Sunday, January 12, 2014

Our State of Emergency in West Virginia

POSTSCRIPT:  As of January 19, 2014, all water bans have been lifted from the areas which serve the more than 300,000 affected water customers in WV.  However, there are still reports of an odor, along with effects after use, of the water.  The CDC still advises pregnant women and small children to not drink the water, but that advisory came only AFTER the 'flushing' for resuming water usage began.  The long-term effects of this disaster, unfortunately, will only play out in time.  The company responsible for the leak, Freedom Industries, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on January 17, 2014 - just a little more than two weeks after the company was formed, one week after the leak.

In case you haven't heard (or you live under a rock), we have been under a "DO NOT USE WATER" notice since January 9, 2014, around 5 pm EST as a result of a Chemical Leak in WV Water.  This affects our household  and a total of 300,000 people in our state of West Virginia - approximately 15% of our state's entire population.  We have been declared a national emergency.  There is no timeline for resolution as of this writing, although today's new conference was promising.

Here is a summary of events since January 9, 2014:

  • 7,500 gals of the chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), leaked into the Elk River in Charleston, WV, just a little over one mile upstream of our water company's treatment plant, contaminating all water in the system's approximate 1,700 miles.  Little data was known on the chemical, used in coal processing, which was being stored in tanks by Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the leak.  The material safety data sheets (MSDS) were not written for consumer applications of this chemical, so toxicity protocol had to be written and tested as a first step in mitigating the problem. 
  • Water can only be used for flushing commodes and fighting fires until further notice.  This has been in effect since January 9, 2014.
  • Homeland Security, FEMA, the National Guard, Coast Guard, US Army Corps of Engineers, CDC and OSHA offices have all been called to action.  In addition, our state's Health and Human Services, Department of Environment Protection and State Emergency Services are in action.  Many scientists are also on the scene, learning the chemical's properties, the toxicity levels, and how to react in a state of emergency such as this.
  • The US Attorney's office has opened a criminal probe against the company at fault, Freedom Industries.  Even Erin Brockovich's team is investigating the crime.
  • The Health Department immediately shut schools, restaurants, daycares, and even hospital [scheduled] surgical facilities were all shut down as of last Thursday evening. Many of these facilities are still waiting for temporary solutions to enable operations and end further economic losses.
  • There have been over 1,000 calls to poison control, reporting symptoms possibly caused by exposure and/or contact with the chemical, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, and contact burns.
  • Grocery shelves were emptied of water, ice, baby wipes, paper products and frozen foods almost immediately following the ban.  Police were called in to help patrol scenes.  That situation improved by today (Sunday).
  • Once the chemical breach is corrected in the water company's system, there will specific instructions, along with a  zoned approach, for ramping up consumer service again.  Everyone will necessarily have to purge their water lines - tanks, icemakers, humidifiers, and any other water source that may have been used after the leak occurred and prior to the ban for use.  The water company has stated they will credit each homeowner with a 1,000 allowance for water to be purged when the time is announced.
  • We do not know how long this emergency will last, but the latest news conference today indicates that the end may be in sight within the next few days.  Lab test analyses over the last 24 hours indicate all readings of the chemical ratio are within the CDC's acceptable recommendations, so zoned purging should begin as early as tomorrow.  A computerized program has been written and communication will be rolled out in a 4-pronged approach:  computer access (self-serve), automated call-out system, telephone hotline call-in, and local media.
We have received so much help in helping ourselves from so many other states!  Thank you, all!  West Virginians are a proud, hard-working, and resilient people, but it's certain that we could not have recovered to the extent we have in such short time without the help of our neighbors.  If you would still like to contribute to our aid, we could still use your prayers in our situation.  The magnitude of this emergency, practically and economically, not to mention physically and emotionally, just gives us a glimpse of how easy it would be to disrupt our worlds and everyday lives as we know it.  Prayers that we will be protected from any kind of event like this, unintentional or intentional, will always be welcome.