Action Groups, Experts, Mom Look Back and Forward After Chemical Spill

Jan 9, 2015

Credit wikimedia / Wikimedia

Leaders of citizen groups, a water scientist and an impacted mother held a phone-based news conference this week to look back on the crisis and outline the progress, pitfalls and next steps in their work to ensure safe drinking water for all West Virginians.

On the call:

RECAP:

Executive Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Janet Keating started the call off with a recap of events that lead to state legislation, SB 373, and Freedom Industry’s bankruptcy and subsequent indictments.

Executive Director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Angie Rosser reflected that there was plenty of blame to go around when it came to a chemical spill that could taint drinking water of 300,000 people.

“I don’t think it’s any one person,” Rosser said, “it’s the whole system and the politics in West Virginia that have for decades set us up, in my opinion, for this kind of catastrophe.”

TODAY:

According to a survey conducted over the summer by the social justice organization WV FREE, 80 percent of voters said they are concerned about toxins in public water sources. Many West Virginians are now heavily embracing a cultural standard of living off of plastic-bottled water. (Bottled water which, in addition to not being free, doesn’t happen to be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.)

The lack of public confidence is understandable, according to aquatic biologist Dr. Ben Stout from Wheeling Jesuit University. Stout pointed out some of the concerns he was left with after the spill, including how alarming it was that, “if it hadn’t been for the smell, for our human ability to detect small quantities of 4-MCHM, we would have never known that this whole community was exposed to a potentially toxic material.”

It’s a troubling realization, Rosser--from the Rivers Coalition--said, especially in light of the findings of recently implemented above-ground storage tank inspections.

Rosser: “The first round of inspections were completed by January 1, just a few days ago. And what was revealed this week to the public is that of those inspections that have been submitted,1,100 of those did not pass inspection. They’re deemed ‘not fit for service.’ That shows us that there are still tanks out there that may be leaking today.”

The discussion also encompassed some happy lessons learned in light of the spill.

  • Ben Stout talked about the abundant scientific resources in the region who sprang to respond;
  • Rosser said she saw progress from state officials who, for the first time, started to consult with citizen action groups in the wake of the crisis.

TOMORROW:

Rosser posed the question: “Will the public remain active?”

Looking forward, groups discussed anticipated legislative hurdles like funding Source Water Protection Plans and safeguarding other protective water laws and regulations.  

"The legislation and the progress that we saw over the last year could not have happened without citizen involvement," she said.