Marijuana, compressor station concerns discussed

STEUBENVILLE — As has been the case for about 20 months now, COVID-19 was a topic in one way or another for just about every department during Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Health.

A couple of new topics included a question raised by board member Terry Bell about a proposal to legalize marijuana in Ohio.

Bell asked Medical Director Dr. Mark Kissinger about his opinion on marijuana use, making reference to proposed legislation.

Last week, state Rep. Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville, backed the Ohio Adult-Use Act, which would legalize, tax and regulate cannabis in the state.

“I don’t see an upside, I don’t see how it’s going to benefit society,” Kissinger said in response. “I’m not condemning anyone who smokes marijuana, but I don’t know many super-productive people that smoke marijuana.”

Kissinger said there are “some significant risks” concerning the use of marijuana.

Dr. Patrick Macedonia, board president, said marijuana is a gateway drug.

During her report, WIC Director Stephanie Chester said she has noticed an increase in mothers who use cannabis, saying some even claim their doctor told them they could.

“With a lot of the decriminalization of marijuana, we’re really seeing an uptick in the number of moms who report marijuana use in pregnancy,” she said.

She said WIC offers treatment services that often are refused.

Bell also raised concerns about the Williams compressor station in Salem Township.

He said the environmental committee held a meeting and decided to hold a public meeting with residents, which every board member to speak on said was insightful.

“I found it very educational,” Henry said.

A small group of residents made the board members aware of health concerns they have which, they say, are caused by the station.

“This board learned an awful lot about what these people have to deal with on a daily basis coming from the compressor station,” Bell said.

“As a health department we should support them as much as we can,” board member Anthony Mougianis said, noting residents reported odor issues and tasting metals which they say are causing headaches and other side effects. “Being a voice, keeping the gas and oil industry accountable, I think that is our job.”

He noted the station is about seven miles from his home and pointed at the number of drilling sites and the overall impact of the gas and oil industry on the county.

“It affects our community, it’s all of us,” he said. “It’s concerning.”

Kissinger, Health Commissioner Andrew Henry and Nursing Director Hannah Piko each discussed the virus during their reports.

All three addressed the recent trend of cases starting to come back down after the county had experienced an uptick.

Henry urged the unvaccinated “not to wait until a wave of cases hits our county or wait until it hits close to home” to get the jab.

The county, he said, is hovering around a 50 percent vaccination rate.

The county, he said, is not practicing “mixing and matching” of vaccines for boosters and currently only eligible recipients of the Pfizer shots can get a third dose.

Last week, according to Henry, was the first time the county did not record 200 cases of the virus in a week since August.

Kissinger pointed out that of the 22 people currently in the hospital with the virus, 20 are unvaccinated.

He also discussed data regarding deaths by all cause per 100,000 people, pointing out Ohio is higher than the national average and Jefferson County, while not the highest in the state, is above the state average.

While he noted things like the county’s high number of elderly playing a role in that, he said factors such as smoking and other unhealthy habits common in the area are also a big factor.

He said that COVID statistically would be behind coronary artery disease and cancer in terms of cause of the death in the last year and half in Ohio.

“Yes, COVID is still important, but we have a lot of other things we need to work on as a society in order to improve health,” he said.

Macedonia said he would be curious to see a breakdown of how many people died with COVID or of COVID, stating he read a report that estimated COVID was only the main factor in about 20 percent of deaths reported on the virus total.

“If people are dying that have COVID, but they’re dying from other reasons, they’re all related to COVID deaths, and we lost sight of what those deaths are,” he said.

“So many of these people have underlying conditions that (COVID) would not have killed them if not for those conditions,” Kissinger said.

Also noteworthy:

• Henry announced a holiday fitness challenge the health department will conduct from Nov. 29 through Dec. 29 on Mondays and Thursdays at the MLK Center with free workout sessions with area fitness pros.

• A COVID vaccine clinic will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Oct. 29 on LaBelle Hill.

• The county will hold a drive-through flu shot clinic from 9 a.m. to noon on Nov. 5 at the Fort Steuben Mall.


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