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Hunger Was A Problem Before The Pandemic, And It's Getting Worse

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Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA
Hunger is up 42% since 2018. Dawn Plummer from the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council says among those going hungry, children are the most affected.

On today's program: More people are facing food insecurity, but Dawn Plummer at the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council says some pandemic relief programs are helping and should continue; brine wastewater from fracking can flow elsewhere, even after being injected back into the ground, which is troubling to some; and the Pittsburgh Poison Center is celebrating Mr. Yuk’s 50th birthday in a year when poisonings from sanitizer and cleaning products are on the rise. 

Hunger is rising, but some pandemic relief programs have helped
(0:00 — 7:05) 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the plan by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to distribute $1 billion to help feed Pennsylvania families with school-aged children.

Many of those kids would have received free and reduced-price lunch from school, but with so many students learning from home, parents have been shouldering the cost. 

While hunger existed before the pandemic, the need for access to quality, affordable food was brought into the spotlight. 

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on hunger and food insecurity in our region. The rate is now up to 15.4%, which is a 42% increase from the recent estimates in 2018,” says Dawn Plummer, executive director of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council.

Those rates are much higher for children, says Plummer. 

“There have been Pandemic EBT funds distributed to families which has helped to fill that gap, but I think that school piece is really central to the rise of food insecurity among children.”

Plummer says addressing hunger requires more than just putting food in people’s hands. It calls for a consideration of the food production and economic systems, as well as the larger issue of poverty.  

“One of the things that the pandemic has really unearthed are the chronic rates of poverty and precarity that we have across the country,” says Plummer. “We like to believe that we’re sort of a middle class kind of nation but in the reality of it, the pandemic has revealed how many of us are so very close to falling into poverty.”

The salty wastewater from fracking may be moving underground
(7:11 — 11:44) 

Each gas well that’s fracked produces millions of gallons of salty wastewater. Often that brine is injected into disposal wells deep underground, but it doesn’t always stay put

The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant takes a look at why.

Mr. Yuk celebrates 50 years of poison prevention
(11:49 — 18:0o) 

Fifty years ago, an ugly, menacing sticker appeared on household products. “Mr. Yuk” warns young children household products are dangerous and not for consumption. 

Mr. Yuk came from the Pittsburgh Poison Center, and the center is marking his 50th birthday this week.

“The role of poison centers certainly was to respond and make sure we provided the best care possible, but our real goal, as in medicine in general is to prevent illness and injury, and that is really the foundation of Mr. Yuk,” says Dr. Michael Lynch, medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center. 

Dr. Richard Moriarty created the green, grimacing Mr. Yuk character, who now adorns millions of stickers, magnets, and other materials the center annually distributes.

Lynch says poison threats have changed over the years as more information comes out about the danger and safety of materials, as well as other medications and drugs. He says some materials have become safer in the makeup of products themselves, while child-proof packaging has also helped deter and prevent poisoning. 

This year has been a particularly busy one for the Poison Center.

“From March 1 2020 to the end of February of this year, compared to the year before that, we saw 65% increase in calls related to hand sanitizer exposures and an almost 50% increase in calls related to things like bleach and cleansers and other household disinfectants,” says Lynch.  

Lynch says a big portion of the center’s work is not just preventing poisonings but also helping parents educate kids. “If you’re not sure, you can always call a poison center and ask, you don’t have to be poisoned.”

“That was actually a lot of the impetus for Mr. Yuk, not just as a stop sign so to speak, something to scare you away, but an interesting image and figure that could be used as an educational tool when you go to sit down with your kids and talk about what poisons are,” says Lynch. “Use the Mr. Yuk in that frame and then when they see it later, they know what it means.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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