The Almanac

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The October Almanac



Environment

This month New York City and State officials will reveal details of a plan to close Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill -- one of the world's largest man-made structures -- by 2001. The plan follows decades of debate about closing the "temporary" landfill, opened in 1948 for what was to be two or three years; at issue is where to send the 13,000 tons of garbage a day that are being deposited there. The decision to close the facility was prompted by a lawsuit threatened last spring by the president of the Staten Island borough, and filed even though the mayor and the governor had already agreed to close the site. The suit is the first ever to seek the closure of a municipal landfill for violation of the Clean Air Act (by one estimate, the 2,200-acre facility emits 5.3 million pounds of methane daily). Legal action is not the only option for dealing with the effects of landfills: the Environmental Protection Agency recently established a national program to promote the recovery, purification, and use as an energy source of landfill gas.


The Skies

October 4, Venus lies very near the bright star Regulus -- part of the constellation Leo -- in the eastern sky this morning, in the year's closest conjunction of a planet and a first-magnitude star. 21, the Orionid meteor shower peaks tonight; it is best seen after the waxing Moon sets, around midnight. 26, Full Moon, also known this month as the Hunter's Moon and the Moon When Water Freezes. 27, at 2:00 A.M., Daylight Saving Time ends; turn clocks back one hour.


Food

This month shoppers across the country will, often unknowingly, begin buying the first big batch of genetically engineered potatoes, as two varieties of tubers manipulated to manufacture their own pesticide reach supermarket shelves; a third variety has been available in small quantities since last year. The "NewLeaf" potatoes, comprising Atlantics, Superiors, and Russet Burbanks, have been genetically modified to produce a protein that kills the Colorado potato beetle -- the most destructive potato pest -- and therefore can be grown using few chemical insecticides. The FDA does not require that genetically engineered products be labeled as such (genetically altered tomatoes have been marketed since 1994) -- a policy that has drawn opposition from consumer groups (who are concerned, among other things, that people could develop allergies to new proteins), and from scientists, who worry, in the case of NewLeafs, that pesticide-resistant beetles may arise.


Government

October 1, by today all coeducational colleges and universities that receive federal funds must release the first of what are to be annual public reports detailing their spending on men's and women's athletics during the previous academic year, and disclosing the number of students of each sex who participated in varsity sports. The specifics of the reports were mandated by the Department of Education to implement the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, passed in 1994 to bolster the 1972 legislation known as Title IX; Title IX outlaws sex-based discrimination in any education program receiving federal money. Sponsors of the act hope that the reports will make sex-based discrimination in athletics easier to prove in court and also prompt schools to remedy inequities on their own. Although Title IX has been given new life in recent years by a spate of successful lawsuits, the Women's Sports Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, estimates that some 90 percent of schools are still not in compliance.

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