It doesn’t seem like the smartest idea in the world to place a chemical storage plant a mile upriver from a a water treatment facility, but that’s exactly what West Virginia did. Coal and chemicals are the State’s two major industries and unfortunately they have a bit of a reputation of doing whatever it takes to make a profit.
Six days have passed now since 5,000 gallons of MCMH, a chemical used to clean coal, was spilled into the Elk River. How 5,000 gallons of any liquid can be spilled into a river baffles me. It appears that the root of the problem is the State’s dismissal of safety, health, and environmental controls due to the immense power and pressure of the chemical and coal companies. Regulation slows down the process of getting coal to market. A slowing of the process decreases profits and profits are needed by the men and women that run companies. Maybe this spill will up the pressure and force these executives to bump up the due diligence required to stop disasters like this from happening.
Just yesterday, the nine effected counties were told that she could resume drinking their tap water. Before that the residents could only flush their toilets. They couldn’t even take a shower. While apparently MCMH isn’t the most toxic substance in the world, it is still nasty enough to ban people from allowing it to touch their skin. Unfortunately, the West Virginia government has no control over the animals along the banks of the Elk River. You can’t ban them from entering the river and who knows how many countless animals have suffered because of these chemicals. As to human health, 169 residents were forced to enter emergency rooms in the area for symptoms such as vomiting, skin blistering, and soar throats. I’m smelling a tort lawsuit.
While most people are familiar with West Virginia’s mountain top removal program of coal extraction, the chemicals that are needed to treat the coal are a behind-the-scenes problem that doesn’t get the same publicity. But it is all part of the same industry and same process. The West Virginia coal mining companies are a few decades behind the rest of the country and need to be reeled in a bit to avoid more environmental disasters in the future. Fortunately, special interest groups such as West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Environmental Working Group, and West Virginia Rivers Coalition have already entered the fray to expose what has happened.
It is unfortunate that it usually takes a disaster to bring about change. Hopefully this doesn’t get swept under the rug and forgotten. The Elk River spill is an injustice that innocent people, animals and ecosystems are paying for.
To learn more about West Virginia’s environmental challenges, visit: