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Theresa Higgins

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The nightmare environmentalists have had for decades became true in the form of a large population being left without the most essential element of life -- water. Nine counties and an estimated 300,000 people were left with no water to drink, bathe or launder in.

The chemical spill in the Elk River from a leaking above ground storage tank has done incalculable damage to the environment and the health of people living in the affected counties for unknown years to come. The government response: Hunt up something that holds water and we'll give you a few gallons to get you by.

The Elk River, besides supplying water for human consumption, is home to some pretty incredible life, like the native West Virginia Muskie, Northern Pike and other upper food chain aquatic predators. The spilled chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (Crude MCHM ), is water soluble, which makes it virtually impossible to contain after it has entered the river. It will, in all likelihood, kill from the top down. It causes burning sensations to human skin. Just think about what it will do to scales and fins.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has not inspected above ground chemical holding tanks at the Freedom coal washing facility since 1991. Perhaps if the DEP had been given more teeth and less political interference, this tank would have been inspected before this disaster occurred.

There is an irony that this happened just after Tomblin's State of the State address where he lauded all his actions in giving coal and gas industries pretty much carte blanche in West Virginia. He was particularly proud of the cracker plant being built in West Virginia. I wonder how many untended, uninspected chemical storage tanks will be at that site?

We need to get real in this state. According to our politicians, we are one of the richest "natural resource" states in the nation. Yet we have some of the poorest water and people in the nation. The word "rich" is really only about the corporate interlopers and their political allies.

The rest of the state is either just getting by or getting deeper into poverty. Worse than that, we are losing the things that keep us healthy and offer hope to our children and grandchildren: clean water and air.

I don't really blame the governor or the Legislature, though. Like overindulged juvenile delinquents, they just push limits as far as they are allowed. It is people who elect them repeatedly who are to blame for the real state of the state.

It is you, reader, who are too involved with your phone to attend a dry government meeting or read a newspaper. It is people like me who feel too busy with work and home to get really involved in changing things. Yeah, people like us who are to blame because we are too self-involved until one morning we wake up and there is a funny smell in the air and the water burns our hands.

Time for us to change ourselves and put the politicians out of government and the people back in. For all our sakes.

Higgins is a chronic hemodialysis technician in Greenbrier County.


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