Tag Archives: tompkins

Report looks at oil-spill fallout for children, families

As the gulf oil spill dragged on, coverage of its psychological and economic aftermath gained momentum. Now, Poynter’s Al Tompkins has spotlighted coverage of what is sure to be a flood of follow-up reports and post-mortems. Based on research conducted from July 19 through 25 (the well has been effectively capped since July 15), the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University has released its “Impact on Children and Families of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” subtitled “Preliminary Findings of the Coastal Population Impact Study.”


Photo by kk+ via Flickr

As Tompkins points out, the study has already pulled in significant media coverage. Shaila Dewan’s story in The New York Times, for example, covered both specifics and context:

“There’s been a very overt effort by BP and the Coast Guard to project a sense that the crisis is over, but this is far from the case,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the center and president of the Children’s Health Fund, a sponsor of the survey. “Our survey shows a persistent and overwhelming level of anxiety among families living near the coast, driven by both medical symptoms in their children as well as a substantial level of psychological stress.”

The survey included 1,200 coastal residents in Louisiana and Mississippi, most of whom live within 10 miles of the ocean.

One in five reported that their household income had dropped since the spill. Forty-three percent said they had been directly exposed to oil, either at beaches, on their property or in helping with the cleanup. Those who had been exposed were more than twice as likely to report that their children had developed physical or mental health problems since the spill. Also, families that had more concerns about their children’s mental health were more likely to report that they are considering moving.


Reports on cold-weather morbidity, mortality

Always one to stay on top of the latest news trends, Poynter’s Al Tompkins takes on the extremely cold weather much of the nation has been experiencing. Tompkins includes some relevant studies and data sets from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, in a bulleted list at the very end. Here, we’ll take a slightly deeper look at some of Tompkins’ selections.

Carbon Monoxide Poisonings Associated with Snow-Obstructed Vehicle Exhaust Systems — Philadelphia and New York City, January 1996 (MMWR 1996; 45(01);1-3.)

According to the review, “Most of these poisonings occurred among children and elderly persons and resulted from exposures in idling automobiles with exhaust pipes blocked by snow.” During one two-day stretch, 21 people who had been found unconscious in running cars were brought to the Jacobi Medical Center in New York. In that spirit, the investigators look at the individual cases of a 4-year-old girl (left in the car because her family thought she was napping), and two older men. In all cases, their primary mistake seems to have been in starting cars surrounded by deep snow without making any attempt to remove the snow first.


Photo by Buzz Hoffman via Flickr

Snow-Blower Injuries — Colorado, New York (MMWR 1983;32(6):77-78.)

The takeaway from this article? Using your hands to clear a snowblower’s clogged exit chute is probably not a good idea.

Public Health Impact of a Snow Disaster (MMWR 1982;31(51):695-696.)

A review of studies related to 1978 storm in New England found that, during the blizzard, mortality rates didn’t increase significantly (though a third of the deaths that did happen were classified as storm-related), and that emergency room visits declined to less than half their normal levels. Hospitals also had supply problems because they could not discharge patients.

To solve these problems, the authors recommend that officials ask folks not to drive during storms (and to bring emergency supplies if they do), and to create a “rumor clearinghouse” to investigate reported hazards and outbreaks. They also suggest that overcrowded hospitals can use emergency vehicles to bring discharged patients home.

Unintentional Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Following a Winter Storm — Washington, January 1993 (MMWR 1993; 42(06);109-111.)

Most of the 44 patients studied were members of ethnic minority groups, and half didn’t speak English. In 65 percent of the cases, the cause was burning charcoal briquettes. All those incidents, the study noted, involved racial/ethnic minorities.

Work-Related Injuries Associated with Falls During Ice Storms, January 1994 — National Institutes of Health (MMWR 1995; 44(49);920-2.)

The review found that, during ice storm season, workers tend to fall outdoors more often than usual. Slightly more interesting is that the workers in this study were NIH employees on NIH campuses.

Tompkins: Don’t reward station for ethical breach

Al Tompkins, author of the Poynter Institute’s popular Al’s Morning Meeting blog, questions the Radio-Television News Directors Association’s decision to present a Maine TV station with an Edward R. Murrow award for a series based on a trip to China that was funded by the Maine Foundation for Cardiac Surgery.

In the case of WGME, the travel was not frivolous. It highlighted very good work being done by local doctors to save lives, and it was the type of story that could generate community support. The station said it could not have afforded to cover the story if it had to pay its own tab, but I don’t buy it.

In general, news organizations should not allow the phrase “In these tough economic times …” to become reason to bend ethical rules that have guided our craft through decades of good economic times.

Moreover, the national Edward R. Murrow contest should represent the peak of ethical behavior. If RTNDA does not enforce its code of ethics in its national contest, then it misses a key opportunity to say what the association stands for.