A sobering look at health – and health care – in North Carolina

As part of the News & Observer & Charlotte Observer’s look at how the state is doing heading toward the Nov. 8 election, the papers are doing great work looking at health issues in the state.

From today’s piece on the thousands of North Carolinians who lack health insurance:


North Carolina is below the median but has risen five places since 1990 in a ranking of states’ overall health, compiled by United Health Foundation, based on an analysis of behavior, community and environmental conditions, policies and clinical care data.

The state’s increase in the obesity rate has slowed recently, bringing it almost even with the national average. There has been a slow reduction in infant mortality, following a national trend, but the state still trails the U.S. average. And as for primary care doctors per 100,000 people, the state is below the national average despite slight gains across the board in the past 10 years.

Finally, North Carolina’s percentage of people without health coverage, once better than the U.S. average, is now more than two points worse.

That statistic is related to the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid. States that chose to expand saw a 42 percent drop in their uninsured rates from 2013 to 2015. In North Carolina, the drop was 28 percent. About 13 percent of non-elderly adults in the state remain uninsured, compared with 10 percent nationwide.

When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act – dubbed Obamacare – the law called for covering most impoverished citizens by expanding Medicaid in all states. But two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court made that provision optional for the states.

North Carolina and South Carolina are among 19 states – most led by Republicans – that have declined to expand Medicaid, leaving the poorest of the poor – like Messenger – with few options for health care.

Definitely take the time to read the entire piece.



This Week in Pollution: coal ash, wastewater, dead animals


Reason No. 42,098 not to enter flooded areas: The historic high water that has inundated eastern North Carolina is a toxic vichysoisse of sewage, animal waste, coal ash and carcasses from the thousands of industrialized farms — all of which threaten the health of people living in that area.

The state agriculture department estimates that at least 2 million dead chickens, mostly broilers, plus an unknown number of hogs and turkeys, have died as a result of flooding from Hurricane Matthew. So what does one do with millions of dead animals? Well, frankly, you compost them. A spokesman for the NC Department of Environmental Quality told NCPW that is the preferred method. After burying the whole carcasses in carbon-rich materials like straw, sawdust, wood chips and other recycled compost, the material can be reused for fertilizer.

After being composted, the material can be reused for agricultural purposes on the farm such as fertilizer. If composting is not possible, placing the dead animals in a permitted, lined landfill is a safe and acceptable disposal method, according to DEQ.


Delivering compost for animal burial (Photo: NC Department of Agriculture)

What else lurks beneath the water? Animal waste that has spilled over the brim of lagoons, although there have been no official reports of any waste ponds failing — yet. That waste can contain myriad contaminants such as E. coli. Ditto for human waste that has leaked from damaged septic fields in rural areas and from overwhelmed wastewater treatment plants in the cities.

The threat to private drinking water wells is especially serious. Statewide, 2.3 million people get their water from private wells, predominantly in rural areas, such as eastern North Carolina. In addition to the aforementioned contaminants — and just filth in general — entering the wells, some of those systems were already tainted. So it follows that those chemicals would be released when the wells overflow.

Update at 6:45 p.m. The Bladen Journal has instructions on how to get a free water testing kit for counties affected by the hurricane.

For example, in Duplin County, which has been especially hard hit, 5 percent of the 301 wells tested by the UNC Superfund Research program tested above maximum contaminant levels for lead.  In Nash County, elevated levels of arsenic, which can cause cancer, were detected in 2 percent of 1,289 wells.

The EPA has published guidelines on how to disinfect your well, but it’s best left to a professional. Until the well has been tested not only for contaminants, but mechanical damage, it’s essential not to touch it (even to turn it off — you could be electrocuted) or use the water for any reason, even washing your hands.

This drinking water emergency is not just an acute, short-term problem. From the EPA:

Because of the extensive flood area and the speed and direction of ground water flow, your well may not be a safe source of water for many months after the flood. The well can become contaminated with bacteria or other contaminants. Waste water from malfunctioning septic tanks or chemicals seeping into the ground can contaminate the ground water even after the water was tested and found to be safe. It will be necessary to take long range precautions, including repeated testing, to protect the safety of drinking water.

To donate water and other goods to flood victims, check out these lists from the Fayetteville Observer, WRAL and the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

This Week in Pollution appears every Friday afternoon. It compiles news of major pollution and contamination disasters from the previous week.

Courts & the Law, News, Voting

Judge extends voter registration in 36 counties following NC Democratic Party lawsuit

A judge Friday afternoon extended the voter registration deadline by five days in 36 counties that are currently dealing with flooding and receiving FEMA assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

The ruling by Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens was made after the North Carolina Democratic Party sued the North Carolina State Board of Elections to extend voter registration by five days.

The State Board announced Stephens’ ruling just after 6 p.m. Residents in the following counties have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to register to vote on Election Day: Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Harnett, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Tyrrell, Washington, Wayne and Wilson.

“Our agency appreciates Judge Stephens’ thoughtful consideration of this matter and will fully comply with his order,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, State Board executive director.

Strach was named as a defendant in the Democratic Party’s lawsuit. The party released the following statement in announcing its litigation Friday:

“Over the last several days, central and eastern North Carolina have suffered the devastating consequences of extreme flooding in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Many people have been displaced, whole communities remain underwater, and today the Neuse River will crest. Thousands of North Carolinians would have registered to vote were it not for this deadly natural disaster. Citizens who rightly listened to warnings and adhered to curfew and evacuation orders now potentially risk disenfranchisement.”

The Board of Elections acknowledged Wednesday that certain counties were still assessing the full impact of the weekend’s hurricane and said it anticipates certain voters will have difficulty accessing county elections offices.

However, the Board did not extend the registration deadline for in-person applicants. Mailed applications were instructed to be processed through next Wednesday regardless of the postmark, as long as the voter’s application is dated by the today’s deadline.

The deadline for residents in North Carolina’s remaining 64 counties was at 5 p.m. today. They can still participate in same-day voter registration during the state’s 17-day early voting period beginning Oct. 20, but that option does not allow them to vote on Election Day.

South Carolina and Florida also have extended voter registration due to Hurricane Matthew.


Roy Williams’ inspiring stance on the National Anthem controversy



In case you missed it in all the hubbub this week (or just never received your newspaper, as has happened to a lot of folks), one of the most encouraging North Carolina political stories emanated from the world of sports.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported Wednesday, UNC basketball coach Roy Williams has had some important insights in recent days regarding the National Anthem controversy that has swept the nation in recent months. Here’s reporter Andrew Carter:

When North Carolina coach Roy Williams first heard about Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem, Williams reacted the way a lot of Kaepernick’s critics have reacted.

“At first, it made me very angry,” Williams said on Tuesday during UNC’s annual preseason media day. “The guy’s making $19 million – what do you have to say against our country?”

That was Williams’ first reaction. Then, he said, he learned more about Kaepernick’s motivation. Williams said he “listened better” to the message that Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has inspired a nationwide dialogue, was trying to deliver.

Amid a long, sordid string of police violence against black men, Kaepernick began protesting the national anthem during the NFL’s preseason. He has knelt, instead of stood, while the anthem has played before games, and other NFL and college players have since joined in solidarity with their own anthem protests.

“He wasn’t saying this was a bad country,” Williams said. “He said we’ve got not just one particular problem, but one particular problem he was taking a stance on, and I think he’s correct. So I told that to the team.”


Editorial: Extend voter registration deadlines in aftermath of deadly storm

voteWith Hurricane Matthew’s flood waters not yet receded, it’s pretty obvious that a lot of people in our state are not in a position right now to get the details of their lives fully in order. This would clearly include registering to vote. While the recent action of the federal Court of Appeals striking down the state’s “monster voting law” (and thereby reviving same day registration — which will allow people to register on Election Day and vote at the same time) will help, it’s still ridiculous that the state is not pushing back today’s voter registration deadline. An editorial in today’s Fayetteville Observer does a good job of making this point:

Here’s the conclusion:

“Registration deadline is today, but the board has told local officials to accept mailed-in registrations that arrive late. The board also notes that same-day registration is available at all early-voting sites, which will be open from Oct. 20 through Nov. 5.

At this point, it’s not clear that all early-voting sites will be able to open by next Thursday. It’s fortuitous that the courts struck down state voting reform legislation and that same-day registration is still an option. But it may not be enough in some of this state’s hardest-hit communities.

We hope the State Board of Elections will reconsider its decision to hold firm to its deadlines. Even if only a handful of would-be voters is unable to register, that’s a denial of the most basic American right.”