Friday, February 03, 2023

Texas publisher who made his office a coffee shop offers 30 minutes of free advice for making your paper sustainable

By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

While some newspapers are closing their ofices to the public, one publisher in Texas is engaging with the community by operating out of its own coffee shop. And he's very much into the digital transition while still producing an oversized, black-and-white weekly print edition. And now he's willing to give you 30 minutes of his time to discuss making your paper sustainable.

Big Bend Sentinel Publisher Max Kabat and Texas Press Association
President Leonard Woosley at the newspaper's office/shop
 in Marfa
Max Kabat is publisher of The Big Bend Sentinel in Marfa, Texas, which has fewer than 2,000 people but is the county seat of Presidio County, which has little more than 6,000 – most of whom live in the county seat of Presidio on the Rio Grande, on the other side of the county. There, Max has another weekly, The International. But he is best known for his paper in Marfa, a town Vanity Fair magazine has called "a playground for art-world pioneers and pilgrims."

Kabat "is making a highly emotional connection with his community, daring to tear down any walls between The Big Bend Sentinel and his readers and advertisers," Texas Press Association President Leonard Woosley of the Galveston Daily News wrote in last month's Texas Press Messenger. "In Marfa, people hang out at their local newspaper." While the coffee shop is an example of revenue diversification, Kabat "is not done – and neither should we ever be. Tweaking and reinvention will always be a part of his successful formula."

When Kabat posted a comment on the recent Rural Blog item about closed newspaper offices, we had an email conversation in which he said, "I've been thinking about making my services available to help folks consider this transition" and wondered if people would be interested. I said I thought they would, and many certainly need help. He said we could hang out a shingle for him: "Max is making a free 30-minute chat available to interested parties." Email

Pregnancy riskier for rural women without health insurance

Illustration by Alexis Jang, The New York Times
The physical demands of pregnancy are risky, and "Women and birthing people in rural America are at higher risk of adverse maternal-health outcomes, including maternal morbidity and mortality . . . One possible factor: lower enrollment in health insurance," the University Michigan reports on a study by researchers there. "Residents of rural communities had lower rates of continuous health insurance before, during and after pregnancy compared to those in urban cities."

Lead author Dr. Lindsay Admon said in the news release, "Being uninsured during the time of pregnancy has been associated with less adequate prenatal and postpartum care, which decreases opportunities to address risk factors affecting health outcomes for both the birthing person and baby. . . . Our study suggests that uninsurance disproportionately affects rural residents during pivotal stages of pregnancy."

To flesh out disparities, "Researchers analyzed survey data from 154,992 post-partum individuals in 43 states in 2016-19, including roughly 16 %, or 32,178, rural residents," the release says. "They compared rates of those without any insurance or had gaps in coverage between rural and urban residents during preconception, at the time of birth, and postpartum."

Admon noted, “Rural inequities persisted regardless of age, marital status or insurance type. But these differences were even more significant among specific racial and ethnic groups." The release says: "In each of the three periods, rural residents who were non-Hispanic white, married, and with intended pregnancies experienced greater odds of less adequate or consistent insurance compared to their urban counterparts. They were also less likely to have commercial health insurance during any of those times."

Insurance that extends past 60 days after birth also needs review, the release says: "This lack of coverage the year after pregnancy is especially worrisome, Admon says, since rural residents without postpartum insurance in the study were more likely to be older than 35 and have obesity or chronic hypertension compared with uninsured urban residents." Admon added, "We need to explore policies that help increase insurance enrollment during all phases of pregnancy and that account for rural differences . . . Health insurance is critical to accessing quality healthcare and improving maternal health in the U.S. We hope these findings help inform policies that address rural–urban inequities in maternity care access and maternal health across the country."

Farm Bill hearings begin; look for a fight over food programs

Hearings on a new Farm Bill, which goes well beyond farming to the well-being of rural America and the feeding America's poor, started in the House this week. With the Republican takeover of the chamber, the new chair of the Agriculture Committee is Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.), who "could soon become Washington’s hottest new dealmaker," Garrett Downs reports for Politico's Weekly Agriculture. He’ll have to get comfortable in that role as one of the top players in the only major legislative game in town" in a Congress split between the parties.

Rep. G.T. Thompson, R-Pa.
"He’ll have to manage an insurgent right wing of his caucus demanding spending cuts and Democrats hoping to score climate wins and protect nutrition," Downs notes. Former chair Collin Peterson, D-Minn., now retired, told Downs, “He understands that he's going to have to figure out how to navigate this because at the end of the day, they're not going to get these things that they keep pushing for. As long as they don't pick a fight over food stamps, I think they'll be fine.”

"Food stamps" is the old name for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Thompson noted his family used the program when he was a young adult and that he has rounded up Republican support for it: “I got folks on my side of the aisle, they vote against everything, but they didn’t vote against that because I brought them to the table.”

Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), who chairs the moderate Main Street Caucus, favors work or education requirements in SNAP and different levels of eligibility geared at avoiding benefit cliff, "two things that Republicans say would move recipients towards independence from benefits," Downs reports. "Democrats, meanwhile, are drawing hard lines in the sand." Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told him that Republicans “make proposals that throw people off the program … Come March, [the benefit] will only be two bucks on average per person, per meal. Come on Dusty, you try and live on that.”

The Farm Bill doesn't always pass on time, and Congress could punt until 2024 to get a better bill, suggests Roman Keeney, an associate professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, in The Hill: "The 2018 Farm Bill expires at the close of September this year. Failure to replace that law with a new package puts a number of agricultural programs in limbo. Expiration of the farm bill leaves some programs with no authorization while others would revert to archaic permanent laws established before 1950. The close of the 2023 fiscal year is not just a deadline for replacing the current farm bill. In any year, those final weeks represent a legislatively tense period of government negotiations. With a new U.S. House majority splitting the political leadership in Congress and competing agendas within each political caucus the timeline for delivering replacement farm legislation is incredibly short. An early, pre-emptive extension of the 2018 Farm Bill’s authority for one additional year could be pursued to offer a degree of policy certainty to decision-makers and agricultural markets while gaining the necessary time to deliver transformative farm legislation for a policy era that requires it. . . . the abbreviated timeline would also promote the status quo in areas where current policy has fallen short."

Decades of underfunding, neglect leave public defenders buried and the Sixth Amendment dangling in some states

Sandy Chung, Oregon ACLU's executive director, speaks about the importance of
 of the right to representation. (Photo by Kylie Graham, Mid-Valley Media)
I object. To not having representation. If a person is accused of a crime, the Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to an attorney, even if a person can't afford one. That's the law. But. "Staff shortages and decades of underfunding have created public defense systems crises across the West," report Emily Hamer, Seaborn Larson, Caitlin Schmidt of newspaper chain Lee Enterprises. "Public defenders say they’re unable to serve clients effectively as they grapple with crushing caseloads, few resources, burnout, student debt and low pay. . . . Experts say states must retain public defenders and recruit more of them to ensure everyone who needs an attorney gets one."

The Lee reporters sought data on public defenders' workload in 17 western states. Those in Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Wyoming "had more cases than outdated national standards recommend," they report. "Public defenders in Colorado, Montana and Nevada worked too many hours. The other states don’t track that data statewide. . . . Montana’s state public defender office says it needed on average 63 more public defenders to handle cases assigned since 2019 and still meet its workload management limits. . . . Oregon and New Mexico have one third the attorneys they need to provide adequate representation, according to American Bar Association studies from last year."

Dean Brault, Public Defense Services director in Pima County, Arizona, told reporters: “At some point, we will have to go attorney to attorney and ask if they can take another case and provide effective representation. When the answer to that from everyone is ‘no,’ we’re going to be at a crisis where we have to go to the court and say we can’t ethically take any more cases.”

Savina Haas's PD office did not have 
money to purchase her an office chair.
In Wyoming's Campbell County, an unnamed public-defense supervisor told Lee, “I don’t tell my clients this, but most of the time, especially on misdemeanor cases, I’ve never read their police report. I’ve never watched their videos from the police. I’ve had no time to really investigate their case at all."

Savina Haas, who was public defender in Lassen County, California, told Lee the main solutions were simple: "In all honesty, all they needed to do was get us the resources that we need. Pay us at least somewhat competitive wages so we can bring people here. Have a full staff. Have the ability to be able to run with a decent budget."

Lassen County Chief Administrative Officer Richard Egan "said the county tried several times to recruit and 'just couldn’t do it.' He conceded the county did not increase the salary range." He told Lee, "It’s a rural county that we’re in. Our resources are just limited."

Quick hits Friday: Why we love Pigpen, drone images we might rather not see, a book for Black History Month . . .

Illustration by Ivan Brunetti, Astra

“I can tell just where you’ve been all week from the dirt on your clothes,” Charlie Brown tells a consternated Pigpen proceeding to rattle off a series of dusty locations. Why do some of us love Pigpen so much? Here's the dirt.

An Opinion from Claire Carlson: "What The New York Times Got Wrong About 'Rural Rage'" from The Daily Yonder.

Drones let us see some things maybe we would rather not see. Like how close that great white shark is to your kick board. “Sometimes they’ll swim right under a surfer, but they don’t circle back." How reassuring.

Getting deeper into Black History Month with an almost 100-year-old book.

It's still winter and SAD is a real thing. Add some cheer to your week by helping Tulsa Zoo name their super-sweet African penguin. "The Good Stuff" is a newsletter; you might want to subscribe.

Spring Break offers rest, rejuvenation, and perhaps travel to some rural locations.

A Marine Mammal Program dolphin

In her youth, Blue was a standout mine-hunter for the U.S. military. But at 57, Blue is one of the oldest dolphins in the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. Navy scientists are now delving into geriatric marine mammal medicine. The pursuit may help not only the Navy’s animals but also wild ones — and, perhaps, even for people.

Words matter. When marketing your farm to consumers, keep all the good things in mind

Deception Pass in Washington State ranked fifth most beautiful U.S. state park. Go beyond the bridge: bays, lakes, and beaches.

The James Webb Space Telescope is discovering distant clusters of stars that formed surprisingly early—presenting new mysteries about how the universe evolved.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

USDA hides outlays to farmers with operating loans, saying it's lenders who get the checks; USDA is the biggest lender!

Environmental Working Group photo illustration
It's harder to track payments of farm subsidies because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is listing lenders rather farm owners in answering open-records requests from the Environmental Working Group, which has long maintained a database of the payments.

"For most of the 22 years EWG has tracked subsidies, USDA has released the names of all farm recipients," the group reports. "Now . . . when a recipient has an operating loan with any bank or other financial institution, USDA now releases the name of the bank or financial institution, not the person’s name. Farm subsidies are sent to the banks instead of the recipients, to help pay off farmers’ operating loans.

"This is not a new practice. But it is new for the USDA to give us the bank names instead of the farmers’ names. The change occurred when the Trump administration switched to a new reporting system in 2019. USDA claimed the move was to increase efficiency but gave no reason why the new system names banks instead of recipients. The agency has denied our appeals for the farmer names."

EWG says the policy "effectively conceals the beneficiaries of almost $3.1 billion in taxpayer dollars between 2019 and 2021," about 6 percent of the total. "But it also means we can garner unprecedented insight into the main lending institutions farmers use. Surprisingly, the financial institution that received the most farm subsidies was the USDA." Its Farm Service Agency "got almost $350 million in farm subsidies between 2019 and 2021, more than any other financial organization." How about asking for those payments' real parties in interest?

When teachers miss school, finding substitute teachers is an increasing challenge that needs a closer look by journalists

Image generated by artificial intelligence system DALL.E 2,
with directions from Carmen Nobel of Journalist's Resource
Sub vacation: Term used by students when a substitute teacher is present instead of the "real teacher."

By Heather Close
Institute for Rural Journalism

I was a substitute teacher in Monroe County, Indiana, from 1998 to 2000. I covered K-12. Here are some items to consider: Students stole the TV remote, so initially I struggled to start their physics video; once I manually turned the TV on, they kept changing the channel. More than one student went to the bathroom and never returned. A middle-school boy climbed wall shelving filled with Bunsen burners. I sent Spider Boy to the principal. She sent him back with a note to me that read, "I don't have time for this." I did not return to that school, ever. That's why this resonated with me:

"Last school year, almost 3 out of 4 public schools reported higher rates of chronic teacher absenteeism, or teachers missing 10 or more days of work, according to the U.S. Department of Education," reports Denise-Marie Ordway of The Jounalist's Resource, a free academic research group from Harvard Kennedy School. "At the same time, 77% of schools reported having more difficulty finding substitutes to fill in while regular teachers were out, with 61% saying it was 'much more difficult' than it had been before Covid-19 began to spread. . . . As kids make their way from kindergarten through their senior year of high school, they spend an estimated total of almost a whole academic year being taught by subs, on average."

Some areas are going to extremes. "In 2022, staffing shortages were so severe, some public schools closed temporarily and the governor of New Mexico called on National Guard troops to help cover classrooms," Orway reports. In 2022, "The federal government provided $122 billion in emergency relief to elementary, middle and high schools to 'to keep schools safely open, tackle learning loss and mental health.' Since then, many school districts have raised substitute pay or considered it. To expand their pool of applicants, districts in several states have lowered their educational requirements notes a January 2022 report for the National Council on Teacher Quality."

Filling instruction time with adequately trained substitutes needs attention. Orway writes: "Jing Liu, an assistant professor in education policy at the University of Maryland, warned that increasing pay will not, on its own, improve the overall supply of substitute teachers. He urged journalists to investigate the issue more closely." Liu told Ordway, "Similar to regular teaching jobs, substitute teachers care about their earnings as well as working conditions. Some consistent factors that affect substitute teachers’ willingness to teach I consistently find in my study are the challenge of managing student behavior and the lack of support from school administrators and staff members.”

Ordway writes: "To help journalists better understand and cover this topic, we’ve summarized several academic papers and reports that examine teacher absenteeism patterns, substitute recruitment and substitute teachers’ job preferences. You’ll find those summaries below."
  • School district leaders expect the demand for substitute teachers will grow over the next few years. One big reason: As Baby Boomer educators retire, they are replaced by younger educators, many of whom will start families, requiring them to sometimes take parental leave and time off to care for sick children.
  • There are significant differences in teacher absentee rates across school districts. For example, teachers in the District of Columbia missed an average of 6.9 days of school in 2016-17. In Newark, New Jersey, teachers were out an average of 16.7 days.
  • Even before Covid-19, children spent considerable time with substitutes. As kids make their way from kindergarten through their senior year of high school, they spend an estimated total of almost a whole academic year being taught by subs, on average.
  • Veteran educators miss class more often than less experienced ones. High school teachers tend to have higher absence rates than elementary school teachers.
  • In addition to student misbehavior and a lack of support from other school employees, a long commute is another reason subs don’t take jobs at certain schools. The perceived safety of the neighborhood around a school is another factor.
  • Teacher absences are most detrimental to students during the weeks leading up to end-of-year exams and on exam days.
  • When teachers leave their jobs mid-year, their students show smaller gains in math and language arts than kids whose teachers stayed the whole academic year. Teacher departures are more harmful to elementary school students than middle school students.

As Eastern Kentucky climbs the uphill battle to recovery, it has lessons and a warning to share with the nation

A house built with funds from the Housing Can’t
Wait initiative. (Photo form HOMES Inc.)
Six months out from Eastern Kentucky's disastrous summer floods, the area's recovery has lessons for the nation as it struggles to face climate-change challenges, Kim Kobersmith reports for The Daily Yonder. But first things first: "The urgent need for housing assistance shines a light on the complexity of recovery in an already challenged rural area. Their deepest hope is not just to get roofs over people’s heads but also to secure the resources to build stronger, more resilient communities going forward."

Scott McReynolds of the Housing Development Alliance in Hazard told Kobersmith: “We have the opportunity to get it right and economically move the needle for some of the most distressed Appalachian counties. Getting people out of substandard housing in flood prone areas, into safe, energy efficient homes, will give residents the opportunity to create wealth through housing.”

Flooding is not covered in most home insurance policies, and most say they can't afford flood insurance, ao that has creates painful outcomes. McReynolds shares a real-life example: "His house was literally washed away. It was worth about $120,000 and he has a $60,000 mortgage on it. He had no insurance and received the $40,000 FEMA allotment," Kobersmith writes. "He now owes $20,000 on a house that no longer exists and a piece of flood-prone property. Land on higher ground will cost him approximately $30,000. He is facing $50,000 in mortgage obligations before he even begins to build a new home."

HDA's plan includes climate change as part of the new reality, Kobersmith reports: "In anticipation of increasing 'unprecedented' rain events, it states, 'It is clear that simply repairing and rebuilding homes where they were is a short-sighted, inadequate, and dangerous solution. One option is to site homes on higher ground on family land where possible and rebuild with flood-resistant construction techniques. . . Area leaders anticipate these types of disasters will continue to occur more frequently and intensely due to climate change. Their experiences in Eastern Kentucky have shown the recovery system in the U.S. is not up to the task."

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has announced two new housing-development sites on higher ground, but the Republican-controlled legislature passed a flood relief package without any funds designated for housing. But local efforts are energized. Housing Can’t Wait committed "to build 12 new houses. . . It was about more than recovery; it was a challenge aimed at elected officials," Kobersmith reports. "The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky contributed more than $1 million towards the effort. . . . social investment platform Invest Appalachia has given two innovative five-year conditional repayment grants."

Calif. offers Colorado River plan, saying lack of consensus means 'law of the river' rules; that law favors Golden State

The Colorado River flows near Hite Overlook, Utah, upstream from
Lake Powell. (Photo by Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times)
California has entered the Colorado River water battle royale with a counter-proposal that refutes plans from the other six states in the watershed and says their plan "would disproportionately burden farms and cities in Southern California," reports Ian James of the Los Angeles Times. Wade Crowfoot, the state’s natural resources secretary, told James, "It doesn’t seem like a constructive approach for some states to fashion a proposal that only impacts the existing water security and water rights of another state that’s not part of that proposal.”

The consensus-based modeling alternative” plan offered by Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming included "an accounting for evaporation and other water losses along the lower portion of the river — a calculation that would translate into especially large reductions for California, which uses more Colorado River water than any other state," James writes. "Crowfoot said the other states had devised an approach that would go beyond anything established in the agreements and laws that govern how the Colorado River is managed and used. . . . The proposal by California water agencies, in contrast, lays out practical and achievable changes that can be made starting this year to stabilize reservoir levels."

California officials noted that the state has water rights that are senior to those of the other states, but “I don’t think there is disagreement on the magnitude of the reductions that are needed,” John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told James. “We need this magnitude of cuts in order to stabilize the system. . . . he’s hoping “we can come up with something everybody can live with.”

J.B. Hamby, chair of California’s Colorado River Board, told James, the state’s alternative “provides a realistic and implementable framework by building on voluntary agreements and past collaborative efforts in order to minimize the risk of legal challenge or implementation delay. . . . California is not wavering from our legal position. We continue to look forward to developing a seven-state consensus if possible, but in the absence of that, it defaults to the law of the river.”

Expert opinion: 'The new normal cannot fall back to a pre-Covid normal; we must be bigger, better and smarter'

By Katelyn Jetelina
Your Local Epidemiologist

On Monday the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee gave official word that they voted to renew the Public Health Emergency of International Concern. They are likely teeing up for “the end” in 2023. The U.S. is far more confident in “the end” of the national emergency. On Monday, the White House announced that they are ending it in mid-May.

An inflection point is clearly on the horizon, albeit with uncertainty. This leads to legitimate questions: Are we still in an emergency? What will the future hold? What happens next?

Are we still in an emergency? There is no “level of disease” that defines a pandemic or emergency. Even if there was an objective metric, the reality is that this isn’t determined through epidemiology alone. Where we, as a society, place SARS-CoV-2 in our repertoire of threats is a collective decision—a psychological, cultural, and political decision. Every day we consciously (or subconsciously) decide how much risk and suffering we are willing to accept: How many people get the booster? How many people wear a mask? How many people order free antigen tests? How many deaths, and among whom, are we willing to accept?

This has sparked an intense tug-of-war among scientists, leaders, and the public throughout the pandemic: a push towards “normalcy” from some and push back towards “urgency” from others. All individuals and societies fit somewhere on this spectrum. And one’s position may (and perhaps should) change with time.

How did winter play out? How we fared this winter gives us a good idea as to whether we are still in “emergency” phase in the U.S. We essentially had two tests:

How well did our immunity hold up against a constantly changing Omicron? According to varying hospitalization models from early fall, the 2022-23 winter played out as a best-case scenario for Covid-19. Even the best-case scenario, though, led to a peak of 48,000 hospitalizations.
Projections of hospitalizations, from CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting on Sept. 1, 2022

Could our hospital systems handle the stress of a novel virus on top of the “normal” respiratory viruses? We hadn’t previously seen the impact of all of them at the same time. In addition, health-care workers are increasingly burnt out, and hospitals are increasingly understaffed. Given all of this, hospitals did okay this winter. Pediatricians were drowning, particularly because of a massive RSV wave. Emergency rooms were overcrowded with sickness. But a Covid-19 emergency declaration wouldn’t necessarily help with either of these. Hospitals were not overwhelmed with adults because of our immunity wall, and I’m increasingly convinced there was viral to viral interaction—in other words, we didn’t see all three viruses peak at the same time.

Given this, I agree that we are not in an emergency phase in the U.S. An emergency declaration was appropriate when we had rational hope that transmission could be interrupted on a population level and when we needed extreme measures to prevent collapse of healthcare systems. We are past this. Continuing the emergency would not be constructive given public sentiment and lack of funding anyway. As one epidemiologist told me, “If it’s always an emergency, nothing’s an emergency.”
What will the future hold?

If we end the emergency, it begs the question: What phase are we in?

I don’t believe we are in an endemic phase— a state of predictability. I think we are on our way, and Covid-19 will eventually fall into seasonal patterns. But this will likely take years. Until then, we will be in an awkward space between pandemic and endemic. Epidemiologists don’t have an official word for this phase. WHO flu risk management people would probably call this the “transition” phase.
Graph from World Health Organization pandemic risk management guide

We will continue to see the virus ebb and flow—it will mutate, we will get waves, people will continue to miss work and daycare, and people will continue to be hospitalized and die, particularly those over 65 years and immunocompromised. The end of an emergency does not mean the end of disruption or suffering.

Deaths from Covid-19 are projected for 2023; data from CDC, here

Today, roughly 500 Americans are dying each day from Covid-19. At this rate, SARS-CoV-2 will be the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2023—about triple the threat of influenza.

What happens next?

Unraveling the public-health emergency may get messy. It will certainly take time (hence the 3 month lag time). The Kaiser Family Foundation outlined the implications nicely:

This does not impact the Emergency Use Authorization of vaccines and therapeutics from the FDA. In other words, these will still be available.

HOWEVER, the ending of funding for testing and vaccines is a real cause for concern. Once our free supply is out, everything will be privatized. Pfizer announced its vaccine will cost $130 per dose. Insurance will have to cover it, like the flu vaccine. This will, no doubt, fuel deep inequities in the U.S. And it is part of a much larger, deeply flawed system of pharmaceutical profiteering that this country hasn’t got the ethical fortitude to address yet.

Our work is not done: Most importantly, the end of the emergency doesn’t mean our work is done. There is no infectious disease more insidious or with greater impact on global mortality, morbidity, and health care systems than Covid-19.

As individuals, we still need to get vaccinated. We still need to leverage antigen tests. We need to invest in better filtration and ventilation. We still need to protect the most vulnerable.

As public-health officials, we must decide the minimum structure needed moving forward. Invest in wastewater monitoring. Continue to report hospitalizations (and get better at it). Commit to transparent and effective communication. Vaccine innovation is needed.

As a society, we MUST put real energy, innovation, and investment into repairing and strengthening our health and public health systems. The new normal cannot fall back to a pre-Covid normal. We must be bigger, better, and smarter. This means the very notion of for-profit healthcare needs to be fixed. In public health, we must figure out how to get out of the cycle of panic and neglect through preparation. We are LESS prepared for the next pandemic, given loss of trust, polarization, changing information echo-systems, and mis/disinformation.

Sadly, I’m starting to see denial and wishful thinking. I hope this changes as it will definitely not be another 100 years before the next pandemic emerges to grip the globe in a choke hold.

Bottom line: In the U.S., the end of the emergency is coming. I agree with this decision, but this certainly isn’t the end of Covid-19 or public health threats. In fact, this end is the beginning. We have our work cut out for us.

Katelyn Jetelina is a California epidemiologist and biostatistician who says she writes her newsletter on Substack as a way to translate public-health science for everyday use, helping people to make evidence-based decisions. She is a consultant to several organizations, including the CDC.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Heat pump might be the little machine that could save a lot of energy, but there are many obstacles; then there's Maine

A heat pump installation (Photo from
A heat pump is a simple machine with the potential to move America away from fossil fuels, Joan Fitzgerald writes for The American Prospect, a progressive public policy publication: "Electrification of buildings is a key climate strategy because space heating, cooling, and water heating comprise 46 percent of residential and commercial building emissions and more than 40 percent of the primary energy used. In addition, getting fossil fuels out of buildings has health and equity benefits."

The contraption is simple: "Heat pumps take heat from outside and move it into your home in the winter and take heat from inside in hot weather and move it outside. Some systems use ducts like hot-air furnaces and some are ductless," Fitzgerald reports. "Heat pumps offer considerable energy savings because the quantity of heat and cooling brought into your home is considerably greater than the quantity of electricity used to power the system. . . . every heat pump installed saves consumers $300 to $600 in heating costs annually."

The simplicity stops there. Installing heat pumps on a national level is more like MacGyvering green spaces than providing a tidy solution. According to Fitzgerald, here's why:

Regulatory and permit headaches: Local regulations and the permitting process are often confusing and difficult to navigate for both installers and customers. Heat pumps can violate local noise ordinances, particularly in towns with small lots. If the heat pump makes noise beyond the legal level, the contractor usually is responsible for rectifying it.

Confusing rebate processes: The requirements of rebate and subsidy programs are often confusing and contradictory to state climate goals. Some rebates require that homes be weatherized first—an expensive undertaking even with rebates.

Supply chain delays: It is not uncommon for the ideal unit for a particular home to be unavailable. The computer-chip shortage is partly responsible for limiting production, but there is almost no manufacturing of heat pumps in the U.S. Most are made by Japanese or German producers. The Department of Energy investment of $250 million to promote domestic heat pump manufacturing is much needed, Fitzgerald writes.

Inadequate workforce in skills and number: In many states, there are not enough contractors with the skills to install heat pumps. At the federal level, the DOE is exploring additional investment in workforce development for heat pump manufacturing and installation.  

Fitzgerakld writes, "The national leader in promoting wide installation of heat pumps is Maine," the second most rural state. "With 62 percent of its households heated by highly polluting fuel oil in 2019, Maine officials knew that heat pumps would have to be a big part of reaching the state’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2030. The Efficiency Maine Trust, coordinates all the policy supports needed to ensure widespread heat pump adoption: offering information, advice, and rebate and loan programs. Most importantly, the Maine legislature has taken action to require utilities to do the grid improvement planning needed for a more electrified future."

Fitzgerald notes Maine is chipping away red tape by offering "easy-to-apply-for rebates. . . helping low- and moderate-income residents secure heat pumps . . taking action to ensure that the Maine utilities align pricing and planning for grid upgrades . . . acting to increase the supply of qualified installers."

As far as MacGyverisms, Maine has provided Swiss-army-knife rebate tactics and how to green duct-tape your grid as an example for other regions. Some other states are catching on "15 states and almost 100 cities and counties have policies to promote heat pump adoption," Fitzgerald reports. "Only four of them—California, Massachusetts, Maine, and New York—have set targets for the number of heat pumps to be installed."

It's Black History Month: Educator talks about teaching America's history, all 'the good, the bad, and the ugly'

DeWitt-King Barn in Vernon County, Wisconsin
(Painting by Patsy Alderson)
Would you like teach U.S. history to high school students? Many people would say "No." But veteran teacher Kevin Alderson and his wife Patsy, both rural Wisconsin natives, found a way: "Together, they are lifelong educators, and Kevin’s 30-year tenure teaching middle- and high-school history add to their credentials as stewards for their region’s history," reports Sara June Jo-Sæbo for The Daily Yonder. "Committed to uncovering and safeguarding the racial and ethnic diversity of rural Wisconsin, the Aldersons offer educational community programs to ensure that our inheritance with diverse American experiences isn’t lost."

Jo-Sæbo writes, "I wanted to talk to Kevin about ways he engaged high-school students in the classroom and to get his opinion about how teaching history has changed over the last 40 years. I also wanted to hear about how country schools and school consolidation affected rural students and racial diversity." Here are her questions and his answers:

As a history teacher, what did you observe in the classroom when students learned local history?
While my approach to teaching family and local history didn’t reach every student, for many of them, being able to connect national and world events with their families and local events – and seeing that they (the students) were part of the story – was the best method. It was about making a personal connection to that history.

Much of American history involves colonizing this continent through the use of impoverished Europeans and enslaved Africans. Our history also involves the persecution of Indigenous people. Does teaching about these traumatic experiences harm students? I accept the argument that we may not be responsible for what was done in the past because we weren’t alive then, but we are responsible for learning the truth about what happened. We fail when we don’t admit that this history happened and we fail when we don’t know the truth about what happened.  . . . If you’re truly trying to teach history – difficult history – you have to teach the greatness, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Unfortunately, the systemic tendency is to teach the great and the good and whitewash, or erase and ignore, the bad and the ugly. And there are a lot of people who have paid a heavy price for being overlooked.

Most people don’t know that Wisconsin has a substantial history of successful Black farmers who were also our earliest American pioneers. Tell me how you were exposed to Wisconsin’s African American history in your own childhood. I was not exposed to Wisconsin’s rural African-American history as a child. . . . Most of the rural Black history I’ve learned has been since I retired from teaching.

Vernon County, Wisconsin (Wikipedia map)
As an adult, what motivated you to help to preserve Wisconsin’s African-American and Indigenous history? This awareness of rural Black history in Wisconsin came to us through our interest in round barns. My wife, Patsy, is an artist who paints structures and landscapes. Of course, here in Vernon County we have the most round barns, as far as I know, in the nation. She began to make paintings of all the round barns that remained. I began researching the barns and, built upon what the Vernon County Historical Society had compiled, discovered the history of Wisconsin’s Black settlements.

Getting into the 1900s, what made it difficult for Wisconsin’s rural Black communities to remain in Southwest Wisconsin? Interestingly enough, a lot of the settlement faded away with the elimination of country schools. Instead of having your own little school and settlement – which were integrated Black, White and Native American – as soon as they were closing those schools as early as the 40’s and 50’s, they bussed those students to towns and any time new folks are brought into an environment – even from the country to the town – it often created an “us and them” situation.

How can educators teach this complicated story of American history? Intentionally or unintentionally, racism is systemic. There’s a conflict right now between recognizing the truth [of our American history with racism] and suppressing the truth. And how does an individual, or society, or nation move forward into something better if you don’t recognize the mistakes that have been made? Especially if you continue to perpetuate those mistakes. . . .We don’t have to attack our ancestors because it was a different day and a different age…. There are certain things in our history that were evil. Period. But there’s [also] a force of survival: looking for land and looking out for their families.

As a descendant of European settlers, why is it important to you to preserve the history of Black Americans who settled your home state of Wisconsin? Because the complete truth matters. I want to know the complete truth of all facets of American history. And, in fact, it goes beyond preservation. Most people are probably unaware of Black American settlement in Wisconsin during pioneer days. . . . History cannot be preserved if people don’t know it in the first place.

As quakes in West Texas increase, some oil-wastewater disposal has changed, but preparedness questions remain

The Permian Basin is a major oil production area. (Wikipedia map)
In 2017, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said "Texas is ranked first in the U.S. in the variety and frequency of natural disasters. Flooding, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes . . . . Sometimes, even utilization of the state’s natural reserves of oil, gas, and water can lead to subsidence and earthquakes." It's that last part, earthquakes, that has been increasing in number, and raising concerns: "In 2022, the state recorded more than 220 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher, up from 26 recorded in 2017, when the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas began close monitoring," reports David Goodman of The New York Times.

In oil-rich West Texas, two earthquakes were felt in late 2022, one in Pecos and the second in December near Odessa and Midland, all in the Permian Basin. Goodman writes: "The [November] tremor registered as a 5.4-magnitude earthquake, among the largest ever recorded in the state. Then, a month later, another of similar magnitude struck not far away. . . . . The earthquakes, arriving in close succession, were the latest in what has been several years of surging seismic activity in Texas. . . . In 2022, the state recorded more than 220 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher, up from 26 recorded in 2017, when the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas began close monitoring."

The cause of the earthquakes is known. Goodman reports: "Dr. Peter Hennings, the principal investigator for the Center for Integrated Seismicity Research at the University of Texas, said that earthquakes can be induced through human activity: the injection of a large amount of water in a short period of time adds fluid pressure under the earth, which essentially decreases the 'clamping' between rocks along natural faults and allows them to slip, creating an earthquake. . . . seismologists have established a relationship between smaller earthquakes and larger ones, Dr. Hennings said: The more small earthquakes you have, the greater the likelihood of a bigger one." 

Many Texas earthquakes "have been concentrated in the highly productive oil fields of the Permian Basin, particularly those in Reeves County, north and west of the city of Pecos," Goodman writes. "Where oil and gas production has increasingly meant hydraulic fracturing, a process of extraction that produces, as a byproduct, a huge amount of wastewater. Some of that wastewater is reused in fracking operations, but most of it is injected back under the ground."

An oil field near Pecos; Texas only recently began its statewide program of
monitoring for earthquakes. (Photo by Paul Ratje, The New York Times)
And what about the quakes? Rod Ponton, a former Pecos city attorney, told Goodman, “In West Texas, you love the smell of the oil and gas patch because it’s the smell of money. If you have to have the ground shaking every two or three months to make sure you have a good paycheck coming in every month, you’re not going to think twice about it.” But the area has made some changes. Goodman writes: "To address earthquakes outside of Odessa and Midland, state regulators suspended permits for deep disposal wells. . . . For local officials the earthquakes have presented new and unforeseen concerns about the structural integrity of buildings and buried pipes, as well as basic questions, such as, what are you supposed to do in an earthquake?"

Odessa Mayor Javier Joven told Goodman, "The big popular discussion out here is: Did you feel it? Did you feel it? And everyone goes on Facebook: I felt it. I felt it.” Joven also noted that the city has yet to alter building safety codes to prepare for earthquakes.

'Old-fashioned newspaper war' begins in Oregon county of 225,000 that lost its printed daily in Sept. and fully in Jan.

Jackson County, Oregon (Google map; click to enlarge)
Even before the Medford Mail-Tribune closed last momth, the Daily Courier of Grants Pass, Oregon, had moved into Jackson County after the Mail-Tribune went online only in September. Now Salem-based EO Media Group, which has the Bend Bulletin and 17 other papers, is starting a thrice-weekly, the Rogue Valley Tribune, this month, Brier Dudley of The Seattle Times reports.

UPDATE, March 3: "EO Media Group has opted to change the name of its start-up newspaper in Medford, saying it faced legal threats from the former owner of the defunct Mail Tribune newspaper," reports The Oregonian's Jeff Manning. "The Rogue Valley Tribune on Wednesday became the Rogue Valley Times."

"Why will it succeed where another failed?" Dudley asks. EO President Steve Forrester "said it has a proven approach and journalistic mission." He said the Mail-Tribune, which had tried to add video content, “became a curious product,” with a confusing front page.

Now begins "an old-fashioned newspaper war," Dudley writes. "EO Media is hiring a newsroom staff of 14 in Medford, which is relatively big in the era of ghost newspapers owned by hedge funds," while the Daily Courier is adding three Medford reporters and counting on its more local ownership, five-day-a-week frequency and carrier delivery (the Tribune will be mailed) to win the battle. Forrester says EO will “have a longer time horizon than the publicly traded organization,” but both are family-owned.

"It’s rare for dailies to fail without at least merging with another paper or perhaps becoming a weekly," Dudley notes. "It’s also unheard of nowadays for multiple newspapers to replace them, according to Penelope Abernathy, the journalism professor who led research documenting America’s news deserts." Abernathy, a visiting professor at Northwestern University in Illinois, told him, “I’m not aware of any other situation like this, where you’ve had both a journalistic and business commitment made this swiftly, when a daily has closed.”

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The rural Republican shift is a big deal, partly because it reflects a deep cultural divide and place-based resentment

"The anger and resentment felt by rural voters toward the Democratic Party are driving a regional realignment similar to the upheaval in the white South after Democrats, led by President Lyndon Johnson, won approval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," retired reporter Thomas B. Edsall writes for The New York Times in his latest compilation of research about political trends. They go deep, to the point that rural and urban Americans sometimes seem to inhabit different nations.

Rural America's shift to the right "is one side of a two-part geographic transformation of the electorate," Edsall writes, citing a 2022 paper by Jacob R. Brown of Princeton University, Enrico Cantoni of the University of Bologna, Ryan D. Enos of Harvard University, Vincent Pons of Harvard Business School and Emilie Sartre of Brown University.

Thomas B. Edsall
Edsall notes the stagnant rural population and quotes Brown: "Rural Republican areas are becoming more Republican predominantly due to voters in these places switching their partisanship to Republican. This is in contrast to urban areas becoming increasingly more Democratic largely due to the high levels of Democratic partisanship in these areas among new voters entering the electorate. These new voters include young voters registering once they become eligible and other new voters registering for the first time."

The state providing the best example is Wisconsin, where Katherine Cramer of the University of Wisconsin has documented the rural resentment of urban and governing elites, which helped re-elect U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson last year. Cramer said, “It had three elements: (1) a belief that rural areas are ignored by decision makers, including policymakers, (2) a perception that rural areas do not get their fair share of resources and (3) a sense that rural folks have fundamentally distinct values and lifestyles, which are misunderstood and disrespected by city folks.”

Cultural and racial controversies that began in the late 1980s created the urban-rural partisan divide, says David Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College, in his book Red Fighting Blue: How Geography and Electoral Rules Polarize American Politics. "These controversies included two Supreme Court abortion decisions . . . the 1989 appointment of Ralph Reed as executive director of the Christian Coalition; the fire-breathing speeches of Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican Convention (Buchanan: 'There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war for the soul of America'); and the 1993 debate about gays in the military, to name just a few," Edsall writes.

"Justin Gest, a political scientist at George Mason University whose research — presented in The White Working Class and Majority Minority — focuses on cultural and class tensions, has a different but complementary take, writing by email that the rising salience of cultural conflicts 'was accelerated when the Clinton administration embraced corporate neoliberalism, free trade and moved Democrats toward the economic center. Many differences persisted, but the so-called third way made it harder to distinguish between the economic approaches of Democrats and Republicans.'"

That fuzziness accentuated "the very cultural differences that Gingrich-era Republicans sought to emphasize — on issues like homosexuality, immigration, public religion, gun rights and minority politics. These issues are more galvanizing to the Upper Midwest regions adjacent to the South (West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana) — which are trending more conservative," Gest told Edsall. The Upper Midwest, he said, is "a region unto itself — defined by manufacturing, unions and social conservatism. As the manufacturing industry has moved offshore, union power declined, and one of the richest, most stable parts of America became uniquely precarious inside a single generation. It is now subject to severe depopulation and aging, as younger people who have upskilled are more likely to move to cities like Chicago or New York. They have total whiplash. And Trump’s nostalgic populism has resonated with the white population that remains."

Gest is also highly critical of Democrats' rural approach: "Democrats have effectively redlined rural America. In some corners of the Democratic Party, activists don’t even want rural and white working-class people in their coalition; they may even deride them. Rural and white working-class Americans sense this." And such place-based resentment is “only consistently predictive of vote choice for rural voters,” say Nicholas Jacobs and Kal Munis, political scientists at Colby College and Utah Valley University, in a 2022 paper Edsall cites.

As the "stark material divisions" between rural and urban increase, Jacobs and Munis write, "Individuals increasingly live in places that are politically homogeneous. A consequence of this is that, as Bill Bishop concludes, Americans 'have become so ideologically inbred that we don’t know, can’t understand and can barely conceive of "those people" who live just a few miles away.'"  James Gimpel, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, told Esdall, "The disrespect is felt most acutely by the fact that dominant cultural institutions, including mass media, are predominantly urban in location and orientation. Smaller towns and outlying areas see themselves as misunderstood and mischaracterized by these media, as well as dismissed as out of touch and retrograde by urban populations. There is a considerable amount of truth in their perceptions."

Edsall writes, "The belief that rural communities have a distinct set of values that are denigrated by urban dwellers" is a stronger electoral factor than economics, according to research by Kristin Lunz Trujillo, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Zack Crowley, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Minnesota. That view is reinforced by Maria Kefalas, a sociologist at Saint Joseph’s University and co-author of Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America.

Kefalas told Edsall, "My best guess would be that it comes down to brain drain and college-educated voters. It has always been about the mobility of the college educated and the folks getting left behind without that college diploma. Not one high school dropout we encountered back when we wrote about Iowa managed to leave the county (unless they got sent to prison), and the kids with degrees were leaving in droves. . . . You see a striking concentration/segregation of folks on both sides who are just immersed in MAGA world or not. . . . People who live in rural America are surrounded by folks who play along with a particular worldview, yet my friends from Brooklyn and Boston will tell you they don’t know anyone who supports Trump or won’t get vaccinated. It’s not open warfare. It’s more like apartheid.”

That brings Edsall to a grim colclusion: "Urban-rural 'apartheid' further reinforces ideological and affective polarization. The geographic separation of Republicans and Democrats makes partisan crosscutting experiences at work, in friendships, in community gatherings, at school or in local government — all key to reducing polarization — increasingly unlikely to occur. Geographic barriers between Republicans and Democrats — of those holding traditional values and those choosing to reject or reinterpret those values — reinforce what scholars now call the calcification of difference. As conflict and hostility become embedded in the structure of where people live, the likelihood increases of seeing adversaries as less than fully human."

Advancing Democracy Fellowship applications due Feb. 14

Are you a journalist who wants to shift from conflict-focused coverage to stories that reflect the needs of people in your community and offer solutions to problems? You're invited to apply for the Advancing Democracy Fellowship through Feb. 14.

This joint initiative from Hearken, the Solutions Journalism Network and Trusting News is designed to "equip newsroom-based journalists to transform their coverage of democracy through solutions-focused reporting that builds trust and avoids polarization," SJN says.

This is the second year of the fellowship. SJN and Hearken say, "We are inviting 20 U.S.-based newsroom teams of at least one reporter and one editor to join this adventure. This fellowship is for U.S.-based newsrooms only and preference will be given to newsrooms in the Great Lakes region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin), as well as those in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. We anticipate newsrooms from outside of these states will also be chosen. Newsrooms serving and led by historically excluded communities are strongly encouraged to apply."

SJN says, "The program includes a modest stipend, along with training and resources that support innovative news coverage focused on promising responses to our democracy’s challenges in ways that build civic engagement, equity and healthy discourse."

You can apply here. To ask questions, contact Jaisal Noor at

SJN says it is "leading a global shift in journalism, focused on what the news misses most often: how people are trying to solve problems and what we can learn from their successes or failures. Since its founding in 2013, more than 600 news organizations and over 27,000 journalists worldwide have engaged with SJN’s in-person workshops, online resources, collaboratives, fellowships and cohorts.

"Hearken helps organizations embed stakeholder listening into their growth and operations to build more resilient companies and communities. Hearken has shown that listening leads to stronger relationships, deeper engagement and better decisions, and enables individuals to make an outsize positive impact in the world. In 2020, Hearken worked in collaboration with more than two dozen civic organizations (including SJN) to stand up and deliver Election SOS, which supported journalists in responding to critical election information needs.

"Trusting News learns how people decide what news to trust and turns that knowledge into actionable strategies for journalists. Its staff trains and empowers journalists to take responsibility for demonstrating credibility and actively earning trust through transparency and engagement. In a continual cycle of research, learning and sharing with the industry, Trusting News explores how to incorporate trust-building into journalism’s standards and practices."

U.S. partisan divide now runs along rural-urban lines, and that has worsened rural-urban conflict in state legislatures

"The relationships between big cities and rural-dominated legislatures have often been hostile. But a rift between Nashville and the Tennessee Legislature suggests the nation’s partisan divide is making things worse," and there are examples in other states, The New York Times reports.

Michael Wines writes, "For most of American history, the rivalry has played out in state politics more so as a matter of parochial divisions than national ones. Now, a dispute in Nashville raises the question of whether the nation’s barbed political divide — which splinters along the rural-urban axis as well — is infusing old local antagonisms with contemporary partisan acrimony. It’s not just in Tennessee. In Wisconsin, North Carolina, Kentucky and elsewhere, old city-country political tensions have taken on a harder edge as Democratic-leaning urban areas become ever more isolated islands in an ever-redder, rural-dominated sea."

Music City Center (John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
In Tennessee, the Legislature split Nashville among three congressional districts, eliminating a Democratic seat. Then the city council's Democratic majority, citing security concerns, killed Republican leaders' bid to bring the party's 2024 national convention to Nashville, and the GOPers vowed revenge. The House floor leader has filed a bill to limit municipal legislaitve bodies to 20 members; only Nashville, with 40, exceeds the limit, and its voters rejected shrinkage seven years ago. The Senate president, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, "is proposing to defund the largest civic project in the city's history," Nate Rau of Axios Nashville reports. His bill would repeal "tourism-related taxes dedicated for the $623 million Music City Center." A McNally spokesperson told Rau, "Metro has made it clear they are no longer interested in aggressively recruiting top-tier conventions to Nashville." Councilmember Bob Mendes, who opposed the convention, told Rau he expects the flogging will continue: "There's a massive culture war going on in this country, and the state of Tennessee's leadership doesn't like the culture of Nashville and is going to keep coming after us."

A 2020 study found that Tennessee "led the nation in overruling local laws and policies," Wines reports. "State laws that override city ordinances and policies have mushroomed over the last decade, especially in states where Republicans controlled both the governor’s office and the legislature." He cites examples, such as Missouri laws that keep St. Louis from banning plastic grocery bags and Kansas City from raising the minimum wage, the North Carolina House speaker's bid to block a local sales tax to finance mass transit in Charlotte and so-called "war on Louisville" laws in Kentucky "that sapped the authority of the elected board running the metro area’s 100,000-student public school system, weakened the ground rules of a city-county merger approved by voters two decades ago and limited the city’s mayor to two terms."

The study "found that such laws were more common in states with a Republican government, a strong conservative bent and a higher share of Black residents," Wines reports, quoting Professor Thad Kousser of the University of California, San Diego, who tracks the urban-rural divide: “A hundred or even fifty years ago, Democrats in Atlanta may have wanted different things than the Democrats who were governing the state of Georgia, but they were in the same party. Now they both have different legislative interests and different political interests, too.”

Wines notes, "The dynamic can work the opposite way, too: In New Mexico, the Democrat-controlled State Legislature has drafted legislation to overturn local ordinances passed in conservative towns that restrict access to abortion clinics and abortion pills. The state attorney general on Jan. 23 sued New Mexico cities and counties to overturn the ordinances."

On average, eating one wild fish or drinking a month's worth of tainted water is equally risky, national study finds

Photo by Michal Dziekonski, Unsplash
PFAS, dubbed "forever chemicals" for their apparently everlasting nature, keep showing up in America's water supply and food chains. New research found that "Eating one freshwater fish caught in a river or lake in the United States is the equivalent of drinking a month's worth of water contaminated with toxic 'forever chemicals,'" reports Daniel Lawler on The study was published in the journal Environmental Research.

Lawler explains: "To find out PFAS contamination in locally caught fish, a team of researchers analyzed more than 500 samples from rivers and lakes across the United States between 2013 and 2015. The median level of PFAS in the fish was 9,500 nanograms per kilogram. . . . Nearly three-quarters of the detected 'forever chemicals' was PFOS, one of the most common and hazardous of the thousands of PFAS. Eating just one freshwater fish equaled drinking water with PFOS at 48 parts per trillion for a month."

"I can no longer look at a fish without thinking about PFAS contamination," David Andrews, a senior scientist at the non-profit Environmental Working Group, a lobby that led the research, told Lawler. Andrews noted that the study's outcome was "particularly concerning due to the impact on disadvantaged communities that consume fish as a source protein or for social or cultural reasons. . . . This research makes me incredibly angry because companies that made and used PFAS contaminated the globe and have not been held responsible."

Patrick Byrne, a pollution researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, who was not involved in the research, told Lawler that PFAS are "probably the greatest chemical threat the human race is facing in the 21st century."

The harm PFAS do to humans is well documented, Lawler writes: "There have been growing calls for stricter regulation for PFAS, which have been linked to a range of serious health issues including liver damage, high cholesterol, reduced immune responses and several kinds of cancer . . . Andrews called for much more stringent regulation to bring an end to all non-essential uses of PFAS."