West Virginia Water Crisis Ongoing
No doubt you’ve heard that here in Central West Virginia, on Thursday, January 9, 7,500 gallons of a chemical used by coal prep plants leaked from a storage tank into the Elk River, about 1.5 miles upstream of a municipal water supply intake. The leak was discovered that morning, but it wasn’t until that afternoon, about ten hours later, that West Virginia American Water Company issued a "do not use" order to 300,000 people in nine counties.
Of course, not everyone immediately heard that they were supposed to avoid all uses of their household water, except for flushing the toilet and putting out fires. Reports vary, but it seems the poison control center received around 1,000 calls, more than 100 people sought treatment, and perhaps less than ten people were hospitalized.
A chemical smell pervaded the area, and lingers still, in both the air and the water. Schools, businesses and some government agencies shut down. Hospitals cancelled scheduled procedures and scrambled to take care of admitted patients.
Today, schools in four counties are still shuttered, and, as of this morning, water had been "restored" for only one-third of the water company's customers. So, many folks still can't use their tap water to drink, cook, bathe or wash dishes or clothes.
Even in areas where people have followed procedures to flush their water lines and tanks, and authorities have given the go ahead to resume using water, people are still worried about using their water. There are reports of odors, bubbling, strange colors and more illnesses.
Although government aid workers are getting bottled water to some central distribution points, such as local fire departments, there are shuts-ins, elderly and folks in rural areas who are still in dire need of it.
That's why volunteers and organizers working with Aurora Lights, Coal River Mountain Watch, Keeper of the Mountains, RAMPS and OVEC have been out every day since the leak, delivering water in smaller communities.
OVEC organizer Dustin White posted on his Facebook page last night, “Another day, and more water given away in an impacted community. Fulfilling and exhausting. Many people hugged us and thanked us repeatedly. The highlight for me today was the three little boys that wandered by and left with three jugs, one gallon each. They looked so happy as they ran down the lane in Nellis, taking their water back home.”
At the end of his post, Dustin shared words he learned working with folks at Black Mesa on the Navajo reservation: “Tó éí 'iiná até. Water is life.”
If you need water or can help donate and transport water, please post to the WV Clean Water Hub, a Facebook set up to help community members help one another.
We anticipate that the need for water will continue for quite some time. Our organizer Maria Gunnoe has been delivering water to people without cars, sick folks, the elderly and others who have not been able to get out and find it. As usual, folks with the least means are having the hardest times. She notes that Boone County still has not been assigned a zone (for flushing lines and tanks) and will likely be one of the last areas to have the water-use ban lifted. Yup, folks who are already breathing toxic dust from mountaintop removal blasting will be waiting longer than many others for their water.
Even once everyone gets an official okay to use their water (arbitrarily deemed safe?), many are not going to want to drink or cook for quite some time. Would you?
Keepers of the Mountains has set up a donation page on which any donation with a “water” designation will be distributed to the above-mentioned groups, to cover the costs of water and its transport to the needed areas.
You can also make donations to help out service workers and other community members whose places of employment were shut down for days because of the water contamination. Donate at the United Way of Central WV's website by clicking on the West Virginia Emergency Fund link.
Note that we have been updating our website frequently with news about the chemical leak and water crisis. Go to our news page and in the drop-down menu, select the "SSP" category, then press "search" to see all the links to news stories. Our Facebook page and Twitter account are also updated often. Please follow us.
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Welcome to Our World
The chemical poisoning the water is 4-methlycyclohexane methanol, used in coal prep plants. We bet you can say that and even memorize it. Sadly, the head of the WV Department of Environmental Protection, Randy Huffman, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “I can’t pronounce the chemical name. It’s MH, MCMH, it’s something like that.”
From conversations several of us have had, it is obvious that more than one person — sickened by the poisoning of well water from the underground injection of coal prep plant waste, worried about the dangers of coal sludge dams and clamoring to regulators and politicians for relief — couldn’t help but think something along the lines of, "Welcome to my world." Unfortunately, 4-methlycyclohexane methanol is just one of dozens of chemicals used in coal prep plants.
OVEC members and supporters well know that the poisoning of our water by the coal industry has been going on for a long, long time, as has the failure of the DEP to do anything about it. The WV CARE campaign is working on holding our regulators accountable, so please be certain to sign this petition if you haven’t already.
West Virginia’s politicians are working hard to distance the coal industry from this leak, even though the chemical was stored here for use in coal prep plants. Another thing we can’t help thinking: These politicians must have gone over talking points directly with coal industry lobbyists.
The National Mining Association’s Luke Popovich, is quoted in the Fiscal Times as saying, “This was a leak at a chemical facility, not a coal facility.”
The Charleston Gazette quoted Governor Earl Ray Tomblin at a Saturday press briefing, “This was not a coal company incident. This was a chemical company incident.”
And the next night, the governor said it again, “This was not a coal company, this was a chemical supplier, where the leak occurred. As far as I know there was no coal company within miles.”
The Charleston Gazette today reports that in phone conversations with Senator Joe Manchin and Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and Nick Joe Rahall, all three lawmakers took pains to distance the chemical that spilled — which is used to process coal — from the state's coal industry.
The night before the leak, in his State of the State address
Tomblin was dissing regulations: “I will never back down from the EPA because of its misguided policies on coal.”
Because of the lack of enforcement of regulations already on the books, for decades West Virginians living near coal prep plants and coal mining activity have lacked access to clean drinking water. Some of the communities in the nine counties affected by the chemical leak were hooked into the centralized water source because area well water has been compromised by coal mining activities. Other communities have been clamoring for better protections from the dangers of the chemical industry.
For the health and well being of all West Virginians, it’s (way past) time for the governor, legislators and regulators to start enforcing regulations already on the book, such as those in the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
What will the governor do to ensure that this never happens again?
If you are on Twitter, you can reach him at @GovTomblin, or you can e-mail him from this page.
While you are at your computer, you may also want to check in with the EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (assorted ways to contact her listed here) and the Center for Disease Control (email@example.com) to ask officials at these agencies to be more open with the press.
The Charleston Gazette reports, “The EPA sent a prepared statement saying it was helping the state but has not responded to repeated interview requests. The CDC has not responded to repeated requests for comment regarding how they arrived at the threshold of 1 part per million of Crude MCHM, the chemical that leaked, being a safe level for drinking water.”
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Vigil for Clean Water - Save the Date
To express our heartbreak and rage over this incident, to express our intense desire to protect water as if our lives depend on it (oh, hey, they do!), to demand accountability and protection from regulators and officials, multiple groups are working together to plan a vigil next week in Charleston. It will most likely be held Tuesday, January 21, at 6:30 p.m. at the WV State Capitol grounds, on the side closest to the river. We'll share more details as soon as we finalize them. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for instant updates. Do save the date (subject to change) and let your friends and neighbors know a vigil is in the works.
Anyone interested in helping to make signs for the vigil, please reply to this e-mail.
A reminder to check our online calendar for upcoming events, such as tonight's WV Environmental Council's Legislative Kickoff Blast Benefit, starting at 6 p.m. at the Little India Restaurant (upstairs bar), on Washington Street East. Live music provided by Mike Pushkin, Chet Lowther and others. Suggested donation of $10 / $20 or whatever you can afford.
Coming up Monday, January 20:Cabell Huntington NAACP's Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial March. People will gather at 4 p.m. at Young Chapel, AME Church, 836 18th Street, Huntington, WV for the march which begins at 4:30 p.m. The march will proceed to First Baptist Church, at 801 6th Avenue. T he program after the march will include a film. MLK Was a Revolutionary, Not Just a Dreamer.
If you have an event you'd like to submit for possible inclusion on our calendar, please e-mail details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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