Friday, January 17, 2014

Mad as Hell

From the Cultural Slagheap, words of reason and rage from Eric Waggoner, a former West Virginan, about the recent contamination  of the drinking water for nine West Virginia counties by a leak from a chemical company, whose tanks had not been inspected for over 20 years.  There was no plan for what to do if one of the containment tanks happened to be breached.  Kind of an Alfred E. Newman  attitude. ("What? Me Worry?")

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.  

As a result, 300,000 residents were told they could not drink, cook with, bathe in, or wash their clothing in the water. FEMA trucked bottled water in. Schools were closed and some businesses had to temporarily close down.   Six days, forbidden to use their tap water.  Pregnant women are still being advised not to drink it.

"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," writes Waggoner.

"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."

Waggoner's blog posting has since been going viral.  You can read it in its entirety here.  Judging by the overwhelming response in the comments section, he is not alone in his reaction.   Now if only the Powers-That-Be would take note and stop allowing corporations to voluntarily regulate themselves,  answering to no one.  Instead of spending taxpayer money on increased surveillance of every citizen, how about hiring more inspectors to ensure the safety of the nation's water, food, and environment?

(AP Photo/The Charleston Gazette, Chris Dorst)
 The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has a $10.55 million annual budget,  but "is stretched thin and must decide which of the 200 or so 'high-consequence' accidents that take place in the United States each year merit its attention."  They've made innumerable proposals, according to a spokesman, asking for additional investigators, "for years".   Congress, they say, "has been unwilling to come up with more money."[1]

Not so for the "visitor control center" ($10.55 million) and security at the NSA's new $2 billion Utah Data Center (over $10 million). [2]   Apparently, this massive new complex to manage and store data for the intelligence community had zero problem being funded.   It even has its own water treatment center.  Sounds like the water's very well managed there.

As to corporations that ignore regulations, lobby to have them reduced or removed entirely, when a major mishap occurs for which they are responsible,  they simply apologize and pay a fine. Where is the justice?  The United States Supreme Court has declared that a corporation may be recognized as an individual in the eyes of the law.[3]  Why are these 'corporate persons' not being held accountable?

Something's changing, though.  People are not just taking it anymore--this being lied to, surveilled, having their health compromised, unable to get anyone to listen long after the news cameras and cleanup crews have departed and the illness they've been left with is not going away.  Ask the victims of BP's horrendous oil spill in the Gulf three and a half years ago, how their health is today. [4]

Doctors in Pennsylvania  are forbidden to share information with patients exposed to toxic fracking solution because those chemicals are "proprietary", meaning they must remain secret.  This law that became effective in 2012 benefits the corporations, lets them off the hook, you might say.  In effect, Sorry,  people, because of this gag order, doctors won't be able to discuss how many other patients in your region suffer from the same symptoms, which began appearing right after the frackers came, because somebody might determine it's a cluster - why, then you all might  get together and file a class action lawsuit, no we can't have that, no indeed. 

Anyway, people are mad as hell, and they're speaking out.  The more that do, the louder it'll get.   One day it will become impossible to ignore.  Maybe then real change will come.  Because it must.  How long can one keep holding one's breath?