CHARLESTON-At press conference on Saturday, government officials and industry leaders told the citizens of West Virginia that the chemical spill causing so much consternation was really nothing to worry about. Speaking from the safety of the heavily fortified Robert Byrd Crisis Command Center deep below the capitol building, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin apologized to the public for any inconvenience that the “minor” spill had caused. He assured the citizens of West Virginia that although no one knew much about the nature of the chemical or how much had spilled, the effects on public health would be negligible.
The spill was made public on Thursday after reports from citizens of a “licorice-type” odor in the tap water of Charleston and the counties that surround it. Apparently the leak emanated from a 40,000 gallon holding tank at Freedom Industries on the banks of the Elk River, the source of drinking water for over 300,000 West Virginians. At first the company reported that the tank held Dawn dish-washing liquid for its lunch room clean up staff, but after dead fish began surfacing downstream, company spokesman Dr. Emelio Lizardo admitted that the tank contained 4-methylcyclohexane, a chemical used to cleanse coal.
Hundreds of thousands of residents have been warned not to drink, shower, cook, or clean with tap water until further notice. The West Virginia National Guard, FEMA, and private water companies are sending water tankers and bottled water into affected areas. As of today no one knows when the water will be safe to drink.
Governor Tomblin was quick to soothe public concerns over the spill. ” I want everyone to know that all of your hard-working elected officials are safe and have plenty of pure water to drink. This unfortunate slip-up will in no way hinder the normal functions of government. I want to state for the record that Freedom Industries and the coal industry in general are friends to both me and the good people of West Virginia. Freedom Industries and the Clean Coal Council have been leaders in the fight to keep the EPA and its business-killing regulations out of our fair state and I’m here to let everyone in West Virginia know that no one’s job is in jeopardy. We will continue to demolish picturesque mountaintops, pour toxic sludge into our streams and rivers, and pollute the atmosphere just as enthusiastically as we have done for the last fifty years. Our economy depends on it!”
Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Va) was unable to attend the presser as he was called away to Washington on urgent business as soon as it was apparent that he would have no drinkable water at his estate located in stylish Black Lung Gardens, a gated community outside Charleston. However, he did appear via secure video link, and had this to say: “I want to apologize for this unfortunate event but I know that we West Virginians are very resilient people and are used to all types of environmental degradation, so I know we can take it in stride. In the meantime, bottled water will be made available at the following locations: The Robert Byrd Research Library, The Robert C. Byrd Memorial Hospital, The Bob Byrd Central Post Office, The “Little Billy” Bird Memorial Animal Shelter, and any one of the over 200 Byrd’s Cash and Carry locations in and around Charleston.” Senator Manchin continued, “In the unlikely event that anyone needs spiritual counseling regarding the event, they may seek it at Our Lady of the Immaculate Pork Barrel Catholic Church, located adjacent to the Bobby Byrd Memorial Golf Course, on Robert Byrd Scenic Drive.”
The President of Freedom Industries, Mr. Gary Southern, was also present at the press conference, but it was almost impossible to hear his statement because he was completely encapsulated in a stylish personally tailored Saint-Gobain hazmat suit. Transcripts of his remarks were later distributed to reporters, and we have this excerpt: “We at Freedom Industries want to apologize for any inconvenience we have caused the people of West Virginia and any of their pets or farm animals that may have been contaminated. We have no earthly idea how this spill could have occurred, since we always observe only the most stringent safety measures. I want to reiterate what Governor Tomblin has already said in that we in the coal industry will continue to provide the extremely hazardous low paying jobs we have always provided the people of West Virginia. In response to some of the inquiries made earlier I’d like to introduce our safety officer, County Agent Hank Kimball. He has a prepared statement that should answer all your questions.”
Mr. Kimball then took the podium and began a long and disorganized monologue about storage tanks, river water, and former Senator Robert Byrd. “We don’t know how much of the chemical spilled into the river, because we don’t know how much leaked out of the storage tank, and we really are not sure how much was in the tank to begin with,” said Kimball. “We don’t know a hell of a lot about the chemical in question, and don’t know why toxic substances were stored in massive decrepit tanks that appear to be suspended directly above the region’s only source of drinking water, the Elk River.” Mr. Kimball paused to wipe some pink sputum off his chin and then continued, “We do know that 4-methylcyclohexane helps us produce the high quality coal this country depends on to heat up the entire planet and make places like the Arctic Circle warmer and more inhabitable. I think we can all agree that is a good thing. We have made some calls to the company that produces the chemical, and sometime next week we should be able to shed more light on when it may be safe to drink the water again. Thank you very much for your patience.”
Environmental advocates such as Greenpeace have for years warned of the damage done to the ecology of West Virginia by the coal industry but solid evidence has been hard to come by because entry into the region has been blocked by right-wing militias and groups of thugs hired by “Big Coal.” The last group of conservationists that entered the state and came out alive was in 1972, and even that group suffered one fatality. “It’s a really sad situation,” said Luna Willow, a representative of “Save the Mountaintops,” an environmentalist organization dedicated to preventing coal companies from literally reducing entire mountains to lifeless moonscapes. “I hope that this spill serves as a wake-up call to all Americans. If we don’t start taking care of our environment all of us will be drinking foaming agent just like the citizens of West Virginia.”
In November of last year West Virginia Attorney General filed a brief with the Supreme Court against the EPA regarding implementation of the Clean Air Act. Furthermore, Senator Joe Manchin has stated in the past that EPA regulations are unfairly hurting Appalachian coal mining.