One day we bought 80 gallons of water and distributed it to seven families and were reimbursed by the WV Water Hub. Most of them were either disabled and/or elderly and all of them were low income and can't afford to keep buying water. Even though the governor and even the Centers for Disease Control gave the okay to use the water, only one person of the dozens of folks I talked to is drinking the tap water. Several people I interviewed started out telling their story matter-of-factly and then broke down crying. The stress of not trusting public officials -- with good reason, as they are mostly in the pocket of the coal and chemical companies that run the state -- is really wearing on people. I could feel it myself, as I took one 16-ounce bottle of water with me and had to ration it throughout the day because I realized I couldn't ask any of those to whom we delivered water if I could fill up at their house. I was very thirsty by the end of the day.
Our hosts, Genny and Joe, are using the water for washing clothes and showering, but not for drinking or cooking or brushing their teeth, so I followed suit. It's like camping, pouring a little bottled water over my toothbrush!
A bill that would tighten West Virginia's notoriously lax regulation of water passed the legislature on the last day of the session, March 8. (Click here for a feature I filed for Free Speech Radio News. ) At a rally at the capitol (in Charleston) that day, I interviewed all kinds of people, including "the Cookie Lady," Laurie Jo Magana (pictured above), who was passing out cookies shaped like drops of water and frosted in blue to thank legislators for supporting the bill. She's single and has a good job, and actually rented a place in a "safe zone" outside the contamination area. So even though she has less to worry about than poor, elderly folks or pregnant women or parents of young children, she still broke down in describing the stress she's been under.
My epidemiologist husband, Rob, says it makes no sense that a spill into a river wouldn't have been flushed out by now, but people are still getting rashes who bathe in the water now. Maybe more chemical spills haven't been reported, since the spill on January 9 was never reported by either the company (Freedom Industries) that was storing the chemical, MCHM, or American West Virginia Water Company, but was announced by the DEP after lots of customers called to complain that something was wrong with their water. And 12 days after the initial spill, Freedom Industries announced that another chemical had also spilled into the river at some earlier point. On Feb. 13, the water company announced the water was safe, but two days later the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) issued an advisory against pregnant women using it.
Some outside experts are testing the water, and will release their findings soon. I can post a link to my follow-up story for FSRN when that happens.