Pollution Solutions for the West Virginia Spill


This is a guest post by JD Willoughby. JD has worked to protect and restore natural resources for more than 20 years in the Chesapeake Bay. Now located in Anchorage, AK, she continues her work in the natural resources field and enjoys exploring the last frontier.


tracking the west virginia chemical plume

Tracking the chemical plume traveling from West Virginia

I was always told the solution to pollution is dilution when I worked to restore and protect the waters of the Potomac. While that idea worked when populations were small, I never thought it it was a solution for the Potomac and it’s not a solution for the Elk, Ohio, or Mississippi rivers.

West Virginia legislators have a lot of questions to answer, but Charleston residents never questioned what or who might poison their air, water, or soil. Most people don’t know how their water is cleaned, its origin, or how they impact it. Freedom Industries was responsible for containing the coal cleaning chemicals and creating a spill incident plan. Freedom Industries did neither.

The chemical spill began just above Charleston’s water intake and was nearly 60 miles long when it reached Portsmouth, Ky., four days later, according to the Waterkeeper Alliance’s spill tracking site. [Ed. Here's another helpful mapping tool from our friends at Downstream Strategies]

The spill will pass by Louisville, KY, Evansville, IN, Memphis, TN, and will finally make its way to the Gulf of Mexico via New Orleans, LA. By that time, it will be diluted and likely not have an impact on water supplies. But that dilution is hardly a solution.

With so many communities depending on the Elk, the Ohio, and the Mississippi rivers for water supply, we have placed the important task of watching over one of our most vital resources in the hands of our legislators, big industry, and deep pocketed businessmen.

We may not have as much money as big industry and businessmen, but collectively we have louder voices. We should be responsible for looking after our river’s fish, the tree-lined and urbanized banks, be the neighborhood watch for potential polluters. This spill should be a wake-up call to everyone. Not just communities that pull water from an urban waterway, but small communities that pull water from the ground and from tiny creeks.

Take an hour to learn about your water supply source and the potential threats to it. Write letters to Members of Congress. Ask for a tour of your local wastewater treatment plant. Get to know your watershed.