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Report: 43 Killed on the Job in West Virginia in 2011
A new labor union report says 43 workers were killed on the job in 2011 in West Virginia, down from 95 the previous year that included a mine blast that killed 29.
According to the report by the AFL-CIO, there were 4,693 workplace deaths nationwide in 2011, down by only three from the year earlier.
The report also notes that more than 3.8 million workers across all industries experienced work-related illnesses and injuries.
The union says that after years of steady declines, rates have been essentially unchanged. They say that means greater efforts are needed to reduce job injuries and deaths.
Census Survey: WV Had Worst Turnout Among Citizens Eligible to Vote in November 2012
New U.S. Census Bureau figures suggest that West Virginia saw the lowest voter turnout among states in November.
Survey results released Wednesday rank the state last for the number of 2012 General Election voters measured against citizens eligible to vote.
The Census Bureau surveyed households across the country. It also found that blacks nationally voted in 2012 at higher rates than whites, in a historic first.
Despite increasing population, the number of white voters declined for the first time since 1996.
West Virginia has among the smallest non-white populations among the states.
As a result, Census Bureau officials could not calculate a reliable turnout rate for those voters.
U.S. non-white voters aided President Barack Obama’s re-election.
The Democrat received less than 36% of the West Virginia vote.
Survey: West Virginia Home, Long-Term Care Costs Rise
An annual survey shows long-term and home health care costs in West Virginians are outpacing such costs nationally.
The Cost of Care Survey released Tuesday by Genworth Financial shows the median hourly cost of home health aide services in West Virginia has increased 3.5% annually over the past five years.
Nationally, the annual increase was 1%.
West Virginia’s median hourly rate for homemaker services increased 3.2% annually during the same period.
Nationally, the annual increase was less than 1%.
The median cost of a private nursing room home increased 6.4% annually in West Virginia, compared to 4.5% nationally.
The annual cost of care in an assisted living facility in West Virginia rose 4.6%, compared to 4.3% nationally.
WVU Studying Risks of Drilling, Mining Near Dams
West Virginia University researchers are studying the possible risks of gas drilling and other forms of energy extraction near federally owned dams and reservoirs.
The one-year, $285,000 study is being done for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and involves six WVU departments, the University of British Columbia and other outside experts.
The scientists will collaborate with the corps’ Risk Management Center in Pittsburgh and the Huntington district office.
The researchers will provide guidance for mineral extraction and develop a way to determine risk levels within a range of depths and distances.
The team will study regulations, engineering performance data, case histories, analytical methods and more.
Report: Health Care Helping to Drive West Virginia Economy
A new report for WVU Healthcare shows its facilities, West Virginia University’s health schools and West Virginia United Health System hospitals collectively support more than 12,000 jobs.
And it predicts that number will grow.
The report released Friday in Charleston was commissioned by WVU Healthcare and produced by Pittsburgh-based consultant Tripp Umbach.
It says the organizations had a combined direct impact of $2.6 billion last year on the state’s economy.
By 2017, that figure should grow by about $500 million, and nearly 1,100 jobs should be created.
Direct impact includes such things as capital expenses, and spending by staff, patients and visitors.
The report says when indirect impacts are factored in, the numbers jump to nearly 21,000 full-time-equivalent jobs in 2012.
The economic impact jumps to about $5.4 billion.
Report: It Matters Where We Live When It Comes to Our Health
In the report that was released Wednesday, Monongalia, Pendleton, Doddridge, Jefferson and Hampshire counties, in that order, were listed as the healthiest counties in West Virginia.
The unhealthiest counties were McDowell, Wyoming, Mingo, Logan and Boone.
Each year those with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute assess almost every county in the United States, including those in the Mountain State.
A total of 25 factors like obesity and smoking rates, family and social support, access to physicians and dentists, physical activity levels, childhood poverty and education are considered to determine overall health.
You can see the complete county rankings at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
Study: Kids on Food Stamps Don’t Eat Any Healthier
Children whose families are on food stamps are just as likely to be overweight and obese as other low-income youth, a new study suggests.
Researchers found poor children tend to have diets high in processed meats, saturated fat and sugary drinks and low in whole grains and fruits and vegetables - regardless of whether they receive federal nutrition assistance.
The Food Stamp Program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), places few restrictions on the type of groceries people can buy using food stamps. That has led to concern that the program isn’t doing enough to encourage healthy eating, especially among young people.
One report estimated that in 2011 alone, almost $4 billion of SNAP benefits were used to purchase sodas and other soft drinks.
“The true intent of the program was to provide as much optimal nutrition as possible to the people who are in the program,“ said Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a health policy researcher from Boston University and a pediatric dentist in Maine.
Shenkin, who wasn’t involved in the new study, is a proponent of tighter restrictions on the types of products SNAP benefits can be used to purchase - or, at least, better education for food stamp users about healthy choices.
The new research included about 5,200 low-income kids and teens who were surveyed about their diets between 1999 and 2008 as part of a long-term national health and nutrition study.
Between one-quarter and one-third of those children were part of households currently receiving SNAP benefits. To qualify, a family must be living at 130% of the federal poverty level or below - equal to an income of about $2,400 per month for a family of four in 2011.
About 19% of kids on SNAP were overweight and another 18 percent were obese, similar to the proportion of low-income children not on federal nutrition assistance who were heavy.
Both groups of young people ate less than the recommended amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables - just one serving per day or fewer of each - and more processed meat, sugary beverages and saturated fat, researchers led by Cindy Leung from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found. There was no difference in their overall calorie intake.
Compared to children not on SNAP, those with the extra nutrition assistance consumed more high-fat dairy products and sugary drinks and ate fewer nuts and legumes.
More than 47 million Americans were on SNAP as of late 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The low intake of nutritious food among children participating in SNAP represents a significant missed opportunity for the program to promote health during an important life stage,“ Leung and her colleagues wrote in Pediatrics.
NOT USED AS INTENDED
Shenkin told Reuters Health the study is more evidence that food stamps aren’t necessarily helping families be any healthier and aren’t being used as they were originally intended.
“The program itself should be paying for nutritious foods that are contributors to health,“ he said.
Ideally, Shenkin said, the government program would reward people who buy fresh fruits and vegetables with extra benefits, for example - but that would call for increased funding. A more cost-effective option would mean requiring people purchase non-nutritious foods and drinks with their own money and not SNAP benefits, he said.
Not everyone agrees, however, with some researchers and policymakers arguing that limiting what consumers can purchase with food stamps is paternalistic. There’s also a concern about a lack of grocery stores carrying healthy options in predominately low-income areas.
One potential solution, according to Shenkin, could be to expand what’s covered in SNAP-related education programs to encourage people to seek more healthy options on their own.
“In no way do we want to cut food stamps,“ he said. “We want to optimize the value that they provide.“
GFP - 03.14.2013
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Study: Diabetes Drugs Tied to Pancreatitis
People who take a certain type of diabetes drug to lower blood sugar levels may be at an increased risk of developing an inflamed pancreas, according to a new study.
Glucagonlike peptide 1(GLP-1) therapies that include exenatide - marketed as Byetta by an alliance between Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca - and sitagliptin - marketed as Januvia by Merck - have been linked to pancreatitis before in studies on animals and small groups of patients, said the study’s lead author.
“New therapies and risks are only evaluated when studies are done. We need to know (the drugs) are effective in lowering blood sugar, but we also need to know about risks,“ said Dr. Sonal Singh, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Pancreatitis, which can cause life-threatening complications, is rare but more common in people with type 2 diabetes. Singh said pancreatitis occurs in about three of every 1,000 diabetes patients.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are about 19 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes, and another 7 million who have the disease but don’t know it yet.
In people with type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or is resistant to what it does produce.
For the new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the researchers used data on 1,269 diabetes patients between the ages of 18 and 64 years old, who were admitted to U.S. hospitals with pancreatitis in 2005 through 2008.
They compared those to 1,269 other diabetes patients who were similar, but were not hospitalized with pancreatitis.
Overall, they found 87 of the diabetes patients with pancreatitis were taking GLP-1 therapies, compared to 58 of the diabetes patients without pancreatitis.
Singh told Reuters Health that the findings show the drugs are linked to a doubling of the risk of pancreatitis - about six cases per 1,000 diabetics.
“I won’t say you should be alarmed about the findings, but it’s something you should consider,“ he said.
Dr. Aaron Cypess, a staff endocrinologist in the clinic of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, said the new study will not change how he treats patients, but it may influence him to go over his patients’ risk factors for pancreatitis.
“For me personally it’s not going to change my practice pattern in terms of stopping the drugs, but we may revisit whether you’re showing any of the risk factors,“ said Cypess, who was not involved with the new study.
In a joint statement, the American Diabetes Association and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists also said the new findings should not change how doctors treat diabetes patients.
“The analysis is a retrospective study using data from an administrative database. This type of analysis is not considered as robust as a prospective randomized controlled clinical trial, the gold standard for evaluating treatments,“ the organizations wrote in the statement.
They continue that there are nine of those “gold standard” trials in the works that should provide answers soon.
The current study also had limitations, including that the diabetes patients hospitalized with pancreatitis tended to lead a less healthy lifestyle than those who did not have the condition.
In a commentary, Belinda Gier and Dr. Peter Butler from the University of California, Los Angeles, write supporters say the drugs are safe and offer some advantages over older medications.
Currently, the labels for Januvia and Byetta carry warnings that there have been reports of pancreatitis in people taking the drugs.
Other side effects of Byetta include nausea and other stomach issues. For Januvia side effects also include respiratory infections and headaches. Cypess told Reuters Health both drugs are still protected by patents and can be expensive.
Representatives from Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb said they - along with drug regulators - actively monitor reports of adverse events in users of their drugs, and have not found evidence showing the drugs cause pancreatitis.
SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, February 25, 2013.
WV Tops in Income Recipients with Disabilities
U.S. Census figures show West Virginia leads the nation in the%age of adults receiving federal government income assistance who have disabilities.
The Census report released shows that of the 46 million adults who received income-based government assistance in 2011, 30.4% of them had a disability.
In West Virginia, the rate is 41.7%.
Arizona had the lowest rate at 25.1%.
Twenty-two states had disability rates above the national average of 30.4% and 15 were below that.
The Census report defined disabilities as people having vision, hearing, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care or independent living difficulties.
The report also found that of those people with disabilities in West Virginia, 26.8% reported having severe difficulties walking or climbing stairs, compared with the national average of 18.2%.
West Virginia Ranks 46th in Advanced Placement Test
More high school students in West Virginia are taking Advanced Placement examinations to earn college credit.
But the College Board’s annual Advance Placement (AP) report ranks West Virginia 46th for the number of students who pass the tests.
An annual report released this week by the board says only 9.8% of 2012 graduates in West Virginia earned a score of 3 or higher on at least one AP exam.
The national average is 19.5%.
About 3,700 West Virginia students took the AP tests in 2010, up from about 1,800 in 2002.
The number of students succeeding on the exams rose from 886 to 1,631 during the same period.
Center for Professional Development CEO Dixie Billheimer tells media outlets that her department is working on expanding access to AP courses.
Governor Tomblin’s Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force Presents Report
Recommendations include tax credits, transitioning state bus fleet to propane
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has received a final report from the Governor’s Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force.
The report provides several recommendations regarding the utilization of the state’s abundant natural gas to fuel the state’s transportation needs.
“We have the opportunity to reinvest in our own economy, provide drivers with lower costs at the pump as well as support the establishment of more good-paying jobs for West Virginians - all by using a clean burning energy source harvested right here at home,“ Gov. Tomblin said. “The Task Force’s recommendations include my recently introduced alternative fuel tax credit legislation. I will continue to work with legislators, and other stakeholders, to make the most of this opportunity.“
Governor Tomblin issued an executive order, June 19, 2012, establishing the 21 member board that is comprised of public and private industry experts.
Some of the recommendations included in the Task Force’s report presented to the governor today include:
• transitioning a portion of the state’s vehicle fleet to natural gas and transition the state bus fleet to propane;
• increasing the maximum amount of a tax credit allowed for building natural gas fueling infrastructure to $400,000;
• encouraging the private sector to develop a communications strategy to educate the public on the benefits of natural gas vehicles, among others.
To review the Task Force’s report, click H E R E.
Study Questions West Virginia Psychologist License Change
Only West Virginia allows people to practice as psychologists without the most advanced graduate degree. A new report sees no reason to change that.
More than half the state’s 460 or so practicing psychologists instead have a less-advanced master’s degree. The state’s Psychological Association wants the title psychologist limited to those with doctoral degrees.
But an audit presented to lawmakers Monday says that doesn’t mean that masters-level psychologists are providing services harmful to the public. The review found no evidence to justify a stricter licensing standard.
The association is asking legislators to reject the audit as flawed.
The debate comes amid criticisms of state behavioral health services.
One advocacy group has flunked West Virginia for scarce or non-existent acute and long-term care, overcrowded state-run hospitals and waiting lists for services.
Report: Overtime Shorting West Virginia Health Program
An audit report says West Virginia state employees annually receive millions of dollars in overtime and other compensation beyond their basic pay, and it could be costing their health insurance plan millions of dollars each year.
The reason: That money is not counted when the program looks at pay to calculate premiums and out-of-pocket deductibles.
The report released to legislative leaders this week also found that some salaried employees routinely receive overtime, and some public workers are paid more than $100,000 in overtime a year.
Auditors suspect that at least some agencies have paid their salaried staff that way to conceal their actual compensation. Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred recommended that the Division of Personnel identify the employees who fall under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which guarantees overtime, the ones do not and others who appear to fall in between the two groups.
“We’ve raised this issue before,“ Allred told the House-Senate Post-Audits Subcommittee.
The audit did not estimate the cost of the inadequately calculated premiums to the Public Employees Insurance Agency, but noted that 3,346 state employees each received at least $5,000 classified as overtime during the past budget year — or a minimum total of $16.7 million. The health plan for public employees bases premiums and deductibles on ability to pay.
“If half of them should be paying another $1,000 in premiums, that’s $1 million that should be going to PEIA,“ Allred said.
Marshall University head football coach Doc Holliday topped the audit’s list with pay classified as overtime at $425,000. Auditors noted that Marshall and other public entities may be listing other forms of compensation as overtime in their payroll records.
Matt Turner, chief of staff to Marshall President Stephen Kopp, said the school uses a category in the payroll system to denote a variety of pay other than salaries. It includes supplemental compensation and extra duty pay, Turner said Monday. None of the money for Holliday or other Marshall employees who made the audit’s list reflects overtime, Turner said.
The audit found five other state employees who reaped six-figure amounts beyond their salaries. Three are health professionals at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital, each receiving between $124,000 and $172,000, while another was a plumber at the Huntington hospital and received $100,701, auditors said. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Resources, which oversees the Bateman hospital, did not immediately respond to a Monday request for comment.
Of the others in the overtime pool, 33 received between $25,000 and just under $35,000.
“If you have someone making $30,000 a year in overtime, that really should be included in calculating their PEIA premiums,“ Allred said.
Some of the hefty overtime payouts may reflect staff shortages in some agencies, lawmakers noted. Agencies requiring employees to work overtime include the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority. The latter is also among the 64 agencies that paid out at least $5,000 in overtime to one or more employees last budget year.
Several lawmakers expressed surprise that salaried employees have been paid overtime. Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, questioned whether the overtime is counted toward state pensions, which are based on final salaries and years of service. Allred said the Consolidated Public Retirement Board tracks overtime to calculate benefits.
“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,“ Prezioso said, contrasting the retirement board with PEIA.
Analysis: Facing Drought, U.S. Farmers Return to Crop Rotation
Farmers in top U.S. grain states are planning to rotate to other crops after repeated plantings of corn on the same fields, combined with a devastating drought in 2012, badly hurt yields.
Farmers in Iowa and Illinois, which accounted for almost 30% of U.S. corn production in 2012, are expected to shift some acreage that was seeded exclusively with corn over the past several years to soybeans this spring. They want to avoid another year of potentially significant losses as dry conditions persist, said agricultural market analysts and economists.
A move away from corn in those states may further drive up world food prices, which are already historically high, because corn stockpiles in the United States, the world’s top exporter, are forecast to hit a 17-year low by the end of the summer.
Soaring corn prices, due in part to surging demand for ethanol, in recent years have encouraged a greater amount of corn being planted on the same land year-after-year despite the fact the practice depletes soil of nutrients and reduces yields.
Although corn plantings are expected to be near record highs nationwide in 2013, the loss of some acres in the most productive states could crimp U.S. yields.
Corn acres will shift from Iowa and Illinois to less-productive fields in North and South Dakota and the Mississippi Delta, raising the potential for lower yields overall, said Sterling Liddell, vice president of food and agribusiness research for agribusiness lending giant Rabobank.
The shift “could potentially be very supportive for prices because we’re in such tight stock conditions with such little room for error,“ he said.
Iowa and Illinois could each see up to one million acres that have been devoted to corn production for the past several years switched to other crops in 2013, according to Rabobank.
That could mean a loss of up to 320 million bushels of corn from the 2013 harvest, based on the states’ five-year average yields.
Farmers planted 14.2 million acres of corn in Iowa last year and 12.8 million acres in Illinois.
The United States harvested 10.8 billion bushels of corn in 2012, the smallest in six years. The U.S. government is expected to detail its forecast for the 2013 harvest and plantings in March.
Ongoing dryness and the need to reinvigorate soils will encourage farmers to retreat, at least temporarily, from corn-on-corn production, according to agronomists. Soybeans naturally add nitrogen, a key fertilizer, to the land.
More so than soybeans, corn has a greater need for moisture during a critical summertime stage of development, raising the risk for yield losses if moisture is absent during that time.
Rains in August boosted the size of last year’s soybean crop but arrived too late in the summer to benefit the already-ravaged corn crop.
Forecasters have warned the drought will not abate in the coming months.
“Farmers are going to do their best to not do corn-on-corn any more than they have to,“ said Rich Guebert, vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau, who said he had heard many farmers complain about dramatic yield losses from corn planted after corn.
Rodney Weinzierl, the executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association and a farmer in the state’s No. 1 corn-producing county, plans to plant soybeans on land on which he has grown corn for the past three years.
The decision to reduce corn plantings “has a lot to do with moisture,“ said Weinzierl, adding that he was “trying to better understand” a 40% decline in yields last year for corn plantings in fields that also had corn in the previous year.
DROUGHT BURNS FARMERS
There has been a movement toward repeated plantings of corn in recent years. Acres planted with corn last year and the year before in Iowa and Illinois rose 6% to 9.8 million acres, according to agricultural data company Lanworth, a unit of Thomson Reuters.
Total corn plantings in the two states jumped 1% to 27 million acres.
“What people were banking on was that corn prices had gotten up there high enough that it was going to offset that yield reduction, but in fact it didn’t,“ said Mike Duffy, agricultural economist at Iowa State University.
It can all make a big difference to farmers’ incomes.
Duffy estimated an average yield of 165 bushels per acre for corn grown after corn in 2012 and 180 bushels for corn grown after soybeans.
In 2012, it cost $4.94 a bushel to produce corn grown after corn in Iowa, 70 cents more than it cost to grow corn grown after soybeans. The higher cost was due to reduced yields for repeated plantings and to the additional fertilizer needed to compensate for lost nutrients, Duffy said.
Yields for corn grown after corn take a particularly hard hit compared to corn grown after soybeans when weather conditions are poor, Duffy noted, adding that farmers who planted corn repeatedly on the same land said: “Well we got burned here. We don’t want to do it again.“
RECORD PLANTINGS NATIONWIDE?
Still, all signs point to U.S. farmers planting a historically large number of acres to corn in 2013 due to high corn prices.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, last week projected 96 million acres of corn will be planted, down 1% from a record high in 2012.
Rabobank predicted total plantings will rise 0.5% to 97.6 million acres - which would be the most since 101.95 million acres were planted in 1936 before the advent of soybeans.
Guidance Document Offers Different Approaches to Address Stormwater Runoff
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will soon release a guidance document to assist West Virginia MS4 communities in designing alternative pollution-control programs for development projects that can’t meet on-site stormwater runoff requirements.
Forty-seven West Virginia communities are regulated under the state’s small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit. The permit includes performance standards for development and redevelopment projects within MS4 communities. The standards are designed to reduce the impacts of polluted stormwater on the state’s streams and rivers.
The state’s new Off-Site Compliance Program Guidance addresses development projects where site conditions do not allow the first inch of rainfall to be captured on site. As alternative measures, the guidance document outlines “off-site compliance” approaches to meeting the MS4 permit performance standards.
Those approaches include Off-Site Mitigation, where runoff reduction practices at a development site are implemented by the site developer at another location within the same watershed or sewershed; and Payment in Lieu, where the site developer pays the MS4 an appropriate fee with the understanding that funds will be used to support another public stormwater project.
The 93-page guidance document, which was developed for the DEP by the Center for Watershed Protection, provides definitions, details and resources for MS4s that wish to utilize either, or both, the Off-Site Mitigation and Payment in Lieu programs. It also supplements the recently state-issued Stormwater Management and Design Guidance Manual.
The guidance document will be available this month by going to the Stormwater Program page under the Division of Water and Waste Management on the DEP Web site.
For more information, contact DEP MS4 Program Manager Sherry Wilkins at “Sherry.L.Wilkins@wv.gov” or 304.926,0499x1048.
Study: Obesity in Girls Tied to Higher MS Risk
Obese children, adolescent girls in particular, are more likely to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) than normal-weight youth - with extreme obesity tied to a three- to four-fold higher risk of MS.
The study did not prove that carrying around some extra eight in childhood causes MS, a neurological disease in which the protective coating around nerve fibers breaks down, slowing signals traveling between the brain and the body, said researchers whose work appeared in the journal Neurology.
But it does suggest that rising levels of obesity in young people could mean more MS diagnoses than in the past, according to lead study author Annette Langer-Gould from Kaiser Permanente of Southern California and her colleagues.
For the study, Langer-Gould and her colleagues compared the heights and weights of 75 young people with pediatric MS and its possible precursor, a condition called clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), and more than 900,000 without the disease.
“Our findings suggest the childhood obesity epidemic is likely to lead to increased morbidity from MS/CIS, particularly in adolescent girls,“ Langer-Gould and her colleagues wrote.
Just over half of the children and teens with MS were overweight or obese, compared to 37% of other youth.
Being overweight or moderately obese was tied to a slightly higher chance of MS in adolescent girls, but the results were based on a small number of cases and could have been due to chance. Extreme obesity, on the other hand, was linked more clearly with a three- to four-fold higher risk of MS.
A 12-year-old girl who stands 1.52 meters (5 feet) tall and weighs 51 kilograms (112 pounds) is considered overweight and extremely obese at over 70 kg (155 pounds).
There was no clear pattern between boys’ weights and how likely they were to be diagnosed with MS, Langer-Gould’s team found.
“Obesity is increasing the risk of so many different kinds of diseases,“ said Kassandra Munger, who studies MS at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston but was not involved in the new study.
“This current study now adds to the evidence that it’s also dangerous and increases the risk of neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.“
Roughly 400,000 people in the United States have MS, usually diagnosed in adulthood. Just one or two out of every 100,000 children is diagnosed with pediatric MS, Langer-Gould said.
Based on limited evidence about any effects of weight, she said she was “actually surprised” her team found any link with MS risk.
“It’s not something we think of as a risk factor for multiple sclerosis,“ she told Reuters Health.
According to Munger, there are a number of possible explanations for why heavy people could be at increased risk, including their vitamin levels and the greater amounts of chemicals - such as inflammation-inducing signaling molecules - secreted by their fat cells.
“It’s not easy to tease those out,“ Munger told Reuters Health. “From a biological perspective, we don’t know what the link is between obesity and MS.“
Langer-Gould and her colleagues are continuing to track children in their study over time and are also working on another project to see if adults’ weight affects their chance of developing MS.
Click H E R E for the SOURCE
WVDEP Behind Schedule on Gas Drilling Reports
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is late producing a report on the gas industry’s use of wastewater impoundments because it wants to remove recommendations from West Virginia University researchers.
Secretary Randy Huffman say, he hopes to have a final report ready when legislators convene next month.
He says the researchers went beyond the scope of their mission in making suggestions about the handling of wastewater.
Huffman says there’s nothing wrong with their recommendations, but that’s not what was requested.
He also says the study had formatting problems.
It was one of three that lawmakers mandated in 2011 when passing new drilling regulations.
Huffman says a second one on noise, light and dust from drilling sites is nowhere near complete.
A third report is due in July.
Study: High Doses of Folic Acid Does Not Raise Cancer Risk
People taking high doses of the B vitamin folic acid are not at an increased risk of cancer, according to an international analysis - easing some concern about the possible side effects of national programs aimed to raise intake of the vitamin.
The United States and Canada have required flour to be fortified with folic acid since 1998, after deficiencies of it in pregnant women were tied to brain and spinal cord birth defects in their babies.
But fortification isn’t required in Western Europe, for example, partly out of concern that the extra folic acid might slightly increase people’s risk of cancer due to its role in cell growth. Cells, including cancer cells, need folate - the natural form of folic acid - to grow and divide.
“Folic acid supplementation does not substantially increase or decrease incident of site-specific cancer during the first 5 years of treatment,“ researchers wrote in The Lancet.
“Fortification of flour and other cereal products involves doses of folic acid that are, on average, an order of magnitude smaller than the doses used in these trials.
For the analysis, the researchers combined data from 13 separate trials that randomly assigned participants to daily folic acid or a vitamin-free placebo and recorded who went on to develop cancer.
The studies included a total of close to 50,000 volunteers who were followed for just over five years, on average.
During that time, 7.7% of people in the folic acid groups, and 7.3% in the placebo groups, were diagnosed with any kind of cancer, a difference that could have been due to chance, researchers said.
Likewise, there was no increased risk of individual cancers - including colon, prostate, lung or breast cancer - attributed to folic acid.
Most trials used daily doses of folic acid between 0.5 and 5 milligrams. In the one study that used a much larger dose, 40 mg daily, there was still no difference in cancer diagnoses.
The total daily amount of folic acid through flour fortification is less than 0.5 mg a day for most in the United States. Folic acid is also naturally found in spinach, asparagus, lettuce and other greens, with a recommended daily upper limit of 1.0 mg.
“The conclusion you can make from this is that over a relatively short period of time, there was no significant benefit or harm,“ said John Baron from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Lebanon, New Hampshire, who worked on the review.
Most cancers take 10 to 20 years to develop, so it is hard to tell from shorter studies like this one if there really is no link or if the researchers did not follow people for long enough to see an association, whether positive or negative, he added.
The researchers agreed that the study shouldn’t be the last work on the potential side effects of folic acid.
For now, said nutrition researcher Joshua Miller of Rutgers University in New Jersey, people might want to avoid piling supplements on top of multivitamins and fortified food.
“People should realize if they’re eating breakfast cereals and bread and pastas, they’re getting a good amount of folic acid in food,“ he said. “I think they should try not to exceed the upper limit.“
Click H E R E for the SOURCE of this information
U.S. Audit: West Virginia Wasted Stimulus Funds on Routers
A federal audit concludes the state wasted federal stimulus funds and failed to properly track Internet routers that cost $24 million.
The report Friday by the inspector general of the U.S. Commerce Department found that the state could have purchased smaller and less expensive routers for schools, libraries, health clinics, county courthouses and planning agencies.
The review of the router purchase last summer was done at the request of two congressional subcommittees.
Congressman John Shimkus, R-IL, who serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, called the findings “disturbing.”
“This is an unfortunate example of how government does not keep track of how it spends taxpayer money,” he said.
The router purchase was part of a $126.3 million stimulus-funded project designed to increase high-speed Internet at 1,164 public facilities in West Virginia.
The auditors found that West Virginia officials made the $24 million router purchase without conducting a study to determine what size routers were needed at public facilities, or “community anchor institutions.”
State officials pushed back Friday on parts of the audit; contending West Virginia got a discounted price on the routers and has upgraded its equipment-tracking system.
The routers cost $22,600 each.
“We do not believe purchasing routers with enhanced capabilities for our ‘community anchor institutions’ was a waste of taxpayer resources,” said Rob Alsop, chief of staff for Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office. “Instead, we view this project as an investment in West Virginia’s future.”
West Virginia officials met with Cisco engineers and sales representatives on the routers. They suggested that Cisco 3945 series routers would best meet the project’s requirements. Cisco also provided 100 free routers to the state and extended its router warranty from three to five years at no additional cost.
Inspector General’s Office staff members asked a Cisco representative why the company didn’t suggest a smaller router, such as the Cisco 2900 series router. The representative said the smaller router didn’t have a dual power source that would keep running during “mechanical failures.”
While the dual power source is critical for some operations, such as 911 centers, uninterrupted service is not critical for schools and libraries, as well as other facilities, the audit said.
The state has designated 53 of the 1,164 routers to county 911 centers and 70 to State Police detachments.
The audit found that the state could have saved $1.2 million by purchasing Cisco 2900 series routers in 23 West Virginia counties with fewer than 20,000 residents. Those counties received 231 of the 1,164 routers.
New Recommendations Received from Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced today that his Advisory Council on Substance Abuse has presented its year-end report. The report includes policy and program recommendations for consideration by State lawmakers for the upcoming Legislative Session.
“First, I want to thank each member of the Advisory Council for being dedicated to fighting the substance abuse epidemic. I truly value their hard work,“ Governor Tomblin said. “Since coming together in 2011, we’ve taken numerous productive steps to rid our state and our families from the heartache and dangers substance abuse brings to our hometowns. I appreciate the Advisory Council’s recommendations on the next step in our plan of action.“
The report submitted to the governor addresses regional projects completed and comprehensive legislation passed by legislators during the 2012 session. The report also outlines new funding for expansion of substance abuse services awarded in all six regions of the State and speaks to the strategic action plan that has been implemented.
The progress of the Advisory Council and Regional Task Forces since their inception in September 2011, through Executive Order, is detailed in the December 2012 report. Recent national data show a decrease in prescription drug misuse among those aged 12 years or older in West Virginia for the first year since 2008.
The overall 2013 recommendations of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse include maintaining existing successful substance abuse programs, continuing efforts to develop community-based after-treatment recovery supports, encouraging on-going efforts of substance abuse prevention coalitions, addressing emerging issues related to drug “take back” programs and proper disposal of collected drugs. The report also addresses the implementation of legislation, local ordinances and statewide policy changes related to prevention, early intervention, enforcement, treatment and recovery efforts.
View the entire GACSA report online by clicking H E R E.
GAO Report: Federal Spending is Unsustainable
Serious Financial Management Problems Cited in Annual Document
Congressman David B. McKinley (R-WV) responded to the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week.
Last week, the non-partisan GAO released a report finding that “absent policy changes, the federal government continues to face an unsustainable fiscal path.”
“This should be a wakeup call to all our Congressional leaders as we continue to operate without a budget, and flirt with financial disaster,” said McKinley. “This audit of the government is straight forward: until we cut spending and deal with the more than $16 trillion debt, our economy continues to face stagnant growth.”
“This report makes it clear—the federal government needs to get its house in order,” said McKinley. “Businesses and families can’t function like this and the government shouldn’t either. It’s time to take action and get our spending under control.”
To Read the Entire GAO Report, Click H E R E.
WV Union Ranks Drop in 2012; Reasons Unclear
The number of unionized workers in West Virginia dropped by about 9,000 last year and is nearing its lowest level in three decades.
About 84,000 union members had jobs in the state in 2012, or about 12% of the work force, figures released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show.
That’s only slightly better than the national rate. The statistics show that nationally, membership dropped last year from 11.8% to 11.3% of the work force, the lowest level since the 1930s.
The national decline occurred as cash-strapped state and local governments shed workers and unions faced challenges organizing new members.
Overall membership fell by about 400,000 workers to 14.4 million, bureau figures show. More than half the loss, about 234,000, came from government workers, including teachers, firefighters and public administrators.
West Virginia’s number is the second-lowest since 1983, the Charleston Daily Mail reported. According to unionstats.com, there were 83,000 union members in 1998.
The president of the state Chamber of Commerce pointed to a decline in both coal mining and manufacturing, and a flat level of construction jobs.
Kenny Perdue, president of the state AFL-CIO, said unions face threats not only from a slow economy but also from outsourcing and concerted efforts to undermine their power. Political battles have been waged in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and other states to curb bargaining rights and weaken union clout.
Perdue said his union’s membership has increased for the past decade, now standing at about 70,000 active members and an equal number of retirees. Much of the growth has come from the public sector, he said, with more teachers, school service workers and state employees joining the ranks.
WV Inmate Crowding Study Advises Assessing Risks Up Front, Mandate Post-Release Supervision
A study of West Virginia’s inmate crowding crisis is proposing solutions that researchers say will save the state $140 million.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin outlined recommendations Tuesday from the Justice Reinvestment project.
Researchers from the Justice Center at the nonpartisan Council of State Governments have spent months scrutinizing West Virginia’s crowding crisis.
Its prisons are at capacity, and its jails have hundreds more inmates than they were designed for.
The study proposes a science-based method for assessing the risk of offenders as they enter the criminal justice system.
It says the state must ensure that no one is released from prison unsupervised.
But it also calls on the state to strengthen community supervision programs.
That will include devoting more than $25 million toward substance abuse and addiction treatment.
Survey Ranks WV 8th in Nation for Pet Ownership
A new survey shows that West Virginia is a pet-friendly state.
The survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association shows about 62% of West Virginia households own a pet.
The association’s U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook ranks West Virginia 8th in the nation for pet ownership.
West Virginia ranks 5th for dog ownership and 6th for cat ownership.
According to the sourcebook, 45.8% of West Virginia households own a dog and 38.1% own a cat.
Vermont is top-ranked for pet ownership, while Rhode Island has the fewest households with a pet.
The veterinary association conducts the survey every five years.
Study: WV High School Graduation Rate Improves
A new study says more West Virginia high school students are graduating in four years.
The U.S. Department of Education study released Tuesday says 78% of the students who graduated in the spring of 2010 earned their diplomas on time.
That is up from 77% in the previous school year and the same as the national rate.
West Virginia’s dropout rate remained at about 4%. The national rate was 3.4%.
Vaccine Timetable for Children Is Safe, Experts Say
The current guideline for immunizing children against polio, whooping cough, measles and other infectious diseases is safe, but should still be monitored, federal health advisers said last week.
In what they called the most comprehensive review to date, scientists at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) said there is no evidence that giving children vaccines according to the recommended timetable causes other problems such as autism or asthma.
IOM, part of the National Academies, a federally-charted group of scientific advisers to the government, said it hopes the findings would reassure parents, doctors and others even as it recommends that the research continue.
“The message is that the schedule is safe by all existing data,“ said Dr. Pauline Thomas, an IOM adviser and a professor at New Jersey Medical School in Newark.
Requested by U.S. health officials, the year-long review of existing studies underscores the lingering concerns some people have about the vaccines, especially the many shots babies and toddlers receive.
The findings come as the nation wrestles with various outbreaks, including an influenza epidemic. Several U.S. states are also grappling with record spikes of whooping cough.
Federal vaccine guidelines recommend 24 immunizations by age 2, and sometimes children can get up to five shots in one doctor’s visit.
While most people follow the recommended timetable, IOM said about 1 percent of Americans refuse all vaccines.
The reasons vary. Some object for religious reasons but others are concerned that underlying medical conditions could raise the risk of possible complications from the injections. Others worry potential harms outweigh the benefits or simply mistrust the government, which reviews and approves vaccines before they can be marketed.
Still, most parents comply.
Pamela Maslen, a registered nurse and lactation consultant in Silver Spring, Maryland, said her work overseas influenced her decision to follow the recommendations when her first daughter was born nearly five years ago.
“I pretty much decided I wanted to keep on the schedule because I knew we would be moving, and I didn’t want her to be susceptible to anything,“ said Maslen, 35, who has two daughters and is expecting her third child soon.
SOME PARENTS STILL WORRY
IOM’s panel of independent scientists looked at the schedule of immunizations and all available scientific literature to determine safety. They also reviewed CDC and the Food and Drug Administration databases that track side effects.
Yet suspicions over vaccines have continued for years. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. parents have some mistrust of childhood vaccines, the CDC has said.
Some suspicions arose over autism and thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in many U.S. vaccines but no longer. No studies have shown a clear link, and IOM said in 2004 that researchers should look elsewhere for the disorder’s cause.
“The concerns are certainly still out there,“ said Cassandra Jessee, 39, who opted to “delay” the vaccines for her 16-month-old son by spreading them over several months rather than one doctor’s visit.
“It means more co-pays and doctors appointments, but to me it is worth it,“ she said.
While some pediatricians allow their patients to stretch the timetable, others refuse to do so saying it poses risks.
The IOM panel said there is no evidence that an alternative schedule that would be safer or less safe.
But studying the health impact of children who get vaccines on time versus those who do not would be too risky and expensive, it said. Instead, while current databases could be enhanced, they are still the best way to monitor safety, it added.
Panelists also said doctors need to find better ways to communicate with the public about vaccine safety and concerns.
GFP - 01.22.2013
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West Virginia Gets an “F” for Tobacco Prevention
The state received an “F” across the board in four areas the study covers: in funding for tobacco prevention and control programs, in smoke free air, in cigarette taxes and in cessation coverage.
Vice President of Mission for the American Lung Association Chantal Fields said a better job can be done at the government level.
“There are some steps that they should be taking to help the prevention of tobacco use among kids and to protect our citizens from second hand smoke,” said Fields. “We do not have adequate budget in this state to do the things that are necessary for prevention.”
West Virginia receives $231 million in tobacco-related revenue annually, but only invests $5.7 million to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to be spent on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
That amount is well below the $27.8 million investment the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
“When you consider that tobacco is costing the state about $690 million a year just in health care costs for smokers, the $27.8 that we should be getting is pennies comparatively,” said Fields.
Fields adds that the $27.8 million would also do a great deal in lowering the health care costs the state incurs each year for smokers.
The report also rated tobacco prevention efforts on the county level as well and Fields said the results were a little better there.
“Some of our counties have done a wonderful job and have comprehensive clean indoor air regulations that cover restaurants , bars, work sites, everything,” said Fields. “Other counties have regulations in place but they are not quit as comprehensive.”
In this report, twenty counties earned “A” grades, 19 earned “B” grades, 10 earned “C” grades and the remaining 6 counties received “F” grades.
In order to get the grades up in the state, Fields said better funding for tobacco prevention is needed, more clean indoor air regulations, cigarette taxes and cessation coverage for people.
Tobacco causes an estimated 3,821 deaths in West Virginia annually alone and 443,000 deaths nationwide.
Fields said the American Lung Association urges state lawmakers to do more to adequately protect citizens.
~~ Travis Brinkstbrinks – WVMN ~~
National Report Highlights Need for Education Reform in WV
A new national report places West Virginia’s public school system among the Top 10 nationally, giving the state a B- in Education Week’s “Quality Counts 2013” released Thursday.
But while West Virginia excels in school finance, standards, alignment and teacher quality in the 17th annual report, it fails when it comes to student achievement and is just average in providing opportunities for success.
“Student achievement is our No. 1 priority,” said state Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares. “It is important that we acknowledge those areas in which our state is succeeding. However, the data presented in Quality Counts from 2012 regarding student achievement remains disturbing. Improving student academic performance is the focus of all the state’s education stakeholders and together we are determined to improve.
“The latest Quality Counts report reinforces the need to focus our efforts on helping county school systems increase student achievement levels by providing resources and reallocating some WVDE staff to the local and regional levels.”
Reallocating some WVDE staff is one of many recommendations set forth in the West Virginia Board of Education’s (WVBE) “Audit to Action: Students First,” which can be found at wvde.state.wv.us/policies/audit-response.html. Continued poor student performance prompted the WVBE to join with Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, the state Legislature, educators, parents and others to work to enact reforms.
Quality Counts ranked West Virginia ninth overall this year with a score of 80.8%. The report tracks key education indicators and grades states on their policy efforts and outcomes. This year’s report considered chance for success; transitions and alignment and school finance. It also included data from the 2012 report in K-12 achievement; standards, assessments and accountability; and the teaching profession.
Quality Counts ranked West Virginia No. 2 with an A- in school finance, up from a C in 2012. The category considered school spending patterns and the distribution of resources within a state. The national average was a C.
In transitions and alignment, West Virginia earned a B+, which dropped from an A in 2012. The nation received a B-. This category tracked state policy efforts to coordinate connections between pre-K-12 schooling and other segments of the education pipeline with a focus on early childhood education, college readiness and career readiness.
West Virginia received a C- in chance for success, a similar score to 2012. The national average was C+. This index looked at 13 indicators, such as family income; parental education, employment and English-speaking ability; preschool and kindergarten enrollment; student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); high school graduation; and adult educational attainment.
Other West Virginia results from the 2012 report repeated in the 2013 report include an A in standards, assessments and accountability; a B- in the teaching profession; and an F in K-12 achievement.
The 2013 report also looked at school climate and discipline on a national level. More than 1,300 educators completed the survey (www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2013/01/10/)
About 83% of administrators and 72% of teachers nationwide said school climate was very important to educational success, while 54% of administrators and 46% of teachers said discipline played an important role.
Study: Do Not Blame Parkinson’s Disease for Addiction
Despite concerns that Parkinson’s patients were more likely to become compulsive gamblers or shoppers, a new study says untreated patients don’t have any more addictions than people without the disease.
“It’s further evidence that the increased frequency (of addictions) in Parkinson’s patients is due to the treatments themselves not the illness,“ said Dr. Daniel Weintraub, the study’s lead author from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
In 2010, Weintraub found that people who took certain Parkinson’s medications were three times as likely to have impulse control problems such as gambling, binge eating, shopping sprees and compulsive sexual behaviors.
So-called dopamine agonists, such as GlaxoSmithKline’s Requip or ropinirole or Boehringer Ingelheim’s Mirapex or pramipexole, are meant to stimulate parts of the brain in people with Parkinson’s to improve movement, stiffness and tremors.
Patients with the incurable disease have difficulties with movement, muscle control and balance and can eventually become paralyzed and die. The U.S. National Institutes of Health says 500,000 people are thought to have Parkinson’s disease, and about 50,000 new cases are reported every year.
For the new study, Weintraub and his colleagues, who published their findings in the journal Neurology, surveyed 168 people with untreated Parkinson’s disease and 143 people without the condition.
Each person was asked about - among other things - compulsive gambling, shopping, sexual behaviors and eating.
Overall, there were no significant differences between the two groups when it came to any of the compulsive behaviors.
About 1% of participants in each group reported a gambling problem, between 2%and 3% a shopping addiction and between 3.5% and 4% a sexual behavior addiction.
In each group, about 20% of participants had an impulse control problem.
“This study seems to support that fact it’s related to the medication,“ said Dr. Anhar Hassan, who was not involved with the new study but researches movement disorders.
According to Hassan, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the link between the Parkinson’s drugs and the addictions was first discovered between 2003 and 2004. Since then, she said, it’s become a well-known side effect amongst Parkinson’s patients.
“It’s our routine practice to warn patients that this is a potential side effect when we’re starting them on these medications,“ she said, adding that they screen for the behaviors during checkups.
“There is a potential for these to be quite devastating,“ she said.
SOURCE: Neurology, online January 07, 2013.
Study: West Virginia Gets ’C’ Grade in Tooth Decay
A nonprofit group gives West Virginia a “C” grade for its strategy to prevent tooth decay in children.
The Washington, D.C.-based Pew Center on the States issued the report Tuesday.
It graded every state on efforts to improve access to dental sealants for low-income children.
The study noted West Virginia fell short of a goal to provide the clear plastic sealants in most school-based programs and had some restrictions on dental hygienists’ abilities to apply sealants in schools.
The center says sealants can protect healthy teeth while preventing a cavity from forming when applied during the early stages of tooth decay.
Typically, sealants are first applied to children’s molars shortly after their permanent teeth appear.
West Virginia Children’s Health Improves, Obesity Declines
A statewide screening program shows that the health of West Virginia children is improving.
Figures from West Virginia University’s CARDIAC program show that 27.8% of fifth-graders screened in the 2011-2012 school year were obese.
That is down from 28.9% in the 2010-2111 school year.
During the same period, the number of fifth-graders with high blood pressure fell from 24% to 20.3%.
The abnormal cholesterol rate fell from 26.1% to 23.5%.
The kindergarten obesity rate declined from 17.5% to 13.6%.
However, the second-grade obesity rate rose a point to 24.5%.
Report: Gas Drilling Safe under Proposed Rules
An unreleased state report says potential health impacts from fracking are addressed in the Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulatory plan, making a separate health impact study unnecessary.
The report, first obtained by the New York Times, references sections of the draft environmental review that deal with health impacts from shale gas drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The report concludes that adverse health impacts will be prevented if DEC’s guidelines are followed.
A DEC spokeswoman says the report is nearly a year old and outdated.
Three outside experts are reviewing DEC’s health impact assessment but the materials they are reviewing haven’t been made public.
Environmental groups have criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration for conducting the health review in secret.
Cuomo has said he will lift a ban on fracking if it can be done safely.
Pro-Industry Study: Gas May Create 58,000 West Virginia Jobs
Pro-industry study says shale gas development in West Virginia could support 58,000 jobs by 2035.
A new report by a group affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says shale-gas development could support more than 29,000 jobs in West Virginia by 2020, doubling to 58,000 by the year 2035.
The report released last week by the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy says the natural gas industry has already created more than 11,800 direct and indirect jobs in the state.
It also projects that shale gas development will generate $283 million in revenue this year for state and local governments.
And it says those revenues could hit $884 million a year by 2020.
The report is the second part of a three-part study co-sponsored by the institute.
In all, it predicts West Virginia could see more than $25 billion in shale-driven revenues between 2012 and 2035.
Report: Gaps in WV Health Emergency Readiness
A new report by two health advocacy groups says West Virginia has several gaps in its preparedness for public health emergencies.
The report released last week by the Trust for American’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says West Virginia met five of 10 indicators of public health preparedness.
No state met all 10 indicators.
The report says West Virginia did not maintain or increase funding for public health programs from the 2010-2011 to 2011-2012 fiscal year.
The state also did not have an accredited emergency management plan.
West Virginia complied with several other indicators, including notifying and immediately assembling public health staff to respond to an incident.
A Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman says state officials are reviewing the report.
EPA Releases Progress Report on Fracking and Drinking Water Study
The Environmental Protection Agency has released a progress report on its research into potential impacts of natural gas hydraulic fracturing and drilling on drinking water.
The update released Friday does not come to any conclusions and the final report will not be released until 2014.
The EPA says information on fracking chemicals has been collected from nine companies and 24,925 wells. Computer analysis is also being done on well construction.
The EPA says it is working with scientists, the industry, and environmental groups to examine any possible impacts. Sampling at five locations in Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas has been completed, and lab studies are being done on drilling wastewater.
The industry and many states say the process is safe when done properly, but critics dispute that.
To see the report click H E R E .
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