By YUUKI REAL, age 14

On January 9, 2014, “do not use” warning was issued in nine West Virginia counties, informing 300,000 residents that their water was not suitable for anything but flushing toilets. PHOTO: Mountain Justice Photos
On January 9, 2014, “do not use” warning was issued in nine West Virginia counties, informing 300,000 residents that their water was not suitable for anything but flushing toilets. PHOTO: Mountain Justice Photos

On January 9, 2014, “do not use” warning was issued in nine West Virginia counties, informing 300,000 residents that their water was not suitable for anything but flushing toilets. 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM and PPH, harmful chemicals used for cleaning impurities from coal, spilled from a storage tank owned by a company called Freedom Industries. The spill occurred just north of Charleston, into the nearby Elk River, a major source of drinking water for much of West Virginia.

According to a report by the Energy Information Administration, 42 percent of all electricity in the United States was produced by coal in 2011. Coal production is largely responsible for acid rain, mercury pollution, greenhouse gas emission, and overall climate change.

Freedom Industries neglected to alert the public about the leak until several hours after the spill. By then, many people had already drunk the contaminated water. As a result, between January 9 and 18, 411 people were treated for vomiting and severe rashes, and more than 2,300 calls were made to the poison control center.

Although the ban was lifted in all counties after five days, the water crisis is far from over. Climate Progress reports that private water testing companies found that 40 percent of homes sampled still detected crude MCHM a month after the accident.

In an interview with IndyKids, attorney Roger Forman, who devoted his career to hold the coal industry of West Virginia accountable for black lung disease suffered by miners, commented that he is not surprised about the accident. West Virginia has a number of precedents of environmental contamination both by chemical and coal companies. Despite the terrible situation, however, he and some other residents remain hopeful. Mr. Forman added, “West Virginia is a beautiful place, and people here are wonderful. We will somehow find
a solution.”