More than two weeks after a stormwater pipe burst caused 82,000 tons of coal ash to spill into a North Carolina river that supplies drinking water, state officials have discovered that a second pipe is leaking water with elevated amounts of arsenic — and they’re not sure how long it has been happening.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Tuesday ordered Duke Energy, the company responsible for the spill, to immediately halt discharges from another leaking 36-inch stormwater pipe beneath an unlined coal ash pond at a decommissioned power plant in Eden, North Carolina. The agency discovered the second spill after requesting video recordings of the inside of Duke’s other stormwater pipes from the former plant.
“When we learned there was a second pipe, we recognized there was a potential for leaks there,” DENR spokesperson Jamie Kritzer told ThinkProgress. “Duke had been running their own video [through the stormwater pipes] prior to us saying anything about it, but we asked for a copy of it.”
DENR officials asked for Duke’s copy of video on Feb 11, five days after Duke voluntarily began monitoring their pipes with video cameras, and nine days after the first spill. After reviewing the video, the agency discovered multiple leaks, most of which were at the joints of the pipes. The agency had staff conduct water quality sampling — both at the spot where the pipe collects stormwater, and where it discharges into the Dan River.
The water samples, received Tuesday, showed “very high” levels of arsenic, according to Kritzer. Arsenic is a key ingredient of coal ash — a toxic waste byproduct from burning coal, usually stored with water in large ponds.
“To say we’re not sure how long it had been discharging, that is accurate. We are not sure,” Kritzer said.
“We’re just very grateful that one of our folks asked for that video and took the initiative [to test the water], because it made a huge difference,” Bridget Munger, another DENR spokesperson, said.
A spokesperson at Duke Energy did not immediately return a request for comment. But Kritzer said that, as of Wednesday morning, the company had contained 90 percent of the arsenic-laced water coming from the leaking pipe.
“They are working towards a solution to fully containing it,” he said, adding that the agency is unsure just how much water was leaking from the pipe. “Our number one goal is to get the leak stopped.”
The closest community at risk from the spill is Danville, Virginia, which takes its water from the Dan River about six miles downstream of the pond. No water quality issues have been reported so far, but officials from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are looking into the overall health of the river following both the initial coal ash spill and the second leak discovered Tuesday.
“With a spill of this kind, it’s unclear what kind of impact there will be over time,” DEQ spokesperson Bill Hayden told ThinkProgress. “But our goal is to take a look at the long-term health of the river, and it’s going to take a while to do that.”
For now, the DENR is conducting sediment and water quality sampling in the river, and is planning on conducting fish tissue sampling to determine the impacts on aquatic life. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials on Tuesday said they were concerned about the long-term environmental impacts of the spill on fish and other aquatic life, noting that coal ash’s byproducts — mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxins — can bury aquatic life in the river and clog the gills of mussels and fish. The Dan River is home to two endangered aquatic species: the Roanoke logperch and the James spinymussel.
An oil well owned by Whiting Petroleum Corp. started leaking hydraulic fracturing fluid and spewing oil late on Thursday, after a blowout that company and state officials said may take “a couple more days” to clear up, according to Friday reports in Reuters.
The well lost control after a blowout preventer failed, and began leaking between 50 and 70 barrels (2,100 to 2,940 gallons) per day of fracking fluid — a mixture of generally classified chemicals, water, and sand — and 200 barrels (8,400 gallons) per day of oil, the Reuters reports said. As of Friday, fluids from the leak were being collected and trucked from the site. Whiting is maintaining that none of the liquids entered the water, though some oily “mist” did spray onto the frozen creek.
“This [leak] is a large one and also a health and human risk, it’s a big one,” Lynn Helms, the head of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, said in a conference call.
“Pressure and control of a well is essentially priority number one for oil and gas companies.”
By Monday, it was unclear if the well had been fixed and if the oil and wastewater had stopped leaking. Calls to both Whiting Petroleum and the North Dakota Mineral Resources Department were not immediately returned.
Though the harmful effects of an oil leak are widely known, less is known about the effects of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. Fracking is a method of extracting fossil fuels, coveted for its ability to increase the flow of oil or gas from a well. This is done by injecting high-pressure water and chemicals miles deep into the ground into subsurface rock, effectively “fracturing” the rock and allowing more spaces for oil and gas to come through. The tactic is generally paired with horizontal drilling.
The high-pressure water and chemical injections generally result in a good amount of wastewater, which is what Whiting’s well is leaking along with oil. The specific chemical makeup of that water is a large part of why the practice is so controversial, as public disclosure of what exactly is used in the water is largely self-regulated by the fracking companies. Thanks to laws pushed by corporate front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), states have allowed minimum disclosure of the chemicals used in the fluid.
In North Dakota, regulations only require companies to disclosure chemicals that are classified as “hazardous substances” by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. But, as noted by the National Resources Defense Council, OSHA does not classify all dangerous chemicals as hazardous — only those that are shown to be dangerous in the workplace.
February has not been a good month for fossil fuel accidents. On the 13th, a train carrying crude oil from Canada derailed in Pennsylvania, spilling an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of oil. On the same day, a natural gas pipeline exploded in Kentucky, setting fires and destroying homes.
Two days earlier on the 11th, 100,000 gallons of coal slurry spilled into a waterway near Charleston, West Virginia — the latest woe for a state that has been dealing with an unprecedented chemical spill. On that same day, a Chevron natural gas well exploded in Greene County, Pennsylvania.
The list goes on. On February 2nd, a stormwater pipe burst under an unlined coal ash pond at a retired coal plant in Eden, North Carolina, draining 82,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of water into the Dan River — the 3rd largest coal ash spill in U.S. history. On the 5th, 12,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from a Canadian Pacific Railway train on Monday in Minnesota, dribbling oil along the tracks for 68 miles. And on the 1st, a train carrying fuel oil, fertilizer, methanol derailed in southeast Mississippi, forcing a local evacuation.
In Debate With Bill Nye 'The Science Guy', Congresswoman Says Carbon Dioxide Pollution is Good for Plants
Attempting to host a productive debate on climate change policy can be hard when one of the people debating said policy does not believe climate change exists. But that is exactly what NBC’s “Meet the Press” attempted to do on Sunday, with host David Gregory moderating arguments between Bill Nye ‘The Science Guy’ and Tennessee Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, the vice chair of the notoriously anti-climate change House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Gregory did manage to get a few policy statements out of Blackburn, including one in which the Congresswoman stated that EPA regulations on carbon emissions must look at the social benefits of carbon dioxide pollution. From her comments:
BLACKBURN: David, one of the things we have to remember is cost/benefit analysis has to take place. … And it is unfortunate that some of the federal agencies are not conducting that cost/benefit analysis. They’re focused on the outcome. … Now, you know, when you look at the social cost of carbon, and there is a lot of ambiguity around that, what you also need to be doing is looking at the benefits of carbon and what that has on increased agricultural production. A lot of good studies out there about that, and scientists and biologists have done that study.
CO2 in small doses is most certainly good for plants. But the concentrated levels that are causing climate change do not seem to be boding well for the agricultural industry as of late. The debilitating drought in California — which many scientists, including Nye, link to climate change — has caused production problems for a slew of fruits and vegetables, and water scarcity that has left 500,000 acres unplanted.
In August, the Obama administration estimated that the social cost of carbon is $43 per ton of carbon emitted, a figure Republicans have tried to roadblock. The “social cost of carbon” (SCC) is the formula used by federal regulators to calculate how carbon pollution harms public health, the environment, property value, and other issues.
Government agencies use that cost to decide how to construct any regulation that touches on carbon emissions — from microwave efficiency standards to infrastructure construction to transportation.
The Obama administration does not currently use so-called “benefits of carbon” to construct regulations, however, which is what Blackburn has suggested. The most recent “good study” she is likely citing comes from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity — an industry group of coal electricity producers — and says that energy production from fossil fuels over the last 200 years has doubled life expectancy and improved the quality of life for people around the world.
It is not terribly surprising, however, that Blackburn would recommend that regulations move away from solving the climate crisis. Members of Blackburn’s E&C committee last month voted 24-20 against an amendment that would have stated conclusively that climate change is occurring and is caused by greenhouse gas pollution. Those twenty-four E&C members — all Republicans — have accepted about $9.3 million in career contributions from the oil, gas and coal industries, according to analysis by the CAP Action War Room. Blackburn herself has accepted $287,393.
“The President should realize that Congress has taken action” on climate change policies, Blackburn said. “We have said no.”
As the Weather-Channel-dubbed “Winter Storm Pax” barrels across much of the eastern United States this week, the warnings have been just short of apocalyptic. “This is a storm of historical proportions with potentially catastrophic … crippling impacts,” the National Weather Service’s Atlanta office said in a 3:39 a.m. forecast discussion on Wednesday. “Catastrophic… crippling… paralyzing… choose your adjective.”
“If residents have not completed their preparations,” the NWS continued, “it may be too late.”
Indeed, the effects of the storm have already been — pun intended — chilling. As Slate’s meteorologist Eric Holthaus rightfully predicted, the Atlanta area got more than four inches of snow topped by as much as one inch of ice, which can add “thousands of pounds of additional weight to trees and power lines.”
“Add on gusty winds of 20-30 mph, as are also forecasted, and you have a recipe for disaster, with 100-year-old oaks and hickories snapping like matchsticks,” Holthaus writes. “As a result, Wednesday’s storm could have lingering impacts across the region for years, if not decades.”
But the real reason why Winter Storm Pax is unusual is not just the size and the very real potential for disaster, but the fact that that a recent report shows such storms used to occur much more frequently.
These particularly destructive ice storms, according to weather service Weather Underground, “feature heavy ice accumulation, sometimes on the order of several inches, that, when combined with strong winds, bring down trees and power lines, plunge hundreds of thousands into the dark sometimes for several days.”
There is a lack of concrete scientific research pertaining to the frequency and intensity of ice storms, but Weather Underground’s report shows that the most destructive ice storms in American history were, at one point, not so few and far between. Almost all of the similarly predicted ice storms in America happened more than 12 years ago, and all within at least four years of one another. According to that report, nine out of the ten most severe ice storms in the nation happened before 2002, with five of them happening between the years of 1994 and 2002.
The 1994 storm was the second worst ice storm in history, with some areas accumulating six inches of ice. Four years later in 1998, a January storm coated New England and Southeast Canada in as much as three inches of ice.
Then in January 2000, two back-to-back ice storms hit the Atlanta area, accumulating about a half inch of ice and leaving a half million customers without power. Later that year, in December, more than an inch of ice accumulated from northeast Texas into southeast Oklahoma, Arkansas and northern Louisiana. Then in December 2002, another storm coated the southeast states in an inch-thick ice blanket.
Almost all of those ice storms occurred in the south and southeastern United States. But as Winter Storm Pax makes its way to the Northern states on Thursday, it is also expected to accumulate some ice, as heavy snow may eventually be topped with rain later in the day. Unlike the south, ice storms are less frequent in the northern states, where frigid winter temperatures have generally prevented the “not too warm, not too cold” conditions that an ice storm requires.
Storms like Pax give fodder to climate deniers who use winter weather events to make the argument that “it’s freezing outside and you’re whining about warming,” as if a localized weather event is reflective of a long-term global climate shift.
Indeed, the Federalist states that “it’s just silly to pretend that every weather event — no matter how big or small or hot or cold — is somehow related to your crackpot political agenda.” This is actually a statement many climate scientists would agree with. Renowned climate scientist and director of atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia Dr. Marshall Shepherd told ClimateProgress essentially the same thing when asked about the climate connection to Pax. “I am not really a big fan of linking individual events to climate change,” he said. “I like to take a broader view.”
That broader view is simple. The effects of climate change do not all of a sudden make seasonal weather events stop happening. They happen as usual, but are given added fervor by increased moisture in the atmosphere, which is caused by a warming overall climate. As the National Resources Defense Council puts it, “global warming on our climate is not unlike the effect of steroids on an athlete’s performance: It supercharges storms; it causes abnormal conditions like drought and heat and ultimately, it causes damage.”
Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University who is spearheading the polar vortex/climate change connection research, told ClimateProgress she agreed with the assessment.
“This is just a strong winter storm,” Francis said. “Of course, the atmosphere is now charged with more energy via extra heat and moisture than it used to have, so any storm that forms now has more fuel to work with.”
And while Pax brings frigid conditions to parts of the U.S., the global trend is clearly toward warming and several spots across the globe are grappling with unprecedented high temperatures. In Alaska, extremely unseasonable warm weather has destabilized the snowpack that’s there every year, causing a series of a dozen avalanches that buried roads 40 feet deep and hundreds of feet long last month.
Alaska isn’t alone. Greenland has been about 5°C warmer than normal in January. This year’s snow season has shrunk in the northern hemisphere by about three weeks, leaving the people who plan Winter Olympics grappling with how to adapt. Sao Paolo, Brazil is running out of water as it suffered through its hottest month on record in January. And extreme heat rolling through Australia has not just caused tennis tournaments to suspend outdoor play, but also led to a spike in heat-related deaths in Victoria.
As ClimateProgress has pointed out time and again, the differing extremes on a global scale can make climate change difficult to understand, which is why it is more useful to look at long-term warming trends, rather than basing decisions on climate change off one singular storm.
Exactly one month and a day after 10,000 gallons of chemicals spilled into West Virginia’s water, members of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure committee on Monday traveled to the state’s capital city, ostensibly to ask state leaders the still-unanswered questions surrounding the leak. There are many.
Perhaps the most important party that could provide answers would have been Freedom Industries, the company whose chemical storage tanks leaked a coal-cleaning chemical called crude MCHM into the water. Company president Gary Southern had been invited to testify, but in the end, did not show up.
“I find that extremely telling,” said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). “Freedom Industries’ decision not to testify today compounds its gross misconduct, and is an absolute affront to every person impacted by its spill.”
Freedom Industries’ decision not to show up to a hearing that otherwise housed every party that should be held accountable for the spill (Representatives from West Virginia American Water, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board showed up, to name a few) is depressingly typical, and a painful reminder of the company’s non-presence throughout the month-long ordeal.
“They’ve been basically out of the picture since day one of this crisis, even though they were the cause of the crisis,” Executive Director of West Virginia Citizen Action Gary Zuckett, told ClimateProgress, recalling the events of the week following the spill. “The first thing that [Freedom] did was file for bankruptcy. The second thing they did was open a new corporation to loan the first corporation money.”
Indeed, after being being criticized for failing to immediately report the chemical leak, and faced with lawsuits from those who had been harmed, Freedom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy shielded it from lawsuits, and since then the company has been increasingly opaque — only breaking its silence to revise spill numbers (last week it said 10,000, not 7,500 gallons, had spilled) and admit that more than one chemical had actually spilled.
“That’s the big reason they filed bankruptcy, I think, so that they can be excused for stepping out,” Maria Gunnoe, spokesperson for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, told ClimateProgress. “They realize, they’re in — instead of hot water — poison water.”
Of course it’s hard to forget the one time Freedom Industries’ president Gary Southern decided to step out and speak, the day after the chemical spill was said to have begun occurring. Fumbling with reporters’ questions and attempting to excuse himself multiple times, an exasperated Southern took a sip of bottled water in front of the news cameras — an image that many called “brazen” considering his company was preventing others from that very luxury.
When asked for comment by the Huffington Post, a representative for Freedom Industries referred to its lawyer, Paul Vey, who said Southern did not attend “simply because the company is relatively small and we are focused exclusively on remediation of the spill.”
And considering all the bad press, Zuckett said maybe it was for the best that Southern didn’t show up to the hearing.
“He was digging this thing deeper,” Zuckett said. “They wisely decided to get him out of the spotlight.”
Officials at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Tuesday they would investigate the cause of the spill, but said no major cleanup effort was planned because of its relatively small size (one single tanker car carries 26,000 gallons) and the way that it happened: the tanker carrying the oil didn’t derail and leak all in one place, rather oil gradually splattered out of the car between the rails onto the track bed as the train was moving. The leak, according to the Star-Tribune, was traced to a valve or cap problem.
“It’s like it spray-painted oil,” MPCA spokesperson Cathy Rofshus told the Leader-Telegram. There were no reported pools of oil, Rofshus added, saying the agency would continue to monitor the area’s conditions.
Concerns about the safety of transporting crude by rail have ballooned in the last year, most infamously characterized by the deadly derailment in Lac-MÃ©gantic, Quebec this past summer. The derailment caused a 1.5 million gallon oil spill, and an explosion which killed 47 people. Federal regulators recently reported that more oil has spilled from rail cars in 2013 than in the last four decades combined, which is in line with how much the practice itself has increased.
As part of his state’s overall budget for the coming fiscal year, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has proposed lifting a 4-year-old ban on gas drilling in state parks and forests, saying leasing those public lands to private companies would bring an additional $75 million in new revenue to the state.
Though Corbett didn’t specifically talk about his proposal to lift the ban during his public presentation of his $29.4 billion spending plan Tuesday, he did talk up the benefit of reaping fossil fuels from the Marcellus Shale — an essential act if Pennsylvania is to become the second-largest producer of natural gas in the nation, according to NPR.
“Shale gas offers our country a chance at energy independence and greater economic security,” Corbett said, noting the state could also derive a substantial amount of additional royalty revenue in the future from the gas produced on state land. “It’s part of the all-of-the-above strategy we’ve put in place.”
The last time drilling was allowed on Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests was in 2010, when former state Gov. Ed Rendell leased more than 700,000 acres of state forest land. Afterward, Rendell signed an executive order to put a moratorium on additional leasing.
The executive order, however, is fragile — Corbett could undo the ban with the stroke of a pen. Because of this, state lawmakers have attempted to make the ban more permanent. In March, Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) introduced a bill which, if passed, would have permanently banned the leasing of additional state forest land for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
“Pennsylvania has already made about half of its state forestland available for drilling,” Vitali said when announcing his bill, noting that 559 gas wells had already been drilled in Pennsylvania state forests. “The remaining 800,000 acres have old growth forests, fragile ecosystems, and habitats for rare and endangered species. We need to protect this land for future generations.”
Though Vitali’s bill has 34 co-sponsors and bipartisan support, it has so far not made it out of committee. That bill would not affect drilling on private land, nor would it prevent drilling on the more those 700,000 acres of state forest that Rendell had already leased.
Following Corbett’s proposal, non-profit advocacy organization PennFuture condemned it, warning of the dangers of exchanging long-term natural beauty for a short-term cash cow.
“In announcing that he seeks to lift a three-year-old moratorium to expand leasing of public lands for gas development, the governor reveals the short-sighted nature of his stewardship of our natural resources by trading more long-term harm to our state parks and forests in return for short-term economic gain,” PennFuture President Cindy Dunn said in a statement. “We are increasingly concerned that absent a healthy economy and responsible drilling tax on natural gas development, Governor Corbett is making the general fund reliant on the rapid exploitation of resources that he should, instead, be conserving for this and future generations.”
Considering the massive scope of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, it is no wonder the State Department’s recently-released final environmental impact statement for the pipeline is equally massive. In addition to addressing issues such as climate change, economic need, wildlife impacts, socioecomonics, air quality, noise, and the potential of a spill, the State Department received and answered more than 1.5 million comments on the proposed pipeline, the entirety of which it attempted to answer. Though 99 percent of those comments were duplicates of letters from advocacy organizations, one percent — nearly 17,000 — were deemed “unique” submissions. The majority, or 57 percent of the unique submissions, opposed the project, while 43 percent supported it.
Because the State Department could not answer all of the questions and comments, questions were given “themed” answers, which resulted in many questions getting inadequate answers, and some not at all. The most cringeworthy moments from the comment-and-response section are listed here.
What’s In The Pipeline Anyway?
Issue at hand: If the pipeline is approved, a substance called diluted bitumen (dilbit) would be added to the thick tar sands oil to make it flow more easily through the pipeline. Dilbit is not the same as normal crude oil, and the safety of this product and the chemicals used to make it are of concern — particularly that it may be more corrosive, impacting pipeline integrity. Some commenters wanted details on the chemical makeup of the dilbit, safety procedures to maintain pipeline integrity, and emergency response plans to clean up spills of dilbit.
Comment submitted by TetherowJ: “How can you approve a pipeline for a substance you aren’t told the composition of If [a leak] happens in the aquifer, how will the added chemicals behave? YOU DON’T KNOW!”
Answer: “Due to shipper confidentiality issues, the exact composition of the dilbit blends are not publicly available. Although the Department is unable to supply every Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the crude oil that would be transported by the proposed Project, Appendix Q, Crude Oil Material Safety Data Sheets, contains MSDSs that identify the chemical composition and maximum volumes of chemicals that could be present in the dilbit and Bakken crude in the event of a release. These MSDSs do not represent an actual dilbit blend that would be transported by the proposed project, but could be useful to emergency responders for planning purposes.”
Translation: The State Department is not disclosing what’s in the dilbit, and not planning on telling emergency response teams either.
What About The Native American Tribes?
Issue at hand: The proposed route of Keystone XL would cross the lands of multiple different Native American tribes, who have raised concerns that their voices are not being heard in the approval process. Members from the seven tribes of the Lakota Nation, along with tribal members and tribes in Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Nebraska and Oregon, have been trying to fight construction.
Comment submitted by The Yankton Sioux Tribe and Ihanktonwan Oyate: [Our ancestors] would not have signed [The 1863 Peace Treaties] if the ancestors had known the United States would consistently violate them up to even today. … Indigenous Nations have not been properly involved in the review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as a whole and have been forced to participate in a fragmented divisive process, which does not allow tribes to share information with each other in a cooperative manner even though the lands on which Indigenous Nations’ sacred, cultural, and historic sites are found often overlap.
Translation: “ACK” is the only code that is not given a response in the “themed response” code list, but likely means “acknowledged.”
There Are Already Holes In This Pipeline. What About Those?
Issue at hand: In early 2013, three people locked themselves inside a segment of the Keystone XL pipeline to protest its construction. While inside the pipe, they discovered there were already holes in it. Non-profit consumer rights group Public Citizen also released a report in November showing the pipes are already bending, sagging and peeling to the point of a possible spill or leakage of toxic tar sands.
Comment submitted by Frances Davis: “The empty pipeline already has holes that have been photographed from the inside out. What do you think will happen when tar sand oil is going through?”
Answer: “The [Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration] has the legal authority to enforce a pipeline operator’s operations, maintenance, and emergency manuals, which include construction and installation. Oversight and enforcement of a pipeline operation is defined by extensive federal and state regulation.
Translation: Regulations will take care of it.
Is It Wise To Delay America’s Transition To Clean Energy?
Issue at hand: Many have questioned whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest because of the fact that it will carry tar sands crude, a dirty fossil fuel that, when extracted, contributes greatly to climate change.
Comment submitted by Doug Hayes of the Sierra Club: “[Keystone XL] will promote further development and importation of tar sands crude into the United States, thus perpetuating the status quo dependence of our nation on oil, hindering the investment, research and development of alternative sources of energy, that are produced right at home.”
Answer: “[We] considered alternatives to the use of crude oil from the [Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin], including different energy sources and energy conservation. These options were considered in the development of the Final Supplemental EIS and are incorporated for reference (see Section 2.2.6, Other Alternatives Considered but Eliminated from Detailed Analysis in the Final Supplemental EIS).”
Translation: Section 2.2.6 of the FEIS makes no mention of renewable energy or climate change, rather discusses alternatives such as route variation, an above-ground pipeline, a smaller diameter pipe, a rail alternative, combination rail-pipeline and rail-tanker, and a no-build option. In a very binary fashion, the report seems to assume that the oil has to be burned, giving almost no consideration of a scenario where a lot less tar sands is consumed.
What About My Years Spent Fighting For This Country?
Issue at hand: Some people have taken issue with the fact that the Keystone XL pipeline would be owned by TransCanada, a Canadian company.
Comment submitted by Gary J. Jorgens: “I spent 20 years of my life in the military defending this great country and now the fighting continues for our rights to our land, livelihood, welfare of our families, even to a right to have safe drinking water. What in the world are we doing when we allow a foreign country to bully their way into our country and run a pipeline carrying caustic materials that, when a spill occurs, it will sterilize our soil and contaminate out water for many years to come?”
It took nearly five days after a major chemical spill in West Virginia for residents to receive the go-ahead to start using their water again.
Nearly 7,500 gallons of crude MCHM — a little-known chemical used to wash coal — had leaked into the Elk River on Jan. 9, perplexing state officials on how exactly to get the chemical out of the water and what exactly it would do to people if they used it. It was Jan. 13, a Monday, when the first bans were lifted. As of Saturday, everyone affected by the spill was given the all-clear — water everywhere, state officials said, was now fine to drink.
In a perfect world, that would be the end of the story. But according to statistics released by the state health department on Saturday, it turns out that since the bans on water began being lifted, hospital admissions and calls to the poison control center have doubled. Emergency room visits have nearly tripled.
On Jan. 12, the day before do-not-use orders began being lifted, health department officialscited 10 hospital admissions, 169 people treated and released from the emergency room, and a little more than 1,000 calls to the poison control center.
By Saturday — the same day the final 2 percent of people affected by the spill got their water back — those numbers had increased significantly. According to a report in the Charleston Gazette, health officials said 20 people had been admitted to the hospitals, 411 had been treated and released from the emergency room, and 2,302 had called the poison control center. Of those, 1,862 were human-related, 98 were animal-related and the rest were requests for information only.
Saturday’s numbers were also much greater than Thursday’s numbers, when health officials said only 317 had been treated and 14 had been hospitalized.
Part of the increased hospitalizations and calls may be due to confusion on the part of West Virginia residents, who in the last week have been repeatedly given conflicting information about the spill and whether they should use the water. The “do-not-drink” order finally lifted on Saturday, for example, was in a town that had actually had their ban lifted on Tuesday. On Thursday, however, West Virginia American Water rescinded their statements that the water was safe to drink, after water from a fire hydrant registered chemical levels above the 1-part-per-million (ppm) limit.
It’s not the only instance of conflicting information. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said pregnant women should not drink water with any amount of the chemical in it, despite West Virginia American Water saying two days earlier that water in some areas was safe to drink.
Chemical levels in the water must be below 1 ppm for human ingestion. But health experts have questioned that logic. Specifically, some are saying that the study being widely used to determine whether the water is safe does not include several chemical components that leached into the water.
“A key corporate study used by federal health officials to set a screening level for ‘crude MCHM’ in the West Virginia American Water system actually tested a pure form of the material’s main ingredient and might not account for potential toxicity of other components,” the Charleston Gazette reported on Friday.
The chemical that is thought to have spilled, crude MCHM, is actually a mixture of chemicals that is used to wash coal of its impurities, explained Evan Hansen, president of Morgantown-based Downstream Strategies, in an interview with Climate Progress’ Kiley Kroh on Saturday. Of those multiple ingredients, only one of them has any information about exposure limits, he said.
“If crude MCHM is truly what leaked, it’s possible that we don’t even know which of this ‘cocktail’ is most harmful,” said Hansen. “We could have set a threshold based on the wrong one. We may be testing the wrong one.”
So far, however, no official diagnoses have been reported linking patients’ symptoms to water exposure.
“As far as the data and recommendations we have from West Virginia American Water, the water is safe to use,” Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said. “We’re not saying it’s safe. West Virginia American Water is saying it’s safe. We are taking their word for it.”