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Fire Ants New Concern For Super Collider

December 13, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fire ants, infamous for chewing through underground power cables, have nibbled their way to the attention of federal scientists evaluating the Texas farmland designated as the site for the $4.4 billion super collider physics project.

The Department of Energy says additional studies may be needed to evaluate the effect of the venomous fire ant, which has defied scientists’ attempts at eradication for decades, on the giant, underground facility that researchers hope will give new insights into the nature of matter.

Warranting a special look, said the DOE in a 26-pound final environmental impact statement, are the design of electrical facilities and other underground components to prohibit fire ant infestation; construction practices to protect workers from the ant’s painful sting; and an environmentall y sound pesticide policy.

The impact statement, totaling some 10,000 pages, said the Texas site, near Waxahachie, is in an area infested with fire ants and that local residents report it has caused numerous problems with the operation of home and farm equipment.

″Fire ants appear to be attracted to electrical equipment and can cause shorts by chewing through insulation and by crowding into spaces around electrical contacts,″ the statement said.

The study noted unsuccessful efforts by utility companies and highway departments to deal with the ants and the outages they cause.

A Texas Department of Agriculture representative told the Energy Department that management programs were only 80 percent effective. Others who commented said 30 years of study by federal and state agriculture officials still has not yielded an effective method of eradicating the ant, only control procedures.

Fire ants can also pose a potential health risk since their bite is painful and can sometimes lead to other, more serious reactions in humans, the study said.

For most people, a sting results in a postule, accompanied by pain and itching that lasts a week, the study said. For others, medical attention may be needed, especially for a few victims so sensitive to the ants’ venom they go into anaphylactic shock.

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