Small Farmers, Acidified Lakes, Toxic Waste and More Bits & Pieces

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Maine's worm supply is in danger.
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Got bugs? In the future, caffeine may get rid of them.
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Acidified lakes may get some relief from a handy kitchen staple.

Controversial California Condo Development

Hoping to cash in on the celebrity status of three prominent environmentalists, a developer in Santa Rosa, California, plans to name three streets in his new condo project after Ansel Adams, Rachel Carson and John Muir — after he fells 120 giant redwood trees to make way for the development. The Sierra Club is protesting.

Small Farmers Losing Ground

The latest statistics from the Agriculture Department reveal that the small farmer continues to lose ground. During the 12 months prior to the 1984 count, the United States lost 37,600 farms. The average farm now covers 437 acres, 5 more than in 1983. What’s more, the top 14 percent have annual sales of at least $100,000 and make up half of all farm acreage.

Plop, Plop…Relief for Acidified Lakes

While not a real cure, applications of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) could relieve at least temporarily some of the symptoms of acidification in vulnerable lakes and ponds, according to J.J. Bisogni Jr. of Cornell University. The scientist recently supervised the addition of 14 tons of bicarb to Wolfs Pond in New York, with the result that the pond’s pH rose from 4.5 to 6.7. A major component of such acid-relief medicines as Alka-Seltzer, sodium bicarbonate may prove preferable to lime for neutralizing overly acidic lakes, since the latter tends to produce “hot spots” of very high pH.

A Threatened Worm Population

A major bloodworm and sandworm dealer in Wiscasset, Maine, warns that unless conservation measures are taken, Maine’s worm supply will be depleted and the state’s $4 million-a-year bait industry could pass over to Nova Scotia. The dealer, 66-year-old Franklin Hammond, claims that the industry is be coming a victim of its own success, as unscrupulous diggers now take, in his words, “anything that wriggles,” no matter how small. Hammond is recommending a legal minimum on the size of worms that may be taken.

Toxic Waste Pollution and Cancer Risks

City folks are getting back to the country, but a new report from the Council on Economic Priorities indicates that they might not have escaped one big-city problem. Where industry has followed cheap labor into rural areas, there has been an alarming increase in cancer deaths, probably as a result of toxic waste pollution. The report says that in rural counties with high employment in petroleum and chemical industries, cancer deaths increased 265 percent over rates recorded 25 years earlier, before their industrial development. Cancer death rates in industrialized rural and urban counties were about the same — higher than the national average. The council believes the report suggests a stronger link between toxic waste and cancer than has been previously shown.

A Caffeine Insecticide?

While scientists are still debating the effects of caffeine consumption on humans, a Boston researcher, Dr. James A. Nathanson, has found that caffeine and related compounds are powerful insecticides. (Many plants even manufacture their own in order to discourage harmful pests.) The researcher found that numerous insects, including tobacco hornworms, mealworms and mosquito larvae, exhibited distorted behavior, loss of appetite and loss of reproductive ability when exposed to powdered tea, coffee and their relatives. Concentrated doses even proved fatal to mosquito larvae.

When caffeine compounds were mixed with other natural insecticides, the combinations were sometimes ten times as effective as either insecticide alone. Dr. Nathanson cautions, however, that it might take five years or more to determine whether caffeine insecticides are truly practical.