• U.S.

American Notes: Aug 5, 1985

5 minute read

WATER New York City’s Plutonium Scare

Even by the sometimes shrill standards of the New York Post, the headline seemed lurid: CHILLING DISCOVERY AFTER MANIAC’S THREAT: PLUTONIUM IN CITY’S WATER. Have New York City’s 7 million residents been imbibing water that is laced with nuclear-reactor fuel?

The answer last week from New York’s ebullient Mayor Ed Koch: Yes, but don’t worry. Koch, in making the surprise announcement, explained that on April 1 an anonymous letter writer had threatened to dump “substantial quantities” of poisonous plutonium into the city’s water supply unless all charges were dropped against Bernhard Goetz, the subway vigilante who is awaiting trial for shooting four teenagers he alleges were threatening him on a Manhattan train last December. In late April, a sample from the city’s water system contained levels of cancer-causing plutonium up to 200 times as high as normal but still no more than .4% of federally established danger levels. Declared Koch: “The water is absolutely safe to drink.” Law-enforcement authorities are still looking for a culprit. Shrugged the mayor: “We don’t know if it was a hoax, sham or a deranged mind.”

CENTRAL AMERICA Weighing a Retaliatory Raid

Frustrated by guerrilla attacks on U.S. citizens in Central America, the Reagan White House has weighed a wide variety of retaliatory moves. The latest of these, prompted by the June guerrilla attack on outdoor cafés in San Salvador, in which four off-duty U.S. Marines, two American businessmen and seven other people were shot dead, called for the bombing of a military base in Nicaragua. According to Administration officials, guerrillas are trained at the base, on Nicaragua’s Cosigüina Peninsula for attacks on Americans. One suspect in the June attack was identified and traced to the Cosigüina camp through documents that had been captured by the Salvadoran army.

Armed with what was considered “hard evidence” against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, Administration hard-liners pressed for a retaliatory air strike after the café killings. President Reagan, however, declined for fear of killing civilians and alarming U.S. allies in Latin America. According to one well-placed U.S. official, the bombing option “never got that close.” Instead, the Administration “put Nicaragua on notice” that it would be held responsible for any future attacks on Americans in Honduras or El Salvador.

HEALTH Patients Clog the Hotlines

Since President Reagan underwent cancer surgery, thousands of older Americans have called their doctors for colorectal screening examinations. During the first week after his condition was announced, the American Cancer Society’s Washington telephone hotline, which normally handles two or three requests a week, fielded 1,500 inquiries. The callers were asking for the free home kit that tests for blood in the stool, a sign that may indicate the presence of cancer. Like other cancer clinics across the U.S., the Chicago-based Portes Center is logging some 400 appointments a week, almost triple the usual rate.

Physicians welcome the sudden willingness of patients to undergo tests for cancer. Colorectal cancer, which affects primarily men and women over 50, strikes some 138,000 Americans every year and kills 60,000. But regular examinations and early detection could save up to 40,000 more lives annually, according to the American Cancer Society. As a result of the attention the President’s illness has attracted, the Massachusetts branch of the society has scrapped a 1981 poster that asked, “What is the cancer no one talks about?” The new one reads, “What is the cancer everyone talks about?”

JUSTICE No Place to Hide

No one should understand the principle of blind justice better than Attorney General Edwin Meese. Still, he may have been slightly taken aback when he learned that a warrant for his arrest had been issued. Meese’s trouble started two weeks ago, when a municipal court clerk in Los Angeles accidentally discovered the five-year-old warrant while scanning computer records. The top cop, it seems, had committed the crime of jaywalking in 1980, right in front of Ronald Reagan’s California campaign headquarters. His fine: $10. When Meese, then Reagan’s chief of staff, did not pay the penalty, it automatically increased to $130.50, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. The matter was then apparently forgotten.

Meese cleared his name last week with a check and a letter of apology in which he told the court that he thought the fine had been paid. Meanwhile, back in the computer room, another desperado came to light. On the night when the future Attorney General of the U.S. was caught crossing the street illegally, the President’s campaign manager was cited as well. Still outstanding is a subsequent warrant–for the arrest of CIA Director William Casey.

ENVIRONMENT Killer Bees Buzz California

Mention killer bees and almost anyone will smile, recalling the long-running skit on TV’s Saturday Night Live in which actors donned striped bee costumes and snarled, “We’re the killer bees! Give us your pollen or your wife!”

Well, it may no longer be a joke. The killer bees, imported from Africa to Brazil for research, escaped in 1957, and their offspring began advancing slowly northward. Last week a killer colony was confirmed for the first time on American soil, in an oil field some 60 miles from Bakersfield, Calif. The bees are believed to have hitched a ride north on drilling equipment shipped from Latin America. The killers are no more venomous than domestic bees, but they are easily provoked and attack in great numbers. They were first reported in California by an oil-field worker who watched aghast as a swarm of the bees stung a rabbit to death. California authorities killed the invaders with an insecticide.

Unfortunately, the queens’ cells had already been abandoned. Says California Agriculture Official Clare Berryhill, “We’re pretty well convinced that we have two queens and their colonies out there.”

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