Massive WV Coal Chemical Spill Cuts Off Drinking Water for 300,000 People


    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.  

    • I encourage everyone to check this out:

      Fracking Risks to Drinking Water for Arlington, Fairfax, DC Metro Area

      Public Meeting Monday, January 27, 2014, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the auditorium at Arlington Central Library, 1015 N. Quincy St., three blocks from the Ballston Metro station

      Major D.C. area water providers, local governments and conservation organizations have warned that an impending U.S. Forest Service decision on whether to allow fracking and horizontal drilling for natural gas in the George Washington National Forest could threaten a range of resources – including the headwaters of the Potomac River, the D.C. area’s major drinking water source. The Forest Service could make a decision to allow the practice, possibly in the coming weeks.

      Michelle’s Earth Foundation and Earthworks are hosting the public meeting to inform citizens and policymakers about this issue. For more information, please contact:

    • kindler

      And look at how many more jobs they just created!  

    • YelowDawg

      This incident has revealed a glaring problem with Charleston’s raw water source. Why isn’t a back-up in place for just such an emergency?

      Was the spill reported promptly? Apparently the water treatment plant and the entire distribution system are contaminated. This became known as the odor emanated from taps in homes and businesses all over the city.

      Were the containment berms adequate? I don’t think so.

      Maybe the West Virginians in those eight affected counties will see that regulating the coal industry is a good thing.