News briefs on bat benefits, overcrowded Tokyo, organic mailbox solar streetlights and cigarette fires.
YET ANOTHER "LOWLY" GROUP OF creatures maligned in folklore but in fact harmless and beneficial are the bats. Bats disperse seeds, pollinate plants and are extraordinarily efficient insect predators. A single gray bat (an endangered species) can eat up to 3,000 insects in one night. But because of their undeserved bad reputation and the superstition that surrounds them, many bats are killed just "to get rid of them," and the destruction of bat habitat is given little thought. Now a Texas-based, nonprofit organization, Bat Conservation International, has been formed to change the situation. To help, or for information on bats, why they should be saved and how you can peacefully coexist with the fly-by-night mammals, contact Bat Conservation International, Austin, TX.
Fleeing to the Sea
In overcrowded Tokyo, commercial office space is full up—and astronomically pricey. To help solve the problem, a Japanese firm is planning to build and float 35,000-ton "office arks" in Tokyo Bay. The elaborate islands of commerce would include not only office space for hundreds of people but also hotels, restaurants and shops. Workers would commute by helicopter and ferry "buses." Some say that in the near future entire floating cities will sprout off the shores of Japan and other overcrowded nations.
Energy-saving solar streetlights are becoming commonplace in many parts of the world, but Israel has come up with an even more efficient twist: In that country, at intersections where soldiers frequently hitchhike, the government has installed solar streetlights that detect human presence. When no one is standing nearby, the lights are off; when someone approaches, they switch on.
Biotech Meets Chemotech
Advocates of biotechnology have long expressed optimism that food crops can be genetically engineered to be naturally insect and disease-resistant, reducing humankind's dependence on synthetic chemical controls. Indeed, just such developments are taking place. A Madison, Wisconsin, biotechnology firm recently announced it will begin field trials of two plants engineered to be resistant to crop-damaging caterpillars and viruses. But not all biotechnologists are thinking organic. The Monsanto Company reports that its scientists are testing a strain of rapeseed they've genetically engineered to be resistant to Roundup, the chemical company's own broad-spectrum herbicide. Because Roundup tends to kill not only weeds but crops too, developing a new family of Roundup-resistant food plants could allow more widespread use of the herbicide. Roundup breaks down rapidly and is considered relatively safe, but environmentalists worry that a trend toward engineering chemical-resistant plants will encourage increased applications of even stronger synthetics.
Your mailbox may be the best of all possible health food stores, thanks to dozens of organic growers and natural foods distributors who sell chemical- and pesticide-free products directly to the consumer by mail. To help you locate sources for untainted food, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has published a guide listing 85 mail-order suppliers of organic meat, poultry, fruit, vegetables, herbs and grains. To get a copy, send 50 cents and a stamped, self-addressed business-size envelope to Mail-Order Organic, CSPI, Washington, DC.
The health hazards of smoking are well known, but cigarettes also present a significant and often-overlooked safety hazard: Fires caused by cigarettes account for more than 1,500 deaths and 7,000 serious injuries in the U.S. each year, according to Dr. Jeffrey R. Botkin of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. Fire-resistant fabrics and furniture stuffings have had "limited impact" on the problem, says Botkin, who suggests that the most promising solution to cigarette initiated fire "lies with the cigarette itself." A three-year study required by the federal Cigarette Safety Act of 1984 showed that it is possible and economically feasible for manufacturers to produce fire-safe cigarettes—which would be thinner, with less density of tobacco wrapped in a less porous, untreated paper. The fire-safe product would contain no more tar and nicotine than traditional cigarettes, according to the study, and would not have a negative effect on consumer prices, industry employment or manufacturing finances. Tobacco companies, however, are balking at the prospect, for fear of low consumer acceptance. "Surely," says Botkin, "government-mandated public protection from fire should not be slowed or abandoned because people might smoke fewer cigarettes." The best way to eliminate the fire hazard, of course, is not to smoke at all.
Drinking water accounts for about 20% of the typical U.S. resident's exposure to lead, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Most of the lead in water comes from pipes—municipal water mains and in-house plumbing-as well as from the solder and the brass fittings used to connect pipes. Because lead leaching increases with water temperature, health officials have long advised householders never to draw drinking water from hot water taps. Now William E. Sharpe, a water resources specialist at Penn State, has noted that outside, seasonal temperatures affect lead levels in water. In one of the homes he studied, Sharpe recorded more than a fourfold increase in lead levels from early spring, when water was about 42 degrees Fahrenheit and contained 10 micrograms of lead per liter, to July, when the temperature of the liquid was about 71 degrees Fahrenheit and the water contained up to 42 micrograms of lead. There may be good reason, therefore, to be particularly concerned about water-supply contamination in the summer, when both lead levels and drinking water consumption are at their highest.
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