EBay has temporarily renamed the yellow stars it uses to evaluate sellers on its French site after a complaint that the symbol had anti-Semitic connotations.
The move came after French eBay user Dominique Bellamy wrote to the company to point out that during World War II the Nazis made Jews wear a yellow star on their clothes.
His wife said her husband "refused to be be given a yellow star, even a virtual one.
"It brought back bad memories of the occupation" of France by Germany during World War II, she said.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Ewwwwwww. From Newsday:
In 2007 the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Kuopio in Finland released results of a study that found human urine to be a great source of minerals, especially nitrogen. Scientists there had experimented with three groups of cabbage plants, treating one with commercial fertilizer, another with urine and a third with nothing. Naturally, the fertilized plants fared better than the ones that weren't treated at all. What you might find surprising, though, is that the urine-treated plants actually grew a little bigger and fuller and reached maturity more quickly and had a bit less insect damage than the commercially fertilized group.
Though this might seem gross to some, using urine for its nutrients could be a boon in places where commercial fertilizers aren't readily available or where they're just too expensive. But in our backyard vegetable patch?
"I would recommend that as an alternative, since you can save some money and you can reduce greenhouse gases, since the making of industrial fertilizers needs energy and the nitrogen fertilization industry also produces N2O (nitrous oxide), which is some 300 times more harmful than CO2 (carbon dioxide),” Helvi Heinonen-Tanski, leader of the Finnish research study, told me last week. And because our phosphorus mines are running low, with supplies estimated to last only 90 or so more years, we might be well served by exploring substitutes, like urine. "I would like to protect the lives of my grandchildren, too,” she added.
As for the risk of transmitting pathogens into our vegetables, Heinonen-Tanski says it's not much of an issue in the United States. "In principle, there are some pathogens which can be transmitted to urine, but they are really not usual in Western countries. A person having tuberculosis or bilharzia could cause risks. You do not have bilharzia in the USA, and also tuberculosis is not usual.”
Very interesting! From New Scientist:
WHAT if we could rid the world of AIDS? The notion might sound like fantasy: HIV infection has no cure and no vaccine, after all. Yet there is a way to completely wipe it out - at least in theory. What's more, it would take only existing medical technology to do the job.
Here's how it works. If someone who is HIV positive takes antiretroviral-drug therapy they can live a long life and almost never pass on the virus, even through unprotected sex. So if everyone with HIV were on therapy, there would be little or no transmission. Once all these people had died, of whatever cause, the virus would be gone for good.
It's a simple idea, but the obstacles to implementing it worldwide are enormous. Persuading everyone with HIV to start therapy purely for public health reasons could be ethically dubious. To identify everyone who is HIV positive would require such widespread testing that some may feel it breached their civil liberties. Then there is the question of who would fund such a massive undertaking.
Yet the idea of eliminating HIV is so appealing, and the benefit to humanity so huge, that scientists and policy-makers are seriously considering the concept, albeit on regional scales. In the next few months the World Health Organization (WHO) will meet to discuss how the idea could be tried in developing countries, and something approaching elimination might be attempted in the UK within the next decade. "You could eliminate transmission overnight," says Marcus Conant, an HIV specialist in San Francisco.
GROZNY -- Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has restricted sales of vodka and other spirits to two hours a day.
A handful of other regions have imposed curbs on alcohol, but Kadyrov's move in his mainly Muslim region will be one of the most severe.
It limits the sale of drinks containing more than 15 percent alcohol to between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and bans sales of strong drinks altogether during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
"Extremism, terrorism, drug addiction and alcoholism are equally bad," Kadyrov said in a statement this week.
"I am choosing a healthy life. We must work together to counter the spread of these unhealthy weaknesses in our population," he said.
Chechnya, theater of a war between federal forces and rebels from 1994, lies in the center of the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, which consumes less alcohol than other parts of the country, where vodka consumption is high.
Some political analysts say Kadyrov is quietly ushering in an Islamic society with rules that order women to wear headscarves and long skirts if working in government offices.
Two Girl Scouts and their troop leader were robbed as they sold cookies outside a San Antonio store, reports say.
The 9-year-old girls were packing up after hours of selling cookies outside a Walgreens in the city's North Side on Wednesday night when a man approached and stole their money, about $250, WOAI.com reports. No injuries were reported.
"Both little girls are scared," the troop leader, who did not want to be identified, told WOAI.com. "And they've learned, firsthand, there are bad people out there."
When the sun comes out in the mountains of central Mexico, hundreds of millions of tiny, orange monarch butterflies fill the skies.
[...] It's not just the sheer number of butterflies that is astonishing, it is the density of them in the landscape. It is as if the trees are covered in a bark of butterflies. Butterflies fall from the trees, landing on our arms and feet.
Unfortunately, some of the residents of the region have not returned the welcome. Though monarchs fill the skies, they are facing a dire threat, because the forests where these wonders of nature make their winter home is disappearing, the trees being chopped down by illegal logging operations.
Yipes: Tokyo flight turbulence injures 47.
Aww: New mammal species found in the Philippines. Hopefully it won't be eaten to extinction.
Unlikely: Pentagon official: US is not developing space weapons.
D'oh: Man leaves thousands of $ in a bathroom.
Interesting: Anti-foreigner xenophobia in Italy leads to harsher rape penalties.
Sad: Coastal wetlands in eastern US disappearing.
WWIII Watch: Russian warship fires on Chinese cargo ship, does nothing while civilians drown.
Science: Huge gamma-ray explosion 12 billion light years away - largest ever spotted.
Politics: Kyrgyzstan evicts US airbase, vowels.
Awesome: The end of anonymous Swiss banking?
Autonomous military robots that will fight future wars must be programmed to live by a strict warrior code, or the world risks untold atrocities at their steely hands.
The stark warning — which includes discussion of a "Terminator"-style scenario in which robots turn on their human masters — is part of a hefty report funded by and prepared for the U.S. Navy's high-tech and secretive Office of Naval Research.
The report, the first serious work of its kind on military robot ethics, envisages a fast-approaching era where robots are smart enough to make battlefield decisions that are at present the preserve of humans.
Eventually, it notes, robots could come to display significant cognitive advantages over Homo sapiens soldiers.
More on how we're doomed here.
Experts say a "grid of streets" spotted on Google Ocean could be the lost city of Atlantis.
The network of criss-cross lines is 620 miles off the coast of north west Africa near the Canary Islands on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
The perfect rectangle, around the size of Wales, was noticed on the search giant's underwater exploration tool by an aeronautical engineer who claims it looks like an "aerial map" of a city.
Atlantis experts said that the unexplained grid is located at one of the possible sites of the legendary island, reports The Sun.
Greek philosopher Plato described how the city sank beneath the ocean after its residents made a failed effort to conquer Athens around 9000 BC.
More at Ananova.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Traffic was shut down at a portion of Memphis International Airport after police confused a sticker for punk band This Bike is a Pipe Bomb for a real threat.
An airport police officer spotted a bike bearing the sticker outside of the airport's Terminal C Monday night and the owner of the bicycle was detained and searched by authorities before being released, the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal reported Thursday.
Stickers for This Bike is a Pipe Bomb have caused similar incidents at Ohio University in March 2006 and in Washington in 2003.
Ryan Modee, lead singer of the band, told the News Journal he was at work when he heard about the latest incident.
"I was at work and just kind of freaked out," he said. "I was like 'Oh, God, not again. How could this be happening?'"
A rare quail from the Philippines was photographed for the first time before being sold as food at a poultry market, experts say.
Found only on the island of Luzon, Worcester's buttonquail was known solely through drawings based on dated museum specimens collected several decades ago.
Scientists had suspected the species—listed as "data deficient" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's 2008 Red List—was extinct.
Sexy women in bikinis really do inspire some men to see them as objects, according to a new study of male behavior. Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.
Men were also more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first-person action verbs such as "I push, I grasp, I handle," said lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University.
And in a "shocking" finding, Fiske noted, some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another's intentions.
This means that these men see women "as sexually inviting, but they are not thinking about their minds," Fiske said. "The lack of activation in this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens."[...] And the men who scored higher as "hostile sexists"—those who view women as controlling and invaders of male space—didn't show brain activity that indicates they saw the women in bikinis as humans with thoughts and intentions.
Scientists have seen this absence of activation only once before, in a study where people were shown off-putting photographs of homeless people and drug addicts.
A WITNESS in an armed robbery and shooting trial allegedly rammed the vehicle of another witness, forcing it to plough into a nearby home before the two drivers fought each other with a hammer and a wrench.
[...] Police received a call just after 10am from distressed Edgeworth resident Ann Beattie, who said a 4WD had landed in her loungeroom and a second car on her lawn. She told police the drivers of both vehicles were fighting on her front lawn, armed with metal implements.
[...] With cuts to her legs from the flying glass, Mrs Beattie stood frightened in her kitchen, horrified by what happened next. "One of the blokes came in here and started going through the drawers for a knife," she said. "I told him to get out or I'd sort him out."
Her husband Jack, who heard the drama unfolding from the backyard, said he then found the drivers of both cars fighting on his front door step.
Mr Beattie said one man was armed with a wrench, the other with a hammer he is believed to have taken from the Beatties' shed. "I had to get between them and break them up," Mr Beattie said, shaking from shock.
From Times Online:
The US was secretly flying unmanned drones from the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan as early as 2006, according to an image of the base from Google Earth.
The image — that is no longer on the site but which was obtained by The News, Pakistan's English language daily newspaper — shows what appear to be three Predator drones outside a hangar at the end of the runway. The Times also obtained a copy of the image, whose co-ordinates confirm that it is the Shamsi airfield, also known as Bandari, about 200 miles southwest of the Pakistani city of Quetta.
An investigation by The Times yesterday revealed that the CIA was secretly using Shamsi to launch the Predator drones that observe and attack al-Qaeda and Taleban militants around Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
Add this to the growing list of reasons humans aren't so special, after all: Monkeys can subtract.More on this study at National Geographic.
The discovery marks the first time a nonhuman species has been seen having "widespread success" with subtraction, scientists announced last Thursday.
Rhesus macaques placed in front of touch screens in a Duke University laboratory were able to subtract dots—not by counting them individually but by using a more instantaneous ability researchers call number sense.
[...] In fact, college students used as controls in the study had the same success rate as the macaques—each group choosing the correct answer in as little as a second, Cantlon said at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.
Woo hoo! While we're at it, can we reverse the last eight years entirely?
Less than a month into his administration, President Obama is making good on campaign promises to move toward a comprehensive approach to US energy and to broaden environmental protections. The administration has moved over the past few weeks to undo many of Bush’s last-minute drilling and environmental decisions, including putting the brakes Tuesday on a plan to open up vast new areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling.
In swift succession, the Obama administration has:
• Ordered the Environmental Protection Authority to reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles – if permitted, this would allow 13 more states to follow suit.
• Abandoned a Bush administration legal appeal in a major air pollution case – signaling it will allow tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
• Canceled 77 Bush-era oil and gas leases over 100,000 acres of public land near national parks in Utah.
• Announced an intent to develop an offshore energy plan that includes renewable resources, giving states and the federal government more time to study and assess the future of offshore energy planning.
“There’s clearly a new kid in town. The Obama administration is moving quicker on the environment than anything else,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They are concerned that untoward things are going to happen before they can get new policies in place, so they are trying to reverse old ones.”
More at the Christian Science Monitor.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Some 1,000 Indian snake charmers staged a rally in protest against a law that made their profession illegal.
Playing their distinctive flutes, they marched in Calcutta, demanding the right to perform with live snakes.
Despite the 1991 ban, hundreds of thousands of snake charmers continue to perform in India, reports the BBC.
Snake charmers say the ban threatens the survival of their way of life. Animal rights groups say it should be kept to curb the abuse of snakes.
More at Ananova.
Sad: Amy Fisher back in the news.
Yipes: 100 arrested on LI in heroin bust.
Politics: The next Abramoff scandal? Democrats shedding $ from lobbyists under federal investigation.
Duh: Adolf Hitler had terrible table manners. I knew there was something off about that guy!
Prophesy: Los Angeles nearing water rationing.
Creepy: Letter informs woman that she's dead.
PSA: 10 privacy settings every Facebook user should know.
Aliens, please take Staten Island too. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
PARSIPPANY, N.J. - Once again, mysterious red lights in the sky have residents in north-central New Jersey scratching their heads.
It's the third time in about a month that Morris County residents have reported seeing the lights.
Police in Morris Plains, Morris Township, Hanover and Morristown each reported getting a few calls from residents last night night.
The callers say they saw as many as 10 red lights floating in the sky, moving in unison and in the same direction as the wind from about 8:45 p.m. to 9 p.m.
No one knows where the lights are coming from, but a Michigan-based maker of Sky Lanterns says it could be his product. The lanterns have balloons and wax-infused cloth and are set aloft during celebrations.
TOLEDO, Ohio - A man held a woman captive in handcuffs and an adult diaper for three days while he read Bible passages to her, police said.
Troy Brisport, 34, was charged with kidnapping and felonious assault. Bail was set yesterday at $400,000.
He picked up the woman Wednesday night in Detroit after she told him she had nowhere to stay, and brought her to his home in Toledo, about 55 miles away, police said.
The woman told police that after she fell asleep Brisport handcuffed her wrists and ankles, gagged her, undressed her and put her in an adult diaper, then read Bible passages, said police Capt. Ray Carroll.
She apparently was not sexually assaulted, Carroll said.
However, court documents alleged that Brisport tried several times to suffocate the woman using a pillow and blanket.The woman told police she escaped Saturday after Brisport fell asleep. Police found her dressed only in a T-shirt and the adult diaper and still wearing handcuffs.
A group of Indian tribals have married off a toddler to a female dog in eastern India in a bid to prevent his predicted death at the hands of a tiger, a report said Wednesday.
The ceremony at a Hindu temple in Orissa state's Jajpur district was conducted with all the rituals observed at traditional weddings, including a dowry for the bride -- the village bitch.
The dog sported two silver rings and a silver chain, the UNI news agency reported.
Parents of the groom, one-and-a-half year old Sangula, were advised to arrange the marriage when they noticed a tooth growing from their infant son's upper gum -- considered a bad omen.
Community elders believed the growth would lead to the boy being killed in a tiger attack -- a fate preventable, according to tribal tradition, by marrying a dog.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Creepy: NYC's bedbug infestation getting worse - 10,000 reports last year!
Boozalicious: LI man sets pal on fire with tequila.
Lame: China builds better tools to help censor "dirty" websites.
Aww: Dolphin stays for three days with wounded mate before escorting it to humans for help.
Creepy: Pigeons have high level of cognition.
Robot Uprising Watch: Robot faces built for humans.
Awesome: Rainn Wilson writes editorial on religious persecution in Iran.
World: "Israel assassinating Iranian officials."
From New Scientist:
The world's honeybees appear to be dying off in horrifying numbers, and now consensus is starting to emerge on the reason why: it seems there is no one cause. Infections, lack of food, pesticides and breeding - none catastrophic on their own - are having a synergistic effect, pushing bee survival to a lethal tipping point. A somewhat anti-climactic conclusion it may be, but appreciating this complexity - and realising there will be no magic bullet - may be the key to saving the insects.
A third of our food relies on bees for pollination. Both the US and UK report losing a third of their bees last year. Other European countries have seen major die-offs too: Italy, for example, said it lost nearly half its bees last year. The deaths are now spreading to Asia, with reports in India and suspected cases in China.
But while individual "sub-lethal stresses" such as infections are implicated, we know little about how they add together. The situation should become clearer in the next few years as the US government, the EU and others are pouring money into bee research. The UK, for example, has doubled its annual research budget, allocating £400,000 a year for the next five years.
This Chicago Tribune has a nice obit.
Louie Bellson didn't just make the drums swing—he made them sing.
Listen closely, and you could hear melody and phrase in the tintinnabulation of fast-flying sticks striking cymbals. All the while, his feet moved like crazy, articulating multiple rhythms on not one but two bass drums—a Bellson signature.
The distinctly lyrical approach of his playing, combined with the hyper-virtuosity of his technique, made Mr. Bellson arguably the last of the iconic swing drummers. His long résumé included important stints in bands led by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and other deities in the kingdom of swing.
Mr. Bellson, 84, who grew up in the Quad Cities and developed his early career in Chicago, died Saturday, Feb. 14, in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications from Parkinson's disease, said his wife, Francine.
Facebook knows your age, alma mater and favorite band. It's seen your spring break photos and read the messages you sent to your friend. So, can it do anything it wants with that content?
Legally, almost. But in practice, the rules that govern Facebook's relationship with its users are abstract and subject to constant negotiation.
[...] "They're saying, 'Once data gets in our database, we can do whatever we want with it,' " said Eric Goldman, associate professor and director of the High Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law.
In a country where cows are sacred, drinking their urine is close to godliness. And better yet, it's marketable.
Along with protecting the bovine beast, the Cow Protection Department of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) wants to make a cola from the cow's urine, which they say has curative properties.
"It has been established that cow urine is capable of curing even cancer, so imagine a drink which would not only be tasty but also healthy," Om Prakash, leader of RSS, told ABC News.
Curing cancer with cow urine? Cancer prevention experts said this seems like an unlikely stretch.
"It's a claim from somebody that does not have any distinction or credentials, and it's an empty claim without scientific basis," said Dr. Sam Epstein, emeritus professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health.
Keith-Thomas Ayoob, nutritionist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said there are a couple of potential problems with the drink, including the taste."Just trust me on this -- this drink really will require flavoring," Ayoob said.
Multi-platinum recording artist, producer, songwriter Kip Winger was recently presented with an honorary plaque and a historic United States of America flag by The Government of the United States.
In a surprise presentation ceremony during the taping of “Legends & Lyrics” General Harold Cross honored and praised Kip for his work on Winger lV. The inscription on the plaque reads:
Department of Defense Seal
IN APPRECIATION OF RECORDING ARTIST
AND HIS MUSICAL COMPOSITION
"BLUE SUEDE SHOES"
HONORING THE SERVICE AND SACRIFICE OF OUR UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES AND THEIR FAMILIES.
OUR SINCERE THANKS,
GENERAL HAROLD CROSS
(FOUR STAR GENERAL)
Yipes: Pregnant Brazilian woman carved up by skinheads in Switzerland.
WTF: Starbucks to unveil instant coffee.
Tech: Could liquid wood replace plastic?
Duh: 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.
Sad: Muzak bankrupt.
Sad: Disney's Tower of Terror ride leaves teen brain damaged.
Dorky: Middle-aged man steals over $1m to feed his toy obsession.
Science: Scientists decode the DNA of the common cold.
Games: New software would play any video game ever created.
Duh: Dubai's bubble popping.
Monday, February 16, 2009
A girl I knew in high school has memorized all of Janet Jackson's dance routines. A college acquaintance is afraid of train whistles. Five separate people harbor lifelong desires to visit New Zealand. How do I know these things? Because they won't stop writing about them on Facebook!
Facebook's "25 Things About Me" meme seems harmless enough; people write 25 facts about themselves and post them on their Facebook pages, just as they do with videos, status updates and photos of last weekend's party. An estimated 5 million of these notes — that's 125 million facts — have appeared on the website within the past week. Assuming it takes someone 10 minutes to come up with their list, this recent bout of viral narcissism has sent roughly 800,000 hours of worktime productivity down the drain.But it's just so stupid. Most people aren't funny, they aren't insightful, and they share way too much. Facebook is a loose social network; a "friend" on Facebook might translate to someone you'd barely recognize in real life. I don't care that my college roommate's sister is anemic or that my stepcousin's boyfriend gets nervous around old people (apparently he's afraid they're going to die).
Indeed, women now represent 40 percent of the gaming community in the United States, and new research that sheds light on the world of online gaming shows that female gamers -- or "girl gamers" as they are often called -- already may be bucking gender stereotypes.
In research presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, a group of researchers reports that female players are more hard-core -- playing more hours per week on average than their male counterparts -- and are happier when playing with their romantic partners while male gamers prefer to play on their own.
Proof, of course, that the Earth is hollow. From LiveScience:
Scientists have determined that at least 235 species live in both polar seas despite the 8,000 miles (13,000 km) between the ends of the Earth.
How some of the creatures wound up at the top and bottom of the planet is a mystery. Distance and habitat divisions — such as warm water between the two regions — are among the things that can separate creatures and lead to new species. A DNA analysis is underway to confirm if the like species are in fact identical, the researchers announced today.
[...] Among the beasts that call both polar seas home are marathon migrators such as grey whales and birds. But the researchers, working on the ongoing Census of Marine Life, also found bipolar worms, crustaceans, and angelic snail-like pteropods.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Well, at least addicts will do well in this economy... From the Telegraph:
The Home Office has admitted that the street price of both cocaine and heroin has fallen by nearly half in the last ten years, making the most dangerous illegal drugs cheaper than they have ever been.
Based on reports from police forces, the Home Office said that cocaine is now being sold for as little as £20 a gram in some parts of the country.
The most common price for the drug is £40 per gram. Home Office figures for 1998 show the average price was £77.
A gram of heroin can now be bought for as little as £25, with the average price somewhere between £40 and £50 per gram. In 1998, the average was £74.
The Home Office figures are based on data collected from police forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
According to DrugScope, a charity that provides research and advice on drugs policy, gram of cocaine can make between 10 and 20 lines for snorting, depending on its strength.
That means a line of cocaine can cost as little as £1, with an average price per line of between £2 and £4.
From the Guardian:
A well-known Chinese blogger and novelist is recovering after he was stabbed by unidentified assailants as he gave a talk in a Beijing bookshop this weekend.
Audience members apparently heard one of the attackers accuse him of "offending" people, leading friends and readers to suggest he was targeted because of his outspoken blog.
Xu Lai was rushed to hospital following the attack on Saturday afternoon, but given the all clear following an emergency operation. He remained in hospital today.
Xu works as a journalist, but is best known for his edgy, satirical blog ProState In Flames which covers many sensitive issues. It was shut down by censors last November, but he reopened it at another site.
I am in the middle of shooting my next movie and I am looking for a few brave people who work on Wall Street or in the financial industry to come forward and share with me what they know. Based on those who have already contacted me, I believe there are a number of you who know "the real deal" about the abuses that have been happening. You have information that the American people need to hear. I am humbly asking you for a moment of courage, to be a hero and help me expose the biggest swindle in American history.
All correspondence with me will be kept confidential. Your identity will be protected and you will decide to what extent you wish to participate in telling the greatest crime story ever told.
The important thing here is for you to step up as an American and do your duty of shedding some light on this financial collapse. A few good people have already come forward, which leads me to believe there are many more of you out there who know what's going on. Here's your chance to let your fellow citizens in on the truth.
If you have any info that would help, please contact me at my private email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may have seen the commercial where Montel Williams hawks some goofy collectible coins with President Obama's face IN FULL COLOR OMG. If you were planning on ordering some, though, watch this video from KATU 2 TV in Portland, Oregon first. A father and daughter bought the coins and discovered that they're just regular money with color stickers applied. One of the news anchors even comments that she could see the face on the coin through the sticker when she looked at it from the side.
The company that's scamming them, U.S. Coin Network (uscoinnetwork.com and obamacoincollection.com), won't let them cancel the remaining orders they placed that haven't shipped yet, either.
A little over a year ago, a routine audit at Wal-Mart reported a few missing exit signs at the company's stores and warehouses. As the audit continued, more and more signs turned up missing, and a month ago, Wal-Mart revealed that as many as 20% of the 70,000 signs at its 4500 facilities cannot be accounted for, a stunning total of 15,800 signs in all.
This would be of no particular concern -- except that the signs are radioactive. They contain tritium gas, a form of hydrogen which is used for emergency exit signs because of its ability to glow in the dark when the power goes out.
Tritium is not radioactive enough to be considered dangerous on casual contact. But if eaten or inhaled it can become absorbed into the body and may lead to cancer or reproductive abnormalities. Sean-Patrick Stensil of Greenpeace Canada told the Toronto Star, "The problem is that because it's hydrogen it can actually become part of your body. The radiation doesn't emit far, but when it actually becomes part of your cell it's right next to your DNA. So for a pregnant woman, for example, it can be really dangerous."
There are more than 2 million such signs in North America, and their use and disposal is supposed to be monitored by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Despite this, broken signs are often simply thrown away and wind up leaching their tritium into landfills. In February 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found that more than half of its water measurements downstream from landfills showed tritium levels that violated EPA guidelines for drinking water.
The NRC, whose records reveal a long series of event notification reports concerning Wal-Mart, has been seriously shaken up by the oversight failure. On January 16, it sent out a request for "61 organizations to check tritium exit signs in their possession against their records and to report any lost or missing signs to the agency."