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May 14th

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Issue Home May 2, 2006 Site Home

100 Years Ago
Along the Way...With P. Jay

From the Desk of the D.A.
The Healthy Geezer
Straight From Starrucca
The Family Doctor
Software Services

100 Years Ago

BIRCHARDVILLE: All comrades, Sons of Veterans, and those interested in Memorial Day at Birchardville, are requested to meet at the church on Friday evening, May 11, at 8 o’clock, to arrange for Memorial Day services.

FOREST CITY: While proceeding from Vandling to Forest City late, in the evening, a young man named Constantine Machin was held up by four unknown men. He was stabbed in the arm and relieved of about $40. The police now have the case in hand.

UPSONVILLE: Banker Bros. have sold to parties in Maryland seven head of their fine Devon herd at good prices. Their stock bears a remarkable reputation and for years dairymen wishing to improve their stock have depended upon them to furnish the animals.

MONTROSE: The Burr McIntosh Monthly for May, contains a beautiful panel picture of the new mansion of Chas. M. Schwab, on Riverside Drive, New York City. It is considered the finest residence, inside and out, ever constructed in the Western Hemisphere. It is in this elegant home where Miss Eliza J. Brewster, of Montrose, now lives, acting as private secretary to Mrs. Schwab.

FRIENDSVILLE: The cornerstone of the new St.Francis Xavier Catholic Church will be laid with imposing ceremonies sometime during the present month, the date to be announced later. The cornerstone will be laid by the Dean, Very Rev. Fr. P. F. Brodrick of Susquehanna, who has also been invited to deliver the sermon.

ALFORD, Brooklyn Twp.: Travelers over the L & M have some time been taking advantage of the excellent dining service provided at the home of H. L. Hubbard, a short distance below the depot. The business was started merely as an accommodation by Mrs. Hubbard, a couple of years ago, but has developed to a considerable extent of late and is a welcome haven for the tired and hungry traveling public. Shopping parties, business men and the like, when making the return trip from nearby cities, find the long wait in making connections agreeably lessened by disposing of a tempting lunch at these comfortable, well-kept dining rooms. If you are not a regular patron, when going down the line you want to prove for yourself what we have been telling you. A meal only costs 25 cents.

HALLSTEAD: The Methodist congregation has purchased the property adjoining the church on Church street, from Mr. Handrick, and will convert the same into a parsonage.

KINGSLEY: The whistle of the steam saw mill is a thing of the past, as it has been removed to Hallstead to saw a large amount of logs there.

MIDDLETOWN: A collection will be taken next Sunday in the Middletown church, by Father Driscoll, for the sufferers in San Francisco and sent to Bishop Hoban of Scranton. The Bishop will forward the amount, together with the collections from all the churches in the diocese, to San Francisco, on May 10.

SUSQUEHANNA: T. H. Keffer and John Murphy returned from Meadville, Monday, where they were in the interest of the Erie base ball league. Several new players have been engaged to work for the Erie company, and will give this place a fast team. The grounds have been leased for the season.

JACKSON: Trout fishermen were threshing the streams here last week. W.W. Larabee and Oscar Stone made fine catches in Aldrich creek, a branch of the Tunkhannock. AND: Horace Sheldon, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Sheldon, is visiting his uncle, Parley Potter, in Missouri, and will push on to California later in the season.

FAIRDALE: The electric storm of Sunday evening that passed through Jessup and Forest Lake townships, wrecked the telephone of Raub Brothers, splitting five of the poles and damaging the phone at Read Raub’s house, giving Mr. Raub quite a shock.

GREAT BEND: Aaron Porter, of Binghamton, with horses and George Miller, with a string of horses, are coming this week to train horses for the coming races. This track is noted for the fastest track between New York City and Buffalo. Horsemen like to gather here to give their horses a mark, as they never make better time than here.

CLIFFORD: T. Well’s hot house is producing lots of early plants this Spring. He has already transplanted or set out over 1000 fine large cabbage plants.

ARARAT: We mention with pride the improvements that are being made at our cemetery. Last week was a busy one with the men grading and fixing to put up a new iron fence in place of the old stone wall, and also with the ladies preparing the dinners, which were eaten with a relish in the Town House, and Oh! such dinners, no wonder the men did such good work to make a place to rest our tired bodies when the dinners were all over, and we go to the eternal feast in the mansion not made by hands. The purchasing of the new fence was due to the faithful efforts of Mrs. Theo. Archer, who has been untiring in soliciting contributions for that purpose. We united in thanking her for her kindness and zeal.

FRANKLIN TWP.: Two R.F.D. Routes start from here May 15. Route No. 1 goes west to Fisk’s mill, Old Factory bridge, Snow Hollow, Hill school house, Ward school house, Tripp Lake, Webb Hollenbeck’s, Matty McGraw’s and down Turrell road to starting point. Route No. 2 goes east to Banker corners to Downs’ corner, to Dillon corner, to H.F. Summers’ corner, to Geo. Townsends, to E.J. Rhinevault’s, to Baker’s corner, to Chas. Thomas’ corner, back to Summers’ corner, to Bailey corner, down turnpike to starting point.

NEWS BRIEFS: An effort is being made by the National Association of F.R.D. carriers to secure for rural mail carriers an annual allowance of $200 each for the maintenance of their horses, and a bill to that effect has been introduced in congress. These carriers now receive $750 per year for 24-mile routes. The expense of maintaining a horse and rig for this work is estimated at about $290, thus leaving the carrier about $400. AND: Strawberries made their appearance in the local markets this week, selling for 20 cents a quart. Those being received at present come from North Carolina.

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Along the Way...With P. Jay


Something to laugh about

What do the average taxpayers of Susquehanna County think about the current crop of county commissioners?

In Montrose a woman told me she thinks the two female commissioners are trying to run the show with no input from Commissioner Jeff Loomis.

However, a man from Montrose said he believes Mr. Loomis is trying to undermine his Republican sidekick so that he could become the top dog.

To the woman that spoke to me I can only say don’t believe all that you hear and only half of what you read. To the man we say Jeff Loomis has his hands full with a couple of kittens so I doubt if he can ever be considered a candidate for top dog.

In beautiful downtown New Milford a woman told me she did not vote for any of them the first time and will not vote for them at any time.

In the same borough, an old timer said there would be no war in Iraq if Harry Truman was president and no fighting among the county commissioners if Evan Price was chief clerk.

To the gal who didn't vote for any of the current commissioners, I can only say that you obviously picked losers the first time so you better do your homework before you vote in 2007.

And as for the old timer, I agree 100 percent.

In Susquehanna Depot, a girl asked me who are the county commissioners.

And in a bar not too far from where I talked to her, a fella said, “hell, ain't none of 'em ever bought me a beer.”

Let’s face it folks, in Susquehanna Depot people are doing what most of us should be doing – enjoying life rather than concerning themselves with county politics.

In Forest City, a woman said, “that’s right they have two women commissioners now don’t they?”

And a guy I stopped on Main Street said, “what’s the difference? I still gotta pay taxes and go home every night and look at my wife.”

To the woman, I can only offer sympathy and to the man, more sympathy because I know his wife.

In a Montrose store a woman said two things are inevitable – death and taxes. “But why is that it’s the taxes that kill us every year?” she asked with a puzzled look on her face.

In Ararat I asked a man what he thought about taxes.

“I don’t think much about it,” he answered, “but isn't that where President Bush comes from?”

In the county courthouse I asked a guy who was punching a vending machine if he thought the county commissioners should be replaced.

“Change is inevitable,” he said, “except from this *%?!#%^#! vending machine!”

I asked a gentleman on Public Avenue in Montrose if he thought the county commissioners deserved a second term.

“Every politician deserves two terms,” he answered. “One in office and one in jail.”

“Excuse me sir,” I said in my best voice, “but do you think our commissioners should be changed?”

“Politicians and diapers need to be changed,” he replied, “and often for the same reason.”

But Seriously...

In the 16 years that I have been covering the Susquehanna County courthouse, I have seen a lot of people come and go. I confess I was glad to see some go but I was also sad when some left.

During all that time, I never saw anyone leave behind too many tears until the recent departure of Linda Hollenbeck, who headed up the Voter Registration Bureau for more than 27 years. Many of her friends and fellow workers literally shed tears when told she left.

Not too many county workers receive the kind of affection and respect that Linda earned during her tenure in the courthouse. And that is because not too many courthouse employees serve the county and the taxpayers the way Linda Hollenbeck did. She will be missed!

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From the Desk of the D.A.

There is currently some confusion over the scope of the authority of Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs in Pennsylvania. Recently, the Pennsylvania State Police denied a request of certain deputy sheriffs to attend training for certification to perform wiretap surveillance. The Pennsylvania State Police denied the request based upon the specific language in the Wiretap Act defining “law enforcement officers.” After the denial, a legal battle ensued, and, in Kopko v. Miller, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finally determined that a sheriff or deputy sheriff did not qualify as “law enforcement officers” under the Wiretap Act. The question immediately arose as to the extent and scope of the Kopko decision.

The courts have already begun interpreting Kopko. For instance, in Commonwealth v. Love, a deputy sheriff arrested a person for various violations of the Crimes Code in connection with unruly behavior in and outside the courtroom. In light of the Kopko decision, the defendant advanced an argument that the deputy sheriff was not a law enforcement officer and, as such, lacked the authority to arrest him and file a criminal complaint against him. In response, the Pennsylvania Superior Court noted that Kopko was limited to the facts of that case – namely, that sheriffs and deputy sheriffs did not meet the definition of “law enforcement officer” contained within the Wiretap Act. After limiting Kopko’s holding, the Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded as follows: “There is no question that deputy sheriffs are law enforcement officers possessing the power to enforce the laws. The law enforcement powers of sheriffs and their deputies derive from the common law and have remained unabated to this day, unless specifically and narrowly limited by statute.” Thus, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has made clear its interpretation of Kopko as being a very limited ruling.

In large rural communities, law enforcement coverage is difficult to provide on a consistent and reliable basis. A sheriff and his or her deputies provide invaluable assistance to the primary providers of police protection – the Pennsylvania State Police and local municipal police departments. Significantly, a Sheriff’s Department has a myriad of duties and responsibilities, including serving court papers and process in both civil and criminal proceedings, securing firearms from individuals ordered to relinquish firearms in connection with protective orders, levying real and personal property in connection with foreclosure proceedings, collecting funds in connection with levied property and dispersing those funds to the creditors, providing security for the entire courthouse and related court-facilities, transporting prisoners to and from the county prison to the courthouse or other facilities throughout the county, transporting prisoners from Susquehanna County to state correctional facilities throughout the state and to other states, just to name a few. If one considers the totality of the current duties allotted to a Sheriff’s Department, it is apparent that it is difficult, if not impossible, for sheriffs or deputy sheriffs to engage in active criminal investigations. This is especially true in rural counties where resources and personnel are limited.

We are very fortunate in this county that Sheriff Lance Benedict and his deputies are always willing to assist the State Police, municipal police, and probation officers in connection with their duties. Sheriff Benedict and his staff are an integral and important part of the law enforcement community in Susquehanna County. Whenever Sheriff Benedict provides assistance to law enforcement, it necessarily places a strain upon the Sheriff’s ability to perform the primary responsibilities specifically assigned to him.

For these reasons, the ultimate scope of the Kopko decision will likely have little impact upon the actual day-to-day operations of the Sheriff’s Department. To put it simply, a Sheriff’s Department has too many responsibilities to be a primary provider of law enforcement coverage. At the same time, the common law has always recognized, and I believe will continue to recognize, the inherent power of a sheriff or deputy sheriffs to make a lawful arrests for criminal acts committed in their presence.

Please submit any questions, concerns, or comments to Susquehanna County District Attorney’s Office, P.O. Box 218, Montrose, Pennsylvania 18801.

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The Healthy Geezer

The Healthy Geezer

By Fred Cicetti

Q. I have arthritis in my knee. I’m thinking about trying acupuncture, but my friends think I’m nuts. What do you think?

Several recent studies show osteoarthritis symptoms can be relieved with acupuncture. One Scandinavian study reported that 25 percent of patients canceled their plans for knee surgery after acupuncture.

About 15 million Americans have tried this needle therapy. The World Health Organization recommends it for more than 40 conditions as diverse as asthma and nausea from chemotherapy. The Food and Drug Administration regulates acupuncture needles.

So, no, I don’t think you’re nuts.

By the 3rd century B.C., the Chinese had documented a medical system that is based on qi (pronounced “chee”), a concept of vital energy that is believed to flow throughout the body.

Qi is said to regulate a person's physical, spiritual, emotional and mental balance. Advocates of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), say qi is affected by yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy). When the flow of qi is disrupted and yin and yang are unbalanced, the condition leads to pain and disease, according to TCM.

Treatments that are integral to this ancient system are herbal and nutritional therapy, restorative physical exercises, meditation, acupuncture and remedial massage.

To correct the flow of qi, acupuncture uses superfine metal needles inserted into the skin at more than 2,000 “acupoints” along pathways known as “meridians.” It is believed that there are 12 main meridians and 8 secondary meridians. The points can also be stimulated with heated herbs, magnets, mild electrical current, manual pressure, low-frequency lasers, or even bee stings.

Most acupuncture patients feel little or no pain as the needles are inserted. Some people are energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment.

Relatively few complications from acupuncture have been reported to the FDA. However, inadequate sterilization of needles and improper administration have led to complications. When done improperly, acupuncture can cause serious problems such as infections and punctured organs.

Western scientists don't know how acupuncture works. However, studies show that stimulating acupoints causes multiple biologic responses. For example, this stimulation can prompt the release of the body's natural pain-killing endorphins.

If you are interested in acupuncture, ask your doctor about it. Healthcare practitioners can be a resource for referrals to acupuncturists. More medical doctors, including neurologists, anesthesiologists, and specialists in physical medicine, are becoming trained in acupuncture.

About 10,000 acupuncturists practice in the United States. Most are state-regulated. About 4,000 doctors have completed a recognized acupuncture training program.

Look for an acupuncture practitioner who is licensed and credentialed. And, check with your insurer before you start treatment to see whether acupuncture will be covered for your condition.

If you have a question, please write to

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Straight From Starrucca

I’m sorry about Renee Warden’s name spelled wrong in my column in the April 19 issue. When I was introduced to her I heard “Wander” and so hearing other people say “Wander” supposed that was her last name. I had “hard of hearing” as my excuse, don’t know about the rest. I stand corrected on the “foundation” of the house instead of the “creek wall.”

Attending the funeral of Raymond Sampson from here were Alice Rhone, Francis Buck and Tommy Sampson and wife, Alicia.

Marie Swartz and family were guests of her daughter, Ann Strohl and family, Hereford, PA for Easter and Marie stayed until the following Friday for a nice, long visit.

June Downton has returned from a ten-day visit to Florida. Accompanying her were her daughter, Bonnie, her son, Paul and wife and family, and Dennis and Linda Cook from Stevens Point. They reported a good time.

Roger and Barbara Glover drove to Binghamton Wednesday last to meet brother, Gordon and wife, Donna to have dinner with them.

I was spoiled for a whole week by my sister, Betty and husband, Bob who cooked all my meals and did all the mundane tasks one has to do every day.

Joy Mead spent Easter Sunday with her daughter, Karen Beam and family in Johnson City.

Betty, Bob, and son Danny and I enjoyed our holiday dinner in Lakewood.

Florence and Denny Downton were scheduled to arrive home the weekend of the 29th from their winter home in Arizona.

The Thompson Administration Board of the Methodist Church, which now includes officers from Starrucca, met last Monday night at the Thompson Church.

What a shame! The frost last night nipped the flowering bulbs, which held their heads up proudly yesterday but now hanging listless to the ground.

My apology to Michael Smith for calling his wife Mary instead of Terri in last week’s news.


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The Family Doctor

In a previous column, I wrote about why there are always so many questions when you see a doctor, and how we use that information to help arrive at a diagnosis. Of course, we look at other things, too, and so I thought I would write a bit about lab tests, why we do them, how to do them correctly, and a little bit about what they mean. Undoubtedly, everybody reading this has had blood drawn for one reason or another, and I frequently get questions about “why so much blood is needed” and “what are you going to do with all of that blood, anyway?”

You’ll notice when you have blood drawn that there are different colored stoppers on various tubes. The color indicates what is in the tube before your blood is added. It’s critical to use the right tube for the right test, or everything is thrown off. The purple-top tubes are for analyzing blood cells and hemoglobin, the blue-top tubes are for measuring clotting times and factors, the red-top tubes are used to analyze serum. Blood, of course, is made up of cells and fluids (plasma, or serum) and each component of blood can be analyzed to answer specific questions. Knowing that doctors frequently think of additional tests, or need further information, the lab will often drawn an extra tube or two in case further tests are necessary. It may mean removal of a few extra teaspoons of blood, but it saves you another needle stick. The tubes look big, by the way, but they typically hold only 1-2 teaspoons of blood (you’ve got several quarts circulating) so even though it seems like we’re taking a lot, we really aren’t. What we don’t use is safely disposed of, and sometimes a little extra is frozen and kept available for further tests if needed. Most labs will hold your blood for up to a week in case other tests come to mind, or prove necessary based on the first set of results.

Analyzing lab results, of course, is a subject that could fill several editions of this newspaper, so I will have to simplify things and skip over quite a bit. If you have any specific questions about any specific test, you can certainly write to me or e-mail me. I would also encourage everybody to ask for a copy of their lab reports and review them with their doctor. Like all medical records, you are entitled to a copy, and it’s not a bad idea to start building your own little medical file at home, keeping copies of test results and lab reports.

The first thing to realize is that lab values are reported in terms of how they compare with “average” values. For any test, there is a range of normal values, and anything within those values is marked as “normal” and anything outside the “normal” range is marked “high” or “low” as appropriate. A value that is “high” or “low” does not mean anything is seriously wrong!Think of something like height or weight, for example: while 95% of people are between 4 feet and 6 feet tall, neither Shaquille O’Neal nor Mickey Rooney are “diseased” or “abnormal”. (I’m not sure I’d tell Shaq he was, even if that were true.) Similarly, you can have lab values that fall outside of the normal range without having any serous disease, and you can also have lab values entirely within the normal range when you do have serious disease. Frightening thought, isn’t it? The point is that labs alone do not define your condition, and have to be viewed in relation to all the other information we have. So while you should keep copies of your lab tests, you should not jump to conclusions based on what they say – they are merely one piece in a very complex puzzle.

When you are scheduled for lab tests, it’s very important to ask if you should be fasting, if you should take your medications as you usually do, if you should call or wait to be called with the results, and, of course, what exactly is being looked at. Many’s the time I have had somebody ask me what their blood type was, when I never tested for that information. Some tests are more important and more urgent than others, so you should check with your doctor to make sure that you’re being tested for things you may have questions about.

There are some screening tests that everybody should have, like blood counts in young children to rule out anemia, cholesterol studies in adults to determine risk for heart disease, clotting times in elderly people on blood thinners, and so on. Your doctor can give you guidelines on screening tests and prepare necessary orders for you to have them.

There are also tests that must be done urgently (“stat” in medical terms) and those usually require a trip to the ER. Others can be done urgently (same day) and still others are routine. Since there are so many lab tests, and some are extremely complex, no one lab can possibly do them all, which is why some are “send-outs” that go to other hospitals and specialized labs, and can take up to a week to be reported. Barnes-Kasson hospital has a courier service to take urgent send-outs to the appropriate lab on the same day they are drawn, to try and cut down on the turn-around time. You should know who is doing your testing, so you can know when to expect a result. Many times, we even order “convalescent” tests when you’re feeling better. Those can be very helpful in identifying the cause of the illness, and in confirming that you’re not just feeling better, you actually are better. So if you’re puzzled about why more tests are needed when you’re finally over the illness and feeling better, that’s why.

As always, if there is something you want to learn more about or have explained in general terms, write to me at “Ask the Family Doctor” c/o Susquehanna County Transcript, 212-216 Exchange Street, Susquehanna, PA 18847. You can also e-mail me at . To schedule an appointment, call my office in the Barnes-Kasson Health Center, Hallstead Office, 879-5249

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Software Services

Improve Your View

Do you ever find yourself wishing that you could see the text and graphics on your PC just a little easier? Did you recently purchase a large, high-resolution monitor so that you could see better, only to find everything looks even smaller? The higher the resolution, the smaller fonts and icons look. The following hints are described for Windows XP.

You can make the fonts and icons larger and easier on your eyes. Just right-click on a blank area of your Desktop (a space where there are no icons) and select Properties from the context menu that appears. You can also get there from the Control Panel by clicking on the Display option.

In the Display Properties screen, you click on the tab that says “Appearance.” Look at the Font Size box in the lower half of the window. By default, Windows is set to Small Fonts or Normal. I suggest you start with selecting Large Fonts. While you’re here, let’s adjust a few other settings. Left-click on the Effects button. Make sure the option “Use the following method to smooth the edges of screen fonts” is checked and “Clear Type” is selected from the drop down box. Also check the box labeled “Use large Icons.” Left-click on the OK button. You should be back at the Display Properties screen. Left-click on the Apply button. Warning! All of your icons will shift to the left and line up on the left side of the desktop. Left-click on the OK button.

Now take a look at your desktop. What do you think? The icons are bigger and so is the text. The text should appear clearer too. If you don’t like it, you can go back into Display Properties and change the options back to Normal for Font, and Standard for “Use the following method to smooth the edges of screen fonts.” If you don’t like the large icons, uncheck the “Use large Icons” option. Click OK, then Apply, then OK, again. This will put everything back the way it was before you started.

Another useful tool is the Microsoft Magnifier, which as the name implies, magnifies a section of your computer screen. To start Magnifier, choose Start, then Programs (“All Programs” in XP), then Accessories. Under Accessibility select Magnifier.

Left-click on the OK button to start the utility. By default, the Magnifier window appears at the top of your screen, enlarging whatever is under your mouse pointer. Move your mouse pointer to an area you want to see larger. Now look at the top of your screen. You should see that area much larger. It takes little bit of playing around to get a feel for it. If you don't like its size, position the mouse pointer at the edge of the window and drag (hold down left mouse button) to make it larger or smaller. You can reposition the magnifier by placing the pointer inside the window and dragging it to any screen edge.

The Magnifier dialog box lets you set the magnification level; decide whether the magnifier should always show what's under the pointer, determine whether it should follow text cursors as you type and edit, and so on. Try using the defaults at first. Once you get the hang of it, play around with the settings. On the other hand, if your goal is to enlarge a single hard-to-see part of the screen (such as a toolbar with tiny buttons), uncheck “Follow keyboard focus” and “Follow text editing.” Then make sure the area you want is shown in the magnification window, and hold down the Alt key and press the M key. This will turn off “Follow mouse cursor.” Left-click the OK button to minimize the dialog box (in Windows 9x) or click the minimize button (in other versions). If you find it useful, just hold down your left mouse button and drag the shortcut to a different menu or to the Desktop and release. It (or an icon for it) will then be in the location you dragged it.

If you want larger text within just your Internet browser you can adjust it for the browser. This is often useful for sites with really small text. Note that you can do the opposite with sites that have giant text that takes up most of your screen. Under the View menu item, there’s an option labeled “Text Size.” This will allow you to adjust your text size within the browser. How you do this varies with browsers. Increase, Decrease and Normal are the choices for Firefox, while Internet Explorer lists sizes as smaller to smallest and larger to largest. Note that these changes only last while the browser is open. The next time you start the browser, the text size will be at the default setting.

Next time I’ll write about what makes a cheap PC cheap. Lori Martin is owner of Martin Works, Inc. (, Susquehanna, PA.

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From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Several tragic accidents recently brought to light the lethal dangers of mines to mine workers. What are the environmental issues with mining, including their long-term impact on both public and mine workers' health?

Ed Kelley, Albuquerque, NM

Mining is an inherently nasty practice when looked at from either environmental or health standpoints. For starters, large-scale excavation, which disrupts topsoil and displaces wild flora and fauna, is often needed to get at relatively small amounts of ore. And the leftover waste or "runoff" often contains toxins like mercury and sodium cyanide that can contaminate local water sources. The smelting that processes the ore can cause sulfurous dust clouds that lead to acid rain. And to add insult to injury, abandoned mines are often later used as unregulated landfills for hazardous wastes.

Examples of environmental mining disasters abound. One of the most well known happened in Martin County, Kentucky in 2000, where 250 million gallons of toxic chemical- and metal-containing liquid waste burst through a coal waste dam. That accident killed 1.6 million fish and contaminated drinking water for 27,000 people. Jack Spadaro, who oversees area enforcement for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), didn't put local residents at ease when he told reporters at the time that 200 other locations in the region could do the same at any moment.

The West Virginia-based Coal River Mountain Watch works to prevent disasters of such magnitude by lobbying lawmakers to pass reforms, urging enforcement officials to increase their vigilance and educating the public about the risks in their own backyards. The non-profit group focuses its efforts primarily on "mountaintop removal" mining operations, which blast off the tops of mountain peaks to get at underlying coal deposits. The vegetation and forest loss that results from such operations increases flooding and landslides, and the waste byproducts poison local water sources.

In the United States, Congress has tried to clean up the mining industry through passage of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1977 and then the Superfund law in 1986 (requiring cleanup of toxic sites, including mines, after they have been abandoned), but enforcement of these laws has been spotty at best.

Mining remains fundamentally dangerous to mine workers as well, separate from the risks of accidental death. Mine workers are often exposed to unhealthy levels of irritants such as asbestos, uranium and even diesel exhaust from heavy machinery. Emphysema and cardiovascular problems are common among miners, and cancer rates are higher than average as well.

Despite highly publicized episodes like the tragic explosion at the Sago mine in West Virginia this past January, MSHA claims that mining has gotten safer for workers in recent years. While 22 workers lost their lives as a result of accidents at mines in the U.S. last year, they say, that figure represents a 50 percent reduction from a decade earlier. Nonetheless, the specter of death looms large over the mining industry, and many workers are scurrying to find jobs in other fields.

CONTACTS: Coal River Mountain Watch,; U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA),

Dear EarthTalk: What killed all the birds and other sea life last summer on the U.S. west coast?

Nate McKenzie, Bothell, WA

Scientists remain puzzled over what caused such widespread loss of wildlife last summer on the Pacific coast between Northern California and British Columbia. Researchers estimate that more than 100,000 dead seabirds washed ashore, and that as many as 40 percent of the young salmon that normally inhabit the region’s coastal waters that time of year were absent. Meanwhile, other researchers recorded massive die-offs of zooplankton, a keystone of the marine food chain, off the coast of Oregon.

While scientists were perplexed, wildlife watchers were just plain depressed. Some reported seeing birds starve to death on their favorite ocean beaches, while others counted abandoned nests instead of thriving seabird colonies. Beach surveys in May in California found dead birds with emaciated bodies, atrophied muscles and empty stomachs. In Washington, cormorants, normally found dead only occasionally (every 34 miles of beach) were found in substantially larger numbers averaging one every eight-tenths of a mile, according to the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team at the University of Washington. There were also reports of sightings of "emaciated grey whales."

What scientists do know is that cool winds deviated from their normal northerly course in May, and ocean water temperatures rose two to seven degrees above normal during June. This in turn flushed the nutrients normally available near the ocean surface far below, depriving marine wildlife of the all-you-can-eat buffet they have come to expect during the late spring and early summer.

Whether or not the two scenarios were related is unclear, but some say that global warming is an important factor. Quoted in the Seattle Times, Bill Peterson, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Newport, Oregon, said, "People have to realize that things are connected – the state of coastal temperatures and plankton populations are connected to larger issues like Pacific salmon populations."

Nate Mantua, a research scientist with University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, says that the odd combination of weather conditions in the summer of 2005 would have to repeat themselves frequently over the next two decades to "lend more weight to the notion that something has changed in coastal climate and that it may be linked to global warming." That weight may already be building: according to Science Daily, 2005 was already the third consecutive year in which above average ocean temperatures have occurred.

John McGowan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "It's all the way up and down the coast... There's a lot of evidence there are important changes going on in the Pacific coast system." Whatever the cause, scientists are eager to see if such a scenario repeats itself in coming years, and will have their monitoring equipment ready and well tuned.

CONTACTS: Point Reyes Bird Observatory,; University of Washington Climate Impacts Group,

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at:, or e-mail: Read past columns at:

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