Happy West Virginia Day! (Part 3 of 4 in the Water Crisis Continues)

Hi everyone,

Happy West Virginia Day! I want to wish you all a day of reflection on and celebration of our beautiful state of West Virginia. I was recently at the New River Gorge and Summersville Lake and shot some footage of the incredible natural beauty that our state has to offer. So please enjoy this quick video montage of that footage along with a message I think will resonate with everyone affected by the West Virginia Water Crisis.

I encourage you all to Facebook, tweet, or instagram your own video or photos of the natural beauty of our state, using #keepWVclean. Let’s start an online movement showing everyone just why keeping our water, land, and air clean is so important.

Sincerely,

Krista

West Virginia Water: The Crisis Continues (Part 2 in Series of 4)

In the first part of this video, I explain that a second spill occurred on Friday in addition to the spill I focused on in my last video in this series. If you would like to read more about the spills on Thursday and Friday, read Ken Ward’s article in the Charleston Gazette. I don’t recount all of the details from that article, but I do raise an important question in response to DEP Secretary Randy Huffman’s statement about the most recent spill: why do we continue to rely on Freedom Industries to ensure public safety? why doesn’t the EPA or another government agency demolish the site?

The rest of this video focuses on what we as citizens can do to remain vigilant over the water crisis. I believe it is the public’s job —  our job, yours and mine — to draw national attention back to this story. We all remember how many missteps the state and federal government made throughout the first few weeks and several months, really, of the water crisis. No one paid attention to us until we demanded it at press conferences, town hall meetings, protests and vigils, through letters, emails, and phone calls, and online through social media. If we thought our work was over, or at least not as urgent because we aren’t in a state of immediate crisis, the past two days events have proven us wrong.

So what is it our responsibility to do? I know we all have different obligations of our time, abilities, and interests. I’ve been quietly working on my research on the crisis that is now being funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and last month I screened a preview of my documentary on the water crisis at the West Virginia International Film Festival. But I haven’t been as vocal about recent events because I’ve been tucked away doing that work, and I constantly worry that my silence and the silence of others takes the pressure off of government officials to do what needs to be done. Yesterday’s spill makes it very clear to me that we need continued action on our part to hold our government accountable for violations of our health and safety. So here are some simple actions you can take to make industry caused environmental disasters less likely in our beautiful state of West Virginia:

1)   Inform yourself! Read and watch local news. I know that sometimes it’s hard to find stories about the water crisis because they’re so buried on news sites, so a quick way to find out what’s going on is to search the Twitter #WVWaterCrisis. There you’ll find both news reports and local on-the-ground stories and commentary about what’s going on.

2)   Share your stories. In my research, I’ve found that Facebook is one of the primary ways people shared information about the Water Crisis and organized action. So share links to news reports and videos like this one on your wall and encourage your friends to read them. While you’re on Facebook, check out the Friends of Water Facebook page. Friends of Water is an online community that keeps those who follow the page informed of legislative and community action pertaining to the water crisis. You can also follow West Virginia Clean Water Hub and West Virginia Citizen Action Group on Facebook to keep track of activities pertaining to the water crisis.

3)   When you see a planned action like gathering at a legislative session, a town hall, or a protest, go! All it takes is showing up. Trust me, the presence of every person there really adds up. These public gatherings get the attention of the media and of politicians. Remember the press conference that forced Tomblin to provide funding for the WV TAP program? Public demonstrations of outrage are effective. I wonder if yesterday’s spill would have happened had we been protesting outside of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Pearson’s court while he delayed the demolition of the Freedom Industries site for five months.

4)   The U.S. Chemical Safety Board will provide an update on their investigation into the January 9 chemical spill at a meeting on July 16 from 12-3 pm at the Four Points Sheraton in Charleston. They will present their findings and allow time for public comments, so I encourage you all to attend

Share your stories about the water crisis here, either in print, video, image, or audio. Everyone’s story is important. Telling individual stories is what makes the water crisis real and relevant to others who may not be invested in the ongoing crisis in West Virginia.

West Virginia Water: The Crisis Continues

Hi everyone and thanks for tuning in for an update on the West Virginia Water Crisis. As you may know there another chemical spill was reported yesterday at Freedom Industries, the same site where 10,000 gallons of the coal-washing chemical, 4-MCHM was spilled into the Elk River, causing a water crisis that made the tap water unusable for 300,000 people in West Virginia.

 

Yesterday, a storm water containment trench at Freedom Industries overflowed into the Elk River. WSAZ reporter Michael Clouse and WOWK reporter have both reported that the licorice smell associated with 4-MCHM was noticeable. Think Progress reports that it was the Department of Environmental Protection that realized a spill had occurred due to a sump pump failing to send the overflow into a storage tank. The DEP has been on site at Freedom Industry and at West Virginia American Water testing the water. West Virginia American Water reports on their Facebook page that “initial results show no detection of MCHM in water at the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.” They also reported that there have been no odors detected, contrary to what journalists and residents near Freedom and the surrounding area have been reporting.

 

I have seen several people online asking how results from testing results came back so quickly when it took so long to get previous testing on chemical levels in our drinking water from the January 9th spill. I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know from all of my work with the environmental engineering team that has been working on testing the water in home plumbing systems affected by the January 9th spill that different laboratories have different capabilities for detecting chemicals in water. Just because one laboratories’ equipment can’t detect something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. A better lab with more powerful equipment may detect something, but at a much lower level than the screening level than another lab. Also, although MCHM was not detected, there are no reports on what other chemicals may have been present in that water and what other chemicals they have tested for.

 

Another question being posed is how there were still any chemicals at the Freedom Industries site to be spilled into our water again. The West Virginia Gazette reported today that the demolition of the chemical storage tanks at Freedom that Governor Tomblin ordered just two weeks after the January 9 spill has still not occurred because Freedom has not been able to acquire the permits needed to do so. Why would it take so long do get these permits, you may ask? Because Freedom’s bankruptcy case requires that a judge approve all of the company’s expenditures. What I’m unsure of, and I can’t find reports of anywhere, is what is taking so long to approve this expenditure. Apparently, a budget for cleanup and demolition has been filed with the bankruptcy court, but they are sealed so that contractors don’t try to use estimates to inflate their cleanup costs.

The video you watched above will be part of a series of videos, including exclusive news about the WV TAP project, and information on how you can help make West Virginia water clean and keep our state beautiful. So stay tuned!

Also, please read an update with more details on this most recent spill from Ken Ward with the Charleston Gazette.

West Virginia Water Crisis Film Excerpt

This is the work-in-progress excerpt from my film on the West Virginia Water Crisis that I showed at the West Virginia International Film Festival on May 13, 2014.

*Caption titled “natural disaster” should read “national disaster.”

Although the majority of my footage for the film is of individual citizen’s responses to the crisis, I chose Dr. Andrew Whelton as the sole narrator for this piece because I felt that his story made for a more cohesive and in-depth narrative for such a short excerpt of the film. Dr. Whelton and his research team came unsolicited and unfunded from the University of South Alabama to test the effects of the contaminated water on plumbing systems in affected residents’ homes. As you will see from this clip, their perspectives and understandings of the crisis evolved and forced their work to evolve as well.

At the end of the clip, Dr. Whelton offers a perspective on who is responsible for the botched response to the water crisis that may be surprising to some. I know it certainly was for me. I think it’s important to remember that we all have different perspectives to offer on this, and that this is just one of those perspectives. However, I think Dr. Whelton’s message about who is responsible for the poor communication following the chemical spill instructs us all to take a broader view of the systemic inequalities that contributed to these problems.

It’s also important to know that made this clip for a West Virginia audience, so there is some footage that requires insider knowledge. For example, the last clip of the protest is located at the Governor’s Mansion and is paired with the audio narrative about Dr. Whelton’s meeting with the governor.

I would like to thank the WVIFF, the sponsors for the event, and the other filmmakers for their dedication and creativity that is so clearly evident in their films. I also would like to thank Dr. Whelton and all of the participants in this film, as well as the National Science Foundation for providing a grant that made this film possible. And, of course, I would like to thank my friends, family, professors, and the people of West Virginia for supporting me and inspiring me to keep going on this project.

Ultimately, I hope that my film can help improve communication between the scientific community, public officials responding to crises, and the people on the ground experiencing the crises. We all have a lot to learn about how to deal with events like this and there is a desperate need for us to start being proactive to prevent them from happening in the future.

Full Footage of the WVTAP Public Meeting on 3.28

 

This footage covers the entirety of the WV TAP Public Meeting on 3.28 (with the exception of the first few seconds of the introductory speech).

There were two main parts of the meeting: the presentations by the WV TAP team at the beginning and the Q&A session with the public, which starts at 1:46.

Please share this widely, as many people were not able to attend, and the media covered so little of the content of the meeting.

This work is subject to copyright and may not be altered, shared without attribution to the owner and copyright holder, Krista Bryson, or used for monetary gain. If shared, it must be through the link to this Youtube video. Write Krista Bryson at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com for further permissions.

As always, thanks for viewing and sharing!

Filming the WV TAP Press Conference

I attended and filmed the entire West Virginia Testing and Assessment Project public meeting held today at West Virginia State University. This video is just me giving a quick summary during the lunch break about the engineering team’s findings and future plans.

I’ll be posting more video in the coming days. I also be filming the press conference they’re holding this Tuesday to present their findings as interpreted by a health panel.

One key piece of information from the meeting that I want to highlight that I learned after I filmed this short video is that West Virginia American Water is still pumping 4-MCHM out to their customers because they have not changed their filters. Dr. Whelton and the rest of the WV TAP made it very clear that they told WVAW they needed to change their filters because they were the source of chemicals still being distributed into the water system. The 4-MCHM was not originating from their intake or anywhere upstream, but their effluent (or output). So that means the source lies within the water plant.

As always, thanks for watching and stay tuned for more footage of the meeting, press conference, and interviews!

West Virginia Water Two Months Later

Watch two of the brilliant co-founders of Create West Virginia, Sarah Halstead and Rebecca Kimmons, explain three key points about the water crisis: 1) why we haven’t been protecting our water, 2) why there isn’t more outcry over the water crisis, 3) and how we can make WV a great place to live by making our water the best in the world. That last point is especially important to help us think about how we can turn a terrible situation like the Water Crisis into a turning point for our state.

I filmed this two weeks ago, exactly two months after the Water Crisis began. Sadly, most believe the crisis is over and in the immediate, most surface ways, it is over in that many people are using the water again. However, that does not mean the water is safe. In fact, the West Virginia Testing and Assessment Project (WV TAP) led by Dr. Andrew Whelton has only released preliminary findings and will be conducting more testing in homes. I will be attending and filming their press conference in West Virginia this Friday and will update this blog afterwards.

In the meantime, we all need to keep the pressure on state and federal officials and representatives. This isn’t over and we must be vigilant to prevent another similar crisis and to remediate the damage from the crisis.

I would also like to thank everyone reading this blog for doing so. It has been a true labor of love and I’m just glad to be able to contribute something in response to the crisis.

Look at What You Helped Do!

I received nearly $300 in donations from several generous online donors to buy water, paper towels, and other supplies for people affected by the West Virginia Water Crisis. It was a great day, and I hope I can keep coming back with more for water for people who need it.

Yes, many people affected by the WV Water Crisis still aren’t drinking the water. Yes, it’s getting expensive for them. Yes, you can help.

To learn more about why people are still afraid to drink the water, read my previous post.

If you would like to donate, go to http://www.wvwatercrisis.com/waterdistribution and click on my PayPal link.

This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International License: http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses

West Virginia Water Seven Weeks Later

Newsweek Article

Today marks seven weeks since what the National Science Foundation is calling one of the biggest environmental disasters of the last decade occurred in my home state of West Virginia. Too many things have happened since Freedom Industries polluted our water to cover in this post, but there are a few things that are important for you to know now. The Newsweek article I was interviewed for explains some of those things, but this post is going to focus on two of those points and give you some actionable steps to help West Virginians who are still suffering.

#1 Thing to Know: West Virginians are still not drinking, bathing in, or cleaning with their tap water. Imagine seven weeks of showering, cooking, and washing your dishes with only bottled water. Imagine the cost. Imagine the inconvenience. Imagine the mental space this must take up. Imagine the emotional toll of constant fear and worry.

Why? Because people are still experiencing rashes, swelling, diarrhea, vomiting, and faintness from the coming into contact with the water and the fumes. Because people still fear the water and distrust official messages about water safety because of a series of egregious missteps by the state government and health officials, which includes but is not limited to:

1) allowing a gap of at least eight hours before the leak occurred and the public was notified

2) lifting the Do Not Use Order and then stating that pregnant women should not drink the water

3) drawing contaminated water into water buffaloes for emergency distribution in the affected counties

4) establishing a level of safe contamination at 1 parts per million, based on studies of the effects of other chemicals on rats

5) telling the public that their use of the water is at their own discretion and refusing to comment on whether it is actually “safe”

6) canceling public schools, re-opening some schools, and then sending children back home  because students and teachers were passing out from the water fumes

7) discovering a second chemical and possibly several others present in the spill that were not reported to the public until twelve days after the spill

8) revealing that the storage tanks at the chemical plant had only been inspected by the DEP three times in twenty years and that the storage tanks were not subject to any governmental regulations

9) giving residents arbitrary (and dangerous) flushing instructions

10) allowing Freedom Industries to declare bankruptcy and be refinanced by a “different” owner of an eerily similar name as the previous owner

11) refusing to test water in homes in a high profile press conference and then deciding two hours after the press conference to consider testing water in homes

Currently, neither the state nor the federal government are supplying water to those affected by the chemical spill. The state refuses to dip into its multi-million dollar emergency fund and FEMA denied the governor’s request to continue providing water and other emergency relief to West Virginia.

Actionable Step:

Donate! This is the easiest way to immediately help West Virginians. There are many ways to donate, including going through the West Virginia Clean Water Hub. I am also collecting donations through PayPal for purchasing water and supplies to deliver every time I go to WV to film.

#2 Thing to Know: West Virginians will no longer accept violations of their health and safety by industry. After decades of tolerating ongoing air and water pollutionchemical spills, and industrial explosionsWest Virginians are refusing to ignore further violations of their health and safety in exchange for a barely surviving extraction economy.

There is a short piece about this in the Newsweek article, “For much of Bryson’s life in West Virginia, she says many locals viewed these dangers as “their cross to bear.” But since the Freedom Industries spill, “I have seen such a dramatic shift. We see now how this influences our life.””

Maybe in the past most of us were not immediately affected by these disasters. Those of us who don’t live in a mining town and didn’t personally know the people dying in explosions and collapses are removed enough that we never felt the need to DO anything. Those of us who were raised in the Chemical Valley were used to being constantly poisoned just enough that we didn’t really have to deal with it in our daily lives (until we get cancer or some other disease, but then we can’t attribute it directly to pollution). But when 300,000 people can’t drink or use their water, we have to think about it. We’re confronted head-on with years of our own individual neglect and the government and industry’s systematic abuse of West Virginia’s environment and people. And now we’re doing things.

Actionable Steps:

Share information. Without information we have nothing. Share the individual stories from this site, share news articles, and share information about how to donate, how to protest, how to lobby.

Make your voice heard in the state legislature. West Virginia Citizen Action Group is one organization that is doing great things in response to the water crisis: lobbying, protests, rallies, vigils, and activist training sessions. Friends of Water is another. There are legislative hearings happening as I write this that need your involvement and input. Even if you can only copy and paste a form letter provided by one of these organizations, do it. Every action is immensely important.

Keep coming back here for more stories. You can subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter @klbryson, or follow me on Facebook.

Share your story. If you want to write a story or do a video interview with me, email me at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com.

Water Delivery this Weekend

Coal Keeps the Water Off

I have received $222.13 in online donations for supplies for folks affected by the WV Water Crisis. You can see the balance in the screenshot of my PayPal account below; I would post the statement of donations received, but I don’t want to violate donor confidentiality. Once I get to West Virginia this weekend, I will buy water and other supplies for those affected by the Water Crisis who are still in need. Then I’ll post pictures here of the supplies I bought, as well as the receipts, so you can see the money is being well-spent.

PayPal donations

Again, thank you to the very generous donors. If you would like to make a donation (unfortunately, it won’t be tax deductible because I’m not a non-profit), you can do so through this PayPal link.

If you are in Putnam or Kanawha counties and are still in need of clean water or other supplies, please email me at wvwatercrisis@gmail.com, so I can give them to you this weekend while I’m in town filming.