Sustained Outrage

Swine flu: Are factory farms to blame?


During a Gazette Online Chat earlier this week, I asked Kanawha County Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta about possible connections between swine flu and factory farming.

Dr. Gupta responded this way:

Doubt it. In fact we have known about  this virus since 1930. However, we usually detect 1-2 cases per year and had 12 from Dec 2005 to Feb 2008. Pigs routinely get this during the fall season at farms. Somehow this time, the virus has figured out a way to jump from human to human! 

Later, when I added some additional information and a link to a public radio report on the subject, he added:

You make sense, overcrowding is a concern whether in pigs, chickens or Humans! However, I don’t know the data in this regard.

I thought I would give Sustained Outrage readers some more information, mostly from a few other media outlet reports I’ve read or heard on this subject.

First, there was a great piece on public radio’s Living on Earth called Farming the Flu.  It featured an interview with Ellen Silbergeld, teaches environmental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She’s studied the connections between factory farming and disease and says that industrial-scale livestock operations are fertile ground for viruses to mutate:

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Bayer and the media: With friends like these …

You have to wonder what Ann Green Communications is going to tell Bayer CropScience to do now.

In its PR strategy following the August 2008 explosion that killed two Institute plant workers, Ann Green’s firm told Bayer to time its release of information to give stories first to the Charleston Daily Mail. Or, the firm told Bayer, pitch stories to The State Journal to counter “attacks” from The Charleston Gazette.

Well, in today’s Daily Mail, ultra-conservative local columnist Don Surber had this to say about Bayer:

Never write angry, so all I will say is that the handling by the management of Bayer CropScience of the explosion at the methyl isocyanate plant showed an astonishing level of incompetence that revealed a complete lack of respect for a substance which, when it leaked and killed thousands of Indians, brought down Union Carbide.

To be this cavalier with MIC is corporate suicide.

And in today’s State Journal, an editorial on the subject of Bayer called for the elimination of the MIC stockpile at the Institute plant:

Chemical makers have provided safe and lucrative employment here for generations. But no chemical company can succeed today without maintaining trusting relationships with the communities where they operate. Furthermore, no one can accept Bayer’s lack of honesty or its continued use of a deadly, volatile chemical in a populated area. The company cannot justify the continued storage of large quantities of MIC at Institute. Eliminating that risk would be a critical first step toward re-establishing trust with the community.

Road to nowhere?


While Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., is touting the $9.5 million for the Corridor H highway that he tucked into the recently passed omnibus budget bill, the folks over at The Rural Blog reminded us that Corridor H is well, a bit controversial…

Nearly 44 years ago, Congress created the Appalachian Regional Commission and laid out a network of highways to open it up to commerce, tourism and development. Most of the roads are built. One, across the Eastern Continental Divide, will probably never be completed, because Virginia doesn’t want it built. But that hasn’t stopped Congress from funding sections of it in West Virginia, most recently in the economic stimulus package and the omnibus spending bill that became law this week.

Corridor H has been called the “road to nowhere” because Virginia doesn’t want it, leaving the highway without the key link to the Washington, D.C., area it was aimed to provide. Other critics have called it among the worst road projects in the country.

And back in the 1990s, Corridor H generated a ton of environmental controversy, as critics argued that it was harm high-quality streams, destroy pristine forests and cause untold other environmental damage, as I wrote in April 1995. At the same time, federal environmental officials complained that highway planners had little data to support their estimates that Corridor H would create jobs and promote local economic growth.

At the time, staffers in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency strongly opposed the highway, and then-EPA Region III Administrator Peter Kostmayer refused to sign off on it. After complaints from Byrd, Sen. Jay Rockefeller and then-Gov. Gaston Caperton, EPA Administrator Carol Browner (now with the Obama administration) overruled Kostmayer, who was later fired.

Read more in the Elkins Inter-Mountain.


Keeping secrets

sw09_ad_button1.jpgMore Sunshine Week news:

For the first time in four years, public opinion about government secrecy has leveled off, although more than seven in 10 adults still consider the federal government to be secretive, according to the 2009 Sunshine Week survey by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

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Let the sunshine in … to government

sw09_ad_button1.jpg Today marks the start of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to get people talking about the importance of open government and freedom of information. The effort is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and also includes other print, broadcast and online media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

As part of the initiative, teams of journalists conducted a nationwide survey to test the availability of a variety of public information online. The Associated Press put out a national story on the results, and we’ve posted that on the Gazette’s Watchdog Web site. Here’s a bit of the story:

Americans can easily learn about their state songs and state flowers with a quick search on the Internet, but most will have a harder time checking whether their children’s school buses are safe or a local gas station is charging too much.

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Planes, jails and parking tickets

A couple of interesting stories out in the news today…

First, there’s a report from The Dominion Post of Morgantown (Subs Req’d), picked up by The Associated Press,  that details the flights and costs of a plane leased by West Virginia University. Using the state’s Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper obtained records that show WVU spents nearly $800,000 a year on the plane. Between Jan. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008, more than 300 trips were taken. Charleston was the most frequent destination.

Next, the AP is reporting that former Wyoming County Council on Aging Director Bob Graham is appealing a ruling that blocks his attempt to be compensated for spending 13 months in a federal prison. Graham was convicted in 2006 on one count of cashing out $31,000 in sick leave without the approval of the council on aging. A federal appeals court later overturned Graham’s conviction. Recall that Graham first made news because of reports of his more than $450,000 annual salary running a non-profit in Southern West Virginia.

Citing a new study by the Pew Center on the States, the AP is also reporting that one out of every 68 people in West Virginia was either in jail or on probation in 2007.  “That’s a significant increase over the previous 25 years,” the AP reports. “The cost of the state’s corrections system also skyrocketed, from $62 million in 1998 to $181 million in 2008.”

Finally, if you’re a news reporter, be careful where you park when you visit the Kanawha County Judicial Annex.  As the Gazette’s Gary Harki reports:

Two days after a reporter from WSAZ-TV filed a complaint against Kanawha County Magistrate Tim Halloran for locking his courtroom during a hearing, a WSAZ vehicle was ticketed twice outside the Kanawha County Courthouse Annex at Halloran’s request.