News briefs on the USDA pest management program, the creation of an artificial pancreas and the new U.S. Department of the Environment.
M. Rupert Cutler — the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Assistant Secretary for Conservation Research and Education — announced recently that he intends "to develop a plan to emphasize natural controls over chemicals as part of an Integrated pest management program which USDA will communicate to growers". In a surprising about-face from past USDA policies, Cutler said that from now on "the full support of our research effort in USDA will be behind biological controls", adding "I feel an obligation to work closely and cooperatively with the Environmental Protection Agency on establishing integrated controls in the U.S. We now have a shared interest in this. We will not be adversaries any longer."
A recent census bureau report shows that 51.2% of the nation's households are inhabited by either one or two persons . . . a 10.3% rise from the 1960 figure. "Low fertility, postponement of marriage . . . the ability of young singles and the elderly to finance and maintain [a household] . . . and marital dissolution are all contributors to the increase," the report concedes.
New evidence that woman who breast-feed their young are less prone to breast cancer than those who don't breast-feed comes from medical researchers Roy Ing, J.H.C. Ho, and Nicholas Petrakis (see the British journal Lancet, Vol. II, p. 124, 1977). The investigators visited a Chinese boat-dwelling community whose female members feed their babies from the right breast only . . . and learned that of 73 women who developed breast cancer between 1958 and 1975, nearly two-thirds had had the disease in the left breast. The most plausible explanation is that — somehow — breast-feeding protects a breast (the right breast, in this case) from developing cancer.
President Carter has reportedly asked the Office of Management and Budget to study the feasibility of creating a super environmental agency, parallel in design to the recently created Department of Energy. Speculation has it that such an agency would combine the Interior Department, the EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Forest Service.
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Highway Patrol stopped a nuclear waste truck that was passing through the state and found the driver to be in possession of eight cans of beer. (The Highway Patrol was tipped off by a motorist who-while following the truck-had allegedly seen a beer can fly out the truck's window.) Since none of the eight cans was open, no arrest was made . . . however, State Representative Dave Clarenbach has sent letters to Wisconsin's governor and the Federal Highway Administration calling for assurances that a similar incident will never happen in the future.
According to Environmental Protection Agency administrator Douglas M. Costle, air pollution is costing the U.S. "millions of dollars a year in reduced agricultural productivity". Backing Costle's statement is a study by the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (New York) which showed that alfalfa and sweet corn yields were lowered by 15% — and tomato yields by 33% — after exposure to smog.
These observations are according to Antony Fraser-Smith of the Stanford Radioscience Laboratory — that they set up measurable electric currents in trees. Fraser-Smith worries that exposure of the human body (which is a better "conductor" than any tree) to such fields may pose a future health hazard. "No one monitors our total exposure to electromagnetic fields," Fraser-Smith is quoted as saying in New Scientist, "and it is conceivable that the BART signals-although probably harmless themselves-may increase the possibility of harm from other electromagnetic signals."
A group of ten New England area researchers has succeeded in developing an "artificial pancreas" (made of glass, plastic, and live cells) which, when implanted in a diabetic rat, can cure the animal of the disease. The researchers report (in the August 19, 1977 issue of Science) that the artificial organ-like its non-artificial counterpart-produces insulin in response to dietary sugar fluctuations and is not rejected by the host as "foreign". Experiments involving humans will come next.
At press time, the U.S. Air Force was in the process of incinerating its last remaining stocks of Agent Orange (a deadly 50/50 mix of the herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D) off Johnston Island in the Pacific.
Talk About a Tough Anti-Smoking Ordinance: In Berkeley, California it is now illegal to smoke in any commercial building except a bar, restaurant, or tobacco shop . . . . The American Psychological Association has voted not to hold its future conventions in . . . Any State That Hasn't Passed the Equal Rights Amendment . . . . The National Academy of Sciences has given Project Seafarer (the Navy's plan to build a 4,000-square-mile underground antenna on Michigan's Upper Peninsula) A Clean Bill of Health, calling fears of adverse health effects on people living nearby "invalid and unwarranted" . . . . Pear eaters beware: The EPA has decided to let growers spray their pears with a chemical that's Known to Cause Cancer in Animals and May Well do so in Humans. EPA says the chemical (known as BAAM) kills a plant louse that, while harmless to people, scars the fruit . . . . Grey Water Use in the Home Garden is the title of an informative new brochure by the Farallones Institute. To order, send 25¢ per copy to the Integral Urban House, 1516 Fifth St., Berkeley, CA 94710.
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