Monday, February 3, 2014

Navigating Confusing Waters

*2 Day Diet report at end

In the Governor’s letter of January 27 to FEMA requesting continuing aid including bottled water he says that despite the government’s best efforts “…many people no longer view their tap water as safe and are continuing to demand bottled water…It is impossible to predict when this will change, if ever.” Many are boycotting any restaurant that will not agree to cook or even wash dishes with water from outside the area. It is hard for some to believe that small amounts of this chemical, “non-detectable” amounts of 10 parts per billion or less, more than 100 times below the level deemed safe by CDC scientists, could carry so much odor. It is hard for people to believe water smelling like licorice will not cause them harm. Many are just plain frightened, angry, suspicious and skeptical. Their sense of trust has been compromised.

Governor, you acknowledge your best efforts have not been good enough. That’s because this is not a problem you can ‘fix’. This is an education and credibility problem. Press conferences won’t do it. I attended the Town Hall Meeting sponsored by WCHS on January 29. No one on the panel contested claims that the water remains a danger to all of us. It would have been helpful to have your commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Tierney or someone from the CDC, and someone from WV American Water. You need to send a team of experts to town meetings in every affected area to listen to people’s fears and present them with balanced viewpoints and evidence. published, “How Dangerous is the Coal-Washing Chemical that Spilled in West Virginia?” on January 10, describing why people should not panic over this chemical. Among many other facts about what is known and unknown, it explains that 4-MCMH, will dissipate from air in less than a day, from water in about two weeks, and from the sludge at the bottom of a river (and presumably from hot water tanks), in one hundred forty days. You should have the article updated and put in every mailbox in the state. That is not to say that this isn’t a dangerous substance in large enough quantities such as were present at the spills beginning and perhaps even now for the pregnant women, the elderly, infants, and those with lowered immunity or allergic reactions.

I hope those responsible at Freedom Industries go to jail; WV American Water company should pay damages (and not recoup them through a rate hike) for their poor judgment allowing the chemical into their system; We need new laws to give appropriate agencies the power to regulate and inspect all facilities that transport, store, and use all potentially harmful chemicals that can foul our air, water, or land; Those sickened must have medical bills paid and be compensated for lost work time; and more studies are needed on crude MCMH to determine conclusively what dangers exposure may pose in the long term; medical monitoring should be instituted, at least for those who had greatest exposure or were sickened.

I respect anyone who decides they will no longer drink the water. Erin Brockavich and her associate told us not to use the water because unknown compounds were created from chlorine treatment. Their experience with hazardous pollutants around the country has taught them to err on the side of caution. But, isn’t there also a point at which you decide not to assume the worst? If exposure after the do not use order was lifted, hospital visits would have spiked. But the average number of hospital visits, stays, and calls to poison control per day decreased 60% or more since the early days of the spill. 

Strong emotions change our brains. The anger, frustration and fear many of us feel as we learn the very essence of life, water, is threatened, starts a chemical reaction in the brain making it difficult to think clearly, rationally, and objectively. Some of us may actually have a form of post-traumatic stress. Smells are particularly good at triggering past emotions. Every time we smell the licorice we may experience our initial emotion again.

Harness those emotions for good. We must do whatever it takes to put pressure on state government and WV American Water to clean up this mess and make sure it never happens again. According to Brockavich, we don’t need more laws, we need our laws enforced. Our DEP, many in the southern coalfields know from years of experience, does not enforce existing standards. If our legislators don’t pass needed legislation, and if our Governor will not direct DEP to enforce the law, we need to elect people who will make war on polluters and keep us safe, healthy, and prosperous!

Paul Epstein, a retired teacher, is a musician and writer living in Charleston

*Here's how I'm doing on the 2 Day Diet. 
Beginning weight 11/3/13: 209 lbs.
Height 5'8" Age: 61
Goal weight: 165 lbs.
Total loss goal: 44 lbs.
Beginning waist size: 43 in.
Current waist size: 40 in.
Weight end of week 13:  188 lbs.
Gain/Loss this week:  no change
Total Gain/Loss:  -21 lbs.

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