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The spill of 7,500 gallons of a coal-washing chemical into a major source of drinking water in West Virginia has once again brought to public attention how corporate-government connections so often favor industrial interests above the common good. In this instance, nobody died from the spill at a facility not inspected since 1991, although more than a hundred wound up going to physicians to deal with headaches, nausea and other problems related.

For many of the 300,000 people affected by Freedom Industries' government-enabled negligence, getting bottled water to replace what they could no longer use from their taps to drink or bathe was a hassle, especially as stores jacked up prices. Many businesses closed. Neither the full health nor full economic impact is yet known. But for many small businesses, three days shuttered can be as devastating as three days without work for individuals living paycheck to paycheck, as a large percentage of West Virginians do.

Kate Sheppard writes:

Yet finding out where else such chemicals are stored in the state is difficult, environmental advocates say. The forms disclosing the chemicals are filed with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. Communications director Lawrence Messina said the department keeps the past five years of filings, but most of them are on paper—because most of the roughly 9,500 facilities in the state that file these reports still turn them in that way. Electronic filing has only recently become an option, and the department itself does not offer a publicly available online database. Individuals can request a filing for a particular facility, presuming they know of its existence, and county emergency planners keep copies of the filings for their local sites. So some information exists, but there's no easy way to search it by location or chemical.

Coal field activists warn that while the spill in Charleston is a big deal, many in the state could potentially be exposed to the chemical on a daily basis. "It's a big emergency here based on the fact that 300,000 people's water source was polluted, but the story here is that coal companies use this chemical and other chemicals in West Virginia every day," said Bill Price, a West Virginia-based organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

So, just finding out what chemicals are stored at thousands of sites is an immense task that the state ought to be making easier but isn't. Three years ago, as a result of a fatal 2008 explosion of a chemical facility, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board made recommendations designed to prevent recurrences. None of those recommendations have been adopted.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has proposed tightening the 37-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. But, says Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the TSCA revamp may not be the best approach. The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Homeland Security already have regulatory authority over chemicals under the Clean Water Act and other legislation. And the proposed reform of TSCA is only marginally stronger than the existing law.

More analysis below the fold.

The West Virginia spill is just a symptom of the overall disease. Regulations on hazardous chemicals certainly need to be tougher. But without ample inspection and enforcement budgets, all the regulations in the world won't shield anyone.

As Jeff Biggers has written:

“This crisis is about much more than a renegade chemical company,” said Bob Kincaid, board president of Coal River Mountain Watch, an organization based in Raleigh County in the state’s southern coalfields that fights mountaintop-removal mining. “It’s about an entire state subjected day after day for more than a century to a laundry list of poisons by renegade companies. This particular poisoning happened to catch the world’s attention, but for us, it’s another day in the Appalachian Sacrifice Zone.”
One certainty: The last thing we need to do to maintain clean water is to follow the lead of the House of Representatives last week in a voting for a regulation-weakening measure—the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013. That bill—passed 225-188 with only five Democrats on board—handed over to the states authority for regulating and cleaning up hazardous waste. It probably won't get a hearing in the Senate. But the bill sends as clear a signal to Americans on how Republican representatives feel about protecting them as Freedom Industries did in West Virginia: No big deal.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 01:15 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Is the whip hand becoming apparent? (14+ / 0-)

    I think people are beginning to realize that some things are a bit more important than large corporations doling out a handful of jobs to an impoverished area desperate for any kind of employment.

    The way things are isn't necessarily the way things have to be.

  •  Listening to the radio on Monday and heard (21+ / 0-)

    something that sent a chill down my spine. In a piece talking about this spill an scientist from some university mentioned that there really isn't data on this chemical and how it will interact with the environment. Then mentioned, "How could we track the various hazards of all 85,000 or so chemicals we manufacture?" Just like that, matter of fact, no big deal. We have no way of knowing what this stuff will do and even then that is apparently too much regulation for Republicans and their oligarch owners.

    There are lies, damn lies, and statistics but they all pale in comparison to conservative talking points.

    by ontheleftcoast on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 02:00:48 PM PST

    •  Most water companies for large cities only test (10+ / 0-)

      for 89 chemicals. Smaller communities with less than 10,000 people test for less than 67 chemicals.

      And that scientist says there are more than 85,000 chemicals manufactured?

      EWG Tap Water Report:

      The Environmental Working Group's analysis of nearly 20 million drinking water tests conducted by water suppliers nationwide between 2004 and 2009 revealed hundreds of pollutants in U.S. tap water. For most, the government has set no safety-based legal limits. Many other contaminants were found in drinking water at concentrations above government-issued advisory health guidelines.

      EWG obtained this test data from state water authorities over the past three years, compiling it into the largest database of tap water quality in existence. EWG's analysis shows wide variations in water quality. Generally, large water utilities test more often and supply water with lower levels of common pollutants than smaller utilities. But even some large utilities' water is contaminated with multiple pollutants at levels that exceed government health guidelines.


      The public has reason to be concerned. Between 2004 and 2009, water suppliers across the U.S. detected 316 contaminants in water supplied to the public.

      One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. --Carl Jung

      by bronte17 on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:38:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  DING-DING-DING - We have a winner! (8+ / 0-)

      That's the real story - that and "nobody has died yet".

      The thing is that the energy and chemical companies have been incredibly adept at making sure that no studies can be done on the effects of their activities/products so no one knows what the effects might be - AND no one will know if someone has died or is sick because of exposure to these pollutants - I choose NOT to call them "materials" our "compounds" as the spinners were as this story was unfolding.

      It is almost cruel, in my opinion, that the public officials even bothered to put out any warnings.  

      Yes that sounds perverse I know, but the reality is that none of them know what these chemicals are doing to people or the environment; and none of them WANT to know, either.

      The whole thing is so cold and calculatingly destructive that the only reason for believing the public officials were motivated to alert people was that some creepy economist explained to them that wholesale death and illness would screw up their low wage population to the point where industry might be hurt.

      Sorry to be so very cynical, but it is really clear that populations around this country are captives treated more like livestock (although maybe not as well in some cases) than they are being treated like citizens of this nation whose democratic representatives should be working towards making sure that their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are possible.  We have very serious problems in this country and this story is just a tiny example in a sea of misery that is overtaking this country.

      •  In this instance, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        inclusiveheart, justintime

        the saving grace was that the spilled chemical has a distinct, overpowering odor, but what about those (possibly lethal) that don't?  How would we know without experiencing a mass extinction event?

        Here's a chilling 2009 report from the NYT that made it clear back then that the danger is omnipresent.

        •  Well, medical records so long as those (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dharmafarmer, justintime

          statistics are allowed to be compiled would probably give us a clue, but even West Virginia's ugly statistics have not moved the politicians or citizens to change course.

          It isn't as smelly now that it is downstream, but since we do not know what amounts can really hurt people, smell or no smell is almost irrelevant.  In fact, the people of West Virginia may get off scot free while the people in Ohio downstream led to believe that the small traces aren't harmful on the basis of nothing end up getting screwed.  That would be an ultimate and horrifying irony, right?

          •  Somewhere in my online travels (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            inclusiveheart, justintime, JG in MD

            on this topic, I read that the CDC determined for the WV water authority what would be a "safe" level of contaminant remaining in the water, by choosing a percentage that had only killed 50% of the lab rats in previous studies of MCHM used on animals.  There have been no long-term studies of toxicity on humans for MCHM.  That's horrifying enough in the present instance, but what I'm talking about is a possible instance of an unreported spill of a lethal chemical.  The standards and reporting and testing of our water supplies are so lax, how would we even know until it was far too late?

            •  I understand what you're talking about (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              and what I am saying is that the statistical data about instances of ailments and problematic births suggests that there is plenty that has already gone on undetected in the region.

              I know another place like that and in talking to people there they just accept it.  They talk about all kinds of screwed up plagues that everyone in the population seem to be dealing with on some front and say, "Yeah, some people say it was auto parts plant, others say it was the appliance factory, or it could be…"

              They don't say, "Cancer, seizures, weird afflictions - we need to do something about that."  They just collect disability insurance and try to go on.

              The irony of killing the social safety net might be that a real revolt could come out of not getting disability insurance payments, for instance.  That could be the "bridge too far" moment in political terms.

              •  Ah, I hear you now (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                That is the same set of circumstances for coal mining itself.  Entire familial generations work in the mines in some areas knowing the deleterious health hazards, but they do it because they are the only jobs around.  The captains of industry have taken us captives of their industries.

      •  Livestock ... maybe not as well ... (0+ / 0-)

        Most farmers with livestock have enough either decency or common sense to put a badly injured or bad sick animal out of its misery--but that is not allowed with humans.

  •  What does Sen. Boxer have in mind then? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slowbutsure, la urracca, justintime

    She wants something done fast, but other than the hearings she is going to schedule, I don't see what her plans are.

    I hope nobody will support legislation that hands the legislation to regulate usage and clean up hazardous chemcials in the environment to the states.

    It's the favorite way to make sure all that will be done is to please the corporation's interests and profits and keep the current cadre of legislators in the states in their beloved offices... The rest can just "kick the bucket".

  •  People, fauna and flora, (9+ / 0-)

    who cares how this catastrophe has screwed the environment!  I'm so tired of the destruction of those who don't give a damn about this planet or the living.

    It is called a capital offense in cases of treason, espionage, and even deaths caused by plane hijacking... what about environmental destruction and death or disease caused by companies who hijack our planet for corporate profit?  I guess those offenses don't count.

    My thoughts to every one in the path of this destruction.  

    I would rather spend my life searching for truth than live a single day within the comfort of a lie. ~ John Victor Ramses

    by KayCeSF on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 02:34:01 PM PST

  •  an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (5+ / 0-)

    Yes, its an old saying but one that illustrates the need and necessity of regulations and studies about the chemical industry and all extraction methods used in the country.
    What we must demand right now is a comprehensive study on the effects and areas affected by this spill and any others that may come in the future. And lets make sure we get an accurate accounting of what this mess costs the state and the nation now and continuing for as long as the crap resides in WV ground water.

  •  yet another reason we need publicly (7+ / 0-)

    funded campaigns.

    big business is in bed with our legislators
    while the american public and this precious land
    suffer the harm.

    every adult is responsible for every child

    by ridemybike on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:32:45 PM PST

  •  Bet the 'shine from there is ruined for decades (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, la urracca, justintime


    "Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Effort, Concentration, and Wisdom"

    by Dood Abides on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:33:04 PM PST

  •  2016, I highly recommend Californians (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    la urracca

    look at a Primary challenge for Boxer.

    Hell, I'm a Californian.  I hereby nominate myself for the Senate.  

    It's not like I could do much worse.  Just nod, promise whatever the lobbyists want... and then in a PLOT TWIST, I completely ignore them after taking their money and instead listen to the people!

    I don't blame Christians. I blame Stupid. Which sadly is a much more popular religion these days.

    by detroitmechworks on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:34:20 PM PST

    •  I know some reasons why people would... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      detroitmechworks to see Boxer primaried, but I can't imagine why that would be the case in this instance. Boxer is taking the right stance, opposition to a weak "strengthening" of an existing law and support for something better.

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 05:53:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I had to remind myself (5+ / 0-)

    what the federal requirement for testing and reporting municipal drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act actually is.  Once a year and the public can request the report -- if they frigging know about it.  My water supply is tested 4 times a year.

    I'd love to know what the baseline was from the last report -- if there was one submitted, that is.  I'd warrant those people have been drinking contaminated water for years -- just not stuff that looks like motor oil.

    " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:39:11 PM PST

    •  Camp LeJeune (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KayCeSF, Aquarius40, Anna M

      If it weren't for Jerry Ensminger's daughter death at age nine from the leukemia, Congress would never have given in.

      This case was laid at the feet of the military. Who can tell how many the civilian world has wrought?

      War beats down, and sows with salt, the hearts and minds of soldiers." Brecht

      by DaNang65 on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:54:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  They have. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dharmafarmer, KayCeSF

      Statistical data about their birth rates/defects and other ailments bear out that there is something not good going on there, but it is impossible to link any of that to most of these chemicals or industry practices because our government at every level has prevented scientists from studying the effects of their products/activities in order to protect the companies.

      No one can predict what this exposure to this chemical is going to do to anyone because there is no data and that is by design - a tactic cooked up between energy/chemical companies and our political leadership.  It is disgusting.

  •  Across from Freedom Industries is this (4+ / 0-)

    anti-Obama EPA billboard.

    Link to larger version of the sign.

    The sign is paid for by And who are they?

    The Real FACES of Coal: Adfero’s Shadowy GOP Beltway Astroturf Operatives

    The West Virginia Coal Association is one member. Who knows about the rest.

    “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” ― Frederick Douglass

    by TrueBlueMountaineer on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:53:41 PM PST

    •  wow. (6+ / 0-)

      Sadly, when I've watched documentaries about the hard lives of coal miners, they are fighting for the very jobs that are killing them.  I come from a family of miners.  We need to train these people to do other jobs.  Luckily my family members moved on, but not soon enough because most of them died from emphysema or black-lung.

      We need another sign to compete -- call it "The Killing Fields" with another arrow pointing....

      I'm bummed.

      I would rather spend my life searching for truth than live a single day within the comfort of a lie. ~ John Victor Ramses

      by KayCeSF on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 04:03:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is what West Virginians want. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aquarius40, justintime, Eric K

    If they wanted better protections, they would have voted for politicians that supported them. They haven't so they don't.

    We should respect the people of West Virginia. They brought this on themselves.

  •  It's too easy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KayCeSF, justintime

    just to blame West Virginia for wearing the coal collar and to call the State environmental agency a captive of the corporations.

    The bigger problem is that we are cutting funding for the federal government and the EPA.

     It's already illegal to put toxic chemicals  into a leaky storage tank by the river.  Why enact another regulation that cannot be enforced by understaffed agencies?

    We need more and better Democrats who will insist on more federal spending for the EPA.

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 03:55:41 PM PST

    •  As noted, there are plenty of folks at the... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dharmafarmer, 6412093, Eric Nelson

      ...federal level who want looser regs, lowered enforcement, fewer inspections. They seek to turn more of everything over to the states.

      But that still doesn't excuse West Virginia's government. It's that government which decided not to inspect chemical storage facilities. It's that government that has done bupkis with the three-year-old recommendations of the federal U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

      I completely agree with you that there needs to be more money appropriated to the EPA (and other agencies charged with health and safety regulations).

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 05:45:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am cautious about (0+ / 0-)

        remorselessly criticizing the West Va Dept. of Environmental Protection.  

        They did help investigate and prosecute Chesapeake Energy, who was just fined $9.7 million, one of the largest fines for Clean Water Act violations in history, for water pollution at their fracking and gas drilling sites.

        Maybe part of the problem is there are just too many polluters and too few investigators in West Va.

        “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

        by 6412093 on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 10:32:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  How little we know.... (0+ / 0-)

    According to reports, the water is now, more or less, safe to drink again.  However, the CDC is recommending that pregnant women not drink it, because nobody knows much about what it might do to fetal development.

    That statement alone speaks volumes about the mess, and even more about the "less regulation" community within the GOP/TP.  How many more Love Canals do we need before we figure it out?

  •  WHOA! WAIT A MINUTE... (0+ / 0-)

    Now hold on there for just one gosh darn minute! The alleged dangers created by this West Virginia chemical spill couldn't be THAT bad. After all, Freedom Industries assured pregnant women in the area that it's perfectly safe for them to drink the water, at least by now. Yeah, whatever. Let's just wait and see how many deformed, retarded and/or disabled babies are born over the next several months, or even in subsequent generations of children.

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