W.Va. spill may lead to change of course

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. —  Forty years ago, little did we know that Vietnam and Watergate would one day be referred to as watershed events.

Events that mark a unique or major historical change of course in our nation.

It’s safe to say that the Jan. 9 Elk River chemical spill has already become another one of those turning points.

Much like Vietnam and Watergate, too, the more we learn about the spill and our response to it, the more skeptical we become.

Tuesday was practically a watershed day in itself in the short timeline of this spill.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed legislation that imposes new regulations on above-ground storage tanks and water systems.

An independent group of scientists called the water supply — that was contaminated by the spill — safe.

The water company tainted by the spill announced it had begun replacing the filters — the source of trace amounts of the chemical still showing up in tap water.

And local health officials complained about the delayed response from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the long-term effects of the chemical spill.

But the bottom line that still rises to the top, almost three months after tap water for 300,000 people was contaminated is, most residents are still concerned about the quality of the water.

Perhaps worse, they have yet to regain confidence in the public officials responsible for ensuring the water is safe.

“The Elk River chemical spill has made us all, in our communities and across our nation, take a closer look at our infrastructure, especially around our waterways,” Tomblin said Tuesday.

He could not be more right.

That closer look won’t just extend to the industries that operate or build these tanks, either.

It will also extend to the environmental officials tasked with regulating them.

Another concern that is sure to linger is centered on the chemical that spilled into the Elk River — crude MCMH, which is used to clean coal.

No one is sure what to expect for any or all of the more than 500 residents who went to hospitals with ailments possibly linked to contact with MCMH.

Yet it’s all but certain that far more than traces of MCMH are located in mine waste ponds across the state.

Much of the mistrust of and alienation from government even today can still be traced back to a messy break-in and an unpopular war.

Perhaps 40 years from now, the Elk River chemical spill might only be a footnote in history. Still we get the impression it will be a landmark.

Click here for The Dominion Post.

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