Monday, March 31, 2014
I wish taking a shower in a chemical bath didn't feel so good
I just got out of the shower in downtown Charleston, West Virginia. It felt so good. I was invigorated as the licorice scented water flowed over my body. At the same time I couldn't free myself from the feeling that I was bathing in a fountain of toxic waste. You see, we can't relax in the water around here. We can't drink the water around here. We can't cook, we can't clean and we certainly can't give the water to our kids. We had a chemical leak into our water supply here back in January. At the time I thought it would be over in a matter of days and I had a good time jumping on the "let's make fun of the water" jokes at the time. Even as I realized the seriousness of the situation, I thought it would end and be a bad memory by now - a month later. Well that's not the case. We were told not to use our water for anything but flushing toilets. President Obama sent FEMA in with truckloads of water and disaster relief specialists. It became part of the daily routine to stand in line for a couple of cases of water. Water we were grateful for because every store in the area sold out of water within an hour and people actually started fighting and looting within another couple of hours of that. So we needed the water. Even now we need it because on the one hand they are telling us it's okay to drink and on the other hand people are going to hospitals in ambulances because of exposure to the water. Just the other day the woman from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) told us the "water is suitable for use," then in the same sentence she said that "doesn't mean the water is safe." So what the hell? We're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't...what's a girl to do? I try to make light of a very serious situation because there is really no other way for me to handle it. People who have never been activists in their lives are screaming to the rafters at our politicians to no avail. But I knew that would happen. I grew up in the coalfields and I have watched the mines run over people all my life with no one to answer to. But they (big industry) made a mistake this time. They didn't mess up the water to 20 or 30 families up some hollow somewhere that nobody ever heard about before. They screwed with the water of 300,000 people. And that water happened to supply the largest city in West Virginia. And people aren't letting it go this time. They are organizing and they are doing everything they can to keep the story in the media because that is the only way to fight this battle. It's hard for politicians and chemical companies to sweep something under the rug when national media keep coming in and asking questions. So maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. Maybe our politicians will listen to people who have the nerve to exclaim that clean drinking water is a basic human right! So far our elected officials efforts to "make the problem go away" are largely unsuccessful. They tell us the water is safe and then we get hit with another bomb to let us know that it is not. Here's a list: 1. MCHM spills into the Elk River from Freedom Industries. They don't notify anyone that there was a spill until DEP comes on the scene because of odor complaints of a licorice like smell flood their offices. 2. The water is sucked into the intake valves at the West Virginia American Water Company before they have notice of the spill. They are located less than a mile downriver from Freedom Industries. The contaminated water is in the system and they cannot treat this kind of chemical to get it out of the water. 3. We are issued "DO NOT USE" orders to not use the water for anything but flushing toilets. 4. The following Monday we are told that we can start flushing the water from our pipes because the chemical is working it's way out of the system. This is done in phases to facilitate the flushing process. 5. Even though I flushed my lines for over an hour I can still smell the strong scent of licorice in my water. Other people are reporting orange and black and green sediment in their water. It is shrugged off as particles that settled in the pipes in the week we could not use the water. We are assured the water is safe. 6. Freedom Industries declares bankruptcy to absolve itself of financial obligations resulting from the spill. This was laughable because it has been an old coal company dodge since before I was even born. But all the other times I have seen it used the businesses waited a year or so to do it and at least put up a front of trying to make it look like they were trying to be responsible for their actions. It only took Freedom one week to do it. 7. We find out that West Virginia American Water is using water from Charleston to refill the bulk water trucks. People found out because when they stood in line for hours to get clean water it smelled like licorice in the jugs they were using. It was at this point in time that our politicians and the Water Company quit giving press conferences. 8. They keep telling us the water is safe. They try to stop bulk water distribution but the public outcry is too great. They reinstate it on a limited basis. 9. The smell comes and goes in the water. Just when you start to relax the licorice scent comes back with no explanation as to why. 10. They admit that Freedom Industries has had another "small" leak of MCHM but they say it didn't reach the river. However the licorice smell is as strong as ever in the vicinity of the plant even though they were supposed to move all chemicals from the site weeks before. Then the chemicals they did move were at a site that was cited for not being able to adequately store chemicals of that nature. People in the area are complaining about the licorice smell and they are getting sick. 11. Hundred's of people go to the emergency rooms even after the water is safe. They have symptoms ranging from burning nose, eyes and throat, headaches, skin rashes, nose bleeds and peeling skin as well as other symptoms of chemical exposure. 12. After the "DO NOT USE" order was lifted they said that pregnant women, children under 3 and those with compromised immune systems should still not use the water. So pardon me for enjoying my shower. I like to think I am okay but who knows.