West Virginia’s recent chemical spill continues to make headlines, but residents say pollution and contamination are nothing new for this coal and chemical-dependent state.
As these thoughts flashed through my head at 100 miles per hour, I overheard the sweet cashier remind her boss that people were continuing to ask about the coffee shop’s water source. At first her boss explained their machinery to her. He described the filtration system and hot temperatures that the water was raised to before dispensing, but then he followed by saying this: “We are not going to change our life because of the Water Company”…
West Virginia schools and restaurants closed, grocery stores sold out of bottled water, and state legislators who had just started their session canceled the day’s business after a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston shut down much of the city and surrounding counties even as the cause and extent of the incident remained unclear.
The federal government joined the state early Friday in declaring a disaster, and the West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency-service agencies in the nine affected counties.
Shortly after the Thursday-night chemical spill from Freedom Industries hit the river and a nearby treatment plant, a licorice-like smell enveloped parts of the city. Thursday night, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for the affected counties and advised residents not to drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes in the water and to use it only for flushing.
Photo: Tyler Evert/AP
This is what I (and, you know, 300,000 others) have been dealing with the last couple of days.
There might be a chemical/coal/West Virginia/future rant in the near future.
I got the news about the chemical spill last night from my sister, who cannot drink water or bathe right now. I have many friends and family members in the same. And I am so so angry. But I can’t say that I’m surprised.
Big Coal has been poisoning the water and the land of Appalachia for years. And it has to stop. These companies MUST be held accountable to the people of West Virginia. Please sign this petition.
Read more about the spill here.
On a slightly more positive note, the company responsible for the leak, Freedom Industries, has been issued a Cease Operations Order by the WV Dept. of Environmental Protection. Of course this doesn’t mean they will get shut down. These companies never do. But it will at least slow them down for a while.
I’ve worked with so many activist group throughout the years (since 2007, actually) that are against coal.
What people don’t realize about WV is the fact that our water, air and land is being constantly poisoned because of coal waste and chemicals used to clean and treat coal for burning, not to mention the mere burning of coal itself. The chemical leak on Thursday was just one of the biggest leaks we’ve had in recent years. Going all over the state to various towns and communities that surround coal plants is very eyeopening. Creeks and streams are being polluted with coal waste and coal chemicals. So are wells, which a lot of people in the state get their water from wells (especially in the more southern counties, which also have have a higher presence of the coal industry). Filters that are used with wells should last about a year, have to be replaced monthly due to the abundance of chemicals in their water.
While I can’t argue that coal offers West Virginians jobs in an otherwise lacking job market, it’s killing our families and our land… for profit. And the last time I checked, the argument that Big Coal employs a majority of West Virginians is false. Walmart, Kroger and CAMC (a hospital chain in the Kanawha valley) employ more people in WV than Big Coal. And that’s not combined, either. That’s separately. In a state that is inhabited by 1.8 million people, Big Coal only accounted for about 3% of the jobs in WV. People would have you assume that jobs in WV are dependent upon coal. Yes, losing 3% of jobs in one sitting would be fairly disastrous, but if coal is gradually shut down and other means of energy production are brought in, we could easily avoid losing that 3% of jobs and replace them with a more sustainable and safer means of energy.
People always compare the “glory” days of WV coal to today. Many years ago, the coal industry wasn’t exactly a leader in modern innovation, almost everything done had to have some sort of human element to it. People who don’t think like to attribute dwindling jobs in the coal industry to liberals, EPA regulations, the DEP, etc, etc. What they fail to realize is that the modernization of the coal industry happened and fewer and fewer bodies were required to produce coal. As with ANY industry, it’s more cost effective to “hire” machines than it is to hire people. If anyone is to blame for the dwindling numbers that coal employs, it’s the coal industry itself. The coal industry is one of the most dirtiest, corrupt and money hungry industries in the US.
Big Coal is—shocker—purely for profit. They have government officials in their dirty pockets, and have for years upon years. They have no consideration for the people impacted.
Very few people have heard of Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, WV. They plopped a MTR (mountain top removal) mine not even 400 yards uphill of Marsh Fork Elementary. Marsh Fork’s playground was literally the backyard to one of WV’s largest coal sludge impoundments, which holds 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge by a 385-foot earthen dam. I’ve visited the old Marsh Fork before and it was truly terrifying to see just how close it was to the children in that school.
Over the better part of a decade, protests and rallies formed, protesting the presence of this MTR site. In 2005, talks of a second coal silo at the site were underway, and while the DEP initially refused to allow the site to construct a new silo, Massey supporters and employees were able to successfully argue the economical benefits of the plant, and the WV Supreme Court ruled in favor of building the second silo in 2009. After years and years of peaceful protests, rallies and just down right begging to the state, a new, safer Marsh Fork Elementary broke ground in the latter part of 2011 and finally opened its doors for classes in January 2013.
Another slightly irking fact about “The Chemical Valley” is the fact that there’s a very alarming concentration of auto-immune diseases in the Kanawha area. I don’t know if anyone has stopped to think about it, but it does raise eyebrows that SO many people in the Kanawha area have auto-immune diseases. To put things into perspective, the Kanawha area is home to one of the world’s largest coal-burning power plants (The John Amos plant, located in Winfield and situated right along the Kanawha River), countless other chemical plants (Dow, DuPont, Clearon, FMC, etc) and coal mines.
While the MCHM leak at Freedom Industries is not a direct fault of the coal industry, the chemical MCHM is used to clean coal. This terrifying event is an excellent way to bring to light just what goes into the coal industry. A good way to bring to light just how many other areas have to deal with small leaks contaminating their water and air, daily. I don’t know how many times we’ve had shelter in place scares and small leaks. If you research just how many “mishaps” happen per year here, you’d be alarmed. Granted, not all of them are as monumental as the one on Thursday, but you still have to sit and wonder what all these spills and leaks and explosions are doing to the air we breathe, the water we drink, the ground our children play in.
Another good resource for this is the documentary The Last Mountain.
The water company still knows very little about the spill and the chemical involved.
On Thursday, an estimated 300,000 residents of nine counties in West Virginia were told they could not use or drink their tap water after a chemical used to wash coal of impurities spilled from a holding tank into the Elk River. The spill prompted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to declare a state of emergency, and 9-1-1 received more than 1,000 calls in the hours after a spill, with four or five people transported to the hospital by ambulance. According to theNational Library of Medicine, repeated or prolonged exposure to the chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, can “cause headaches, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and can also cause a skin rash.”
On Friday, West Virginia American Water Co. held a press conference to share what they knew so far about the spill. Unfortunately, they still don’t know much about the spill or the chemical involved.
1. No one knows when water will be safe to drink again. “I can’t ballpark it because I don’t know,” Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water Co. said at the conference. The entire water system will have to be flushed and tested, and though the Elk River was the water source immediately impacted by the spill, McIntyre said that the spill impacts the entire distribution of the water system — sending water to a total of 1,500 miles in the area.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said that he had hoped to find out a timeline for when residents could use their tap water again at the press conference.
“This has been devastating to the public at large and the people that live in our city,” he said. “The folks out there that just work every day and go to work and who are just regular citizens, they would like an end to this.”
2. No one knows when the leak started or how much has leaked into the Elk River. It was complaints of an odor coming from communities near the river that triggered city and county officials to investigate. They found the source of the spill at 4 p.m. Thursday, but had no way of knowing how long the chemical had been leaking. McIntyre also said he didn’t think the chemical was still leaking, but didn’t know the current status of the spill for sure. According to a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman, the state is “confident that no more than 5,000 gallons escaped,” but only knows that “a certain amount of that got into the river. Some of that was contained.”
3. The water company has had no contact with Freedom Industries, the company that manufactures the spilled chemical. According to McIntyre, the company provided no notice of the spill and hasn’t been in communication with the water company since.
4. There is no standard process for testing the toxicity of the spilled chemical in water. When the water company found out about the spill, it was originally told it was a different chemical than the 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol that had spilled into the water. But even when the company found out what the chemical was, it couldn’t answer many questions about it. “This not a chemical that’s typical to be in water treatment process,” McIntyre said during the press conference.
5. It’s unclear just how dangerous the diluted chemical is to drink or breathe.According to McIntyre, toxicologists have said that people would have to eat a large amount of the chemical to cause harm, but still, McIntyre said he didn’t know how the chemical had affected the safety of the water. “We don’t know that the water’s not safe, but I can’t say it is safe.” However, Kanawha County Deputy Emergency Services Director C.W. Sigman said during the press conference that the chemical is hazardous, which lines up with the National Library of Medicine information on the chemical.
6. The chemical may have leached into the soil. McIntyre said that when the containment in the chemical holding tank failed, the chemical traveled over land and into the Elk River. That could have caused some leaching, he said.
Smoky Mountain River Falls
That’s in Babcock state park, wv; not in the smokies.
Worddd. I love Babcock State Park, so much. It’s so beautiful — especially the mill.
Had a grand adventure in West Virginia
This is the view from the overlook. Very cliche picture here, I think just about every girl I went to high school with had this pic on IG or FB at some point, haha. The peninsula is West Virginia, but the land to the left of it across the river (Shenandoah) is Virginia, and I was in Maryland when I took the pic. Oooh, cool.
Jack Frost Nipping at Your Nose……..
New River Gorge Bridge WV
I can’t not reblog that bridge. I can’t wait to make Fayetteville my home.
Reasons for Admission to an Insane AsylumList of what could have gotten you admitted to West Virginia’s Hospital for the Insane (Weston) aka Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum back in the late-1800s.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is still open, but only for tours.
I can’t even pick a single favorite:
- Mental Excitement
- Tobacco & Masturbation
- Bad Whiskey
- Deranged Masturbation
- Sexual Derangement
- Seduction & Disappointment
- Novel Reading
- Shooting of Daughter (but not the son?)
This is where I live. How ‘bout you?
Morgantown, where even the trees know how to have a good time.