Campus News

UK Professor to Survey Martin County

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 13, 2011) — University of Kentucky sociology Professor Shaunna Scott, with support from UK's Appalachian Center, will lead a team of student researchers from around the world to Martin County, Ky., to follow up on a 2001 study of risk perceptions after a 2000 coal slurry spill in the region. Surveys will be distributed to randomly selected houses in the Coldwater and Wolf Creek areas Friday, June 3 through Sunday, June 5, and collected Friday, June 10 through Sunday, June 12.

"This study is important because there’s not enough research on the long-term impacts of disasters on communities," said Scott.

Over 10 years ago, a coal waste reservoir breached and unleashed over 300 million gallons of coal slurry into the Wolf and Coldwater Creek areas of Martin County.

After the spill, a team of students and faculty from UK and Eastern Kentucky University researched the impacts of the disaster on residents' institutional trust, community relations, perceptions of risk and safety and opinions of the safety of the environment and water. The team conducted the same survey in Perry County for comparison.

Researchers found that those living in Martin County had higher perceptions of risk and lower levels of institutional trust than those from Perry County. Martin County respondents were also much more concerned about the quality of public drinking water than those in Perry County. This was not surprising to the team, because Martin County had just experienced a disaster that could have negatively affected the safety and quality of their drinking water.

Scott and the Appalachian Center believe that it is important to return to Martin County to see if there have been any long-term impacts of the disaster on the community and on the feelings about the quality and safety of residents' environment and water.

"When we conducted the original research, Martin Countians noted that the spill had received comparatively little media and political attention compared to other disasters, such as the Exxon-Valdez oil tanker spill," said Scott. "As Kentucky citizens and neighbors of Martin County, we are committed to seeing that the Martin County disaster is not ignored or forgotten by others."

Scott emphasized that the team is composed of student researchers from all over the world. This is important, she believes, because the long-term impacts of disasters are of global concern in the wake of the Japan tsunami, the Alabama tornadoes and the current Mississippi flooding.

Anyone living at a chosen residence, 18 or older, may complete the survey. The surveys take 20-30 minutes to complete. Respondents will be compensated for their time.

The UK Appalachian Center addresses the issues, challenges and opportunities of Appalachia by building robust partnerships and networks throughout the region.

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin Holaday Ziegler, (859) 257-1754, ext. 252;