying that the metal binds with certain minerals—such as phosphorus and calcium—and robs foods of nutritive value. Recent evidence linking aluminum with Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders has added to their case, particularly in light of studies proving that aluminum compounds can be released from pots and pans during cooking. Now more fuel has been added to the fire: Experiments indicate that the leaching process is "dramatically enhanced" by water containing fluoride, at levels normally used in municipal fluoridation. In a letter published in Nature magazine, scientists report that water containing one pan per million (ppm) of fluoride frees nearly 200 ppm of aluminum when boiled 10 minutes in aluminum utensils— that's 1,000 times the amount of aluminum released in nonfluoridated water. Prolonged boiling raises aluminum concentrations even higher, to about 600 ppm.  

Heinz Gets Tough

H.J. Heinz Company has warned growers that it will no longer buy their produce for use as baby food if the crops have been treated with any of 12 chemicals now under "special review" by the Environmental Protection Agency. (Pesticides that, in the process of being registered, are identified as possibly hazardous are given special review status and intensively investigated by the EPA.) Heinz has given its growers a list of the compounds in question and warned that it will begin testing their crops for residues of the chemicals this year. The pesticides identified by Heinz: alachlor, aldicarb, captan, linuron, cyanazine, captafol, carbofuran, carbon tetrachloride, daminozide, ethylene oxide, TPTH and dinocap. Heinz is the nation's third largest baby food manufacturer. The two other big makers, Gerber Products Co. and Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp., have not yet taken similar action.  

Acid Jax

Jacksonville, Florida, the country's main port of entry for foreign cars, may lose millions of dollars in business because of acid rain. Last summer, when 2,000 cars were damaged by the worst of 11 recorded acid showers in Jacksonville, BMW of North America decided to stop importing autos through that city. At least some of the 19 other foreign vehicle manufacturers that use the port are considering changing, too. The matter is of grave concern to city officials, since import autos generate some $67.8 million for the port each year. The municipal government has formed a group to identify sources of, and control measures for, acid precipitation.  





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