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close this bookWIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 06, No. 2 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1994, 16 pages)
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View the documentPopulation, Health and Environment
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View the documentFOOD FOR THOUGHT: Alternative Agriculture for Healthy Environment and Healthy People
View the documentGOOD NEWS
View the documentHEALTH ISSUES - Effects of Toxic Chemicals on Human Health
View the documentThe Continuing Nuclear Threat
View the documentMore... Did You Know?
View the documentWIT'S - World Ecology Report
View the documentVoices of the Planet
View the documentPOINT OF VIEW: ''Sustainable Maturity''


· Two recent American studies strongly suggest that biodiversity maintains the health of an ecosystem. Researchers at the University of Minnesota (St. Paul) studied how 250 different species of plants could compete so successfully for the limited resources available in midwestern grasslands. They concluded that in dry spells, land with greater diversity of plant species was more productive than land with fewer species. Land with less than nine different species of flora declined dramatically during dry spells and took longer to recover than land with many diverse species. The findings of a second study which examined species diversity under normal conditions found that land with limited diversity decomposed more rapidly because of less absorption of CO2. In catastrophic conditions, species diversity insures against disaster and enables quick recovery of an ecosystem. Under normal conditions the argument that diversity is redundant may also be valid.

SOURCE: Science News, February 5, 1994

· In a letter to the editor, the president of a population research group in Colorado stated the following statistic: on average a Rwandan woman produces 8.3 children. The letter contained the suggestion that the tremendous population surge in Rwanda has contributed to the recent horrific massacres because there are so many Rwandans that an attitude prevails of life being very cheap.

SOURCE: New York Times, Tuesday, May 17, 1994

· Low frequency electromagnetic fields, or EMF's have been implicated in the cause of certain cancers, specifically malignancies of the breast, brain and in leukemia. The theory holds that EMF's may contribute to the development of breast cancer because exposure to these fields has the capacity to reduce the pineal gland's nighttime production of melatonin. Melatonin is an anticancer hormone. Reduction in the blood of this hormone spurs the growth of breast cancer cells. Research studies thus far indicate no clear link between EMF's and cancer, but neither does research dispel the possibility of a causal connection. Adding to the debate is a new epidemiological study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By examining women who worked in electrical trades and comparing their death rates from breast cancer to women who worked outside the home but not in these occupations. The researchers concluded that "women employed in the electrical trades run a 30 percent greater risk of dying from breast cancer than other working women." The study also found that women electrical engineers had a 73% higher risk of dying from breast cancer and, most alarmingly, women who installed telephones, repair women and line workers increased their risk of dying from breast cancer by 200%. Other occupations that expose women to EMF's did not show this surge in mortality rates. Those occupations included telephone operators and computer operators. The results of this study again raise the question whether all women exposed to EMF's increase their risk of dying from breast cancer. EMF's are found in household wiring and household appliances such as hair dryers, microwave ovens, televisions, and personal computers.

SOURCE: Science News, Vol. 145; #25, June 18, 1994

Bangladesh cattle market: Animal husbandry impoverishes the soil.

· Many nations have sacrificed human security in search of more sophisticated arms. For example, India ordered 20 advanced MIG-29 fighter planes at a cost that could have provided basic education to all the 15 million girls now out of school. Nigeria bought 80 battle tanks from the United Kingdom at a cost that could have immunized all 2 million unimmunized childen in that country, while also providing family planning services to nearly 17 million couples. Although global military spending has been declining since 1987 at the rate of 3.6% a year, this peace dividend has not been harnessed for unmet human needs.

SOURCE: 1994 Human Development Report, UNDP

· Acid soil has been identified as the cause for thinning eggshells in a common European bird, the great tit, which is a species of passerine. A research team in the Netherlands determined that the lack of calcium produced the thinned eggshells. The reason for limited calcium intake of these birds is that their main source of the mineral, snail shells, had all but disappeared due to the acidified soil. Acid rain from air pollution produced the acidified soil which in turn is deficient in calcium on which the snails feed. The great tits sought other sources of calcium including chicken eggshells. The researchers said that the birds raid local farms or picnic sites in search of eggshells. DDT had earlier caused American and European birds to produce thinned eggshells.

SOURCE: Science News, Vol. 145, No. 14, April 2, 1994

· The U.S. continues to face problems of water toxicity according to a recent study conducted by the GAO (Government Accounting Office). The Clean Water Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to give permits to companies who wish to release pollutants so that the release is regulated. A GAO audit report released on March 23, found that, of 236 companies analyzed, 85% of them discharged pollutants that were not listed on their EPA permits. Most striking is that only 23% of the pollutants released were included on the EPA permits. Therefore, fully 77% of contaminants discharged by these audited companies were not controlled by the regulatory agency. The EPA identifies a list of 126 "priority" pollutants, that is, the most toxic substances. The unregulated discharges did not include these substances, but rather "non-priority" pollutants. GAO calls these "non-priority" contaminants "human health risks" and concludes the report by stating "EPA's emphasis on priority pollutants is of limited value in resolving the [water toxicity] problems faced by" the United States.

SOURCE: Science News, Vol. 145, #16, April 16, 1994

· Inhaling air laced with cigarette smoke increases one's risk of developing lung cancer, especially when that exposure occurs regularly during childhood. Research reported in the June 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that childhood exposure to smoke on a regular basis enhances one's risk of developing lung cancer as an adult. Among the women studied who suffered from lung cancer, those who had lived with smokers had a cancer risk three times greater than those who did not spend their childhoods with smokers. Women not exposed as children but regularly exposed to passive cigarette smoke as adults about doubled their cancer risk.

SOURCE: Science News, Vol. 145, #24, June 11, 1994

· The Convention on Biological Diversity became international law on the 29th of December, 1993, 18 months after its signing at the 1992 Earth Summit. Under the treaty, countries promise to develop national plans for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, through making inventories of resources and integrating such plans into development strategies. They are also required to enact laws to protect threatened species and habitats and to expand natural protected areas.

SOURCE: U.N. Secretariat News, January 1994

High Military Spending Among Poor Countries


GNP per capita (US$) 1991

Military expenditure per capita (US$) 1990/91










Burkina Faso