Water situation in W.Va. scary

Published 12:11 am Sunday, January 19, 2014

Something sure does stink in West Virginia, and it’s not just the water.

Unless you’ve been in a media blackout for the past week, you know about 300,000 of our neighbors in the Mountain State have had to deal with the fact that chemicals leached into their water supply rendering it undrinkable, untouchable and smelling of licorice.

If you haven’t stopped to really think about that, do it now. It’s really quite unbelievable.

Email newsletter signup

Those people likely started their day on Jan. 9 with a hot shower, maybe a cup of coffee made from tap water, only to find out hours later that the water was unfit to even touch their skin. MCHM had leaked into the Elk River.

A do-not-use ban was in place for a week, with people scrambling for bottled water at every store and gas station. Tankers of fresh water as well as bottled water were trucked in.

The ban was completely lifted Friday for all customers of West Virginia American Water after intensive flushing, save for some boil water advisories in a few communities.

And pregnant women are still advised not to drink the water.

Mean while, the company responsible for the leak in the Elk River, Freedom Industries, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday owing $3.6 million to its top 20 unsecured creditors.

Plus, the company apparently owes the IRS more than $2.4 million in back taxes.

So what does the bankruptcy mean? Aside from the fact that Chapter 11 allows the company to continue operating, the filing puts on hold the more than 25 lawsuits — and likely counting — that have been filed against Freedom in Kanawha Circuit Court. Plus a federal lawsuit is pending.

Chapter 11 also allows for restructuring of the company. This means Freedom needs a financier to lend it the money to restructure.

The lender would get all Freedom’s assets if it were to go under.

Freedom Industries found a lender — Mountaineer Funding LLC.

Never heard of it? Neither had anyone else, because the entity was just created Friday, according to records with the West Virginia secretary of state.

Listed as Mountaineer Funding’s officer was a man named J. Clifford Forrest — also recently identified at Freedom Industries’ owner.

Sounds like someone is trying to skirt the huge liability that only tainting hundreds of thousands of people’s water could bring.

Thinking about the enormity of the situation for these West Virginians, I admit I feel a little ashamed at my recent thoughts about my own water situation at home.

Many of us were impacted by the arctic temperatures that swept though the area last week, freezing our water pipes and then, subsequently breaking them.

I didn’t have running water for a couple of days for that very reason. It’s back on now, but the pressure is very low. I was so frustrated that I hadn’t had a “decent” shower in more than a week, I forgot that it could have been much worse.

I could have been one of the hundreds of West Virginians who sought medical treatment for symptoms related to the chemical spill. Or I could have been one of the 20 who were admitted to the hospital.

Every time I turn on my faucet to wash my hands or brush my teeth, it could be a foul-smelling odor emanating from my pipes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, MCHM is one of tens of thousands of chemicals exempt from testing under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act because they were already in use when the law was approved in 1976. A fact sheet of available data on the chemical says there is no specific information about its toxic effects on humans. Its chances of causing cancer and its effects on reproductive health are unknown, according to the document and the CDC.

I have a good friend who lives in Charleston, W.Va. She, like many others, has decided to never drink the water there again.

I can’t say I blame her or anyone else for making that choice. If it were me, honestly, I would move.

How can it be in the 21st Century, in America, that people are afraid to drink their tap water?

For now, the future remains uncertain for the many who are drinking the water, and even those who are bathing in it. What long-term effects could there be?

No one has an answer for that right now. And that’s simply terrifying.


Michelle Goodman is the news editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at michelle.goodman@irontontribune.com.