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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).

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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.

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

West Virginia Water: The Crisis Continues

Hi everyone and thanks for tuning in for an update on the West Virginia Water Crisis. As you may know there another chemical spill was reported yesterday at Freedom Industries, the same site where 10,000 gallons of the coal-washing chemical, 4-MCHM was spilled into the Elk River, causing a water crisis that made the tap water unusable for 300,000 people in West Virginia.

 

Yesterday, a storm water containment trench at Freedom Industries overflowed into the Elk River. WSAZ reporter Michael Clouse and WOWK reporter have both reported that the licorice smell associated with 4-MCHM was noticeable. Think Progress reports that it was the Department of Environmental Protection that realized a spill had occurred due to a sump pump failing to send the overflow into a storage tank. The DEP has been on site at Freedom Industry and at West Virginia American Water testing the water. West Virginia American Water reports on their Facebook page that “initial results show no detection of MCHM in water at the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.” They also reported that there have been no odors detected, contrary to what journalists and residents near Freedom and the surrounding area have been reporting.

 

I have seen several people online asking how results from testing results came back so quickly when it took so long to get previous testing on chemical levels in our drinking water from the January 9th spill. I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know from all of my work with the environmental engineering team that has been working on testing the water in home plumbing systems affected by the January 9th spill that different laboratories have different capabilities for detecting chemicals in water. Just because one laboratories’ equipment can’t detect something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. A better lab with more powerful equipment may detect something, but at a much lower level than the screening level than another lab. Also, although MCHM was not detected, there are no reports on what other chemicals may have been present in that water and what other chemicals they have tested for.

 

Another question being posed is how there were still any chemicals at the Freedom Industries site to be spilled into our water again. The West Virginia Gazette reported today that the demolition of the chemical storage tanks at Freedom that Governor Tomblin ordered just two weeks after the January 9 spill has still not occurred because Freedom has not been able to acquire the permits needed to do so. Why would it take so long do get these permits, you may ask? Because Freedom’s bankruptcy case requires that a judge approve all of the company’s expenditures. What I’m unsure of, and I can’t find reports of anywhere, is what is taking so long to approve this expenditure. Apparently, a budget for cleanup and demolition has been filed with the bankruptcy court, but they are sealed so that contractors don’t try to use estimates to inflate their cleanup costs.

The video you watched above will be part of a series of videos, including exclusive news about the WV TAP project, and information on how you can help make West Virginia water clean and keep our state beautiful. So stay tuned!

Also, please read an update with more details on this most recent spill from Ken Ward with the Charleston Gazette.

West Virginia Water Two Months Later

Watch two of the brilliant co-founders of Create West Virginia, Sarah Halstead and Rebecca Kimmons, explain three key points about the water crisis: 1) why we haven’t been protecting our water, 2) why there isn’t more outcry over the water crisis, 3) and how we can make WV a great place to live by making our water the best in the world. That last point is especially important to help us think about how we can turn a terrible situation like the Water Crisis into a turning point for our state.

I filmed this two weeks ago, exactly two months after the Water Crisis began. Sadly, most believe the crisis is over and in the immediate, most surface ways, it is over in that many people are using the water again. However, that does not mean the water is safe. In fact, the West Virginia Testing and Assessment Project (WV TAP) led by Dr. Andrew Whelton has only released preliminary findings and will be conducting more testing in homes. I will be attending and filming their press conference in West Virginia this Friday and will update this blog afterwards.

In the meantime, we all need to keep the pressure on state and federal officials and representatives. This isn’t over and we must be vigilant to prevent another similar crisis and to remediate the damage from the crisis.

I would also like to thank everyone reading this blog for doing so. It has been a true labor of love and I’m just glad to be able to contribute something in response to the crisis.

Look at What You Helped Do!

I received nearly $300 in donations from several generous online donors to buy water, paper towels, and other supplies for people affected by the West Virginia Water Crisis. It was a great day, and I hope I can keep coming back with more for water for people who need it.

Yes, many people affected by the WV Water Crisis still aren’t drinking the water. Yes, it’s getting expensive for them. Yes, you can help.

To learn more about why people are still afraid to drink the water, read my previous post.

If you would like to donate, go to http://www.wvwatercrisis.com/waterdistribution and click on my PayPal link.

This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International License: http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses

West Virginia Water Seven Weeks Later

Newsweek Article

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.

Actionable Step:

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 pollutionchemical spills, and industrial explosionsWest 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.

Actionable Steps:

Share information. Without information we have nothing. Share the individual stories from this site, share news articles, and share information about how to donate, how to protest, how to lobby.

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.

Keep coming back here for more stories. You can subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter @klbryson, or follow me on Facebook.

Share your story. If you want to write a story or do a video interview with me, email me at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com.