SCIENCE IN THE NEWS
This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, from VOA Special English. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. This week: a home designed to keep out microscopic visitors ... a new environmental protection chief in Washington ... and the value of anti-pollution rules.
Also -- trouble at a mink farm ... and the pain of social rejection: why hurt feelings hurt.
Workers recently finished an unusual house in Southern California. The house is built with a special kind of steel. The steel is designed to resist bacteria and other organisms that might cause health problems.
An Ohio company, A-K Steel, started work on the project two years ago. A-K Steel agreed to provide the steel if the company could use the house to demonstrate its products.
The house is the home of Ed and Madeleine Landry. The nineteen-ninety-four earthquake in Los Angeles damaged their old home. They have also had problems with wood-eating insects. And Madeleine Landry suffers from asthma, a common breathing disorder. She hopes the specially treated steel will fight molds and other organisms that could worsen her condition.
The new home is more than one-thousand square meters. Work crews used almost ninety-one-thousand kilograms of steel to build it. About one-fifth of the steel is covered with a chemical that kills bacteria, mold and other organisms. A Massachusetts company, AgION Technologies, produces the chemical.
The heating, airflow and cooling systems all are made with the treated steel. So are food preparation surfaces and other "high-touch" areas, along with the roof.
But germs are not the only thing the house is designed against. The structure and the plants nearby are also fire resistant. The home lies on a hillside in Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles. Recent wildfires nearly put the house to its first test. In fact, the New York Times reports that Ed and Madeleine Landry's new home served as a command center for firefighters.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has a new chief. He is Michael Leavitt. The Senate voted late last month to approve his appointment.
Last week Mr. Leavitt resigned as governor of the western state of Utah to take his new job. He was in his third term as the top elected official in the state. He is a former chairman of the National Governors Association.
Several Democrats in the Senate had delayed the approval of Mr. Leavitt. They did that to protest the Bush administration's environmental policies.
Mr. Leavitt replaces Christine Todd Whitman. She resigned earlier this year after disagreements with members of the administration.
President Bush nominated Mr. Leavitt in August. Environmental groups say the new administrator has a mixed record on environmental issues.
The Environmental Protection Agency was created thirty-three years ago. The E-P-A is an independent federal agency that reports directly to the president. It has more than eighteen-thousand employees.
White House officials must report yearly to Congress on the costs to enforce, and obey, federal rules. The White House Office of Management and Budget must also report the benefits, the value these rules produce in return.
The report this year says rules on pollution produce the greatest economic value. The study found that the benefits of environmental rules were five to seven times the costs to businesses and local governments.
The study examined major federal rules from a ten-year period. It found that most of the benefits came from several rules that improved air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency established these rules under the Clean Air Act of nineteen-ninety.
The report says fewer Americans had to go to hospitals for treatment of breathing problems. So that avoided costs. There were also economic returns from a reduction in early deaths and lost work time.
Last year, the report presented a different picture of the costs and benefits of government rules. That report showed that the costs of the rules and the value of the good they did were about equal. The Office of Management and Budget says the new report expands on that study.
Karen Florini is a lawyer with the Environmental Defense Fund. Mizz Florini says the report proves what environmental groups like hers have been saying. That is, federal intervention to protect the environment now prevents more costly pollution problems later.
Minks have been raised on farms in the United States and Europe for more than one-hundred years. The fur industry makes clothing with the skin of these small animals. Minks have short legs and sharp little teeth, as anyone who tries to touch a mink might discover. Minks are related to weasels.
In late August, some people broke into a mink farm near Seattle, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest. In the middle of the night, they opened cages and broke down fencing around the farm. Ten-thousand minks ran loose. The family that owns the farm recaptured all but about one-thousand of them.
The Animal Liberation Front took responsibility for the release. This group carries out economic sabotage of fur farms, pet stores and laboratories. Federal investigators say it has carried out more than six-hundred attacks in the past seven years.
Experts say minks are easy to find. For one thing, they make loud noises that sound like crows. For another, they release a smelly chemical from under their tail to mark their territory.
The farm in the town of Sultan, east of Seattle, raises rare blue mink. Each animal is worth about forty dollars. The owner told the Seattle Times newspaper that about half his twenty-two-thousand mink never left their cages.
But now the farm has a bigger problem -- keeping the recaptured minks from killing each other. Unrelated minks often attack and eat each other. So they are kept in separate cages. But the workers cannot tell which of the recaptured minks are related. As a result, they lose about ten to twenty recaptured minks a day.
The release was the second largest in the United States involving minks. More than fourteen-thousand were set free from a mink farm in Iowa three years ago. The Animal Liberation Front also claimed responsibility for that release. The group says it tries to harm businesses that profit unfairly from the use of animals.
The industry group Fur Commission USA calls the Animal Liberation Front "ecoterrorists." It says farm-raised minks cannot survive in the wild. But the Animal Liberation Front says they can.
In the recent case, some of the minks were reported eating fish in rivers. They have also attacked exotic birds, chickens, even a large dog. But others have been killed by cars, or by thirst. Experts say any minks that survive the winter and reproduce could grow into a threat to other small animals in the wild and family pets.
Recent findings suggest that the pain of social rejection affects the same areas of the brain as physical pain. The journal Science published a report by two researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles. Matthew Lieberman and Naomi Eisenberger studied the brain activity of thirteen college students. The study took place as the students played a computer game.
The students could catch and throw a ball to other players. They were told they were playing with two other students elsewhere. But the computer played the part of the other players. After the students received the ball seven times, the computer excluded them from the game.
Throughout the experiment, a machine recorded changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain.
Two areas of the brain were more active in students who later reported feeling more hurt by the rejection. One area, the anterior cingulate, has been connected with creating the experience of physical pain. The other area, the prefrontal cortex, has been linked to thinking about emotions.
The researchers say the pain of social rejection may have developed thousands of years ago as a way to survive in groups.
Science in the News was written by George Grow, Caty Weaver, Chi Un Lee and Cynthia Kirk, who was also our producer. I'm Bob Doughty. And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week for more news about science, in Special English, on the Voice of America.