How’s that “defund the EPA” working for you now? West Virginia edition

January 10, 2014

Rite-Aid store in Charleston, West Virginia, out of bottled drinking water.

Rite-Aid store in Charleston, West Virginia, out of bottled drinking water. Eyewitness report and photo via Twitter

West Virginia’s water woes might look like a political campaign ad from God to some people.

If you’re watching closely, you may already understand some of the morals of this story.

Last night West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared an emergency in six counties, telling about 300,000 people to avoid touching their tapwater — no drinking, mixing infant formula, cooking, or bathing; flushing toilets was okay.  NBC reported:

A chemical spill into a West Virginia river has led to a tap water ban for up to 300,000 people, shut down bars and restaurants and led to a run on bottled water in some stores as people looked to stock up.

The federal government joined West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in declaring a disaster as the West Virginia National Guard arranged to dispense bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the counties hit by the chemical spill into the Elk River.

Federal authorities are also opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the leak and what triggered it, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Friday.

The advisory was expanded at night to nine counties and includes West Virginia American Water customers in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties.

Several thousand gallons of an industrial chemical had leaked out, into a tributary to the Kanawha River above Charleston, upstream from the city’s culinary water intake.  While the company responsible for the leak, Freedom Industries, assured the governor and other authorities that the spill is not threat to human health, officials took the more cautious path.

This case illustrates troubles we have with food and water supplies, protecting public health, and the rapid proliferation and spread of modern technology and chemical innovation.

  • Why did the company say the spill is no threat?  No research has pinned any particular health effect to the chemical involved. But you, you sneaky, suspicious person, you want to know just what chemical is involved, don’t you?
  • What’s the chemical involved? 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM) spilled out of a tank into the Elk River, which flows into the Kanawha River, from which Charleston gets its water.  Charleston, West Virginia’s capital, is also the state’s largest city.  You’re still suspicious?
  • What are the health effects of the stuff? Now you ask questions for which there are not great answers.  The chemical, with the methylcyclohexane linked to an alcohol molecule, is new enough, and rare enough in industry, that there are not a lot of studies on what it does.  It’s known to irritate skin and mucous membranes; breathing a lot of it can cause pneumonia.  Only rats have been exposed to the stuff enough to know what it does, and only a few rats for only short periods of time and not massive doses. In other words, we don’t know the health effects.
  • What’s the stuff used for? Freedom Industries uses it to wash coal.  Heck, I didn’t even know coal was washed other than a water spray to hold down dust in crushing, loading and unloading the stuff.  [if you missed the link in this post, let call your attention again to the story at WOWK-TV, which is quite thorough in discussing MCHM and its effects.  WOWK-TV is more thorough than the federal regulating agencies.]
  • But wait! If there are no known health effects, why the caution? It’s not that the stuff has been tested and found safe to humans.  MCHM simply hasn’t been tested to see what the health effects are.  The toxic profile for the compound at CDC’s ATDSR does not exist.  NIOSH doesn’t have much  more information on it. The most thorough analysis of what it might do is populated by small studies, or none at all.
  • What do you mean the stuff hasn’t been tested!!!???? Welcome to to Grover Norquist’s “smaller government,” to John Boehner’s and Mitch McConnell’s “reduced regulation,” to Rick Perry’s “states’ rights” world.  Way back in 1962 Rachel Carson warned about the proliferation of newly-devised chemicals being loosed into the environment, when we really had no historical knowledge of what the stuff would do to humans who ran into it, nor to other life forms, nor even inanimate things like rocks, wood and metal.  A decade later, the founders of the Environmental Protection Agency entertained the idea that a federal agency would be responsible for assuring that chemical substances would be tested for safety, both old substances and new.  For a couple of decades Congress supported that mission, until it became clear that there are simply too many new compounds and too great a backlog to test all, thoroughly.That world of making chemists and big companies responsible for their chemical children began to crumble in the Reagan administration, and is mostly abandoned now.  Chemical juveniles may run as delinquent as they would, with EPA and all other agencies essentially powerless to do anything — unless and until tragedy.  Even where EPA, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and all branches and twigs of the Department of Homeland Security, designate something as hazardous and deserving of care in handling, a state like Texas will ignore the rules on a substance until an accident blows half of West, Texas, to Hell, Michigan, with loss of life and enormous property destruction.  Afterward, victims get left bereft of aid to rebuild, and wondering who they might look to, to look out for them, to prevent such a horrible occurrence in the future.

So it goes, the nation blundering along from one tragedy, until the next.

Through most of American history, great tragedies produced great reforms.  No longer.  The Great Red State of West Virginia is dependent on federal largesse to get water to drink, at enormous expense and waste of time, talent and money.  Meanwhile, West Virginia’s Members of Congress conspire in Washington, D.C., to strip federal agencies from any power to even worry about what may be poisoning West Virginians.

Gov. Tomblin’s speedy action may seem out of place, not because there is great danger, but because he’s acting to protect public health without a mass of dead bodies in view to justify his actions.  We don’t see that much anymore (Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott didn’t cancel appointments to get to West, Texas to even offer sympathy, but instead scheduled weekend jaunts after it was clear the fire was out and there was no danger.  The good people of West did not greet them with a hail of rotten tomatoes, but thanked them for their concern.  Americans are nothing if not polite.)

I was struck with the news last night because I could find no report of just what was the chemical that leaked into the rivers.  This morning we finally learned it was MCHM.  In the depths of some of those stories, we also learn that the leak may have been going on for some time.  Though thousands of gallons of the stuff are missing, the concentrations in the river suggest not much is leaking now . . . the rest leaked earlier, and is already water under the bridge south of Charleston.

What do you think state and federal authorities should do in this case?  What do you think will actually happen?

More:

Update January 12, 2014:  JRehling got it right:


Powerful demonstrations of how concealed carry permits may not make us safer

September 20, 2013

Wholly apart from the two guys in Michigan who shot each other to death yesterday.

ABC News ran some tests.  People with concealed carry permits — how would they help in mass shooting situations?

Part 1:

Part 2:

Liberals Unite commented on these videos:

The controlled study documented in these videos show that concealed carry permit holders are fooling themselves if they think they will be able to react effectively to armed aggressors.  Most CCW holders won’t even be able to un-holster their gun.  They will more likely be killed themselves or kill innocent bystanders than stop the aggressor.

For more details, see “Unintended Consequences: Pro-Handgun Experts Prove That Handguns Are a Dangerous Choice for Self-Defense.” http://www.vpc.org/studies/unincont.htm.

CCW permit holders don’t protect innocent people.  They kill them.

Perhaps we should discuss preventing these cases altogether.  Discuss politely.

More:

It's a cotton t-shirt, not Kevlar.

It’s a cotton t-shirt, not Kevlar.


Killer county budget: “People will die”

November 27, 2008

How bad is our economic mess?

Ask county officials in Hamilton County, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio).  According to Cincinnati.com, the website for the Cincinnati Enquirer:

County Administrator Patrick Thompson said Monday that the county may have to slash another $2.3 million from its already bare-bones budget proposed for 2009 because of tumbling sales tax collections and reduced funding from the state.

That means that the county will have to find more cuts on top of the more than $40 million it’s already cut from departmental requests.

The news comes as the county sheriff and other public safety officials say even the current recommendations will devastate their ability to do their jobs.

“It’s downright dangerous,” said Michael Snowden, director of Hamilton County’s Emergency Management Agency. “People will die. It’s as simple as that.”

He was referring to a recommendation to withdraw funding for the Greater Cincinnati Hazmat team, which responds to hazardous material spills.

The budget for 2009 has already been cut $31 million below the budget for 2008, to $241 million total.  Recommendations are already in place to lay off 500 workers.

What to do?

Project lower sales tax revenues.  Already done.

The county previously predicted $65 million, or a 0 percent growth, in sales tax receipts next year. Sales tax revenue typically accounts for about 25 percent of the county’s general fund budget. But because of the credit crunch and bailout fallout, all of which just came to a head in the past few months, spending has plummeted and the holiday shopping picture looks bleak. Thompson asked the board to revise that number to $63.9 million, a decrease of $1.1 million.

Maybe the state government can help out?

He also recommended reducing the amount of local money the county would receive from the state by 5 percent, or $1.2 million, to about $22.8 million because the state is in a similarly tough budget situation and likely won’t be able to fund the county adequately.

At least make sure that the public safety offices get funded.

Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis said the cuts will have a “dramatic impact” impact on his department. “In my career in law enforcement, this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said after the meeting about the budget situation. “We’ve got major problems.”

He said he may decide to cease providing security at the county buildings rather than take deputies off the road. If the county closes the Queensgate jail, 84 corrections officers and 25 support personnel would lose their jobs and 450 inmates would be released, said Leis. Because the county’s main jail has long been out of room, the Queensgate jail, meant for only low-level inmates, now also houses some of the more serious offenders, he said. Inmate charges include burglary, robbery and drug abuse.

“We do have violent offenders down there,” Leis said. “They’re not choir boys.”

The county says it can’t afford to staff or maintain the aging jail, which it leases from a corrections company.

By law, the Hamilton County, Ohio, budget needs to be locked in by January 1, 20 days prior to the inauguration of the new president. No one is talking about bail-outs for state and local governments, yet.

What would you do?


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