Watching the World

Dirty Money

“Paper money is crawling with bacteria,” says The Globe and Mail of Canada. Recent research in the United States showed that almost all bills in circulation are contaminated with streptococcus, enterobacter, pseudomonas, as well as other germs. These germs, says The Globe, “can be dangerous to immune-compromised patients such as the frail elderly or people with HIV-AIDS.” Some bills bear even more dangerous bacteria. Researchers suggest that it may be time for some literal “money laundering.” In Japan consumers can already get cash from “clean ATMs” that “dispense yen that have been heated to 200 C (392 F)—hot enough to kill many bacteria but not burn the money.” After handling money, advises The Globe, “wash your hands!”

Low-Salt Diet for Roads

Each winter, between 400,000 and 1.4 million tons of salt are poured onto France’s roads to remove snow and ice, reports the nature magazine Terre sauvage. “All this salt has an environmental cost that is being discovered little by little.” Road salt builds up in the soil and can pollute drinking wells, water tables, lakes, and ponds. It kills fragile plants within 200 feet [50 m] of salted roads and burns the root tips of trees. When absorbed by tree roots, it hinders photosynthesis. With repeated exposure, trees weaken and die. Animals drawn to roads to lick the salt are often struck by vehicles or die because of taking in too much salt too quickly. Under some conditions salt can also contribute to the formation of dangerous “black” ice. On a snow-covered road, drivers are usually cautious, but many take risks on snow-free roads, unaware that such ice may have formed. Authorities recommend: “Salt better, salt less.”

Owls’ Hoots Herald Their Health

When tawny owls hoot, they give away the state of their health, says The Economist. “Stephen Redpath of Britain’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and his colleagues studied 22 tawny owls in the Kielder Forest in northern England.” The researchers “played hoots recorded from an unfamiliar male and measured the time that their subjects took to respond to the challenge.” The owls with more parasites in their bloodstream took longer to hoot back—those with the most parasites taking more than twice as long as the parasite-free owls. Additionally, when the more parasitized tawnies did hoot, their pitch was lower than that of the healthy birds. “To the owls themselves this is, no doubt, a dead giveaway,” says The Economist.

Rewards of Reading to a Child

“When [children] see that their mother and father read willingly, they try to imitate them,” says the Polish weekly Przyjaciółka. In an era when children increasingly watch TV, says the article, it is worthwhile to read to children even as young as two years of age, drawing their attention to pictures and explaining them. Parents can ask a child about what they have just read to see if he or she comprehends the information. “And if the child suddenly gets bored . . . , try to enliven the reading with lively gestures and intonation changes.” Parents are encouraged to get to know their child’s likes and talk to him about these. “Talk about your favorite childhood books, suggest some interesting titles. . . . Do not give up reading to your children, even when they can do it themselves,” says Przyjaciółka. “Sometimes it is enough to read a few of the first pages for encouragement, and the child will gladly read on.”

Ailing Taste Buds

Each year in Japan over 140,000 people, including more youngsters than ever, lose their sense of taste, according to estimates by ear, nose, and throat specialist Hiroshi Tomita. Although medication and health problems can trigger the disorder, says the report in The Daily Yomiuri, Tomita believes that about 30 percent of the cases relate to a low intake of zinc, an essential trace mineral. “Zinc,” says the article, “plays  a major role in generating new taste bud cells, and [zinc] deficiency leads to gradual desensitization.” Junk food, processed food, and lack of variety in diet all contribute to the problem. The article explains that “additives like phosphate, which is contained in many ready-to-eat foods, deplete the body’s zinc supply and impede its absorption.” To those who find food tasteless, Tomita recommends zinc-rich foods. These include oysters, small fish, and liver. A varied and healthy diet can restore taste buds, but if a severe condition is untreated for more than six months, there is less chance of recovery, Tomita says.

Mosques Mushrooming in the United States

Indicating a growing Muslim population, “the number of mosques in the United States [has] increased by about 25 percent in six years, to more than 1,200,” says The New York Times. John Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, believes the current Muslim population to be “about four to six million.” The figure may be even higher, according to a recent study sponsored by four American Islamic organizations. Whatever the case, “continuing immigration and the relatively large size of many Muslim families” will sustain the growth, Esposito commented. “Within a matter of decades Islam will be the second-largest religion in America.” Attendance at mosques, says the Times, was found to be “overwhelmingly male.” The study also showed that “worshipers were ethnically diverse: one-third are South Asian, 30 percent African-American, 25 percent Arab.”

Sick Homes

“Homes in Melbourne [Australia] less than a year old had up to 20 times the safety limit of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council,” says New Scientist. One of these chemicals is formaldehyde, “which causes skin irritation and possibly cancer.” Formaldehyde leaches into the air from such construction materials as floorboards and furniture. New carpets release styrene, another suspected carcinogen, “while paints and solvents give off a variety of toxic compounds,” explains the report. “The chemicals aren’t likely to pose a serious threat to most people’s health. But they could lead to headaches and badly affect a small group of especially sensitive individuals.”

World Leader in Milk Production

India is now the world’s top producer of milk, states The Hindustan Times. “The environment-oriented Worldwatch Institute [in Washington, D.C.] has praised India’s milk revolution,” says the report. “Since 1994, milk became India’s leading farm product and in 1997, the country overtook the US to become the world’s biggest milk producer.” Lester Brown, chairman of the Worldwatch Institute, is quoted as saying: “Remarkably, it did so by using farm by-products and crop residue rather than grain for feed. India was able to expand the protein supply without diverting grain from human consumption to cattle.”

Spending Made Easy

Advanced technology has turned shopping into a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week national pastime for many Canadians, reports the Calgary Herald newspaper. “Consumers can shop non-stop over the Internet, The Shopping Channel, via mail order catalogues or purchase items with a credit card instantaneously.” Cards with high credit limits encourage people to overspend. Some credit cards offer additional inducements. Larry Wood, professor of finance at the University of Calgary, said: “People will have the cash to buy an item but put it on their credit card to get the rewards or points, thinking they will use the cash to pay it off at the end of the month. Then they consume the cash and have the credit debt as well.” However, Wood believes that the problem goes even deeper. In trying to maintain a standard of living, consumers, he feels, will go into debt rather than cut consumption. According to a 1999 Statistics Canada survey, Canadian credit-card debt totaled more than $14 billion.