Elemental

My dad, a lifelong firefighter, used to teach Hazardous Materials Response and Safety classes to first responders.  The first informational point he covered at the beginning of the course was how to read the classification marks on transportation tankers—the little diamond-shaped signs, usually mounted on the back of the tank, that announce via numerical code what kinds of chemicals are stored in those transport vehicles, and what levels and types of health risks would be associated with a spill in the case of a wreck.  The first homework assignment he gave was for the firefighters to go home and stand on the main cross street in their neighborhoods and home towns for about an hour, and write down the numbers on every tag they saw pass through that intersection, then go look up the numbers.  Dad said that the next week, when those students came back for class, invariably there’d be two or three groups of firefighters whose faces were white as flour.

***

This is not going to be a very cogent post, I’m afraid.  We’re still in the middle of the mess that got made for us, and there are still a lot of things we don’t know, including when the water is going to be drinkable again.  I’ll try to be as articulate as I can.

Yesterday, Saturday January 11, I drove to Charleston WV, the city where I was born, and where my parents, my sister and her husband, my niece, and many of my family still live.  I’m two hours north now, up in lumber country.  They’re still down south in coal country.  One of the ways we identify regional demarcations in this state is through industry.

I’d been talking to my folks ever since the spill at Freedom Industries on Thursday morning.  Here’s what we know so far: The spill dumped 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) into the Elk River, a mile and a half upstream from the intake pipes for West Virginia-American Water, a company that serves nine counties.  The spill was caused, according to the most reliable reports we’ve been seeing to this point, because of deterioration of Freedom Industries’ storage and transfer materials for chemicals used in coal processing.  We’re talking here about your basic rusted pipes and breached concrete containment walls.  Freedom Industries hadn’t been inspected by the Department of Environmental Protection in over 20 years.  There was, we’re being told, no plan—no plan—on the books for procedure and protocol, should one of those containment tanks happen to be breached.

I drove down to Charleston on Saturday morning with ten cases of bottled water, as my folks, my sister and brother-in-law, and my niece haven’t been able to use tap water since Thursday.  Saturday morning it rained in Buckhannon—rained hard.  It rained off and on all the way to Charleston, a sheeting, high-wind downpour that at times, through the windshield, looked like driving through a car wash.

About ten miles out of Charleston, the rain slacked off.  The temperature was mild, about 60 degrees.  I drove south to the point where I-79 South ends, and you pick up I-64 West to head into the interstate exchanges on the freeway that runs the length of downtown.  And there, about a mile and a half out, I smelled it, smelled the odor of the MCHM coming in through the car vents.

I keep hearing the odor described as “licorice.”  That’s not quite right, at least to me.  But I can see how you’d make that association.  The smell was both sweet and sharp, and strangely light, at least in comparison to the smells I associated with chemical leaks growing up.  But it was there, suddenly, like someone had flipped a switch.  It wasn’t there, and then the next second, there it was.

I-64 West into Charleston, coming from southbound, unrolls in a big left-hand curve just after you come into the city.  I’ve driven this route hundreds, maybe thousands of times.  I grew up here.  I recognize every building from the freeway—the banks, the hospitals, the hotels and apartment complexes, all of it.  In the deepest part of that big left-hand curve, down off the freeway and to my left, there was West Virginia-American Water Company, and the smell suddenly became very, very strong.

On my way in, the rain had let up.  Now there was low-lying fog, white-and-gray tufts and tendrils of vapor rising up from the street level all around the small wood-frame houses and gas stations and grocery stores.  The sky was dark, and the fog was in the streets, and the smell was everywhere.  I looked at the water company, and I smelled the air, and suddenly I was filled—I mean filled—with a rage that was quite sudden, very unexpected, and utterly comprehensive.

We can never predict what moments are going to affect us this way.  I’m no dewy-eyed innocent about chemical leaks.  They were regular occurrences when I was a kid.  On the merits, this doesn’t seem right now to be the worst industrial threat West Virginia has ever endured.  Hell, it isn’t the most immediately threatening one my family has endured personally; that would be the bromine leak in my very own hometown of Malden in the 1980s, the one that forced a complete evacuation of the entire town until the leak could be contained.

But something about this confluence, the way I had to bring potable water to my family from two hours north, the strange look of the landscape wreathed in rain and mist, the stench of a chemical that was housed directly upstream from the water company—something about all of that made me absolutely buoyant in my rage.  This was not the rational anger one encounters in response to a specific wrong, nor even the righteous anger that comes from an articulate reaction to years of systematic mistreatment.  This was blind animal rage, and it filled my body to the limits of my skin.

And this is what I thought:

To hell with you. 

To hell with every greedhead operator who flocked here throughout history because you wanted what we had, but wanted us to go underground and get it for you.  To hell with you for offering above-average wages in a place filled with workers who’d never had a decent shot at employment or education, and then treating the people you found here like just another material resource—suitable for exploiting and using up, and discarding when they’d outlived their usefulness.  To hell with you for rigging the game so that those wages were paid in currency that was worthless everywhere but at the company store, so that all you did was let the workers hold it for a while, before they went into debt they couldn’t get out of.

To hell with you all for continuing, as coal became chemical, to exploit the lax, poorly-enforced safety regulations here, so that you could do your business in the cheapest manner possible by shortcutting the health and quality of life not only of your workers, but of everybody who lives here.  To hell with every operator who ever referred to West Virginians as “our neighbors.” 

To hell with every single screwjob elected official and politico under whose watch it all went on, who helped write those lax regulations and then turned away when even those weren’t followed.  To hell with you all, who were supposed to be stewards of the public interest, and who sold us out for money, for political power.  To hell with every one of you who decided that making life convenient for business meant making life dangerous for us.  To hell with you for making us the eggs you had to break in order to make breakfast.

To hell with everyone who ever asked me how I could stand to live in a place like this, so dirty and unhealthy and uneducated.  To hell with everyone who ever asked me why people don’t just leave, don’t just quit (and go to one of the other thousand jobs I suppose you imagine are widely available here), like it never occurred to us, like if only we dumb hilljacks would listen as you explained the safety hazards, we’d all suddenly recognize something that hadn’t been on our radar until now. 

To hell with the superior attitude one so often encounters in these conversations, and usually from people who have no idea about the complexity and the long history at work in it.  To hell with the person I met during my PhD work who, within ten seconds of finding out I was from West Virginia, congratulated me on being able to read.  (Stranger, wherever you are today, please know this: Standing in that room full of people, three feet away from you while you smiled at your joke, I very nearly lost control over every civil checkpoint in my body.  And though civility was plainly not your native tongue, I did what we have done for generations where I come from, when faced with rude stupidity: I tamped down my first response, and I managed to restrain myself from behaving in a way that would have required a deep cleaning and medical sterilization of the carpet.  I did not do any of the things I wanted to.  But stranger, please know how badly I wanted to do them.)

And, as long as I’m roundhouse damning everyone, and since my own relatives worked in the coal mines and I can therefore play the Family Card, the one that trumps everything around here: To hell with all of my fellow West Virginians who bought so deeply into the idea of avoidable personal risk and constant sacrifice as an honorable condition under which to live, that they turned that condition into a culture of perverted, twisted pride and self-righteousness, to be celebrated and defended against outsiders.  To hell with that insular, xenophobic pathology.  To hell with everyone whose only take-away from every story about every explosion, every leak, every mine collapse, is some vague and idiotic vanity in the continued endurance of West Virginians under adverse, sometimes killing circumstances.  To hell with everyone everywhere who ever mistook suffering for honor, and who ever taught that to their kids.  There’s nothing honorable about suffering.  Nothing.

To hell with you.  This is the one moment in my adult life when I have wished I could still believe in Hell as an actual, physical reality, so that I could imagine you in it.

That was what I thought.  Not in those words—it came to me in a full-body rush—but I think that’s a reliable verbal representation of the feeling.

Like I said, it wasn’t rational or cogent.  I’m not an eco-warrior or a Luddite, and I’m not anti-business or even anti-industry.  But for years, I’ve watched from inside and out while the place I grew up in, the place where many people I love still live, got sold out and scorched and plowed under and poisoned and filled with smoke.

There are sensible, sane ways to do things.  (A mile and a half upstream from a water intake facility, for fuck’s sake.  Upstream.)  It’s essential for state and federal governments to consult with scientists—actual, real scientists, in spite of this area’s long and fierce tradition of anti-intellectualism when it comes to public policy—and provide a regulatory apparatus for maintaining safety standards and making sure things are up to code, and that there’s a protocol in place for when systems fail.  That’s what a society does to protect the people who live in it.  Or the people who live in it will—should, anyway—naturally come to the conclusion that their health and safety mean zero in the calculus of industry and politics.

Over the past couple of decades, the resource manufacturing industries have been leaving the state in a slow trickle—of their own volition, though, and not, as might have been hoped, at the end of a pike—and gradually, the state is going to have to move to a post-coal, post-chemical economy.  That’s a good development, to my mind.  But the history of sellout politicians and cheapjack business interests in this region keeps me on watch for the next plague of locusts.

Having been made to endure fucked up Air, Earth, and Water, we ought to be mindful of that history, and make sure that history goes with us, always, into the voting booth, into the streets, into the home, into the wider world.

Otherwise, to steal a line from the old hymn—and don’t we love our Jesus, our stories of noble suffering around here—we’ll all of us, residents and politicians and operators alike, find ourselves standing in the Fire Next Time.

Eric Waggoner

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144 Responses to Elemental

  1. Mary B. Moore says:

    I wish everyone in the world could read this, Eric. Thank you.

    • mb says:

      Ditto on everyone reading this.
      Can we share your words??
      My daughter, a former student of yours, Eric, passed this onto me.
      Thank you for baring your soul Eric.

    • margot s. neuhaus says:

      indeed!!!!! extremely well articulated, open eyed, heart felt, clear minded…….
      deep thanks!

  2. Ginger Tennant says:

    Thank you! Sitting here 300 miles too damn far to really do anything except make phone calls and offer to bring water, you put words to it all . I am grateful to you (and really, really pissed). Btw, I was once asked how I ever got into science coming from “a place like that.” I guess it happens to us all.

  3. Stan Farr says:

    Amen, friend! Your contribution is about the only honest and accurate vision for most decidedly un-buena vista!

  4. Emily Hope says:

    You articulated, basically, what I have been thinking. Its unimaginable! Miss ya!

  5. James Shackleford says:

    Perhaps the bureaucracy should be run out state with that pike. No inspections in 20 years!!!! What the hell is that about? What a giant cluster!!!! Prayers for your family and the region.

  6. Alan Tennant says:

    Holy crap that was good. Wife made me read it, now I have to thank her. Someone should print this and go nail it to the door of the state capitol building. Front door. In a very large font.

  7. Mary Lou Keenan Ellison says:

    Well said. Thank you.

  8. Jason Willey says:

    You never disappoint me with your writing. (even when I don’t agree) But you are dead on with this piece. I often feel the same way about this state that I has been my home for 42 of my 43 years. “To hell with the whole damn lot of it.”. As for the idiot you mentioned, I want you to know I would have had your back if you had decked him. It is good to know that we still have writers that can accurately and eloquently describe the human condition here. Thanks for sharing your words.

  9. Cal Robinson says:

    very well written and thought out – needs to be read by everyone.

  10. Pingback: The One Where the Apaqualypse Happened and Nobody Noticed | Sister Mary Dandelion

  11. Pat Fot says:

    I said it to my child, who is in environmental science, the real tragedy is that coal and chemicals educated many environmental scientist that left our state and their families to work in green states instead of becoming part of the solution to move us forward.

    • JKLD says:

      Perhaps they would have stayed had owners, operators, and officials been open to the changes necessary to help this not happen. But the fact of the matter is, owners/operators/officials DO NOT CARE about the regs. They DO NOT CARE about the safety of others. How many times does a mining accident have to happen because of blatant greed? How many more times does a haz mat situation have to happen because of blatant greed?

      West Virginia is not the first to experience this, but they are definitely among those who fight the hardest to keep the status quo because of greed.

  12. wvthcomp says:

    Eric –

    I just left an essay of my own on Kit’s FB (comments on the EPA post, I invite you to read it), about why I have absolutely no sympathy for my ex-Native State in the current particular crisis. And damn it, if you didn’t express it better than I did (from one writer to another)! Couldn’t friggin’ agree more! To hell with them!

  13. Lois M. says:

    Have you sent this to everyone you can think of? Insurance, workers, politicos, representatives, public officials…..? Sure hope so. From my heart to yours, Eric AND Charleston!

  14. apeymama says:

    I want everyone to read this. Thank you for putting my anger into such perfect expression.

  15. Miss Priss says:

    WOW…just, wow! As a former fellow West Virginian (that has to remind everyone we are NOT a part of Virginia!) who grew up in the Cross Lanes/Nitro area, I get it. I GET IT. While reading this I was practically jumping out of my seat exclaiming, “yes…Yes..YES!” This need to definitely be shared. Thank you.

  16. Janet Goddard says:

    Excellent. I have become interested in environmental issues just because I, too, was born and raised in the Charleston area. From there, we moved north along the Ohio River because if my father’s work, in a chemical plant. Now, after seeing what mountaintop removal and fracking, along with the chemical plants lining our rivers are doing to this beautiful state, we all need to say ENOUGH with our vote.

  17. Susan Kelley says:

    I’m going to share this every way I can, Eric. I went to Charleston Saturday and heard stories about the most recent suffering that curled my toes. We understand hardly anything about this chemical, whether it will affect people in the long term, whether its effects will carry through generations. As soon as it is diluted “enough,” the powers that be will tell us to drink the water again and that all is well. All is not well. We have no regulations, and what regulations we have go unenforced. No regulation has teeth to it. Only four chemicals are checked for in the water on a routine basis. Fracking brings a minimum of 368 chemicals. They are not checked, and it has been proven that they will always compromise the water system. Thank you for what you have written here. I hope everyone in WV is just as angry and is not saying, “Well, I don’t blame them. They provide jobs.” To hell with jobs when it costs lives.

  18. Excellent. Your rage is my rage, too.

  19. Doug says:

    In the future, if anyone makes a joke to you about being from WV, just say, “F**k you very much!” And then if they get insulted invite them to step outside for a chance to defend their honor.

  20. Doug says:

    PS – I assisted with the Buffalo Creek cleanup. Things still seem the same in WV.

  21. I love this. You said what I have been feeling for days.

  22. apeymama says:

    Regarding the recent events and in light of the spill, I want to point out that we must all be diligent and active in keeping our water safe from industry. This state is in the grip of the fossil fuel industry, an industry that knows no bounds and has the support of government officials on all levels. This event should be a wake-up call that these chemicals are dangerous, the companies are NOT watching out for us, the DEP is nearly powerless to help (we need more inspecters and stricter laws NOW) and greater doom is pending if we stay complacent. I don’t agree with making death threats, and I know that accidents happen, but it is the companies’ responsibility to see that their activities have minimal effect on the environment. They have not, and are not, doing it, because they are not forced to. We have a few lawmakers who are on the right side of things, but more of them are on the make. Keep your eyes open, read, educate yourselves, and then write letters, get on the phone, and if you are in Charleston, march your body down there and shake some hands. Our leaders need to hear from a great number of us, because it will take huge numbers to counteract the huge dollars that funnel into the government from the industries to keep the laws in their favor. Try this link on for size: dirtyenergymoney.com. Do you feel better? No? This is a representative democracy/republic and if we don’t like what our reps are doing, it is OUR responsibility to elect new ones. It is time to take ownership in our government, our country, and our lives.

  23. Michael says:

    Disgusted by the happenings. Humbled by this response. If only because it is so complete, visceral and unflinching. Thank you for your words

  24. Henri Bowman says:

    I wish every single person impacted by this accident would sue the company and every official that allowed this to happen. I wish every single person would agree to not agree with a settlement offer. Let every single case go to court. Let the health of every single person count because every single person matters.

  25. Maurice Hartz says:

    With a 30+ years professional fire service career in West Virignia, there is not enough space to share my thoughts on this. No doubt my remarks would be censured because I would be using words that would make the air turn blue.

  26. Jean Clark says:

    I am so ashamed that I was brain washed into believing most all the hogwash you ranted about.It took me 50 years to come to the realization, not so, with honor to breath ones own death wish with coal dust, not so, to inhale the strong chemical odors emitted from S. Charleston chemical plants, that caused asthma attacks and who knows what types of cancers, not so, with drinking lightly contaminated water unbeknowns to us…not enough to cause acute illness but led to long term diseases. Thank you very much Eric for your words on enviromental issues. I will be sharing this blog all over Barber County. BTW, I have friends and family in Malden, Rand Levi, and Bell…

  27. Bruce Sutton says:

    Pretty much the best take on the horrific. story coming out of West Virginia…this should be read by, well , everybody.

  28. Brenda Rivers says:

    NBC News said something to the effect that if this were New York, San Francisco, or Chicago, but this is in West Virginia, like it would be more newsworthy if it were one of the big cities. Maybe Brian Williams should come to Charleston and broadcast the news from there like they do with other disasters.

  29. Léna Guyot says:

    This is an anthem of legitimate rage, sung for all who have suffered, for all who may yet be suckered. It should be a banner to lead all of us, who have had it with the extraction-industry predators who feed on decent folks before they can resist or revolt, who steal their homeland, their health their hope.
    I hope expressing this helped Eric discharge some of the sapping rage that weakens and shuts the sprit down, and in its release of truth, empowers him and all who hear him. Well done! I’ll pass this on, for SURE!

  30. Andrew Weatherly says:

    I’m sorry friend. All of me and mine have bailed on West-by-God-Virginia. From the boarded up attics of Nitro to the Bhopal sister plant in Institute next door to WV State where my parents met. From Dupont and Union Carbide where my granddaddies worked to downtown Charleston where the concrete from the freeways made the place look clean and new again, despite the blighted “urban renewal”. From the southern coal fields where my great granddaddy had to lie on the floor taking depositions when the company machine gun riddled the company houses. It’s been a national sacrifice zone which I have to avoid, though, my heart fills with wonder from those West Virginia hills. Godspeed and good luck in that sad place.

  31. Living near fracking I say ditto to all you said Eric!

  32. James Wood says:

    Very nice article. I also remember the brimine leak in Malden. Tell your dad hello from me. Bear

  33. Well done. Came across this as a link in Facebook. Who knew that FB could still lead to some teachable moments!

    I’ve studies and taught the history of industrial disasters in WV to apathetic students for years: from Monongah, through Hawk’s Nest and to Buffalo Creek. I wish, really wish I could conjure up the rage and understanding that you threw down here.

  34. Debbie says:

    It’s interesting to me that when you move here and notice all this going on and speaking have the audacity to bring it up in conversation, the common reply is, “If ya don’t like here, LEAVE.”

  35. Steve says:

    Not sure I agree with all, but I appreciate the writing and the honesty. Question is how do we change the culture?

    • apeymama says:

      Good question. One I’ve been asking. I haven’t been able to do it.

    • Sandie Elling says:

      I cannot claim to have the answers to such a complex question but I do have an observation or two. Many West Virginia natives come from a culture of seeing suffering as a noble act long before they reached the shores of America. They brought this misconception with them from the coal mines of Wales, the oppression in Ireland by land owners and the exploitation and tyranny by their British “neighbors” etc.. This is a standard that was reinforced by many in their churches as a misguided connection or identification with the suffering of Christ. It is a deeply instilled idea which has been held and made sacred for a very long time and deeply held beliefs are historically very slow to change.
      There are other drawbacks as well for a speedy change. If you as an individual feel outrage at having been abused by your employer in some way, but you have debts and a family to to feed, you are far less likely to walk up to your boss and point out that he can go bleep himself unless…. it is pretty much guaranteed to have a negative result unless large numbers are represented in conveying their outrage in a united front.
      If what you have been taught ,or through self observation, since childhood is that going against the cultural grain results in feeling alienated from your family and community, before you have the cognitive skills to maneuver those waters, you are likely destined to become one of the Borg and will be assimilated. That is of coarse until you have at least reached an age of reason and even more importantly when ideas can be challenged in a safe and tolerant (if not respectful) environment. These changes can come about when those that can come forward. They need to hear opposing views in order to realize that there is a choice. They need to be shown by teachers,a trusted adult, a parent or other relative, what the facts are and asked what they think without being told what they should think. Most importantly when they answer their response needs to be appreciated so they can build on being valued for their ideas.
      I know this sounds harsh but old ideas die with old people and as new generations rise that have been exposed to alternate ways of thinking “it may be a long time comin’ but there’s gonna be a change”.
      Please overlook the Star Trek ref.. .

  36. So well said. I want to be able to be more involved in these kinds of conversations. Your perspective and willingness to express your outrage in such a cogent and meaningful way is the best hope we have for change…thank you.

  37. Rebecca says:

    I’m hoping you’ve submitted this somewhere, somewhere with a wide readership. (I wouldn’t change a thing, either.)

  38. Rob G says:

    Well. F-ing. Said.

    Sharing this on my social media.

  39. Mary Welch says:

    I too had a moment of instantaneous rage in which I cursed that mind-boggling, masochistic reflex peculiar to “god and gun” country, the blind insistence on defending an industry that kills us. We are called upon to reverence it like some tradition of ritual sacrifice. In trying to reason with its loyal devotees, I am reminded of Steinbeck’s description of the deluded working class as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The willingness to throw themselves on the sacrificial altar can only be attributed to a belief that the poor who identify with the social and political ideals of the ruling class also put on the cloak of its wealth and class. Thank you. It was a rant brewing in us all that you gave voice to beautifully.

  40. Jeff Young says:

    Nicely put. I think all WV’ans, including those of us who are now part of the Appa-diaspora, can relate. Now, take your anger and do something with it.

  41. Craig Acheson Fairmont WV says:

    You have an amazing articulate and passionate method of conveying your feelings with the written word. I am a better person for having read your thoughts on this subject. Fed up with sterile news stories….this was amazing!!!

  42. All throughout the region, we have been lead to believe that industry can do no wrong. They are excused for wrongdoing, when everyone else pays the maximum price. Money buys privilege. Our families have been paying a heavy price for industry privilege for a lot of years. Just watching our loved ones screaming in pain or gasping for air due to the chemical and radioactive pollution illnesses caused, is enough to bring rage to anyone. Our Constitution, the glue that binds us, tells us that when the present government fails to protect us, It is not only our right but our duty as citizens to abolish that form of government and make one that works for the people and not industry. Corporations were designed to serve the people as a slave, now today , it is reversed, the people are the slaves to the corporation.

  43. Amit says:

    Nice article. I would only say that this accident reeks of shoddy design and operational practices rather than failure to meet safety standards or regulations. They didn’t need to be inspected by the Dept. of Environmental Protection–they needed to be aware of what was going on in their own operations. At some point, it is simply the responsibility of the company to ensure the safety of their own employees as well as the surrounding community.

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  45. you never put anything above where you get your clean water , whoever did that is ignorant and do not know that nothing goes above water source

  46. John Garlitz says:

    Bravo Eric! I don’t know you personally, but this piece is brilliant. Thank you.

  47. Beth S says:

    All I’ve got to say is DITTO!!! Thanks for this.

  48. I’m a native son of West Virginia, born and raised in Logan county, where I spent my first 21+ years. I would spend my next 21+ years in Huntington. Shortly after my 43’rd birthday, this past September, I moved to Philadelphia, PA.

    I understand and share your anger, although mine was not as primal and raw as yours was, perhaps because I didn’t head on down there to see and smell it myself. I’ve seen this wholly preventable event strike a chord with fellow West Virginians, and make others shrug or fire off some trite, unfeeling response about how WV deserved it for voting the way it has over the years. I’ve watched as the Chris Christie “bridgegate” dominate discussion and news ahead of this story, and it leaves me shaking my head.

    Its the sort of thing that makes me doubt there’s hope for any of us.

    Thank you for so eloquently and effectively letting your pain and your rage spread out into the electronic ether to touch and inform those of us it reaches.

  49. Frederick Harrison says:

    I’m reading this from up in Toronto, Canada. Back in 1979 a train derailment occurred in Mississauga in November, about three miles from where I was living at the time, resulting in a vivid explosion and fireball. Mingled under the tankers of propane were tankers full of liquid chlorine. The whole city of Mississauga was evacuated once the fire department read the manifest from the train, including me. The evacuation zone was reduced as the days went by and six days later the evacuation order was lifted. I haven’t done the exercise the firefighter recruits did, though I later moved to an apartment building BESIDE the same set of tracks on which the derailment occurred, and if a fright train passed on my way to or from work I would mentally take note of what the cars contained. Many of them were a potential massive disaster on wheels, requiring only a broken axle or defective rail to turn it into reality. Promises were made that this sort of accident would never happen again…

    Perhaps you are aware of the Lac Megantic disaster in Quebec this past summer? A freight train containing 72 tankers of crude oil was parked at the top of a long decline into the heart of the town with air brakes being the only thing to prevent it rolling down the hill – and when the engine was shut down for the night, the pressure slowly bled away. You can guess what occurred next. When, without warning, the train jumped the tracks after attaining full downhill velocity, the center of the town was incinerated, along with 47 lives. The company that operated the train claims to have followed every federal safety regulation – and this appears to have been the case, placing a portion of the blame against federal transportation safety regulators, who, it seems, were content to let the industry regulate itself.

    Canada’s oil sands, are slated to become the next West Virginia, if the corporate interests have their way. Would that the people of Alberta (and the rest of Canada) learn from you the hard, bitter, lessons of trusting the “benificence” of industry.

    In the mean time, parts of West Virginia are without drinking water and will eventually discover the effects of breathing the chemical vapour you describe. Has the company responsible even offered, as a courtesy, to make available a Material Safety Data Sheet, so that people can find out the chemical properties and risks of that which is now part of their environment? I doubt it. Fingers will be pointed, accusations made, protests marched, but the people who made the decisions long ago, and those who continued to allow those decisions to persist, despite being an affront to common sense, will never be brought to justice. And even if they were, big business, their lawyers and their political lapdogs, will ensure that they receive only a slap on the wrist.

    Your “rant” is one the most eloquent distillations of rage I have read/heard. (Bruce Cockburn’s “You’ve Never Seen Everything” – both song and entire CD – and John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” are among the other contenders.) I will definitely share it.

  50. Patty Wessels says:

    Brilliant! This article is not just about W.VA. It’s about all of us here in the USA. The lasting impression from this article is that we are eggs…”the eggs you had to break in order to make breakfast.” These words could constitute the image that will help wake a sleeping giant. Many folks feel as you do. What is needed is a common image/idea to which we can all relate. “Let them eat cake” is worn out and let’s face it, we still have Twinkies.

  51. Pam Graves says:

    I was born in Ashland, Ky and my Mother’s family Is from Logan, WV. I was relieved to read your “rant” about the recent tragedy in Charleston. I went back to work for UK in the 90’s. I hoped I could help the people there but I could not. I was sad when I left (because my husband could not stand the poverty of the area) at how much damage has been done in that valley and when the companies left they had taken everything. That land has been raped and the people have been left in poverty and ignorance with no way to make a living. The water quality is appalling and the lack of safety concerns is unparalleled. I was afraid I was the only one who had noticed how many years it had been since those tanks had been monitored. I hope we can continue to “rant” until somebody remembers that area of the country deserves to be cared for and raised to the ground. Thank you again. I hope this makes some sense to you.

  52. Shauna says:

    I am speechless. You said every single thing my heart has been feeling since I was old enough to form my own ideals in small town summersville, wv. I moved all the way to Northern California because the lack of “give a shit” made me question humanity as a whole there. But deep down, I know this is not truly the majority vote…to continue on like this. this is just a casualty. A long term confusion. The place where the heart and the backbone met, could not come to terms with each other. I believe it will though. And I’m really very proud to be a coal miners daughter. Just want to see my people rise up and handle business. Properly.

  53. Meg Shaver says:

    Well done!! LOL…when I heard the spill news I briefly entertained taking up a new life as a environmental vigilantly…..this was a much more productive way to wonderfully articulate the complete madness of thoughts & range of emotions spinning in the minds & bodies of most West Virginians. I left WV (17 years ago) when I went to college & have recently relocated back to Lewis County…..I find myself asking the same questions today that frustrated me beyond belief 17 years ago, “When will WV stop sacrificing it’s people & wildlife for greed? And when will the people of WV stand up for what they are worth & stop allowing our lawmakers to put greed above our interests?” I am always reminded of the Upton Sinclair quote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    Thanks for taking the time to express how you feel….I believe it helps unite those of us (whose salary does not depend on the support of an engrained, old school machine) fight for ourselves & those who do not have the luxury to think in a different way. I am hoping that the pressure of the media will open the door for growth. Fingers crossed!!

  54. Sue says:

    Wow, this brings out all my emotions. I was glued to ur every word…..so well stated. Born and raised a few miles up the river from Malden, I can recall those days of waking in the morning only to clean the fly ash off my car or holding my nose from the chemical plant stink only a few miles from my school. We accepted it…. was just a part of life in the upper Kanawha Valley. It sickens me. Thank u for writing; this brings me closer…..

  55. ps says:

    Immense thanks for this article from a West Virginian living overseas! Especially grateful that you didn’t exclude the damnation we ourselves deserve!

  56. tjhapney says:

    Reblogged this on TJ's New Book Blog and commented:
    I just want to share this since I am originally from Charleston, WV. I’ll be there in a few days to visit my family and I guarantee I’ll be bringing my own water and extra for my family rather than taking a chance from getting sick after the chemical spill as others have been since the Do Not Use order was lifted in their area.

  57. tjhapney says:

    Thanks for posting this Eric. Very well put. I agree completely. I will be in Charleston this week to visit and and will bring my family safe water as people are having problems and getting sick from drinking/using the water since the Do Not Use order has been lifted in their areas.

  58. Max says:

    I am not from your home state or your home town. I am from far far away. Yet I know this rage. This anger. And a knowledge of betrayal that is only compounded by the betrayed wearing their betrayal as a cloak of nobility. I’ve never seen anyone else quite put that into words well before.

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  60. Jill Dunn says:

    Thank you! I want Freedom Industries cleaned up and shut down! I also want the politicians to quit telling me everything is going to be alright when they don’t know what the chemical is or does. I want to stop being told drink the ‘safe’ water when the hourly water sample test results done since Thursday haven’t been released!

  61. Al Justice says:

    Oh to hell with you! But thank you that was awesome! .
    Having fought mountain top removal rape in the southern coalfields since the mid-90’s, I so felt every word, including your rage.

  62. Elaine Diller says:

    An excellent expression of what many West Virginians think until you felt the need to insult every Christian and follower of Jesus at the end. I truly fail to see where this applied except that I used to rage against Jesus until I was transformed and understood where my rage was coming from.

  63. houghtonjr says:

    As a very homesick West Virginian in the land of frozen tundras – Chicago – I was so pleased (in an odd way) to see one of my WVWC alumni forwarding a blog on the chemical spill that had fired me up in such an unplanned way. So many people who discover my roots assume that I am grateful to have left my home state and that events like this would affirm my departure. They are often surprised when I express very similar sentiments as filled your “rage” section. I have not heard the same words (words that fill my head so often as a self-exiled Mountaineer) before and literally was so absorbed I almost missed my train because I couldn’t stop reading. Thank you.
    In the end, after a strong lobby by my kin folk this past Christmas as I spent time in my Home Among The Hills and felt the kind of grounding I have yet to experience elsewhere, I feel compelled to reconsider my residency. It feels like the things I love are under attack and it is hard to fight back when 600 miles separate you from the places that heal your soul. Chicago changed me in intense ways as I came up against everything I thought I knew from growing up in Braxton and Wood counties. But the heart calls where it is most at home and this was a reminder that I have been too long gone and need to find a way back sooner rather than later.

  64. Chris Jacques says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. It has helped me articulate my own inarticulate rage. You have worked therapy here.

  65. Ann W. Sutherland says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts! It’s right on. As a former West Virginian, Unitarian-Universalist and Sierra Club member, I appreciate you saying what needed to be said – a long time ago.

    My father, who worked for Monsanto (working in Agent Orange, cleaning out tank cars without a respirator and working in asbestos that filled the air) died of small cell carcinoma of the lungs and Parkinson’s disease. I know the rage that one feels.

    Ann W. Sutherland
    Dearing, GA

  66. Carla B. says:

    Thank you. I moved to WV (the beautiful “lumber country” part, or I never would have come here) 14 years ago, and I call it home now. I am amazed at the “bend over and take it” attitude so many people have when it comes to “progress” “industry” and “jobs”, the buzzwords that induce so many to forsake the very ground they stand on. I hope your article helps these people wake up and see how industrial employers will laugh up their sleeve while they take all that suffering and sacrifice straight to the bank. I hope they will finally see the purpose the need for real, binding government regulation of industry.

  67. run4joy59 says:

    Reblogged this on Run4joy59's Blog and commented:
    This is true for so much of our country…anywhere politicians have sold their souls so big business can operate unfettered by pesky regulations…anywhere citizens turn a blind eye to the corruption in the name of jobs…anywhere any of us see what is happening and turn away. We must channel our righteous indignation to bring about change. When you step into that voting booth, remember this, most politicians, most leaders of big business only care about us as a means to fatten their offshore bank accounts. Fight back…don’t give in…and don’t give up.

  68. run4joy59 says:

    I live in Indiana and the words you wrote are equally as true as pertains to my state. Sometimes I am ashamed and angry at what we allow politicians and big business to get away with…and yes, I’ve often heard “If you don’t like it, leave.” Let me say this about that, instead of leaving, I choose to stay and work for change.

    Reblogged for my friends and family to read…thanks for your impassioned post.

  69. Jane Powll says:

    Amen! No other words needed to express the screaming rage in my heart over this development. Your expression is eloquent and so very much true. My prayers are heartfelt for those directly hurt by the negligence of Freedom Chemicals and my message to those who allowed this fiasco to develop..you deserve an old fashioned ass whipping.at the least.

  70. Jim McKane says:

    I am confused as to why you damn the people that work in the mines and the families that support their loved ones that do so. I love the way people want to cuss mining and spit on the workers for doing a job that provides them a way to feed their children. If you are from West Virginia, then you realize that in the mining areas of the state, their isn’t very many options as far as jobs go and the prideful people that don’t want to become another WV well fare lottery case go to work. They go to work doing what is available to them. I cuss no person that is trying to provide a life for their family and I damn you for doing so. If you closed every mine in WV tomorrow, what do you think would happen to our state? I don’t see any of the tree huggers offing jobs to miners to get them to stay home and do something else. I don’t see anyone doing anything to help the miners. I don’t see anyone doing anything but cussing the process. I don’t see anyone doing anything period. I don’t see any other industry where the people are asked to move away from their homes and family land that they have lived on their entire life. That brings up another issue. If their are no jobs, who is going to buy your house? So now you not only want people to move away from the mining regions, but do so after you have to file bankruptcy.

  71. Renee Bolden says:

    WOW. At first, part of this made sense. I, too, am angry that this tragedy was allowed due to the negligence of a company that indeed had the money to prevent it and the DEP for not keeping watch over it. Who wouldn’t be? It’s terrible that this has occurred and why was it allowed to even be above the water plant in the first place? Questions we all have. However, I thought I was just pass this off as another rant until I came to this part:
    “And, as long as I’m roundhouse damning everyone, and since my own relatives worked in the coal mines and I can therefore play the Family Card, the one that trumps everything around here: To hell with all of my fellow West Virginians who bought so deeply into the idea of avoidable personal risk and constant sacrifice as an honorable condition under which to live, that they turned that condition into a culture of perverted, twisted pride and self-righteousness, to be celebrated and defended against outsiders.”
    You tell me what other choice your fellow West Virginians have had other than to mine coal? Tell me why they shouldn’t be proud of the hard work that was handed to them. Tell me why their heritage shouldn’t be defended against outsiders who try to take away our one source of income.
    Sorry to burst the bubble in your praise parade, but how dare you say that statement. We, in southern West Virginia, where REAL coal country is don’t know half the luxuries you northerners are accustomed to and have been ignored by the state politicians for decades. Our people KNOW hard work from mining coal and the dangers and health conditions it causes, but that is the work we have to do. I’m ashamed of you all. This state has always been split south of Charleston and if all of you up there think the way of the statement I posted, it should be split officially.

  72. Greenbrier Almond says:

    Times they are a changing. . .

  73. Eric,
    Like others I received the link to your blog on Facebook from another transplanted West Virginian. The first link I received was from Homer Hickam on a YouTube video of the first 48 hours of the spill. Imagine the magnitude of this spill and I got the information on it from Facebook and believe me I never miss the national news each evening! I understand the rage and indignation. Many of us feel that when we too rein in the first response to a West Virginia/Hillbilly ‘joke’ or media coverage.

    Thank you again for the best response I have read and that it comes from a native son makes it even better!

  74. Thank you Eric for such a great article. Being from WV, and living the past 10 years in Boston’s Back Bay, you put into words the way I feel.

  75. Paul Macom says:

    Thank you Dr. Waggoner. You have said it far better than anything else I have read for many years. This needs to be distributed far and wide. There needs to be far more anger about this and the many, many “unfortunate events” of the past.

  76. maura says:

    bravo! well said. but what to do?

  77. Richard McKee says:

    There is good writing. There is great writing . Then there is writing that leaves you without words. This is up there with Wrndel Berry’s very best,
    …R. A. McKee, Wheaten, IL (retired book editor/ WVa expatriate) Stonewall Jackson H. S. , Class of 1957

  78. This is amazing. Thank you for putting this into words. This is what happens when you vote for privatization at the expense of regulation. Anyone crazy enough to think for-profit businesses will just regulate themselves; spend their OWN MONEY without being forced, should forget it. Even when it means people could die. Republicans: STOP VOTING AGAINST YOUR OWN INTERESTS. Just stop it.

  79. MMulhollandFrance says:

    Thank you for this. Can you summon the grit to read it aloud, have an artist friend match it to images to your spoken word, make it fully accessible, and have it go digital fire farther?

  80. SharonP says:

    By now, I’ve lived longer outside of WV than inside, but I’m still a West Virginian, from Kimberly in Fayette County. Notice that we have to locate ourselves specifically, because geography is important to us. I connect with your offhand references to “coal country” and “lumber country” and “the smells I associated with chemical leaks growing up. ” Thanks for your gutsy writing, your political and cultural analysis, and the way you hold everyone accountable.

  81. Sharon Maurer says:

    Wow, I coldn’t have put my own thoughts into to words better! Thankyou for beautiful prose that makes us hillbillies understand why we should never again elect one politician, kiss anybody named Rockefeller, or any other carpetbagger with designs on West Virginia’s natural resources. Instead we need to speed-slap those rapists, throw their asses in Moundsville for life ( the women will take care of the dickheads) and impound their assets to rebuild mountaintops, cure the cause of black lung, build hundreds of new schools that pay an adequate salary to teachers and super glue the bastards lips together so us hillbillies don’t have to die anymore because of their greed!
    Thankyou for allowing me to express my rage.

  82. Thank you, so much, for this. I just read this on the Huffington Post…It’s about time there was some outrage in the coverage of this spill, and some acknowledgement that this is not new, not a one time “shame” but a way of life in WV that has been intentionally upheld by extractive industries in the state for over 100 years. Media coverage has only helped keep stereotypes alive that validate the companies’ exploitation of our workers, water, land and air. It was so refreshing to read something so true, so angry, and from a West Virginina. Thank you.

  83. Reblogged this on country queers and commented:
    This piece about last week’s chemical spill in West Virginia should be read by everyone everywhere for its visceral and articulate rage, its ability to place this incident in the context of a long history of environmental and social exploitation of our state, and for its stunning beauty.

  84. Jeff Carter says:

    I live here in West Virginia, and have for my entire 56 years. I worked in emergency services in the Kanawha Valley for 30 years. Even though I agree with nearly all that was in this piece, one thing is certain…thanks to watchdogs AND the EPA and DEP, things have improved here over the last 50 years. I remember the days when the Kanawha River was gray from coal dust and runoff from mining. I can remember when you pulled your boat from the river, a strange, greenish-yellow oily sludge dripped from it, that nearly required sandpaper and an abundance of elbow grease to remove. I remember the Sunday drives to Hawk’s Nest or Flattop Mountain to see relatives, and you had to hold your breath from Nitro, through Institute and South Charleston, then again as you passed through Belle. I remember not being able to see from Route 60 to Route 25 because of the pungent smog, just across the river. I remember, even in Cabell county, that many a foggy mornings as the run rose, smelling the stench from Nitro impregnating our otherwise carefree life. We were so thankful we didn’t live there. I remember fishing as a kid, and not being able to eat the fish, not only because they would have sores all over them, but they smelled so bad cooking (chemicals) that you couldn’t stand to eat them, or knew they weren’t healthy. Now, although the water quality is better, we still cannot eat the fish…because of decades of abuse and high levels of PCB’s, dioxin, mercury, selenium….you name it. If this were New York, the whole valley would be condemned….not unlike Love Canal. Thanks to DuPont, FMC, Union Carbide, Monsanto, Fike, Flexys, Valley Camp and other mines, and all the little mom & pop chemical cookers throughout the valley for making our childhood miserable. Even though this incident, or disaster, if you must call it that, is inexcusable in this day and time, I think a few points need to be understood as people keep trying to throw blame. This facility was NOT a production facility…therefore would not be under the jurisdiction of the EPA (as I understand it)? It is a transportation/storage/transfer facility, and if under any regulations, would be the Department of Transportation. The DOT regulates the transportation and storage of ‘hazardous materials’ and if Crude MCHM isn’t classified as such, it is understandable why this site wasn’t inspected. Don’t get me wrong, I in NO WAY defend or support the idiocy of storing any chemical upstream from a drinking water treatment facility, someone dropped the ball(s), whether it is Congress, the State Legislature, county officials, or individual agencies or corporations. The investigations by multiple local, state and federal agencies will determine who that is. We have learned from this and can make correction to avoid further crises. Having traveled all over, to many training events and seminars for my employment, I do know that we here in West Virginia are some of the best in the country in responding to these types of incidents, even though, we should never have to do it. Sadly, sometimes, things happen that we wish we could have avoided. What really concerns me, and should really frighten you, is that there are the very same things going on where you live, every single day, that could have the EXACT same impact on your lives, and in many places, the responders don’t have the training and knowledge to handle it ‘when’ it does happen. As hard as we try, as careful as we could possibly be, there will be shit that happens. This is a world that depends on (for the time being) coal, petroleum, and chemicals (hazardous or not)…and it’s not only avoidance, but preparedness for when an event or disaster happens, and, IT WILL HAPPEN. It is your responsibility to prepare for yourself, make sure you have enough supplies to last 72 hours, water, food, medicine, cash, that you know the escape/evacuation routes, and are ready to move if something does happen….remember Hugo, Katrina, derecho, Sandy, etc….it takes a while for help to be on the way….Peace. …..from an old, retired paramedic……… PS….sorry for any grammatical or spelling errors, Professor….I was educated (learned to read) in West Virginia Public Schools…..

  85. Sonia says:

    This is so well expressed! As a transplant to the area trying to make this my home and a not-yet-jaded healthcare provider, I find so many of my issues with this region articulated in your rant. And I would extend those points to cover abuse by fast food companies, soda companies, and big tobacco which leave a different sort of destructive wake. Sadly, these big companies are so ingrained in the culture and history here that there is a local complacency, almost Stockholm-type syndrome, to any sort of change. Worst of all, people vote time and time again for big businesses and politicians who will never have their interests at heart!

  86. Stacey Miller says:

    Thank you, Eric, for your passion, your words and your insight. My family settled in the the Clay and Roane County areas many generations ago. I come from a line of farmers, laborers, miners, lumbermen, housewives, educators, clerks, general store owners and bankers. They made their lives in the verdant valleys of the most beautiful state I have ever had the joy to see and experience. My mother, an only child, left Clay County in the late 1940’s to attend a much sacrificed for boarding school in Staunton, VA. From there she attended the University of Kentucky and then on to a teaching job in Vero Beach, FL. My grandparents had every hope for their daughter, far away from Clay, WV. They wanted my mother to have opportunities they considered unavailable and unimaginable in the state of her birth. They wanted her OUT of there and she obeyed. Fast forward a couple decades to the Summer memories of my childhood…Oh, how glorious and life-giving those mountains became to me! They continue to be a constant magnet for my imagining and my destination for healing and introspection. Much to my mothers dismay, all three of her children have been drawn back to West Virginia in some manner. My sister earned a Masters Degree from West Virginia Wesleyan and is a middle school art teacher in Buckhannon, WV. My brother, of Vero Beach, FL, owns a family farm in Roane County and has dreams of having a home there in his lifetime. I live in my birthplace of Vero Beach, FL and have a cottage in Lewisburg, WV where I spend as much time as possible. We are, without question or denial, children of the West Virginia hills. It is magical and diverse but, there are problems inherent to the state that are unlike anywhere else in the country. It has seemed to me that money, politicians and unions have run roughshod, without regret or accountability, over the best interests of the citizens of the state. It also seems that the citizens have lost any belief in their power to create a better life for themselves and future generations in West Virginia. I will be watching the actions of state leaders in hopes that they will, for once, surprise me. Hoping that the patterns of graft and greed will be undeniably revealed and broken. That accountability will become commonplace. “Oh, the West Virginia hills, how majestic and how grand…” May we all be mindful of how fragile and irreplaceable those hills are, and do our parts to protect them and the lives that are lived amongst them.

  87. Charles Tidwell says:

    Passionately written and on point. Thank you!

  88. Bill says:

    Eric, no words here that can describe the outrage tinged with depression and hopelessness to equal what you’ve already stated. Those of us fortunate enough to be divorced from such conditions really have a difficult time conceiving of such. We shouldn’t.
    If not for public outrage in other parts of the country, the same thing would be going on.
    It wasn’t that long ago the rivers in Ohio caught fire, GE was dumping PCBs in the Hudson and the air in most cities was near un-breathable.
    We have a long, filthy, immoral history of exploiting people and resources for a quick buck.
    That we continue this genocide into the 21st is, perhaps, a crime against humanity.
    This crime will go on my list of Reasons to Emigratet.
    Most all of our immigrant ancestors left somewhere to on the way somewhere else…perhaps it is time for the next big migration. Perhaps BACK to those European hell holes.You know, the ones with stronger health and safety regs and more concern about the safety of the citizens.
    I stand helpless and frustrated. I know not what to do or how to help.
    I only say to the younger folk out there…without your demand to end this, it can happen in your town in a heartbeat. Fraking is on the way to a community near you.
    After that, it will be something else.
    Heed Eric’s words well. It happened before in your home town…it can happen again.

  89. Cuyrtis says:

    90 minutes north of Charleston is where I work. And two hours northwest is where I live. I have been to Charleston several times, and so when you write of the view, coming down from I-79, I am familiar with the views and the sight of the capital being nessled down between the peaks runing up the side of the valleys and hollows, filling the watershead floodplain. And I have to wondere live here, crammed in together. It all comes down to topography, where the water flows and where flat land can be had. I’d like to share this blog with others. May we repeat it?

  90. Bill says:

    Follow up….please excuse typing and spelling errors…..just ’cause one enters the Methuselah stage doesn’t mean sloppy functions of youth improve

  91. Gretchen says:

    Thank you, Eric. Excellent, excellent, excellent.

  92. Jana Zevnik says:

    Thank you, Eric. You have expressed my sentiments exactly. I was “home” over Christmas at my dad’s in Middlebourne, WV (now living in Virginia) and was struck again by the depressing difference in the standard of living between WV and the parts of VA I’ve lived in and currently live in. When I got to Sistersville and had to turn in-land from the Ohio River to finish the remaining 12 or so miles to my hometown, I noticed a flickering light over the hilltops from the direction I was heading. Weird. Not the right time for the lights on the high school’s stadium to be on and why would they be flickering anyway. My confusion was illuminated (pun intended) when upon arrival into town I saw the three or so story (not quite sure but it was big) flame on the Eastern ridge of the hills surrounding my town. As well as hearing the sounds of a jet engine seemingly coming from the flame area although it was so immense that it was everywhere. No more nature sounds. Constant light and constant noise that had been going on for about three weeks at Christmas week and continued (with a brief intermission for a day or two) until I left on 1/2. It was an oppressive presence of something that no one could totally explain. No one could tell me what exactly the gas company was doing (although many told me they heard it is necessary and normal for shale gas drilling) or how long it would last, not even town officials. It was depressing to say the least. In a town of older citizens and many economically struggling families – it made me mad, that people I love were being taken advantage of and were not being considered, were not being valued, were not being informed as to something that was impeding upon their quality of life. So thank you. I think you speak for a lot of West Virginians (both those still physically there and those still there in their hearts). Best, Jana

  93. Devon Cole says:

    I loved this post – so much that I have read it several times. It sums up much of what I feel, the anger I have at this sensless leak, and helpless rage I have at what the fracking is doing to the beautiful farmlands surrounding my childhood home. Thank you for being an eloquent spokesperson for West Virginia, and for unabashedly voicing what so many of us feel.

  94. Richard Legg says:

    I grew up on Charleston’s west side and the Elk River was my playground as a teenager. We all knew that the Elk River was badly polluted by the sewer system that dumped raw sewage into both he the Elk and Kanawha Rivers. At that time the water intake was located above Mink Shoals well above the shoals where the sewage never affected the quality of the drinking water. One of the main sewer on the west side was at the mouth of Magazine Hollow which was nearly opposite the water treatment plant. The sewer was a place of great fishing for the hungry carp and catfish that gathered to feed off the sewage. The fish were not edible but provided great sport. I enlisted in the Navy in 1954 and at some point the city got around to building sewage treatment facilities and cleaning up the rivers. I can not document this but I believe that once the rivers were cleaned up someone decided to move the water intake to the location of the plant. They probably realized a savings when they shut down the Mink Shoals intake facility and any inline pumps required to deliver the water to the treatment plant. Some one with the research facilities to document this transition might dig up some interesting facts. If the intake system still remained at Mink Shoals this event would not have been the catastrophe that it became.

    A great job on your report.

    From a Navy retired Master Chief Petty Officer wo has put up with the West Virginia jokes and snide remarks for 78 years.

    Richard Legg
    Keystone Heights, Florida

  95. Tina Louise says:

    So pleased to have found and read this, thank you. We’ve been struggling for 2 years now here in the United Kingdom to stop the arrival of unconventional energy extraction like fracking – that come with risks that would make situations like this – more commonplace. I found your words so brutally and beautifully reflected my own rage at the idiocy, cruelty and greed of profit above all other considerations like: community, health, well-being, humanity, agriculture, water and air for all generations to come.

    Your humanity and honesty are a refreshing read.

    Tina x

  96. JessicaJ says:

    I live in South Shore, KY, about an hour and a half from Charleston. I’m not native to the area, I grew up in Portland, OR. That being said, I adore my adopted home. What others see as backwoods, I see as beautiful and peaceful. Still, the backwoods mentality I’m not so fond of. It’s very irritating there are no recycling programs available. It’s 2013, and I’ve never lived anywhere but here where there’s no recycling. I hate that the fast foods restaurants around here still serve their drinks in styrofoam cups. And I really hate that people aren’t more outraged about this situation. I can’t believe this company has been allowed to operate in the manner they have, almost completely unregulated. I shudder to think of the long term effects to the environment, not to mention, the long term health effects to the people. I don’t know what it’s going to take for people to wake up in this country.

  97. Joe V. says:

    This. —A fellow native West Virginian sick to death of all this crap.

  98. Ps says:

    Please someone make a song of the rant while the topic is still in the news!!!!!

  99. christina says:

    I am so glad that Huffington Post is running this & that it’s getting a lot of attention on social media. Your piece is so eloquent & well-stated. You nail something deep & powerful here: “To hell with everyone everywhere who ever mistook suffering for honor, and who ever taught that to their kids. There’s nothing honorable about suffering. Nothing.” I so agree. So much of why we are killing ourselves as a species is because of veneration & worship & fetishization of suffering. Thank you.

  100. thegypsyjack says:

    Love to read words by erudite people. Well said. Shared. Thanks.

  101. Sam Firman says:

    I am from West Virginia also. Born just outside of Weirton. Grew up in Ohio. Never got to Charleston until I was close to 40. I had been all around the world but had never seen any place like Nitro. I am 78 now and I still haven’t seen anyplace like Nitro. I will never forget my first trip through town.

  102. D from auburn says:

    Raw and powerful. Thank you!

  103. windermerelodge says:

    3000 miles away but that hit home – a powerful articulation of something anyone in a fracking zone in the UK should read!

  104. Gary B says:

    I think you might have just penned the new state motto!

    well written and heartfelt, this piece articulates what many of us feel.

    Its a hard job of balancing between the hard scrabble beauty of coal miners while portraying them as resources of profiteers. West Virginians are the reason I am here, and the pride and conviction of the miners is inspirational. However, it hurts me, as a West Virginian, to see my neighbors used as a finite resource by the powers that be.

    What hurts even more, is how the same miners who are used up by the industry through injury and death – be it slow or be it quick – defend and promote this way of life for themselves, their co-workers, and their neighbors.

    Eric, you have captured this dynamic tension that lives within our state in your heartfelt reaction to this, another brazen infraction against the great people of this state.

    West Virginia deserves better and, hopefully, you have added to the fire to reform.

    Thank you.

  105. bowebb says:

    Thank you for placing this rage into words Eric, I know it all too well. My Dad got paid in company script. I can remember going to the company store with him. We had to live in a company house. I was born in that company house, but was able to escape their tyranny for 40 years. Now they bomb the mountains above our homes. I live directly beneath a mountaintop removal nightmare. Giant sludge lakes filled with chemicals and coal slurry loom above our homes. I watch as my neighbors, friends, and family die from the toxic brew and blasting fallout, but I fight. And I will fight to the end of MTR or the end of me. I hate these fucking bastards.

  106. Carla Herkner says:

    Eric, your writing is powerful. Everything you say here is what makes a true native of West Virginia. You show heart, you show an intelligent worldview and most of all you show honesty. Thank you.

  107. Brenda Waulk says:

    I live in the state of Ohio and it is apparent that the Ohio EPA is a lot stricter than West Virgina’s. I worked for AEP for 22 years and we had to do weekly site inspections of all of our tanks, containments and dikes. We had to do monthly stormwater drain inspections and we did metal thickness testing on all of our tanks yearly, more often if we suspected fatigue. In my opinion, it is as much the states lack of procedure as well as the companies, although it sounds as if the company was in the process of fixing all the wrongs, the wrongs just happen faster than they expected, that this spill happened. I get sick of seeing government agencies jumping up and fixing things after the tragedy rather than put procedures in place to prevent them from happening in the first place. Take a look around at other state’s EPA programs as well as the federal EPA programs. We are supposed to be so advanced because of computers and other technologies, but nothing can replace good old fashioned human beings doing ACTUAL footwork inspecting tanks, dikes, dams and containments, and I mean ACTUALLY doing them, not just writing them in because it is too inconvenient or you’re just too damn lazy (I’ve seen both of these first hand unfortunately). I can not believe that a company that is located on a waterway with storage tanks that have containments needed to prevent products from leaking into the water ways have not been inspected for over 20 years. This is a spill that could have been prevented if proper procedures would have been in-place.

  108. sonworshiper says:

    Thank you for opening eyes to a world we’re not familiar with… but probably should be.
    All I’ve ever heard are the stereotypes. I can at least identify those as wrong, but it’s not the same as hearing the voice of someone who has seen life in West Virginia and in the midst of this crisis first-hand.
    I wish you and the people of Charleston well.

  109. Mark Chaffee says:

    In a few months, Eric, I will be 60 years old. I grew up in NW PA, along the PA-NY border, outside a small town (<500) that just keeps getting smaller. I now work in rural development in the Midwest, after teaching 11 years at the Univ of Iowa…sociology. Area of research…social construction of suffering.

    Along the way, I've taught in inner-city schools, participated in strategic development in the peace movement of the 80s, and done of a lot of counseling/life-coaching work. I also attended seminary to study Liberation Theology with an intent to write a Theology of the Oppressor.

    One of the things that took me out of social movement participation…was that it was simply one more iteration of 'us vs them'…in which it was people outside ourselves…who were responsible for the wreckage in our lives…and if only they'd stop being so…awful…life would be good.

    And at some level…people know…the others weren't going to change. Yet…they also seemed to always think…'they'…the other…were the ones who had to change…to allow people to live good lives.

    It was in your paragraph talking of the 'honor in suffering'…that I felt your writing triumphant. Oppression has something to do with 'the other'…but mostly…it has to do with us…the complicit…the compliant…the complainers…the non-actors.

    All liberation comes from our pushing back…not the oppressor suddenly learning that their foot on someone else's neck…is painful…as if until some moment…they really had no idea. It comes from people taking responsibility for their complicity and compliance…and setting it down…and resisting.

    As a counselor/coach…nothing happens…until the person seeking change…realizes…they are really the only change agent in the room. For all the 99%…who think the 1% is the problem…they're years away from understanding…it is in our failure to hold our own world accountable…that all suffering endures. Yes…violence…coercion…make the journey out difficult. But in the end…it is still the journey that must be made.

    You're right…there is nothing honorable in suffering…and the only endurance is…the more one endures…the more the world will hand you to endure…until one finally stands…unbends…and offers…'Enough is enough'.

    Thank you for sharing your rage. You made this day sacred for me in listening.

  110. Susan Kelley says:

    Thank you for articulating so powerfully the feelings that many of us share. My grandfathers were coal miners in the Kanawha Valley. One was disabled in a mine roof fall. In the 1940s, my dad sought to escape that life, feeling lucky to find work in a lead plant in Charleston, considered a step up in our family. Seeing him go to the hospital with lead poisoning is one of my earliest memories in the mid-1950s.

    In the ’70s and ’80s, I worked with public interest groups in WV (WV-SPIRG, WV-CAG, Campaign Clean Water) trying to improve the air and water, and we won some important battles. The air and water measurably improved, Some of the strongest supporters of regulation and enforcement were men who worked in those chemical plants, many who had cancer and were dying, and some who were the lucky survivors of cancer or explosions in the plants. (As a candy-striper volunteer at the hospital in South Charleston in the late 1960s, I will never forget trying to help the wives of badly burned men brought into the emergency room after an explosion at one of the chemical plants.)

    Many of the chemical workers who supported environmental and workplace safety regulations were not publicly vocal, fearing for their jobs, but they contributed to the struggle in many ways, because they did not want their kids and grandkids growing up drinking that water and breathing that air, and/or working in the same conditions. As many of us know, to fight for the environment or the rights of workers in WV has meant to be classed as anti-business and anti-job, and to be demonized. We are supposed to accept and be grateful for the opportunity to risk our lives and the lives of everyone in the community in order to have jobs. It is put to us as a zero sum game.

    I worked at Institute from 1977-85, on the campus of what is now W. Va. State University, next door to the Union Carbide unit that produced the same gas that killed so many people in Bhopal. Shortly after the Bhopal disaster, having been told that in essence the emergency plan for those of us at Institute in event of a leak was to head for the hills as fast we could run and pray we could outrun the poison, I finished my Master’s degree and left for Florida. I had options that not everyone has and that not everyone even wants.

    After leaving the state, I certainly experienced the same kind of nasty remarks about West Virginians that you describe. I could not begin to tell you how many times people have expressed surprise that I am educated, wear shoes, do not have one leg shorter than the other, and that my parents are not cousins, I suppose it is easier to sacrifice people who are painted as somehow lesser than the rest of the country.

    My parents, and many of my family and friends remained in the Charleston area, and many of them were impacted this past week by this latest man-made crisis. I share your rage at those who think, as you so beautifully expressed it, that the people of West Virginia have been seen as the eggs to be broken so the companies could make breakfast. Anyone who has roots there has a right to be outraged. Thank you again for sharing what so many feel, using your gift to express yourself in words. I hope somehow that anger and rage will be channeled into meaningful action to bring about change. Change for the better is possible.

  111. I am reading this in Norway. The story made the news here. What a tragedy. You are an excellent writer.

  112. Steven Swann says:

    Thank you Dr. Waggoner for radiantly brilliant, trenchantly honest and important departure from the usual addresses of these issues and incidents. Too often the discourses that orbit complex environmental (social, economic, political) issues deteriorate into reflexive ideological shouting matches. Each side gets to cast their position as deeply (exclusively) virtuous and well-informed, as they frame their opposition with villainy and/or simple-minded ignorance. In the shadows of these melees, the true culprits (fundamentally flawed systems in which everyone is complicit) evade illumination and reform. I hope that, over time, all those implicated and involved in the social, political, economic and environmental organisms will defy their ossified stances/rhetoric and heed your clarion call to work toward a better WV for their shared posterity.

  113. cornelius967 says:

    Thank you for the perspective that you’ve shared. It is very powerful. As I read the raw thought portion that flowed from a place deep inside you (intuition and integrity?), I felt as if you were somehow channeling feelings held deep within me; to hell with them! These types of “accidents” should never happen in this country or any other. We know better and it doesn’t really cost that much to maintain these systems when one considers the down side caused by the lack of maintenance and inspection. I’m sad to hear what is happening to your family, neighbors, and community. Take some solace in knowing that there are others that think and feel the same way that you do about the system in operation at present. It’s a systemic problem. We’ve got to diagnose it as a systems problem and apply a systemic solution.

  114. Thanks for sharing your rage. 12 years ago I chose to come back here to live and had to endure all kinds of comments from people thinking I was nuts. And now they still think I’m nuts for staying here. I am sick and tired of our lives being trivialized and my home ruined. I have been enraged so much this week I’ve hardly known what to do with myself. Thanks for expressing the rage so well.

  115. Jennifer Hahn says:

    I am a HUGE fan of this article. I am from Oak Hill, West Virginia but now live in southern Alabama. No one uses the term fuck quite as eloquently as you have done here.
    This is a well written article. It sounds like my dad speaking. I truly loved it. Thank you for making West Virginia seem a little closer to my sweet home Alabama tonight. I’m homesick.

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  117. THANK YOU for saying so eloquently what I’ve been wanting to say for years now.

  118. Megan M says:

    This is the best article I have read not only on the spill, but on the general industry chokehold here in Charleston and surrounding areas in WV, in a very long time. Your writing is personal, uncensored, and blatantly honest and I applaud you for writing this piece.

  119. Kathy Selvage says:

    Eric, thank you so much for accurately verbalizing much of the anguish that Central Appalachian coalfields residents who live with neighborhood mountaintop removal coal mining feel. It is all so complex but you captured it magnificently. It is a powerful, intimate piece that exposes the scars of Appalachia but we cannot thank you enough for your willingness to do just that.

    I live in Wise County in far southwest Virginia where approximately 40% of our entire land mass has been sacrificed for the energy needs of this country. From our individual experiences, we worry that the industry will now unleash their wrath on you. If so, reach out far and wide.

    No man should have lack of an income or a life because he thinks well and expresses his views even better.

    Thank you again so very much!

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  121. Kathy B. says:

    Great piece. As a fellow West Virginian and former environmental clean-up scientist, one of the things that frustrates me most about this case is that Freedom Industries spent loads of money on political billboards (many are anti-Obama and anti-Democrat) rather than inspect their facilities and plan for the potential of a spill.

  122. Kim says:

    Mr. Waggoner…what an exceptional writing! Honesty, loyalty….such a rarity in this troubled world. Kudos to you :)

  123. Linda Mason says:

    A wonderful piece Eric. I was not born there, but lived there three years in early 60’s. I hope many people across our nation will read this and also apply it to much of our nation.
    lghmason@aol.com

  124. Pingback: This Seems Like a Modest Request in Response to the West Virginia Water Crisis | Orange Juice Blog

  125. michele says:

    Loved the article…thank you so much for baring your soul…my people come from coal mining also but in Pennsylvania. both my grandfathers and great grandfathers paid the price for working in the mines. wish EVERYONE could see this article. thank you again….prayers to you and your family

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  127. zyxomma says:

    Thank you, Eric, for a powerful and moving piece. I’ve never lived in WV; only hiked there, on the Appalachian Trail and on side hikes for more difficulty and wildness. I’m sure many of my side hikes are now gone, sacrificed to mountaintop “removal” to get at the coal, as is true in neighboring states. I loved peaceful, wild West Virginia. I wish there were something I could do, apart from signing petitions, donating money to Earthjustice and the like, and posting this to my Facebook page, so others will read it. Every environmental tragedy brings new heartbreak, and your eloquence moved me beyond words. Thank you.

  128. Danna Hancock says:

    My response to your post has already been expressed in all manner of good ways. I will simply add my appreciation. Thank you.

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