Dissolved Salt on Rise

In Northeast Streams

The amount of salt dissolved in streams in the Northeast is rising, and chemicals used to clear snow and ice from the roads are being blamed.

"We're basically hardening the watersheds and feeding them a high-salt diet. There is a direct connection between the number of driveways and parking lots we have and the quality of our water," said Sujay Kaushal of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Frostburg.

Kaushal and colleagues tested water in streams in rural areas of New Hampshire, Upstate New York and Maryland, comparing the amount of dissolved salt over several decades. Their findings are reported in today's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We think that the salt has built up in the groundwater, so even if we quit applying it, it would still be slightly salty for decades," Kaushal said.

In New Hampshire's White Mountains, some streams exceeded 100 milligrams per liter of chloride on a seasonal basis, the researchers said, similar to the salt level in the mixing region where the Hudson River meets the ocean. The EPA's safe drinking water limit for salinity is 500 milligrams per liter.

In streams feeding into Baltimore's reservoirs, salinity has increased from about 10 milligrams per liter to about 50 milligrams per liter since the 1970s, the researchers said.

Preschoolers at Play

Mimic Parents' Vices

Preschoolers pretending to shop for a Barbie doll's social evening were five times more likely to choose cigarettes if their parents smoked, and three times more likely to pick wine or beer if their parents drank, a study found.

Researchers observing 120 children, ages 2 to 6, at play found that the ones who watched PG-13 or R-rated movies also were more likely to choose alcohol for Barbie.

A 4-year-old girl chose Barbie-size tobacco in the pretend store and said: "I need this for my man. A man needs cigarettes."

A 6-year-old boy offered the doll cigarettes and said: "Honey, have some smokes. Do you like smokes? I like smokes."

An adult researcher led a standardized play activity in which each child, acting as a Barbie or Ken doll, shopped for a visiting friend. A store stocked with 133 miniature items gave the children choices -- including meat, fruit, vegetables, snacks, nonalcoholic drinks, cigarettes, beer and wine.

Twenty-eight percent of the children bought cigarettes, and 61 percent bought alcohol.

Parents who watched from behind a one-way mirror were surprised by their children's choices, said Madeline Dalton of Dartmouth Medical School, a co-author of the study. The study in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that prevention efforts should target younger children.

Drop in Birth Defects

Tied to Use of Folic Acid

The rate of spina bifida and anencephaly birth defects has fallen by more than one-third since the addition in 1998 of folic acid to the nation's enriched flours, rice and pastas, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics.

The result prompted a renewed call from some scientists and health advocates for the Food and Drug Administration to double the required fortification levels to further reduce the rate of the birth defects.

"We're not at maximum prevention," said Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "We would like the FDA to reconsider this matter, hold hearings and act as soon as they can."

Other scientists, however, said not enough is known about the consequences of enriching food with folic acid and cautioned that even rare side effects could affect a significant number of people when the entire population is receiving the vitamin through food. "No one's really looked," said Barry Shane, a professor of nutrition at the University of California at Berkeley.

For instance, folic acid can mask the symptoms of Vitamin B-12 deficiency, which is common in the elderly and can lead to neurological problems.

-- From News Services