West Virginia: Why are your 15 minutes of 'fame' up?

The media has already moved on, unfortunately. While some of us are still getting daily or hourly updates on the situation, most media outlets have moved on to other stories. And that's a shame but a reality.

It was on Jan. 9, just 11 days ago, that a clear, very licorice-smelling chemical in an old storage tank belonging to Freedom Industries leaked about 7,500 gallons into the Elk River in West Virginia. It contaminated the drinking water for about 300,000 people in nine counties, including the capital city of Charleston.

On Friday, in a maneuver designed to seek shelter from liability lawsuits, Freedom Industries filed Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy. The Centers for Disease Control had said days ago that the water was safe to drink, then said that pregnant women shouldn't drink the water at all until it was free and clear of the chemical.

Sadly, yes, the media has already moved on. It's like when the weather in your area is so bad that you see The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore standing out in the elements in your hometown. You breathe easier when he moves on but you are left with the remnants of whatever the weather has wrought. He moves on to the next event while you pick up the pieces.

Keeping the glaring eye of the media on a situation is a good thing because it lets those responsible know that someone is watching them very closely. Local media attention is great, state media attention is great, national media attention is great. WE all need to keep an eye on this situation, not just for those affected but for those who can do something about it, letting them know that we are watching.

A very good friend who used to work here at WKYC-TV is a TV anchor at Charleston's WSAZ-TV and the "brother I never had" also lives there. I've watched her and talked to the "brother" and the situation is not good.

Yes, there are other stories that need attention but can you even imagine not being able to drink tap water, bathe or wash your clothes in the water being piped into your home?

They will not be totally forgotten but do you know that many of those 300,000 are still struggling? That the licorice smell is still in the air? That hospitals treated patients with red rashes from contact with the water?

It may take weeks, months, even years before the full extent of what happened is known and how it affected people.

Meanwhile, an article in National Geographic late last week said the "coal-cleansing chemical that spilled from Freedom Industries' storage tank into the Elk River last Thursday is only the latest insult in what for some has been a lifetime of industrial accidents that have poisoned groundwater, spewed toxic gas emissions, and caused fires, explosions, and other disasters that neither state nor federal regulators have been able to protect against."

While others are busy creating and passing laws for special interest groups, how about focusing on creating or strengthening laws that protect the citizens?

The last time an environmental story got this much attention was when oil and gas companies started hydraulic fracturing, a method of drilling that fractures the rock, allowing the underground oil or gas to move. Some say it taints the water table, others say it causes earthquakes.

In a totally unrelated case, some people are just afraid of what COULD happen to existing underground pipelines when they are expanding.

Last week, dozens of people living in Portage County, Ohio were speaking out against expanding the Allegheny Access pipeline that would carry refined products near their homes. Residents demanded answers and the assurance that they'll be safe.

Most of that pipeline already exists in Portage County. Sunoco wants to expand it in parts, and that means using eminent domain if they have to. Dennis Copley has been living in Mogadore for more than 60 years. He used to see 200-year-old trees out his front window, but now he looks at the construction of a 55,000-gallon storage tank.

Copley already has three lines running around his property. One carries ethane gas. "We are understanding more about ethane and how volatile it is, and, if there could be a leak, it could hover near the ground, and, if something could cause it to ignite, then it could explode," said resident Connie Waldeck.

Copley and Waldeck joined dozens of folks from Portage County. The expansion would transport 85,000 barrels of refined products a day.

How will this affect their property values? What happens if there is a leak?

It's not knowing what could happen in the future in the name of progress that makes ordinary citizens nervous.

But what is the answer?

Follow me on Twitter @KimWendel


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