Smallpox Eradication, Plutonium in Homes, New Environmental Protection Laws and More

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Some pheasants (and other Oregon birds) have recently been found to contain more than the maximum allowable tissue content of the deadly pesticide heptachlor.

Plutonium in Your Hallway? Of the 14-million-plus home smoke alarms that have been sold in the U.S., 80 to 90 percent contain (as a “standard” component) small amounts of the plutonium derivative americium-241, according to a report in “Politicks.” Although Am-241 is a potent emitter of alpha radiation and is harmful when touched, breathed or swallowed, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the use of the isotope in smoke detectors anyway. NRC apparently sees no disposal problem despite the fact that Am-241 has a half-life of 458 years (considerably longer than the life of the average American home).

Some 647 New Environmental Protection Laws were enacted by the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the 18-month period ending July 1977, the Environment Information Center notes. California, Maryland, Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio are said to have accounted for almost a third of the new statutes.

Witch Doctors Gain “M.D.” Status in Africa. In a move that’s expected to be followed throughout Africa, the kingdom of Swaziland has decided to accord witch doctors the same status as Western-trained health professionals. Zambia is reported to be very close to granting its witch doctors professional status also, and Nigeria is said to be planning a joint teaching hospital and school of traditional medicine in Lagos. About 90 percent of Africa’s rural population depends on witch doctors for primary health care.

Anyone Interested in Underground House and Office Layouts would do well to obtain a copy of Malcolm Wells’s new book, Underground Designs. In addition to offering floor plans and sketches for more than a dozen subterranean residences, shops and community buildings, author Wells (a noted “underground house” architect) devotes a good deal of the 87-page book to discussions of site selection, codes, financing, insurance, waterproofing and landscaping (roofing).

Eat Pheasant at Your Own Risk. That’s the message that was given recently to Beaver State hunters by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The reason: Some pheasants (and other Oregon birds) have recently been found to contain more than the maximum allowable tissue content of the deadly pesticide heptachlor. Fish and Wildlife officials speculate that the birds may have eaten wheat seed coated with the poison.

Looking for Work? Don’t Apply to the CIA. In spite of (or maybe because of) recent revelations of misdoings by (and within) the spy organization, the Central Intelligence Agency received a whopping 37,000 job inquiries last fiscal year. All told, the agency interviewed 12,500 applicants for 1,000 openings. (And you thought law school was tough to break into.)

One of the First Journalists to report on the Atomic Testing that occurred in Utah and Nevada in the late 50’s–Paul Jacobs–has been stricken by cancer. Jacobs’s physicians say that the time lag between the writer’s 1957 investigation and the onset of his disease is such that the disease may well have been triggered by his earlier exposure to radiation. Ironically, it was Paul Jacobs who first publicized (via a series of controversial stories in Atlantic Monthly and The Reporter) the alarmingly high cancer rate in families living close to the nuclear testing grounds.

Smallpox is no more. When the U.N.’s World Health Organization undertook its smallpox eradication program in 1967, officials estimated that 10 million persons worldwide would contract the disease that year. Today, the program is over … and smallpox (at least in its most virulent form, variola major) is extinct. The last case of smallpox on earth — WHO spokesmen say — was recorded on October 16, 1975 in Bangladesh.

Women will Constitute one-tenth of the U.S. Military’s enlisted personnel by 1983, if the Pentagon has its way. The Department of Defense wants the number of enlisted women to reach 200,600 (more than twice the present number) in five years …. A Birmingham (England) University group reports that in one large English city, Almost a Third of all Pedestrians Killed in Road Accidents Had Been Drinking. Moral: If you drink, take the bus …. According to the White House Office of Drug Abuse, a recent analysis of marijuana samples seized near the Mexican border showed that 13% of the Samples Tested Were Contaminated With Paraquat, a deadly herbicide …. The Ford City Bank & Trust Co. of Chicago has come up with a better idea: The bank has offered to pay the interest on customers’ four-year savings certificates in Diamonds Instead of Dollars. (Diamonds-the bank says-are more inflation-proof.) …. India has announced it will Ban the Export of Monkeys to the U.S. because of the alleged use of monkeys in U.S. neutron-bomb experiments. Domestic safety testing of polio vaccine may suffer as a result of India’s decision . . . Want to know which food additives are harmful, which ones aren’t, and which ones might be? You get the full story in the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s colorful new Chemical Cuisine poster.