NEW YORK (AP) — Three railroad workers have been suspended for turning a storage room under New York’s Grand Central Terminal into an unauthorized “man cave” with a television, a refrigerator, a microwave and a futon couch, officials said Thursday.
A Metropolitan Transportation Authority investigation found that managers at Metro-North Railroad were unaware of the hideaway beneath Track 114.
“Many a New Yorker has fantasized about kicking back with a cold beer in a prime piece of Manhattan real estate — especially one this close to good transportation,” MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny said in a news release. “But few would have the chutzpah to commandeer a secret room beneath Grand Central Terminal.”
Three Metro-North employees — a wireman, a carpenter foreman and an electrical foreman — were suspended without pay pending disciplinary hearings.
The investigation began after the MTA’s office of the inspector general received an anonymous tip in February 2019 alleging that there was a “man cave” under Grand Central with “a couch and a flat screen t.v.” where three specific employees would “hang out and get drunk and party.”
Investigators found the room, which had wooden cabinets designed to conceal the TV and futon, according to the report.
Railroad officials said the space presented a fire hazard because rescue workers would have had difficulty accessing an unmapped room.
A city named Asbestos, venomous trees and more of last week's weirdest news
A city named Asbestos: Debate over name change turns toxic
You'd think anything would be better than having your town named after a highly toxic building material, but the residents of Asbestos, Canada, might disagree.
The townspeople in this unusually monikered Quebecois city will vote in October on a new town name, as the negative connotations have long been hindering business and tourism endeavors.
The choices selected by the municipal council, however, are proving controversial.
The city initially grew from the development of an asbestos mine around a large deposit of the substance discovered there in 1897. For decades, the town thrived on asbestos mining and product manufacturing.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring, but very toxic, substance once widely used for insulation. It's been banned in Canada since 2018.
When inhaled or ingested, asbestos fibers can become trapped in the body, and may eventually cause genetic damage to the body's cells. Exposure may also cause mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
Having reviewed hundreds of suggestions, on September 14 the council unveiled the four proposals that made the cut: Apalone, Jeffrey, Phénix and Trois-Lacs.
All residents over the age of 14 will be allowed to vote on the new name between October 14 and 18.
"I am very happy with the approach we have adopted throughout the process and especially with the involvement of our population. I invite our citizens to come and vote in large numbers!," said Mayor Hugues Grimard in a statement.
Reaction on Facebook, however, has not been positive.
In this Francophone town, "ridicule!" ("ridiculous!") is a recurring word in the comments.
Apalone, which is in honor of an indigenous species of turtle, was suggested by Greenpeace Canada. Lyne Dion isn't impressed, writing: "I wouldn't be proud to say that I live in a soft turtle city."
Jeffrey refers to W. H. Jeffrey, who bankrolled the town's Jeffrey asbestos mine.
Critics argue that this would be continuing to shackle the town to its asbestos legacy and also honoring the money men indirectly linked to the deaths of many workers.
Phénix -- Phoenix in English -- is a simple reference to the mythic bird of rebirth. Without any connection to local history, this also has proved an unsatisfying choice to many voters.
There have been cries on social media complaining of a "lack of transparency" regarding the council's choices.
The ruckus has been such that the City of Asbestos' general manager Georges-André Gagné was forced on September 16 to issue a second statement addressing the fact that "some people have expressed their disagreement with the names proposed" and "calling for a constructive and respectful debate."
Alexandre Côte spoke for several of the most vocal residents when he wrote on Facebook, "Honestly, it's a setup to get Trois-Lacs! The rest of the names are really awful."
However, the name Trois-Lacs -- after a local lake labeled by Le Journal de Montréal as "one of the worst in Quebec" -- isn't proving hugely popular either.
All the kerfuffle has some residents declaring that they want to keep the town name as it is, toxic history be damned.
Said Ginette Frichette, "I'm against the name change. I was born in Asbestos and I want to die in Asbestos."
CNN's Elizabeth Wolfe and Brian Ries contributed to this report.
Spider-like venom found in Australian stinging trees -- and the pain can last for weeks
A team of researchers from the University of Queensland have discovered a previously unidentified neurotoxin that is similar to the venom found in spiders and cone snails.
Unlike its American and European counterparts, being stung by a dendrocnide tree -- which means "stinging tree" -- can cause pain that lasts for days -- or even weeks.
Researchers hope the study, published Wednesday in the Science Advances journal, will help provide new information as to how pain-sensing nerves function, and help in developing painkillers.
"The Australian stinging tree species are particularly notorious for producing [an] excruciatingly painful sting," said Irina Vetter, associate professor at the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, in a statement.
The dendrocnide plant, commonly referred to by its indigenous name the "Gympie-Gympie" tree, is a rainforest nettle that can be found in eastern parts of Australia.
Like other nettle plants, the trees are covered in fine, needle-like hairs and are known to cause extreme, long-lasting pain.
The fine appendages "look like fine hairs, but actually act like hypodermic needles that inject toxins when they make contact with skin," Vetter said.
Until recently, scientists were unable to figure out which molecules inside the plant caused such severe pain.
Similar plants normally contain small molecules such as histamine, acetylcholine and formic acid, but none of these cause the severe pain elicited by Gympie-Gympie trees, which suggested to researchers that there was an unidentified neurotoxin to be found.
The team discovered a new type of neurotoxin, coined as "gympietides" -- which they named after the plant.
"Gympietides are similar to spider and cone snail toxins in the way they fold into their 3D molecular structures and target the same pain receptors," said Vetter. "This arguably makes the Gympie-Gympie tree a truly 'venomous' plant."
Vetter said that the long-term pain caused by the trees may be explained by the gympietides permanently changing the sodium channels in a person's sensory neurons, as opposed to the plants' fine hairs getting stuck in skin.
"By understanding how this toxin works, we hope to provide better treatment to those who have been stung by the plant, to ease or eliminate the pain," added Vetter.
Colorado couple's 20-year search for extinct fruit finally pays off
On a crisp December afternoon, as the sun slowly fell behind the nearby Sawatch Range, Addie and Jude Schuenemeyer stared at a nearly dead tree, a few apples dangling off its last living branch.
"In that moment, I felt hope," recalls Addie.
But was this moment when the sun finally set on their nearly 20-year hunt for something many long believed was extinct?
'We knew it was something unusual'
Growers will tell you Colorado is not the easiest place to grow fruit. The high altitude and extreme temperature fluctuations in spring and fall cause problems for farmers trying to grow apples, peaches, pears, cherries and plums in the Centennial State.
But, despite the thin air, late frosts, lack of rain and abundance of grasshoppers, fruit orchards have long adorned the valleys across the state.
"When many people were coming in to go after gold in the Pike's Peak gold rush in the late 1800s, other people realized those miners and those folks would need to be fed," explains Jude, Addie's husband and her Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project co-director. "People thought they were insane and laughed at them for thinking that you could even grow fruit here."
The couple created MORP after they purchased a nursery in 2001. Their mission: to create and preserve a genetic bank of Colorado heritage apples and reintroduce those varieties into current orchards.
"Preserving genetic diversity of the apple is historically important and provides a valuable resource to today's farmers and consumers," says Addie.
"These varieties represent a real economic opportunity for growers in rural Colorado to put orchards back in these historical areas and give them a chance to make a living on the legendary quality fruit that was once a hallmark for our state," adds Jude.
One of those fruits the Schuenemeyers hoped to preserve: the Colorado Orange apple.
"We first saw the Colorado Orange in a county fair. When we saw it, we knew it was something unusual," says Jude. "It had tremendous complexity to it. It was sweet but had the taste of tangy subtleties to go with the sweetness," the Schuenemeyers explained, though their assessment at the time was based solely on what they had read -- not what they'd tasted.
When industrial farming took root in the US at the turn of the 20th century, the appetite for fewer apple varieties, grown in more favorable climates, increased.
"When the Red Delicious came out around 1900, it was just another apple," explains Jude. "By 1920, it became the dominant apple. It was a shiny red apple that grew pretty well everywhere. And even though other places couldn't grow as high a quality of Delicious as Colorado could, Colorado couldn't grow as many, especially since [the Red Delicious] is a little more frost sensitive."
Orchards that grew a wide range of different apples slowly disappeared.
"We've documented over 400 varieties of apples historically grown in Colorado, 50% are now considered lost," says Addie. "The Colorado Orange was one of these."
It's been long-believed the Colorado Orange apple was extinct.
Going crazy to find it
In doing research to find apples grown in Colorado, Jude and Addie discovered the Colorado Orange in an old county fair record as having won several awards. But there was no indication where the apple originated. In the late 1800s, apples were grown all over the state ... from the Denver metro area, all the way to the state's far southwest corner in Montezuma County where the Schuenemeyers live.
They had no specific location to start looking.
"It took us a couple of years trying to realize what is, where it was, and then going crazy trying to find it," explains Jude.
Looking through state horticulture records, they eventually narrowed down that the variety was first planted in Fremont County, about a two-hour drive south of Denver.
Many trips to the county, visits with farmers and samples of possible Colorado Orange apple tree all ended in disappointment.
Then, in December of 2017, while returning samples taken of other trees to a man in Fremont County, he wanted to show the Schuenemeyers another tree in his orchard ... one that his father-in-law once told him was a Colorado Orange.
"This was the exact age and location of an orchard where we would expect to have a chance of finding this elusive apple," says Addie. "The apples looked the part: oblate, ribbed, yellow and orange in color, obviously a late winter apple. We realized the owner had taken us to the wrong tree before. This one just might be the one we were looking for."
Apples to apples
The Schuenemeyers collected several apples hanging from, and lying around, that tree. Having experienced disappointment before, they were guarded in their excitement but moved to prove what they may have finally found.
The couple's next step was to dig into the U.S. Department of Agriculture's collection of pomological watercolors. Amongst its library of nearly 4,000 watercolor paintings of apples, the USDA had four depictions of Colorado Orange apples. The Schuenemeyers cut open their apples and compared them with the paintings. They were extremely similar.
DNA samples of the apples and tree were sent to horticulture scientists at the University of Minnesota to be compared against other apple varieties in their vast databank.
More than a year after they first saw the tree, the Schuenemeyers received the results: "unique, unknown." The apples they had found in Fremont County matched none of the thousands of apple genotypes in the scientists' DNA databank. It was good news.
"There was no control. They had no DNA for the Colorado Orange because it was believed to be extinct," says Jude.
But Jude and Addie were not ready to tell the world the extinct apple was not actually extinct. They needed more proof.
The day before the DNA results had arrived, Addie and Jude received an email from an archivist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She had the possible key to solving the Colorado Orange apple mystery.
"We became aware of a wax apple collection sitting in boxes in a retiring professor's office," says Linda Meyer, a CSU archivist. "And the apples had a listing with them. One of the apples listed was a Colorado Orange."
The Schuenemeyers knew this could be the moment for which they had long waited. "We were able to compare apples to apples," says Jude.
Nearly seven months passed before Jude and Addie could drive the eight hours from their home to Fort Collins to meet with Meyer.
They were eager to see the wax collection created in the early 1900s by Miriam Palmer, a former professor at the school. Palmer had been tasked by the school's agriculture department with making wax replicas of the state's popular, award-winning apples. Each apple was meticulously crafted, painted and marked with a number as a reference guide.
"She inscribed a very tiny number on the bottom side of each apple," explains Meyer. "She then made a card with that number, identifying the apple, which orchard it had come from, and the year she had collected it."
Amongst the collection of 83 apples the university found was #30 - Colorado Orange. Once the Schuenemeyers were able to compare the wax apple with real ones from the tree that December afternoon two years earlier, they could finally celebrate.
"98% sure, give or take 3%," says Addie. A nearly 20-year journey scouring the state, trying to find a small piece of Colorado history and prove it still existed, had finally paid off.
"The Colorado Orange is the greatest thing we've ever found," proclaims Jude.
An apple with a story
Since their discovery, Jude and Addie have taken samples from the old tree and begun growing new Colorado Orange apple trees.
"We are the beneficiaries of the gift given to us from 150 years ago," says Jude. "But, it does us no good to be the only persons growing [the Colorado Orange apple]. Our steps now are to get it out to the people."
The Schuenemeyers say they have given some of their new trees to a half-dozen Colorado farmers to be planted and grafted in much larger orchards, with the hope that in the next five to 10 years, the Colorado Orange apple will appear in grocery stores, farmers markets and restaurants for consumers to enjoy.
"This apple has a story," says Steve Ela, a fourth-generation fruit grower in Hotchkiss, Colorado, who received some of the new Colorado Orange trees this spring. "You need to get people in the door and get them excited for the food. It's local, it's rare, and it grows late in the fall. That adds value."
With issues such as climate change and the global pandemic, Ela believes consumers are demanding more produce grown closer to their homes. And, he believes, if consumers are wanting to buy more Colorado apples, grocery stores will want more of what's growing in his orchards.
"This is a commodity market. We can't compete against China and Washington in terms of size," says Ela. "But there are people out there that really care about the taste of their food and relish something different. When we have something like [the Colorado Orange apple], we can compete because we're the only ones that have it."
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