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Issue Home April 27, 2004 Site Home

Slices Of Life
100 Years Ago
Along the Way...With P. Jay

From the Desk of the DA
Straight From Starrucca

Slices of Life

Those Scary Years

A recent article in the Press & Sun Bulletin regarding the discovery of the polio vaccine in the mid 1950’s brought to mind that scary time in the previous decade when our small, isolated town was held hostage by the horrors of polio.

It seemed like this crippler/killer emerged out of nowhere, claiming a football star from my eldest sister’s high school class as its first victim. Then another strong, athletic teenager was diagnosed, and while he survived, he was to walk with crutches for the rest of his life. All around us, in nearby communities, the same stories were being told.

As everyone tried to figure out where this virulent disease was coming from, bizarre safeguards were being imposed. In the early fall, the idea took hold that it might be coming from contaminated fruit. One of the highlights of my life at that time was the trip to the fruit stand where Mom would spend her birthday money on bushels of canning peaches. We’d always eat from the juicy fruit on the twenty-mile trip home. No more. Produce now had to be thoroughly washed and/or peeled before consumption.

Earlier in that summer of (probably) 1948, another theory had circulated that the germ was passed on at swimming pools. This could have been because President Roosevelt had contracted polio after swimming in a lake. But that meant no puttering around in the water for us. It also ruled out the long-awaited carnival because of crowds. Dealing with something you understand is one thing, but the randomness of this outbreak of polio had everyone baffled. It was a very scary time.

It impacted me personally in 1954. Through the early 1950’s, one of my summer and after-school jobs was helping to care for three pre-school children. In the summer I’d be there all day. Through the rest of the year, I’d work when needed in the evenings and weekends. These people were like family to me.

The summer of 1954, the middle child was rushed to the hospital with what turned out to be a mild case of the disease; caught early and without leaving the dreaded paralysis. His six-year old sister was not so fortunate. The call came to me soon after I got to college. She had contracted polio and died. She had been a long-awaited, much-loved adopted daughter and the family was devastated.

By this time another experimental vaccine was being tested and perhaps it was because this family had lost a child that they were included in the first round of testing. I remember driving to the Pittsburgh area with this mother and her two boys to have them inoculated. I don’t know whether it was the Sabin or the Salk vaccine, but what I do remember vividly was the secluded wooded setting where the laboratory was located. And how one corner we navigated was so sharp, someone had mounted a big mirror on a tree at an angle whereby you could see oncoming traffic around the corner. Amazing the inconsequential details our minds record.

The Salk and Sabin vaccinations were refined, and by the time children of the 1960’s were youngsters, whole families were lining up to obtain protection from polio by receiving vaccine on sugar cubes.

While polio has been nearly eradicated worldwide, the AIDS virus has taken its place as a source of terror. We can only hope that one day soon, it, too, will be only a bad memory.

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100 Years Ago

OAKLAND: The commencement exercises of the Oakland High School will be held in the Oakland Congregational church May 10; Miss Winifred Frank is the only member of the class of 1904.

FAIRDALE: The recent spring floods have unearthed the first mill dam built here more than 100 years ago. AND: The bee-keepers report a loss of 70 percent of their stock during the past winter.

BIRCHARDVILLE: L. T. Birchard & son received on Wednesday last, a fine imported Jersey heifer calf, which Mr. Birchard purchased at a combination sale at Hoboken. Last year they bought a Flying Fox bull calf. There are no finer Jersey cattle bred in this country than those from the Birchard farm.

AUBURN TWP.: Death of Griswold Carter: A life of exemplary Christian character was that of whom we write. It began in South Auburn, Aug. 11, 1841, and he was the 4th of six children of Daniel and Barbara Carter. When five years old his parents moved to Retta and settled on the farm which still bears the family name. The forest disappeared under the blows of the industrious settler and soon a thrifty farm with comfortable buildings occupied the tract which Daniel Carter and his children had won from the forest. Daniel, the pioneer, finished his life work Jan. 21, 1873 and Griswold came into possession of the old homestead. Under his wise management the farm maintained a good reputation. On Sept. 1, 1861, Griswold was wedded to Susan N. Seeley, who proved a faithful and true wife and into this home came seven children. On Friday, April 1st, 1904 he entered into "the rest that remaineth to the people of God."

MONTROSE: Dr. D. G. Wilson received Wednesday evening, by express, a huge chicken hawk. He was afraid of the bird, but Fred Smith, the jeweler, transferred it into a berry box at Arthur Lyons' store, where the bird became more easy and comfortable. The doctor is going to start an aviary. AND: Harrington's Mills is becoming quite a busy little annex to Montrose. It is not so small either. The large Borden shipping station, the creamery of the Montrose Dairy Company, the saw mill, foundry and feed mills of J. C. Harrington and the store of S. E. Hart comprise its business enterprises and there is also Mrs. Nailor, whose fame as a raiser of chickens is well known.

BROOKLYN: The members of the graduating class of the High School are as follows: Bert Tiffany, Edna Ely, Grace Packer, Lillian Austin, Arthur Williams, Lena Johnson and Edith Saunders.

NEW MILFORD: The commencement exercises of the New Milford High School will be held at the Opera House, this Friday evening. The following are members of the graduating class: Glenn Brundage, Ben Morris, Marshall Benniger, Grace Tingley, Ella Carr, Mildred Cook, Katherine Kane. AND: Glen Dean, the young man who lost his left arm by being run over by the cars a few weeks ago, has recovered nicely.

LAWSVILLE: A "fixin up" mania has struck our town. Thomas Mahana is building a new kitchen; G. W. Meeker has been repairing his store; F. B. Travis is having his house painted and shingled; J. W. Russell is building a new kitchen; D. W. Bailey is going to re-model and paint his house, and F. L. Bailey is getting lumber preparatory to building a large chicken house.

HARFORD: Edith MacConnell is in the hospital, suffering from an injury to the back, caused by falling on the walk while attending school at Syracuse.

HALLSTEAD/GREAT BEND: The Hallstead and Great Bend horse breeders won a fine success. In the absence of President Col. C. C. Pratt, Thomas Kilrow made the opening address followed by selections by the Hallstead Cornet Band. Chas. Lines drew the fine oil painting donated by Mrs. Lahey; Burt S. Beebe, the quilt; Raymond Mack, a shawl; Mrs. J. B. Rogers, a package of hankerchives, Geo. Kirby, the hat rack; Dr. Keefe, of Binghamton, the $3 worth of photographs. Miss Margaret Stephens secured the door prize, a fine umbrella. Richard Osterhout got the clock.

NICHOLSON: Two young men, who were convicted of stealing chickens, were sentenced to pay a fine of $10 each and to undergo imprisonment in the Eastern Penitentiary for a term of 14 months. It is not believed that they expected to get into any serious trouble when they committed the offense, nor that they stole for the sake of the goods. It more likely was a foolish prank entered into, possibly, at the suggestion of another.

SPRINGVILLE: Maple Lodge, I.O.O.F., celebrated the 85th anniversary of the lodge at their hall, Tuesday evening.

ELK LAKE: The Grange is in a flourishing condition adding new members to their ranks at each meeting.

FRIENDSVILLE: C. J. Tierney, of Friendsville, succumbed to a very severe attack of pneumonia at the Exchange Hotel in Montrose. Mr. Tierney was summoned to act as a juryman and although not feeling well for several days, was suddenly taken ill and taken to the hotel, where Dr. C. D. Mackey and Miss Alice Kelly, a trained nurse, gave him skillful but unavailing care.

SUSQUEHANNA: The Erie Shop clerks organized a union on Saturday evening. AND: Forty-seven carloads of salt, valued at $47,000, passed east on Sunday night, in a solid train.

NEWS BRIEF: Quite a controversy is on over in Binghamton now as to whether Sunday base ball shall be permitted to be played during the coming summer. The laboring classes especially are clamoring for Sunday games, and when it is considered that Sunday is the only day on which they may witness the national sport, it does seem as though they had some reason for wishing it. Desecration of the Sabbath even in this comparatively mild manner should not, however, be permitted. The holiness of this one day in the week ought to be observed, regardless of religious belief, by all, and with even the rigidity practiced in the time. Because there are greater violations of divine law on the Sabbath than ball playing is no argument for its being allowed. It is not in proper spirit with the day and encourages indifference to religious duties and is generally detrimental to the moral and spiritual welfare. The ministers of the gospel who are pushing the crusade are in the right, in accordance with divine law, and their efforts should be sanctioned by all thinking citizens.

Visit the Historical Society's web site, for back issues of 100 Years Ago.

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Along the Way...With P. Jay

Is the state Sunshine Law effective? Honestly? I do not think so.

On the contrary I think it has more holes in it than a pound of Swiss Cheese. Moreover, I believe the taxpayers and the agencies being forced to abide by it are getting shortchanged.

Oh, I suppose it could be said that the Sunshine Law has become somewhat of a godsend to the concerned citizens and taxpayers in the Commonwealth. Unquestionably, more business is discussed and completed in open meetings and, it has given the people more insight as to what’s going on in state, county and local government.

Unfortunately, as effective as it might be, the law does not stop politics. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and nobody circumvents the law as effectively as politicians. Let’s face it, a lot of decisions are still cut and dried in back-room caucuses before a public vote is taken.

The only way to correct the obvious flaws in the Sunshine Law is to add more clout to it. At the present time, the law is extremely ambiguous.

"A legal challenge under this act," Section 13 reads, "shall be filed within 30 days from the date of a meeting which is open, or within 30 days from the discovery of any action that occurred at a meeting which was not open at which the act was violated, provided that, in the case of a meeting which was not open, no legal challenge may be commenced more than one year from the date of such meeting."

The immediate question that goes begging for an answer is, filed by whom? And the law does not provide an answer. If you witness a killing, you tell police what you saw and they gather enough evidence to determine whether charges should be filed. You may end up a witness at the trial, but you do not sign the complaint against the alleged killer. In the case of the Sunshine Law, residents of the Commonwealth who believe they have knowledge of a violation are usually expected to sign their own complaints. This leads to supposition that the complainant may have an ax to grind with an individual office holder or the entire agency involved.

There are two avenues open to individuals who want to sign a complaint against an agency that is covered by the Sunshine Law. Since it is a summary offense, technically it is a crime and a complaint can be lodged with your local District Attorney who, in turn, will determine if he has sufficient proof to cite the alleged violator or violating agency. Then, too, your complaint can also be registered at the Prothonotary’s Office where it then will be treated as a civil matter.

Individuals found guilty of violating the Sunshine Law can be fined $100. That is, assuming you can prove to the court that a violation did occur. And my friends, proving it is no easy task. It is not impossible, but it does require a lot of research and an impartial judge.

On the other side of the issue is a belief that additional exceptions permitting more latitude should be allowed to agencies covered by the law. At the present time there are six allowable executive sessions that prohibit public attendance and the feeling here is that some of them should be extended.

Number one, for example, allows personnel matters to be discussed behind closed doors if they involve hiring, promoting, disciplining, or dismissing specific public employees or officers. What about cutbacks in number of employees or the hours an employee works? Shouldn’t these subjects also be discussed behind closed doors? Then, too, if the governing body in a municipality finds itself in a financial bind, shouldn’t that agency be allowed to go into executive session to discuss ways to cutback on spending providing that any changes are made at a public meeting?

What about complaints? If a resident has a complaint against a municipal employee, why can’t he/she bring the complaint to the governing body behind closed doors. We are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, so why discuss employee problems in public where it could end up in a newspaper and maybe damage an innocent employee. Then, too, residents hesitate to attend municipal meetings because their names could end up in tomorrow morning’s newspaper. And there are parents who hesitate to attend a school board meeting and complain about a school administrator or teacher because they fear retaliation against their children.

The Sunshine Law could be an exceptional piece of legislation that would keep many elected and appointed individuals in line. But to expect it to become the catch-all law that many of us anticipated when it was passed has really turned out to be a joke. It could be saved if a handful of legislators in Harrisburg would suggest that a committee be appointed to rewrite the law with an eye on putting some teeth into it and adding a few more reasonable exceptions to the rules.

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"WE WILL FINISH – the work of the fallen" read a headline in a city paper dated August 14. The words were uttered by our president, George Bush. Easy for him to say, while contemplating sending 10 to 12 thousand more troops to a country where terrorists are laying traps every day to kill coalition soldiers. "We must not waver," says Mr. Bush. I like that "we" stuff. (I would like to quote a well-known area columnist in regard to the Iraq situation):

"How about this? Load every one of the architects of this bloody adventure – Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith and Perle – not one of whom has ever heard a shot fired in anger, aboard a military transport. Fly them to Baghdad. Truck them to Fallujah. Hand each of them an M16 and tell them to go get the insurgents. Do that, and I guarantee you we will be out of Iraq faster than you say mission accomplished."

There may be a reason to all this investigating of what happened prior to and later in the bombing of the WTC in New York, investigating of 9/11 by the FBI, the CIA, the president’s men and women, but to me "getting the Americans out of Iraq" should be the primary goal of all the investigating committees. It’s a little too late now to do anything about what happened the past couple of years, but it is "getting too late" to save the lives of our men and women when many of the Iraq people are aiding the terrorists in destroying coalition forces.

TRAPPERS CAN HELP – A random selection of Pennsylvania hunters and trappers will soon receive the PA Game Commission’s annual hunter and fur-taker surveys, which they are encouraged to complete and return to the agency as soon as possible. These surveys help determine the number of species taken and the number of harvests remaining for hunters and trappers.

NO MORE WORRIES – "The Yankees will Make It" – Words to that effect were "thrown" at this columnist, when the Yankees were soundly beaten by Boston in three of their first four games. The gentleman in question is none other than Terry Rafferty, past commander of the Hallstead–Great Bend American Legion Post. Mr. Rafferty may be remembered by Laurel Hill graduates, especially those that played in the Catholic Basketball League during the 1950’s. Terry played with St. Ann’s of Scranton and in 1954 was named to the Catholic Light All Star Team. St. Ann’s often visited LHA where Mr. Rafferty remembered several players. On that same All Star team, Phil Harding of LHA was also a member. Why? Are the Yankees going to win? Mr. Rafferty informed me that he would say a Novena for the Yankees who, at the time were only batting – as a team – .194. (Thanks, Terry.)

TV PROGRAM "Hurts Veterans" – A news release, dated April 9, 2004, aired by a TV station, said that some vet hospitals are not giving proper care to patients. Secretary of Vets Affairs Anthony Principi hotly denounced the program and called it very unfair, as the TV station was filming at hospitals "secretly." Principi said, "The TV program did a big disservice to the veterans, as the hospitals are doing a fantastic job in looking out for the welfare of the veterans. The TV companies should investigate, before secretly invading ‘our’ hospitals."

MEDICARE TO Publish Prices – Medicare will soon publish detailed information comparing prices of most prescription drugs, shining a bright light on some of the biggest secrets in the health care industry. Medicare will list the prices of the drugs charged by the different companies. The price list is scheduled to be released in a couple of weeks.

WHO DO YOU VOTE FOR? – If you are worried about either Pres. Bush or Kerry raising taxes if elected – worry not! Each of the last three presidents, two Republicans and one Democrat, regardless of what they said in the campaign, all raised taxes. (So, if Bush and Kerry accuse each other of raising taxes, if elected, take your pick.)

FOR YOUR Information (If you care!) – The game of baseball is a pure product of America. The baseball itself is another matter. Every baseball used in the major leagues is made in Turrialba, Costa Rica; millions of them. They are hand-crafted with the precision of a machine by the men and women of Turrialba. The baseball workers make about $2,750 a year. A baseball player in the Untied States makes, on an average, about $2,377 a day. It’s a shame, isn’t it, that the Costa Ricans are so underpaid while making baseballs for the "baseball millionaires." Rawlings sports company sells the balls made in Costa Rica for $15.00. According to the news article, many major leaguers have no idea where the balls come from and how much of a salary the Costa Ricans get. With all of the work done "by hand," the Costa Ricans develop severe hand problems, for only about $8 a day. If they (a guess) make, say ten balls a day, Rawlings sells them for $15.00, giving Rawlings $150.00; the Costa Rican, a lousy $8.00. It’s really not fair. (Thanks, Tom.)

I LIKE This Quote – "The only way to have a friend is to be one." – Unknown.


WOMAN: Is it true you broke up with that good looking fellow? Second woman: Yes. We’re just not compatible. I’m a Libra. He’s a tightwad.

MY COUSIN runs five miles a day, doesn’t eat sweets, red meat or dairy products, sleeps at least eight hours a night, doesn’t smoke or drink, never drinks coffee or soda pop, and never goes out in the sunlight. Someday, he’s going to feel like a fool. Why is that? How’s he going to explain lying in bed, dying of nothing?

IS IT TRUE your cousin lost his job as a race car driver because he was stupid? Yes, he kept pulling into the pits asking for directions.

HOSTESS TO Manager: There’s a baseball umpire on the phone. He wants to make dinner reservations for two friends and himself. Manager said: Hang up. It’s a crank call. There’s no such thing as a baseball umpire with two friends.

THEY HAD A BEAUTY contest in my neighborhood. Nobody won – She entered the Miss America contest, and they tried to have her deported – My sister’s entering the Golf Tourney Beauty Contest. What’s her handicap!

THE WORST THING about bigamy, you get two mothers-in-law. – When a man has more than one wife they call it bigamy. If a woman has more than one husband, they call it insanity.

ARE YOU GOING to Sally’s 39th birthday party? Sure, I go every year.

DID YOU KNOW that it took almost a hundred years to build just one pyramid? Must be the same contractor that remodeled my bathroom.

POOR DAD – A little boy wakes up at 2 a.m. and calls for his mom to come into his room. "I can’t sleep. Will you tell me a story? he asks. "Wait until your father comes home, he will have a "beauty" to tell.

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From the Desk Of The DA

A few weeks ago I discussed the problem with poor contractors or con artists pretending to be contractors. As I stated at that time, the District Attorney’s Office receives regular complaints from individuals who gave money to contractors with work never being performed. The group of citizens most susceptible to such criminal acts is senior citizens. An individual taking financial advantage of a senior citizen is one form of elder abuse.

This past week, Susquehanna County Sheriff Lance Benedict received a call from a family regarding a potential instance of elder abuse. In that case, a person purporting to be a representative of a paving company came to the door of a local elderly couple. The paving representative claimed that his company had just completed a job and had some material left over, and asked the elderly couple if they would be interested in having their driveway paved for a discount price. The paving representative indicated that he needed to get rid of the material, and that the elderly couple would be doing him a favor, as well as receiving a nicely paved driveway. The elderly couple agreed, and the paving representative then proceeded to pave the elderly couple’s driveway. The materials were inferior and the workmanship was poor.

After completing the project, the paving representative, who never gave his full name, came into the home and demanded $2,800 for the job. The elderly couple was shocked at the price, as they believed they were receiving a "bargain." Still, the elderly couple felt guilty, because their driveway had been paved. They wrote a check out of a credit card account to cover the full cost of the project. The paving representative tore up the check, and demanded a personal check. After being told that there were not sufficient funds in the checking account, the paving representative had the elderly couple write a $2,800 personal check, and told them that he would return the next day to accompany them to the bank to make sure the money would be transferred from their savings account into the checking account to cover the check. Thereafter, the elderly couple informed one of their children what had happened.

Thankfully, the child contacted Sheriff Benedict and disclosed the facts of the story. Upon Sheriff Benedict’s sound advice, the elderly couple stopped payment upon the check. The paving representative called the next day to make arrangements to accompany the couple to the bank. Upon hearing that Sheriff Benedict was involved, the paving representative immediately changed his tune, and told the elderly couple that he would not charge for the work and would write off the work as "advertising."

As of this date, we have no information as to the identity of the paving representative, or any further information to assist us in investigating this matter. If Sheriff Benedict had not been called, this elderly couple would have lost $2,800 for work that they did not need performed. Thankfully, Sheriff Benedict was called and the potential elder abuse was thwarted.

This is a classic example of elder abuse. Although this incident occurred to an elderly couple, these types of scams can be perpetrated against individuals of all ages. Every year, Susquehanna County receives complaints about gypsies, transient individuals engaging in these home improvement scams, taking money and moving on after performing shoddy work or no work at all. There are certain steps one can take to avoid becoming a victim. If a stranger arrives at your door proposing to perform unsolicited home improvements, I would recommend that you kindly refuse the offer. In the event that you are interested in having the proposed work performed, please get the following information: (1) the person’s name, including some form of identification; (2) the person’s local address and telephone number; (3) a list of several local references that can be easily checked; (4) proof of insurance; and (5) a written estimate of the cost of the work to be performed, including a breakdown of labor and material costs. Finally, you should never pay for the project before the work is completed. If you take the steps set forth above, you can avoid becoming a victim.

If you do agree to allow a stranger to do work at your home, do not allow the person into your home for any reason. For instance, if the worker asks for a glass of water, bring the glass to the worker, do not allow the worker into your home. Do not allow the worker to be at your home unattended. Although these guidelines appear harsh, these shysters feed upon our honesty and trust to manipulate us into allowing them the access that they need to obtain our property. Your trust should be earned, not given freely. If you have no reason to trust someone, please remember that your trust may lead to your victimization.

Please submit any questions, concerns, or comments to Susquehanna County District Attorney’s Office, P.O. Box 218, Montrose, Pennsylvania 18801.

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Straight From Starrucca

The nuns have some big machinery in the field by the creek, making a diversion ditch to drain the water from the area where they want to have a big garden this summer.

Barb and Roger Glover drove to Tunkhannock last Saturday night to enjoy first of the season bluegrass music. They met some friends there, who were also bluegrass buffs.

Helen Dickey came home from the hospital last Thursday. She is still quite weak.

Virginia Upright took advantage of the opening of trout season. She fished a couple creeks and caught eight fish to show her skill as a fisherman. Did any men do as well?

It was a most pleasant visit last Sunday afternoon when Mary Pat Upright, Windsor, stopped in to see me. In several weeks she will be graduating from SUNY with a BS Degree in Social Work. You have to hand it to her for sticking to her dream, overcoming many obstacles, paying her own way, and finally accepting her diploma. She was my next-door neighbor for many years and pals with my daughter, Nancy. I congratulate her for her persistence in pursuing her dream.

Cindy Brown and her two boys, Sunderland, Mass., have been spending a week with Grandpa Charlie Levchak.

Of interest to Wayne Countians is the fact that the antique steam tractor, built in 1888 by David Spenser, Pleasant Mount has been tracked down by the Farm Committee of the Wayne County Historical Society to a farm in Northampton County, where it was encased in frozen mud. Willing hands struggled to get it on a rollback truck for its journey back to its home in Pleasant Mount, where it will stay and be reconditioned and repaired, and finally, put on display at the Wayne County Historical Society in Honesdale. Linda Lee, Coxton Lake, was the one who supplied the enthusiasm for bringing the tractor home.

Gifford Baker was laid to rest last Saturday in the Hale Eddy Cemetery. A funeral dinner was served in the Baptist Church social rooms by the senior citizens, to which he belonged and the Bag Ladies with which his wife, Vivian spent many, many hours working.

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Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard I should avoid buying wood products made from "old-growth timber." What does that refer to, and how can I tell if something is made from old-growth wood?

Anna Hunt, Sierra Madre, CA

"Old growth" is often defined as trees that have been growing for approximately 200 years or longer. The problem, according to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), is that the lumber industry classifies trees by lumber grades, not age, and because old-growth wood provides the highest quality lumber, it is highly prized. Most old growth in this country is found in the Pacific Northwest and California.

While there hasn’t been much successful legislation to protect old growth in this country, it is possible to trace where your wood comes from and protect old-growth forests by boycotting products made from this irreplaceable resource, says Richard Donovan, chief of forestry at the Rainforest Alliance, which created the SmartWood forest certification program. "One can identify suppliers and then look at their forest management." Donovan recommends buying forest products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as sustainably harvested from a well-managed forest, and warns that the new certification label from the American Forest and Paper Association, created in 2002 and called the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) label, is not sufficient.

According to the Rainforest Alliance, few groups outside of the timber industry recognize the legitimacy of the SFI label. Organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council, and corporate leaders in sustainable wood, including IKEA, Home Depot and Kinko’s, use FSC-certified products in some cases because of pressure from rainforest activists. The Rainforest Action Network says the SFI label fails to protect old-growth forests, roadless areas and federal lands, endangered species and indigenous rights. RAN also recommends using timber alternatives when possible, such as recycled wood, composite wood made from plastic, and kenaf paper.

CONTACT: Forest Stewardship Council, (877) 372-5646,; Rainforest Action Network, (415)398-4404,; SmartWood, (802) 434-5491,

Dear EarthTalk: Does drinking hard water result in an unhealthy buildup of minerals in the body over time? Should I use a water softener?

Sunny Mullis, Sturgis, SD

The presence of calcium and magnesium in your water will make it "hard." These minerals are dissolved in rainwater as it moves through soil and rock. According to a 1980 study done by the National Academy of Sciences on the mineral nutrition of drinking water, a high-calcium diet can help prevent osteoporosis, or bone degeneration, and magnesium can help prevent depression, vertigo and muscle weakness. The study shows that magnesium deficiencies can slow growth, affect the kidneys, and result in hair loss. There were no negative side effects reported from ingesting large quantities of calcium or magnesium.

Hard water can, however, damage hot water heater efficiency and block plumbing by forming calcium deposits in pipes. It can also reduce water pressure, leave soap film and scum lines on tile, and cause poor sudsing of soap and shampoo, dry, itchy skin and brittle hair.

Hard water can be an inconvenience, but traditional treatment for softening your water may be bad for your health. To remove the minerals, many companies use an ion exchange process, replacing the calcium and magnesium with sodium (salt). The problem is that twice the amount of sodium is needed to replace the other ions, and treated water offers a heavy dose of this health buster. You may want to try an alternative softener, such as the Scaleban, an electronic limestone (the source of calcium deposits) neutralizer made by EcoSoft Systems. It softens water electronically without using salt. Water softeners made by War-A-Lon use a no-salt catalytic/magnetic process.

CONTACT: The National Academy of Sciences,; EcoSoft Systems, (610)495-9930,; War-A-Lon, (406)889-3915,

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit your question at; or e-mail us at

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard that there were only two curbside recycling programs in the country in the early 1970s. Where were they and how many are there now?

Bonnie Emerick, Chicago, IL

According to Neil Seldman, president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit that promotes sustainable communities, the first two programs were in Madison, Wisconsin and Marblehead, Massachusetts. Seldman says that many cities had source separation in the 1940s, largely because of the war effort, but that these efforts fizzled after the war. In 1967, Madison was the first city to re-establish curbside newspaper collection, by installing special racks on garbage trucks. Madison Street Superintendent Roger Goodwin says the pioneering newspaper program got started because the city was running out of landfill space. Madison also built one of the first waste-to-energy plants in 1974 for the same reason.

Marblehead Director of Public Health Wayne Attridge says its curbside program, which began in 1973 with the first Earth Day as inspiration, included bottles, cans and newspapers. "It was definitely innovative," Attridge says. The local League of Women Voters launched the program, aided by the nation's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recycling grant.

There are now close to 9,000 curbside programs, which aid in the recycling of 42 percent of all paper used, 40 percent of all plastic soft drink bottles, and 55 percent of all aluminum cans, according to the EPA’s Office of Municipal Solid Waste. There are at least 600 curbside programs in Wisconsin and 156 in Massachusetts today.

New York City made news in July of 2002 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg put the City’s curbside recycling program (for everything except paper) on hold for 18 months. Bloomberg reasoned that the project would save the City $56.6 million annually, and that 40 percent of the metal, glass and plastic collected was ultimately ending up in the trash anyway. But, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, New York City’s big savings failed to materialize, and the plastics recycling program resumed in July 2003. Glass recycling, as well as weekly pickups, will start again in April 2004.

CONTACTS: Institute for Local Self-Reliance, (202) 232-4108,; Natural Resources Defense Council, (212) 727-2700,

Dear EarthTalk: Where can one recycle computer equipment that is out of date or broken and not worth upgrading or fixing?

Kenneth Rapp, Toms River, NJ

According to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, 315 million computers are expected to become obsolete by the end of 2004. Given the lightening speed of computer technology, some environmental groups estimate the average lifespan of a computer is only three years. A discarded computer reeks of environmental hazards. Not only will plastic components sit in landfills for hundreds of years, toxic materials are used to create computers, including lead used in monitors.

Instead of throwing your old computer away, consider donating it to one of many re-use programs or recycling programs throughout the country. The California-based Computer Recycling Center (CRC) began collecting used computers in 1991, and they claim to have diverted six million pounds of computer waste from landfills in 2002 alone. If you’re computer is still functional, CRC’s Computers & Education program takes computer donations and provides refurbished computers to public schools, and community non-profits. CRC is a local program, so if you can’t drop off your old machine, you’ll have to pay for shipping. Look for recycling programs in your community. Brokers like American Computer Exchange in Georgia are national programs that will take your hardware for trade on a newer model.

It is becoming more common for computer manufacturers to have their own recycling programs. Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) Planet Partners recycling service will pickup, transport, and recycle any brand of computer equipment or HP printing supplies. As an incentive to recycle, HP will give you $50 towards the purchase of a new product when you return old computer products to the company. HP’s recycling facilities processes more than three million pounds of used equipment each month.

Ink cartridges and disk use both generate significant waste. HP’s Planet Partners LaserJet Supplies Program has helped recycle more than 39 million HP LaserJet cartridges worldwide since 1992, which equates to approximately 50,000 tons of material diverted from landfill. GreenDisk, a Washington State-based company that recycles used disks, estimates that more than 10 billion old disks and CDs will need a resting place over the next five years. GreenDisk's Personal Electronics Program helps individuals, businesses, and government agencies recycle small amounts of electronic waste, including CDs, diskettes, videos, inkjet and toner cartridges, and cell phones. You’ll receive a "Certificate of Destruction" that guarantees your intellectual property has been destroyed, and all physical materials have been disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.

CONTACTS: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, (408) 287-6707,; Computer Recycling Center, (707) 570-1600,; American Computer Exchange, (404) 250-0050,; Hewlett-Packard, 800-752-0900,; GreenDisk Services, (800) 305-3475,

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit your question at; or e-mail us at

Dear EarthTalk: How do I recycle or safely dispose of used batteries?

Tom Shamrell, Brattleboro, VT

Unfortunately, most of the more than 750 million alkaline batteries sold each year to power our cameras, flashlights and Discmans are landfilled and incinerated, not recycled. The chemicals in these batteriesóparticularly cadmiumópresent a major health hazard if they leak from their corroded metal jackets. Cadmium is a probable human carcinogen, and it can also affect kidney and lung function.

Several states, including Maine, Vermont and Florida, have passed legislation prohibiting incineration and landfilling of mercury-containing and lead-acid batteries, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyís Office of Product Stewardship. Regardless of your home stateís attitude on batteries, you should contact your townís solid waste office to see if there are any planned Hazardous Waste Collection Days. Batteries awaiting recycling should be stored separately from other hazardous materials in a cool and dry area.

Or take advantage of some of the increasingly popular national battery recycling programs. Since 1989, 13 states have adopted laws (including battery labeling requirements) to encourage the collection and recycling of used rechargeable batteries. In 1996, Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act, which helps facilitate the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporationís (RBRC) nationwide take back program. According to RBRC, some rechargeable batteries can go through 1,000 cycles. RBRC recycles million of batteries each year, collecting used batteries from more than 30,000 depositories in the U.S. and Canada, many at large retailers such as Home Depot, Best Buy and Target. The RBRC collects only nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, lithium ion and small sealed-lead batteries.

The Big Green Box battery-recycling program provides consumers, companies and government agencies with a simple method for recycling both batteries and portable electronic devices (cellphones, cameras, calculators and laptops) without having to drive to a recycling center. You prepay for a sturdy cardboard box (the consumer version is $58) that will hold up to 40 pounds of recyclables. The cost of the box includes all shipping, handling and recycling fees. You keep the box handy, filling it with old batteries and equipment as you goóand simply ship it to The Big Green Box address when itís full.

CONTACTS: U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyís Office of Product Stewardship, Office of Solid Waste, (800) 424-9346, HYPERLINK; Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, (678) 419-9990,; The Big Green Box, (714) 879-2067,

Dear EarthTalk: How do sewage treatment plants threaten estuaries?

Jean T. Castagno, Old Saybrook, CT

Estuaries are partially enclosed bodies of water where freshwater and saltwater mix. They are key coastal habitats for many a species of mammal, fish and birdóand are used as spawning grounds for much of our nationís commercial fish and shellfish. The wetlands associated with estuaries buffer uplands from flooding. Estuaries also provide many recreational opportunities, such as swimming, boating and bird watching. Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, Boston Harbor, Tampa Bay and Puget Sound are all examples of U.S. estuaries, but one that is particularly plagued by sewer plant drainage is the Northeastís Long Island Sound.

Norwalk, Connecticut-based Save the Sound reports that 10 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of Long Island Sound. Thatís a lot of people and a lot of sewage. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), ìSewage treatment plants discharge more than one billion gallons of treated effluent into the Sound each day.

Sewage plants wreak havoc because their daily deposits contain nitrogen, which over-fertilizes the water and causes explosive growth in marine plants. These plants eventually die, sink and decompose. The unnatural amount of decaying material depletes dissolved oxygen levels, creating a condition called ìhypoxia,î which Save the Sound says has diminished fish populations, reduced lobster growth rates and negatively affected slow-moving species such as starfish and bay anchovy in Long Island Sound.

Connecticut and New York have both committed millions to improve the health of the Sound with habitat restoration and upgraded sewage plants. There has already been a 19 percent reduction in nitrogen discharges since 1990. A number of state and federal organizations have also banded together to host National Estuaries Day, meant to promote the importance of estuaries and the need to protect them.

CONTACTS: National Estuaries Day,; Save the Sound, (203) 354-0036,, NRDC, (212) 727-2700,


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