“Our botched and embarrassing and incompetent and confusing and unserious national response to this disaster is AS SCARY as the spill itself.” ~ Rachel Maddow
A month after the chemical spill that left 300,000 people in West Virginia with dangerously contaminated water, it seems that little has been sorted out, and people are still left wondering if their water is safe to drink or bathe and clean with. It’s very possible that you haven’t heard about what happened in Charleston, WV, so if you don’t know about it, here is a Well-Written Explanation. My short version is this: Some rich guys started a chemical storage company (and called it Freedom Industries) that made all kinds of money by taking advantage of system that called for almost no oversight and demanded no accountability for the safety of their facilities, they spilled a whole lot of a dangerous chemical into the Elk River and the water intake, the town’s water started smelling like black licorice and people started getting sick, and then seven days later the company filed for bankruptcy to protect their considerable wealth.
If this sounds gross to you, it’s because it is. And now, a few days ago a Duke Energy facility spilled about 82000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water that poured into the Dan River in North Carolina, once again threatening the drinking water for the people in the area, as well as all the people downstream who also depend on that river. In 2008 here in Tennessee, a solid waste containment facility failed and spilled over a billion gallons of coal ash slurry and sludge. The next year, when the EPA was considering regulations that would require companies like Duke Energy to clean up their coal ash messes (that contain arsenic, mercury and many other cancer-causing heavy metals), Duke Energy and other companies successfully lobbied to prevent regulations that could have prevented this recent disaster (You can read more about it HERE). Not only that, but a something called the “American Coal Ash Association” (a group with strong ties to Duke energy and other utilities) basically wrote the EPA’s publications about coal ash for them (You can read more about that HERE).
This stuff is so messed up. In the West Virginia chemical spill, there had not been an inspection of the site by state or federal regulators since 1991 (!!!) when the facility was owned by Pennzoil. When companies complain about the huge burden that they are under because of all the regulations with which they have to comply, please think about the fact that when this disaster took place, this chemical storage facility hadn’t been inspected in 23 YEARS!! Big companies will claim that safety regulations make it impossible to make a profit, and they’ll threaten that more regulations will just cost people their jobs and “hurt the economy.” But those profits are not going toward creating more and better paying jobs—Those profits are going three places: They are going toward insuring high returns for their wealthy investors, they are going toward paying lobbyists and political action groups and politicians to keep things highly unregulated (or deregulate industry even further), and they are going right into the pockets of the people who own the companies.
These companies legally segment their businesses to protect their money in the event something like this happens. Then, when yet another river is polluted and 300,000 families (and God only knows how much wildlife was affected) have to go two weeks without water (followed by two weeks of being told that the water is safe to drink, just to find out that it probably isn’t), the company declares bankruptcy and the executives go on living in their gated communities—All while thousands of poor kids write letters to their dads (many who are probably in prison for selling some pot that they grew in their basement) to complain that their eyes still hurt when they take a shower. And a year or two later, they open up another company under a different name, and nothing changes….
Some people are scared of what the government might do to us, but I believe there’s way more danger in what big business is going to do to us WITHOUT government. This kind of tragedy is exactly why we need government. History has shown that many companies, left to themselves, will poison and pollute whatever happens to get in the way of increasing their profits and power. But the people with enough money to buy the ads are selling a story. They are spreading an idea…. This whole idea that regulation is bad. Well, they are right. Regulation IS bad. It’s bad for companies who put profits above people. It’s bad for industries who put the salaries of their CEOs above the safety of the people who live near their factories. But regulation is NOT bad for the rest of us. I realize that fire escapes and sprinkler systems are expensive when you’re putting up a building, but so are funerals for burn victims.
I work at a restaurant a couple nights a week. Restaurants have to stay diligent with their food safety standards, not just because they want to provide a good product, but also because at any point there could be a health inspection. And as inconvenient as it might sometimes be to have to check the temperature of the foods we have, it’s way better than having a bunch of people get E Coli because the regulations aren’t in place. Sure, you could set things up so that if people get sick and sue the restaurant, your personal assets are safe, and the company can just declare bankruptcy, but what about all those sick people? Sorry…. Here’s a To Go bag?
My wife grew up in West Virginia. Her family has countless stories of friends, family members and acquaintances, young and old, from that area that have all battled (or died from) cancer and many other health problems. Older folks used to have bomb drills in school, and people in some parts of the country have earthquake drills, but when my wife was in elementary school, they used to have “Shelter In Place” drills where they would duct tape the doors and windows in the event of a chemical leak or spill. This chemical spill in Charleston (as well as the giant coal ash spill on the Dan River) is a direct result of “business-friendly” deregulation. And “business-friendly” is just code for “business-owner-friendly,” but the people who live and work in the towns are getting screwed from every possible angle. Two weeks into the “all clear,” and they’re closing five schools along the river and still sending all kinds of people to the hospital with exposure symptoms when they heat up their water?!? We have no idea how exposure to/ingestion of this chemical is going to affect future childbirths or health issues…. If this sort of thing was happening in many other parts of the country, there would be non-stop press coverage and national outrage!
The first time I visited West Virginia, it was for a white water rafting trip. It is an amazingly beautiful state. I will never forget the feeling of awe I had while looking down at the New River Gorge…. Or the feeling of smallness as we rafted down that river. There is so much beauty in West Virginia. It truly is Wild and Wonderful. It is shameful the way this disaster is being handled. Shameful. We need to start making some noise! Not just the people in West Virginia, but the rest of us too. This is not okay…. Please, help me make some noise.
Here are a couple of quotes to consider: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” ~ Edward Abbey
“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last river poisoned and the last animal has died will we realize we cannot eat or drink money.”
~ Cree Prophecy