Dear Ms. Household Environmentalist: I am about to install a gas range in my home. I have a memory that in one of your articles you stressed the importance of installing a hood to expel the fumes. I asked my gas utility, and they say it's not necessary, but I wanted to double-check. I would appreciate any information you have on this subject.
Dear Reader: Technically, your utility may be right. If you are remodeling an existing kitchen, or just switching from an electric stove to a gas stove, the Uniform Building Code adopted by your state doesn't require you to install a mechanical fan if you have a nearby window that opens. In some states, the code (not as uniform as its title suggests) requires a fan in new construction and in kitchen additions. You don't say in your letter which category you fall into.
However, the Environmental Protection Agency urges you to install a fan in any case. An unvented gas stove will contribute combustion pollutants and moisture to your air. A fan can vent almost all the pollutants your stove generates. So install that fan, and switch it on every time you turn on the oven or a burner.
Dear Ms. H.E.: We've moved to a house with raised garden beds bordered by creosoted railroad ties. I called six laboratories regarding the safety of the creosote, asking if it or its esters leach into soil, and none had any useful information. Can you find some definitive answers?
Dear Reader: I called my local cooperative extension service agent, a fountain of knowledge, and she said this is a question they are asked at least twice a week. They are asked it so frequently, in fact, that they have printed a pamphlet, "Treated Woods for Garden Use -- What Is Safe?" To obtain a free copy, write King County Cooperative Extension, 612 Smith Tower, 506 Second Ave., Seattle, Wash. 98104.
The Washington Toxics Coalition publishes a fact sheet about wood preservatives that takes a slightly more conservative approach -- that is, it is more cautious about recommending any preservatives for garden use. It contains a wealth of wood preservative information. To get a copy, send $2.50 to WTC, 4516 University Way NE, Seattle, Wash. 98105, and ask for the Paints, Solvents and Wood Preservatives fact sheet.
What the King County pamphlet says about creosote is basically this: Because creosote was found to be extremely toxic, it is now a restricted pesticide, one you and I can no longer use at home. However, railroad ties are still heavily coated with creosote, and many of us have railroad ties in our gardens and terraces. The good news is that creosote doesn't migrate much in the soil. That means that only the soil within three or four inches of the ties may be contaminated. Plant flowers along the ties, vegetables inside the flower border, and your vegetables should be fine. (In defense of laboratories, I called the lab I use -- well, abuse might be more accurate, since I pester them with questions -- and they gave me precisely the same information the cooperative extension gave me.)
Dear Ms. H.E.: Now that Christmas is over, and another group of computers or electronic typewriters or electric typewriters has been given as gifts, there must be many other households who are wondering the same thing I am: What should I do with the old manual typewriters? Our not-overly-affluent household now owns three old manuals. One might belong in a museum. Are they recyclable? Does some foreign country mission collect them? Do I simply take them to the dump?
Dear Reader: Many charities that send shipments overseas have occasional call for working manual typewriters. World Concern, in Seattle, and World Vision, in Monrovia, Calif., are two such charities I called, and at the moment both can find homes for five or six typewriters -- and many other items you may be looking to give away. Salvation Army, which has branches in most major cities, also takes manual typewriters in working condition. Now, the one thing I cannot find any takers for is an old console TV a reader wrote in about. Any ideas?
Dear Ms. H.E.: I am interested in changing careers and getting a job in the environmental field. Do you have any suggestions about how to go about this?