DANGER: PCBs AT WORK
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is lowering the permissible levels of poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from five to two parts per million in fish sent to market. PCBs are chemical cousins of DDT and are used for their heat-resistant properties in a variety of products, notably electrical transformers and capacitors. They have caused cancer in laboratory rats, raised havoc with the reproduction of monkeys and caused bone deformities and stillbirths in humans. The Federal Government banned their manufacture last January, but because of the junking of old products, vaporization and leaks, PCBs are likely to persist in the environment—and accumulate in fish—into the next century.
The FDA ruling applies only to fish in interstate commerce, but the states are expected to follow Washington's lead. The new levels could affect some saltwater species, including striped bass, bluefish and tuna taken off Long Island. Freshwater fisheries could be even harder hit. A study by the Environmental Protection Agency has turned up astronomical levels of PCBs in whole fish, e.g., 140 parts per million for Lake Hartwell, S.C.; 89.3 ppm for Choccolocco Creek, Ala. and 47.2 ppm for Acushnet River Reservoir, Mass. The study shows that 53% of the fish sampled from 46 selected watersheds contained at least five ppm and that 86% contained more than two ppm. Fish with more than two ppm abounded in the Kennebec River in Maine; the Red River of the North at Halstad, Minn.; the Wabash in Indiana; and the Colorado River in Blythe, Calif.
EPA scientists have found a host of other chemicals in freshwater catches: many fish are, in essence, miniature Love Canals. Among the chemicals are hexachlorobenzene, a fungicide recently shown to cause cancer in hamsters, and pentachlorophenol, a highly toxic wood preservative. The researchers also report widespread contamination from hydrocarbon mixtures similar to fuel and crankcase oils. Concentrations were so high they could simply be weighed instead of measured on a parts-per-million scale. Even more worrisome is the presence of dioxins and furans, which are the most poisonous known synthetic substances. In 1976 an explosion at a chemical plant so severely contaminated the town of Seveso, Italy with dioxins that certain neighborhoods may be uninhabitable for the next 50 years. Researchers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently found dioxins in a composite sample of carp and smallmouth bass from the Tittabawassee River in Michigan and furans in largemouth bass from the Hudson. The discovery introduces a new element of concern in the battle against chemical poisoning of the environment.
Because it will result in the loss offish, the new ruling on PCBs is, by itself, likely to cast a pall over both sport and commercial fishermen. The sanest, if not necessarily quickest, way to ease their distress would be to begin purging the environment of PCBs. Although little can be done about PCBs that have become diffused in waterways, many highly concentrated "hot spots" can be dredged. Steps also can be taken to ensure the phasing out of products—transformers on railroad cars, for example—before they leak PCBs into the environment.
The reduction of permissible levels even to two parts per million may be inadequate. Dr. Joseph Highland, chairman of the Toxic Chemicals Program of the Environmental Defense Fund, says, "Two parts per million was selected solely on the grounds of avoiding greater economic impact." Dr. Ian C. T. Nisbet, an ecologist who assessed PCB hazards for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says, "To assure safety, you have to go lower than two. Unless the limit is lowered to one-tenth of a part per million, pregnant women should be advised not to eat fish at all."
Bob Arum was in South Africa last week, trying to arrange a late-summer bout between John Tate and Gerrie Coetzee for the World Boxing Association title vacated by Muhammad Ali. Over the phone to the New York Daily News' Dick Young, Arum issued a challenge to rival promoter Don King, who is plotting a World Boxing Council title match between champion Larry Holmes and Earnie Shavers. Arum proposed that the winners of the two fights meet for a consolidated championship, with all profits going to Arum if his man won, to King if his man did. Young then called King, who accepted the challenge.
If King had stopped there, it would have been a stunning development—boxing's No. 1 Hatfield and the sport's No. 1 McCoy agreeing on a sensible solution to the muddled heavyweight situation. But King didn't stop there. He told Young that while it was a "pleasure" to accept Arum's offer, he might foil his rival by shooting Shavers in to fight Tate and then, if Shavers won, unifying the titles by matching him against Holmes. Of course, that would leave Coetzee out in the cold but, you see, no definite date had been set for a Holmes-Shavers fight and furthermore...
Aw, forget it.
RUNNING UP A TEMPEST
As an aspiring actress in London, Angela Lai once appeared in a minor production of The Tempest. After quitting the theater to marry Peter Coe, she named her first two children Sebastian and Miranda after characters in that play. Though neither child took up acting, both were onstage last week. While 20-year-old Miranda Coe was dancing—covered, if you must know—in the chorus of the Lido de Paris show at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, Sebastian Coe, 22, called "Seb" by his family, was setting a world record of 1:42.4 in the 800-meter run in Oslo.
Coe had the world's second-fastest clocking in the 800 last year, and then as now he labored under certain seeming disàdvantages. For one, he is virtually the same size as his sister—5'9½" and 120 pounds. That's fine for a Vegas showgirl, which Miranda has been since arriving from England 18 months ago, but the rather scrawny Sebastian gets bounced around a lot on the track. Also, he has been trained only by his father, an engineer in a Sheffield silverworks, and has never received professional coaching. And in Oslo he was a bit short on conditioning, having just completed his final exams in economics at Loughborough University. All considered, Sebastian Coe's performance was "such stuff as dreams are made on" (The Tempest IV, i, 148). In smashing Alberto Juantorena's world record of 1:43.4 by a full second, he beat runner-up Evans White by 30 meters.
Under NCAA rules, coaches are limited to three recruiting visits to an athlete's home, and an athlete may visit no more than six campuses. Charley Pell, the University of Florida's new football coach, thinks those figures should be reversed. "You can't really make a judgment on a kid by meeting him three times," Pell says. "You try to select someone you believe will be a winner on the field and in the classroom. With three visits, a lot of guesswork is involved." As for the limit on athletes, he says, "Nobody really has six schools so close in his mind that he needs all those visits." Pell holds that the six allotted visits thus tend to be "all pleasure, no business."
Pell doesn't expect his suggestion to be heeded. "The problem is, the schools with all the power have influence on the rulemaking," he says. "They don't get hurt by the three-visit rule because a coach with a national reputation can come into a kid's home once and sign him. They don't get hurt by the six-visit rule because kids will always save a trip to their place. They figure, 'If we're not hurt, why change the system?' "
ROAD SWEET ROAD
Everybody knows that the home team in sports often enjoys a decided advantage. Dr. Steven I. Berkowitz, a Beverly Hills psychologist, has given thought to ways by which visiting teams can overcome it. Based on his work with patients who spend a lot of time on the road, including actors and traveling salesmen as well as athletes, he offers suggestions—some practical, others outrageous—to help teams fare better away from home.
Berkowitz says that visiting players can partly offset the home team's territorial advantage by staying in hotels close to the stadium. He explains, "The more foreign territory you see on the bus ride to the park, the more of a stranger you feel." He also suggests a visit to the stadium the night before a game, a walk on the field, a spell of sitting in the stands. Football players might also consider urinating on the goal line. "This declares it as your territory," Berkowitz says. "Dogs do it, wolves do it. It's your little secret: you know the area is yours." And he suggests that visitors "negate the hostility of fans" by mingling with them in the stands before games and buying them hot dogs. The thought of, say, a Tom Cousineau mingling with the fans at Ann Arbor makes us a little uneasy, but then, Berkowitz is the doctor.
One other piece of advice from Berkowitz is that the visiting player bring something familiar and intimate with him from home, like a blanket or a pillow. "I know it sounds silly for Mean Joe Greene to carry a pillow around, but it has his own smell," he says. Of course, Joe himself might prefer bringing along a stuffed animal—or maybe a stuffed psychologist.
PADDING A MOUNTAIN
Don't think for a minute that the arrival of warmer weather has eased Lake Placid's problems with next February's Winter Olympics. Dr. Bud Little of Helena, Mont, is casting a midsummer chill on the tiny Adirondacks hamlet. Little is chairman of the medical committee of FIS, the International Ski Federation, and a man of unquestioned authority where Olympic safety is concerned. In an obvious power play, he warns that the men's and women's downhill races, the centerpiece events of any Winter Games, may be canceled.
At issue are plans for the evacuation of injured racers by helicopter. Lake Placid has provided a landing pad at the base of Whiteface Mountain, on the theory that crash victims can be tobogganed to the bottom of the slope before being airlifted to the hospital. Not good enough, says the FIS; there would have to be two more places for copters to land on the mountain for quicker evacuation.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is responsible for helicopter operations on the mountain, maintains that landing near the racecourse would be unsafe. Lack of crowd control and strong winds that can cause blinding snow and possibly buffet a helicopter into lift lines are the main hazards. But Little says, "It's standard operating procedure in world Alpine competition to have on-hill evacuation by helicopters."
It is too soon to tell whether Little's cancellation threat will achieve his desired results. Strong-arm tactic or not, it should. Now is the time for Lake Placid to get cracking on installation of the extra pads before the mountain is buried in snow. A way to operate the helicopters safely must be found, too.
THE BIG RAINOUT
Barely halfway through its inaugural season, baseball's Inter-American League (SI, June 4) has folded. The Triple A league started with teams in six cities, but on June 16 the Panama City and San Juan franchises went under and now the remaining clubs, Miami, Caracas, Santo Domingo and Maracaibo, have followed suit, leaving a sea of debts and a lot of unpaid and angry players. Launched without working arrangements with major league clubs, the league suffered from shaky financing, nightmarish travel problems and a wet Caribbean summer. In what must be some sort of a record, its schedule was devastated by 70 rainouts—roughly nine a week.
THEY SAID IT
•Jason Thompson, Detroit Tiger first baseman, after Manager Sparky Anderson announced a ban on jeans: "There goes my wardrobe."
•Bill Bradley, on the U.S. Senate gym: "It can't compare with the Newark Y. I swam four strokes and jammed two fingers and scratched my head at the other end of the pool."