By Coriá Bowen Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky
HAZARD, Ky. – Does surface mining harm the health of people in the East Kentucky Coal Field? And why haven’t more elected officials participated in this summer’s meetings to gather ideas to diversify and improve the economy of Appalachian Kentucky?
Those were the two biggest questions raised Friday as 18 leaders of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative gathered in Hazard for a meeting of chairs of the SOAR working groups that have been holding “listening sessions” all over the region.
While many if not most working groups are still compiling their lists of recommendations, Dr. Nikki Stone, chair of the health working group, finalized her group’s list with a tie for number one: coordinated school health and environmental health.
The topic of environmental health, particularly health effects from mountaintop removal and other large-scale surface mining, was a top concern of listening session participants, Stone said in an interview.
“The main thing is that people are very curious about what the truth is,” said Stone, a pediatric dentist in Hazard. “There’s apparently a growing body of research papers on the effects . . . Everybody is curious how big of an impact that specifically is having on people’s health,” including birth defects and cancer rates.
Stone noted the research and reported her working group’s top priorities during a SOAR-related meeting in early August. The event was part of a tour by Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arranged by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, who co-founded SOAR with Gov. Steve Beshear.
A study published in the Journal of Environmental Research compared mountaintop-mining areas of Central Appalachia to non-mining areas and found a correlation of mining with birth defects. (See http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935111001484.)
Several studies have found other such correlations, but Stone said she and her working group want to know if there is causation – if mining in fact does affect public health.
“I hope to see that we’ll get a definitive answer on the effects,” Stone said. “And maybe we’ll find a way to impact it.”
At the Aug. 5 meeting, Frieden told Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader that definitive conclusions are often difficult in such studies, but “If invited in, we could certainly look at it.” Rogers told Estep, “We need to know if there’s anything to it, certainly.”
Some of the Health Working Group’s other priorities, after coordinated school health and environmental health, are smoke-free initiatives, substance abuse and community wellness initiatives.
The eight working groups dealing with policy issues need to prioritize a total of 10 to 15 ideas for a “multi-year effort,” said Chuck Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, which is staffing SOAR until it can find a permanent executive director.
During the middle of the meeting, there was a discussion of what Fluharty called the “elephant in the room”– the relative lack of elected officials at most of the listening sessions.
Several working-group chairs said their plans will require policy changes, and elected officials must be a part of the process in order for the changes to take place. Others cautioned that elected officials may not be so important.
“Leadership comes at a whole bunch of different levels and it seems from our region from time to time we expect too much from our elected officials,” said Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program in Hazard. “I get a sense people are sitting around waiting for one person to make all the change.”
Phil Osborne, a Lexington consultant and chair of the Tourism Working Group, said, “We don’t put too much emphasis on elected officials to get us out of our mess,” suggesting that some officials contribute to the “mess.”
Fluharty expressed the overall importance of having more resources behind communications, to elected officials and people of the region, as SOAR moves forward.
At the same time, Fluharty charged the chairs to ensure that their reporting gives voice to the people of the region and not to their own opinions or those of Rogers and Beshear.
“We would not have paddled up this stream without the leadership who have gotten us there,” Fluharty said. “We have to protect them to sustain the paddle.”
The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is providing independent coverage of SOAR activities with funding from the Rural Policy Research Institute, which is providing SOAR staff support. For more information: Al.Cross@uky.edu.
The beheading of American journalist James Foley was horrifying. My prayers are with his family. May God comfort Foley's soul in eternity.
Foley was one of our sons, brothers and friends. He was an American. I don't see how we can sleep in this country until we destroy ISIS.
ISIS, is a world cancer and must be eliminated. I realize they are a long way from America, but cancer spreads fast.
Cancer is never welcome in any part of the human body. Cancer grows and kills. It has to be totally removed.
ISIS is the worst malignancy that has occurred on our planet since the Nazis. I am opposed to putting American soldiers back on the ground in Iraq. However, we have drones, missiles and jets. We must unleash these at full throttle on ISIS. We must also provide the Iraqi people strategic military leadership and help neighboring countries defeat ISIS.
I have never been for America going to Iraq or any other Middle East country. I detest war. With ISIS we cannot sit idly by.
We are not on a separate planet removed too far for ISIS to bother us. They have their sights on America. Their goal is to strike fear and terror into all the Middle East and America. ISIS must be eliminated.
Glenn Mollette is an American columnist and author.
Click here to watch Glenn Mollette's special TV broadcast on American Energy on American Issues. Contact him at GMollette@aol.com. Like his facebook page at www.facebook.com/glennmollette
The Courier-JournalIn the end, comic relief wasn't enough for the man who provided it to untold millions.If early reports are correct, on Monday comedian/actor/motormouth genius Robin Williams became one of the roughly 39,000 Americans who die by suicide each year — roughly someone every 13 minutes. Mr. Williams' media representative said he had been battling depression, a serious mental illness that affects about 25 million people every year (only half receive treatment for it), and stories also noted that he recently had checked himself back into rehab over concerns about his sobriety.The news of his passing at age 63, and under such tragic circumstances, stunned a nation that loved to laugh with him in his TV appearances, his movies and his stand-up comedy routines. The bottom line to one ledger says his movies earned more than $3 billion in the U.S. But there was more to him, and his career, than that: He won an Academy Award for "Good Will Hunting," and he won our hearts with "Dead Poets Society," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Aladdin" and other performances.Clearly, there are lessons in his bountiful life, and in his sad death.His comedy was not lazy, and it more than hinted at a life of the mind. Accounts of his caring and steadfastness to friends, strangers and causes testify to a kindness that rained blessings on recipients. His willingness to share major struggles in his life, especially those involving substance abuse, indicates an even deeper generosity of spirit.But being smart, being kind and being honest ultimately didn't help with whatever led him to take his own life — and maybe the realization that it was too big for this seemingly successful person will drive home the realization that it's too big for too many of the rest of us, too.Maybe that will force a nation that loses as many loved ones to suicide as to car wrecks to try to figure out why that is, and what to do about it. Maybe it will prompt serious questions of how well our systems treat mental health, as opposed to physical health — and how well we as individuals are prepared to recognize and help people in need. And maybe it will lead men — who die of suicide at four times the rate of women — to reach out for help sooner, before it is too late.Even if those things do happen, there's no happy ending here. His kids lost their daddy, his wife lost her husband, and we lost a wonderful entertainer who made so many of us smile for so many years, a laugh rioter who was not able to find such comfort in his final moments. We'll never have a friend like him again.
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