|Last month, an estimated 10,000 gallons of the coal-processing chemical MCHM, along with an unknown amount of a second substance called PPH, spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River—just upstream from a municipal water intake that serves nine counties. Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the spill, neglected to report it, despite some residents claiming to have smelled the chemicals as far back as December. After repeated complaints of a strong licorice-like smell, state inspectors literally followed their noses to the source. It wasn’t until many hours later that the water company and government agencies finally warned residents to avoid any contact with water—aside from flushing toilets and putting out fires.
In the seven weeks since the disaster that has left 300,000 people unsure about the safety of their water, confusion and anger have mounted, and an estimated 400 people have been sent to the hospital. While government and industry have been slow to respond to the needs of the people, some remarkable community organizing has taken place, drawing on West Virginia’s long, proud history of grassroots work for environmental and economic justice—including powerful work against the abuses of the chemical and coal industries responsible for the spill.
Only a few hours after news of the spill began trickling out, a grassroots group called WV Clean Water Hub had already begun organizing water deliveries through its Facebook page. That quickly turned into a massive community-organized effort supported by new volunteers, as well as long-established grassroots groups in West Virginia—including Aurora Lights, Coal River Mountain Watch, Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and RAMPS. By working to identify communities in need of clean water and supplies, as well as connecting affected communities with volunteers and donors, this wiki-style relief effort has filled the gap left by larger relief organizations.
“There is so much bureaucracy [at the larger relief organizations] that communities fall through the cracks,” said Nate May, a volunteer organizer with WV Clean Water Hub. “We’re hearing directly from the people who need the water. Someone will post on the Facebook page that they need water and we’ll make a meme out of it. Then someone else will post when they can deliver some.”
In many communities, the water was officially declared safe for all but pregnant women within a week of the spill, but residents are still experiencing adverse reactions to touching or smelling the water coming from their taps. Some government officials recommend against exposure, while others just say to be cautious.
“The stories that get me the most are the stories of mothers with children who are sick and asking why the state is not considering it an emergency,” said Jen Osha-Buysse, a volunteer organizer with Aurora Lights. “I have spoken with many families who haven’t been able to work in the weeks since the chemical spill. They can’t just not buy water, but they also can’t afford to buy food or pay heating bills in the freezing weather.”
The WV Clean Water Hub has been led largely by environmental groups, which can be a source of tension in communities that have been split by the “jobs vs. environment” myth perpetuated by the coal industry. However, the crisis has inspired many to ignore politics. For instance, landscaping companies have donated the use of their trucks, while schools, Girls Scouts, local unions, doctors’ offices and others have collected donations of water and baby supplies.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2013—Why the Republicans' talking-to-idiots tone really works for them:
|House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers put on her best talking-to-idiots voice to discuss the sequester in the weekly GOP address. In stark contrast to many members of her party who've been insisting the cuts won't be a problem, according to McMorris Rodgers, "these devastating across the board cuts first proposed by the president will affect the lives of so many hard working Americans."
It's almost like McMorris Rodgers and other Republican House leaders like John Boehner are talking about a completely different sequester from the one Senate Republicans are talking about. When McMorris Rodgers explains to us how these cuts are "devastating," she might want to tell that to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said, snickering, "will the economy be adversely affected by a 2.4 percent reduction in government spending? I think not." Or to Sen. Tom Coburn, who, asked if the sequester would go into effect, said "it needs to."
And when she laments that "yet this week, the president traveled 180 miles to Newport News, Virginia, instead of traveling one and a half miles to Sen. Harry Reid's office, on Capitol Hill, to negotiate a replacement of smarter spending cuts," are we not supposed to notice that she's saying the sequester can only be ended by Democrats negotiating with Democrats, with Republicans not negotiating and not acting to replace the cuts?
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, Greg Dworkin's update includes Ukraine; polling showing Dems win on the issues, but don't expect that to change much for November; another says a majority of the minority thinks it's the majority. Also, more Bridgegate speculation. Rand Paul moves to lock in a gov't paycheck. The UK official in charge of Internet porn filters is arrested on Internet porn charges. Obamacare gives the economy a boost. Fake TV chef demonstrates how uniform = expert. LA gang members turn up as fighters in Syria. Anti-gay Boy Scout defectors caught in photo of a one-in-a-million coincidence!