“It’s a prison”

The threats to the water supply that began yesterday morning in southern West Virginia are only the latest in a long series of similar problems that have occured in that state as a result of coal production. As we have all enjoyed the benefits of easily available fossil fuel energy creation, the residents of this very poor state have paid the consequences.

But I can only imagine that many folks living in the central Appalachian coalfields are shaking their heads this weekend. The discovery of about 5,000 gallons of chemicals used in coal production accidentally seeping into the Elk River near Charleston, the state’s capital, happened at about 10:30 am yesterday, and it was national news by mid-afternoon. The state government, schools, and businesses all shut down, and the Department of Homeland Security is sending in bottled water on 16 tractor-trailer trucks today to distribution centers in and around Charleston. “It’s a prison from which we would like to be released,” the mayor of Charleston told CNN yesterday afternoon. And from what I have read, it’s apparently not even clear that the water is very unsafe yet; most of the response seems to be precautionary in nature. As it should be.

Well, it’s nice that everyone has lept into action. But giant multi-billion-dollar coal companies have intentionally pumped billions of gallons of more toxic stuff into the ground of some of the poorest counties of southern West Virginia for decades, leaving entire communities with dangerous and disgusting water supplies and their residents suffering long-term effects that include chronic nausea, chronic diarhhea, gum disease, dimentia, birth defects, sterility, cancer, and more.

The difference this weekend is that it happened to Charleston, where middle- and upper-class people live, where the state legislators and business leaders work and where their kids go to school.

After reading the coverage from West Virginia for about 20 minutes early this morning, I was literally feeling grateful to be able to step into a clean and safe shower. There are West Virginia families and communities that have been unable to do that for years. Anyone see a problem here?


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