West Virginia crisis highlights industrial dangers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 15, 2014

After days without a source of fresh water, people in parts of West Virginia were finally given the green light to begin using tap water. There had been a ban on its use since last week when a chemical spill contaminated part of the state’s water supply, sending a handful of residents to the hospital. It is believed the leak started in one of the state’s coal-mining operations located upriver from a water treatment plant’s intake channels. Although there were no fatalities associated with the contamination, the incident highlighted the dangers inherent when industry and people exist in close proximity.

In the River Parishes, there are no coal mining operations, but the landscape is dotted with oil refineries and chemical producers, all of which utilize materials just as hazardous as those used in coal mining. What’s more, the ongoing saga of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole in Assumption Parish as well as the damage done to Louisiana’s wetlands demonstrate that industries, when planning for progress, do not always look far enough into the future to see the consequences their actions may have.

Such a realization is chilling in an area such as this. Reports

about the crisis in West Virginia repeatedly stated that there are many smaller leaks that often

go unreported. While local industries often tout their safety records, environmental groups such as the Louisiana Bucket Brigade tell a different story. Plus, understanding which substances are the most harmful and at what concentrations takes a level of specialized education most are not privy to.

In West Virginia, a contaminated water supply produced a major headache for those who could not even bathe in it, much less drink or cook with it. But here in South Louisiana, for many water provides their very way of life, their very means for procuring sustenance. The BP oil spill of 2010 showed how devastating water contamination can be here.

Recent efforts by local industries to clean up formerly contaminated sites on their own grounds shows a shift in thinking among industry leaders. Let’s just hope it is not too little too late.