The remarks below opened our January 7, 2015 tele-press conference.
You can listen to a streaming audio replay of the tele-press conference here.
January 9 marks the one year anniversary of the massive contamination of the municipal water supply of more than 300,000 people in West Virginia, including the capital city, Charleston. Thousands of gallons of crude MCHM and other coal-cleaning chemicals leaked from Freedom Industries’ tank farm along the Elk River, a mile and a half upstream from WV American Water Company’ intake.
Early in the day, a sickening licorice smell began wafting out of water taps and hospitals reported an influx of people with rashes, nausea and other complaints after exposure to tainted water. By early evening, WV Governor Tomblin issued a do not use order, declaring that tap water be used only for flushing or putting out fires.
To complicate matters neither the water company nor state environmental agencies had the ability to measure the chemicals’ levels in the water and had scant information regarding short or long-term effects on human health. Chaos ensued at local stores as citizens emptied the shelves of bottled water.
The National Guard and local nonprofit groups, including OVEC, worked non-stop for days to get bottled water and other supplies to people. A week after the leak, the Centers for Disease Control advised pregnant women to avoid using the water until MCHM was no longer detected.
William Cooper, a program director at the National Science Foundation, dubbed the spill “one of the largest human-made environmental disasters in this century.”
While this water crisis was extremely frightening, it served to galvanize a broad range of citizen groups who pressured state lawmakers to pass a first-ever above-ground storage tank bill. Also with public pressure, the state’s Public Service Commission agreed to investigate the water company’s emergency response to the incident. Since last January, Freedom Industries has filed for bankruptcy, several of its owners and operators have been indicted on federal charges, the tank farm has been disassembled, and WV American Water Company has changed the filters in its system—all steps to help protect the state’s water supplies.
Citizen groups, many who currently participate in the West Virginia Safe Water Roundtable, including OVEC, still have concerns about the long-term safety of our water supply.