Stinky Ocean & Binge Drinking

• There is solid evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke is a health hazard to nonsmokers. According to the EPA, secondhand smoke causes 3,000 cancer deaths a year and 4,000 premature deaths from heart disease—all in nonsmokers. In a Minnesota county that banned all smoking in public places in 2007, the heart attack rate dropped by one-third after the ban, compared with the period just before restrictions were established. Opponents of the ban claimed that if all smoking was illegal in the workplace, smokers would just smoke more at home. Follow up studies found that this did not occur. (;; Archives of Internal Medicine, Oct. 29, 2012)

• Almost 20,000 healthy women over 70 years old participated in a five-year study to examine whether their mental abilities were related to the area of the U.S. where they lived. Participants exposed to the highest levels of airborne particulate matter (e.g., soot from diesel exhaust) “…were at greater risk for significantly faster cognitive decline compared to participants exposed to the lowest levels.” The differences amounted to about two years of age-related mental decline. (Archives of Internal Medicine, Feb. 13, 2012; Mind, Mood, & Memory, Mass. General Hospital, May, 2012)

• There are areas in the ocean where wind action causes nutrient-rich water from great depths to form an upwelling at the surface. As a result, a plankton bloom occurs in which populations of algae feed and rapidly increase in size. In turn, the upwelling zone becomes a smorgasbord for jellyfish and other creatures that feed on planktonic algae. As the algae are being crunched up and eaten by jellyfish, they release a chemical (dimethyl sulphide) that stinks like sewer gas, rotten cabbages, or human farts (your choice). Jellyfish are a favorite food of loggerhead turtles, but how do turtles find jellyfish? Until recently it was unclear whether had a sense of smell. Now it is known that when the noxious odors from an upwelling reach them, they change course and paddle (presumably at top speed) to the stinky upwelling to fill up on jellyfish. A large jellyfish can keep a loggerhead going for days. (The Economist, Sept. 29, work of Courtney Endres at the U. of North Carolina)

• The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported data in January that one in six American adults are binge drinkers, defined as downing four to nine alcoholic beverages within 2 to 3 hours. A surprising finding is that binge-drinking adults 65 years or older drink nearly six times a month.

• A non-profit consumer’s organization recently tested pork samples from 200 supermarkets, and 69% were contaminated with the bacterium Yersinia enterocolitica, which causes food poisoning in children. Eleven percent of the samples showed signs of fecal contamination, and three of the five samples contained bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics. To be safe, wash pork first with soapy water, then cook to at least 145 degrees to kill bacteria. (The Economist, Dec. 14, 2012)