Pages tagged "chemicalspill"


Mountains, Water and Community

Last week, Rainforest Action Network and three allies testified at Bank of America's annual shareholder meeting, urging them to drop coal, to stop profiting from environmental destruction and human rights abuses. In the next two weeks, we'll be posting the statements of our three allies. Add your voice by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal --  and come clean on climate change

My name is Elise Keaton. I am the Executive Director of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation and I am from southern West Virginia. I currently live in Charleston, West Virginia. I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.

On January 9 of this year, I came home from work, poured a big glass of water from my tap and drank it. As soon as I set my glass down I received a text message from my landlord stating, “Don’t drink the water! There has been a chemical leak!

Over the next hours, I experienced acute symptoms from exposure to the coal-processing chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), including irritated eyes, nose and throat, nausea, and stomach cramps. If the spill had been immediately lethal, I thought, the authorities would have sounded the chemical valley alarms. So I monitored my symptoms and concluded that I did not need to go to the emergency room that night. I figured that the next day, we would know more about what had happened.

What we learned over the next week was that a Freedom Industries facility storing coal-processing chemicals leaked MCHM into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water for 300,000 households. The first question a thinking human being should ask is, “Why are 300,000 households, spread across nine counties in a rural state like West Virginia on a single water source in the city of Charleston?” MTRQuote_720x720

The answer is: their local water sources have already been compromised by the mining industry. Their streams and springs have been destroyed or buried by mountaintop removal. Their wells have been compromised by blasting or polluted by coal slurry injections.

And instead of addressing the sources of this pollution, the political-industrial establishment in West Virginia decided that your quarterly profits were more important than clean water for our communities and they answered that loss of water by extending the municipal water source further and further out into those counties.

Four months later, we still lack access to guaranteed safe drinking water in West Virginia. Our esteemed congresspeople have insisted that they are drinking the water. But no public health official has declared the water safe to drink.

I am 34 years old and I am getting married this summer. I've waited a long time to start my family. Now, I have postponed my plans to have children indefinitely because no one can tell me the impact MCHM may have had on me and my reproductive ability.

I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community. The minuscule profits you received as a result of mountaintop removal mining are incomparable to the catastrophic damage caused by the practice. It is killing us.

More than 20 peer-reviewed health studies have shown that living near mountaintop removal sites is deadly for the people of Appalachia. Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.

I will close with this: when you remove coal by blowing up a mountain to extract it you have destroyed a “water maker” for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of electricity for the United States. Let me repeat that. When you extract coal by mountaintop removal you kill a resource that will make water forever -- for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of energy for the U.S. How is that a good investment?

As shareholders of one of the largest financial institutions in the world, you are savvy investors and business minded individuals. How is destroying the mountains that create clean water for a very small, short term financial benefit a good investment? Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and our communities. Your profits from mountaintop removal mean death for us.

Thank you.

Stand with Elise and RAN by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal --  and come clean on climate change


5 Ways Our Network Is Saving the Planet

nokxl sf vigilDear friends, Early in the New Year, I received a text concerning my two nieces that read, “We are all safe but leaving town—state of Emergency declared in Charleston as a result of coal chemical spilled into river.” Although I’m very aware of the impacts coal has on the health of people and planet, the reality of it hitting so close to home has me more fired up than ever about the work Rainforest Action Network has to do this year. So far the chemical spill in West Virginia is a story about a completely preventable accident, but it’s my belief that it will also be a story of organizing, resisting corporate control and bringing the end of coal even closer. It was a spill that happened just weeks before the release of the State Department’s final environmental assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline which gives President Obama all the room he needs to prevent the disasters that we will see should he approve the Keystone XL pipeline. I believe in my core that the only way we can tackle the challenges we face is by fully leveraging our entire network. This year, I’m committed and excited to share RAN’s thinking, listen to your input and find ways for you to engage more deeply in our work. In 2014 we will work harder than ever to keep fossil fuels in the ground, forests standing and communities thriving. This year we are resolved to focus on five key areas that are vital for our planet: 1) Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline We will not accept the development of a pipeline that threatens to lock in an estimated one billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions over its lifetime. Last year, RAN teamed up with CREDO and The Other 98% to launch the “Pledge of Resistance,” making clear their opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. To date, over 76,000 people have pledged to take peaceful direct action in their communities to resist the Keystone XL pipeline, and RAN has helped to train and build a community of hundreds of action leaders across the country.  And it doesn’t end with President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. At RAN we believe this level of engagement must be the new norm for our movement to ensure that not only do we stop this project, but that we are prepared to stop dirty energy projects that would follow. 2)   Remove Conflict Palm Oil from our Food In rainforests half a world away, orangutans are making their last stand against extinction — scientists believe that they could be extinct in the wild in our lifetime. But the threat to their survival lies much closer to home. You’ll find it hidden in the snack food aisle of your local grocery store — and in your shopping cart. To grow cheap palm oil, America’s snack food brands are driving the last wild orangutans to extinction, enslaving children and destroying rainforests that are critical to maintaining a stable climate. As thoughtful consumers, we have the power to make them listen. Our strategy is working. This year we will continue negotiating with consumer brand companies to develop or improve palm oil procurement policies for 100% traceable and responsible palm oil and will continue to push for improvements from the largest U.S importer of palm oil, Cargill. Every time we sign a petition or sticker foods that contain Conflict Palm Oil, we bring more attention to this incredibly important issue, and we give more power to our movement. 3)   Challenge Bank of America to Stop Financing Climate Change. The five largest American banks are among the most significant global underwriters of the coal industry, and therefore global climate change emissions. In spite of the human and environmental costs of coal as well as the growing financial risks associated with investments in the coal industry, Bank of America alone has invested billions and maintained its position as the largest funder of coal. Bank of America and other U.S. banks have been slow to address this risk, lagging behind their European counterparts. We will work to pressure banks to account for their financed emissions by adopting climate policies at least as strong as the European banks. This autumn, we worked with students on 35 campuses to challenge Bank of America graduate recruitment programs. Hundreds of students showed up at 65 information sessions and interviews to declare, “We won’t work for climate chaos.” Now that we have the bank’s attention, we’re working to improve its policies and move funding away from climate-destroying enterprises. 4)   End the Use of Paper Made from Rainforests Last year, one of the largest paper companies in the world, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) released its rainforest protection commitments, a major first step for a company that has a history of destructive practices when it comes to rainforests and human rights. Over the past year, RAN has helped to strengthen APP’s commitments while working with groups on the ground to make sure that implementation is happening in the forest. While a policy on paper is an important step, we are working to make sure that the bulldozers remain idle and communities are given a voice in decisions about their lands. Until APP implements changes that can guarantee rainforests and communities are protected, we will use our market leverage to ensure large corporate customers understand that it is too soon to resume business with APP. 5)   Provide Small Grants to Local Communities Fighting for the Planet Over the past ten years, RAN’s Small Grants program has distributed more than a million dollars to Indigenous-led and local grassroots organizations to help secure protection for millions of acres of traditional territory in forests around the world and to help defend their communities and their environment from the fossil fuel industry. In 2014 we hope to expand our Small Grants program and increase the amount of money going directly to communities. This year our goal is to distribute $173,000 to communities fighting to defend our planet. At RAN we know we need to set ever-more audacious goals if we’re going to advocate for forests, the climate and communities. Which is why I’m asking you to join us on our ambitious journey into 2014, because we can’t accomplish any of these things without your support.  Visit our Take Action page to learn more about how you can be a part of this important movement. You are the Network that gives me strength to sit across the table from CEOs of corporate giants like Bank of America and Cargill and demand more than modest or incremental changes. This is the time for bold action, and I’m drawing you closer because you’re crucial to us accomplishing what is necessary for forests, people and planet. Now that I’ve shared what I want to fight for in 2014, I’d like to ask you to share what you are committed to doing for people and planet this year. Tweet me your ideas at @lrallen. I couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities that lie ahead of us this year, and am honored to be on this journey with you. For people and planet in 2014, Lindsey

Why You Should Give A Sh*t That Water In West Virginia Is Contaminated

Lindsey and nieces in West VirginiaAs I wrote last week, my two nieces live in Charleston, WV. Although their water has now been cleared as “safe,” they continue to have no clean water to drink. So, as you can imagine, I’m pissed. But there are a few reasons why I’m pissed. And it didn’t start with the unbelievable quote from West Virginia's Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, who said, "I'm not going to say absolutely, 100 percent that everything is safe. But what I can say is if you do not feel comfortable, don't use it." It was frustrating to see most major media outlets perpetuate the illusion that, once water was deemed safe by officials, things could return to normal—contradicting actual residents who continued to find the chemicals in their tap water despite repeatedly flushing their pipes. (Send a letter to your local newspaper and demand they tell the full story!) It was frustrating to realize that a lack of regulations helped create this disaster, which was completely preventable. However, I’m most pissed that this is just one obvious example of the true price we pay for our dependence on coal. Unfortunately, coal-related water contamination in Appalachia is not a new story or a unique occurrence. In the rural hollers of West Virginia, dozens of communities have already had their water poisoned, because toxic waste from mountaintop removal coal mining has seeped into aquifers, irreversibly ruining wells that people have used for generations. A 2012 study found that 14 counties in West Virginia had water that did not meet safe drinking water standards. In counties where mining occurred, water was seven times worse than in counties without mining. In addition, contamination of watersheds in West Virginia is part of the reason why so many people depend on a single water source. Runaway coal contamination is possible because of a lack of regulations to ensure safe drinking water and because, for a century, the coal industry’s profit margin has been put ahead of people—and our water. When we look more broadly at health impacts, a recent Harvard study estimated the annual health expenses associated with coal over its entire lifecycle cost the U.S. $500 billion a year and lead to more than 13,000 premature deaths. 1622206_10152183068710960_547899835_nNational headlines last week shone a rare public light on one of the most severe and under-reported American environmental crises of our times. The tragic water crisis still underway in West Virginia, caused by a massive coal chemical spill that poisoned water supplies for at least 300,000 people, is just another cry from the canary telling us that coal is not a solution for our energy needs. The emergency water shut-off last week spanned nine counties and shut down the state’s capital city for four days. But most disturbing is that this recent tragedy was both predictable and preventable. Sadly, it offers a somber preview for what we can expect to see more of in the future if major changes are not finally made immediately. Rainforest Action Network is no stranger to the many impacts of coal on the communities in West Virginia. We have been working to defend the people, forests and watersheds in Central Appalachia for years. But this last summer, the issue became deeply personal for me. I travel to WV not only to visit family, but also to see firsthand the impacts of one of the most extreme coal extraction methods on the planet, where entire mountaintops are blown off to expose coal seams below. The resulting toxic waste is then dumped into neighboring valleys—irreversibly destroying the function of the local watershed. While in Appalachia last summer, I felt the Earth shudder under my feet as mountains nearby were being blown up just a short distance from the home of our local host, Paul Corbit Brown of Pax, WV. Paul is a seventh-generation West Virginian whose home is adjacent to an active mountaintop removal coal mining site. His family has been forced to deal with the deadly impacts of reckless coal extraction for decades. Paul made it clear to me that while the government of West Virginia has bent over backwards for the coal industry in his state, it has done little to nothing to protect the region’s people, who have suffered its devastating consequences. While visiting, I literally saw streams flowing bright orange from upstream coal mining contamination, and witnessed the emergency health crises people face every day: high cancer rates, cases of life-threatening “black lung” disease and limited access to clean water. Earlier this month, just after news of the spill broke, Paul explained that the chemical that leaked has been used to process coal for a long time in West Virginia. In fact, its effluent has been stored in more than 100 unlined pits and been injected into abandoned mines that now contaminate the area’s aquifers, forcing people to abandon wells that once provided safe drinking water. (Some former West Virginia coal miners have come forward to say the same thing.) The people in Appalachia have been forced to endure the toxic impacts of the coal industry for far too long already. This incident cannot be seen as an isolated event. Every time we flick on the switch from coal energy, we should be reminded about the true cost of coal, a burden that people at the point of extraction, like West Virginia, and at the point of burning, such as neighborhoods in the shadow of coal-fired power plants, feel disproportionately. The numbers are staggering. U.S. $500 billion a year in health care costs foisted on us by a coal industry unwilling to pay for the impacts of its business operations? Are more than 13,000 premature deaths the price we should have to pay for coal industry profits? ”It’s tragic that it takes an event like this to awaken us to reality,” said my friend Paul. “No industry should have the right to profit at the expense of another human being's life. I remind you: There cannot be a healthy economy without clean water.” As this crisis in West Virginia has brought the impacts of extreme coal extraction to our collective attention, let us now take the bold steps needed to move away from dangerous coal energy altogether, and move instead toward safer, cleaner energy choices. The next time I talk to my nieces about the future, instead of just discussing basic regulation that will better prevent coal chemicals from leaking into major water supplies, I’d rather discuss the transition away from coal so that climate change, water contamination and health problems can be prevented. Let’s not treat the symptom—let’s support the cure. If you are as pissed as I am please consider joining the over 500 people who have taken action by sending a letter to their local newspaper requesting they cover the full story on coal impacts on our water and beyond.

West Virginia Chemical Leak Poisons 300,000 Peoples' Water Supply

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Since last Thursday's toxic spill, when a coal-processing chemical spilled into West Virginia's Elk River, roughly 300,000 people have lost access to tap water. Our friends at groups like OVEC, Keepers of the Mountain, Coal River Mountain Watch and Aurora Lights are volunteering and working long days to  drive clean water supplies to desparate and remote communities throughout the nine affected counties in West Virginia. A few dollars goes a long way to help. Click any of those links to donate. I just donated and want to urge you to consider making a donation to water relief efforts too. Yet again Appalachian communities are being disenfranchised. This industrial disaster is not getting much play in the national media, despite being just a few hours from the nation's capital. Meanwhile, West Virginia's Governor keeps insisting that this disaster has nothing to do with the coal industry. To be clear, the chemical that spilled (4-methylcyclohexane methanol) is a chemical that is produced for use producing coal (the "cheapest" form of energy in this country) and the reason that a relatively small spill was able to impact so many people's drinking water (16% of the state) is that decades of contamination from coal mining and processing means that many rural communities can no longer rely on well water, and instead have to connect the municipal water systems. Then the privatization of public infrastructure means that the business has been aggressively consolidated into even larger distribution networks. Combine all that with the regulatory joke that is West Virginia's "Department of Environmental Protection" (the site's last inspection was in 1991), and you have a disaster on your hands. Ken Ward (IMO the smartest journalist covering these issues) wrote this morning:

Plenty of West Virginia communities have watched their drinking water supplies be either polluted or dried up because of coal (see here, here and here). Me and my neighbors are getting a taste right now of what some coalfield residents live with all the time.

If you want to help spread awareness of this tragedy and the urgent need for support of the affected West Virginians, please share this post on Facebook. no such thing clean coal