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Living Today: Issues of modern living

By United Press International   |   Oct. 17, 2001 at 4:45 AM
ANTHRAX ALERT

U.S. Post Offices around the country are on alert for suspicious packages or letters that may harbor anthrax.

One regulation already in place that may help protect postal workers is that carriers are not allowed to accept stamped mail weighing more than 1 pound. Those packages must be deposited at a postal station where they receive a time stamp and identification.

Postal inspectors have cautioned citizens to watch for signs mail may have been tampered with and specifically said to look for packages from unknown sources, parcels with stains, strange odors or objects protruding from them, oddly shaped packages and packages for which there is no return address or for which the return address does not match the postmark.

News of the mail-borne threats in the United States has prompted international caution. Members of Israel's Knesset or parliament Tuesday received a three-page memo advising them how to handle incoming mail.

The warning instructed lawmakers, among other things, to watch for hard envelopes, packages that seem to contain another envelope, and packages that "smell like almonds." The same dispatch cautioned Knesset members to be wary of packages with too much postage, postage from various countries and packages with spelling mistakes or bad handwriting.

Investigators have a needle-in-a-haystack task of rooting out bacteria-bearing parcels in a U.S. postal system that shuttles some 8 billion pieces of mail per year. Lawrence Barcella, a Washington attorney who spent 16 years as a terrorist expert in the Justice Department, was quoted in the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post likening the investigative tactics to a gridiron strategy espoused by former football luminary Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb: "Go into the backfield and grab all the little guys until you find the one with the ball."


IN-FLIGHT SAFETY

Terrorism and the fear of hijacking have raised levels of stress and anxiety inside airline cabins both on and off the ground.

Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants, said the lack of in-flight policies on the part of carriers and the federal government has left flight crews and passengers feeling they're on their own once the cabin door is shut.

There are anecdotal stories of pilots banning passengers from forward lavatories, asking passengers not to congregate in the aisles and ordering people to remain in their seats during flights.

"There are some restrictions on flights using Washington's Reagan (National) Airport," said John Mazor of the Air Line Pilots Association. "I've heard that passengers are being asked to remain in their seats for the last 30 minutes of their flights into Reagan." But, he said, he has not seen a written directive by the airlines or the government.

Federal air marshals are supposed to be aboard all flights landing and departing from National and there are special restrictions on runway use to keep planes away from the White House, Capitol, the Pentagon, national monuments and other federal buildings.

American Airlines said its pilots began asking passengers to remain seated with their seat belts buckled two years ago, but that was to protect people from injury in clear-air turbulence. But a spokeswoman denied that passengers are asked not to use the bathroom.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks --- in which jetliners were hijacked and turned into airborne bombs -- passengers now undergo enhanced screening in airport terminals before they get to the gate. While curbside check-in is back on a carrier-by-carrier basis, passengers are required to show a government-issued photo ID at several points -- including the gate -- and are limited to one carry-on bag and one personal item like a purse or briefcase.

And only ticketed passengers are permitted beyond the screening checkpoints.

But nerves are still on edge.

Delta Airlines Flight 458 from Atlanta to Newark, N.J., landed in Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday when passengers got nervous as two Orthodox Jews prayed. Three Saudi men who spoke little or no English were taken off a United Airlines plane at O'Hare International Airport when they tried to open an emergency door to give their ailing father some fresh air, and an intoxicated Australian man was charged with interfering with a flight crew --- which is a felony.


CYBER-ATTACKS

The number of online "security incidents" this year could be more than double the amount recorded in 2000.

That's according to the CERT Coordination Center, a government-funded cyber-security organization based at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

CERT recorded about 35,000 cyber-attacks through the first three quarters of the year, putting 2001 on pace for more than 46,000, compared to 21,756 security incidents in 2000. The figures are based on computer hacking, worms, viruses or other attacks reported by companies and other organizations.

CERT also has noted about 1,800 security holes in software so far this year, about double the amount in 2001. More information, including cyberattack statistics dating back to 1988, can be found on the organization's Web site at cert.org.

(Thanks to UPI's Joe Warminsky in Washington)


NIGHT WORK

Women who work at night could be placing themselves at an increased risk of breast cancer.

That's according to a study funded by the National Cancer Institute and conducted by the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Seattle. Scientists investigated the interplay between exposure to light at night and breast cancer risk. They speculated that graveyard shift workers could be boosting their risk of developing breast cancer by some 60 percent.

"Either of these factors, light at night or working the graveyard shift, impacts the normal circadian biology," UW epidemiologist Scott Davis told UPI. "And we think that behavior reduces the normal night-time rise in melatonin, which regulates reproductive hormones and estrogen. In other words, by interrupting melatonin, you may increase the level of estrogens, which can impact the risk of breast cancer."

The brain's pineal gland is itself a graveyard worker, with its peak melatonin-producing levels occurring during night hours. If light or lack of sleep interferes with that production, a woman's body signals its ovaries to work overtime, producing extra loads of estrogen, a known promoter of breast cancer.

Davis said more studies are needed before any firm conclusions are drawn.

The study appears in the Oct. 17 Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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