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GIANT GRASSHOPPERS ATTACK CENTRAL FLORIDA

It may sound like a plot for the latest science-fiction thriller, but residents in central Florida will attest to growing numbers of four-inch-long grasshoppers that are eating away at that region's plants and grasses.

The population of grasshoppers is usually controlled by lack of food or water, parasites and insect diseases. However, the numbers are growing this year as a result of dry winter weather and a return to normal rainfall this summer. Another contributing factor to the surge of this pest is that, once grown, they are immune to conventional pesticides and are too toxic to be eaten by natural predators.

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The grasshoppers, known as Eastern lubbers, can cause severe crop damage in large numbers because they will eat almost any type of plant (including citrus trees), but prefer herbs, shrubs, broadleaf plants and grasses.

When disturbed, the lubbers spread their wings and hiss. They also eject a foul-smelling, irritating foam when touched.

LONG ISLAND STUDY SEES NO CANCER TIE TO PESTICIDES

A federal study has failed to show any connection between high rates of breast cancer on Long Island and the pesticides that were once widely used in that area. The study, by the National Cancer Institute, also found that the correlation between cancer rates and other pollutants, such as car exhaust and cigarette smoke, was only very slight.

Local advocates for breast-cancer research were disappointed with the findings, as were politicians who backed the research by pushing the seven-year, $8-million study through Congress as part of a $30-million research project that includes 12 studies total. The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project was to be the highlight of the research effort.

Researchers took blood and urine samples from more than 3,000 Long Island women in 1996 and 1997, suspecting to find that chemicals could be to blame for the high cancer rates in the Long Island area. They also took samples of yard soil, carpet dust and tap water in an effort to determine the women's extent of exposure. However they found no increased breast cancer rates for women who were exposed to pesticides. However, a correlation between breast cancer and exposure to chemicals such as car exhaust and cigarette smoke was documented. These chemicals appeared to increase a woman's chance of breast cancer by 50 percent.

SOUR ECONOMY CONTINUES

U.S. starts for privately owned housing were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.649 million last month, 2.7 percent below the revised June figure of 1.695 million, indicate data jointly released by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Meanwhile U.S. inflation remains a non-issue. The July CPI at 189.1 was up just .1 percent from June and is only 1.5 percent higher than it was in July 2001. Even the “core” CPI, which excludes price increases for food and energy, rose only .2 percent in July.

At the same time, recovery from the 2001 recession could remain weak. Preliminary data from the Department of Labor show a 0.8 percent drop in real earnings in July, a sharp contrast to the 0.5 percent increase in June.

POLYACRYLAMIDES FIGHT EROSION, POLLUTION

An environmentally friendly compound already employed to stop soil from eroding can also keep nutrients and bacteria from leaving fields. New studies by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at the agency's Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory, Kimberly, Idaho, pinpoint the pollution-fighting potential of these compounds, called polyacrylamides or PAMs. The goal: keep pollutants from making their way to ponds, lakes, streams and rivers.

Earlier work by the Kimberly researchers showed that mixing small amounts of PAM, a powder, into irrigation water can reduce soil erosion by up to 99 percent. PAM does that by holding soil particles in place. More recently, the scientists analyzed PAM's prowess in grabbing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Excess amounts of these and other nutrients from fertilizers can become pollutants, according to ARS soil microbiologist James A. Entry at Kimberly.

Sources: The Associated Press; New York Times; RER Reports; Marcia Wood, USDA ARS.

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