Friday, 18 September 98 Washington, DC
1. RADON: NRC STUDY SAYS RADON IN WATER POSES LITTLE RISK.
As WN revealed a month ago
(WN 21 Aug 98),
EPA is preparing to use the
1996 Safe Drinking Water Act to set a maximum contaminant level for
radon in drinking water. EPA estimates that the MCL would cost
water suppliers about $270M per year. On Tuesday, an NRC panel
released a report on the risks associated with radon in drinking
water. The conclusion? Stop smoking. The problem is inhaled
radon, and smoking enormously amplifies the hazard. Radon that
escapes from water, however, is a minor source of indoor radon.
The NRC study, like all such studies, was based on a linear-no-threshold
extrapolation from data on uranium miners, which may not
even get the sign right. In any case, WN feels compelled to warn
readers against smoking in the shower.
2. WEAPONS TESTING: HOW BIG IS THE CREDIBILITY GAP?
A new analysis of seismic data from the India and Pakistan nuclear
tests in May concludes that the claims of both governments were greatly
exaggerated, as WN suggested at the time
(WN 29 May 98).
intelligence failed to anticipate the tests, the article in the
September issue of Seismological Research Letters points out that
the seismic monitoring system for assuring compliance with CTBT
worked well. Meanwhile, North Korea said last week's missile test
(WN 11 Sep 98)
was really a three-stage rocket that put a small
satellite in orbit broadcasting revolutionary hymns. While no one
has yet picked up any music, U.S. defense officials now believe it
was a failed test of a three-stage rocket.
3. FY 99 BUDGET: CONGRESS PASSES A CONTINUING RESOLUTION.
first CR of the season, but probably not the last
(WN 11 Sep 98).
The bill would keep the government operating through October 9, the
target date for adjournment. Of the 13 spending bills, only the
relatively small and noncontentious military construction bill has
been sent to the President.
4. COSMOLOGY: IS A MYSTERY FORCE TUGGING AT OUR SPACECRAFT?
report in Physical Review Letters says something more than gravity
seems to be slowing down spacecraft headed out of the solar system.
Whoa! New physics can't be ruled out, but in the last year we've
been through cosmic snowballs, a twist in the universe,
leptoquarks, galaxies older than the universe and a cosmological
constant that pushes the universe apart.
5. ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: "NATURAL" IS NOT A SYNONYM FOR SAFE.
New England Journal of Medicine this week warned of deaths from
unsafe herbal remedies. A century ago, public outrage over
worthless and dangerous "snake-oil" sales led to the 1906 Food and
Drug Act. The 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act
turned the clock back, exempting "natural" substances from FDA
oversight--no proof of efficacy, safety or purity required.