2-Year Anniversary

January 9 marks the 2-year anniversary of the West Virginia Water Crisis. Today I want to share a look at where we are now and where we need to go in the future.

Where are We Now?

In the wake of the January 9, 2014 chemical spill numerous legal actions were initiated at both the state and federal levels by various parties. Community advocates have been at the forefront of state legislation to register never before documented chemical storage tanks. Approximately 50,000 tanks were identified for regulation, many of which were located along West Virginia’s water supply. The spill’s fallout and West Virginia’s lead to create a chemical storage tank regulatory program set a precedent for several other states to enact their own chemical tank legislation and bills were proposed in halls of Congress and the U.S. Senate. Despite immense public support, these West Virginia regulatory bills were already being dismantled by the next legislative session.

In addition to legislation intended to prevent similar crises, numerous criminal charges were filed against parties responsible for the spill. The U.S. Attorney for southern West Virginia obtained 15 indictments for up to 93 years in prison against Freedom Industries’ former president Gary Southern for charges including wire fraud. Although in an FBI-conducted investigation Gary Southern claimed no association with Freedom Industries, he ultimately pled guilty for violating the federal Clean Water Act, the Refuse Act, and negligent for failing to have a pollution prevention plan, and faces up to three years in prison and $300,000 in fines. Among five other Freedom Industries executives who pleaded guilty on charges related to the spill, Dennis Farrell, pleaded guilty to violating the Refuse Act and failing to have a pollution prevention plan, for which he faces sentencing of 30 days to two years in prison and up to $200,000 in fines.

Numerous civil suits have been filed in the aftermath of the crisis, including over 50 against West Virginia American Water in just the first nine months following the spill. Several personal injury suits as well as a class action lawsuit against Freedom Industries, its top executives, Eastman Chemical Company, West Virginia American Water, American Water, its parent company. In December, Freedom Industries Farrell and Southern settled one such class action for $50,000 and $350,000 respectively.


As devastating as the original spill was, cleanup and remediation of the spill site has been just as problematic although less publicized. To dispose of the spill waste, which is not categorized as hazardous by the EPA, tank liquid was mixed with sawdust and dumped in a solid waste landfill in nearby Hurricane, West Virginia. After Hurricane residents complained of licorice odors in the air, the city of Hurricane discovered the MCHM disposal and sued Disposal Services Incorporated and Waste Management. The suit was settled with the two companies paying $600,000 for the city’s legal fees and agreeing to monitor the MCHM present in leachate — the water draining out of the landfill —  and the three groundwater monitoring wells surrounding the site every six months for the next five years. If they detect MCHM above 120 parts per billion, they must notify the city and county, stop sending the leachate to the Hurricane wastewater treatment plant, and close its aeration system.

Despite the seeming wins in these lawsuits, their likelihood of making even a dent in the tens of millions dollars the state lost as a result of the crisis, the irreparable damage on citizens’ health, and other industries’ likelihood of upholding their responsibility to not endanger the lives of the public is slim. The conclusion of this chapter considers how these legal repercussions compare to those of other major man made environmental disasters such as the 1972 Buffalo Creek Mine Disaster in West Virginia and how civil suits must become the primary deterrent against public health and environmental crimes.

Looking Forward

The West Virginia Water Crisis was one of the worst drinking water contamination incidents not just in West Virginia, but in the nation. Although the particular circumstances — a coal washing chemical spilling into the drinking water source due to a chemical storage facility’s willful neglect of their above ground storage tanks  —  may seem relevant only to coal country, but above ground storage tanks are largely unregulated. Each state is responsible for creating the legislation and infrastructure to fulfill the EPA’s federal Clean Water Act, and many, like West Virginia, never created state-level regulations to enforce the law. 

In addition, 4-MCHM is still not listed on the Toxic Substance Control Act Inventory of 82,000 toxic chemicals. Environmental and public health advocates, and more recently, the EPA and chemical industries have cited the TSCA Inventory for its ineffectiveness. When the inventory was created in 1976, there were 60,000 untested and unregulated chemicals left off the list, including BPA, formaldehyde, and asbestos. Now there are thousands more unregulated chemicals like 4-MCHM that have never been studied for their effects on human health and safety.

On the river, Charleston, WV

On the river, Charleston, WV

Just as critical as the regulatory questions raised by this and other major drinking water contamination incidents like the Toledo Water Crisis, the Dan River Spill, and the hazardous levels of lead in Flint, Michigan drinking water, are the questions about response protocol and crisis communication standards. One of the most important questions is how to instruct the public to protect themselves when there is little to no information available on the chemicals the public is being exposed to, how to determine safe exposure levels during cleanup and remediation processes, again when there is little to no data, and how to adequately address public concerns openly and honestly while also teaching them how to protect themselves from exposure.

In addition to these questions about prevention and response, now that thousands of West Virginians have been exposed to these chemicals, long-term health monitoring is essential to learning the full health impacts of the crisis and being able to provide the appropriate care for those exposed. Numerous organizations have created proposals for the monitoring of long-term illnesses and diseases relating to exposure from the spill, but as of yet, none have received funding. The current and future illnesses resulting from this chemical exposure will have no formal means of being tracked, and the significance of this event on public health will ultimately be lost.
It is our hope that continuing our research and advocacy will raise awareness of just how complex and far-reaching the West Virginia Water Crisis was, how it could happen anywhere if regulations and the enforcement of those regulations remains unchanged, and what the long-term effects of the crisis are on the public, the environment, and the sociopolitical environment in West Virginia. Without such documentation, we fear the significance of the crisis will be lost. 

Please like and share this post if you care about your right to safe water. 

If you live in West Virginia, your attendance at the Safe Water Public Forum on Jan. 9 is crucial. If you’re unable to attend and want to make a donation to support safe water in West Virginia, visit the WV Rivers Coalition site.

As always, I thank you for your support!

West Virginia Water Crisis Judicial and Research Updates

Barlow Drive

The site of Freedom Industries after its court-ordered destruction.

Hi, fellow Water Crisis advocates, friends, and newcomers. I have some extremely important updates for you on recent developments on the Water Crisis. Whether you’re from West Virginia, the Appalachian region or are an environmental advocate or just someone who cares about how corporations affect your family’s health and safety, this is for you. If you need a primer on the Water Crisis to get you started, I recommend watching one of these two short videos I created.

Class Action Lawsuit Approved against those believed responsible for the West Virginia Water Crisis

First, early last month a federal court judge approved a class action lawsuit against West Virginia American Water Company and Eastman Chemical Company, which sold the 4-MCHM to Freedom Industries. Kate White and Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette-Mail detailed elements of the federal order:

U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. issued a 60-page order on Thursday certifying liability classes in the lawsuit.

Copenhaver defined the liability classes as:

• All people living in dwellings supplied tap water by West Virginia American’s Kanawha Valley Treatment Plan on Jan. 9, 2014;

• All people or entities who owned businesses operating in real property supplied tap water by the plan on that date; and

• All people who were regularly employed as hourly wage-earners for businesses that operated in real property supplied tap water by the plant on that date.

The class-action suit alleges the water company did not adequately prepare or respond to the leak, which occurred just 1.5 miles upstream from its regional water intake. It alleges Eastman — which manufactured the chemical MCHM and sold it to Freedom Industries — did not properly test the chemical or warn buyers or the public about potential health impacts.

This means there are at least 300,000 people who may qualify to participate in this class action lawsuit. Of course, as a Water Crisis advocate who knows the many details of this event and the arguments regarding both companies’ failure to protect the public, I am thrilled this lawsuit is being permitted to move forward. As a Ph.D. who studied West Virginia history, I am moved and greatly encouraged that such a case is finally being allowed by such an industry-driven government (yes, especially in the judicial branch; if you want more on that just read renowned historian John Alexander Williams’ West Virginia and the Captains of Industry). I wasn’t as surprised as I could have been because the trial of West Virginia coal baron Don Blankenship has given me more hope for the state as of late, but I was still elated.

This trial moving forward means that a federal judge acknowledges there may have been negligible acts on the part of both companies that harmed the public, who now have a chance to prove these acts occurred and demand restitution. That, my friends, is a huge win. Think the “Erin Brockovich” class action against Pacific Gas and Electric for knowingly poisoning Hinkley, CA residents with hexavalent chromium. West Virginians finally have the chance to stand up in court to defend their health and livelihood against two dominating companies in the West Virginia industrial landscape.

And remember, class action lawsuits are not just about restitution for individuals, they are about public policy change. It is my hope that the stories of those affected by the Water Crisis will gain further national attention as a result of this trial so that the rest of the nation might realize their own vulnerability against mass hazardous chemical exposure of this sort. The best case scenario is that this attention will result in legislative changes both at the state and federal level because one of the key lessons learned from the Water Crisis is that federal laws like the Clean Water Act were not being enforced at the state level (and not just in this one instance, but statewide and for decades ).

Scientific Study by Eastman Chemical Company Claims 4-MCHM Poses No Toxicological Risk

Now for the not-so-encouraging news. Last week Eastman Chemical Company released the toxicology results of their study on “Crude” 4-MCHM, one of the many chemicals present in the chemicals spilled into the Elk River by Freedom Industries. The abstract explicitly states: “Collectively, the findings and predictions indicate that crude MCHM poses no apparent toxicological risk to humans at 1 ppm in household water.” 1 ppm is one part per million, which was the CDC’s screening level for 4-MCHM.

What lay and even some expert readers of this study may not notice or recognize the importance of is that this report was 1) conducted by Eastman Chemical Company; 2) contradicts findings from external researchers, such as Dr. Andrew Whelton and the West Virginia Testing and Assessment Project (WV TAP), which was funded by the state government after much public outcry and conducted by world-renowned scientists and engineers not affiliated with the chemical industry, or the Kanawha Charleston Health Department; 3) the study relies on incomplete (and therefore inconclusive) studies by the National Toxicology Program and many non-peer reviewed studies; and finally 4) the study admits to using toxicity data collected on 4-MCHM from the 1970s rather than collecting data or using data collected for the aforementioned studies that accurately reflects the composition of 4-MCHM today.

Why Eastman Chemical released this study the same month the class action suit against them was approved, I can only surmise. I’m sure you can too.

Advocacy Organizations and the Water Crisis: People Concerned About Chemical Safety

In this video, we hear from Maya Nye of People Concerned about Chemical Safety (PCACS), an organization that was and still is an integral player in advocacy for communities affected by the West Virginia Water Crisis. PCACS was founded over 25 years ago to protect the health of Kanawha Valley, where there is a high concentration of chemical plants producing highly toxic chemicals. I learned about PCACS by working on the water crisis with their incredibly inspiring Executive Director, Maya Nye. Really, every time I think about the work she does, I am humbled.

You’ll also learn about Maya’s initial response to the West Virginia Water Crisis of January 9, 2014, which is informed by both her academic background in environmental studies and her experience of living through several chemical disasters in the Kanawha Valley. You’ll learn about the work that PCACS and other organizations did in the immediate aftermath of the chemical spill, and the legislative work they continue to do to fight for the enforcement of environmental/health and safety laws and regulations that are meant to protect you.

I hope you check out this very important interview. I condensed it from an hour and a half of great footage to only 23 minutes of the very best. So kick back with your tea, coffee, or water, watch this West Virginia Water Crisis story and maybe take a moment of gratitude that you can enjoy your drink without fear of chemical exposure (hopefully).

Giving Birth During the Water Crisis: A Mother’s Story

I’m so excited to share this new story today. Since I’m finishing up my doctorate (I’m defending next week!), I will have time to publish new videos regularly, so stay tuned!

This story is a particularly moving one, and I hope it provides some insight into just how frightening the water crisis was for so many West Virginians.

Kelly was in the hospital after giving birth to her daughter Anna during the Freedom Industries chemical spill and was in recovery when the Do Not Use Order was issued. Kelly shares her story about being in the hospital without access to running tap water, her fears for her newborn daughter, and what she feels she lost as a result of the water crisis.

New Article On Tap Water Contamination and Health Impacts by Dr. Andrew Whelton, et.al.

Dr. Whelton standing in a basement beside a hot water heater.

Last month Dr. Andrew Whelton, environmental engineer and member of the West Virginia Testing and Assessment Project,  published an article on the tap water contamination that occurred as a result of the Freedom Industries chemical spill last year. Importantly, the article connects his team’s findings on the water contamination to the findings on health effects, which by several accounts affected up to 100,000 people in West Virginia.

As I’ve been interviewing those affected by the water crisis this week, many have mentioned that they are unaware of the study, so I promised them I would post a link to the article on my blog. So please, check it out. You may have to skim over some of the engineering terminology and data, as I did, but their findings are clear: the flushing procedures caused chemicals to be volatilized, further exposing residents who flushed according to the official flushing instructions; flushing did not effectively remove the chemicals from the plumbing systems of all homes; and science-based flushing protocols need to be developed.

Click the link below to read the full article.

Residential Tap Water Contamination Following the Freedom Industries Chemical Spill: Perceptions, Water Quality, and Health Impacts by Dr. Andrew Whelton, et. al.

(Because he believes the public deserves access to this article, Dr. Whelton was generous enough to pay a fee to have the article, which was published in an academic journal, to be made open-access.)

Here is a short summary of the article (the abstract):

During January 2014, an industrial solvent contaminated West
Virginia’s Elk River and 15% of the state population’s tap water. A rapid in-
home survey and water testing was conducted 2 weeks following the spill to
understand resident perceptions, tap water chemical levels, and premise
plumbing flushing effectiveness. Water odors were detected in all 10 homes
sampled before and after premise plumbing flushing. Survey and medical data
indicated flushing caused adverse health impacts. Bench-scale experiments and
physiochemical property predictions showed flushing promoted chemical
volatilization, and contaminants did not appreciably sorb into cross-linked
polyethylene (PEX) pipe. Flushing reduced tap water 4-methylcyclohexane-
methanol (4-MCHM) concentrations within some but not all homes. 4-
MCHM was detected at unflushed (<10 to 420 μg/L) and flushed plumbing
systems (<10 to 96 μg/L) and sometimes concentrations differed among
faucets within each home. All waters contained less 4-MCHM than the 1000
μg/L Centers for Disease Control drinking water limit, but one home exceeded the 120 μg/L drinking water limit established by independent toxicologists. Nearly all households refused to resume water use activities after flushing because of water safety concerns. Science based flushing protocols should be developed to expedite recovery, minimize health impacts, and reduce concentrations in homes when future events occur.

The West Virginia Water Crisis: One Year Later

One-year birthday party hat and bib in pink and gold, sitting on a baby's high chair.

The thing about environmental crimes that affect hundreds of thousands of people is that they aren’t resolved in a single year (or ever). So although there are many commemorative events today on the one year anniversary, the West Virginia Water Crisis is not yet just a memory. It still lives on each day that the federal government doesn’t acknowledge their mistakes, each day the criminals that contaminated our drinking water don’t pay for knowingly poisoning us, each day legislators try to circumvent their commitment to protecting our water. We are responsible for making sure we are not forgotten, we are not ignored, we are not treated as irrelevant.

We must keep reminding people of the human story that is the water crisis. Yesterday I filmed the birthday party of a beautiful one-year old girl who was born the day of the crisis and bathed in the contaminated water immediately after birth. At the time, no one knew the water was unsafe. Thankfully, the baby exhibited no immediate health effects, but because we have no funding for long-term medical monitoring, we may never know if being exposed to the water will affect her or hundreds of thousands of other people in the future.

We still have work to do. We must keep going. Please join us today not only in remembering, but demanding redress:

WV Rivers Coalition Actions

OVEC Actions

People Concerned About Chemical Safety Actions

Please stay tuned as I cover the events and collect interviews over the next week.

Filming for the WVWC Anniversary Jan. 8-17

I know it’s been some time since my last post, but don’t think it’s because I haven’t been working on the water crisis! Over the last few months, I’ve been doing speaking engagements about the crisis, mostly to engineers at different universities. I also produced a new short video for one of my speaking engagements (see below), and shared some of my footage with LiveScience for a segment they’re producing on the water crisis.

Part of my grant work also involves researching and writing about the water crisis in my dissertation and in a journal article, so I’ve been hard at work on those projects. Parts of that scholarly research will also be included in the final documentary project and are influencing how I represent the event historically.

As you know, this week is the one-year anniversary of the West Virginia Water Crisis. There will be numerous commemorative events over the next two weeks, so I will, of course, be there to film most of them. I’m excited to capture the incredible work that activists have been doing over the last year to organize the community and lobby for better regulatory legislation.

Lastly, and most importantly, I am excited to interview more West Virginians after they’ve had a year to reflect on the crisis. So please contact me if you are interested in doing an interview at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com. There are still stories to be told, and they are just as important to tell now as they ever were.

On the river, Charleston, WV

Filming in West Virginia next week

Friends, I’m conducting more interviews in West Virginia next week (Monday, August 18-Wednesday, August 20). Please email me at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com if you are interested in being interviewed about the water crisis for the National Science Foundation-sponsored research and documentary.


My plan is to finish filming for the project by the beginning of October and spend the rest of the grant period (through April 15, 2015) editing the documentary and writing. So now is your chance to make your voice heard!


As always, thank you for your continued support and diligence.


Note: This project is now approved by the Ohio State University Institutional Review Board (IRB) and your participation will be protected by the IRB guidelines.


Protocol #: 2013B0601


The West Virginia Water Crisis in Context (Part 4 of 4 in the Water Crisis Continues)


Between the struggle to finally get the health effects of the 4-MCHM contaminated water tested by federal authorities, the six month long process of getting the site of the spill demolished, and thousands of West Virginians who still don’t trust their water, the water crisis continues in West Virginia. And now, a similar and even wider-reaching water crisis is bringing Toledo, Ohio to its knees. I hope that Toledo can take some lessons from what we went through in West Virginia and be more efficient and successful in remediating the contamination and helping Toledoans during and after the crisis. I believe I can speak for those affected by the West Virginia Water Crisis when I say that our thoughts are with Toledo, and I, for one, am willing to help in sharing your stories and providing information and advice for recovery.

To follow the water crisis in Toledo, search #toledowater or #ToledoWaterWarning.

The new water crisis has prompted me to post a portion of the introduction to my dissertation on the rhetorics of advocacy and activism in Appalachia, in which I use the water crisis to explain why we need to change how many think and talk about the region of Appalachia. This is just a short excerpt, and I will be posting more at a later time, but I hope it prompts discussion about why recovery from the water crisis in West Virginia was so slow, arduous, and mishandled. Hopefully, Toledo can learn much from West Virginia.

Appalachia is not a place the majority of Americans think about with much frequency – either as a region or in its constituent parts. However, there are times when catastrophic events on a large enough scale may garner some national attention, even if only with the same morbid curiosity that causes one to slow down to glance at a car wreck or take a few minutes to observe a sideshow. As I recently learned from the public reaction to the West Virginia Water Crisis, there are many sympathetic to Appalachia because they either have family or friends from the region, or perhaps they drove through it once and found it remarkable in its beauty. But on the whole, when something terrible happens in Appalachia, only a small percentage of outsiders become personally invested. Much more often the public wonders at the ignorance, neglect, and laziness of Appalachians that undoubtedly led to the situation, and usually indictments of the region and its people follow. Unfortunately, these public reactions don’t simply live on in news interviews looping on national television or in the comment boards of news websites. They live on in the minds of Appalachians and in the minds of those making decisions that affect Appalachians’ lives. In the case of the West Virginia Water Crisis, these opinions affected West Virginians’ most basic right to health and safety.
On January 9, 2014, Freedom Industries, a chemical storage facility in Charleston, West Virginia spilled 10,000 gallons of chemicals, including 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (4-MCHM), into the Elk River, the main water
source for 300,000 West Virginians. After discovering the contamination, West Virginia’s governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, declared a State of Emergency and West Virginia American Water issued a Do Not Use Order for the tap water in nine counties in West Virginia. The order lasted for one week, but because West Virginians were presented with numerous conflicting orders and an absence of information about the health effects of the chemicals and since the tap water was still observably contaminated (by the smell, taste, and physical interaction between the water and water vapors with skin, eyes, and lungs), many refused to use the water for several weeks and even months after the order was lifted.

These missteps by government officials and agencies also discouraged residents from following the official flush orders that were meant to eliminate the contamination from drinking water pipes, putting their health in even further danger. In addition to these immediate causes for the public’s distrust, West Virginians were deterred from believing official advice about their health and safety by a history of fraught relationships with industries fiercely protected by the local government to the detriment of the people who must live, work, and play in the resulting severely damaged and dangerous environments. Governor Tomblin, and former West Virginia governor, now U.S. Senator, Joe Manchin, both fiercely oppose stricter environmental regulations on industry yet were major players in the handling of the water crisis fallout.

West Virginian and Appalachian historian Shirley Stewart Burns explains the politician in the pocket nature of industry in her home state, “West Virginia policymakers have a history of favoring big business over other citizens” since the Supreme Court of Appeals shifted to an industry-favoring judgeship in the 1890s (1). West Virginia’s preferential treatment of industrial endeavors began to take advantage of the rich natural resources of the state that were still untapped by the fin de siècle. However, by relying on one industry, Burns explains, West Virginia leaders “ensure[d] the state’s status as a bit player in the national economy” (2). This single-industry economy has remained since then, growing with a political system that reinforces a “power structure . . . assured to only benefit the mine operators” and making West Virginia a “peripheral region within the American and global market system” where “power resides in the core, and resources from the periphery flow in that direction” (2). Thus many West Virginians feel disenfranchised by their own local government, as well as state and national representatives.

However, West Virginians are understandably in a double-bind. The coal industry provides many of the jobs in West Virginia, and is believed by many to keep the state economy afloat. Thus despite the flow of resources away from the workers that supply them, many West Virginians are fiercely protective of industry. They are told in massive public relations campaigns by the American Coal Council that “Coal Keeps the Lights On” and school children are taken on field trips to coal mines. However, this campaign belies the truth of the overall effect of the coal industry on West Virginia’s economy. The New York Times pointed out in an article on the Water Crisis on January 18, 2014, titled “Chemical Spill Muddies Picture in a State Wary of Regulations,” coal only employs nine percent of the state’s population. And the overall economy of West Virginia is not benefiting from coal: in 2012, West Virginia ranked forty-ninth in the nation in per capita GDP. However Appalachian region counties with the highest scores on the Toxic Release Inventory, which indicates more toxic pollution, are the most economically well-off in Appalachia, posing what Nancy Irwin Maxwell calls “a different brand of injustice, a forced choice between pollution and poverty in a disadvantaged region of the American landscape” (in Morrone and Buckley 76). During the Water Crisis, West Virginians were publicly critiqued for their unflagging loyalty to the very industry that caused this environmental disaster and the structural inequality and complete lack of federal oversight without which the crisis never would have occurred were mainly mentioned only by more progressive news media and a few vocal activists.

There are activists who used this crisis as an opportunity to speak out through social media against the destructiveness of the coal industry. Yet there is a real struggle between these environmentalist rhetorics and those of people immediately affected by the water crisis who may not identify as anti-coal or pro-regulation but are speaking out against the mishandling of this water disaster. Thus in an attempt to avoid divisive rhetorics pertaining to the spill, organizations that have formed in response to the disaster, like Friends of Water, discourage discussion of politics, especially those relating to the coal industry, on their Facebook forum. Limitations on what is publicly acceptable to discuss about the chemical spill while still garnering support for stricter regulations on the chemical industry in particular, are understandable, yet they limit public discourse on warranted overarching concerns about deregulation of all industry in West Virginia, as supported by Tomblin as recently the day before the crisis.

Another no less concerning issue raised by the events surrounding the crisis is the distinct lack of national media attention devoted to the water disaster. Although scientists now recognize this as the largest instance of a chemical contamination of drinking water in U.S. history, it has taken a dramatic backseat to many other national news stories such as Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal. The Nation reporter Reed Richardson provides the most telling account of the media’s lack of coverage of the crisis of a continually overlooked state: on the last day of the “Poop Cruise” on which 3,000 Americans lost drinking water and the use of bathrooms when their cruise ship lost power, CNN devoted over twelve hours to the debacle, but as of the first five days West Virginia Water Crisis, only gave the story thirty minutes of air time. Many, including the Huffington Post declared the crisis over only a few days in, while water was not officially declared safe for months. Very few have done investigative reporting and political commentary until a few weeks into the crisis when circumstances predictably worsened. Many residents I spoke to were outraged by the nearly non-existent media coverage but expected no better. One West Virginian suffering from the water crisis said, “They don’t care about us. They don’t care about West Virginia.”

West Virginians’ reaction to the media’s willful ignorance of West Virginia’s continual abuse by the government and extractive industries is unsurprising. West Virginians are well-aware of outsiders’ perceptions of them, an issue documented and studied by Appalachian scholars for decades (Batteau; Billings and Blee; Drake; Eller; Fisher; Whisnant). Historically, Appalachia has been used as a symbol for rest of the nation, treated as the “embodiment of anti-civilization” (Batteau 196). This designation evokes one of two formulations of Appalachian identity: the romanticized mountaineer or the demonized hillbilly. The first version of the Appalachian – the racially pure, innocent, industrious, proud, independent, rugged, and fearless mountaineer – is a paragon of America that deserves to be lauded and emulated by the rest of the country. The second version – the genetically degenerate, ignorant, lazy, violent, unclean, feckless, and destructive hillbilly – is a blight on society that deserves to be held into contempt until remedied through government intercessions (Batteau 17). The former depiction was one that flourished in some of the first writings about Appalachians, but in the late twentieth and twenty-first century has been replaced to a great extent by the latter derogatory depiction of the hillbilly. During the United States’ current economic crisis that started with the 2007-2009 Great Recession and continues today in the Lesser Depression, Appalachia continually plays the convenient role of the epitome of everything that went wrong with this country. And in a crisis like the recent one in West Virginia, Appalachians become easy victims to blame.

It is much easier to use the “problem region” of Appalachia as a scapegoat for the rest of the country when the national economy takes a downturn and blame the region for its willing participation in an extractive economy when an environmental disaster leaves the ecosystem and the health and well-being of its people in shambles, despite the fact that chemical spills and air pollution occur daily all across the United States. Kenneth Burke explains that the scapegoat mechanism is not intended to resolve any material problems, but instead acts as “vicious atonement” for the sins of those who criticize the scapegoat (Grammar, 406). Thus Appalachia draws so much national interest and criticism for its deficits during economic recessions and large-scale industrial disasters, but very rarely does it draw national attention to the systemic roots of its problems because that would require real change and the admission of responsibility. I argue that by demanding a more critical and contextualized public understanding of the Appalachian region, its history, and conceptions of its regional identity, we can advocate for a better Appalachia without the many unintended negative repercussions that often accompany advocacy and activist work in the region.

Happy West Virginia Day! (Part 3 of 4 in the Water Crisis Continues)

Hi everyone,

Happy West Virginia Day! I want to wish you all a day of reflection on and celebration of our beautiful state of West Virginia. I was recently at the New River Gorge and Summersville Lake and shot some footage of the incredible natural beauty that our state has to offer. So please enjoy this quick video montage of that footage along with a message I think will resonate with everyone affected by the West Virginia Water Crisis.

I encourage you all to Facebook, tweet, or instagram your own video or photos of the natural beauty of our state, using #keepWVclean. Let’s start an online movement showing everyone just why keeping our water, land, and air clean is so important.