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Unclean Water

This list was somewhat of an experiment for myself, I decided to search for and track reports of unclean water throughout the United States for the year 2016. I suspect there are many locations that I missed, but this is the best I could do.

I wanted to do this after the reports from Flint began to gain national attention. These reports are not centered around lead contamination, but overall, I think, point to a massive failure in our infrastructure. Some of these reports say that the brown water may be safe to drink, but brown water shouldn’t be our new standard of normal. We’ve got an infrastructure problem, and I think this list shows just how ubiquitous it is. Concerned people in Flint were lied to: they were initially told their water was safe to drink. Maybe they’re not the only ones.

  1. Flint, Michigan
  2. Kingwood, Texas
  3. Springdale, Pennsylvania
  4. St. Joseph, Louisiana [December update]
  5. Crystal City, Texas
  6. Jackson, Mississippi
  7. Manor, Texas
  8. Elwood, Indiana
  9. Raleigh, North Carolina
  10. Sebring, Ohio
  11. Newark, New Jersey
  12. Watts, L.A., California
  13. Newburgh, New York
  14. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  15. St. Clair Shores, Michigan
  16. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio
  17. Fairmont, Minnesota
  18. Horsham, Pennsylvania
  19. Lomita, California
  20. Patton, Pennsylvania
  21. Clarkston, Georgia
  22. Corpus Christi, Texas
  23. Spokane, Washington
  24. Colorado Springs, Colorado
  25. Portland, Oregon
  26. Lahaina, Hawaii
  27. Manhattan, Montana
  28. Bedford, New Hampshire
  29. Lawrence County and Morgan County, Alabama
  30. Hanson, Massachusetts
  31. Compton, California
  32. Canton, North Carolina
  33. Medford, Oregon
  34. Fresno, California
  35. Kewaunee County, Wisconsin
  36. Uxbridge, Massachusetts
  37. Lindsay, Oklahoma
  38. Salina, Kansas
  39. Litchfield Park, Arizona
  40. Malverne, New York
  41. Norton, Massachusetts
  42. Dearborn Heights, Michigan
  43. Washington, D.C.
  44. Mon-E-Bak, Franklin County, Ohio
  45. Harris County, Texas
  46. Lawton, Oklahoma
  47. Meridian, Mississippi
  48. Okmulgee, Oklahoma
  49. Abilene, Texas
  50. Goleta, California
  51. Fonda, New York
  52. Jeffersonville, Indiana
  53. Richmond County, North Carolina
  54. Hominy, Oklahoma
  55. Berwick, Maine
  56. Endicott, New York
  57. Maple Shade Township, New Jersey
  58. Guthrie, Oklahoma
  59. Johnson County and Pope County, Illinois
  60. Bridge City, Texas
  61. Rowan University, New Jersey
  62. Ponchatoula, Louisiana
  63. Cheverly, Maryland
  64. Cattaraugus, New York
  65. Butler County, Pennsylvania
  66. Cohoes, New York
  67. Lockwood, Nevada
  68. Parkhaven, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
  69. Niles, Ohio
  70. East Chicago, Indiana
  71. Gary, West Virginia
  72. Downtown Pensacola, Florida
  73. Columbia, South Carolina
  74. South Pierce County, Washington
  75. Charleston Park, Lee County, Florida
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Maternal and infant health care: A rising concern

I originally wrote this article for UNC-Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published November 18, 2015. Digital scan of the issue here.

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By Cody Jones, contributor

The United States’ maternal mortality rate is rising and the infant mortality rate has stagnated, said Blake Fagan, director of the family medicine residency program at the Mountain Area Health Education Center.

The United States’ maternal mortality rate is going up while rates in other developed countries like Canada, France and Japan are dropping, according to a study by The Lancet.

The study compares data from 1990 to 2013. In 2013, there were 18.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the United States compared to 12.4 per 100,000 in 1990.

The causes of maternal death are usually not directly related to pregnancy or giving birth, said Dan Frayne, assistant residency program director at MAHEC.

“Many people think this is something that happens during the pregnancy or labor and delivery,” Frayne said. “Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of maternal death. When we look at the causes of maternal death, each one is related to a chronic disease that is not pregnancy-related.”

Frayne said the main causes of infant mortality are linked to the health of the mother.

“If we look at why infants are dying, the top two reasons are birth defects and preterm birth,” Frayne said. “The main drivers for these birth defects are the maternal health issues.”

Frayne said the U.S. infant mortality rate has been stagnant for more than a decade while other countries’ rates improved.

“Looking at infant mortality rate, we used to be really good compared to everybody else, but we really haven’t improved,” Frayne said. “Cuba’s infant mortality rate used to be worse compared to ours, and they have actually improved beyond us. Our rates really haven’t changed over the last 15 years.”

Frayne said the traditional emphasis on prenatal care is not the solution.

“Improved prenatal care isn’t the answer, preconception health is,” Frayne said. “Most of these risks can be improved with pre-pregnancy health care. By the time you know you’re pregnant, the horse is already out of the barn. It’s really too late to intervene to reduce risks for birth defects.”

Folic acid plays an important role during pregnancy, Frayne said, but it needs to be taken before conception in order to decrease the risk rate.

“Congenital anomalies are dramatically affected by folic acid use,” Frayne said. “That prenatal vitamin everybody wants to take when they’re pregnant? The folic acid in that actually has its effects before you’re pregnant. It’s preconception folic acid that decreases the rate by 70 percent, not pregnancy folic acid.”

Fagan said  women need to take folic acid a minimum of three months before conception.

In North Carolina, Frayne said, Medicaid provides folic acid multivitamins for free.

“Our state was a pioneer on the idea of making folic acid multivitamins free and available to everybody,” Frayne said.

Frayne said due to this initiative, birth defects in the area have reduced dramatically.

“Western North Carolina in the late 1990s was the highest neural tube defect area in the country,” Frayne said. “And since this program has been going, we are now back on par with the rest of the country. We have changed, just with that simple public health approach. It’s a no-brainer for the state budget, and the good news is that they keep putting it in, although every year it’s at risk for getting cut back out.”

Diabetes is a growing risk factor in the U.S. that affects maternal and infant health, Fagan said.

“If you have a kid today, they have a one in three chance of having diabetes if they live in the United States,” Fagan said. “The effects of having diabetes and then getting pregnant, the effect on that mother and child is unbelievably higher that they will have birth defects and poorer outcomes.”

Frayne said over half of the pregnancies in the United States are either mistimed or unwanted.

“Fifty-one percent of pregnancies in the United States are unintended,” Frayne said. “How much time do we spend planning for marriage, or getting into college or choosing a career?”

Fagan said unwanted pregnancies greatly increase the risk of depression.

“If you have an unwanted pregnancy, the chance that you’re going to have depression is multiple times higher than the general population,” Fagan said. “If you have a mother who is depressed and she’s trying to raise her child, the child’s outcomes at five years of age are greatly affected.”

Frayne said 43 percent of reproductive-age women have some type of medical condition that requires regular physician monitoring or medication, including obesity, depression, anxiety, hypertension and diabetes.

Frayne said the average age of those with first-time pregnancies is increasing, and very few women return to their physician for postpartum checkups.

“In some populations, less than 10 percent show up to their postpartum visit to have that planning for the next pregnancy,” Frayne said.

Fagan said the turnout for postpartum checkups is low in Asheville.

“We’ve done some studies here in Asheville, and in the population that we see, which is a lot of the Medicaid population, about 20 to 25 percent won’t show up for their six-week postpartum visit,” Fagan said.

Frayne said one in five women have no health insurance.

“This is one of the things that the Affordable Care Act was supposed to fix through expanding Medicaid and increasing access to health care,” Frayne said. “These women often don’t have health coverage to seek care for themselves until they are pregnant. We actually have great pregnancy Medicaid and access to care once you’re pregnant.”

In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill that banned Medicaid expansion. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law, but in 2014 said he would consider a plan to expand Medicaid.

Expanding Medicaid in North Carolina would provide coverage for 500,000 people, according to the North Carolina Justice Center.

“It’s actually an irony that I will have someone come in that’s pregnant and they have a laundry list of the things they need,” Fagan said. “They know they’re on the clock, they’ve got to get everything taken care of in the next seven to nine months while they’re pregnant because as soon as they deliver, they’re not going to have insurance anymore.”

Frayne cited a quote from Donald Berwick, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who said systems are designed perfectly for the results they achieve.

“So the United States’ health care system is perfectly designed to have the highest costs in the world, a rising maternal death rate, and an infant mortality rate that is not improving,” Frayne said. “That’s our perfectly-designed system that we are working in right now. Is that the system we want?”

Frayne said southern residents need improved health care access and systems.

“Medicaid coverage is really important, it’s about access to care. We have to know about the care and we have to have access to it, and the care you receive needs to be of good quality,” Frayne said. “The South is in the most need of improved health care systems and yet the State is systematically not allowing us to improve upon them.”

Frayne said focusing on the health of individuals will lead to a healthy nation.

“So this is the concept that we’re trying to push,” Frayne said. “This is what we believe: the healthy woman will have a healthier pregnancy, which lead to healthier children, which lead to healthier families and communities, which will lead us to a healthier nation.”


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Hillary Clinton to Appear More Humanlike, Aides Say

Last night, I read an article titled “Hillary Clinton to Show More Humor and Heart, Aides Say.”

The Onionesque quality of the headline aside, this emphasizes just how detached many politicians are from the average person. Read it again: aides to a presidential candidate feel compelled to reassure us that she will show more humanlike qualities during her campaign (for the sake of her campaign).

Donald Trump appears more genuine than Hillary Clinton, as Republican strategist Eric Fehrnstrom points out, “The same force and energy that is giving a lift to Donald Trump is dooming Hillary Clinton, and that is authenticity. Experience does not matter to them. What matters is you appear genuine.”

Hopefully she can corral her human qualities and flaunt them — show us what you’ve got, Hillary.


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Sharing and Believing Misinformation

It’s curious to me that so much misinformation is spread on the Internet with its validity going unquestioned — particularly if it benefits the group sharing the misinformation. If a publication gains traction and popularity, a reasonable person will invariably ask for the source, or they’ll outright prove it to be false, but these voices of reason are usually drowned out by those benefited by inaccuracies.

Within the past week, after Dylann Roof killed 9 black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the Confederate flag has been taken down from some public spaces and a stoppage of sales from some retailers has been put into effect. Calls for the flag’s removal from more publicly-funded buildings and areas are ongoing.

As with any serious event which forces a public debate, there has been pushback: on the pro-Confederate flag side, there have already been multiple rumors and exaggerations of the discussion that is currently taking place. Misinformation and even outright lies are being perpetuated and spread like wildfire. One in particular that I want to mention is a post titled “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Confederate Flags, Memorabilia” by Real News, Right Now. The page’s objective seems to be posting fake news stories, but what’s striking to me is how many people seem to genuinely believe it. As mentioned in the beginning of this post, there are people combating the claim in the comments, but still the people who want it to be true continue to post as though it is. As I write this, I’m still getting email notifications of new comments being left on the page, and it’s already been shown to be false.

Here’s another copy-paste job I’ve seen floating around the past few days. In this instance, it looks like at least half of the people in the thread aren’t buying it. This post in particular cuts through the bunk. In the event that those links aren’t available in the future, here’s another one which seems to be the original source of the copy-paste, and here are some sources which debunk the claims: (x) (x) (x).

These fabrications and inaccuracies only work to build up and solidify one’s beliefs, which means those beliefs are founded on ignorance. In the context of racism — which is certainly prevalent in the United States — this can create and intensify dangerous philosophies and ideologies. If a racist believes that our current President, Barack Obama, is out to ban guns and Confederate flags (neither of which is happening) then those beliefs will create hostility in the racist’s mind, making them feel personally attacked, and thus making them more likely to carry out an act of violence to defend their position, which they now believe to be justified based on the misinformation they’ve received.

On a lighter note: after logging onto Facebook this morning, one of my friends shared a quote originally posted by Facebook group WorldTruth.TV (you have to be logged in for the link to work, not sure why), which apparently has an ironic description:

If you want to know the truth about this world, you came to the right place.

The post in question is a picture of George Carlin next to words he never uttered. The words are actually from an essay titled “The Paradox of Our Time,” written by Bob Moorehead, a retired pastor of Seattle’s Overlake Christian Church. Having read three books by Carlin and after watching almost all of his stand-up, the quote immediately seemed misattributed; it just didn’t seem like something he would have said. (George Carlin, on his website, called the essay “a sappy load of shit.”)

A lot of people in the comment section are saying what basically amounts to, “Who cares who originally said it? It’s a great message!” That’s a dangerous way to think. To be clear: these examples are only related in that the common thread is people sharing and believing falsities; misattributing a quote to George Carlin is definitely not the same as a racially-motivated mass shooting, I just wanted to include one lighthearted example. Context and correct attribution are incredibly important, and, in a serious discussion or debate, it can leave a lot of people with an incorrect idea or notion if it goes unchecked. If a racist quote is incorrectly attributed to a white abolitionist, for example, and people believe that the white abolitionist said those words, that only works to confuse people and muddle the historicity. If people solely focus on and blame this mass shooting on prescribed drugs (x, x) rather than acknowledging the killer’s racism — and, again, that racism is still prevalent in the U.S. — then that only works to take away from the issue. It certainly helps those with an agenda, but if “helping” means making truth harder to find, then maybe it would do us well to fact-check before we post, share, or believe something.