I am just as amazed as anyone else--why isn't this the biggest story on the news?
Try to imagine New York or California dealing with a situation like this: The tap water's only good for toilets, not drinking, washing, cooking or showering; more than a dozen people have been hospitalized for complaints related to water that's been contaminated with a somewhat mysterious chemical; and residents wait in line for bottled water -- or for ice to melt -- in order to have something to drink.
That's been life since Thursday in West Virginia's capital city, Charleston, where 300,000 people were left without safe water -- again, except for toilet flushing -- after chemicals contaminated the Elk River. Some of the taps have started coming back on; cleanup and testing are underway, according to the news reports on Monday. But the spill, which has been attributed to a leak in a chemical-storage tank not far upriver from the city's water treatment plant, continues to paralyze Charleston.
Now I get the fact that people consume drinking water radically different than they did twenty or thirty years ago--bottled water has become ubiquitous. Drinking tap water is something someone who owns their own well might enjoy but I haven't had tap water in ages. We buy bottled water and drink it regularly, both at home and wherever we go. But clean, safe drinking water is essential for cooking, unless a person buys it by the gallon or uses a large bottled water dispenser. You absolutely have to have it in order to survive for very long. You cannot expect any community to tolerate the loss of their clean supply of drinking water for more than a few days.
This is what it means when we forget the lessons of Love Canal and the environmental movement of the 1970s. We had poisoned, burning rivers, tap water that would make kids sick, and whole communities inundated with birth defects and deaths from cancer and Americans rallied to the idea that the government was supposed to be a watchdog and companies were not to be trusted. Then came the 1980s and de-regulation.
What has happened in West Virginia is a direct result of the Reagan legacy--government is the problem, you say? The government stayed out of the way of Freedom Industries, leaving them alone since 1991 and the first Bush Administration. Look what leaving them alone got the 300,000 people exposed to 4-methylcyclohexane methanol--it got them a little bit of news coverage and not much else. You'd think the Gulf of Mexico spill, courtesy of BP, would have reinvigorated advocacy groups and raised awareness. It appears that it didn't. Drink up.That bottled water is going to have to last you, though.