Spelunkers Discover New Caverns in Montréal's Ancient Cave Network

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iStock

An ancient cave system beneath a Montréal park is much more vast than experts believed, the National Post reports.

In 1812, a farmer discovered a cave underneath his property in Montréal’s present-day Saint-Léonard borough. Once used to stockpile ammunition and conceal soldiers during the Rebellions of 1837, the Saint-Léonard cave system in Parc Pie XII is today a tourist attraction and historical landmark. But some speleologists (cave experts) suspected there was more to the natural wonder than met the eye.

Beginning in 2014, two amateur explorers named Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc began searching for undiscovered passages in the Saint-Léonard caverns, according to National Geographic. By 2015 they had some leads; in October 2017, they used drills and hammers to break down a cave’s wall to reveal a new cavern.

The stalactite-filled chamber has soaring 20-foot ceilings, and it's connected to a serpentine network of underground tunnels. These passages formed during the Ice Age around 15,000 years ago, when glacier pressure splintered underground rock.

So far, Caron and Le Blanc have explored between 820 to 1640 feet of virgin cave passage, and expect to find even more. They believe the vast network sits atop an aquifer, and ultimately leads to the Montréal water table.

Spelunking the Saint-Léonard cave system is challenging—some passages are filled with water or require special climbing or rock-breaking equipment. The explorers hope that the caves will be easier to investigate during the dry season, and that the receding waters will allow them to reach new depths below Montréal’s surface.

[h/t National Post]

FYI: The FDA Has Ceased Its Food Inspections

istock.com/Olivier Le Moal
istock.com/Olivier Le Moal

It may be safe to eat romaine lettuce again, but The Hill is reporting that the FDA is suspending "most food inspections" amid the current partial government shutdown.

As the government shutdown rounds out its third week, the effects have begun to take a toll on both minor and major scales. Government workers are missing paychecks, affordable housing contracts are expiring, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not able to cover all of its usual duties. According to the official FDA website, around 55 percent of their $5.4 billion budget comes directly from federal funding, with the other 45 percent coming from industry user fees.

With fewer resources for protecting the nation's food supply, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb has had to delegate most workers to investigate "high risk facilities," such as those that produce seafood or cheese.

In 2018, nearly a dozen different products were cited for salmonella contamination, including raw turkey, pre-cut melon, and even Honey Smacks cereal. The FDA also warned of a possible salmonella outbreak from eggs last May.

Though the FDA will continue to inspect foreign manufacturers and products, the agency generally conducts roughly 160 food inspections per week. They look for any possible contamination due to various unclean circumstances, and that is only the beginning of a much longer process if foods actually need to be recalled. The FDA also investigates cases sent to them by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); after an illness or outbreak has been reported, the FDA works to trace where the contaminant could have come from before recalling and pulling problematic products from the shelves. All of this takes a lot of work, as we recently reported.

[h/t The Hill]

America's Paper Towel Obsession, Explained

iStock.com/Eerik
iStock.com/Eerik

At this point, the Brawny man can probably afford something nicer than a flannel shirt. Americans spend roughly $5.7 billion annually on paper towels, using them to clean up everything from spilled coffee to baby dribble to windows. Roll after roll is unspooled from a paper towel holder, makes a detour into a mess, then winds up directly in the garbage.

Are we really so lazy that we can’t wring out and reuse a sponge, a cloth wipe, or washable napkins? Or has Big Towel brainwashed us into believing that paper towels are simply the most convenient method of keeping things clean?

The question was recently explored by The Atlantic's Joe Pinsker, who noticed that Americans make up nearly half of the world’s paper towel use. (Second-place France spends just $635 million per year on discarded towels, little more than a tenth of what the U.S. shells out.) Pinsker wondered if it was due in part to population, but even on a per capita basis, we still spend more on towels than any other country in the world. Countries with comparable economies don’t buy as much as we do.

It turns out that the reasoning behind our alleged paper towel obsession may reside in how we problem-solve. In using a disposable towel, a mess can be immediately addressed and discarded, leaving no trace or obligation to clean our cleaning supplies.

There may also be pragmatic reasons: Using one-time-use towels reduces the chances of cross-contamination. (Imagine a sponge covering a bacteria-covered surface, then being set aside for reuse later.) And in a public bathroom setting, paper towels may actually be more hygienic than hand dryers, which can spread bacteria.

If you have a paper towel addiction, one tip Pinsker passed along is to consider reusing them. (Provided, of course, the mess wasn’t made up of raw meat or fish.) Sturdier paper towels can sometimes stand up to multiple applications before they start to break apart. You can also try using fewer towels by folding one in half and taking advantage of what’s known as interstitial suspension to trap water between the layers.

[h/t The Atlantic]

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