West Virginia Voices: Community members come together as safe water concerns persist

by Cassady Sharp

January 24, 2014

The chemical spill in West Virginia that contaminated so much of the state's water sources was a result of industry negligence and lax regulations. However, the collaborative response of local community efforts has been an inspiration during this difficult time. The West Virginia Clean Water Hub is a community-organized effort supported by volunteers and grassroots groups in West Virginia including Aurora Lights, Coal River Mountain Watch, Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, OVEC, and more. The hub's members connects communities in need of clean water and supplies with volunteers and donors. Below are shared thoughts and observations from West Virginia organizers and impacted citizens. Help with efforts at theWest Virginia Clean Water Hub's Facebook page.

Jen-Osha Buysse

Emergency Relief Organizer for Aurora Lights

The stories that get me the most are the stories of mothers with children who are sick and asking why the state is not considering it an emergency. Why is there less water every day, even though every day were finding out about more chemicals and new issues with the water situation? Weve been gathering a lot of liquid baby formula and diaper wipes for the families with young children. We have an incredible group of people working together in unaffected areas to support those affected - local unions, daycares, schools - a local pediatrician donated baby supplies and landscape companies have offered their trucks. Parents have been organizing their schools for supplies because they understand.
I have spoken with many families who havent been able to work since the chemical spill. They cant just not buy water but they cant buy food or pay heating bills in the freezing weather. They dont want to ask for help, but their income has been cut off.
The most important thing is that everyone can find a way to use whatever skills they have during this ongoing emergency. Someone has a truck, someone knows parents at a school they can organize weve had to expand our idea of what leadership consists of, and Ive witnessed all these incredible people working together to fill truck after truck. This crisis is far from over and we must all work together to settle into a sustainablelevel of support that we can maintain over the coming weeks. Please help with efforts at the West Virginia Clean Water Hub's Facebook page. Contact Jen: jenosha@auroralights.org

S Rhodes

West Virginia Resident

My community is partially in Putnam and partially in Cabell County. I have many elderly neighbors, and yes, there are also children and handicapped individuals that need access to clean water. Water distribution in this area was cut off on Saturday, Jan 18th. I own a small business that I run out of my home and have been unemployed during this water crisis, due to the need for water in my production process. Needless to say, driving an hour each day to Charleston for water is causing financial hardship, and is just not feasible for myself and many others here. The closest bottled water distribution available is in Nitro, WV - 40 minutes away, and it ends soon. We are really just getting the chemical heavy in our tap. The smell alone, with no physical contact, is burning our eyes, nose and mouth, and its causing headaches and even chest pains in myself, my husband and many of our neighbors. Our main water lines have not been flushed, so the multiple times that we have flushed our house is just pulling more chemical into our lines and tanks, filling our homes with that noxious smell. Bottled water is always helpful, but the need for filling jugs is what is needed most, so people can clean dishes, hand wash laundry, supply animals with clean water, bathe, and all the essential things. We need a distribution site badly so people are not forced to use this water that is not fit to flush the toilet with. Now the weather is promising snow and hazardous travel conditions and travel to Charleston to get water is not going to be safe during this upcoming storm event. Thanks to the West Virginia Water Hub for their response to my plea for fresh water.

Hannah Spencer

Emergency Relief Organizer at Aurora Lights

Through this disaster I have been reassured that I am proud to be a West Virginian. The folks who make me proud to be a West Virginian are those who haven't had work since the water crisis, but are still at their local fire departments and churches handing out supplies every day. The folks who make me proud to be a West Virginian are angry about what has happened to their communities and demand something be done to fix it. The folks who make me proud to be a West Virginian live in unaffected areas, but have still worked every day to collect donations and supplies to send to the affected areas. West Virginians stay strong no matter what happens. We bond together as tight-knit communities and we help each other through times of need. Contact Hannah: hannah@auroralights.org

Karen Smith Zornes

West Virginia Resident

I didnt have a problem with the spill at first; I thought, Accidents happen. But when it came time for us to flush, I had an asthma attack from the smell. I went outside for fresh air and tried to flush again later and had another asthma attack. After our flush, our water still looked blue and still had the smell. So I waited for three days after the flush to shower, and got a skin rash from the water. After that I called the water company. The man at West Virginia American Water told me the strong smell meant the water was safe to use. I told him about my blisters, and he said it was probably my shampoo, though Ive used the same shampoo for years. I asked him about the water discoloration, and he said I must have spilled something in it. He made me feel like an idiot. He told me to keep flushing my lines and that someone would be out to test my water. Four days have passed, and we havent heard anything. Weve spent hundreds on new filters for the fridge and home, bottled water, and gas to drive to get water and supplies, it all adds up.
Were spending money we dont have. The money weve spent on water was supposed to pay my electric bill.
Being a three time cancer survivor makes me wary about the long term effects of this. I dont think the customers should be the one to pick up the bill for this disaster. Learn more about West Virginia relief efforts and how you can help.

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