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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.

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.

How to Engage People in Critical Dialogue about the Water Crisis

If you’re interested in how to engage people who are resistant to being critical of the coal or chemical industries in West Virginia in conversations about the Water Crisis, this is the video for you. My dear friend and mentor Dr. Roxanne Aftanas speaks about the rhetoric of coal and chemical industries in West Virginia and her view on the Water Crisis. An Arkansas native, Roxanne has a unique outsider/insider perspective. After living and teaching here for nearly a decade, she offers her take on how she gets her students to think critically about the industrial economy in West Virginia and what it has or hasn’t done for them. She asks them, if coal keeps the lights on, where’s the money? She also speaks about the effect of the coal industry on education as she has observed as a university professor and as a parent.

I filmed this just a few days after the chemical spill occurred, so the way people are now responding has certainly evolved since then. But there are still so many people who are unwillingly to be critical of the industries that “sustain” West Virginia and are killing West Virginians and destroying our environment. Roxanne’s interview serves as an example of how we can engage more critical dialogues with those who are resistant.

I’m returning to West Virginia this weekend to film. If you have contacted me about doing an interview and I haven’t gotten back to yet, please don’t think I’ve forgotten you! I will be in touch soon. Everyone’s story is important and I will do my best to get to all of you who have so generously offered to tell me yours.

*None of the opinions featured in this interview  reflect those of Marshall University.

A Preview: The West Virginia Water Crisis

A Preview of Things to Come:

“The West Virginia Water Crisis: Stop the Cycle of Abuse”

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Hollow: An Interactive Documentary

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.

Hollow: An interactive Documentary Screening

———–

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.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Krista Bryson

Jeff Pratt, School Teacher, Bancroft, Putnam County

Great site. Talked to your mom and she was so proud of what you are doing. Living in the chemical valley has taken another wrong turn in the course of providing “the commons” for the people that work and sweat so that out of state and out of country corporations can reap huge profits. Do these profits flow back, or should I say trickle down, to our people?  The “commons” are the air we breathe, the water we drink (or used to), and our natural resources and beauty. We need to protect the “commons” so that we can grow and improve our lives and the image of our state.

I was listening to John Boehner in an interview about our crisis and he went straight to the fact that we have enough regulations already, typical of a politician that is beholden to big corporations for campaign donations.

About regulations, I am sure we have regulations on the books, but common sense would dictate that if you have chemical storage facilities upriver from a water plant, then you would be inspecting that facility on a regular basis, like once every three months, instead of once every 23 years. Somebody dropped the ball (probably while stuffing wads of campaign cash in their pockets) and our press/media need to keep the heat on our elected officials so that the “commons” will still be here for our grandchildren.  Be proactive, write letters, attend town hall meetings, ask questions. Then and only then might we start climbing out of the hole dug for us by big corporations.

Lee Higginbotham, Putnam County Worker, Out of Work Due to Crisis

Lee offers the perspective of someone who is temporarily out of work due to the West Virginia Water Crisis. Many people claim the crisis is only a minor inconvenience to those affected, but just a few days missed pay can be financially disastrous for some people.

My parents have given store credit to several people who would otherwise be unable to buy food this week. If this goes on for much longer, many say they won’t be able to pay their rent next month.

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Monteea Childers, Business Owner, on a Better Response in Putnam County

Monteea, who had to close her dance studio during the water crisis, describes the disorganized response and different official responses in Putnam County and Kanawha County. She also describes her perspective on this crisis as a long-time resident of “Chemical Valley,” including the realities of living in an area where drinking water and swimming holes are frequently contaminated with chemicals. She believes that this contributes to the high cancer rate in her area.

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Steve Meeks, WV Department of Highways Worker, Liberty, Putnam County

Steve Meeks, who works for the West Virginia Department of Highways, talks about working the midnight shift for WVDOH. During the first midnight shift of the water crisis, he helped “about 25 people” fill jugs of water from a pump station.

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Sadara Leslie, Mother of Two, Hometown, Putnam County

Sadara talks about the challenges of finding water to make bottles for her toddler, concerns about the long-term health effects of the water crisis, knowing people who were hospitalized due to skin rashes,how the crisis affects small businesses that “can’t afford” the losses, and her thoughts on how the media is covering the water crisis.

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