A massive spill of a chemical used to process coal in West Virginia’s Elk River has essentially shut down Charleston and left hundreds of thousands of people without drinking water:
The federal government joined the state early Friday in declaring a disaster, and the West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. About 100,000 water customers, or 300,000 people total, were affected, state officials said they reported in requesting the federal declaration.
Shortly after the Thursday spill from Freedom Industries hit the river and a nearby treatment plant, a licorice-like smell enveloped parts of the city, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued an order to customer of West Virginia American Water: Do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water.
The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries and overran a containment area. Officials from Freedom, a manufacturer of chemicals for the mining, steel, and cement industries, hadn’t commented since the spill, but a woman who answered the phone at the company said it would issue a statement later Friday.
A few reactions. First, thank god for big government – getting bottled water for 300,000 people with literally zero notice is a herculean task and I’m grateful we have the West Virginia National Guard to look out for our fellow citizens in a time like this. Another essential in the weeks ahead: Journalists like Ken Ward Jr. who’ll be watch-dogging the investigation into the spill – in places like West Virginia, regulatory agencies are often a virtual subsidiary of the coal industry. I’ll also be looking out for reports on how this disaster is impacting West Virginia’s fish & wildlife, which can’t rely on bottled water. Finally, this is an example of why America should continue transitioning to clean energy as quickly as possible – there’s no such thing as a solar or wind spill.