Month: January 2015

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.

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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.