Friday, January 31, 2014

Nurse the Hate: Hate West Virginia Water

If that chemical spill in West Virginia had happened anywhere else in the country (with maybe the exception of Mississippi), the heads of Freedom Industries and the government officials scrambling to protect special interests would have their heads on pikes as residents danced in the streets dragging the decapitated bodies behind them.  Substitute “Charleston” with “Boston” or “New York”, and CNN would be broadcasting around the clock burrowing into the lives and business practices of all the players.  60 Minutes would be doing full hour specials dedicated to the event.  Hollywood actors would be testifying before Congress that Something Must Be Done.  A gigantic relief concert would be constructed with Jay-Z, Rascal Flatts, and Daft Punk joining on stage to sing “America the Beautiful” disco style while a website took in millions of donations towards a shadowy “relief  fund”.  We might all be told to tie blue ribbons around trees, or something equally pointless.  However, since it happened in a place that most people don’t think about, it has already moved into the back pages of the news cycle.

For those not following the story, a company that specializes in chemicals used for “washing coal” kept giant storage tanks right next to the river that provides water to the 300,000+ residents of the area.  Why they kept giant drums of a chemical as toxic as you imagine it would be right next to the region’s water supply is sort of beyond comprehension.  Why those big rusty tanks had not been inspected by anyone since allegedly 1991 is a little concerning as well.  "Hey Earl!  We haven't had the tanks checked in 22 years!  Should we look at 'em or wanna go to Nitro and bet the dogs?  Yee-haw!"  Let's keep our expectation s realistic.  It is West Virginia and fucked up things happen all day every day.  The coal industry has a complete stranglehold on the state.  It’s not like the State is expecting to become a major tech hub or healthcare provider anytime soon.  The hand West Virginia has been dealt is coal, and that’s the one they are playing.  As coal and chemical concerns have the money, coal and chemical concerns dictate the politics.  That is why no one that lives in the area can get a straight answer on the scope of the spill, and the possible side effects to exposure to it.  No one knows, and if they do, they sure as hell aren't saying.

When the spill happened, officials told residents to flush their systems with water they had treated with God Knows What  other chemicals they added to it to counteract with the MCHM that leaked in.  While at the time it sounded like they knew what they were talking about, when people followed instructions they received chemical burns if they took a shower.  I would think that if you wanted to actually drink the water, you’d need a bit more than a Britta filter.  That’s just my guess though.  I’m no scientist.  Now, weeks later, people are still complaining about a formaldehyde smell from the water.  The good news is that West Virginia’s public health commissioner, Letitia Tierney, called these claims “totally unfounded,” saying formaldehyde “is ubiquitous in daily life and produced by the body in small doses, and that it could not logically have originated with the spill”.

Oh.  Well, that explains it.  Drink up!

At this point the lobbyists are in full spin mode, doing whatever they need to do to continue to allow their clients to rape the land at their target profit levels.  It is crystal clear that no one has any real idea of the potential effects of having thousands of gallons of “coal cleaning” chemical dumped into the water supply.  These guys are all winging it, and they are willing to put the lives of the 300,000+ people that need to use that water at risk so they won’t be under the microscope of any real inspection or regulation.  It is all about maintaining their profits.  Fuck everyone else.  By the time the cancers start multiplying, and children start dropping dead from mystery illnesses, the companies tied into this chemical spill will have been dissolved and re-built as “new” companies that can’t be held libel for anything that happened before incorporation.  Hell, Freedom Industries, the company that owned the tanks and allowed this to happen has already declared bankruptcy.  They are essentially already off the hook.

While these poor people try and figure out how to live in poison, perhaps it is time to start considering a different tact for chemical spills like this one, or the Gulf Oil Spill.  Now is the time to pursue criminal convictions for corporate negligence.  If a company makes unimaginable wealth by taking from the environment, they also have the responsibility to maintain that environment.  Despite the fact these companies are always eager to shout how they are able to “police themselves”, the track record points to the exact opposite conclusion.  Real accountability isn’t a fine that won’t actually curtail recklessness.  That’s just an inconvenience and a business expense.  Real accountability is going to jail for a decade.  That’s when safety starts to become a major concern.  Which will get a corporate CEO's attention?  His writing a check and explaining to stock holders why profits are down on a conference call, or his going to prison with real criminals for a ten year stretch?  I'm guessing prison, though I have been on some unpleasant conference calls...

The PR pros will now try to dilute this chemical spill with too much technical information, and confuse the public.  There will be studies and jargon and advanced chemistry.  No one will be able to make heads or tails out of it.  They will offer up paid opinions saying the danger is over and all is well.  Sage looking scientists from impressive sounding groups will go on TV and confidently provide information that benefits the chemical companies.  Lobbyists will introduce some toothless legislation that will appear to offer solutions, but will actually have no effect thanks to the small print.  The national news media has already tired of the story, ready to breathlessly watch Olympic half pipe and ice dancing.  More chemicals will be quietly dumped into the water in an attempt to figure out a way to make the water passable.  West Virginia is once again on its own, left to Big Coal. 
God help them.    



At February 3, 2014 at 3:50:00 PM EST , Blogger ScottyJ said...

Nice piece Greg! I'll give you a high five with my new hand when I see you again....

At February 8, 2014 at 4:49:00 PM EST , Blogger Greg Miller said...

Is that a hand you are growing out of your back due to the water contamination?


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