Kanawha County

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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West Virginia Water Crisis Preview by Krista Bryson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TLuuaJKMdY.
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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.


Krista Bryson

Erin Brockovich Town Hall Meeting on WV Water Crisis

Thanks for staying tuned, everyone. Here are all the videos I have from the Erin Brockovich Town Hall Meeting. My hope is that someone else will come out with more videos, especially of the mother telling the story of her daughter in the hospital with chemical pneumonitis  (I mentioned this in the last video I posted).

Please continue to check in for updates here, on Twitter (@klbryson), and on my Facebook page (friend or follow me Krista Bryson).

If you only watch one of these, please see Part 7 on how to take steps for change by lobbying local, state, and federal representatives. Erin says, “Make it your business to get involved, and be heard, and be proactive . . . it works.” And she knows from experience.

Part 1: 

Part 2: 

Part 3: 

Part 4: 

Part 5:

Part 6: 

Part 7:

Update on Information Presented at Erin Brockovich Town Hall

As I export my video from the Brockovich town hall about the West Virginia Water Crisis, I will be posting my summaries of and take on the information they gave us there, starting with this:

Erin Brockovich speaking at the town hall

We have already become an anecdote. The national news media is now treating this gross negligence on the part of Freedom Industries and the attendant water crisis as an “accident” that is nearly resolved. I watched the news headlines this morning. We weren’t even mentioned by NBC. Our story took less than 30 seconds on Good Morning America, which then had a story immediately following about a picture of Oprah repairing her own toilet. Here is why we are not a passing news story but a huge crisis that is indicative of incredibly far-reaching negligence and abuse:

It is now day 6 since the chemical spill occurred in Charleston, West Virginia and no one is asking why we haven’t complied to the Source Water Protection Program, which requires the state and federal government to comply with the Clean Water Act by taking an inventory of chemicals in the area around the water plants so they are not surprised and are prepared to deal with these chemicals. Where is the Source Water Protection Program and why weren’t those chemicals inventoried? The news media is NOT asking questions that consumers deserve to know.

Some basic facts about MCHM, the spilled chemical: it is a benzene used in coal washing and jet fuel. Other than that, we don’t know much, as this product was created and patented in 1999. We have seen the health effects of this product in the short-term already, but we don’t know what the long-term effects are for exposure at this level.

The State government is now telling residents in the affected counties to flush their water through their system to “get rid of” the contaminated water. As Bob Bowcock of Erin Brockovich’s team explains, you may be exchanging good water out for bad. In many places, the water in people’s lines and systems is still better water than what would now be coming through. So they’re telling people to run hot water for 15 minutes, then cold water for 5 minutes, and to replace your ice and Brita water filters (with no mention of the fact that your refrigerator has a filter, as does your water tank and many other appliances in your home, like your Keurig or other coffee maker).

The water that they are now running through, as many people have shown in photos and videos, is clearly contaminated. 20 minutes of running the water through a home water system is not getting clean water. Because the water it’s being replaced with is still contaminated! Although they’re telling residents 1 parts per million (ppm) is safe, they have no precedent to make that judgment. This limit is an arbitrary number they have given the public to make us feel more in control of this disaster. The fact is that they don’t know what’s safe. Here is a reference point for you: they regulate other chemicals in your drinking water in parts per billion (ppb) and parts per trillion (ppt). So how are they “defining” safe as 1 ppm?

Now, people who are “flushing their systems” are becoming ill because they are breathing in this contaminant. Neither the government or the news media has suggested that people leave their home while the water runs or even open their windows and doors, which Erin’s team urge people to do.

No one has mentioned to us that not only is this chemical dangerous on its own, flowing through a water treatment plant that adds more chemicals to it. If you know much about how chemicals work, you know this can cause chemicals to oxidize and form new, possibly even more harmful, chemicals. This idea has not been presented to the public through the news or by the government or WV American Water in any of their press conferences. Consumer confidence reports explain that they regulate these “disinfection byproducts” like trihalomethanes or haloecitic acids, which are measured in parts per billion because they are carcinogenic and toxic. They are created when chlorine oxidizes organics, and the same thing is happening to this chemical. They have not done the research to find whether the MCHM has oxidized into other chemicals, many of which are much more dangerous than MCHM.

Again, they’re telling residents that after running the water for only 20 minutes it will be safe. This is completely arbitrary. Here’s a clue: Cincinnati has shut down their water intake systems for the next 48 hours.

The Smell of the Water in Winfield

I filmed this video of the West Virginia Water Crisis yesterday afternoon. After you let the water run about ten seconds, the smell became so strong. It did smell like licorice or anise seed. It was overpowering. You can also see there are more bubbles than usual in tap water (there are always some because of the chemicals used in water treatment plants). But this water was fizzy.

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Krista Bryson, The Smell Outside in Winfield, WV

I took this video last night, Saturday, November 11 at the Winfield Quick Stop in Putnam County. The wind was blowing strong gusts of the “licorice” smell even though the spill was three days ago.

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Krista Bryson, Driving Through Eleanor and Winfield

This is my mom and me on our way to the store. We drive through Eleanor, WV where the National Guard and Red Cross set up a water filling/distribution station and across the Kanawha River and into Winfield, WV.

This morning, I heard unconfirmed reports on the ground that it will be three days before water is potable (safe to drink).

Sorry about the incorrect dates I stated at the beginning of the video. It’s been a crazy time reporting here and I barely know what day it is without a calendar. The chemical spill into the Elk River occurred the morning of Thursday, January 9 and was reported to the public at 5 pm that evening. I filmed this vlog the morning of Sunday, January 12. I spent all day yesterday filming and blogging about the #WaterCrisis and all day Friday live tweeting all news and on-the-ground updates. I have many more updates and stories to tell. So please keep checking back. I have some wonderful friends now helping me edit and upload new videos. Thanks, Jen and Meg!

I also plan to have a more formal reflection on the events of the past few days soon. There are much larger, long-term concerns that I want to talk about, especially within the context of history of the exploitation of the environment and people of West Virginia.

Thank you to everyone who has viewed and shared this blog. People need to know what is going on here in West Virginia and start thinking about what has been going on here for decades.

You can also follow me for updates on Twitter: @klbryson

Steve Pauley, Former Chemical Plant Worker, Culloden, Putnam County

I have been watching this situation very closely, and I have to say that I am quite upset. However, it’s not at WV American Water or Freedom Industries so much. I do hold them responsible, but I am more upset at this whole “Water Crisis” idea that has been swirling about. This my friends is not a crisis, it’s an inconvenience. This thing is being reported as a catastrophic event, but it is not. It is a symptom of a larger crisis, the real and true devastation in this area and this state. I’m talking about the chemical and mining industries. They have brought destruction, illness, and death, but they are treated as saviors.

To tell you my story, I have to go beyond this water situation and back several decades. My father past away in 2006. He worked at the chemical plant in Institute. He worked there most of his adult life, surrounded by chemical leaks and even had a job for many years burying the most hazardous chemical waste in the landfill on Goff Mountain. He had major health problems for most of my life. He was in and out of the hospital more times than I could even count. He had three heart attacks by the age of 60. And, he finally died at the age of 70 from numerous disorders. I know that it is all due to the time he spent in that plant.

I remember one particular incident that spells out the mindset of the chemical industry and the state government around here. When I was around eight years-old, there was a leak at the plant (as there were on many occasions). Some gas was released that was so toxic it peeled the paint on all the cars in the parking lots and surrounding areas. The workers and residents of the area complained to the governor and what they got was $100 to get their cars detailed, with no mention of health risks of inhaling this stuff.

When I was in my twenties I too worked in the chemical plant, because there were so few other jobs for non-skilled people like me who also had no access to higher education. I spent two years in the plant, and in that time I saw chemical leaks on a daily basis. And, each time some representative from the chemical company or the state government always insisted that the leak was “contained within the plant.” I always wondered, as most of the leaks were gases, how they managed to contain gases within the plant. Was there some magic force field around the plant that kept them in?

Let me share one last story about my decision to finally leave the chemical plant. One day I was up on a tower cleaning up some waste material that had leaked out (supposedly with protective gear, but I never felt entirely secure about its effectiveness). While I was up there the chemical alarm sounded for a gas leak of Methyl isocyanate (MIC), the same stuff that killed all those people in Bhopal, India in 1984. During the alarm everyone else sheltered in place, but I was up on a tower and couldn’t get down, so I was left there while all these chemicals swirled around me. Once the emergency was over, someone finally came to get me down, but only after they had me finish the job that I was doing up there. I sent letters to OSHA and my congressman about the incident and was assured that there would be a “thorough investigation.” That was in 1991, and I’m still waiting to hear anything further about it.

So, you see why I don’t regard this latest event as a major event. This sort of thing has been happening to the people of “Chemical Valley” for decades and the government is in support of the companies. I will guarantee now that promises of investigations and full accountability will be made, but a month from now, this will be like it never happened and every official from the government and the companies involved will have “forgotten” that it ever happened. And, that is my story.

Rick Masley, St. Albans, Kanawha County

Freedom Industries is responsible for leaking Eastmans Crude MCHC product into the Elk River Watershead.

West Virginia American Water is responsible for not removing it from the water they supply to their customers nor detecting it while first saying their plant was removing it.

Various city and state representatives are responsible for declaring a state of emergency and preventing 300K citizens the us of water without any evidence it is unsafe which has also crippled thousands of businesses. They are also liable for gross negligence for ignoring Freedom Industries Tier 2 form disclosure and not having any plans in place for a dealing with a leak when they were fully aware that the tank farm was situated on the Elk and less than 1.5 miles from WVAW’s water intake. Over the years they’ve accepted 10’s of millions of dollars of tax payers money to plan for events like these.

This is a terrible situation infinitely exacerbated by the negligence of many individuals. There will be a reckoning in the coming weeks and months and all will be held fully accountable for their failures.

I urge every body affected by this travesty to first secure water and food provisions for their family, check on your neighbors and then to seek legal representation as soon as possible. There will be lawsuits against a multitude of public and private entities. Please file your claim as soon as possible to ensure that you can be compensated before the bankruptcies and insurance limits.