Buzzworm news briefs

Cooling off the elderly

It’s only June and already the temperatures are exceeding 80 degrees on a regular basis. We all feel the heat and humidity, but the elderly are particularly vulnerable to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Fortunately, Operation Fan-Heat Relief is now underway across North Carolina. Managed through the Division of Aging and Adult Services (in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services), this special project provides free fans — and in some cases free air-conditioning units — to low-income adults aged 60 or older.

Buncombe County’s Council on Aging now has fans available, as well as a limited number of air-conditioning units for those residents with a critical illness or respiratory problem that can be verified by a doctor’s note.

For more information, call Kate Brockett with the Council on Aging at 258-8027 or Reggie Durham with the Division of Aging at (919) 733-0440.

— Lisa Watters

Fish needed for mercury study

According to Phillip Gibson, RiverLink’s French Broad Riverkeeper, over 12 million acres of lakes in the United States (30 percent) and 453,000 miles of rivers show some level of mercury contamination.

Gibson is beginning a study of the levels of mercury in fish found in the streams and lakes of the French Broad River watershed. He is seeking fishermen who will catch and send in the following fish for testing: trout, muskie, small-mouth bass, large-mouth bass, catfish, sturgeon and bluegill. Gibson is seeking samples from Rosman to Knoxville, in lakes, streams and the main stem of the French Broad River. Any costs incurred in catching, purchasing and shipping fish for testing will be reimbursed, he notes.

Analysis of samples will be conducted by UNCA’s Environmental Quality Institute. Dr. Rick Mass and Dr. Steve Patch, co-directors of the Institute, have designed a testing program to determine the mercury content of the fish and a source analysis to determine where this mercury is coming from.

RiverLink’s local effort is part of the North American mercury campaign of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an umbrella organization for more than 100 local riverkeeper programs in the United States and Canada. All the fish collected throughout the U.S. and Canada for this campaign will be analyzed in Asheville by the Institute, allowing the UNCA-based effort to play the key role in determining the extent of mercury contamination in the two countries.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health have concluded that mercury poisoning can cause severe damage to humans and the environment, notes Gibson.

“Mercury has rapidly become one of the major environmental concerns of today,” he says. “Currently, 45 states have mercury-contamination advisories in effect [for] fish, compared with 27 states a decade ago.”

A 2003 study for CDC indicates that 8 percent of women of childbearing age in the United States have mercury levels considered unsafe, putting more than 630,000 American children born each year at higher risk of adverse health effects due to mercury exposure.

According to the CDC Web site, “The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury. … Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.”

Very young children are especially sensitive to mercury, the Web site notes. “Mercury in the mother’s body passes to the fetus and may accumulate there. It can also pass to a nursing infant through breast milk. However, the benefits of breast-feeding may be greater than the possible adverse effects of mercury in breast milk. Mercury’s harmful effects that may be passed from the mother to the fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, incoordination, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak. Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems of their nervous and digestive systems, and kidney damage.”

If you are interested in participating in this study, call Phillip Gibson at 252-8474 ext. 114 or visit

— Lisa Watters

Lipstick on collar, Cohencidents returns to Xpress

After a two-year separation, the droll humor of local cartoonist David Cohen is returning to Mountain Xpress.

The Asheville High grad (who lives in the Newfound part of Leicester) comes back this week to present Cohencidents after a lengthy flirtation with another Asheville newspaper.

Prior to all this, the serenely off-kilter cartoon ran for years in Green Line, the monthly predecessor of Xpress. That gig was followed by an eight-year relationship with this publication, recalls Cohen. Then came his dalliance with the Asheville Citizen-Times.

With so many years as a cartoonist, why does he keep doing it?

“I keep doing ‘it’ because I have to,” explains Cohen. “Besides being a musician, this is what I do. It’s how I express myself. It has taken years to be at the place I am now.”

For Cohen, that place includes publication in national magazines and newspapers, syndication (back in the ’80s) and deriving a good part of his income over the past 20 years from his cartooning.

Not prone to idleness, Cohen also performs in four (count ’em) bands: Braidstream (New Age and baroque), The Patrick Boland Brew (jazz), The Faux Four (Beatles covers) and David Holt and The Lightning Bolts (old-time and Appalachian).

For now, Cohencidents will alternate weeks with the oddly appealing Clip-Clop; both will appear in Xpress‘ Marketplace pages. Xpress‘ political cartoons — Molton, the City and This Modern World – will remain in place.

“I am happy to be back in the X — I think that the readership is a little more attuned to my style, perhaps, than the general readership of the C-T,” Cohen suggests.

That said, we’ll forgive him for straying. But just this once.

[Have an opinion about our cartoon selection? E-mail your views to for possible publication. Can’t get enough of Cohencidents? Check out]

— Tracy Rose

Urban planner Dom Nozzi to speak at Sierra Club

Author and planner Dom Nozzi speaks tomorrow, June 24, as the guest of the Sierra Club’s local WENOCA chapter.

Nozzi is senior long-range planner for Gainesville, Fla., where he developed the future-land-use, urban-design and transportation elements of the city’s most recent comprehensive plan. He was also the lead designer for Gainesville’s 26-mile greenway trail system.

His book, Road to Ruin, published last year, ties together the causes of urban sprawl, traffic congestion and declining quality of life with the struggles to establish effective environmental conservation.

Nozzi is a former planner and growth-management specialist for Boulder, Colo.

The Sierra program tomorrow is free and open to the public. It begins at 7 p.m., at the Unitarian Church on Charlotte Street. For further information, call 645-8917.

Can’t go? Check out Nozzi’s urban design Web site,, which provides essays, ordinances and other urban design references and tools.

— Nelda Holder

WCU students outperform Dow

The next time you have some extra money to invest, you might do well to check in with the great minds at Western Carolina University — the students, that is.

A group of WCU business students participating in a financial-investment competition sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority has outperformed both the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500.

The students earned better than a 27 percent return on investment for 2003 (compared to 21.4 percent for the Dow Jones and 22.32 percent for the S&P 500), reports associate professor Grace Allen, who’s been working with the group.

The TVA provides $400,000 apiece to 25 colleges and universities in the region for students to invest in the stock market so they can get some real-world experience in financial management.

“Our students act as real money managers,” notes Allen. “And we’re not talking Monopoly money — these are real dollars they are dealing with.”

Students spend the fall semester analyzing companies, industries and the economy, working with a support team of investment professionals. After they select a stock portfolio, another group of students spends the spring semester tracking industries and trends, re-evaluating the portfolio, and analyzing potential new stocks to buy.

Although the students don’t get to keep the $400,000 or any return on investments, they do compete for a share of $30,000 in prize money, with additional prizes for teams with the best performance over time.

For more information, visit

— Lisa Watters

Locked up for “good”

A couple of months ago, it looked like my past had finally caught up with me. I got a call from a very nice lady telling me there was a warrant out for my arrest. Fortunately, she turned out to be a volunteer with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the charge was “aiding and abetting MDA with the intent of helping area residents with Muscular Dystrophy.”

Apparently, a friend of mine had nominated me to be a jailbird for the semiannual MDA Lock-Up. I never did find out who this “friend” was (she elected to enter the MDA’s witness-protection program), but I was told to raise “bail” (donations) to bring with me on the day I was “arrested.” And since nobody likes to go to jail alone, I also nominated two “accomplices,” who had to raise their own bail.

June 3 was our incarceration date; a few days beforehand, I began asking co-workers and friends to help me raise some bail money (a good way to find out who’d like to see you behind bars). On the day of reckoning, a “deputy” (volunteer Anne Smith of Elite Limousine) equipped with handcuffs came to get me. After a brief struggle (to get my jacket on), she accompanied me to her patrol car (a plush limo, actually) and off we drove with my accomplices to the MDA’s “Maximum-Appreciation Facility” at the Grove Park Inn.

Once there, we appeared before a judge to be “booked,” had our fingerprints and mug shots taken, were invited to sample the jailhouse grub (fruit, pastries and other refreshments), and were each given a cell phone we could use to make last-minute pleas for more bail money (from the clink, so to speak). Plenty of other folks from the community were there, also busily talking into phones and pleading their cases. After an hour of serving time, we posted bail and our cases were dismissed. Another nice deputy gave us a ride back to our offices and our brush with the law was finally over.

All told, the June 3 MDA Lock-Up raised $65,000. Of each dollar raised, 76 cents will help fund clinics, support groups, a summer camp for kids, and orthopedic equipment for local people.

The event was sponsored by: the Grove Park Inn, Prestige Suzuki/Subaru, Land Rover of Asheville, Special Occasions Limousine, Elite Limousine, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, Anderson Nissan, Asheville Dodge, and the Asheville Police and Fire departments.

To participate in next year’s Lock-Up — or to nominate a friend (heh, heh) — call 254-8919.

— Lisa Watters

Desperately seeking volunteers

For people who depend on volunteers, summer is not necessarily the time when the living is easy. Volunteers go on vacations, too, and finding enough folks to donate their time can be a challenge.

At the nonprofit Meals on Wheels of Buncombe County, staffers are scrambling both for long-term volunteers to deliver meals one morning a week and for folks willing to substitute when a regular volunteer can’t make it.

“In 10 years, I’ve never seen it this bad,” laments Meals on Wheels PR Director Terry Winger.

About 30 volunteers are needed immediately, says Winger. Volunteers receive on-the-job training, and most routes take an hour-and-a-half to complete.

Volunteers are especially needed to make deliveries in the following areas: Erwin Hills, Candler (particularly the community’s west side), Leicester, Haw Creek, Black Mountain, Swannanoa and the Aston Park Apartments.

Meals on Wheels of Buncombe County provides hot meals and other services to 450 homebound and elderly clients each week. To qualify, meal recipients must be unable to drive or cook for themselves. The organization depends largely on private donations to fund its programs.

For more information, call Volunteer Coordinator Keith Byrom at 253-5286.

— Tracy Rose


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