Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Tale of Two Topics: Diet and Water Crisis

This has been a busy week for a retired guy. On Monday an op-ed of mine that I wrote three weeks or so ago about the water crisis was published in the Charleston Gazette, and I soon was engaged in a Facebook discussion with investigative environmental reporter, Ken Ward. He pointed out a mistake I'd made regarding the fact sheet (Material Safety Data Sheet, or MSDS) on 4-MCHM and a claim I'd made which was unsupported by data. The discussion was started by Ken in response to a post I'd made complaining that my piece had been edited in a way that changed the meaning and made it sound like I was contradicting myself. I'll explain below.

But first, let me welcome any new readers to my blog who came to read about my weight loss journey, which is as much or more a story about learning to eat in a more healthy way. An article in today's Gazette by features writer, Maria Young, in the "Life & Style" section titled, Successful Losers: How three WV residents lost weight and kept it off, summarizes my journey so far. I emphasize so far, because my story does not match the title since I'm only half way to my goal of 44 pounds and I haven't proven I can keep it off. For those of you who want to learn more about my diet, I started blogging about it the day I began, November 3, 2013 and continued every Sunday for many weeks. Recently I've been posting more about the chemical spill/water crisis. I particularly recommend the following entries which you can find on this blog: 11/10, 11/24, 12/8, 12/27, 1/5/14. I think that after today I will post about diet and health on Sundays and other topics during the week for awhile. I am also in the process of looking for a larger blog forum to post some of my writing.

Here are my stats for this week's healthy eating adventure (a game I play is to see how many ways I can avoid using the D word). You'll see a weight loss of 2 pounds this week, but that actually represents a loss of 1 pound over the last two weeks, since last week I had 1 pound weight gain:

Beginning weight 11/3/13: 209 lbs.
Height 5'8" Age: 61
Goal weight: 165 lbs.
Total loss goal: 44 lbs.
Beginning waist size: 43 in.
Current waist size: 39 in.
Weight end of week 16:  186 lbs.
Gain/Loss this week: -2 lb.
Total Gain/Loss:  -23 lbs.

Okay, back to Monday's article in the Gazette. Here's a link to the original, which is now only available on my 2/3/14 blog, and here's a link to the online Gazette version of 2/17. They removed several sentences from the online version because, I incorrectly summarized a now outdated Scientific American article and the pattern of hospital visits related to the chemical spill. They also fixed an editor's mistake in removing an attribution to Erin Brockovich in the print version. I'd written that "According to Brockovich" no new laws are needed regarding chemical safety and by removing those words it made it sound like that was my position. Elsewhere in the article I'd stated that new laws were needed in addition to increased enforcement by DEP. 

Ken Ward pointed out to me an error I'd made by characterizing 4-MCHM as "dissipating" over time according to the MSDS. In fact it used the term half-life, so the time periods during which the  presence of the chemical would remain in air, water, and sediment I reported were approximately half what I should have reported. He also complained that the chemical that spilled was a mixture of crude MCHM (which is mostly, but not all made of 4-MCHM), and a much smaller amount of PPH (about 7%), but the MSDS I referred to was only for 4-MCHM. One thing most people who continue to bring up the issue of the PPH don't acknowledge is that there was no PPH detected in any of the samples collected by WV American Water even in the first hours of the spill (at least not down to 10 parts/billion testing levels they were using).

Regarding hospital visits, I said they had declined since the early days of the spill. Ward pointed out that there had been no data reported for the last three weeks (in fact I had written the op-ed 3 weeks previously, but the Gazette doesn't print my work the same day I write it as they do for Ward). However, I think its reasonable to assume that if the average number of hospital visits attributed to the water crisis went down for the two reporting periods after the spill, that they probably have continued to decline. Ward takes the proper journalistic position that he doesn't make assumptions in the absence of data. I don't feel such restrictions, though I acknowledge I should have hedged in some way such as saying it's my assumption they've continued to decline. At any rate, I don't get unlimited space in the Gazette to explain every detail--800 words is pretty much the limit, and the editor who removed the words According to Brockovich said hum was trying to cut a few words to make it fit in the space available (hum is not a typo, it's a non-gender pronoun, short for human). 

So, I'm not angry with the Gazette--I love the Gazette, and as I wrote to the editor who I communicate with, I appreciate the education I get by reading and interacting with the Gazette, its readers, and its staff. On Wednesday, on this blog, I'll be posting my latest op-ed which I sent to the Gazette a few days ago, titled "Our Water is Safe." I expect it will be pretty controversial, but I've always been willing to speak my mind, even if I hold the minority position among friends.

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