Health & Science

Childhood Education
8:58 pm
Wed January 28, 2015

Concord University Hosts Screening of The First 1,000 Days

Credit Production still by Raelyn White.

Concord University is hosting a special screening of a documentary that explores the long-term educational challenges for children in low-income homes.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting's The First 1,000 Days: Investing In WV Children When It Counts will be shown on Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Athens campus. 

The hour-long documentary explores how poverty affects early childhood development and the challenges families face when the adults either have low-paying jobs or are unemployed.

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Diesel Spill
4:50 pm
Mon January 26, 2015

Weather Moves Water Distribution Indoors in Greenbrier County

Update Monday January 26, 2015 at 9:11 p.m. 

  Water samples taken from the Greenbrier River did not show dangerous levels of diesel, the Charleston Gazette is reporting.

This means the water intakes will be turned back on to refill the tanks and restore water pressure.

Earlier today, Al Whitaker said that after the intakes are turned on, residents will be boil water advisory for at least three days.

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11:24 pm
Sun January 25, 2015

Diesel Spill Taints Water for 12,000


Lewisburg is asking its water customers to conserve water following a diesel fuel spill.

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Coal Heritage Lecture Series
5:06 pm
Fri January 23, 2015

"Music of the Coalfields" Kicks Off Coal Heritage Lecture Series


  An annual spring lecture series that explores the heritage of the coal industry kicks off the first week of February with featured musicians and poets.  

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4:13 pm
Thu January 22, 2015

Call For Water Projects: 2015 Environmental Grant Program

The public utility company West Virginia American Water announced a call for water project entries today. The company’s 2015 Environmental Grant Program offers funds for projects that improve, restore or protect the watersheds, surface water and/or groundwater supplies located within West Virginia American Water’s service territory

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Health & Science
11:25 am
Wed January 21, 2015

Report: W.Va. Makes Little Progress on Tobacco Control

Credit Oxfordian Kissuth / wikimedia Commons

  The American Lung Association says West Virginia isn't making much progress on tobacco control.

An annual report released Wednesday by the association gives the Mountain State failing grades for tobacco prevention and control program funding, access to cessation services and tobacco taxes.

West Virginia received a D for smoke-free air.

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Underground Injection Well
4:45 pm
Fri January 16, 2015

Danny Webb Construction Permit Hearing Rescheduled

Credit Department of Environmental Protection

A public hearing on two permit renewal applications for an underground injection control (UIC) facility near Lochgelly in Fayette County has been rescheduled for Feb. 19, according to a release. The hearing was initially scheduled for Jan. 7 but had to be postponed due to inclement weather conditions.

The hearing is set for 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at Oak Hill High School. The DEP is also accepting written comments until March 1.


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Inside Appalachia
4:31 pm
Fri January 16, 2015

Inside Appalachia: Water in the Coalfields

Water Outages and Advisories Continue in W.Va. Coalfields

While the chemical spill in Charleston left more than 300,000 without usable water, it's a problem that folks in the coalfields deal with on a regular basis.

Last week, we heard stories of the water smelling of licorice, emptied shelves once stocked with bottled water, and other quests for clean water.  The water crisis in West Virginia's capital city lasted just a few weeks, but folks in the coalfields continue to deal with boil water advisories and outages.

Mountainous regions like southern West Virginia have an abundance of water, but the terrain along with aging infrastructure have been creating access issues for decades. Many of the current water systems in place today in the coalfields were installed in the early 1900's by coal companies. Coal operators, jobs, and most people left the area, leaving remnants of a once bustling economy including some beautiful buildings, coal tipples, and water systems. 

For some communities a boil water advisory is a way of life, like in Keystone, West Virginia, in McDowell County, where residents have been on an advisory since 2010. The town's neighboring sister city, Northfork, has been on a boil water advisory since 2013.

Elkhorn Water Project

Just this past year, a new water infrastructure project in one West Virginia community is expected to bring relief to parts of McDowell County.

A coal miner’s daughter, Betty Younger grew up in McDowell County and remembers a very different community during the 1950’s. Like so many coal-dependent communities, McDowell has suffered the boom and bust of the industry, and the sharp population decline that comes with it. In the 1950’s there were more than 100,000 people. Today less 20,000 remain in the county.

“This part of McDowell County... I mean, there’s nothing here,” Younger said.

Younger has lived in her Elkhorn home for about six years. There have been so many water issues…  she just assumes not to drink it, rarely uses it for cooking, and doesn't even count on regular access.

“You never know when you’re going to have water,” Younger said.

It's common to see folks filing up water jugs and tanks from mountain springs. For many, it's the only source of water they have.

Is There Something in the Water, Southern W.Va.?

In an ongoing look at water infrastructure challenges in the southern region of West Virginia, we're wondering about the possible health effects of long-term exposure to contaminated water sources. First: the health impacts of industrial contamination, as well as naturally occurring pollutants.

Southern West Virginia is home to some of the worst health disparities in the country.  Recent studies show folks in McDowell County, for example, have the shortest life expectancies in the country; it’s the 6th poorest county in the US.

The question ever is: Why?

Interim Chair of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at WVU’s School of Public Health, Dr. Michael McCawley says, all roads lead back to socio-economic  status, and lack of economic opportunity. Science these days is full of research that studies how cycles of poverty and stress, and feeling like you have no choices in life, leads consistently to poor health, and shorter life spans. Pin-pointing what exactly makes someone ill, though, is almost impossible, McCawley said, because life is so complicated. But he said long-term exposure to compromised water... is bound to leave a mark.

“That’s going to cause infectious disease, gastrointestinal problems, and that can lead to all sorts of other things,” McCawley said. 

Industrial Contamination

An aquatic biologist from Wheeling Jesuit University, Dr. Ben Stout, found himself invested in water quality issues in southern West Virginia when he began looking into ecological impacts of Mountaintop Removal over a decade ago. Stout began looking specifically at stream impairment in areas where dirt and land from the tops of ridges were pushed into valleys.

“It was pretty obvious to me that below valley fills, water was pretty tainted, and then it became a question of, ‘Is it getting into the human water supply?’” Stout said. “I started sampling people’s houses; some people’s water is really good, other people’s water is really appalling.”

Stout has tested for and found water spiked with heavy metals and other contaminants.

“Before it’s disturbed it’s a good of water you’re going to find anywhere on the planet. But after that it becomes tainted with heavy metals and bacteria and so forth and becomes unusable, except that these people don’t have any recourse,” Stout said.

Naturally Occurring Pollutants?

It’s been widely reported that industrial activity has contaminated community water supplies throughout the state.

But Stout points out that naturally occurring minerals and metals (like manganese) can themselves be a cause of serious concern—contaminants that leach naturally from the geology of the region.

The effect of manganese specifically hasn’t been investigated thoroughly, but a 2010 drinking water study found that “exposure to manganese at levels common in groundwater is associated with intellectual impairment in children.”

And Stout explained, it’s not easy to get dissolved metals out of water.

“Heavy metals don’t turn into anything else when you boil them,” Stout said. “Mercury stays mercury, and aluminum stays aluminum.”

Stout said over a period of time, people exposed to these contaminants through a variety of pathways such as drinking or showers become ill.

Raw Sewage

But for all of the concerns about water compromised by natural and industrial sources, and the cancer, decay, infection, and disease that can come with regular exposure to that contamination, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, Paul Ziemkiewicz said that the biggest threat in water supplies throughout southern West Virginia (and many areas in the state) by a long shot is raw sewage.

“Any contaminant you can think of pales in comparison to raw, untreated sewage,” Ziemkiewicz said.

We’re talking about bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can cause short-term problems like diarrhea, eye infections, respiratory infection, and long-term problems like cancer, Dementia, and Diabetes. And there are growing concerns about potential illnesses or effects from exposure to pharmaceuticals and synthetic hormones introduced through sewage.

Straight Pipes

Maggie Nevi is the Project Coordinator for the Waste Water Treatment Coalition in McDowell County. The coalition’s main objective is to end the practice of straight piping:

“Right now 67 percent of the county has no form of waste water treatment whatsoever. And they do what’s called straight-piping which is exactly what it sounds like.”


The idea behind Waste Water Treatment Coalition in McDowell County is to improve the health and well-being of the people who live in McDowell County of course, but also for people who want to visit the area. Nevi explains how the county has benefited from state investments, (with the Hatfield and McCoy Trail system, for example) but Nevi says right now, ATV enthusiasts that visit should be concerned. 

“They pretty-much could be riding through raw sewage, depending on the area that they are in,” Nevi said.

Nevi worries about eye, ear, nose, and throat infections, especially for ATV riders who splash through creeks without helmets or goggles.


The Waste Water Treatment Coalition is taking steps to mitigate some areas of concern. In the small community Ashland, for example, they established a wetland which absorbs and cleans up a lot of crap.

Nevi explains, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s acceptable rate for fecal coliform per mL of water is 200 parts per mL. In Ashland, before the wetland, the organization was finding 200,000 parts per mL. (Fecal coliform is an indicator that sewage is present in water...)

Public Health Crisis

At the West Virginia Water Research Institute, Director Paul Ziemkiewicz says 67 percent of homes in McDowell County not having a sewage treatment... is a public health crisis.

He explains that many of the pathogens you might encounter can be killed off by boiling water but…

“You don’t boil water to take a shower. The kids play in the little plastic pool out back. Are you boiling all that water, too? People drink this stuff they get in contact with it, they’re washing their faces with it,” Ziemkiewicz said, “and that’s bad stuff!”

In fact, whenever Ziemkiewicz or any researchers from his organization study water in the area, he requires inoculations for Hepatitis A and B.

Water Studies

Meanwhile water studies are underway. West Virginia University’s School of Public Health is currently studying water samples from throughout southern West Virginia in an effort to grasp a finer understanding of chronic and acute problems the community faces with water supply issues.

But to be clear—these problems might exist in southern West Virginia to a larger degree, but raw sewage, naturally occurring manganese, and industrial impairment are problems that exist all through the state and region.

Public health expert from WVU, Michael McCawley said it falls on not only citizens within southern counties to be educated about risks and searching and moving toward solutions, but all citizens throughout this state, and the region.

What Water Options Are Available In The Coalfields?

Eric Combs with the Region One Planning and Development Council says there are 58 water and sewer projects expected in the near to distant future in McDowell, Wyoming, Monroe, Summers, and Mercer Counties.

“There is a great need through out the whole but it seems like there is a greater need per say in Southern West Virginia,” he said.

One re-occurring challenge is replacing dated systems left behind by coal companies. Jennifer Hause with the West Virginia Water Research Institute can vouch for the system in Gary, her hometown.  Hause says during the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s her father maintained the water system as an employee of U.S. Steel. Around that time, the company began to pull out and close mines in the area. In this video, local historian and Wyoming County Circuit Clerk David "Bugs" Stover explains that the region has an abundance of water.

Coming Together to Fight Acid Mine Drainage in Morris Creek, W.V.

Streams polluted bright-orange from Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) are a common sight throughout coal mining regions.  The orange is essentially iron that comes from water flowing out of old coal mines; this iron can fall out along a stream bed, often choking out nearly all aquatic life.  Even though there is no one definitive way to treat AMD, Mike King (pictured) and other community members along Morris Creek near Montgomery, West Virginia, came together to try.  In this report, we hear about their organization, The Morris Creek Watershed Association, their home-made AMD treatment systems, their drastic success in restoring their creek, and how they feel their work has benefited their rural community. Parker Hobson of WMMT joined Mike King to take a tour of Morris Creek and brings us this report.

This story first aired last January. This report was made possible thanks to a grant from Penn State Public Media’s Water Blues: Green Solutions project, specifically the Think Outside the Pipes local reporting initiative.  Check out their site for stories of how communities across the country are implementing innovative solutions to their water problems.  

Music in this episode was provided by Jake Scheppes, Glynis Board, Alan "Cathead" Johnston and Stacey Grubb in South 52, and Andy Agnew Jr.

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Water Infrastructure
6:47 pm
Thu January 15, 2015

What Does it Take to Build New Water Systems in the Coalfields?

Work to replace the water system in Elkhorn began summer 2014.
Credit Daniel Walker

This week, we’ve been talking about water in the coalfields. We met folks that deal with frequent water outages and boil water advisories because of crumbling water systems, and heard stories of folks living with no water source at all. We also learned that proper sewage disposal is still a challenge.


Progress has been made. Just this past year, the Elkhorn Water Project began. It's expected to bring clean water to folks living in several coal camp communities along Route 52 in McDowell County. A project in Wyoming County is expected to bring a permanent solution to water issues in Bud and Alpoca.

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Water Infrastructure
9:20 am
Thu January 15, 2015

Part II: Is There Something in the Water, Southern W.Va.?

Discharge pipe.
Credit US Department of Agriculture

For all of the concerns about water compromised by natural and industrial sources (and the cancer, decay, infection, and disease that can come with that contamination), director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, Paul Ziemkiewicz said the biggest threat in water supplies in southern West Virginia (and many areas in the state) by a long shot is raw sewage.

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Water Infrastructure
11:17 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Part I: Is There Something in the Water, Southern W.Va.?

Folks in rural southern West Virginia often brush their teeth with bottled water.
Credit Jessical Lilly / WVPublic

In an ongoing look at water infrastructure challenges in the southern region of West Virginia, we consider possible health effects of long-term exposure to contaminated water sources. First: the health impacts of industrial contamination, as well as naturally occurring pollutants.

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Higher Education
4:42 pm
Tue January 13, 2015

WVU Medical School Dean Leaving After Nearly Five Years

Credit West Virginia Univeristy

  The dean is resigning at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

WVU President Gordon Gee announced Tuesday that Dr. Arthur J. Ross informed him of his decision to leave at the end of June. Gee did not cite a reason for Ross' resignation.

Ross has been in Morgantown for nearly five years. A pediatric surgeon, he came to WVU after serving as dean of Chicago Medical School and as vice president for medical affairs at Rosalind Franklin University.

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Water Infrastructure
9:13 pm
Mon January 12, 2015

What Water Options Are Available In The Coalfields?

The mountain spring in Maybeaury, W.Va. is often crowded with folks gathering water for their homes.
Credit Jessica Lilly

While the chemical spill in Charleston left 300-thousand people without access to clean water, folks in the coalfields deal with water issues every day.  We heard from folks in McDowell communities living off dated water systems that frequently go without water. Some communities have been on boil water advisories for years.

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Water Infrastructure
10:11 pm
Sun January 11, 2015

Water Outages and Advisories Continue in W.Va. Coalfields

Betty Younger explains the struggle to keep tap water on her front porch in McDowell County.
Credit Daniel Walker

While the chemical spill in Charleston left more than 300,000 without usable water, it's a problem that folks in the coalfields deal with on a regular basis.

Mountainous regions like southern West Virginia have an abundance of water, but the terrain along with aging infrastructure create challenges, just as it has for decades.

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Water Crisis
6:00 am
Fri January 9, 2015

One Year After the Chemical Leak, Mother and Daughter Still Don't Drink Tap Water

Lida Shepherd and her daughter, Lucia.
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It was some ten days before all of the families affected by the tap water ban following Charleston’s chemical spill were able to return to life as usual within their homes. And many did just that, once again drinking, cooking and bathing with water straight from the tap. The same, however, can’t be said for every family in the valley including Lida Shepherd, who says she still won’t drink the water.

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Chemical Leak
12:14 am
Fri January 9, 2015

Action Groups, Experts, Mom Look Back and Forward After Chemical Spill

Credit wikimedia / Wikimedia

Leaders of citizen groups, a water scientist and an impacted mother held a phone-based news conference this week to look back on the crisis and outline the progress, pitfalls and next steps in their work to ensure safe drinking water for all West Virginians.

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6:29 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

Hospitals Deal with Widespread Flu Activity

Credit WVUniversity Healthcare Logo / Berkeley Medical Center

Earlier this month the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a flu epidemic in the nation and named West Virginia a state with widespread flu activity. Now some hospitals in the eastern panhandle are taking extra precautions to make sure the virus doesn’t spread in their facilities.

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Drinking Water
1:02 pm
Wed January 7, 2015

'Keep Your Promises, Dupont' Campaign Kicks Off


Mid-Ohio Valley residents launched a campaign this week in an effort to pressure DuPont, a chemical company, into complying with a 2005 settlement agreement and to educate community members on how they can monitor their health.

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10:35 pm
Tue January 6, 2015

UPDATE: DEP Postpones Public Hearing Concerning Lochgelly Waste Site

Credit Jessica Lilly / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

 Update Wednesday January 7, 2015 11:46 a.m.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is postponing the meeting due to weather/road conditions. In an email, Kelley Gillenwater with the DEP said,

"Due to the inclement weather conditions in the Oak Hill area, tonight’s public hearing on the Danny Webb UIC permit applications will be reschedule. The date, time and location have not yet been determined but an announcement with those details will be made within the next couple of days."

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5th Documentary in Series
1:03 pm
Tue January 6, 2015

Science, Business Leaders are Inspiring

Jake Harriman, founder of Nuru, a global organization fighting extreme poverty, speaks with producer Jean Snedegar.

Inspiring West Virginians is West Virginia Public Broadcasting's radio documentary series featuring the personal stories of West Virginians who have made significant contributions in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or business.

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