Every month, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN—the longest-running magazine in the U.S. and an authoritative voice in science, technology and innovation—provides insight into scientific topics that affect our daily lives and capture our imagination, establishing the vital bridge between science and public policy.

>> Key information from this month’s issue:

• CHEMICAL TOXINS
Exposure to chemicals found in everyday objects, such as disposable cups and soap, could have damaging effects on our bodies in the long run. Professional societies representing over 40,000 scientists wrote a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency offering their expertise on health effects from environmental contaminants. This type of help should be welcomed by agencies when working on new environmental legislation. See: Forum: Toxins All Around Us

• IDENTITY THEFT
In the first half of 2011 over 107 million people were affected by hacking. Congress is considering bills that would require companies to notify customers of breaches only if there was a “reasonable risk” that personal information was taken. But what is reasonable risk? See: Graphic Science: Data Theft: Hackers Attack

• HEALTH
Lower prevalence of smoking is the single best explanation of why immigrants and people of Hispanic descent outlive other demographics in the U.S. In 2000, smoking explained about 75 percent of the difference in life expectancy at age 50 between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white men and women. See: The Science of Health: The Ethnic Health Advantage

• NATURAL RESOURCES
U.S. geologists have mapped deposits of rare-earth elements and critical minerals—those essential to high-tech manufacturing—in war-torn areas of Afghanistan. Possibly worth trillions of dollars, the minerals could help overcome the country’s opium and Taliban strongholds, while also providing the world with crucial elements and minerals needed for high-tech manufacturing, such as TV displays and computer disk drives. See: Geology: Afghanistan’s Buried Riches

• ENVIRONMENT
More than 6,000 chemicals pollute U.S. drinking water. A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office stresses that the government needs to better regulate contaminants in tap water. See: Advances: Is It Safe to Drink?

• TECHNOLOGY
The average U.S. Internet speed today is 5.3 megabits per second. The University Community Next Generation Innovation Project, organized by a group of universities, is piloting connections of one gigabit per second, nearly 200 times faster than those available today in the U.S. See: Advances: Gig.U Is Now in Session

• ON THE WEB
A decade after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., how have passenger-screening systems, surveillance networks and military technologies evolved? And what vulnerabilities remain? Scientific American explores these issues online at www.ScientificAmerican.com/oct2011/terrorism