That was the reality for over 100,000 families in West Virginia in early January. Over 7,500 gallons of a chemical called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leaked from a tank farm close to the Elk River and into the water supply. Residents were told to avoid drinking or bathing in the tainted water. Two weeks later, they were encouraged to drink it even though they could still smell the chemicals. And today, it’s still a mess.
As the local officials stood by their claims that the contaminated water was perfectly safe, the pollutants continued moving down the river. And even today, there is no clear answer as to how this will impact public health, wildlife, or the environment in that area.
This is Why We are Vunerable
The West Virginia water crisis is important to all of us. It shines a spotlight on the lack of federal protections involving chemicals. West Virginia is an example of how the government’s lack of chemical oversight is a detriment to its citizens. Who is looking out for us if our own government isn’t doing its job? The truth is because of special interest, our government favors protecting chemical companies over public health. The implication for everyone: we must take care of ourselves.
What happened in West Virginia wasn’t an isolated incident.
In 2008, an explosion and fire at Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, West Virginia killed two workers. In 2010, a chemical called phosgene leaked from a DuPont plant in Belle, West Virginia, ultimately killing one worker. Both incidents were related to lack of inspection as well as lobbying from chemical companies to prevent new safety procedures to be put in place.
Issues surround water and our air supply affect us all because we all have to drink water and breathe air to survive. And if our government isn’t safeguarding our survival, should we be trusting corporate America to do it instead? Well that is what our government is hoping we do–trust the companies that are profiting from these chemicals to regulate themselves. But in the real world, we all know that eventually someone will go a bit too far.
West Virginia is only one example, but if you look behind the curtain, you will see a power structure of lobbyist in our capitol. Chemical companies are big business. Resulting from the lobbying of chemical companies, we have developed very relaxed safety restrictions on facilities, storage and research base on chemicals. What has resulted is an extreme lack of oversight by our government to protect the public. No one really knows what is going on.
The bigger question is, who is holding corporations responsible? Who is safeguarding the public when it comes to chemicals that do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Food & Drug Administration? As of right now, no one is.
What Do You Have That’s Safe?
When it comes to your water, toys, personal care products, food containers, and other household products, the only person looking out for you is you. Though the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has tried to regulate known carcinogenic substances such as asbestos, they have been repeatedly struck down by federal courts. Why is that okay? According to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, chemicals don’t need to be studied before being put into production. Out of the 60,000 chemicals that were approved in 1976, only 20 of them had been tested for safety – a mere .03%. Since that time, only 5 of those substances have been restricted from use. 1,328 substances that are in production in the United States are banned in the European Union. Not coincidentally, Europe has lower cancer rates than the United States.
As long as our government continues their pattern of de-regulation and lack of oversight to protect the public’s health, situations like West Virginia are not only possible, but they will continue to happen. The fox is guarding the hen house.
Actions You Can Take
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families has been lobbying Washington for years on behalf of our interests and right now they are working with our elected officials to STOP a new law from being created that actually does more to harm than good. We don’t need any more lax safety laws. We need real reform. Follow Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and get involved in their petitions and campaigns. They are really making a difference when it comes to lobbying the government for stricter safety protections.