Bits ‘n’ pieces

From east, west and beyond

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

Data on being a sibling: According to The Atlantic, when sibling interactions are positive during adolescence, the outcome is likely to be a healthy development of empathy, pro-social behaviors and academic success. However, among large groups of siblings there is less school success (except for Mormons). If sibling relationships are poor, results can be self-harm, anxiety, substance abuse and even the chance of becoming psychotic by age 18.

A new study in Science Advances looks at the impact on streams and lakes from 100 years of pumping groundwater. In some areas water flows fell 50% and some streams dried up. As water tables dropped, pumping became more costly and difficult, with greater impact on wetlands and trees. Meanwhile, seawater contamination can result from pumping in coastal areas. A top concern: refilling aquifers.

A study from Sweden, shared in PLOS One, finds that infants exposed to pets typically have fewer allergies — and the more pets, the better the outcome. A Microbiome study shows those born into pet homes are likely to have two gut microbes linked to a lower risk of both allergies and obesity.

California legislators have signed into law a bill requiring presidential and gubernatorial candidates to release five years of tax returns in order to appear on the ballot. Republicans are suing the state in opposition, according to Huffington Post.

New research, printed in the International Journal of Drug Policy, shows a link between marijuana use and reduced workplace fatalities. In states with legalized marijuana, workplace fatalities among 25- to 44-year-olds fell by 19.5%. Where legalization was active for over five years, fatalities fell by 33.7%. Researchers speculate that may be due to marijuana replacing alcohol, noting that a separate study shows THC-influenced drivers appear to take fewer risks. Such risk aversion might translate to the workplace.

One out of four Americans has chemical sensitivity and almost half have had it medically diagnosed, according to research from the University of Melbourne, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Those diagnoses have increased 300% in the past decade. An estimated 55 million U.S. sufferers said they had either missed work days or lost jobs due to their illness. One study author described chemical sensitivity as a “serious and potentially disabling disease.” 

The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says exploitation of land and water is proceeding at a rate that could create a crisis for food growers: 500 million people now live in desertifying areas, soil is being lost up to 100 times faster than it naturally regenerates and months of extreme weather, like floods and wildfires, are impacting crops and livestock.

A recent Cuban asylum-seeker is one of many seriously ill immigrants who have been deported. The man was described by more than 100 doctors as being too fragile to travel; nonetheless, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials ordered him placed on a plane bound for Cuba. 

Acupuncture combined with standard medical care is more effective than standard medical care by itself for treating back and neck pain, according to new data from the UC-Berkeley School of Public Health. 

The strongest-ever hurricane to hit the Bahamas, in early September, caused an estimated $7 billion in damages, with winds up to 185 miles per hour. Homeless numbers are about 70,000, with 45% of homes either destroyed or damaged.

Blast from the past: In a 1957 article in the journal Tellus, oceanographer Roger Revelle and chemist Hans Suess warned readers the rapid pace of releasing CO2 and other gases into the air amounted to an alarming experiment with the environment. Those releases increased dramatically as populations grew and more soil was cultivated (further releasing CO2) to feed more people. Revelle’s work led the USDA and the EPA to begin examining the issue in the 1980s; the agencies wanted to determine how much soil carbon was already lost, and how to recapture it. The topic has gained momentum worldwide with scientists and farmers. One such scientist, Rattan Lal, who went from poor farm boy in rural India to a scholarship at Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in soil sciences, is working on test plots worldwide to determine the best agricultural practices for removing CO2 from the air and getting it back into the soil. That, along with other efforts to shrink society’s CO2 footprint, has the potential to reverse climate change. Read more about it in The Soil Will Save Us, by Kristin Ohlson.

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