Today marks seven weeks since what the National Science Foundation is calling one of the biggest environmental disasters of the last decade occurred in my home state of West Virginia. Too many things have happened since Freedom Industries polluted our water to cover in this post, but there are a few things that are important for you to know now. The Newsweek article I was interviewed for explains some of those things, but this post is going to focus on two of those points and give you some actionable steps to help West Virginians who are still suffering.
#1 Thing to Know: West Virginians are still not drinking, bathing in, or cleaning with their tap water. Imagine seven weeks of showering, cooking, and washing your dishes with only bottled water. Imagine the cost. Imagine the inconvenience. Imagine the mental space this must take up. Imagine the emotional toll of constant fear and worry.
Why? Because people are still experiencing rashes, swelling, diarrhea, vomiting, and faintness from the coming into contact with the water and the fumes. Because people still fear the water and distrust official messages about water safety because of a series of egregious missteps by the state government and health officials, which includes but is not limited to:
1) allowing a gap of at least eight hours before the leak occurred and the public was notified
2) lifting the Do Not Use Order and then stating that pregnant women should not drink the water
3) drawing contaminated water into water buffaloes for emergency distribution in the affected counties
4) establishing a level of safe contamination at 1 parts per million, based on studies of the effects of other chemicals on rats
5) telling the public that their use of the water is at their own discretion and refusing to comment on whether it is actually “safe”
6) canceling public schools, re-opening some schools, and then sending children back home because students and teachers were passing out from the water fumes
7) discovering a second chemical and possibly several others present in the spill that were not reported to the public until twelve days after the spill
8) revealing that the storage tanks at the chemical plant had only been inspected by the DEP three times in twenty years and that the storage tanks were not subject to any governmental regulations
9) giving residents arbitrary (and dangerous) flushing instructions
10) allowing Freedom Industries to declare bankruptcy and be refinanced by a “different” owner of an eerily similar name as the previous owner
11) refusing to test water in homes in a high profile press conference and then deciding two hours after the press conference to consider testing water in homes
Currently, neither the state nor the federal government are supplying water to those affected by the chemical spill. The state refuses to dip into its multi-million dollar emergency fund and FEMA denied the governor’s request to continue providing water and other emergency relief to West Virginia.
Donate! This is the easiest way to immediately help West Virginians. There are many ways to donate, including going through the West Virginia Clean Water Hub. I am also collecting donations through PayPal for purchasing water and supplies to deliver every time I go to WV to film.
#2 Thing to Know: West Virginians will no longer accept violations of their health and safety by industry. After decades of tolerating ongoing air and water pollution, chemical spills, and industrial explosions, West Virginians are refusing to ignore further violations of their health and safety in exchange for a barely surviving extraction economy.
There is a short piece about this in the Newsweek article, “For much of Bryson’s life in West Virginia, she says many locals viewed these dangers as “their cross to bear.” But since the Freedom Industries spill, “I have seen such a dramatic shift. We see now how this influences our life.””
Maybe in the past most of us were not immediately affected by these disasters. Those of us who don’t live in a mining town and didn’t personally know the people dying in explosions and collapses are removed enough that we never felt the need to DO anything. Those of us who were raised in the Chemical Valley were used to being constantly poisoned just enough that we didn’t really have to deal with it in our daily lives (until we get cancer or some other disease, but then we can’t attribute it directly to pollution). But when 300,000 people can’t drink or use their water, we have to think about it. We’re confronted head-on with years of our own individual neglect and the government and industry’s systematic abuse of West Virginia’s environment and people. And now we’re doing things.
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Make your voice heard in the state legislature. West Virginia Citizen Action Group is one organization that is doing great things in response to the water crisis: lobbying, protests, rallies, vigils, and activist training sessions. Friends of Water is another. There are legislative hearings happening as I write this that need your involvement and input. Even if you can only copy and paste a form letter provided by one of these organizations, do it. Every action is immensely important.
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