Talking Health for Granite

“It’s not that all granite is dangerous. But I’ve seen a few that might heat up your Cheerios a little.”

Demand for granite countertops in new and renovated homes has increased exponentially in the past decade. In What’s Lurking in Your Countertop? this past week, New York Times reporter Kate Murphy discussed the claims and counterclaims concerning the possible health effects of this popular trend in kitchen décor.

“Allegations,” she writes, “that granite countertops may emit dangerous levels of radon and radiation have been raised periodically over the past decade, mostly by makers and distributors of competing countertop materials. The Marble Institute of America has said such claims are ‘ludicrous’ because although granite is known to contain uranium and other radioactive materials like thorium and potassium, the amounts in countertops are not enough to pose a health threat.

“Indeed, health physicists and radiation experts agree that most granite countertops emit radiation and radon at extremely low levels. They say these emissions are insignificant compared with so-called background radiation that is constantly raining down from outer space or seeping up from the earth’s crust, not to mention emanating from manmade sources like X-rays, luminous watches and smoke detectors.”

Despite these comforting realities, “with increasing regularity in recent months, the Environmental Protection Agency has been receiving calls from radon inspectors as well as from concerned homeowners about granite countertops with radiation measurements several times above background levels.” In some cases cited by Ms. Murphy, there has been rational cause for alarm.

None of this is reason enough to rip out your granite countertops immediately, reject a planned kitchen renovation out of hand, or pull out of a contract you have on a new home. But it is a strong argument for making an informed decision about any of these matters.

If the topic is relevant for you, check out Ms. Murphy’s balanced article. If you need further information, the Environmental Protection Agency offers a variety of handy summaries on the health risks of radon and frequently asked questions about radon and indoor air quality. The EPA also has a number of related documents available, including The Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon, the Citizen’s Guide to Radon, and the Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction.

For information and programs specifically related to Kansas, see the EPA’s Where You Live page for such Kansas links as the radon program of the Kansas Department of Health & Environment.

Information is power – even in the kitchen.

Published in: on July 30, 2008 at 11:52 am  Leave a Comment  

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Crossroads

At their annual conference on rural safety yesterday, researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Excellence in Rural Safety released the prototype of an interesting and useful new website, Safe Road Maps. As they characterize it, the system is “a ground-breaking tool that combines information from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System with Google Maps to give you a visual representation of traffic safety across the entire nation.”

The results promise to be quite extraordinary. “With this system, you can enter an address and view the roads that have the highest number of traffic fatalities in a specified area. You can also view dynamically generated maps that show how public policy has been implemented to improve transportation safety by region. Our hope is that this site brings both increased safety and awareness to transportation policy makers and private citizens.”

The website is based on information gleaned by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As NHTS describes this resource, “the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) contains data on a census of fatal traffic crashes within the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. To be included in FARS, a crash must involve a motor vehicle travelling on a trafficway customarily open to the public and result in the death of a person (occupant of a vehicle or a non-occupant) within 30 days of the crash. FARS has been operational since 1975 and has collected information on over 989,451 motor vehicle fatalities and collects information on over 100 different coded data elements that characterizes [sic] the crash, the vehicle, and the people involved.”

One limitation of the prototype system now being released is that only a single year of data is available for analysis. At present the system uses FARS data from 2006, which is the most recent data currently available from NHTSA. This 2006 dataset contains 38,588 accidents resulting in 42,642 fatalities, and involving 57,943 vehicles and 98,040 people.

Despite this limitation, the tool is already clearly useful. To test its capabilities, I input my own local address and requested a search radius of 2 miles. This produced a report of a single fatal accident at a distance of 1.4 miles from my residence, in the form of a symbol superimposed on a Google satellite map of the site, along with the rudimentary details of the case (state case number and number of fatalities). The satellite image could be changed into a map, a terrain map, or a hybrid map/satellite image. Clicking on the site symbol produced a Visual Earth satellite map of the location side-by-side with a Google map of the site, along with more extensive details, including the date and time of the accident, road type, whether or not the death(s) were “alcohol-related”, restraint type, “person type” (i.e., driver, passenger, pedestrian), age, sex, and whether or not a given involved party were deceased.

Expanding upon this initial search I then sought fatal accidents within a 5 mile radius, and discovered eight such accidents along with similar levels of detail.

You might use a similar exercise to check out your commuter route to work, to discover possible traffic safety problems in your neighborhood or community, or to document a case for a traffic signal.

The Safe Roads Map website includes links to such other useful resources as the FARS Encyclopedia of traffic fatality statistics (1994-2006), reports and publications, along with links to certain advocacy organizations.

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 3:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kansas: Economic Impact of Climate Change

During the recent meeting in New Orleans of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Center for Integrative Environmental Research of the University of Maryland released a series of studies extending their earlier report, US Economic Impacts of Climate Change and the Costs of Inaction, to the state level. Kansas was included among the eight states for which an analysis was published, with estimated losses exceeding $1 billion for the Kansas economy.

A two page summary of the broad conclusions discussed in the state reports entitled Economic and Environmental Costs of Climate Change epitomized the conclusions drawn in the state-level reports. The state-level reports were also discussed in brief overview at Science Daily.

The full 20-page report for Kansas can be found at the CIER website under the title of Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Kansas

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 12:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bridging the Gap

Yesterday, in a press release entitled $140 Billion Price Tag to Repair and Modernize America’s Bridges, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials announced the publication of an important new 72 page survey of the state of America’s 599,766 bridges, Bridging the Gap: Restoring and Rebuilding the Nation’s Bridges.

Among the key findings reported:

Age – While “usually built to last 50 years, the average bridge in this country today is 43” and “almost 20 percent of these ‘Baby Boomer’ bridges are over 50 years old.” This aging infrastructure increases the urgency of repairs, for which there is presently a $62 billion backlog.

Cost – “According to new data from the Federal Highway Administration, the cost to repair or modernize the country’s bridges is $140 billion – assuming all the bridges were fixed immediately.” This situation is almost certain to deteriorate further since “the costs of steel, asphalt, concrete, and earthwork have risen by at least 50 percent in the past five years, forcing delays of bridge improvements and replacements. Nearly every state faces funding shortages that prevent them from the kind of on-going preventive maintenance, repair, and replacement needed to keep their bridges sound indefinitely.”

“Congestion – “Many of the nation’s large-scale bridges have become chokepoints on the country’s freeway system and a drain on the nation’s economy. The top 10 highway interchange bottlenecks cause an average of 1.5 million truck hours of delay each year.”

Here in Kansas, the report notes, 21.1% of the state’s 25,461 bridges are either structurally deficient (2,991) or functionally obsolete (2,372) – a rate that is slightly below the nationwide deficiency of 25.4%

The report’s primary findings are also reviewed in a five-minute video presentation Bridging the Gap.

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 11:40 am  Leave a Comment  

Better By the Dozen

A History of the Doughnut

Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut

It isn’t on our shelves yet, but you can count on our acquiring an early copy of Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut by Indiana University anthropologist Paul R. Mullins.

To whet your appetite for this tantalizing treat, here’s a brief review, courtesy of Science Daily.

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment  

New Library Construction Proceeds Apace

Diligent workers persevere.

Diligent workers persevere.

Progress is steady despite weather delays.

Progress is steady despite weather delays.

No longer just a hole in the ground.

No longer just a hole in the ground.

Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 11:58 am  Comments (1)  

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Everyday Science Every Day

Could your air freshener or fabric softener be toxic?

Can what you eat make a difference, having a major impact on energy consumption and global warming?

Why do the poor spend a disproportionately high percentage of their income on the lottery despite the overwhelming evidence that it’s a very bad investment?

What can venerable magic tricks teach scientists about human perception and cognition?

Aside from making your food taste much better, did you know that such spices as oregano, thyme, cinnamon and clove pack a powerful punch that can help fight foodborne pathogens?

Is it an open and shut case that exposure to sunlight is a major cause of deadly melanoma?

Do cows have a role to play in combating global warming?

These are but a few of the intriguing questions asked and answered in a single day by Science Daily, “your source for the latest research news.”

Science Daily is one of the internet’s leading online magazines dedicated to news about science, technology, and medicine. It is a free, advertising-supported service that “brings you breaking news about the latest discoveries and hottest research projects in everything from astrophysics to zoology.”

Here’s how the editors of Science Daily explain what they do:

Science Daily is unique in that the magazine’s articles are selected from news releases submitted by leading universities and other research organizations around the world. Each news release is posted in its original form, with a link to the organization’s home page . . . delivering science news in its original, unedited format directly from the source (in this case, the news bureaus and public affairs offices of major universities and research institutions).”

There are dozens upon dozens of excellent science websites. But if you have time to read just one, Science Daily is an excellent way to keep your finger on the pulse of current developments in science and technology.

Published in: on July 25, 2008 at 10:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Cell Phone Prudence

The excellent Refdesk.com (“Fact Checker for the Internet”) offers a “Site of the Day” feature which is nearly always useful or interesting. Today’s site is a prudently written advisory on ”The Case for Precaution in the Use of Cell Phones” by an expert panel the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

The key word is prudent. As they indicate, “studies in humans do not indicate that cell phones are safe, nor do they yet clearly show that they are dangerous. But, growing evidence indicates that we should reduce exposures, while research continues on this important question.”

In consequence, they offer a list of ten basic precautions to take that will minimize the risk which may or may not exist to electromagnetic radiation exposure from cell phone use. It’s worth a quick read.

Published in: on July 24, 2008 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Eat Locally, Be a Friend

If you’re one of those captivated by the increasingly popular advice to “eat locally,” stop by the Haysville Community Library Friends of the Library booth in Haysville’s Historic Park (200 block of South Main), any Tuesday evening between 5 and 8.

The Friends are offering locally grown produce – including fresh ears of corn and ripe tomatoes – among a variety of other items, at the Haysville Hometown Market. Sales benefit the library.

For more details, visit the City website. See you Tuesday

Published in: on July 19, 2008 at 4:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Last Day To Register To Vote: Monday

Monday, July 21st, is the last day to register to vote or to change your party affiliation for the August 5th Primary Election.

If you’re not registered to vote, or if you want to change parties, you can pick up the required form at the Haysville Community Library. (Kansas is one of 29 states in which you register by party and vote only in the primary election of the party with which you are registered.) Please be aware that the form must be filed with the Sedgwick County Election Office by close of business to be valid for the primary.

Voter registration will resume the day after the primary election, August 6th, for the November 4th General Election.

To find a listing of candidates running for office in the primary, visit the Sedgwick County Election Office website and go to the Current Candidate Listings page. For all candidates, select the option for “all.” A similar page is available for a listing of Elected Officials.

If you want to locate your polling place for the primary, just check the Kansas Secretary of State’s Kansas VoterView.

If you would like a printable map for any of the districts in which you reside or in which a candidate you favor or oppose is running, see the Sedgwick County Geographic Information Services’district mapping page .

If you need a calendar of all dates appropriate for the 2008 election, check here.

For any other information or assistance, just ask your Haysville Community Library librarian.

Published in: on July 19, 2008 at 12:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

A New Spin on Summer Reading

The Haysville Community Library’s final summer reading series show concluded yesterday with a dizzying performance by the YoYo Man, SpinMaster Brent Dellinger. More than 100 children and 20 adults were in attendance.

To celebrate all the successes of our summer reading participants, the Friends of the Library will be sponsoring a Summer Reading Ice Cream Social this Saturday, July 19, at 6 pm in the library’s community room.

Bring your friends and family and build your own ice cream sundae, then stay for a special showing of “The Bee Movie.”

Just remember Sundae on Saturday, and don’t get scooped.

Published in: on July 17, 2008 at 11:21 am  Leave a Comment  

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Seven Popular Research Databases Available Free

Beginning in August, the Haysville Community Library will make available to any patron who has (or signs up for) a Kansas State Library card, seven expensive and subscription-only reference and research databases absolutely free of charge.

The seven databases are:

• Worldbook Encyclopedia;
• Worldbook Advanced;
• ProQuest Nursing Journals;
• Heritage Quest;
• WorldCat;
• The Gale/Cengage package which includes Academic OneFile, General OneFile, Literature Resource Center, Chilton’s Auto Repair, Health & Wellness Resource Center, Alternative Health Module, Business & Company Resource Center and Profiles ASAP, Customer Newspapers, Gale Virtual Reference Library, Military & Intelligence, Nursing & Allied Health, Legal Trac, Religion & Philosophy, Professional Collection, Computer Database, and Informé; and
• The Ebsco package which includes Novelist, Ultra Online Package (UOP), Middle Online Package (MOP), Primary Online Package (POP) and includes K-12 specific products such as: Encyclopedia of Animals, ERIC, Health Source: Consumer Edition, MAS Ultra School Edition, Middle Search Plus, Newspaper Source, Primary Search, Professional Development Collection, and TOPICsearch.

These databases will be provided via Kan-ed, a statewide information network administered by the Kansas Board of Regents, and the State Library of Kansas. We’ll let you know just as soon as they’re up and running, and intend to feature several of them in future hitching posts.

Published in: on July 15, 2008 at 2:53 pm  Leave a Comment