Bits and Pieces: Helping Rehabilitation Patients, Concerns With the Environmental Protection Agency and More

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For the first time since the Great Depression, the number of family farms increased in 1981.

Learn more about current topics relating to the environment and health of the country.

Officials Protest Alternative Living

The Washtenaw County (Michigan) Building Inspection Department has ordered the owners of a tipi to install a framed door and a five-foot-square window, in order to satisfy the local building code. Officials said the flap-door structure lacks proper lighting and ventilation, a regulation entrance, and a fire exit. (One of the disgruntled owners remonstrated, “All I need for a fire exit is a knife.”)

Even Chemical Week Has Problems With the EPA

Although the Environmental Protection Agency has recently suffered some direct hits from environmentally conscious critics, it came as some surprise to us when Chemical Week — a leading industry trade magazine– added its licks: “An ineffective EPA is not what the chemical industry needs. What it needs and expects from the Reagan administration is an agency that will discharge intelligently its responsibility to the American people. … A management attitude that turns off hundreds of competent and dedicated professionals — and the EPA has them — is not good.”

Return of the Family Farm

For the first time since the Great Depression, the number of farms in the U.S. has increased up to 2.4 million, representing a gain of 8,000 during 1981. However, agriculture officials report one alarming small-farm statistic: 60 percent of such holdings grossed less than $20,000 apiece in annual income and contributed only 6.5 percent of the nation’s total agricultural output.

Cloning Chestnuts

Forest scientists at West Virginia University have successfully cloned the American chestnut, a species that was almost eradicated by a fungus blight during the early 1900s. Researchers say their work may help bring back the tree, since it will now be possible to duplicate any blight-resistant chestnut specimen that may be discovered.

Neutralizing Coal Runoffs — With Shampoo?

Research sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority indicates that a mild solution of sodium lauryl sulfate — the active ingredient in many hair shampoos — can be applied to neutralize acid runoff from coal piles. The substance blocks both bacterial activity that promotes acid formation and chemical leaching in the drainage.

IRS Seeks Taxes From Barterers

In February 1982 the Internal Revenue Service filed suit in U.S. District Court to obtain the exchange and membership records of Barter Systems, Inc., a Lubbock, Texas affiliate of a nationwide clearinghouse for trading goods and services. The Dallas IRS is specifically seeking the names and social security numbers of the group’s members — in connection with exchanges that occurred in 1979 and 1980 — for the purpose of collecting unpaid taxes.

Americans Lack Wildlife Conservation Knowledge

A recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study shows that most Americans actually know very little about animals or about wildlife conservation issues, and that most of the knowledge they do have of such subjects is gleaned from TV watching. The survey also puts to rest any stereotypes about the typical bird watcher: The average committed “birder,” says the agency, is a 42-year-old male.

Azarcon Linked to Lead Poisoning

Physicians conducting lead-screening programs in the West have found that a Mexican folk medicine — azarcon — was the culprit in several puzzling cases of lead poisoning in children. The bright orange powder — which has a high lead content — is commonly administered by Mexican-Americans to relieve empacho, an all-purpose term referring to chronic indigestion.

Benzene and Cancer

Benzene (a hydrocarbon that may contribute to the development of leukemia) is contained in such consumer products as stove and lantern fuels, brush cleaners and rubber cement, and is also used as an octane booster in lead-free gasoline. The Carcinogen Information Program has published a special bulletin, entitled Benzene and Cancer.

Birth Defects Linked to Goat’s Milk?

Birth defects have been tentatively linked with a toxin that may be contained in some goat’s milk, according to a group of California researchers. Preliminary findings indicate that foraging dairy goats may have browsed on Lupinus latifolius, a leguminous perennial, and transmitted plant-produced teratogens (substances that cause fetal malformation) to pregnant women who drank the milk. (A fuller report is contained in the article “Toxic Plants as Possible Human Teratogens,” in the November-December 1981 issue of California Agriculture, published by the University of California.)

America in Ruins

American in Ruins is a new study examining the nation’s deteriorating “infrastructure” — the country’s highways, bridges, prisons, water and sewer systems, mass transit departments and railroads — which predicts that the U.S. cannot even bear the cost of simply maintaining its vast network of public works.

Hens Prefer a 28-Hour Day

Cornell University researchers have definitely proved that chickens march to a different drummer: Hens actually prefer a 28-hour day and allowing the birds to follow this biological cycle results in bigger, stronger-shelled eggs.

The American Seed Company Closed

The American Seed Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania — which, for 60 years, helped supply pocket money to youngsters who sold the firm’s seed packets on the “honor system” — has closed its doors because of last year’s $600,000 loss in unreturned funds.

Video Games and Physical Rehabilitation

Video games such as Pong, Air-Sea Battle, and Breakout are being used at a California veterans hospital to help brain-damaged patients improve their hand/eye coordination.