JPOV: Disaster in West Virginia

A JerEcho Point of View Editorial 

By AMANDA DAMON

Recently there was a catastrophic spillage of 7,500 gallons of a toxic coal cleaning chemical, crude MCHM, into the local West Virginian Elk River. There is much debate over whether this spill is the fault of chemical companies or the fault of the coal mines, but regardless, its use concretely links back to the abundance of mountaintop coal mines in the aforementioned area of the state. Approximately 300,000 residents were affected by this spill, and for an extended period of time, they were unable to drink tap water, take a shower, do dishes and laundry, and perform many other everyday activities.

New York Post

A segment of the polluted Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia (Associated Press/Tyler Evert).

The most recent and horrifying update is in regards to the stated condition of the local water. At a recent congressional hearing, West Virginia’s state government and federal officials performed linguistic contortions, trying to avoid a definitive answer about whether the water was in fact safe to drink, yet urging citizens to do so. The state’s health commission deemed the water “usable for every purpose,” yet not once actually classifying it as safe. These vague government responses have produced great uncertainty concerning decisions about the MCHM spill, but what remains certain is the toxicity and damage that this chemical continues to cause.

CHARLESTON, WV JANUARY 11, 2014:Emergency crew try to position

Emergency crew workers try to contain the oil spill in the Elk River (The Washington Post via Getty Images).

At what point will America realize that our nation has reached its “last straw?” If this West Virginia disaster doesn’t arouse environmental reform, then what will?  Interestingly, the Long Island Forensic League for high school debate teams focused on this issue by choosing as its monthly topic the government’s prioritization of environmental protection. The upcoming generation will surely be the key to future success, but our nation’s demise will be inevitable if immediate attention isn’t allocated to crises such as this one.

The main question that arises for our national government to face is, “What is more important: economic advancement or environmental protection and the safety of our citizenry?” As it stands, the economy has continuously prevailed, but it is vital for governmental actions to begin to show a change in policy. Our nation, an international powerhouse, can no longer allow for disasters such as the one in West Virginia to ensue.

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