Our guest, investigative reporterKen Ward, speaks Dave Davies about the chemical spill in West Virginia that left over 300,000 people in the Charleston area without safe water. In the interview they discuss the conflict over industrial chemical regulation, environmental safety, and public health:
“The [chemical] industry officials didn’t like the Chemical Safety Board recommendations. They insisted there’s enough regulation already and that agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration do enough already.
And I think there seems to be this idea that … agencies like EPA and OSHA are these jack-booted thugs that are kicking down the gates of manufacturing facilities and stomping out jobs. When in fact, a lot of these facilities will go for years and years without ever seeing an OSHA inspector coming in and checking on the workplace conditions; without ever seeing an EPA inspector who is looking at their environmental conditions. The notion that these places are just terribly overregulated is wildly exaggerated.”
West Virginia chemical spill triggers widespread tap water ban, state of emergency
January 10, 2014
Up to 300,000 residents in West Virginia were left without tap water on Friday after a chemical spill that forced the closure of schools and business in the state capital and led the federal government to declare a disaster.
Health officials advised residents to use tap water only for flushing toilets and fighting fires and the company that runs the state’s largest water treatment plant said it was unable to predict when the water would be safe again to drink.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for nine counties, and President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration on Friday.
The spill of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, a chemical used in the coal industry, occurred on Thursday on the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia’s capital and largest city, upriver from the plant run by West Virginia American Water Co.
“We don’t know that the water’s not safe, but I can’t say it is safe,” Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water, told a televised news conference.
Tests were being done on the water, McIntyre said, but he could offer no timeline for when water would be declared safe for normal use.
The chemical is not highly lethal, but since the company does not regularly see it as a contaminant, the level that could be considered safe has yet to be quantified, he added.
Water carrying 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol has an odor like licorice or anise, he said. A company spokeswoman said the chemical could be harmful if swallowed and could cause skin and eye irritation.
McIntyre said the spill originated at Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that produces specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries. A company spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Emergency workers and American Water distributed water to centers around the affected area. Local residents formed long lines at stores as shelves of bottled water quickly emptied.
“It’s just ridiculous. There’s nowhere to buy water and everywhere seems to be sold out. This isn’t going to last two days,” said Jaime Cook of Charleston, who was buying one of the last jugs of water at a Walmart store.
A chemical spill into a West Virginia river has led to a tap water ban for up to 300,000 people, shut down bars and restaurants and led to a run on bottled water in some stores as people looked to stock up.
#2. Chemical Plants Are Apparently Ticking Time Bombs
While taking their time to report [their own giant West Virgina chemical] spill, Freedom Industries did at least try to stop the 4-foot-wide stream of ooze liberating itself from their containment dike … by sticking a single sandbag and cinder block in its path.
Freedom Industries Inc., the company connected to a chemical spill that tainted the water supply in West Virginia, on Friday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
A petition signed by the company’s president, Gary Southern, estimates the Freedom’s debts at $10 million or less, but the cost of disaster is likely to run much higher.
Thousands of gallons of an allegedly toxic chemical called crude MCHM contaminated the water supply for hundreds of thousands of the state’s residents for days, spawning lawsuits from businesses and people affected by the disaster.
Bankruptcy offers Freedom a break from having to answer the suits, some of which demand punitive damages. It also opens the door to court-supervised probes into what led to the disaster, and what resources are available to pay any damages.
So there you have it. By declaring bankruptcy, Freedom Industries is attempting to ignore the lawsuits.
I’ve been watching CNN since 7AM and this is a breakdown of their news coverage:
Discussion of Gov. Christie’s bridge scandal: 30 minutes.
Report on West Virginia chemical spill that has contaminated the water in nine counties, causing a run on bottled water, and leaving 200,000 people with tap water that they can’t even use for bathing: 5 minutes.
I can’t decide what’s more fucked up: our media coverage or our country.
If you know an artist who lives in West Virginia, commission them.
If you know an artist who lives in West Virginia, commission them. They are without work. I know a lot of people who were sent home from their primary jobs because of the chemical spill situation. They are not working. They need these commissions right now.
Spill triggers widespread tap water ban for ‘indefinite period’ as hundreds experience chemical exposure symptoms
“The chemical leak at Freedom Industries was discovered by inspectors from the state department of environmental protection on Thursday morning, after residents of Charleston and surrounding areas complained of a strange, sweet smell.
The company did not formally report the spill, of a chemical used to process coal, until about an hour after the inspectors’ visit, the Department of Environmental Protection said.”
THE COMPANY DID NOT FORMALLY REPORT THE SPILL.
The only reason it was investigated was because residents called about the strange smell. Their health, their lives are worthless to this company.
West Virginia Chemical Spill Ruins Water Supply for Thousands of Natives
American Indians were mobilizing this week to help more than 4,000 Natives who are among the 300,000 people without potable water in the wake of a January 9 chemical spill that rendered tap water undrinkable in several counties.
Some 300,000 residents of West Virginia are without safe drinking water this weekend after 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leaked into the Elk River. It’s a news story of great importance to ordinary human Americans, and so let’s round up all of the coverage the Sunday shows gave to one of the most significant (and potentially scandalous) environmental disasters in America since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
This hurts. I wish I could pretend it didn’t but to see proof continuing to pile up that the country at large cares so little about your home, about the people you love…it hurts.
Thank you to everyone who is helping to get the word out about this disaster.
Checked in on my sister last night. She drove to my parents house to fill up containers (my parents live in one of two cities in Kanawha County with water not supplied by WV American Water and can therefore use theirs). She said water testing had shown that the chemical readings had gone from 2 PPM to 1.7 PPM Friday night but a local news channel was reporting yesterday that the retaining wall was still leaking and the spill was up to at least 7,500 gallons and the readings were back up to 3 last night. (Readings have to be less than 1 PPM consistently before they can even start flushing water systems. They’re back down to 1 PPM today but not consistently.)
She also told me that the owner of Freedom Industries recently acquired the company and knew that the retaining wall needed at least $1 million in repairs. And former contractors are speaking out about Freedom Industries now. So everyone involved, former owners and current, knew this thing was a fucking time bomb and they did nothing.
This is a BIG DEAL. Over 300,000 people cannot use their water right now. They can’t drink it or bathe in it. They can’t wash their hands or do their laundry. Their water has been poisoned by a greedy corporation. This should be all over the national news. I should be seeing this shared by people from all over on my FB feed. But I’m not. The only people talking about it are WV residents and ex-pats. If we’re ever going to get anywhere in our fight against Big Coal, we need outside help. They’ve been destroying our land for decades. This needs to end.