This is a tale of two cities. And two bodies of water.
On the one hand, there’s Fort Lee, New Jersey, located just across the Hudson River from New York via the Cross Bronx Expressway and the New Jersey Turnpike.
On the other hand, there’s Elk River, a tributary of the Kanawha River, which runs through the heart of Charleston, WV.
Both places are in the news this week. And both of these are related, whether you know it or not, because the people who live there are suffering the effects of a political system that’s spinning entirely out of control, thanks to deregulation and corruption.
On the one hand, over the course of five days (from September 9-13, 2013), a percentage of people encountered major delays crossing the George Washington Bridge (including 91-year-old Florence Genova, who suffered cardiac arrest and would likely have died anyway, even if the EMS had been able to arrive on time, according to her daughter), for which one bureaucrat has been fired and another resigned. To be sure, we’re talking about a major artery between two states, and some seriously screwed up vindictive actions coming from the Christie administration (which, as Jon Stewart pointed out, likely goes much farther than the Governor would have us believe).
On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine the cumulative repercussions or how the people of Charleston and, in fact, everyone downriver of the Elk River chemical spill, are going to handle the poisoned water supply when the people themselves asked for deregulation by electing officials who serve corporate interests.
The poison, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is a solvent used in processing coal. What does it do and how does it affect life? Well, that’s an interesting question. In fact, there are a lot of questions about how this is going to affect people over time, and a lot fewer answers than there should be, thanks to a growing movement against regulations and EPA protection.
The chemical spill has already prompted 18 legal suits and there will undoubtedly be others. We’re talking about poison in the largest inland waterway in West Virginia, a tributary of the Ohio River which eventually flows into the Mississippi.
How did it happen? That’s under investigation, but it calls into question how we handle our water in other places as well. For example, here’s what PBS’s Frontline: Poisoned Waters had to say on the subject in 2009, using the Potomac River as an example. You can watch the whole Frontline episode online. What will flushing do, except kick the can down the road to more areas, spreading an unknown poison in unknown ways. Rather than consider containment, it’s easier to dilute and spread.
If Erin Brockovich’s sudden involvement makes you go “Hmmm” the way I did when I heard her on Morning Edition, think about this: With corporations increasingly in control of our government, we should be very VERY concerned about any movement away from protecting our environment, especially when it’s clear we don’t know all the ramifications.
So where’s the partisan politics come in here? That’s a great question. I can’t answer you, though, because there’s so little on the subject of regulation in general and the few things I could dig up on Charleston’s mayor, Danny Jones (R) had to do with his unhappiness over gun regulations, not chemical storage.
Demographics (Charleston, WV vs Fort Lee, NJ) shows Charleston is actually far larger (by almost 50%). And yet, there’s a difference in the reporting of this catastrophe. Nobody really wants to say what’s really at stake here.
On the one hand, we’re talking about one GOP governor’s aspirations for the Presidency in 2016. On the other hand? Hundreds of thousands of people were without drinking water. Consider Brocovich’s warning that even though the ban is being lifted in some places, people should reconsider drinking. What will it take for us to hold corporations accountable and recognize the cost of their freedom to operate however they wish?
Are you downstream of Charleston? What’s in your glass?