A Trend Towards Dehumanization

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On January 9th, a chemical leak from Freedom Industries* contaminated the water of nine counties in West Virginia, depicted above in red. School closed in some places. Residents cleared out packaged water from stores. A state of emergency went into effect. The Kanahwa-Charleston Health Department ordered any business with a health permit to close immediately (1,500 businesses in the two counties affected by this ruling shut their doors). All this was triggered because the Department of Environmental Protection noticed an issue with air quality near the Elk River.

Only a handful of people were injured by the chemical contamination. The culprit, a “sudsing agent” used in the coal mining process, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, does not typically kill people, although it is a severe irritant and should not be ingested.

Today, the 13th of January, West Virginia American Water* announced that water has begun to flow again in West Virginia, starting in the capital city of Charleston. West Virginia has an unlucky history with chemicals and water safety. Films like Gasland made mega-hay out of tap water spouts that caught on fire. There’s this video from 2010 of a CNN Story about a WV family who strike a flame on a water bottle full of their tap water.

In November of 2010, Rolling Stone published an article about a lot of the back dealings in the coal industry that have made resident’s health not even a tertiary concern when dealing with profits.  After the article was published, and due to numerous other scandalous accusations made of Massey Energy, then-CEO Don Blankenship’s retirement was announced by the board at Massey. Yes, that grammar is deliberately awkward. Blankenship was retired by his company, he did not retire himself.

Getting back to Gasland: it made clear the accusation that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has just as bad of a track record at keeping water safe to drink. Many residents in the film were forced to switch to complicated filtration systems or were receiving a regular supply of clean water from local mining outfits. Despite these similar problems, natural gas is still much cheaper than coal and has put the fiscal hurt on its competitor in the fossil fuel industry.

Approaching this from another angle, books like Eating Animals dealt with another aspect of business that takes advantage of the health of West Virginia’s citizens. Reports like these and others cited at the time by author Jonathan Franzen explained the damage that large scale slaughterhouses and feed lots have on the environment. Specifically, fatalities from the practice of spraying fields with the abundance of manure from feed lots or from making cesspools of pig shit. These deaths occurred because people were overcome by the toxic air surrounding the cesspools, or from falling into the cesspool (because of the smell and high SO2 and H2S content of the air). At other times, the runoff from storms or overflow of cesspools into rivers contaminates large swaths of water, affecting hundreds of thousands of families. This runoff issue has drawn concern from some doctors – and take this with a grain of salt – for the increased incidence of asthma, autism, allergies, and other respiratory or developmental issues in commonly affected regions.

The trend to take away from this, and I am going to leave this very simple: what’s wrong with West Virginia and the numerous other states that take part in the mining of coal and natural gas? And why do the profits from one industry outweigh simple Western Society stuff like drinkable water?

I don’t have the answer, but I hope someone does because I can’t imagine these people would stand for it that much longer.

*Hilarious.

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