Coming soon to Wisconsin?

“DO NOT USE WATER,” say the signs taped over sinks at the airport, and in the State Capitol the sinks are entirely wrapped in plastic bags. People line up for free water at the fire stations or buy it at the Dollar General — $1.60 for a 20-ounce Dasani, $39 for a flat of 24 bottles.

A chemical used in coal processing has leaked from an old tank along the Elk and invaded the water supply, a crisis that has affected nearly 300,000 people in nine counties and effectively closed the largest city in the state. You can’t drink the water, bathe in it or do laundry with it. It’s good only for flushing.

Monday will mark the fifth day of the water emergency, which began early Thursday when people all over town registered a powerful odor like black licorice. Two state employees tracked the leak to Freedom Industries, which owns a row of vintage storage tanks along the south bank of the Elk. The chemical had leaked from an inch-wide hole in the bottom of one tank, pooled in a containment area and then seeped through a porous cinder-block retaining wall, down the bank and into the river.

Some critics of West Virginia’s relatively lax regulation of coal and chemical companies point to this latest incident as proof of the negative impact of deregulation (or lax regulations) in the area of environmental protection.

Last week’s major chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River, which cut off water to more than 300,000 people, came in a state with a long and troubled history of regulating the coal and chemical companies that form the heart of its economy.

“We can’t just point a single finger at this company,” said Angela Rosser, the executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We need to look at our entire system and give some serious thought to making some serious reform and valuing our natural resources over industry interests.”

She said lawmakers have yet to explain why the storage facility was allowed to sit on the river and so close to a water treatment plant that is the largest in the state.

Ms. Rosser and others noted that the site of the spill has not been subject to a state or federal inspection since 1991. West Virginia law does not require inspections for chemical storage facilities — only for production facilities.

But the 300,000 residents affected by this chemical spill can rest assured – there’s an easy solution.

The Rev. Carolyn Hairston captured rainwater with plastic bags.

“Jesus is taking care of us. He sent us the rain,” she said. “I’ve been watching ‘The Waltons’ and ‘Little House on the Prairie’ for years, and I didn’t watch those shows for nothing.”

Yikes.

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One Response to West Virginia chemical spill highlights the “benefits” of deregulation

  1. Cat Kin says:

    “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
    Personally, I rather help myself by supporting and electing legislators who are going to take care of the environment. If the lady would rather catch rainwater in a bag, I guess that’s her choice, though it seems a little selfish.

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