Here is the email I sent to everyone I could today at OSU and the local news media in Columbus about both the documentary screening of Hollow I organized for tomorrow on-campus and how it exposes the long-term pollution of water in McDowell County, WV. I also took the opportunity to inform folks of the West Virginia Water Crisis. Please feel free to share my summary of the crisis.
Dear friends and colleagues,
Please join the Appalachian Project for the Screening and Director’s Discussion of Hollow: An Interactive Documentary on life in McDowell County, WV, dubbed a “dying county” due to an 80% population loss spurred by the town’s abandonment by the coal industry.
The event will take place tomorrow, Thursday, January 16 from 3:30-5:30 pm in the Barbie Tootle Room at the Ohio Union. Food and refreshments will be provided.
For more information, see flyer attached. I encourage you to pass this on to your students, friends, and colleagues.
This story is especially pertinent now as we learn more about the West Virginia Water Crisis (see below). McDowell County residents haven’t had clean water for decades. In 2001, the McDowell County Wastewater Coalition reported that 67% of the county’s water wasn’t treated. That means residents have water that contains raw sewage. This remains the state of the water there now. When the director of Hollow lived in McDowell for several months while filming, she drank only bottled water. Clearly, water quality is a much bigger problem in West Virginia than we are led to believe by coverage of the chemical spill.
If you haven’t heard about the West Virginia Water Crisis that has been going on for the last six days now, please inform yourselves. I began live tweeting the news and on-the-ground reports last Friday, the day after the chemical spill occurred. On Saturday, I went to West Virginia and collected video and written stories from residents affected by the crisis, which I have posted here: https://westvirginiawatercrisis.wordpress.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @klbryson for updates. Here is the first 36 hours recap filmed by the director of Hollow, Elaine McMillion.
Below is a summary of the West Virginia Water Crisis, which I encourage you to share. The sharing of information is the most powerful tool we have right now.
Over 300,000 people are not only without water, but were exposed to MCHM (4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol), a coal washing chemical and jet fuel component, spilled in our water by Freedom Industries in Charleston, WV. Reports of exactly how much spilled have varied, but the most recently agreed upon number is 7,500 gallons from a “leak” in a containment tank that the DEP has now informed us appears to have been present for much longer than one week; people from the area are coming forward about smelling the licorice-scented chemical for a month now. Not only were there no inspections of these tanks since 1991, once the leak occurred, the cleanup has been botched and the health risks misrepresented. Residents were not notified the water was unsafe until 9 hours after the leak occurred (if it actually hadn’t been leaking already).
The local news media is still reporting as they “flush” the lines in West Virginia so the water is safe for everyday use and consumption, but the national news and other regional news media has already moved on. But this is not over. We need to rally to force the Attorney General and state and federal legislators to do their jobs Many people are now severely ill; I’ve heard reports of up to 175 hospitalized and met the mother of a woman with chemical pneumonitis from exposure to the contamination. Now that the DEP and WV state government are telling people in “flushed” areas it’s safe to use and drink, those people are getting sick as well. When inhaled, the water can cause lung irritation and after long-term exposure, lung disease.
This water is now traveling down the Ohio River. Cincinnati closed two of their intake valves to eliminate any risk of their residents becoming ill even though they have the proper filtration systems to remove this chemical.
I attended a town hall with Erin Brockovich and her Water Systems specialist on Monday. Her team says this is the largest water crisis they have ever seen (watch video footage here). It will be many years before we know the long-term effects this chemical exposure will have on our health. We have already suffered a short-term devastation of the economy and residents’ well-being.
I hope you continue to watch for more news on this disaster. I will continue to update my blog about any community and legislative action we organize.