Chemical Spill Begs Answers

There is a fiasco of the first order going on in West Virginia.  Today is Day Four of the continuing saga.  A brief summary of things so far:

Day 1:  A chemical sprayed on coal to supposedly make it cleaner mysteriously finds its way into the water supply for the capitol city, Charleston, and surrounding communities.  Apparently a 38,000 gallon tank of this stuff leaks (maybe due to age of the tank, maybe a rupture from the recent sub-zero ambient temps, maybe both, maybe something else) an unknown quantity of itself into a catch basin which does not contain it.  No one seems to know what the stuff is, how hazardous it might be, or how it got into the water supply.

The governor dismisses the legislature and local officials begin hand wringing.  An order goes out for no one to use water except to flush toilets and fight fires.  Meanwhile, many folks with computers have already determined that this is not a particularly hazardous material, one that no one really should drink or bath in, but less hazardous than chlorine, which is routinely added to the public water supplies.

Restaurants are ordered to remain closed.

Day 2:  The hand wringing continues.  Residents are promised water from FEMA and other sources.  Of course, looters have already liberated local stores of their supplies of water and ice.  Water buffaloes are set up around the area for limited distribution of water to the public.  If you have containers.

There are several press conferences.  No one seems to know how long all this will last or just how nonsensical it could become.  The company which owns the tank has only owned this facility for a few weeks.  They are understandably clueless.  But they express their sorrow.

More promises are made.  People begin to question whether something which is sprayed on coal in open yards around the county, transported in open train cars and barges to plants to be burned, and otherwise seen sitting along river banks throughout the area when it rains is actually hazardous, and if so, why is it dangerous in drinking water but not as particulate matter in the air.

Day 3:  More of the same.  Admissions by government officials surface that they had no plan for handling a water emergency and are winging it.  At an evening press conference, the governor pats all his minions on the back for the wonderful job they are doing.  They admit that they have arbitrarily decided that 1 part per million is OK for drinking and that they are measuring water quality at multiple points around the county.  They anticipate that it will take 48 hours or so after 24 hours of sustained readings below 1 part per million for the flushing process to be completed.

Army trucks carrying cases of bottled water are seen.

Day 4: Even more of the same.  They now say that they are moving into the next phase toward normal water usage because wherever they are testing is now consistently measuring below 1 part per million.  And they are working diligently to get businesses back in operation.  Schools remain closed.  Officials continue to refer to a one-inch or so hole in the tank as the source of the leak.  Not a split, not a separation, but a hole.

A few questions come to mind, the most glaring of which is why was there no plan for dealing with a water emergency?  There probably will be one now.  If so, this exercise could well be worth it to the people who rely upon others for a readily available potable water supply. Like hospitals.

How many ways are there to get a one inch hole in a steel tank?  Is it possible to do so by naturally occurring means?

Perhaps the biggest question of all is why was this chemical in Charleston?  Had no government entity required that the coal industry use it, would it be in West Virginia at all?

Can the government be sued for all this inconvenience?

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