Sustained Outrage

Does WVU want to distance itself from these?

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Fresh from a 2009 tour of a simulated underground coal mine at the WVU Academy for Mine Training are, from left: Chris Hamilton, executive vice president, WV Coal Association; WVU President Jim Clements; Engineering Dean Gene Cilento; and Bill Reid, Coal News.  WVU photo.

We had a story in Saturday’s Gazette-Mail detailing efforts by West Virginia University officials to distance themselves from research being conducted by the university’s faculty. In an e-mail request to local media, WVU spokesman John Bolt said:

… We’re asking those who write about our faculty’s research to refrain from describing those as a “WVU study” or using other phrasing that would imply or could be interpreted as the institution taking a position on any particular issue. Other phrasing might be “a study conducted at WVU,” or “a study by WVU faculty member …”

Bolt said the request “was not developed in reaction to any particular research being conducted on campus.

But as we noted in our story:

The move comes as a series of peer-reviewed papers by a WVU faculty member about mountaintop removal’s potential negative public health effects are receiving widespread media coverage and intense criticism from the coal industry.

The story was picked up The Ticker, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog.

A glance through WVU’s many websites, though, provides a fascinating look at a variety of studies that the university claims as its own:

— A “WVU Report” that concludes increased oil and gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation will open the door to a “new energy economy” for the region.

— Another “WVU study” that promotes the Marcellus Shale as having the “potential for significant economic development in West Virginia.”

— A “WVU forecast” that projected an economic recovery is underway in West Virginia.

— A report in which WVU claims all sorts of economic activity by its faculty, staff and students as the university’s contribution to the state’s economy.

— A news release that tells us, “WVU eagle research goes nationwide.”

Continue reading…

Secret meetings, Oct. 7, 2011

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We missed last week, so today we’ll take a look at open meetings violations for the last two weeks.

First, last week’s issue of The State Register contained no violations of the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law.

Today’s issue of The State Register contained two violations. The agencies involved were the Little Kanawha Conservation District and the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Worker safety reforms crawl along at Obama OSHA

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President Barack Obama pauses during his news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

It was baffling earlier this week to listen in to a House subcommittee hearing as Republican lawmakers repeated over and over their mantra that workplace safety regulations kill jobs. That’s because their statements that the current U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration was moving too quickly on too many regulations just didn’t seem to mesh with what I’ve seen happening at OSHA (see previous posts here, here and here).

In fact, OSHA chief David Michaels himself testified to the committee:

Over the past 15 years, OSHA has, on average, issued only a few major standards each year, with some periods in which no major standards have been issued.

In fact, over the past year, OSHA has issued only two major standards: one protecting workers from hazards associated with cranes and derricks, and another standard to protect shipyard workers. Both took years to develop.

So I was very interested to read this new report from the folks at Public Citizen, who explained:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has produced regulations in the past decade at a far slower rate than ever before, postponing rules that would have prevented more than 100,000 serious injuries, more than 10,000 cases of illness and hundreds of fatalities, a new Public Citizen report shows.

The report, “OSHA Inaction,” found that since 2001, OSHA has produced just one new health or safety standard every 2.5 years. Previously, the agency produced an average of 2.6 rules per year, the report found. Individual OSHA regulations have been delayed for as long as 31 years, and the agency has been unable to address a wide array of common workplace hazards. Presidential administrations, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court have all had a hand in slowing down the rulemaking process.

Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen and author of the report, said:

The requirements on OSHA have nearly paralyzed the agency.  As a result, OSHA cannot adequately protect workers from toxic chemicals, heat stress, repetitive use injuries, workplace violence and many other occupational dangers. Inadequate regulation imposes tremendous costs on workers, who may be forced to pay with their health or even their lives.

The fine folks at ProPublica had another interesting oil and gas drilling story a couple of weeks ago, reporting:

Hydraulic fracturing, along with other processes used to drill wells, generates emissions and millions of gallons of hazardous waste that are dumped into open-air pits. The pits have been shown to leak into groundwater and also give off chemical emissions as the fluids evaporate. Residents’ most common complaints are respiratory infections, headaches, neurological impairment, nausea and skin rashes. More rarely, they have reported more serious effects, from miscarriages and tumors to benzene poisoning and cancer.

ProPublica examined government environmental reports and private lawsuits and interviewed scores of residents, physicians and toxicologists in four states—Colorado, Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania—that are drilling hot spots. Our review showed that cases like Wallace-Babb’s go back a decade in parts of Colorado and Wyoming, where drilling has taken place for years. They are just beginning to emerge in Pennsylvania, where the Marcellus Shale drilling boom began in earnest in 2008.

Concern about such health complaints is longstanding—Congress held hearings on them in 2007 at which Wallace-Babb testified. But the extent and cause of the problems remains unknown. Neither states nor the federal government have systematically tracked reports from people like Wallace-Babb, or comprehensively investigated how drilling affects human health.

I was reminded of this piece the other day when I saw the Wheeling paper’s headline, Doctor Wants Study of Drilling’s Impact, in which they reported:

The impact of hydraulic fracturing on the public’s health still needs to be studied, said Dr. Alan Ducatman.

Ducatman, West Virginia University School of Public Health dean, made the point during a program held Tuesday at Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling. The program, “Marcellus Shale Drilling: A Health Perspective,” was hosted by the Ohio County Medical Society, OVMC and the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce.

Ducatman said things that could be impacted are people’s water, air and their environment in general, such as their roads and homes. For example, some patients, including some Marcellus Shale gas drilling workers, have come into his clinic with a variety of complaints. Workers have had acid burns or other skin irritations. But such complaints or issues are common in industry in general, he added.

Others patients complain about noise from well pad sites and related trucking, and still others about air pollution and bright lights from sites keeping them awake at night.

“The industry should get out in front of these issues,” Ducatman said, referring to initiating health studies.

Regular readers know that Dr. Ducatman’s department at WVU has been doing a lot of important work on both the health impacts of mountaintop removal and on the effects of the toxic chemical C8 … it would be fascinating to see the WVU team get involved in looking more closely at gas drilling’s impacts.

While members of the C8 Science Panel were having their first-ever public meetings last week in the Parkersburg area,  the fine folks at West Virginia University’s Department of Community Medicine were churning out another study of C8’s potential health effects.

The latest work, published in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, reports:

We found that serum levels of perfluoroalkyl chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate, were positively associated with hyperuricemia. This association appeared to be independent of confounders such as age, gender, race-ethnicity, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, and serum cholesterol.

The study explains:

Serum uric acid is a novel biomarker, even mild elevations of which has been implicated in the development of hypertension, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and chronic kidney disease.

Now, the C8 Science Panel previously reported on an association between C8 exposure and uric acid levels among residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley. But the new WVU study looked at data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys, and found an association between uric acid levels and C8 at C8 levels similar to those found in the general U.S. population, reporting:

Our results demonstrate that elevated levels of perfluoroalkyl chemicals are associated with hyperuricemia even at low perfluoroalkyl chemical exposure levels as seen in the US general population.