June 13th, 2009
09:00 AM ET

Choking on ash

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/14/tva.ruling/art.house.wvlt.jpg caption="Properties near ground zero of the December 22 Tennessee spill are covered in sludge."]
Stephanie Smith
CNN Medical Producer

Before December 22nd, except for people living near coal-burning plants, the phrase "coal fly ash" was not a part of the lexicon.

These days, coal, and specifically the waste produced when it is burned – called coal fly ash – are frequently topics of conversation, at least in Congress.

The conversation began after the largest industrial disaster in U.S. history – a spill ten times worse than Exxon Valdez.

It happened three days before Christmas, on a cold morning before dawn. A dam holding back more than one billion gallons of coal fly ash sludge trembled and finally broke, blanketing 300 acres in Kingston, Tennessee, and nearby Harriman, Tennessee. The coal ash, which was stored at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston plant for more than 50 years before the breach, could not be safely disposed. It was mixed with water and pumped into giant holding ponds.

There are no Federal guidelines or oversight over the more than 1300 ponds like the TVA's in the U.S. According the Environmental Protection Agency, coal ash is subject to the same regulations as household garbage.

At a press conference in Washington, Senator Barbara Boxer announced that the Environmental Protection Agency has identified 44 more sites like TVA's which pose a "high hazard" to nearby communities, but that the EPA in consultation with the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Homeland Security, will not disclose the list of sites publicly.

In a letter addressed to those agencies, Senator Boxer indicated that if a breach were to occur at any of these sites, it would "pose a threat to the lives of people nearby." Boxer also emphasized the public's right to know where the hazardous sites are located, saying that the knowledge could empower it to press local authorities to make the sites safer.

Testing revealed that coal fly ash at the TVA site was laden with toxic elements like arsenic, lead and selenium, and radioactive waste. A slew of independent studies, including a recent Duke University study, indicate that the environment, the water, and the air near the TVA plant have been contaminated, and fish pulled from the Tennessee, Clinch and Emory rivers are testing at dangerously high levels for selenium and other heavy metals.

The environment is destroyed.

Six months after the spill, families living near the TVA plant are still reeling. Their chronic health concerns include upper respiratory problems, asthma, ear infections, headaches, and nausea. Organizations monitoring the situation on the ground are reporting those, and more, health problems in people living as far as 10 miles away from Kingston: bleeding from the ears, vomiting, skin rashes, blisters, and polyps in the nose.

Many in the area fear that every day they're breathing in cancer-causing toxins. Many in the area are frightened about the future.

Now, it seems, 44 more communities like the ones in eastern Tennessee also hang in the balance.

June 13th, 2009
08:24 AM ET

The new flu: another pandemic facing the poor

Craig Jaggers
World Vision U.S.
Policy adviser for global health

The World Health Organization has made it official. The United Nations’ health agency raised its alert to the highest level for the new H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic yesterday, citing its spread and unknown potential for greater harm, while top health officials highlighted troubling questions for the world’s poor compared with wealthier nations:

“It is prudent to anticipate a bleaker picture as the virus spreads to areas with limited resources, poor health care, and a high prevalence of underlying medical problems,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in the announcement.

Pandemics are not new to the billions of people in impoverished countries where AIDS, malaria and other diseases are already taking millions of lives each year. The onslaught of a new health threat in many of these places looms like the next massive wave on a stormy beach, threatening another body-slam against large populations already struggling for footing.


Filed under: 360° Q & A • 360° Radar • H1N1 • Health Care • Medical News
June 13th, 2009
08:17 AM ET

Dear President Obama #145: Rabies and the family tree

Reporter's Note: I am writing a letter every day to the White House. I started on Inauguration Day and have not missed a one since. Probably I could be helped with some sort of medication.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/HEALTH/03/12/angola.rabies/art3.irin.angola.jpg caption="Rabies is a disease transmitted from animals with infected saliva to humans. "]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I had a great, great uncle who died of rabies. Why I am telling this to you, I can’t even say, it’s just that the news today is not lighting me up and my mother and I had a fascinating talk on the phone about this old bit of family lore.

His name was William Perry Free, and he came from her side of the family. (BTW, he was the first William Perry Free. There was another one later on. Just for the record.) My dad’s side came from Chicago; hard core German-Irish. But my mom’s people came from the red dirt roads of the very Deep South, knowing little about their heritage, and not caring much about it for that matter, as they struggled to raise the three C’s: cane, corn, and cotton. My mother tells me stories now and then about dragging the long cotton sacks through the fields, her fingers bleeding from the sharp edges of the bolls.

In any event, no one knows how Great, Great Uncle William came to be infected, but it was certainly a great trauma to the whole community. Even I recall the near panic with which adults greeted even a hint of rabies in any animal when I was a child and we would visit Alabama. Bats, cats, dogs, raccoons, possums, and especially skunks and foxes were always viewed with a wary eye if they behaved oddly. The mere appearance of the nocturnal wild kin in broad daylight was enough to send someone scurrying for a shotgun. Remember the scene with the rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird? The author, Harper Lee, grew up just thirty miles from my mother and around the same time. She still lives there, as a point of interest.


June 13th, 2009
08:00 AM ET

Split decision

Editor’s Note: You can read more Jami Floyd blogs on
In Session.”

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/12/rockefeller-guilty-exits.jpg caption="Christian Gerhartsreiter walks out of courtroom in handcuffs after guilty verdict."]

Jami Floyd
AC360° Contributor
In Session Anchor

Finally, a verdict in the so called “fake Rockefeller” case. After 26 hours and 27 minutes of deliberations over five days, a Boston, Massachusetts jury found Christian Gerhartsreiter guilty of kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon, but not guilty of simple assault or furnishing a false identity to law enforcement.

The split decision helps us to understand what took the jury so long to reach its verdict. Put simply, the case wasn’t as simple as it seemed.

First of all, it is not a crime to call yourself a Rockefeller or a Kennedy or anything else for that matter. It only became a crime here when Christian Gerhartsreiter gave the name “Clark Rockefeller” to police. The more serious charge, of course, was kidnapping; and while kidnapping is of course a crime, it was understandably difficult to convict a man for kidnapping his own child.

That leaves the assault and battery with a deadly weapon; and that’s where Gerhartsreiter really ran into trouble because, as relatively benign as this case seems, as compared to all the rapes and murders we cover on cable, there is a real victim here: Howard Yaffee, the social worker who took it on the chin to protect his charge — little Snook’s, the child at the center of this mess.


Filed under: 360° Radar
June 13th, 2009
07:48 AM ET

America's High: The case for and against pot

Randi Kaye visits a marijuana garden where 7,000 plants were taken down that day - that's a street value of about $500,000.

Editor's Note: Starting on Monday we'll be taking a close look at marijuana and its use in the United States. Is there a case for legalization? We traveled around the country, met with people on all sides of the issue, walked through medical marijuana dispensaries and got a clear idea of the different kinds of marijuana out there.

And what about using marijuana for medical purposes? Hear Melissa Etheridge's take on the issue. She says it helped her through her battle with cancer. But there's the other side too. We will speak to a 34-year-old teacher who is bi-polar who used marijuana for treatment but says it ruined her life. She tells Randi Kaye why she thinks marijuana is addictive and how she says the drug nearly killed her.

Tune in for the AC360° special report, 'America's High: The case for and against pot,' starting Monday at 10 p.m. ET. What do you think about the issue? Post your questions and we'll try to answer them this week.

Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Marijuana • Randi Kaye • T1
June 13th, 2009
05:52 AM ET

Ahmadinejad wins landslide in disputed election

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/13/iran.election/art.iran.candidates.afp.jpg caption="Candidates, clockwise, are: Moshen Rezaie, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karrubi."]


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has won a landslide election victory despite protests by his main challenger of "blatant violations."

Ahmadinejad won 62.63 percent of the vote while chief rival Mir Hossein Moussavi received 33.75 percent, the Iranian government said Saturday.

Before the final results were announced Moussavi addressed the people of Iran in a sharply worded letter. "I recommend to the authorities that before it is late to stop this process immediately, and to return to the path of the rule of law and the holding of the public trust through the votes of the people," he said.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, called the voters' turnout a show of Iran's "pride" and "honor."

Sadeq Mahsouli, the country's interior minister, on Saturday lauded the "unprecedented" turnout. He had said 70 percent of 46 million eligible voters had gone to the polls. Turnout could have been as 80 percent of eligible voters, Iran's poll chief said.

Keep Reading...

Filed under: 360° Radar • Iran