In early January of this year, a chemical storage facility run by Freedom Industries ruptured and leaked thousands of gallons of chemicals into West Virginia’s Elk River. The leak occurred less than 2 miles from a water treatment plant that serves as many as 300,000 nearby residents.
Almost 9 months after the spill occurred, West Virginia officials are concerned that Freedom Industries is dragging their feet on the cleanup.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said that the company needs to be focused on actually cleaning up the spill instead of focusing on entering a “voluntary” remediation program.
The comments came a few days after Freedom Industries submitted an updated remediation proposal to the DEP outlining their plan to start digging and testing soil and water samples in the future. To date, the company has not even finished demolishing their outdated and dangerous storage tanks that caused the spill in the first place.
Early Thursday, a chemical spill along West Virginia’s Elk River contaminated the tap water of as many as 300,000 West Virginia residents across nine West Virginia counties. The chemical spill occurred at a storage facility for Freedom Industries less than two miles from a major water treatment plant.
Freedom Industries produces chemicals that are used widely in mining and steel production.
The leaking storage tank contained the chemical 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol which is used to “treat” coal supplies before they are shipped for burning. According to ThinkProgress, the chemical “severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.”
According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of the toxic chemical made its way into the water supply.
Residents in the area were immediately warned to stop using tap water, out of fear that the chemicals could severely harm anyone who consumed them. Chemical levels have fallen in the two days since the spill, but the ban remains in effect as the levels in the water are still far too dangerous for residents.
As of Friday, according to The Guardian, at least 670 people had called into the poison control center with reports of vomiting, nausea, skin irritation, and other symptoms.
As our elected officials in Washington attempt to sell us on the idea that we need to go to war against anyone who uses chemical weapons, they are working to remove safety standards that protect citizens from corporate America’s ongoing chemical assault.
In recent weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rolled back safety regulations for the chemical industry, while the U.S. House of Representatives has prepared to take aim at the government’s ability to monitor chemicals and other safety hazards posed by fracking.
Bowing to pressure by the chemical industry, the EPA has decided to withdraw a proposal that would have added numerous new substances to their database of hazardous chemicals, which is used to issue public health assessments and warnings. One of the substances is Bisphenol A, a chemical used in the manufacture of certain plastics that has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and reproductive impacts.
The EPA had previously expressed a great deal of concern over the lack of safety standards in place for toxic chemicals that studies had shown were dangerous to the public, but the pressure coming from the chemical industry was far too great for them to overcome.
The American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group that operates as the political arm of chemical manufacturers, believes that the EPA made a “wise decision” to not go forward with their new proposals. The group has spent more than $4 million this year alone lobbying the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and the EPA.
Rather than compiling their lists now, as their proposed rule allowed, the EPA decided to wait until all chemicals are thoroughly and repeatedly analyzed, a process expected to finish in 2017, unless delayed. Then they will begin the process of drafting new proposals.
This means that the American public will suffer another four years of inaction and exposure to chemicals that the agency already knows are toxic.
Oil Spill Eater International (OSEI), through the Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference group, issued a press release this week saying that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effectively blocked or otherwise delayed scientific advancement in the cleanup of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster by refusing to acknowledge the toxicity of the oil dispersant Corexit.
According to OSEI, the EPA is guilty of violations to the Clean Water Act because they knowingly used the toxic dispersant instead of opting for cleaner, less toxic methods of oil spill cleanup.
OSEI is actually not off base with their accusations. Reports from late 2012 revealed that using oil dispersants like Corexit make oil spills less visible, but when combined with the oil, create a mixture that is 52 times more toxic than the oil itself. The studies revealed that even in small amounts, the combination of oil and Corexit reduced the number of egg hatchings in small marine invertebrates by 50%. These are small creatures like krill, shrimp, and other crustaceans that form the bottom of the oceanic food pyramid.
Those results were just from small doses of the mixture. And as I wrote in 2011, the amount of Corexit dumped into the Gulf was anything but “small”:
The Republican Governors Association (RGA) along with the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) sent a letter to President Obama today [PDF], telling him that the federal government should abandon a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal to create more transparency for natural gas fracking operations.
The proposal that the RGA and RAGA are referring to was first pitched earlier this year, and would require fracking companies who operate on federal or Native American lands to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process. A loophole in the proposal allows companies to disclose after the fracking process has already begun, meaning that there are no requirements for disclosure prior to drilling.
But even such lax standards are too much for the dirty energy industry’s friends, and they believe that the federal government is overstepping its bounds on the matter. From their letter:
Republican Wyoming governor Matt Mead has some advice for the U.S. Interior Department: Back off your fracking rules.
Governor Mead was responding to a recent proposal by the Interior Department that would require energy companies who are fracking in the United States to disclose the chemical cocktails that they are pumping into the ground, posing a threat to our water supplies. Thanks to a law known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” these chemicals are currently protected as an “industry secret,” and therefore do not have to be revealed to the public.
Governor Mead says that the requirement is “duplicative” and “unnecessary,” as Wyoming already has laws on the books that require energy companies to disclose which chemicals they are using in their fracking fluid. Mead believes that the federal government should let the states take the lead and enact their own laws regarding fracking. Wyoming was the first state in the nation to require disclosure from fracking companies, and Mead believes that other states will follow Wyoming’s lead on the issue.
While Wyoming’s disclosure law appears to be a positive step on paper, it has completely fallen apart when put into practice. EarthJustice says that the state has already granted more than 50 waivers to energy companies so they can still keep certain ingredients a secret from the public. That’s hardly a step in the right direction.
A new study from the Journal of Community Health concludes that cancer rates in areas of Appalachia where mountaintop removal mining (MTR) is taking place are more than twice as high as areas that are not near MTR sites. According to the study, as many as 60,000 individual cancer cases can be linked directly to exposure from MTR debris.
As reported on Alternet, the study was the first of its kind to involve a door-to-door questionnaire, where researchers used community members’ own stories and medical records to determine the results. These door-to-door interviews were conducted in mountaintop removal mining areas, as well as non-coal mining counties for use as a control.
A new peer-reviewed study from Duke University shows that drinking water in areas within a half-mile of fracking wells can become contaminated with dangerous levels of methane - enough to catch on fire if lit. The report says that the levels of methane in some areas of Pennsylvania and New York are so great that they pose a significant fire and explosion hazard.
The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One of the study’s authors, Duke environmental science professor Robert Jackson, says that the threat of explosions in this drinking water are real and need to be dealt with. From a CNN report:
“The study said about half of the 68 drinking water wells tested in Pennsylvania and New York located within a half a mile from natural gas wells had high levels of methane – the prime ingredient in natural gas fuel…The gas, which is usually located thousands of feet below the water table, appears to be entering the water wells either through cracks in the bedrock or, more likely, the casing in natural gas wells… Casings are steel and concrete barriers natural gas companies use to line a well where it passes through the water table.”