Residents of Charleston, West Virginia, and surrounding communities are still trying to find out what led to a chemical spill that contaminated the tap water supply for 300,000 people. They're also trying to determine who is responsible, and what can be done to make green business a higher priority in the state.
The chemical spill began on January 9, when those living near a chemical processing site owned by Freedom Industries complained about a licorice-like smell emanating from nearby tanks. State regulators discovered that one of the steel tanks had ruptured and leaked thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) into the Elk River.
MCHM is not thought to be fatal, but it can cause vomiting and skin and eye irritation. Furthermore, it can't be boiled out of the water, and there are no treatment methods available to make the tap water safe. As a result, the West Virginia National Guard has had to ship tanks of safe drinking water into the area, as bottled water reserves have sold out.
As The Los Angeles Times notes, further investigations into the incident have uncovered a complex web of entangled regulations in which chemical safety officials are pointing fingers at the industry and vice versa about where the fault lies. Federal and state agencies have stated that the tanks at the center of the controversy fell into a loophole that led to them remaining uninspected since 1999. At the same time, some local politicians are claiming that existing laws are strict enough, and that they need only be enforced to prevent such accidents from happening in the future.
What is clear is that Freedom Industries failed to alert state authorities to the spill immediately, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of people are still without safe drinking water. The disaster reinforces the notion that in the struggle to make the country greener and safer, the government needs to make private industry take public health seriously.
Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com as we continue to monitor the situation in West Virginia.