WV Citizen Action Statement on WV Water Crisis
More than a week after tanks at Freedom Industries leaked 7500 gallons of a toxic chemical 4 Methylcyclohexane Methanol (4 MCHM) into the Elk River, citizens across the region remain at risk of exposure. Many citizens are questioning why this disaster was allowed to happen and how will we prevent a disaster like this from happening ever again.
The chemical spill which contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginia citizens in nine counties was totally preventable. Why would a facility built in 1930, and no one seems to know when last inspected, be allowed to store tens of thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical 1.5 miles upstream from a public water supply? As the sole water source for so many, why didn’t West Virginia American Water, like many other public and privately owned water companies, have an alternate water intake or a plan in place to respond to a crisis of this magnitude?
This crisis is a result of the combined failure of local, state, and federal agencies to adequately monitor and regulate chemical storage sites, including the Freedom Industries Facility on the Elk River in Charleston, emphasizing the need to correct the state’s culture of lax or non-enforcement of laws and regulations designed to protect the public and our most valuable resource, clean drinking water.
Regulated industries are treated as “customers” by our Dept. of Environmental Protection. Leadership there seems to consider their job to be the issuance of permits to their customers. West Virginia is “Open for Business,” but where is the enforcement? Is this disaster a result of the state’s mindset as expressed by our governor in his state of the state address when he directly referred to the necessity of “…doing what we can to help the [coal] industry reduce costs,”?
We call on elected officials at all levels of government to move quickly to support and enact the common sense recommendations of the National Chemical Safety Board offered over five years ago as a result of the explosion, deaths and chemical exposures at the Bayer Crop Science plant. These recommendations should be enacted with community input to cover both manufacturing and storage facilities dealing with toxic chemicals.
Further, we need comprehensive industrial siting regulations in our state to prevent the precarious siting of a water plant and chemical storage facility in close proximity to each other without proper risk assessment.
As the recovery of our water supply continues and water is restored to population centers, we should not forget about our neighbors that have yet to be allowed access to the water supply. We also understand and sympathize with those who remain concerned with the safety of the water. As an organization we emphasize the importance of a safe water supply for all West Virginians, including those in the southern coalfields and in the northern fracking fields.
In the short term, our government must be held accountable in further determining safe exposure levels to harmful water-borne pollutants and provide for medical monitoring of exposed citizens who request it to detect both short and long term effects of exposure.
In addition to supporting local businesses that have suffered, we must also make provisions for the many low-wage workers who have been laid off without pay due to circumstances relating to this event. We encourage Governor Tomblin to submit a request for disaster recognition from President Obama, making affected workers eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance.
Gary Zuckett, Exec. Director, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, 304-346-5891, garyz at wvcag.org