EarthTalk: Years ago I read that children should
be kept at least two feet from the television because of
harmful electronic emissions. Is this still relevant? Is
there a difference regarding this between older and new
-- Horst E. Mehring, Oconomowoc, WI
to popular myth, TV screens do not broadcast harmful
emissions to kids who sit very close, though they
can cause eye strain and fatigue easily remedied by
a good night's sleep. However, kids who watch more
than four hours of TV daily are more susceptible to
obesity, and a 2007 Seattle Children's Research Institute
study showed that for every hour per day infants spent
watching DVDs and videos they learned six to eight
fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched
the videos. The key, experts say, is moderation, and
parents should teach their kids that the TV is for
occasional entertainment, not for constant escapism.
© Getty Images
for many of us and our kids, sitting “too” close
to the TV isn’t known to cause any human health issues.
This myth prevails because back in the 1960s General Electric
sold some new-fangled color TV sets that emitted excessive
amounts of radiation—as much as 100,000 times more
than federal health officials considered safe. GE quickly
recalled and repaired the faulty TVs, but the stigma lingers
to this day.
even though electronic emissions aren’t an issue with
TVs made any time after 1968 (including today’s LCD
and plasma flat screens), what about causing harm to one’s
vision? Dr. Lee Duffner of the American Academy of Ophthalmology
isn’t concerned, maintaining that watching television
screens—close-up or otherwise—“won’t
cause any physical damage to your eyes.” He adds,
however, that a lot of TV watching can surely cause eye
strain and fatigue, particularly for those sitting very
close and/or watching from odd angles. But there is an easy
cure for eye strain and fatigue: turning off the TV and
getting some rest. With a good night’s sleep, tired
eyes should quickly return to normal.
Ronca, a contributor to the How Stuff Works website, argues
that some parents might be putting the cart before the horse
in blaming close-up TV watching for their child’s
vision issues. “Sitting close to the television may
not make a child nearsighted, but a child may sit close
to the television because he or she is nearsighted and undiagnosed,”
she reports. “If your child habitually sits too close
to the television for comfort, get his or her eyes tested.”
course, excessive TV viewing by kids can cause health problems
indirectly. According to the Nemours Foundation’s
KidsHealth website, children who consistently watch TV more
than four hours a day are more likely to be overweight,
which in and of itself can bring about health problems later.
Also, kids who watch a lot of TV are more likely to copy
bad behavior they see on-screen and tend to “fear
that the world is scary and that something bad will happen
to them.” Nemours also finds that TV characters often
depict risky behaviors (like smoking and drinking) and also
tend to reinforce gender-role and racial stereotypes.
has also been much debate in recent years on the effects
of TV viewing on infants. A 2007 Seattle Children’s
Research Institute study found that for every hour per day
infants spent watching baby DVDs and videos they learned
six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who
never watched the videos. But a 2009 study by the Center
on Media & Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston
found no negative cognitive or other impacts whatsoever
on those infants exposed to more television than less.
it may be inevitable that your kids will watch TV, the key,
experts say, is moderation. Limit kids’ exposure to
screens of any kind, and monitor what they are allowed to
watch. As KidsHealth points out, parents should teach their
kids that the TV is “for occasional entertainment,
not for constant escapism.”
Academy of Ophthalmology; How
Stuff Works; KidsHealth;
Children's Research Institute; Center
on Media & Child Health.
EarthTalk: What’s better for the local
ecology, sewers or septic tanks?
-- T.H., Darien, CT
people, given a choice, prefer to be on a municipal
sewer system, as the burden of keeping it running
smoothly falls on the local government. Proponents
of septic systems, however, say that a professionally
designed, installed and maintained system should perform
just fine. When homeowners don't take proper care
of their septic systems, and wastewater is not properly
treated, it can contaminate surface and groundwater
and threaten public health. Pictured: A home septic
system under construction.
© Trish Thornton, courtesy Flickr
won’t have much choice as to whether that home you’re
thinking of buying is on sewer or septic. Most likely it’s
a done deal, unless the neighborhood is presently all on
septic but is considering a petition to the town to switch
to sewers (in which case you can usually agree to hook up
or stay put).
There are pros
and cons to each in regard to the environment. Both types
of systems are designed to handle and treat so-called “blackwater”
(wastewater from toilets) and “graywater” coming
from our sinks, showers, dishwashers and laundry machines.
On-site septic and community-wide sewer systems work in
similar ways, utilizing micro-organisms to filter out bacteria,
viruses and other disease-causing pathogens before releasing
the cleansed water back into the environment.
In general, most
people prefer to be on a shared sewer system if they have
a choice, as the burden of keeping the system running smoothly
falls on the local government, which presumably has the
money and expertise to ensure that wastewater is properly
treated across the region. Also, in a shared sewer system,
wastewater is whisked away to a centralized treatment facility;
anyone who has ever experienced a septic system backup on
their property can appreciate what a benefit off-site wastewater
treatment can be.
to a shared sewer is that such systems are usually built
to withstand heavy loads and can better accommodate periods
of heavy precipitation or storm surges that might overwhelm
smaller, poorly conceived or maintained home-based septic
tanks, which are by virtue of their size and the laws of
physics more prone to overflow and send contaminants into
nearby surface and ground waters.
have their proponents, though, who say that a professionally
designed, installed and maintained system should hold up
in even the biggest of storms. The University of Minnesota
Extension (UMNE), which publishes the useful online “Septic
System Owner’s Guide,” says vigilance is key:
“The only way to guarantee effective treatment is
to have a trained professional ensure adequate unsaturated
and suitable soil exists below the soil treatment area to
allow for complete wastewater treatment.”
don’t take care of their septic systems properly,
though, they can become a nuisance for the surrounding ecosystem.
Wastewater that is not properly treated can contaminate
surface and groundwater and threaten public health. According
to UMNE, improperly treated sewage can be the culprit behind
the spread of hepatitis, dysentery and other diseases resulting
from pathogens in drinking water, while also compromising
the purity of lakes and streams. Additionally, flies and
mosquitoes that are attracted to and breed in wet areas
where sewage reaches the surface can also spread disease.
sewage can also lead to increased nitrates in local water
supplies, which is dangerous for infants, pregnant women
and those with already compromised immune systems. In and
around lakes and streams, this influx in nitrates can lead
to plant growth out of whack with the local ecosystem’s
ability to handle it, resulting in oxygen-free “dead
zones” devoid of marine and riparian life altogether.
System Owner’s Guide.
SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM