300,000 West Virginians Told Not to Drink Water After Coal Chemical Spill, 600+ Sick
Do you take sugar in your morning coffee? How about 4-methylcyclohexane methanol?
A large spill of a chemicals used to remove impurities from coal occurred Thursday in Charleston, WV, contaminating the Elk River less than a mile upstream of the intake for the state’s largest drinking water treatment plant. As many as 300,000 West Virginia residents in nine counties have been told not to bathe, cook or wash clothes using their tap water, and numerous schools, hospitals and nursing homes, restaurants and other businesses are without water. President Obama and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency today.
For some, the warnings may have come too late. The Charleston Area Medical Center reported this morning that it had already begun to treat people complaining of contamination-related illnesses. By late Friday, The Guardian reported that 671 people were so ill that they called into the poison control center with reports of vomiting, dizziness, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, reddening skin, itches and rashes.
Responding to citizen reports about a licorice odor in downtown Charleston, staff from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Air Quality discovered the foaming agent 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, leaking from a 35,000-gallon storage tank into the Elk River. The facility is owned by Freedom Industries a subsidiary of Etowah River Terminal, LLC. The spill had not been reported by the company. It’s still unclear how much of the chemical spilled into the river or how long the advisory will last.
Convenience and grocery stores have sold out of water. After reports that people had begun looting bottled water, armed National Guard troops had to escort and stand guard over a truck carrying clean water to a distribution point set up in the Charleston Civic Center.
“It’s like a zombie apocalypse here,” said Charleston resident Barbara Paxton. “The scary thing is at 10:30 a.m. yesterday, I read online that there was a smell in the area, and they were ‘investigating.’ I did not know until 5 in the evening that I was not supposed to use the water.”
According to Cindy Rank, West Virginia Headwaters Waterkeeper:
“[w]hat is … astounding is that the chemicals leaking from this facility are used in the coal washing process at sites throughout West Virginia—sites where nearby communities which depend on local sources of surface and ground water are frequently told the chemicals being used are harmless, or [no worse than] commonly used household products. People in these communities live in fear that accidental releases of such chemicals will destroy the water in wells and springs they use daily and it appears their fears are well founded. This situation unacceptable."
“Clean water is essential for life. We cannot cut corners in ensuring that our drinking water supply is protected," said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. "There is too much at stake—our health, our economic stability, our confidence in water security. We hope that once the immediate crisis phase is over, serious thought will go into meaningful reforms and investment in protecting our rivers and streams that are our lifeline.”
The question remains, who will foot the bill for the cleanup and the economic losses caused by the spill?
Residents are being told that they are at risk, but solutions seem limited to allowing the river to “flush” the chemical out of the area.
“It’s in my hot water tank. Am I going to have an extremely large water bill because I’ve got to let everything run? And if it does run, is there going to be residue in my pipes?,” asked Paxton. She is not only concerned for her community, but for what may be happening downstream. “My concern is that it’s the Elk River, Ohio River, Mississippi River, ocean. What are they telling people downstream?”
Our continuing dependence on fossil fuels as a source of “cheap” energy has many costs that are not reflected in our power bills and prices at the pump. In addition to billions of dollars in environmental damage, the Charleston spill illustrates another example of the coal industry imposing the costs of its inherently dirty practices on Americans, not to mention poisoning the water supplies of hundreds of thousands of people. This spill demonstrates yet again that “clean coal” is a dirty lie.
“At times like these assurances that public water supplies are guaranteed safer and cleaner than the local streams, springs and wells many of us rely on daily sound as empty as the wind whistling through the trees,” said Rank.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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