Flavored Water, Chemical Spills, and West Virginia

Yesterday, I facetiously thought that the West Virginia American Water Company was graciously offering free samples of flavored water through the tap at my home, as the water smelled like licorice, which is not my favorite. I secretly thought that they should have given us a choice of flavor; I would like strawberry or vanilla or maybe mango.

In reality, there was a massive chemical spill in Charleston, WV and the water supply to nearly 300,000 customers was contaminated to the extent that the community cannot drink it, bathe in it, cook with it, boil it, etc. The water can only be used for putting out fires and flushing the toilet.

I am trying to resist the temptation to write about the chemical company that had such disdain for the people of WV that they did not report the spill and still have not even spoken to the water company about it and took 24 hours before addressing the public. I am trying not to think about the fact that the threat to our water safety was not reported for nearly 10 hours after the initial leak transpired. I am also trying not to think about what the consequences (or lack there of) will be for the chemical company given their industry ties. I am trying not to think about this event politically, as I am a political scientist. I am trying not to think of the political responses and fallouts as each politician walks the tightrope of maintaining order and safety and protecting economic development. I am trying not to think about how every narrative is about the resilience of the people, which is true, instead of the outrage to those that have interrupted our state. There is a small policy window for those necessary discussions. Anyway, those thoughts will get lost in the noise of every talking head with an agenda, whether that is to promote the deregulation of companies who are supposed to self-report and regulate or those who will use this incident as a triggering event in the discussion of coal and energy.

I am trying not to think about some of the things I saw as I tried to obtain water for my family. There were physical confrontations at Walmart over access to bottled water. While at Sheetz in Hurricane, WV, I asked an employee if they had any water in the back because the case was empty. I only asked because as I looked in the refrigerated case, I could see numerous cases of water, unopened, in the back. The employee told me that they were out of water. The same thing happened at Save-a-Lot in Milton. The employee was, while still on the clock, buying all of the water for herself and telling other customers that the store was sold out of water. I saw places like Piggly Wiggly, using economic opportunity, raising the prices of their water as people rushed into the store in the hopes of getting water. There was one man in the store with two shopping carts full of bottled water. He was just standing there physically dominating the space and daring anyone to get near ‘his’ water. I saw women with children with no water frantically running up and down the aisle looking for water. The man with more than his fair share of water said ‘get the f*ck away from my water.’

I can barely contain my emotions and temper when I think about this devastating event for so many West Virginians, for my state, and how some people behaved at the beginning. I love my state, my neighbors, and transform into an overprotective animal when I feel they are threatened. We are a great state and an essential part of the Union. We were birthed during an American tragedy, out of the necessity for more good in the world, and have always contributed our part and produced people that are of the utmost character and altruistic disposition. We work hard and equally deserve all that others deserve. Therefore, I am trying to focus upon, during this tragedy, those companies and hotels that are offering free showers to those persons without access to water, discounts for rooms, and those persons setting up free water stations for those without water. I have to think about Mister Rogers, who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ’Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.” Well, I have to say that you will find a plethora of helpers in the Mountain State. We understand that we have a responsibility to our families, our neighbors, our community, and our state. As we are on the national stage again, lets show who we truly are as West Virginians.


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