A West Virginia Friend Talks to the Rude Pundit:
"The difference this time," said the Rude Pundit's old friend in Charleston, West Virginia, "is that it wasn't just poor people who were affected." She was referring to the chemical spill into the Elks River, just a mile and a half upstream from the water treatment plant for 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley, including the state capital of Charleston. "It was rich people. It was politicians," she continued. "I guarantee that when some legislator's wife couldn't bathe the kids, there was hell to pay." She's right, of course. The rural residents of West Virginia have had to deal endlessly with water filled with chemical leaks, run-off from coal processing, and general disgustingness, like mass fish kills caused by the aforementioned things. You just rarely heard about them because, you know, they're dirt poor and who the fuck cares because they're lucky to live in America.
Still, when you live in Charleston, you get used to a certain amount of poison. You get used to there always being some kind of odor. It's one of the things the Rude Pundit noticed when he visited there a few years ago. The friend said, "This time it was different. I smelled it when I first got up in the morning and it got powerful strong later on." She's a professor, by the way, with a PhD.
There's a whole lot of anger to go around. For instance, the storage facility that held the 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (calm down there, tweakers. Different meth) did not have to be inspected by regulators for leaks because you don't want too many rules holding back the liberty of capitalists, man. It hasn't been inspected since 1991 because West Virginia law requires inspections only for chemical production facilities, not chemical storage joints. If that makes no sense to you, you hate the job creators.
And, for instance, the dude-bros who own the fucking retardedly-named "Freedom Industries" are fucking assholes and fucking criminals. The company, as it exists now, is only two weeks old. Yeah, three other companies merged at the end of 2013 to become the FI that we all know and love. Oh, and there's a chance that the storage facility was completely automated. So not only was it uninspected, but it was completely absent any human beings that might have smelled something funny. (Yeah, you still have to take off your shoes at an airport, but most of our chemical storage places are unguarded.)
To its credit, West Virginia American Water, which was a victim, surely, but has worked mightily to make it better (the Rude Pundit's friend said that she was "kind of proud" at how quickly the locals came up with a way to test for the chemical - yeah, there was no way to test for it before), kept the public well-informed, as did the governor. The fuckwits at Freedom? The president, a cockknob named Gary Southern, tried to end a press conference by saying that he had had "an extremely hard day." He was practically tackled by reporters and continued to bumblefuck his way through answers.
But, as the Rude Pundit's friend kept saying, this is really about people. She said, "The first night, we drove around, pretty much to Kentucky, before we found bottled water." We joked about bathing in San Pellegrino because we're bourgeois pigs. Then we talked about all the schools and the restaurants being closed. She continued, "People here are already living on the edge. Can you imagine what happens when they're not gonna get a paycheck they're counting on? Most people don't have a couple hundred dollars to just make it through until this ends." Of course, the downside of being constantly beaten down, as the poor of West Virginia have learned, is that "people here just figure this is another thing they have to pull together and get through" rather than blame the people who deserve the blame - the politicians from the statehouse to the Congress, the corporations big and small who are squeezing that beautiful landscape until it is just a dry sponge or a balled-up napkin.
The water will be flowing again soon. The flushing out of the system has begun. So, no doubt, will the effort to sweep it all under the muck-covered rug. Although, like after the BP spill, someone's gonna have to pay people and businesses for all the money that was lost.
The one upside to the whole mess? "On the day we got word that we shouldn't cook with the water, I had already made some butternut squash soup," said the Rude Pundit's friend. "It was a really delicious batch. Next time I cook it, I'm gonna use some star anise because the licorice taste of the water gave the soup this great flavor." Now that's a glass half-full view. Well, half-full with toxic water.