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MOUNTAIN TOP REMOVAL AND ITS EFFECTS ON RURAL COMMUNITIES

APPALACHIAN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

FALL ALTERNATIVE BREAK 2015

Harlan, Kentucky NAME:

CODENAME:


Mackay & Claire

You ready to save the world?

We are so excited that you have decided to join us on this grand adventure! This week is guaranteed to present many challenges physically, personally, and emotionally. But, it also guaranteed to make you laugh, cry, learn, have an existential crisis or two, and ultimately grow as a person. So kudos to you, for you have taken the first steps to learning more about a social issue that affects so many in our country. Don’t fret though, your fearless leaders are guaranteed to lead you astray… we mean, not lead you astray. Though this week seems like a daunting mountain, you’re all coal enough to handle whatever is thrown your way - I mean, you were crazy enough too come this far right? So, top off your coffee, put on your working boots, hold on to your butts, and lets get our Appalachian on.

WELCOME, FRIENDS!


ITINERARY SUNDAY OCT 18

-Arrive late afternoon, unpack and move in -We will walk around the site (and valley ďŹ ll) a little bit and get oriented before it gets dark -Dinner & clean up -After dinner I will present a slide show about mountaintop removal, Appalachian culture and people, confronting stereotypes -We can do some games or icebreakers

MONDAY OCT 19

-Breakfast -Service Project: Home Weatherization with Harlan County Community Action Agency low income homes, caulking, sealing, insulation -Lunch on job site -Finish at 3:00 -Free time - explore -Dinner -Film: "Harlan County USA" -Discussion

TUESDAY OCT 20

-Early breakfast -Depart 8:00 AM -Drive to Norton VA, Flag Rock State Park -Mountain Bike Trail construction with Shayne Fields -Lunch on site -Finish around 3 or 4:00, Shayne will take you around to some of the sites at Flag Rock -Drive back to Harlan for dinner or possibly attend Board Meeting at Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) in Appalachia VA @ 6:30

WEDNESDAY OCT 21

-Service Project TBD (There are many possibilities for service projects including nursing home visits, trail maintenance, stream cleanup, Homeless Shelter etc. Depending on the weather and what the students want to do) -Lunch on site -Dinner -Meet with church members at Mary Helen Methodist Church (former coal mining community)

THURSDAY OCT 22

9 am: Breakfast 10 am: Depart 11 am: Kentucky Coal Mining Museum Tour with retired miner Mike O Bradovich Lunch at museum Thrift Store Drive to top of Black Mountain (Kentucky's highest mountain) - see mountaintop removal mining Dinner After dinner TBD - fun activity (bowling?)

FRIDAY OCT 23

Breakfast Hiking at Bad Branch or Knobby Rock Lunch on the mountain Swinging Bridge Explore/fun/free time 5 pm: Depart for Campbell Branch Community Center 6 pm: Dinner, music, dancing at community center 9 pm: Depart Reections

SATURDAY OCT 24 Breakfast Pack and depart DAVE COOPER

The Whippoorwill Festival - Skills for Earth-Friendly Living July 9-12 2015 near Berea KY


PACKING LIST sleeping bag / pillow toiletry items bug spray pants boots (work boots/hiking boots) long sleeve shirts water bottle

MOVIES The Avengers Blackfish Ferris Bueller's Day off  Skyfall  A Knight's Tale  Monty Python's Holy Grail  Blackfish  Black Diamond: Mountain Top Removal & The Fight for Justice  The Last Mountain  Burning the Future: Coal in America  Blackfish  Old British Eagan Documentary  Blackfish  Tarzan  Space Jam Blackfish  Alien Vs Predator  Blackfish  *no films featuring nicolas cage*


WHY MOUNTAIN TOP REMOVAL?

The history between the coal industry and Appalachia runs long. For as long as the United States has been an economic superpower, it has been dependent on the coal sacrificed by the Appalachian Mountains and its people. Our culture seems to have an idealized version of what the miner in Appalachia is: a strong man, dressed in hard hat, covered in coal soot descending an elevator deep into the heart of the mountains. While at one time that version of the coal miner may have been representative, the reality now is much more sinister. While the wear on the physical bodies of the miners was brutal, the predominant method of coal mining now is much more brutal on a geographic scale, with an appropriate name: Mountain Top Removal. There are many reasons Mountain Top Removal is a less than exemplary means of extracting coal. It perpetuates climate change in every way; burning coal releases more greenhouse gases than any other fossil fuel per unit of energy and it yields more than two time the CO2 of natural gas (Zehner, 123). It also has a number of devastating effects on the surrounding communities. Polluted water supplies and devastated ecosystems are just a few of the consequences for those who have to bear the burden of losing their mountains. So why do we continue to do it? Because of the massive economic benefit, right? Because of our nation and our world’s dependence on cheap energy, i.e. coal? The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that by 2012, two decades of mountaintop removal will have destroyed or degraded 11.5 percent of the forests in [Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee], an area larger than Delaware. Rubble and waste will have buried more than 1,000 miles of streams. (McQuaid, 2009)

It is true that America does rely extremely heavily on coal. “Half of America’s electricity comes from coal, along with 70 percent in India, and 80 percent in China. Coal is more widely available throughout the world than hydropower, oil, and gas. It’s got a lower sticker price too” (Zehner, 122). But this dependence does not necessarily translate to economic benefit for the communities in which it actually happens. As the graph on the next pageindicates, coal mining jobs have seen a dramatic decrease over the last 50 years. This is largely due to the mechanization of jobs that once required human labor. The process has now been streamlined to make it more “neat” and effective. Essentially, when a mountain is chosen as a viable candidate for coal extraction via MTR, the vegetation is cleared near the summit. Then, the bedrock and topsoil is blasted away, sometimes slicing upwards of 600 feet off the overall elevation of the mountain. Once the seams of coal are exposed, it is harvested by giant cranes (Meyer, 2015). Not only is this obviously destructive, but

there are also very few effective policies in place that require the restoration of the remaining land. In turn, mining communities are given high amounts of pollution and poverty with no compensation. The pollution is never sold as quite that bad, and safety regulations are highly touted. But the true story reveals a far more sinister tale. Despite living among the richest coal reserves and one of the most ecologically biodiverse regions in the world, the people of Central Appalachia…are among the poorest people in the United States. Poverty rates here are at least twice that of the rest of the country. (Burns, 2009) A report in the journal Science found that “The wide spread practice of mountain top removal coal mining in the United States found that local residents also suffer from unusually high rates of chronic pulmonary disorders, hypertension, lung cancer, chronic heart disease, and kidney disease” (Zehner, 123). “Poisonous gases, tunnel collapses, flooding, and explosions kill thousands of miners every year (Zehner 120). Polluted water supplies, and chronic diseases. Towns located around MTR sites suffer such consequences as mudslides, f;ash floods, and heavy metal in their water supply. It has been reported that “…in Kentucky alone, almost 4,000 miles of streams have been polluted, damages, or destroyed by mountaintop mining” (Meyer, 2015). This is a heavy price to pay to for an ever-less viable fossil fuel addiction. Ultimately, there seem to be a lot of costs for coal, but fewer and fewer benefits. As lead author of an article in the Journal of Science said, “Scientists are not usually that comfortable coming out with policy recommendations, but this time the results were overwhelming… the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped.” Burns, Shirley Stewart. “Mountaintop Removal in Central Appalachia”. Southern Spaces. Np., 30 Sept. 2009. Web. McQuaid, John. “Mining the Mountains”. Smithsonian Magazine. N.p., Jan. 2009. Web. Meyer, Robinson. “Coal’s Devastation”. The Atlantic. N.p., 12 Aug. 2015. Web. Zehner, Ozzie. “Green Illusions : The Dirty Secrets Of Clean Energy And The Future Of Environmentalism”. Ozzie Zehner. n.p.: Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, c2012., 2012.


“After dozens of stomach-churning curves, a small sign announces that the Virginia state line has been crossed.  And suddenly, everything changes.  Now there is a moonscape below, a barren wasteland of dirt and exposed rocks and yellow bulldozers.  From near the summit of Black Mountain can be seen a mountaintop removal site that stretches itself brazenly above the town of Appalachia, Virginia, and it looks like a scar on the face of the earth... Where once there was a mountain here in Virginia, now there is a deep, dead hole.”


FA R M I N G TO N N O. 9 We lie here waiting for the men with rubber blankets to take us up and put us down Remember us When you y over mountains and land in a city at night and see the thousand things they’ve done with our eyes. L LOY D DAV I S


SONG OF DESTINY Here is my song of destiny I sing, Not that I crave the blood of any man, To take his life and doom him in his spring! But here he comes and takes my people’s life. He takes their earnings made by blood and sweat, He cuts the trees from my Kentucky hills, He digs the coal from my Kentucky mines – And even cuts for pleasure our small pines. And do I sing, my friend, for any man Who preys upon us like we’re suckling lambs? And I am tired of prayer and wished “God damns.” It is the time this folly comes to end As summer grass comes to an end by frost. These trees are friends of mine and yet they die, Their stumps stand under blue moons like thin ghosts, They leave such emptiness beneath the sky. JESSE STUART

BLOOD MONEY This blood rolling down my arm Is from the wounds of a dollar bill That cut my fingers as I touched it. The blood runs dwn my elbows And drips off onto the sand. Mr. Pittston is kicking dirt over it, Swearing There are no names written on that dollar bill. All this is the result Of thinking too much About a Law Suit Proving me of “The Survival Syndrome”: I get money But none of the dead are resurrected. GAIL AMBURGEY


MONONGAH, WV On December 6, 1907, the Fairmont Coal Co. exploded, killing all of the Miners on the day shift. The official count of 360 overlooked many immigrants.

1. On December 6, I drive to this place Along Route 19, near the banks of the Tygart And turn my car toward the wrinkled flow Of the West Fork River, and stop. The fresh snow has begun to crest around rocks and debris. In the water, old antifreeze bottles knock Against each other, like aimless chimes. I looked at the river, which is gray In the center, reflecting the sky between hills. Isn’t that always he sky in West Virginia? 2. A spark ignites Black Damp, the methane blows, Flames rush from speck to speck – like a breath Of a surging dragon, licking the coal dust Suspended in haulageways, spitting fire, reaving stout timbers, seeking, by instinct like bones among fossils, devouring the faces before they can scream, as the men duck, are sucked into blazing entries or crouch in a shelter of ash, by crimson steel cars.

3. There’s a meadow, filled with threadbare gray Of five hundred women in the snow. They sob To the heavens, gaunt as the heavens are In West Virginia, I ask them to leave, For we’re in danger from another explosion, But the women won’t go. Eyes starving For news, they peer from snow-soaked scarves, Babushkas, chadors, prayer shawls. The mine blows again, and the earth trembles Like the hide of a frightened mule. 4. I blink and the West Fork River Seems to sizzle beneath the snow’s touch. The fog drifts off down the river, Between two banks of melting snow, Toward Morgantown and Pittsburgh, Cities of what once was – The smoke and fire in the human heart. 5. This spring, I’ll drive out to this place, This wilderness between rivers. The meadow will fill with survivors, and Five-hundred threadbare women Will clutch their dusty lovers and go home.

DAV I D S A L N E R


BUFFALO CREEK {T}he Buffalo Creek disaster in West Virginia in February, 1972…produced a major human tragedy with the loss of hundreds of lives because of the careless administration of a gob pile dam, which wiped out a whole valley. Richard B. Drake, A History of Appalachia

I There may have been a girl, Fourteen o fifteen, waking up just then in a dark room Filled with pink chenille, gold stars from teachers, A Sunday-school collage with a pipecleaner boat, dirty cottonball sky Ad glitter sprinkled over blue construction paper under the feet Of a mimeographed Jesus walking on the water – Too much childhood in the room for it not to pinch, even in her sleep, Like church shoes squeezed on over everyday socks. She may have waked with a start a little before 8:00 From a dream about a beautiful room, spare and open to the air, In a house she brought by opening doors. Maybe she sat up – Long-haired and loose, her first beauty come on her – and suddenly knew That she was someone, and something else might be true. Then the mountains all around must have seems to her a storm Of waves poised to crash, terrible undertow cast in stone, But she was up to it, could sail under her own power, Lift and go. As daylight seeped in through the seams Of the room maybe she felt less sure, but she was marked By the dream of air and space. She may have flopped back down On her side, propped up on one elbow to see What the weather was like outside the window beside her bed In the small built-on second-story room. A raven, just one, May have flow across her line of sight, skidded to a stop in the cold Wet of the back yard, flocked its head back over its shoulder then taken off again, Easy over the mountain. And maybe she thought of Noah, or maybe she didn’t, as she lifted her chin slightly to watch it go and willed it to bring her a sign of the world. II Say her mother was downstairs in the kitchen Standing in the open door of the refrigerator, thinking about eggs And work – inside of an hour, she was thinking, she’d be at Pittston, filing Disciplinary reports and safety reports she tried not to read And workman’s comp claims she tried never to read, the way she never Read the obituary page, though the names sometimes jumped out at her, faces Resurrected from her old yearbook, caught off guard by a sudden flash And someone telling them to smile. Or she may have been thinking about eggs In baskets made the old way, the way Aunt Mandy taught her, How Aunt Mandy used to stand at the fence, an old egg basket on one elbow


Ballasting the jutted-out ledge of a hip seating a child Crooked in the other. Could be then she thought of the work baskets filled With yarn and thread and patches, the ways women find Of holding together what’s coming apart, or maybe of babies left In baskets on doorsteps. Maybe that made her think Of Moses and bulrushes so that as s called upstairs of the girl to come down before the eggs got cold She thought she heard a rush of water in the distance And something small crying. III The father must have been at work on the longwall, graveyard Shift about to be over. Still February, but already Moles and groundhogs would be turning up Clumps of dirt, making the yard look like a kid’s game, a maze On the back of a cereal box – Help the rabbit find his way home. He worked too goddamn hard to make house payments To let the yard go to pot on account of critters. Nothing else to do, goddamn it – and maybe here he slammed the machine harder into the coalface, rehearsing the argument he’d have with his wife and daughter – Nothing to be done but plug up one hole and run the garden hose down the other. It’s how the bosses kept their heads above water: show no pity for thins that burrow. IV If the raven looked back in a minute, or two, he saw failed arks, Houses sacking into bridges and power lines, saw them fly Into the air, burning and drowning at once in the blank Roaring maw of that black wave That hit the valley floor like God slamming the door, Jarring the whole world off the wall, and the stars, With only a smattering of glitter riding The wave, and no babies in baskets, and no one Walking on the water. DIANE GILLIAM FISHER


THE LAST UNMINED VEIN Now it’s neither here nor there to most folks but then I’ve never figured myself to be like many much less most I know what they do no matter what they say I know how they come with trucks bigger than ary road can hold and drive through yer yard and right up on the porch and park her next to yer rocking chair and you ain’t got a howdy do to say about it neither once you put yer name on that paper that’s it Now my daddy and me we used to dig a little coal out of that vein across the bottom Just a pick and a shovel and what could be wheelbarrowed out of there was all that was took and didn’t hurt nothing and kept a fire real good and that’s it but that ain’t what they got in mind They wanting to make steel in Ohio turn on the lights in New York City and heat houses in Detroit Shoot- I don’t know a soul in the whole state of Michigan but that ain’t really it It ain’t my business what they do with it but this farm and everything that’s in it is plenty my concern and I know how they come with their mouths full of promises and leaving with every one of your fields full of ruts and the mud sliding down the hillside right onto your back steps

and there ain’t a creek left what would hold a living thing and that’s it and the money just don’t mean that much to me I done seen all I need to see about where that money goes and what’s got with it Last thing this country need is another new mobile home with a four-wheel drive truck parked on a mudbank in front of it and that’s it and not another thing to show for where and what your mammy and pappy and their mammy and pappy not to mention your own self and family always had So when that man in his new suit and smooth as silk talking came to my door I didn’t even ask him in Said I wasn’t interested He laughed and said he wasn’t selling Said I didn’t figure I was either And that was it Of course, I know he’ll be back but probably after I’m dead and gone and if the children want to be so foolish as to put an end to what came long before then ain’t nothing I can do about it then but I been laying plans to remind them to what it’s gonna cost them I done got my marker and laid out the lines for my grave right smack in the middle of that vein They gonna have to chip out of the coal 6 foot by 6 foot and then put her right back on top of me and that will be the end of that L E E H OWA R D


AS THE DUST SETTLES

1 9 0 7 W E S T F O R K V A L L E Y, W V

anger builds like methane gas, that gas that exploded sixteen hours ago down there, in where, thank God, you weren’t working

The whine of the hoist cage Sends a message Through the camp

useless, fury, for I have no walls to blow, no shafts to block, no mantrips or belts to smash, destroy. Just this anger. no meters, no gauges could predict it, could have carried away the gas instead of dead bodies that even now as I imagine them, turn anger to sorrow, and I find myself with you crying

Slowly it rises, bringing up a body. It’s not weighed down, It’s just somebody’s body Creaking up the shaft. “Who’s hurt Mama?” “Hush, child.” “Are they bringing up a body? Is it somebody’s body?” “Hush.” “What’s under the canvas, Mama? Is somebody dead, Mama? Is that a leg, Mama? Whose leg is it, Mama?” “Hush, child.” “Can we go home now, Mama? Ain’t we going home now, Mama.” “Hush.”

BARBARA SMITH PHYLLIS WILSON MOORE (WHETSTONE, SPRING 1990)


THE MINER’S WIDOW TESTIFIES AT T H E B L A C K L U N G T R I A L Yes I’ll tell the truth. I always tell the truth and here it is 38 years underground and down in his back the last fifteen You want to know how he was on his breathing? Well he gasped and wheezed and smothered all the time He’d be up restless all night. Couldn’t put out a garden or mow the grass. No yardwork, no housework Except I did it or the kids did it or we hired it done Phelgm built up all night and choked him of a morning. Every morning he’d drink him A big cup of black coffee, and go out in the yard and vomit it all up, the worse looking stuff you ever saw, green and gray with black streaks in it and some blood sometimes. But then he’d breathe a little better and get through the day. He stayed nervous. The least little thing would get him so tore up he’d have to get off by himself I guess you’d be nervous too If you had trouble getting the breath of life itself in and out of your lungs, slowly smothering to death every minute of every hour of every day of what was

left of your life, and you knew who’d done it to you, and why they done it, and you couldn’t do much of anything about it except file for these benefits. Did he smoke? Yes, he smoked. But cigarettes aren’t made out of coal dust. He had coal dust on his lungs and that’s what took him away. The mines put the dust there not the cigarettes. He wasn’t perfect, but he was always good for working. Took all the hours he could Get, never missed unless he Just had to. He was serious as a heart attack about taking care of his family. Many times I’ve seen him drag himself off to the mines when I knew he shouldn’t have. We tried to keep him home but he’d just go on out. The bosses came to his funeral and said what a good employee he was. I know they made a lot of money off his work. They owned the mines. It looks like they could have done better at keeping the dust down. And now they’re fighting the case with the lawyers to beat me out of the benefits. Well, I know what killed him. I don’t care what their doctors and lawyers say. It was their mines that killed him, choked and smothered to death on coal dust and thick green phlegm. J O H N TAY L O R


If it only took sheer labor to fix these problems, we would have solved them already. The relationships you form are more important. It’s the service you may not know you are providing. —Carol Judy


A P PA L AC H I A : A N O L D M A N ’ S DREAM DIFFERED As I ride the mountain curves That make one mile ten And my going greets my coming I reminisce my past days In the mountains of Appalachia. I recall my five day weeks Among the diamondsThat glisten and reflect The sweat of my brow And make me proud Of my aches and pains And silicosis and black lung And John L. Lewis and the pension I recall my buddies And slate falls and explosions And union dues and company doctors And script money and company stores And friendly coal camp houses Where smoke spirals from chimneys And meets the tipple dust Causing an excess that returns upon us, my wife and kids and other families, Causing us to cuss and fuss and scrub with lye soap In zinc tubs filled with hydrant water Boiled in the big tea kettle on the cook stove That stands near the kitchen cabinet and breakfast set. I recall the Saturday night balls Or fight and brawls And women and liquor and cards And fish fries and barbeques And wiener roasts and excursions And ball gamesAll kinds of Saturday fun That ends in Sunday school and Church And occasional revivals And preachers and deacons And brothers and sisters And prayers and collection plates And rallies and homecomings. I recall the bare beauty of stripped mountains

That belch black diamonds And choke as we crawl inside To retrieve what is left Leaving a gully that fills With leeched water For children to swim and drown every summer. I recall the shanties And the houses of the bosses And homes of superintendents And spring rains, and fall winds And winter snows and summer sunshines That bring new faces to the hills every year And Christmas and Easter And the fourth of July And fishing and hunting seasons And walks in the mountains And P.T.A. meetings and lodge meetings And trips to the county seat And funerals and birthdays And other memories that practically Bring me to tears. But as I ride the curves of my homeland I must view my dreams For she is empty and dried and dismal And her misery hangs heavy in the air of her discontent I reach out to touch her but find her vanishedAn old man’s dream deferred. ED CABBELL


I don’t like the word poor. Appalachian communities are not poor. We may not have as much money as everyone else. But we are not poor on culture. We are not poor in our community of place. We are not poor in our mountains and in our ecology. —Carol Judy


2/19/2015

Life in the Sickest Town in America - The Atlantic

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Reuters

Life in the Sickest Town in America

I drove from one of the healthiest counties in the country to the least-healthy, both in the same state. Here’s what I learned about work, well-being, and happiness.

By Olga Khazan JANUARY 22, 2015

739 Comments

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onald Rose has no teeth, but that’s not his biggest problem. A camouflage hat droops over his ancient, wire-framed glasses. He’s only 43, but he looks much older.

I met him one day in October as he sat on a tan metal folding chair in the hallway of Riverview School, one of the few schools—few buildings, really—in the coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia. That day it was the site of a free clinic, the Remote Area Medical. Rose was there to get new glasses—he’s on Medicare, which doesn’t cover most vision services. Remote Area Medical was founded in 1985 by Stan Brock, a 79-year-old Brit who wears a tan Air-Force-style uniform and formerly hosted a nature TV show called Wild Kingdom. Even after he spent time in the wilds of Guyana, Brock came to the conclusion that poor Americans needed access to medical care about as badly as the Guyanese did. Now Remote Area Medical http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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holds 20 or so packed clinics all over the country each year, providing free checkups and services to low-income families who pour in from around the region. When I pulled into the school parking lot, someone was sleeping in the small yellow car in the next space, fast-food wrappers spread out on the dashboard. Inside, the clinic’s patrons looked more or less able-bodied. Most of the women were overweight, and the majority of the people I talked to were missing some of their teeth. But they were walking and talking, or shuffling patiently along the beige halls as they waited for their names to be called. There weren’t a lot of crutches and wheelchairs. Yet many of the people in the surrounding county, Buchanan, derive their income from Social Security Disability Insurance, the government program for people who are deemed unfit for work because of permanent physical or mental wounds. Along with neighboring counties, Buchanan has one of the highest percentages of adult disability recipients in the nation, according to a 2014 analysis by the Urban Institute’s Stephan Lindner. Nearly 20 percent of the area's adult residents received government SSDI benefits in 2011, the most recent year Lindner was able to analyze. According to Lindner’s calculations, five of the 10 counties that have the most people on disability are in Virginia—and so are four of the lowest, making the state an emblem of how wealth and work determine health and well-being. Six hours to the north, in Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties, just one out of every hundred adults draws SSDI benefits. But Buchanan county is home to a shadow economy of maimed workers, eking out a living the only way they can—by joining the nation’s increasingly sizable disability rolls. “On certain days of the month you stay away from the post office,” says Priscilla Harris, a professor who teaches at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, “because that's when the disability checks are coming in.”

But if this place has the scenery of the Belgian Ardennes, it has the health statistics of Bangladesh. Just about everyone I spoke with at the Grundy clinic was a former manual worker, or married to one, and most had a story of a bone-crushing accident that had left them (or their spouse) out of work forever. For Rose, who came from the nearby town of Council, that day came in 1996, when he was pinned between two pillars in his job at a sawmill. He suffered through work until 2001, he told me, when he finally started collecting “his check,” as it’s often called. He had to go to a doctor to prove that he was truly hurting—he has deteriorating discs, he says, and chronic back pain. He was turned down twice, he thinks because he was just 30 years old at the time. Now the government sends him a monthly check for $956. Each classroom at Riverview School had a different specialist tucked inside—in one, an optometrist measured eyes with her chart projected on the classroom wall. She showed me a picture she took in a nearby town of a man who, unable to afford new glasses and rapidly http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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Life in the Sickest Town in America - The Atlantic

losing eyesight, had taped a stray plastic lens over his existing glasses. The clinic had brought along two glasses-manufacturing RVs where technicians could make patients like Rose a fresh set of glasses, including frames, in just a few hours. As for his teeth? Rose’s diabetes loosened them. “They went ahead and pulled them all,” he said. He assured me that being toothless was not as grave a life-change as the toothed might imagine it to be. “I can still eat a steak, trust me,” he says. “I use my tongue and my gums.”

AP

G

rundy, which is located at the tip of Virginia that jabs into Kentucky, is sheltered by the steep, wooded Appalachians and cut through by the mighty Levisa Fork River. (The river is so mighty that the area has suffered nine major floods in the past century, and recently the entire town had to be relocated to higher ground.)

In October, the sun-dappled mountains blazed with red and orange as the leaves turned. If you wanted to send someone a postcard to convince them of the merits of Virginia, this would be it. But if this place has the scenery of the Belgian Ardennes, it has the health statistics of Bangladesh. People here die about five years earlier than they should. About a third of people smoke, and a third are obese. A quarter of the people live in poverty, compared with about 11 percent in the rest of the state. These Appalachians, many of them former coal miners, are among the nearly nine million American workers receiving disability payments today, compared with 1.4 million in 1970. http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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Spending on the program has risen nine-fold over the past four decades. Clusters of recipients can be found from California to Maine, though as Lindner points out, the states with the highest numbers tend to be in the South and Southeast. Critics say the program’s expansion is partly driven by Americans who are perfectly capable of working but are unwilling to do so. Since the mid-1980s, government spending on the elderly and disabled has ballooned, even as tightened eligibility rules have slashed welfare aid for needy mothers and children. Even advocates of “big-government”-style welfare acknowledge that some people use the program because it’s the only form of income available to them. At the clinic, people who were themselves on disability complained about others who they saw as lazy fakers who milked the system. But visiting a place like Grundy reveals a more complicated picture. There are undoubtedly some who exaggerate their ailments in order to collect their checks. But many of the coal workers here have experienced horrific on-the-job accidents and can’t go back to the mines. Other residents have been battered by diabetes, obesity, and tobacco. Others still suffer from severe depression and intellectual disabilities that would preclude most kinds of work. And most importantly, there are no other options here: no orthodontist’s office where someone can work the front desk; no big firms brimming with entry-level secretarial jobs. It’s not even clear how a person would go about calling around for a job here: My iPhone stopped working a few miles outside the county line. Few white-collar people understand the degree to which manual labor chews up workers’ bodies. And in Grundy, there’s nowhere for them to go afterward. “Here you have a Pandora's box of every social issue that might contribute to disability,” said Martin Wegbreit, the director of litigation at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. Before coming to Richmond in 2004, Wegbreit worked in southwest Virginia for nearly 20 years. “These are jobs that even if they don't injure people, they wear people down,” he told me. “It's hard on the back, it's hard on the knees, it's hard on the entire body.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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Residents of Grundy and surrounding areas wait to be seen at the Remote Area Medical free clinic. (Olga Khazan)

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s I drove around Buchanan, trailer homes seemed to be the predominant form of housing. I passed a Dairy Queen, a Long John Silvers, a Pizza Hut, and not much else. Locals blame the town’s economic slump on the decline of coal, which they in turn blame on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations. Several yards were

dotted with campaign signs urging passers-by to “Stop Obama/Vote Gillespie.” (Sixty percent of Buchanan county voted for Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for Senate, though he lost in the state overall.) The place had its boom years. Coal first came in the 1930s, displacing poor farmers who tilled the tough mountain dirt. In the 1970s, United Coal expanded rapidly by snapping up cheap land all across Buchanan county. A 1978 New York Times article describes a “never-ending rush hour” on Grundy’s lone highway as convoys of coal trucks with names like “The Lord Is My Leader” roared through town. The Island Creek Coal Company made plans for a development of 1,600 Swiss-chalet-style houses on a nearby hilltop. The population of the county has shrunk by about 15,000 people since that year. In May alone, 188 workers were laid off in a mine near Grundy. The industry has been slammed by the newfound natural gas reserves and is expected to contract further by 2020. Still, coal remains the largest private employer in Buchanan, and its heavy impact continues to be felt even by those who no longer work in the mines. Though we sometimes associate the dangers of coal with big, splashy incidents like 2010’s http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in West Virginia, in which a violent explosion killed 29 men, most coal-induced disabilities are banal, and some are hard to detect. Among the most dangerous types of coal environments is low coal—so called because the seams are just 36 inches high. Workers in these mines spent their days crawling through the vast, dark caverns. “For a miner who avoids being crippled, burned or buried alive,” wrote John C. Tucker of Buchanan county in May God Have Mercy, “the usual question is which will give out first—his lungs, his back, or his knees.” All types of mines require incessant bending and lifting; a bag of rock dust can weigh up to 50 pounds. Many of the former miners I spoke with complained of back pain, a condition that’s both excruciating and difficult for doctors to diagnose. There’s also plenty of hearing loss, says John Gifford, a local disability attorney. “It's loud as hell down there.” Other injuries are even more gruesome. “I’ve had men who had their hand trapped, fingers crushed, fingers amputated,” Gifford adds. “One man didn't duck in time, so a cable pulled him off the mining car and he suffered paralysis in both legs.” Harris, the law professor, says a former student of hers worked as a coal miner until he was trapped in a collapse and had to have his foot amputated. In the school’s cafeteria, I met a middle-aged man named Robert who told me he began working in the mines when he was 8 years old to help his family. (He asked me to use only his first name.) In 1999, he and some co-workers were repairing a piece of machinery and a metal chunk the size of a small table swung off a hook and came crashing down onto him, taking the entire apparatus down with it. "My forehead hit the ground, and the metal hit the back of my head,” he said. “I had a hard hat on. The first time it hit me, it knocked my hard hat off. The second time, it knocked my head into the ground and landed on top of me and bent me over." After the initial recovery came the bad headaches and the prescription painkillers that he couldn't tolerate. An x-ray revealed a herniated disc. He tried to go back to work three times, he says, but after four or five days back on the job, he’d be puking from the pain. It took him five years to get his disability check. He now says he and his wife make about $2,000 a month from disability.

“For a miner who avoids being crippled, burned or buried alive, the usual question is which will give out first—his lungs, his back, or his knees.” “We were within two, three days of losing our home,” his wife, Vicki, said. “If he hadn’t got it when he did, we would have.” Vicki was also applying for disability after quitting her job as a nursing assistant. Years of http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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lifting 300-pound men, she said, inflamed the arthritis and bone spurs in her spine. She doesn't have health insurance, which is why she comes to clinics like this. The couple had been there since 4 a.m. Working in a mine has gotten safer over the years. But even if a coal worker manages to escape a freak accident, standing in clouds of coal dust can be treacherous for the lungs over time. In a back room of the elementary school, I met with Joe Smiddy, a retired pulmonologist who now volunteers for Remote Area Medical doing chest x-rays. He showed me an image of a pair of lungs mottled with tiny white specks—each of them a piece of coal dust with a scar around it. This is coal workers' pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease. “This gentleman has a lung full of dust,” he said. Coal workers are supposed to be offered masks to wear, Smiddy said, but “for a 12-hour shift in a coal mine, there's almost nobody who can wear a mask. They say, ‘It's heavy on my face, I can't breathe with it on.’” No matter how much gunk is clogging their airways, Smiddy said his patients often avoid complaining to their bosses or letting on that they’re sick. Unless, that is, they’re ready to go on disability. “Coal mining is the only job available to them, and they're feeding their family,” he said. “They're going to not raise any sand.”

A street scene in Arlington County, Virginia, one of the wealthiest—and healthiest—counties in the United States http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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(hrvargas/Flickr)

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ompare all of this with Arlington County, 400 miles away in the northern part of the state, which has one of the nation’s lowest rates of disability. Only 1 percent of people in Arlington are on disability, and it’s regularly ranked one of the overall

healthiest (and richest) counties in the nation. Here, there are well-paved bike routes and a Metro-accessible Whole Foods. People complain when they can’t take their tiny dogs into Starbucks. Virginia, in other words, is a state divided not only by politics, professions, and mountains, but also by how run-down its citizens are. While Buchanan county’s fortunes have been inextricably tied to coal, those of Northern Virginia are hitched to the government. A large portion of its residents belong to the vast army of contractors, lobbyists, lawyers, PR people, and other auxiliary workers who orbit the federal government and rake in generous salaries for their efforts. As Dylan Matthews pointed out in the Washington Post, there’s been a $1.7 billion increase in lobbying spending between 1998 and 2010 alone, which correlates neatly with the rise in incomes of Washington-area residents. What’s more, the eye-popping growth of contracting in the 90s that was intended to downsize the government resulted in private workers doing the same work for exponentially more money. Northern Virginia counties are now home to these wealthiest Washingtonians. One day recently I visited an Arlington lululemon. Inside, a man gazed at a wall of “performance” tank tops selling for $58. He hailed a beanie-clad associate and said he needed help finding a gift for his girlfriend. She does “something with a machine,” the boyfriend said. “Pilates?” he associate offered. “Yeah.” “Do you know which size she is?” “I’m going to guess,” the boyfriend said confidently. “Sounds good. If you see a girl behind the counter who you think might be the same size as her,” the associate offered, “they have no problem with you asking.” Unsurprisingly, Buchanan county has no similar high-end shops. In 2011, it got a Wal-Mart that employs 230 people. At minimum wage, an entry-level job there pays as much as disability would, but even retail jobs require standing for long hours. I searched Monster.com for jobs nearby, and most of the 78 listings were in retail or home healthcare. Only two of the positions were actually in Grundy. “We have no factories, we have nothing here,” said Celeste Barrett, a social worker in Grundy. “Coal mining is all we have.” Barrett was one of two women from the local department of social services sitting in front of tables bearing heaps of donated clothes. The http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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goods were destined for the families of out-of-work miners, they said. “If you make any money in Buchanan county, you're a coal miner,” said the other woman, Amanda Coleman. “These coal miners who were making $80,000 to $90,000 and they go down on disability, where a household of one gets $1,200 [per month].” “It's just such a hard job,” Barrett added. “By the time they get a certain age, most of them are humped over.” An outmigration of the young and talented has left behind an aging population that is illequipped to deal with a changing economy. Thirty-two percent of Buchanan's residents never graduated from high school, compared with 15 percent nationwide.

An injury causes pain, which causes depression. Depression makes it harder to work. People gain weight, which leads to sleep apnea and diabetes. What's more, the same landscape that makes the area so gorgeous can also, perversely, make it harder to stay healthy. Compared with large Virginia cities, Buchanan has fewer roads, sidewalks, and modes of public transportation, health workers said.* The health problems cascade from there. The economy is built on physically grueling jobs. An injury causes pain, which causes depression. Depression makes it harder to work. People gain weight. The weight gain leads to sleep apnea and sometimes to diabetes. Diabetes can exacerbate vision problems. To top it all off, there are few doctors in the region, and Virginia rejected the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which would have insured an additional 170,000 people. Because getting to a doctor is hard and expensive, people self-medicate with prescription painkillers, alcohol, and tobacco. Eventually, said Smiddy, the pulmonologist, “they become dysfunctional. They're weaving behind the car. They're setting the stove on fire. It's not that they're bad people. They’re probably faith-based people, family people. Most are just trying to function.”

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Patients receive dental care at the Remote Area Medical clinic in Grundy. (Olga Khazan)

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hose who argue that the disability system has become choked with exaggerated claims are not entirely wrong. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported on David Daugherty, a West Virginia judge who had seemingly rubber-stamped approval for all but four of the 1,284 disability appeals that came before him. He appeared to be

colluding with a lawyer named Eric Conn, who had advertised his services on billboards as “Mr. Socialsecurity” and sometimes brought “an inflatable replica of himself to events.” It’s faster for disability judges to approve a disability claim than to reject one, so it’s easy to see how less-than-deserving cases would sneak through. Because of rising income inequality, poor people can now earn almost as much on disability as they can at minimum-wage jobs—as long as they can prove they’re sick enough. In a 2006 analysis, the economists David Autor and Mark Duggan found that the main reason disability rolls have swollen is that the program’s rules were liberalized in 1984. The Social Security administration was directed to weigh applicants’ pain and discomfort more heavily and to relax its mental illness screening. (The government has four different sets of standards: one for people under the age of 50, another for those between 50 and 54, another for 55-59-yearolds, and a final one for those 60 and older.) To sign up, applicants first state their disabilities and the names of their doctors. Each application is reviewed by state officials and sometimes by an independent doctor. Twothirds of applicants are rejected after this step because they lack medical documentation that their ailments will keep them out of work for at least a year. From there, an applicant can appeal, and a different official will review his or her paperwork. After that, another 11 percent of applications are approved. The rejected cases are seen by administrative judges in courtrooms across the country. According to a recent Washington Post investigation, the entire process can take years. If they http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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make it through, beneficiaries will receive $13,740 annually, on average. The problem is, even if society were to decide that there should be fewer people on disability, that the system has become too bloated with sneaky pretenders, it isn’t clear what a fifth of the population of Grundy would do to survive. It’s entirely possible that some of the town’s residents are faking their disability claims, but it’s hard to imagine that most of them are. People who are rolling in undeserved government dough generally don’t line up at the crack of dawn to get their teeth fixed in an elementary school cafeteria. Residents of Grundy sometimes run into problems during their legal proceedings, which take place via video chat from a courthouse over the mountains in Bluefield. The judge, who is listening to the arguments remotely, must consider age, education, and whether the applicant’s skills can be transferred to another line of work. “If you are physically or mentally able to do a job, you don't meet the test for disability,” Wegbreit says. “It doesn't matter if that job does or doesn't exist in your region of the country. And that job doesn't exist in Buchanan county.” Enough applications get through that disability benefits provide an economic safety net to Buchanan county residents. But the high number of recipients also depresses the area further by keeping new businesses away. Companies aren’t eager to hire sick, worn-out miners. “This area is a nightmare of disability,” Smiddy says. Any company starting a business here knows that a substantial percentage of workers “are going to have dust on their lungs, they're going to be obese, they've already smoked a pack a day.”

Because of rising income inequality, poor people can now earn as much on disability as they can at minimum-wage jobs —as long as they can prove they’re sick enough. Once people get on disability, they usually don’t go back to gainful employment. Though they’re not counted in unemployment statistics, functionally, they become like the longterm unemployed—falling into an economic hole from which it’s notoriously hard to claw out. Employed people might think of being out of work as being relaxing, but jobs provide identity and purpose. “Whatever the job, it can give a sense of belonging, of being a contributor; an important part, however menial, of an organization with a bigger purpose, a valued part of society,” wrote Tom Fryers, a visiting professor of public health at the University of Leicester in the U.K., in a recent paper. “Work can provide a structure for the day, week, and year without which life just drifts by.” Idleness, meanwhile, further depletes bodies and minds.The rate of depression is 19 percent among people who have been unemployed for a year, compared to just 10 to 11 percent for http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/01/life-in-the-sickest-town-in-america/384718/

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people who went without jobs for just a few weeks. Even though they don’t face the same financial strains as the long-term unemployed, people on disability still suffer the negative health effects of being jobless. Researchers have also found high rates of depression among recipients of welfare, for example. “Once you're on the couch, your muscles become weak, you're going to gain weight, you're not physically capable of going back in the coal mine,” Smiddy said. A lack of work has been shown to increase the risk of premature death significantly, particularly for men. The problem, as Smiddy sees it, isn’t just that the economy is limited, or that the region’s education and medical systems could use an overhaul. The county’s health has been so poor for so long, he says, that locals have set their expectations too low. And once everyone—the people, their employers, their doctors, the government—accepts that bleak vision, it hardens into reality. It makes it so there’s no life after coal. “It’s ‘Just pull my teeth’, or ‘Grandpa died when he was 50’ or ‘Momma's already on oxygen,’” Smiddy tells me, his voice growing increasingly exasperated as he clicks through x-rays in his makeshift office. “There’s a negative fatalistic attitude. We have to have an expectation of health, and seek health.”

*This story originally stated, based on the recollection of Wegbreit, that Buchanan county had seen its first grocery store only recently. In fact, it has had a grocery store since 1955. We regret the error.

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I've reported on devastation around the world—from natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, to wars in Central America and the Middle East, to coastlines in Asia degraded by fish farming. But in the sheer audacity of its destruction, mountaintop coal removal is the most shocking thing I've ever seen. Entering a mountaintop site is like crossing into a war zone. —Smithsonian


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The “Sickest Town In America” Short on Facts, Large on Stereotypes | It is pretty.

It is pretty. Coalfields to Cornfields

The “Sickest Town In America” Short on Facts, Large on Stereotypes Posted on February 2, 2015 “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” Sir John Lubbock On January 22, 2015, The Atlantic published a feature by Olga Khazan – Life in the Sickest Town in America. Ms. Khazan, who lives in Washington, D.C., subtitles her piece with this sentence: “I drove from one of the healthiest counties in the country to the least healthy, both in the same state.” The town she bills as the sickest town in the country is my hometown – Grundy, Virginia. When I am asked the question: Where are you from? I give the same answer every time. I am from Grundy, Virginia. Although I now live out-of-state, when I think of my hometown I think of the most beautiful, kind, and loyal place. And when I return to Grundy, as I do frequently, I find exactly that. When we go to Grundy, Ms. Khazan and I, we look for different things, and we both find what we are looking for. I find a place to be proud of and she finds a backward, sad, desperate community that time forgot. Ms. Khazan attempts to illuminate some important issues that many towns in Appalachia struggle with – health and well-being, health care access, the disability system, and the decline of the coal mining industry. Sadly, though, any positive intent and material she may have had or presented were overwhelmed by her exaggerated, inaccurate, and stereotypical portrayal of Grundy as a poor, sick, and backward Appalachian town. Ms. Khazan, a staff writer covering health for The Atlantic, isn’t the first reporter who has come to our little town from the big city with her own vision of what is in Appalachia. Perhaps colored by visions from old black and white photographs, it appears these reporters come to town to search for old women in aprons standing by outhouses, long lines of coal miners leaving the https://coalfieldstocornfields.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/the-sickest-town-in-america-short-on-facts-large-on-stereotypes/

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mine with picks and shovels over their shoulders, or dirt roads populated by nothing but camp houses and trailers. Some of those things still exist in Appalachia, but those visions and pictures are not the predominant way of life in the region or in Grundy. However, as Ms. Khazan has demonstrated, if you look for it, you will find it. This approach to journalism is a disappointment and a disservice to the people of Grundy and the readers of The Atlantic. Ms. Khazan, in addition to various statistics on unemployment, receipt of disability checks, and some health statistics, supports her claim that Grundy is the sickest town in America with a visit to the Buchanan County Remote Area Medical (RAM) event. RAM is an annual event where hundreds of people are provided free health care, including general medicine, dental, women’s health, and vision services. The event in Grundy draws people from beyond the local area. You can find people from Eastern Kentucky, Southern West Virginia and other counties in Southwest Virginia at the event. The article does not mention that the patients at the RAM event come from a large area; rather it would have you believe that this event is only for local citizens and the immediate surrounding area. This is a misstatement. But let’s give the benefit of the doubt here and assume that Ms. Khazan simply failed to ask the right questions to elicit this information or to perform a basic Google search on RAM. But that doesn’t explain the bigger misstatements in her article. Ms. Khazan takes the typical Appalachian stereotype one step further. She states “But if this place has the scenery of the Belgian Ardennes, it has the health statistics of Bangladesh.” With little evidence, she pronounces Grundy to be the equivalent of a third world country. She offers no analysis, only a link to the Buchanan County health statistics. It is a sensational line, but it is a shallow and unfair comparison. Health care access is a universal problem, it is in small towns and big cities and everywhere in between. The RAM event in Buchanan County is held at a large, modern elementary/middle school that serves around 1000 students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The article describes the building as one of the “few buildings, really” in Grundy. In truth, there are new and old buildings within the town limits, including the three-building Appalachian School of Law campus, a brand new Baptist church, a Masonic temple, two new two-story retail and commercial buildings, a two-story parking garage with a Wal-Mart atop it, a movie theatre, a bank building, a historic courthouse, and numerous other buildings. [1]

In order to reach Riverview Elementary Ms. Khazan had to drive past all these buildings.

Additionally, outside the town limits, but within the county and on her route into Grundy, she had to drive past the two-building Appalachian College of Pharmacy campus, a 50,000+ SF Food City grocery store, various restaurants, retail stores, and churches. So, for Ms. Khazan’s article to state that the school is one of the few buildings in town is completely and totally inaccurate. However, it does support her vision of an Appalachia that is a desolate, sad, and empty place. To Ms. Khazan’s credit, the article fairly addresses some of the economic and social issues in https://coalfieldstocornfields.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/the-sickest-town-in-america-short-on-facts-large-on-stereotypes/

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the area related to health and the decline of the coal industry. However, the article completely misses an opportunity to explore local efforts to improve this economic situation. For example, the article never mentions the local government efforts to revitalize the economy through higher education, which has produced both a fully accredited pharmacy school and law school, or other efforts, which are numerous. If Ms. Khazan had approached this article, and Grundy, with an open mind, she may have gotten a better story – one that showcased ideas that are innovative, progressive, and that showed the enterprising spirit of an unexpected area of the country. The truth is, Grundy is a place that is trying to improve, to change, to survive, in spite of the economic and social issues that Ms. Khazan mentions. But that truth doesn’t fit within the Appalachian stereotype of ignorance and helplessness that she was looking for. Ms. Khazan is nothing if not committed to impressing her stereotypical beliefs upon The Atlantic readers, even if that proves a difficult task. Relying on Martin Wegbreit, the director of a legal aid society in Richmond, VA (350 miles away), she states, “there are only a few paved roads in the county.” When I contacted the Buchanan County Highway Engineer he reported that 93% (421 miles out of approximately 450 total miles) of the state maintained primary and secondary roads in the county are paved. Ms. Khazan’s route to Riverview Elementary/Middle School for RAM, and assuming she actually went to the law school and social services to conduct her interviews, would have taken her on Routes 83 and 460. Both roads are state maintained paved roads. I confirmed with the county engineer that there are no dirt roads that intersect with Route 460 or Route 83. It is hard to imagine that Ms. Khazan encountered a dirt road while in Grundy, and if she did it was one that she went looking for because they are very hard to find. Instead of relying upon local sources or her own experience she choose to report as fact the remarks of someone sitting behind a desk 350 miles away. What’s not hard to find in Grundy? Grocery stores. Ms. Khazan relied again on Martin Wegbreit, when he told her that Grundy did not have a grocery store until recently. This is laughable. The chain of Food City grocery stores, which includes 96 locations through Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, is owned by a family from Grundy who opened their first store in Grundy in 1955. Grundy currently has three large grocery stores, including Wal-Mart. Ms. Khazan drove by all three of these grocery stores during her visit to Grundy. Yet, she reported totally inaccurate information. I was not present at the interview with Martin Wegbreit so I am not sure what he said but if he indeed said what he is quoted as saying, I will simply state that Martin Wegbreit lives in Richmond, and is not a journalist purporting to report fact. In this feature, Ms. Khazan picked few named sources, but instead relies upon generalizations like “the majority of the people I talked to were missing some of their teeth.” She picked her subjects at a free clinic that provides dental services. So, I imagine that was true. But she doesn’t explain that; she would rather imply that Grundy is full of people with no teeth. That is the image she wants to sell.

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The “Sickest Town In America” Short on Facts, Large on Stereotypes | It is pretty.

The bottom line is that the picture Ms. Khazan attempted to paint is not true. It is not true that most people do not have teeth. It is not true that most homes are trailers. It is not true that the only restaurants are Dairy Queen, Long John Silvers, and Pizza Hut. It is not true that everyone has an immediate family member injured in the mines. It is not true that all the women are obese. It is not true that the county started in farming; it was logging. It is not true that the county is devoid of highly educated professionals. It not true that all the people are sad, poor, and trapped. So much of what she said and implied is not true. I have only mentioned a few of the gross inaccuracies reported by Ms. Khazan, but the unmentioned are no less offensive and untrue. These misrepresentations are hurtful. It hurts her credibility; what little good she may have been trying to do is overcome by her need to prop up the stereotypes of Appalachia. But Ms. Khazan will move on, she will write more and better pieces, and her career will continue to advance. She will be fine. So, the real pain inflicted by this kind of journalism is inflicted, once again, on the good people of Appalachia, the good people from Grundy. Yes, the area has problems; it struggles in some ways, like many cities and towns in the U.S. But it is a unique, beautiful, and good place filled with good people. It is a place driven by honor (read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, chapter six) and family. It is a place that for many is inescapable, not because they are trapped there, but because the love and connection to place and family is too strong to leave or stay gone. The pain is that we cannot make people look at Appalachia and see beyond the negative image and antiquated stereotypes. We cannot make people see what they refuse to look for to find what we know is there. [1]

Grundy is indeed a small town. Three state roads serve as the primary routes in and out of

the county (Routes 460, 80 and 83). Routes 460 and 83 are the primary routes into the town of Grundy. The route Ms. Khazan could have taken to reach her Grundy destination is therefore limited and obvious. I no longer live in Grundy, VA. However, I lived in Appalachia for 30 years and 25 of those years were in Grundy. While I left most recently in 2011 for a career opportunity in the Midwest I return at least 5 times a year to visit my immediate family. The mountains of Southwest Virginia are part of my identity. The love, loyalty, respect, and hard work that those mountains taught my parents and grandparents lives on in me. In the words of Hazel Dickens “can’t you feel those hills around you, can’t you feel that touch of home, don’t you wish you’d never gone, there are some things memories can’t bring home.” I miss Southwest Virginia everyday. There’s nowhere else like it. Whitney Caudill

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“Coal’s costs do not obey national borders. Coal taxes every living person—through acid rain that damages crops, sea acidification that chokes fisheries, and the release of mercury into the atmosphere, which poisons brains. The decline in air quality... Finally, on top of all of that, coal combustion contributes to climate change through its emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.” —Meyer, The Atlantic


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