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.

| November/December 1981

  • 072 space junk - paul fleet - fotolia
    In addition to 1,156 working spacecraft, there were about 3,419 pieces of space junk orbiting the earth as of 1981.

  • 072 space junk - paul fleet - fotolia

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.


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