Wednesday, January 15, 2014

CASE #396: West Virginia's Water Genocide

By Sabrina Samone


Over the past week a chemical leak of what is now known as Crude MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, has contaminated the water supply of over a half a million people in the Charleston West Virginia area.  According to Democraticunderground.com, Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the potentially deadly contamination, was formed conviently, two weeks ago before the massive leak of nearly 75,000 gallons of hazardous chemicals into the only water supply for nearly half a million people. Freedom industries is the product of a "recent" merger effective December 31, 2013, that combined Etowah; the facility where the leak occurred, Crete Technologies and Poca Blending, located in nearby Nitro. A predecessor company called Freedom Industries was formed in 1986, according to Bloomberg News. How the pieces of the newly formed mini-conglomerate fit together merits urgent inquiry, as does the question of whether there’s any connection between the corporate mash-up and the fateful opening of a one-inch hole that allowed a noxious chemical to escape.

Majority of the people of West Virginia, sadly have been programed to become accustomed to these types of environmental disasters. For most new transplants to the area, we are in panic mode to say the least. When I arrived two months ago this week, I was immediately astounded by the control big chemical and energy companies had on this Democratic state that prides itself on it's natural resources and beauty but their Republican mindset to fight the EPA and any regulations on these types of factories that would protect their treasured resources. The control of big Energy companies is seen daily, south West Virginia may possibly be one area in the country where the gas price NEVER changes. In most towns and cities in the country we are accustomed to prices fluctuating a few pennies here and there every few days or so. For two months I've seen the gas price in a 50 mile radius all display a 3.29/gallon price. I'm told by locals, this is the normal winter price and it only goes up during the summer months, then back to the more familiar and unchangeable 3.29/gallon.

According to a recent editorial in the Charleston Gazette; Hurrah for the feds, the columnist rightfully condemned the growing Republican powerhouse in the state for painting U.S. regulators as evil, saying that federal pollution laws suppress business. Now, with a near recent disaster that could have made 9/11 pale in comparison; leaders suddenly see the federal government as rescuers of the people of West Virginia. In case there is still a republican household in West Virginia, here is where you need reminding, that had the EPA been properly funded, this disaster could have been avoided. A disaster most scientists at the EPA are still saying is far from over. The people of West Virginia will be feeling the effects of this chemical, health wise, for many many years to come according Time magazine.

Their are major holes in chemical regulations in West Virginia and around the country according to Politico.com. According to Charleston Gazette;
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The only permit Freedom Industries appears to have had from the state Department of Environmental Protection is an industrial storm water permit, meant to cover runoff from the site.
The permit included no specific discharge limits for any chemicals, leaving it up to company "best management practices" with enforcement by DEP inspections. DEP officials, though, have said that -- prior to Thursday's leak -- the site hadn't been inspected since 1991.
Local citizens complain that state inspectors and agencies aren't aggressive enough, while local political leaders oppose a greater role for federal agencies, especially during the Obama administration.
But like DEP, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration hasn't exactly been all over Freedom Industries over the years. OSHA has never inspected the company, records show. And the EPA, while perhaps pushing for greater regulation of coal-fired power plant emissions, has remained far in the background in the Freedom Industries' situation, refusing to even give media interviews about any federal activities.
Most of West Virginia's representatives in Congress join with Democratic Governor Tomblin in their harsh criticism of federal environmental policies, and even when they appear to take a leadership role, it's not always clear they are advocating the strongest possible protections.
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In another article in the Gazette, state inspectors arrived at  the Freedom Industries tank only to find a 400 square foot pool of clear liquid that had collected outside a white tank marked as number 396. With a 4 foot stream of the liquid, that was thicker than water, flowed. Freedom Industries had set up a one cinder block and used one 50 pound bag of some sort of safety absorbent powder to try and block the chemical flow into the river. According to state Department of Environmental Protection, "this was a band-aid approach."

Along with the blatant disregard for public waters even local county and state leaders are to be held responsible by the people of West Virginia. It has also been reported that several complaints of a fowl Oder similar to the one all Charleston area residence smelled this week had been made from residence along the Elk river where the spill took place over the past couple of years with no investigation. It's obvious, there's so much more environmentalist could have helped to prevent had they been given the support from the state and local officials.

What is the end result for this lack of respect for nature and the water we so desperately depend on? Nearly a half a million people could not use water for bathing, cooking, laundry or drinking for the past week in  south West Virginia. The local government has rushed to lower the level of the chemical, but the chemical still exist in the water because most scientist have said their is no known way of diluting the chemical. Many people are still refusing to drink or bath in the water and many are choosing to leave the area. This week the West Virginia American Water Company, told its half a million users to flush their systems several times after the rushed ban had been lifted, all at their own expense. Not only are the people of Charleston West Virginia being pushed to poison themselves, they are asking you to pay to do so as well.

Politicians are not all to blame, the coal industry at one time was the biggest employer in West Virginia, people desperate to hold on to jobs and some resistance to Obama as president, were easily lead to support Republican rhetoric, that the EPA's only mission was to take their jobs away. The people of West Virginia traded a water supply that some believe will not be safe for years to come, laced with a chemical that attacks the central nervous system; leads to blindness, kidney failure, liver disease and lung cancer just to name a few,  that will forever haunt them, their children and their children's children, for a job.

If West Virginia is to be truly known for it's natural resources and beauty, it has a long way to go in learning to embrace environmental agencies that would keep it so, rather than embrace big energy and chemical companies that will forever make the state of West Virginia live up to it's name....THE CHEMICAL VALLEY.


The chemical spill has prompted the attention of Erin Brockovich
 
 
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