Sunday, January 12, 2014

From the Appalachian Apocalypse

Edit: My lovely friend Krys posted this link on Facebook at exactly the same time I was posting this entry. 
 "This is Part 1 of a 2 Part series that will examine the political and social ramifications of the chemical spill in West Virginia and the history of Appalachian struggle against human and ecological destruction. Part 1 will focus on the spill and its aftermath. Part 2 will put this disaster in historical context and discuss what the legacy of ecological and class warfare in central Appalachia can teach ecosocialists today."
Our little triangle family's been very fortunate. I had filled up a gallon container of drinking water Wednesday night for the fridge, then Thursday morning both Shane and I had showered. His parents had a half case of bottled water for us. Shane was called in to work Saturday, and his company gave us two more cases of water and a large bottle of hand sanitizer. His buddy from St. Albans, a nearby town with its own unaffected water supply, brought a camp shower full of hot water to the hollow so we got to wash up. The biggest inconvenience for us has been dirty dishes, but we've eaten a lot of finger foods and we have abundant water in our creek that we're going to process today. We have filters if we run out of drinking water (though that's unlikely) but they aren't practical for treating enough water for washing, so we'll boil it.

So we are fine, and all our people are doing fine. My Dad's had to be quite careful not to have any tap water exposure because he's still rebuilding his immune system from his illness. I am quite keen on seeing schools reopen, as Molly's only attended a handful of days since Christmas break and it has been a long winter for a person who needs a healthy dose of alone time. The grandies had her Friday night and into yesterday evening so I've had a bit of a reboot.

And I found a surprise pair of clean underwear in the dryer yesterday, which was a great boon because OF COURSE every item of clothing in the house was dirty.

The news as of last night is that the testing shows progress in the chemical's dilution in the water supply and when levels consistently read below one part per million they'll need to show those levels holding for 24 hours, and then they'll flush the system. WV American Water has said they'll instruct customers in flushing our residential systems and credit 1,000 gallons- 10 times their estimate for what we'll need to flush each system. 

Meanwhile, MHCM is present in ground soil near the river. Massive numbers of plastic jugs and bottles and disposable plates and utensils will be discarded. And the typically Appalachian icing on the chemical leak cake? No one seems to have any goddamn idea what this chemical does, despite the fact that it was stored right next door to the largest water treatment plant in the state. The emergency contingent plan? What plan? Why would they have a plan? They supply chemicals to coal companies- in West Virginia, the coal industry gets a free pass. (Here's an article about the mechanisms to oversee Freedom Industries and the water company that were unbelievably and blatantly not enforced.)  Over and over again, we see that inspections for the safety of human beings working in the industry and for environmental safety are a cruel joke. People die. Homes and wildlife near mines are poisoned constantly and consistently, all the time. This was a concentrated fuck up in an urban center, and the attention it garnered makes it look like an isolated accident. But don't for a hot minute think that this incident's resolution will mean that West Virginians are safe. This has been a crisis for a long, long time.  

Being an environmentalist in Appalachia is a uniquely depressing and discouraging state of being. Our voices are loudly and thoroughly outnumbered by those who focus on our economic status. And as we live in one of the poorest states in the country, their concern is absolutely valid. But we've taken this to such an extreme that it's resulted in every agency that should be enforcing environmental or safety/health regulations has no teeth whatsoever. Anyone who speaks out about this is soundly written off as a fringe element. 

This is bringing a spike in the volume of voices speaking out for the mountains and rivers, but every time there's a surge like this we are smacked in the face with a big fistful of business as usual. I'm hopeful this crisis will get resolved soon to a point that our water no longer smells foul and is safe to use, though I expect a good lot of us will mistrust drinking tap water for a while. As for being positive about the state of the region's safety in general, I'm afraid I'm all out of idealism there. That ship sailed years ago. 

So it's Dasani and whore's baths and sandwiches for a few more days in these parts. Me and mine are just fine, and there's plenty of comfort in that.


  1. I'm in Charleston too, and wholeheartedly agree with your statement about being an environmentalist here. It's bleak at best.

    Glad your family has enough water! Take care.

    1. Thanks, Kristin:) I hope you & yours are doing well. Thanks for the earth-loving solidarity!