Friday, February 21, 2014

Rail lines agree to slow oil trains in cities, do more track inspections, improve disaster planning

Railroads carrying crude oil "have reached an agreement with U.S. transportation officials to adopt wide-ranging, voluntary safety measures after a string of explosive and deadly accidents," report Matthew Brown and Joan Lowy of The Associated Press, which got a copy of the agreement between the Association of American Railroads and the Transportation Department. (Photo by MCT via Getty Images)

Oil trains would slow down through major cities, railroads "would increase track inspections and bolster emergency response planning along routes that carry trains hauling up to 3 million gallons of oil each," AP reports. "Those trains travel thousands of miles from oil producing areas, including the Northern Plains, to coastal refineries."

AP notes that the agreement does not apply to ethanol, which has "also seen a spate of accidents as production has increased," or "a design flaw in tens of thousands of tank cars that make them prone to rupture during derailments." Railroads said that would be addressed in a separate agreement.

The voluntary agreement will allow railroads to act soon instead of waiting "for new safety rules to be drafted and approved by the government, said Robert Chipkevich, former director of rail and hazardous materials accident investigations at the National Transportation Safety Board. But he added that there's no way for now to enforce the industry's commitments," AP reports.

Rural Arkansas clinics use Medicare bonuses to handle influx of patients from Obamacare

While there are fears that physicians can't handle the influx of patients newly insured through federal health reform, especially in rural areas, Medicare and the state of Arkansas may have found a way to accommodate those in need of services. David Pittman of MedPage Today reports the news from El Dorado, Ark., just north of the Louisiana border, where SAMA Health Care Services has become a beacon of success while embracing Obamacare.

The four-physician, primary-care practice, with the help of funds from a Medicare program, "has worked to add more staff and organize care teams to be able to see more patients, increase worker and patient satisfaction, and hopefully generate more revenue for the practice," Pittman writes. "Until a couple of years ago, the practice was a group of physicians and nurses working mostly independently of each other—although all under the same roof. One physician would rotate to be on call that day to take same-day appointments, but patients would complain that they wanted to see 'their doctor.'"

SAMA is one of 69 Arkansas primary-care practices "participating in a Medicare PCMH demonstration project called the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative," Pittman reports. "Practices in the program receive a per-member-per-month bonus from Medicare, Arkansas Medicaid, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Humana, and QualChoice of Arkansas to better coordinate care for patients with those insurance plans. Providers also receive bonuses if they hit certain quality measures."

To make things easier for employees and patients, "Staff members reorganized themselves into four teams, each with a physician, an advanced-practice nurse, care coordinator and three other nurses. The teams even wear different-colored garb—purple, orange, blue, or red—to let patients know which team is caring for them," Pittman writes. "Under this structure, each team is responsible for a set of patients, whether they are same-day visits or routine check-ups. They have a system where patients just discharged from the hospital will get a phone call within 24 hours and will be seen in the clinic within a week."

The facility, which plans to add a fifth team in May, will have doubled its number of providers since August 2013. Hospital administrator Pete Atkinson told Pittman, "Especially with the Affordable Care Act, we're seeing a ton of patients that never had insurance. The better job we do, the more people that want to come. There was no way we could continue to be the same size and provide proactive services."

Nurse practitioners see patients with more acute illnesses, giving physicians more time to spend with patients with chronic illnesses, Pittman writes. As a result, physicians are seeing about 50 patients each day, up from 25 under the previous system. And even though they are seeing more patients, doctors said they feel they have more quality time to spend with each one. Physician Gary Bevill told Pittman, "What that was telling us—because we're in such an under-served area—that there were more patients of mine that really needed to be seen than could be seen. Work has been more enjoyable because you kind of have an idea everybody is pulling their own weight." (Read more)

Deadly virus threatens hog farms; Humane Society objects to feeding sows remains of dead piglets

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that a deadly pig virus that is leading to industry financial losses and potentially higher pork prices for consumers, and could have a greater impact on the nation's hog supply than previously thought, Meredith Davis reports for Reuters. Porcine epidemic diarrhea has been confirmed in 25 states and three Canadian provinces, and has resulted in 3,528 confirmed cases of PED as of Saturday. USDA defines a case as "multiple animals at a single farm site or at several locations." 

The virus, which doesn't affect humans and is not a food safety risk, "kills 80 to 100 percent of piglets that contract it," Davis writes. "Some U.S. meat companies have said that the virus is driving up hog prices and cutting the pork supply by 2 to 4 percent. In the United States, the world's largest pork exporter with a 65.9-million-head hog herd, retail pork prices still hover near record highs, and losses due to the virus are expected to keep boosting hog futures prices. Analysts and traders have estimated up to 4 million pigs died from the virus, but the hog industry does not have an official death toll, because cases are reported voluntarily." Several research facilities are working on vaccines. (Read more) (Human Viruses graphic: Cumulative number of swine samples in the affected US states testing positive for PED)
On Thursday the Humane Society of the United States alleged that through an undercover operation, it videotaped a hog farm in Western Kentucky feeding sows ground-up intestines of piglets who died from the virus, which it said is a violation of state and federal animal-handling regulations. The society's vice president, Paul Shapiro, said "state and federal regulations prohibited feeding garbage, except for household waste, to swine," writes Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The Humane Society presented its findings to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Stout, whose office will investigate the claims, told Patton that feeding piglet remains to sows, "while it seems like a crude practice, it is long-accepted immunization practice. It has a history of being effective, especially in the absence of a vaccine."
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"Richard Coffey, director of the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center and a state swine extension professor, said the PED inoculation treatment used by this farm was necessary," Patton reports. He told her, after viewing the video, "I didn't see anything in there that indicated those animals were being abused." (Read more)

EPA proposes new pesticide rules: annual training, no-entry areas, signs, ban for kids under 16

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new safety rules Thursday to protect people who work in farms, or live near them, and might be exposed to dangerous pesticides, Carey Gilliam reports for Reuters. "EPA is proposing revisions to the agency's 22-year-old Worker Protection Standard that EPA officials say will help protect approximately 2 million U.S. farm workers and their families from exposure to pesticides used to protect crops from weeds, insects, and disease."

Propose changes include "annual training in pesticide protection, instead of once every five years," Giliam writes. Other changes "would expand mandatory posting of signage warning people from entering fields newly treated with pesticides; prohibit children under 16 from handling pesticides unless they are part of a family farm; and set no-entry buffer areas of 25 feet to 100 feet around pesticide-treated fields to limit exposure from overspraying and fumes." The EPA will seek public comment before making a final decision. (Read more)

North Dakota tops Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index; West Virginia last for fifth straight year

North Dakota might be the happiest place to live in the U.S. The state topped the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2013, displacing Hawaii, which had held the top spot for the past four years. On the other end of the spectrum, folks in West Virginia and Kentucky are living the least happy, healthy and prosperous lives; West Virginia ranked last, hitting the bottom of the list for the fifth straight year. But the numerical differences are not very large.

States are scored on a scale of 0 to 100 based on interviews with residents about emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors and access to basic necessities, Witters writes. The national average was 66.2, down 66.7 from 2012. North Dakota had a score of 70.4, while West Virginia scored 61.4.

North Dakota scored the highest for work environment, 60.7, and physical health, 79.6. Alaska was highest for emotional health, at 82.9. Vermont was first for health behaviors, at 71.7. Massachusetts was first for access to basic necessities, at 86.9. West Virginia was last in every category except work environment, with Mississippi holding that spot.

After North Dakota, the rest of the top 10 were: South Dakota, 70; Nebraska, 69.7; Minnesota, 69.7; Montana, 69.3; Vermont, 69.1; Colorado, 68.9; Hawaii, 68.4; Washington, 68; and Iowa, 68.2; After West Virginia and Kentucky, the other states at the bottom of the list were: Mississippi, 63.7; Alabama, 64.1; Ohio, 64.2; Arkansas, 64.3; Tennessee, 64.3; Missouri, 64.5; Oklahoma, 64.7; and Louisiana, 64.9. (Read more) (Gallup graphic)

Farm Bill makes watching a cockfight a felony

The new Farm Bill has new penalties to discourage cockfighting. Merely attending a cockfight is now a federal crime punishable by up to a year and prison and a $10,000 fine. Bringing a minor to such an event could result in up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Herald-Leader 1992 photo: Steel spurs are
attached to a bird's legs before a cockfight.
Craig Davis, president of the United Gamefowl Breeders Association, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the law could make good citizens into criminals. "The grass roots on this are not playing games anymore. They've been beaten and battered for 30 years. They're rural people. They want to be left alone," Davis told the Kentucky newspaper.

Though law enforcement officials don't often cite citizens for cockfighting, the Farm Bill makes it a much more serious offense. "I think we're going to get some enforcement," John Goodwin, director of animal-cruelty policy for the Humane Society of the United States, told the paper. "Law-enforcement agents all across the country are really tired of these cockfighting pits because they see the cruelty, but they see these pits as magnets for other crime as well." He recounted a 2008 Drug Enforcement Agency bust in Cumberland County, Tennessee, at a cockfighting ring connected to a Mexican drug cartel, the Herald-Leader reports.

Goodwin said said that now all cockfighting pits in Tennessee are at risk for going out of business. "Now, if the feds raid a cockfighting pit, anyone there can pay fines and do prison time," he said. "All the gambling dollars are not going to offset that. They're starting to figure out, 'Hey, there may not be a future in cockfighting.'" Goodwin said they need to accept that at the federal level, no one wants to partner with people doing something that's illegal in every state.

Davis said that breeding gamefowl helps many rural Kentuckians to make money, and he's upset with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for supporting the bill. "Davis and several hundred cockfighting enthusiasts greeted McConnell, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in London on Monday as they made a swing through Eastern Kentucky to promote economic development proposals," which include pilot industrial-hemp projects that the bill legalizes, the Herald-Leader's Janet Patton and Sam Youngman report. For a video report from WYMT-TV in Hazard, click here.

Legislation would authorize urgent-care centers in rural Georgia, where hospitals keep closing

Sen. David Lucas
Rural hospitals in Georgia keep closing, with three shutting their doors last year, one closing this year, and several more, most of them critical access hospitals, in danger of being shut down. With so many hospitals taking it day to day, Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon), whose district includes all or part of five rural counties, including one where the only hospital closed, has come up with a solution, presenting a bill to open small emergency rooms in under-served rural counties, Maggie Lee reports for The Telegraph in Macon.

The bill would allow tiny stabilization centers or urgent care centers "to provide triage, then send patients to hospitals" and  "exempts such stabilization centers from having to prove to state hospital regulators that they are a viable proposition," Lee writes. “We are not a Third World country,” Lucas told a Senate committee, but “somehow we’ve done everything in this state for economic development, airline tax breaks, folks who make planes get tax breaks, but we’re talking about the average Georgia citizen.”

Lucas, who suggested the centers would need to use federal funds, asked the committee "for a few days to fine-tune his bill in consultation with hospital regulators," saying the bill in its current form is not technically workable. (Read more)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture: A little less farmland, a lot more money; older farmers

While the number of farms and amount of farmland declined, revenue from agricultural products in the U.S. rose 33 percent from 2007 to 2012, to $394.6 billion, according to a preliminary report of the 2012 Census of Agriculture, taken every five years. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the data provide "a snapshot of a strong rural America that has remained stable during difficult economic times." A full report, along with state and county data, will be released later.

"Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them," says an Agriculture Department release. "The census tells a story of how American agriculture is changing and lays the groundwork for new programs and policies that will invest in rural America; promote innovation and productivity; build the rural economy; and support our next generation of farmers and ranchers."

From 2007 to 2012, the average value of a U.S. farm increased from $137,807 to $187,093, the largest rose in the history of the census. However, farmland values have been dropping recently, and experts last week predicted that they could drop 20 to 25 percent over the next few years. Corn Belt farmland value rose 20 percent from 2009 to 2013, leading some to fear a bubble was approaching. The same fear was felt with rising prices in Northern Plains and Great Lakes states. Farmland prices fell from 2012 to 2013 in some areas in the Midwest and Southeast.

The census found that 2012 crop sales amounted to $212.4 billion, exceeding sales of livestock ($182.2 billion) for the only second time (1974 was the only other). The department projected Thursday that corn and soybean prices, which were at record or near-record highs in recent years, were would drop significantly this year.

The census found that farmers continue to get older, with the average age rising from 57.1 in 2007 to 58.3 in 2012. The U.S. had 2.1 million farms in 2012, down 4.3 percent from 2007, and the amount of farmland dropped from 2007 to 2012 from 922 million acres to 915 million acres. But the percentage drop in farmland acreage was the smallest since 1950. To read the preliminary report, click here.

Deadly synthetic drug responsible for at least 67 deaths in R.I. and Pa. is working its way south

While heroin use and overdoses are on the rise across America, a newer, more powerful synthetic drug called acetyl fentanyl (right) is being branded a killer because of the high rate of overdoses linked to its use. The drug is working its way south, where many rural areas are already facing a heroin epidemic, brought on by officials' striving to stop the prescription drug problem. This opened the door for dealers and users to turn to cheaper, more easily accessible drugs like heroin—and acetyl fentanyl.

The dangers of acetyl fentanyl first came to major notice last year when Rhode Island reported 14 deaths from the drug from March 7 to May 26. At the time, there was little information about the drug. "We know that an astonishing number of Rhode Islanders are dying from a mysterious, never-before-seen, man-made drug," Philip Eil reported for The Providence Phoenix. "But we know little else. Who? Where? Why?" The high number of deaths in Rhode Island led the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release a health warning in June 2013.

Dr. Robert Swift, a psychiatry professor and associate director of Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, said fentanyl "is a synthetic opiate used for decades as an adjunct to other anesthetics during surgeries," Eil writes. "Like other opiates, fentanyl mimics chemicals in the brain—endorphins — that make us feel good and dull or block the sensation of pain, Dr. Swift says. Except fentanyl does this more quickly and more powerfully." The drug is described as being 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. (Read more

Last month 17 people in Alleghany, Pa., just outside Pittsburgh, died during a one-week period from the drug, and Pennsylvania public health officials say the drug was responsible for 50 deaths in 2013, Janice Crompton reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Medical examiner Karl Williams told Crompton, "We usually deal with 250 drug overdoses a year, so what's going on is really significant." (Read more)

Now the drug is working its way south, with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issuing a health advisory Wednesday to state residents, after three acetyl fentanyl-related deaths were reported in North Carolina last month, Thomasi McDonald reports for the Charlotte Observer. Dr. Justin Brower, who supervises the toxicology lab at the state medical examiner’s office, told McDonald, “People in the street may not know what they are ingesting in their body." He said that while it has side effects similar to heroin, “people can die much more easily” from using it. (Read more)

There were 38,329 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2010, with overdoses being "the No. 1 accidental killer of Americans 25 to 64 years old," Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. While time is of the essence when trying to save the life of an overdose victim, officials say the problem is that many victims die because their friends and family don't respond to the overdose by immediately dialing 911 or driving to the emergency room, for fear that they will face criminal charges. Some states have tried to cure that problem by passing "Good Samaritan" laws "that grant limited immunity to drug users who seek help for someone who has overdosed." (Read more)

According to a report by Trust for America's Health "only 17 states and Washington, D.C. have laws in place to provide a degree of immunity from criminal charges or mitigation of sentencing for individuals seeking to help themselves or others experiencing an overdose." Those states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The highest rate of drug overdose fatalities is in West Virginia, where numbers have quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, with 28.9 out of every 100,000 people dying of a drug overdose, according to the study. New Mexico had the second highest rate, at 23.8 deaths per every 100,000, and Kentucky, where numbers also quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, the rate was 23.6 deaths per every 100,000 people.

Other state rates: Nevada, 20.7; Oklahoma, 19.4; Arizona, 17.5; Missouri and Tennessee, 17;  Utah, 16.9; Delaware, 16.6; Florida, 16.4; Ohio, 16.1; Rhode Island, 15.5; Pennsylvania, 15.3; Wyoming, 15; South Carolina, 14.6; Indiana, 14.4; Michigan, 13.9; Louisiana, 13.2; Washington, 13.1;  District of Columbia, Montana, Oregon, 12.9; Colorado, 12.7; Arkansas, 12.5; Alabama, Idaho, New Hampshire, 11.8; Alaska 11.6; Mississippi and North Carolina, 11.4; Maryland and Massachusetts, 11; Hawaii and Wisconsin,  10.9; Georgia, 10.7; California, 10.6; Maine, 10.4; Connecticut, 10.1; Illinois, 10; New Jersey, 9.8; Vermont, 9.7; 43. Kansas and Texas, 9.6; Iowa, 8.6; New York, 7.8; Minnesota, 7.3; Virginia, 6.8; Nebraska, 6.7; South Dakota, 6.3; North Dakota, 3.4. To read the report click here.

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Honeybees passing deadly virus onto bumblebees, which are also important pollinators

A virus has led to a decline in the world population of the honeybee, a species that the agriculture industry relies on to pollinate 90 crops that generate $14 billion a year. Now a study published this week in the journal Nature finds that wild bumblebees are getting the virus from honeybees, leading to a steady decline in their population. This matters because bumblebees "provide a significant chunk of the world’s pollination of flowers and food, especially greenhouse tomatoes,"  Seth Borenstein reports for The Associated Press. Bumblebees provide about "$3 billion worth of fruit and flower pollination in the United States." (AP file photo)

The study's author, Mark Brown of the University of London, wrote: ‘Wild populations of bumblebees appear to be in significant decline across Europe, North America, South America and also in Asia." He said the study " confirmed that a major source of the decline was 'the spillover of parasites and pathogens and disease' from managed honeybee hives."

The study, which tracked nearly 750 bees in 26 sites throughout Great Britain, and also examined captive bees to see how the disease spreads, found that the average life span of bumblebees was reduced to 15 days from 21 days, Borenstein writes. "And while honeybee hives have tens of thousands of workers and can afford to lose some, bumblebee hives only have hundreds at the most." University of Illinois entomology professor May Berenbaum told Borenstein, ‘‘It’s like Wal-Mart versus a mom-and-pop store." (Read more)

Nebraska court invalidates governor's approval of Keystone XL pipeline

Last year Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman endorsed legislation to allow TransCanda Corp.'s $5.4 billion Keystone XL pipeline to cross part of the state, but now a state court has invalidated the decision, Patrick Rucker and Valerie Volcovici write for Reuters. As a result, the project will be delayed months beyond the expected five years it would already take to build it.

Lancaster District Judge Stephanie Stacy said that when legislators allowing Gov. Dave Heineman to decide the route, rather than the Nebraska Public Service Commission, they violated the state constitution. Reuters reports, "TransCanada has been counting on President Barack Obama to approve its pipeline plan, Keystone backers had anticipated the support of states and landowners as well." But many landowners oppose the pipeline on environmental and property-rights grounds. Both Republican and Democratic legislators are pushing Obama to approve it. "The project looms over Obama's economic and environmental legacy," Reuters reports.

TransCanada said it was disappointed by the ruling and would look at other legal options. Dan Weiss, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, which opposes the plan, said "This court decision provides more uncertainty for pipeline proponents and more time to organize for pipeline opponents." (Read more)

Crop-price forecast raises Farm Bill's likely cost

"Updated projections by the Agriculture Department on Thursday forecast significant price declines for corn, wheat and even soybeans — all large enough to trigger potential payments under the new farm bill," David Rogers reports for Politico. Corn prices are expected to drop to an average of $3.90 per bushel, down from a record-high $8.31 in August 2012, before dropping to a $4.65 in August 2013. Wheat could fall to $5.30 a bushel, while the price of $9.65 per bushel of soybeans is "an estimated 24 percent decline from what the department estimated for the current 2013-14 farm cycle." (Politico photo by M. Scott Maharskey: Projected prices)

"In all three cases, the numbers are below what the Congressional Budget Office assumed for crop prices in its own May 2013 baseline used to score the farm bill," Rogers writes. "This further adds to the likelihood that an updated CBO score next month will show billions more in outlays under the revised commodity title."

While soybean plantings should increase, "the latest forecast shows reduced corn plantings of 92 million acres in 2014, a drop from 93.5 million acres shows last week," Rogers writes. "And in part this reflects the increased flexibility allowed under the new law, which will allow corn growers to shift more to soybeans and still collect aid promised for their corn base acres under the new Agriculture Risk Coverage, or ARC, program."

"The gap between the earlier CBO baseline and the new numbers is large," Rogers writes. "In corn’s case, it is more than 50 cents a bushel in the 2014-2015 percent. If accurate, it guarantees corn growers substantial aid under ARC — subsidies that will begin to be paid out in 2015. In the case of wheat, the projected $5.30-per-bushel price appears low enough to qualify growers for either ARC or an alternative Price Loss Coverage plan, which sets a target price of $5.50 per bushel for wheat. Soybeans, at $9.65 per bushel, would also appear to qualify for some ARC assistance. But the margin is close enough that it could be affected by higher yields. And since corn and beans operate so much in tandem, the assumption has been that more farmers will designate their acres as corn base, not soybeans, in order to get more from ARC." (Read more)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

County-by-county map shows how rural jobs lost during recession still haven't been regained

While the unemployment rate in metro areas and small cities has decreased slightly, the rural unemployment rate continues to inch higher. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in December, the rural unemployment rate rose to 7 percent from 6.9 percent in November, while the rate in metrpolitan areas dropped to 6.4 percent from 6.6 percent, reports the Daily Yonder. In urbanized areas with 10,000 to 50,000 people, called "micropolitan," the rate dropped to 6.7 percent from 6.8 percent.

"More troubling than the stalled month-to-month unemployment rate, however, is the fact that rural counties and counties with small towns still don’t have the jobs that existed before the recession began in December 2007—more than six years ago," the Yonder reports. One reason for that could be stagnant or declining population; rural population in the U.S. declined last year for the first time in history.

The Yonder compared the number of jobs the BLS counted in December with the number of jobs the agency found in all of 2007, before the recession began. They found that urban counties had 100,000 more jobs than in 2007, but that rural counties had 382,000 fewer jobs than in 2007, and "counties with small towns had 448,000 fewer jobs at the end of 2013 than in all of 2007. Combined, the counties outside metropolitan regions had 830,000 fewer jobs in December 2013 than the average of 2007." (Read more) (This Yonder map is interactive. To view individual counties click here)

Investigation by 3 news organizations finds Texas lawmakers favor oil and gas frackers over health

An eight-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, Pulitzer-winning InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel into drilling of the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas found that lawmakers are more interested in protecting the oil and gas industry than they are in preserving the health of about 1.1 million residents, Lisa Song, Jim Morris and David Hasemyer report for InsideClimate News. (ICN graphic) 

The 400-mile-long, 50-mile-wide oil and gas field stretches "from Leon County, Texas, in the northeast to the Mexico border in the southwest," InsideClimate reports. "Since 2008, more than 7,000 oil and gas wells have been sunk into the brittle, sedimentary rock. Another 5,500 have been approved by state regulators, making the Eagle Ford one of the most active drilling sites in America."

Three oil and gas facilities "house 25 compressor engines, 10 heater-treaters, six flares, four glycol dehydrators and 65 storage tanks for oil, wastewater and condensate," InsideClimate reports. "Combined, those sites have the state's permission to release 189 tons of volatile organic compounds—a class of toxic chemicals that includes benzene and formaldehyde—into the air each year. Those three facilities also are allowed to release 142 tons of nitrogen oxides, 95 tons of carbon monoxide, 19 tons of sulfur dioxide, 8 tons of particulate matter and 0.31 tons of hydrogen sulfide per year." There are three other facilities, but little is known about "because they don't have to file their emissions data with the state."

The investigation found that "Texas' air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest." Other key findings:
  • "Thousands of oil and gas facilities—including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings' house—are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates most air emissions, doesn't even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice "[c]annot be proven to be protective."
  • "Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines)."
  • "The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ's budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000."
  • "The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment."
  • "Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas because they haven't been given air quality protections—such as more permanent monitors—provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth." (Read more)

Writer says Vermont is Amerca's heroin capital

Heroin use is on the rise in rural America, and Vermont, one of the most rural states, might be able to claim the title of heroin capital. The problem has gotten so bad that Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire annual address last month to the issue, noting that heroin use is up 770 percent in the state since 2000, $2 million worth of the drug is brought into the state each week, and 80 percent of state inmates are in jail for drug crimes, Gina Tron reports for Politico Magazine. (Boston Globe graphic)

Gina Tron
The problem, Tron writes, is that the rest of America has an idyllic view of Vermont straight out of a fairy tale, but the reality is much different. Tron, whose family moved from Long Island to Vermont in 1992 when she was an adolescent, says she saw heroin coming when states cracked down on abuse of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin. She says one addict told her, “You’re pretty much doing heroin anyway, and it’s much cheaper than doing Oxys.”

Tron said her family wasn't received with open arms when they moved to Vermont, and "It didn’t take long for me to understand why: Vermont draws lots of out-of-staters who move there thinking it’s some sort of promised land of maple syrup and covered bridges," Tron writes. "Vermont is beautiful—the view from our house was breathtaking, with rolling hills stretching for miles, full of grazing deer in the morning and howling coyotes at night. But the state is also more complicated than its reputation. . . . My mother taught GED classes to troubled kids in Queens in the late 1980s. She claimed the problems she witnessed there paled in comparison to what she saw while teaching in rural Vermont," tales of child neglect and sexual abuse.

"There were a lot of secrets and a lot of boredom," Tron writes. "Kids would get wasted out on the cow pasture, mostly by drinking and smoking weed. But while some of my peers in high school took opiates like OxyContin, heroin was still frowned upon," Tron writes. That all changed in recent years, especially with the crackdown on prescription-drug abuse. (Read more) A documentary by Green Rivers Pictures details the heroin epidemic in Vermont. To view the video click below or here.

North Carolina officials say toxins are leaking from second Duke Energy pipe into Dan River

North Carolina officials are already under fire for wrongly declaring the arsenic levels in the Dan River safe after a Feb. 2 Duke Energy coal-ash spill. On Tuesday, those same officials announced that toxins from a second leaking pipe are still pouring water containing unsafe levels of arsenic into the river, Michael Biesecker reports for The Associated Press.

"The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered Duke to stop the flow of contaminated water coming out a pipe that runs under a huge coal ash dump at its Eden power plant," Biesecker writes. "State regulators expressed concern five days ago that the second pipe could fail, triggering a new spill. The water coming out of that pipe contains poisonous arsenic at 14 times the level considered safe for human contact, according to test results released by the state on Tuesday."

Authorities have said that "public drinking water in Danville, Va., and other communities downstream of the Duke plant remain safe," Biesecker writes. " Heavy metals detected in the river at levels exceeding state and federal safety standards—including arsenic, lead and selenium—are being successfully filtered out of water drawn from the river at municipal treatment plants, they said."

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said "a massive pile of coal ash about 75 feet long and as much as 5 feet deep has been detected in the river by the site of the Feb. 2 spill," Biesecker writes. "Deposits varying from five inches deep to less than one inch coated the river bottom across the state line into Virginia and to Kerr Lake, a major reservoir. Federal authorities expressed concern for what long-term effect the contaminants will have on fish, mussels and other aquatic life." (Read more)

On Monday, state lawmakers asked officials to explain how coal-ash disposal, specifically from Duke, is being monitored, and how it can affect the state and its residents.

Attention-deficit hyperactive disorder is more common in some rural-heavy Eastern states

Pediatricians in the U.S. far outnumber child psychiatrists, and "Some rural families must drive 100 miles or more for an appointment with a child psychiatrist or neurologist, who often have long waiting lists and accept insurance less often than a family pediatrician," Alan Schwarz reports for The New York Times. One in seven children—and 20 percent of all boys—are diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactive disorder by the time they turn 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A 2012 study in the journal Academic Pediatrics found pediatricians and family doctors handle most office visits for children medicated for ADHD, Schwarz writes. According to their professional organizations, there are 8,300 child psychiatrists in the country, but there are 54,000 board-certified general pediatricians. "Yet many practicing pediatricians, family doctors and certified nurse practitioners say they have received little training to prepare for today’s rising number of families asking that their children receive mental-health evaluations." In a similar case of people requesting that family doctors take on more than they might be qualified to handle, Penn State researchers found that rural women were more likely to seek mental health care from their physician, as opposed to a specialist.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the highest rates of ADHD for children aged 4-17 in 2011-12 were in states with relatively large rural populations: Kentucky, 18.7 percent; Arkansas, 17 percent; Louisiana, 15.8 percent; South Carolina and Indiana, 15.7 percent; Tennessee, 15.2 percent; and North Carolina, 14.4 percent. Next came Delaware, 14.3 percent; Ohio, 14.2 percent; Iowa, 13.7 percent; Rhode Island, 13.4 percent; and Michigan, 12.8 percent. (Read more) (CDC map: Percent of children diagnosed with ADHD in 2011-12. For an interactive state map,  click here)

The non-profit Reach Institute is one group trying to educate medical professionals—through a three-day seminar that teaches how to diagnose and treat ADHD. In addition to the seminar, "Attendees are allowed 12 hour-long conference calls with institute trainers and other trainees over the next six months to discuss real-life cases," Schwarz writes. "A 9-to-5 hotline allows for further consultation with an expert on call."

But medical professionals who don't have access to the seminar or cannot afford the fees are left trying to diagnose ADHD on their own. Dr. William Wittert, a pediatrician in Libertyville, Ill., who attended one of the seminars, told Schwarz, “When I trained, most of pediatrics was treating infectious disease. But we don’t treat bacterial meningitis anymore. We are being asked to evaluate and handle mental-health issues in kids like ADHD. We have to get up to speed.” (Read more)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ky. agriculture commissioner touts plan for farming in Appalachia, announces 5 hemp study projects

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced a new program Monday to promote farming in the state’s Appalachian region, including announcement of the first five pilot projects to grow industrial hemp under a provision included in the new Farm Bill. (Getty Images photo by Bernd Settnik: Dried hemp)

The hemp projects will be run by several of the state's public universities, in accordance with the bill, which allows colleges, universities or "state departments of agriculture to cultivate industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in January when he introduced the language to the bill.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a longtime hemp advoctae, joined McConnell and Comer in announcing the initiatives, which will include development of seed and "will study basic agricultural production questions, including proper planting, harvesting and yield," Janet Patton reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Another project will "focus on growing cannabinoids for medical research, according to an agricultural economic development plan released during the news conference" in Knott County, which has lost almost half its coal jobs in the last two years. (Read more)

The final project, which is still being ironed out, would probably be affiliated with the University of Louisville, though the university hasn't agreed yet to participate, Gregory Hall reports for The Courier-Journal of Louisville. For the project, "the state agriculture department will oversee hemp farming on an as-yet undetermined former industrial site to study whether the the crop can help clean tainted soil." (Read more)

Comer also announced creation of an "Appalachia Proud" label for marketing products from the region, like the state's "Kentucky Proud" label that has proven successful, and various other measures, including a call to return all coal severance tax revenue to the counties of origin, Bill Estep reports for the Herald-Leader. Comer is planning to run for governor in 2015.

State farmers are ready to begin growing hemp. Rockcastle County farmer Michael Lewis, who has room to plant 50 to 100 acres, said he is confident the crop will be successful in Kentucky, Bruce Schreiner reports for The Associated Press. Lewis told Schreiner, “Absolutely it’s going to work. It worked 80 years ago.” Alpaca farmer Alvina Maynard of Madison County said she "sees the potential of blending alpaca and hemp fibers to create novelty clothing and upholstery fabrics. Maynard said she’d like to partner with farmers to supply hemp." She told Schreiner, “It produces a textile that neither one could create on its own." (Read more)

Critics say Army Corps plan to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes includes unnecessary billions

Critics say a large portion of the $15 billion proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep invasive carp out of Lake Michigan has "little to do with directly stopping invasive species," Dan Egan reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The proposal, which is designed to "restore the natural separation between the Lake Michigan and Mississippi River," includes about "$12 billion to build things like new reservoirs, sewer tunnels and water treatment plants, as well as remove contaminated river sediments." (Booth Newspapers graphic; click on it for larger version)

Jim Ridgway, an environmental engineer and board chairman for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said one example of the unnecessary spending is the Corps' proposed tunnel-and-reservoir system, which "is designed to capture floods up to those triggered by a 500-year storm - a tempest so severe it would be expected to happen, as the name implies, maybe only twice every millennium," Egan writes.

Another concern is that some believe the Corps doesn't see the urgency in getting the project done quickly, calling for the work to take 25 years to complete, Egan writes. Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission, a body appointed by the region's governors and legislatures, told Egan, "The assumptions used in the report create the impression that the Corps thinks this situation is not urgent. Well, it is. We need action and we don't have 25 years to wait." If Asian carp get into Lake Michigan, they could threaten the region's $7 billion annual fishing industry. (Read more)

Rural Minnesota struggles to replace retiring volunteer medical responders

The number of volunteer first responders in rural Minnesota is hitting dangerously low levels, with retirement brutalizing a service that relies on younger generations to step in to fill the growing need. The problem is that with younger generations moving to urban areas, there's no one to fill that need, Pam Louwagie reports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In rural northwest, southwest and west central Minnesota, 17 to 18.5 percent of residents are 65 or older, with numbers expected to grow to 21 percent by 2020, and 26 percent by 2030. (Strib photo by Renee Jones: Jamie Sommers of Wanamingo in EMS training)

About 60 percent of the state's rural emergency responders are volunteer, but "The shortage of recruits has shuttered some small emergency squads, lengthening response times as ambulances race to help from farther away," Louwagie writes. "Emergency service leaders say the problem will only get worse and they will have to get creative with solutions, likely by mixing in some paid staff and figuring out a way to pay for them." Mark Schoenbaum, who directs the state health department’s Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, told Louwagie, “I think we stand at a critical point. Given (baby boomers’) predominance in the rural EMS volunteer workforce, in 10 years few of them will still be on the scene.”

With ambulances sometimes 45 to 50 minutes away, rural Minnesota relies on volunteer first responders when it's a life or death situation. Joe Mercil, who recently retired as a volunteer in Brooks, a town with a population of 141, said finding a replacement was tough. He told Louwagie, "I decided it was time for me to quit and let the younger people take over, but you can’t get anybody in these towns to take over. … The first question they ask is ‘How much money do you make?’ They don’t realize you’re (a) volunteer.” And being a volunteer means that in addition to working a full-time job, or having other full-time duties, the first responder has to remain earshot of an emergency radio, because they might be the only one in town qualified to help. (Read more)

High rate of neurological birth defects in three rural Washington counties defies explanation

Health officials and researchers can't figure out why babies born to women in three counties in rural southern Washington are experiencing a high rate of anencephaly, "a heart-breaking condition in which they’re born missing parts of the brain or skull," Jonel Aleccia reports for NBC News. During a three-year period leading up to January 2013, the state health department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted nearly two dozen cases of birth defects in Yakima, Benton, and Franklin counties in southern Washington, a rate four times the national average. (NBC photo by James Cheng: A four-month old in Washington with spina bifida) 

Since January 2013, one local genetic counselor has counted an additional eight to nine cases of "anencephaly and spina bifida, another birth defect in which the neural tube, which forms the brain and spine, fails to close properly," Aleccia writes. A CDC report released last year examined 27 women in the three counties whose pregnancies had the defect and 108 experiment "control" patients at the same prenatal clinics; they found that 23 cases included anencephaly, a rate of 8.4 per every 10,000 births, well above the national average of 2.1 per every 10,000 births.

The researchers "examined where the women worked, what diseases they had, whether they smoked or drank alcohol, what kind of medications they took and other factors," Aleccia writes. "They looked at where they lived and whether they got their water from a public source or a private well. They looked at race and whether the problem was more pronounced in the area's migrant farm workers or in other residents. In the end, there was nothing — 'no common exposures, conditions or causes,' state officials said — to explain the spike." (Read more)

Twelve cases of anencephaly were reported in the tri-county area in 2012, up from two in 2010 and seven in 2011, Molly Rosbach reports for the Yakima Herald-Republic. A state health department news release stated: “State and local public health investigators found no significant differences between women who had healthy pregnancies and those affected by anencephaly."

Officials said a key to preventing anencephaly is to take folic acid daily, and to avoid nitrates in water. "Women with higher-than-recommended intake of nitrates in their drinking water were more likely to experience several different birth defects, including anencephaly," according to a Texas A&M study, Rosbach writes. Nitrates, which are used in fertilizer, are more prevalent in agricultural regions. (Read more)

N.C. solons grill Duke, state officials about coal ash in wake of spill that could happen many places

While new coal ash disposal regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency aren't due to be released until December, most states might benefit from a hearing like one Monday in North Carolina, where state lawmakers asked officials to explain how coal-ash disposal, specifically from Duke Energy, is being monitored, and how it can affect the state and its residents, Bertrand Gutierrez reports for the Winston-Salem Journal. Duke has 106 million tons of coal ash at its 14 plant sites and 31 coal-ash dumps. On Feb. 2, up to 39,000 tons of the sludge went into the Dan River. (Journal graphic: North Carolina coal ash ponds)

George Everett, Duke’s director of environmental and legislative affairs, apologized for the spill, and said the company took full responsibility for it, but said he could not answer how much it would cost to clean up the river, but that Duke customers would pay for it, Gutierrez writes. Everett was grilled by "about the direct cause of the ash spill: the collapse of a decades-old storm-water pipe made of corrugated steel."

"Four lawsuits filed in 2012 by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources against Duke Energy assert that coal-waste dumps at 11 of Duke’s 14 coal-fired power plants illegally leak into North Carolina waterways in violation of federal clean-water laws and that monitoring wells at all the power plants show levels of potentially toxic heavy metals that exceed state-mandated standards," Gutierrez notes. (Journal graphic)

Panelists asked how other states dealt with spills, and promised to push legislation to deal with coal ash,  Gutierrez writes. Of the meeting, Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) told Gutierrez: “I saw a bunch of legislators who actually never thought that environmental protections were important or that regulations were important, until they saw what happens when you don’t regulate a dangerous substance like coal ash, and I think that they’ll maybe be a little more thoughtful about all this antiregulatory pushing coming out of the Legislature. Finally getting some action on coal ash … is a huge step forward.'” (Read more)

Kansas panel will examine whether injection of fracking fluids is causing small earthquakes

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has assigned a committee to determine whether or not deep injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas is connected with the recent bout of small earthquakes in a part of Kansas that doesn't often have them, Dion Lefler writes for The Wichita Eagle. "Recent seismic activity in south-central Kansas has raised concerns that fluid injection might be related," Brownback said in a statement.

"It's not the fracking itself; it's this re-injection of the fluids into formations that are considered safe to hold it," Don Blakeman, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., told Lefler. "It's waste disposal."

Fracking injects water and chemicals underground, and saltwater comes up along with the gas and oil. The water and used fluids are then pumped underground elsewhere. Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey and an appointee to the governor's panel, told Lefler that if the disposal process is to blame for the quakes, the main problem is likely the more volumnious saltwater. Sometimes reinjection "seems to change the pressure environment on subsurface faults," making them slip, he said. "There's a lot of complex physics going on down there."

In two months, Caldwell, which is near the Kansas-Oklahoma state line, experienced three earthquakes ranging in magnitdue from 3.3. to 3.9. "By Kansas standards, that's a good earthquake," Buchanan said. The debate about the potential correlation between fracking and quakes is a hot topic in adjoining Oklahoma, where gas and oil production is even more common. The Sooner State has had some earthquakes in the 5.6 range, and that's quite serious—even for a place like California that gets a lot of quakes, Buchanan told Lefler.

Determining the cause of a quake is not easy, said Blakeman, who works in the center's locating unit. "It takes a lot more study, typically more instruments on the ground and collaboration with companies to know when they're re-injecting fluids and so forth, so you can tell the timeline," he said. This is one type of study Brown's committee will examine, Buchanan said. The committee's first meeting will be on April 16 at Wichita State University's Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex. Buchanan said that by that time, he hopes the committee will have drafted a plan for stakeholders to look over, Lefler writes. (Read more)

Monday, February 17, 2014

U.S. Postal Service wants to provide non-bank financial services to underserved Americans

The U.S. Postal Service wants to go into the small loan business. The agency announced plans for a proposal to provide non-banking financial services to the 68 million adult Americans who don't have bank accounts or who use check cashing services or payday loans to survive. This move could translate into $8.9 billion per year for the Postal Service, which lost $8.5 billion last year. The agency, which said people who used check cashing and payday loans spent $89 billion on interest and fees, "is well positioned to provide non-bank financial services to those whose needs are not being met by the traditional financial sector. It could accomplish this largely by partnering with banks, who also could lend expertise as the Postal Service structures new offerings," according to a release from the Office of the Inspector General. (USPS graphic)

According to the agency, they not only have the means to offer services banks can't offer but also are better suited to serve people in more rural remote areas that don't have banking institutions; 38 percent of post offices are located in zip codes without a bank and 21 percent are in places with only one bank. When asked why they didn't have a bank account, 32.7 percent of people said they don't have enough money, 21 percent said they don't need or want one, 7.5 percent said they don't like or trust banks, 6.6 percent said were unable to open one because of prior problems, 6.4 percent had accounts but closed them and 5.4 percent said bank fees or balance requirements are too high. The Postal Service said it can help people in all those areas. (Read more)

"Banks generally don’t like to make small loans, even to credit-worthy borrowers, since they cost about the same to underwrite and service as large loans but don’t generate nearly the revenue," Steve Clark writes for The Brownsville Herald. "Historically, those left out in the cold by the traditional financial sector tend to be worse off financially, partly because they have less money to begin with but also because they end up paying much more for loans through payday lenders."

"According to the report, the average payday loan of $375 costs borrowers the principal amount plus an average of $520 in total interest and fees through the life of the loan. The same loan through the post office would cost the borrower the principal loan amount plus $48 in total interest and fees over the life of the loan," Clark writes. The report says that less expensive loans and other financial products, along with savings incentives, "could help bring significant financial stability to millions of Americans, allowing them to pay their bills and avoid eviction, foreclosure, and other socially and economically expensive ills.” (Read more)

Bill to protect rural health services passes Senate, expected to pass House

A federal bill that passed the Senate last week and is expected to pass the House could cut down on long drives for rural patients and ease concerns for understaffed rural hospitals. The bill creates a one-year enforcement delay on legislation passed in 2009—that was only enforced last year—which required a doctor to be present in any department where Medicaid and Medicare patients were receiving outpatient therapeutic services—drug infusions, blood transfusions, outpatient psychiatric services, wound debridement and cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation services.

The ruling is good news to many rural hospitals like Lincoln Hospital (right) in Davenport, Wash., where 70 percent of the patients on are Medicare or Medicaid, Matt Kalish reports for The Spokesman-Review. The hospital "doesn’t typically have physicians in the building unless a procedure or appointment is scheduled. The emergency department at Lincoln is staffed by nurses, and an on-call doctor is summoned when needed." Hospital administrator Tom Martin told Kalish, “You’re wearing people out. Now they’re having to come in for a procedure (when) they didn’t have to be here before. It’s a perspective that’s coming out of an urban center; they’re not understanding how we operate in rural communities.”

Mo Sheldon, CEO of Odessa Memorial Healthcare Center in Odessa, Wash., said "Repealing the rule gives rural hospitals needed flexibility. The current policy could force patients to drive long distances for care if a doctor is not available," Kalish writes. She told Kalish, “Rural hospitals have been providing these services with quality and efficiency. Our communities risk losing needed services due to the potential increased cost associated with implementing a direct supervision policy.” (Read more)

Sen. Jerry Moran
The bill was introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' "imposing such an unrealistic and clinically unnecessary supervision policy jeopardizes patients’ access to important therapy services in rural communities in Kansas and across the country,” reports the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal. “This one-year enforcement delay is needed because many Kansas hospitals are considering cutting services for their patients or limiting hours of operation in order to comply with this inflexible regulation. Congress needs to direct CMS to implement a reasonable policy that more adequately reflects the realities of providing care in rural areas.” (Read more)

Rural teen e-cigarette use up; rural health group uses age progression to show prolonged effects

E-cigarettes were designed to help people quit smoking, but they have had a negative impact among teens; use has more than doubled in that age group from 2011-12, with more than 1.78 million—or 10 percent—of middle and high school students having tried e-cigarettes, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control. (Oswego County Today photo: Age progression software)

It doesn't help that the cigarettes come in flavors such as chocolate, gummy-bear and bubble-gum and that there is no federal age limit to buy e-cigarettes; many teens go online to get their supply, Jenny Lei Bolario reports for NPR. Traditional cigarettes taste too bitter, said Marleny Samayoa, an 8th grader, told Bolario. "It has kind of a weird taste to it, like coffee without sugar." That's why teens like Bolario and fellow eighth-grader Viviana Turincio like the candy flavors.  Turincio told Bolario, "My favorite flavor is gummy bears because it tastes really good." (Read more)

Some rural health groups are trying to cure students of using any kind of tobacco, whether it's smokeless, electronic cigarettes or traditional cigarettes. And if facts about what tobacco can do to a person's body aren't enough, nurses from Oswego Health are using age progression software to show students exactly what smoking will do their appearance, Debbie Groom reports for the Valley News in northwestern New York.

Using the software, "A picture was taken of a student in each class. On a computer screen the students were shown how their classmate would look if he/she smoked to age 65," Groom writes. "When the students were shown how unattractive their fellow student would look if he/she smoked until their mid-60s, most were quite surprised." Teacher Dan Stadtmiller told Groom, “When our students walk out into the real world, they tend to forget the dangers of smoking, and this helps them have a lasting impression." (Read more)

Kentucky snake-handling preacher featured in reality show dies from snake bite

A Kentucky snake-handling Pentecostal preacher featured in the National Geographic Channel reality show "Snake Salvation" died Saturday night in Middlesboro, Ky., after a rattlesnake bit him during a church service, Evan Johnson reports for WBIR in Knoxville. The preacher, Jamie Coots, 42, was featured on The Rural Blog in a story in August. (Tennessean photo by Shelley Mays: Jamie Coots handling a snake in church)

"Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe said officials discovered that Coots died in his home about 10 p.m. Saturday after a snake reportedly bit his hand at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name," Johnsonn writes. "Coots left the church and went home before emergency personnel arrived. Officials then went to Coots's house, but the pastor denied medical treatment, according to Chief Sharpe. About an hour later, officials said they returned to his home, but Coots had already passed away." Coots had been bitten eight previous times, according to his son. (Read more)