Maddow slams West Virginia chemical company’s handling of toxic spill

By David Ferguson
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 9:40 EDT
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Maddow on Freedom Chemical spill
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On Monday night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow dedicated a segment of her program to the huge chemical spill in West Virginia that contaminated the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people.

“Last Thursday morning at around 8:15 a.m., officials at West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection started getting complaints from local residents about a strong ‘licorice’ smell coming from a facility on the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia,” Maddow said.

State officials found when they arrived at Freedom Chemical, the Elk River plant, the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol was spilling from a hole in one of the plant’s tanks. The chemical is used in coal processing and is highly toxic. The plant, however, had made no real efforts at emergency containment for any of the chemicals on site.

“The tank was leaking that chemical straight into the Elk River,” said Maddow, “which serves as the main water supply for much of that part of West Virginia.”

More than 300,000 people were told not to touch or drink the water in their homes for fear of “severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.”

“What’s been unfolding in West Virginia over the last four days has just been a total disaster,” Maddow continued. The National Guard was called in to bring water from other parts of the state. Hospitals have been forced to ration water among patients.

Residents, bars and restaurants rushed to stores to buy bottled water and disposable dishes since drinking, bathing and washing clothes and dishes has been off-limits.

Finally on Friday night, Freedom Chemical’s president Gary Southern made a public statement, Maddow said, “and it was amazing.”

“It’s been an extremely long day,” Southern said. “I’m having trouble talking, so if we could just wrap this thing up…”

“We have a lot of questions,” one reporter said. “It’s been a long day for a lot of people who don’t have water. Are there no systems in place to alert you of a leak at your facility other than a smell?”

Southern took a long pull off of a cold bottle of Aquafina water before saying, “I’m afraid that’s all we have time for,” and ending the press conference.

“See, he’s got water!” Maddow quipped. “What are you guys complaining about? It’s been a long day!”

Finally, the ban on water use is being lifted, she said, but there are still a lot of questions about the spill, which her show will endeavor to answer in the coming days.

Watch video about this story, embedded below via MSNBC:

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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