Michael Barrick’s Appalachian Chronicle has become an indispensable source of insight and news about the Appalachian region in recent years. Here he calls out the mainstream media for its continuing blind spot regarding environmental regulation, fossil fuel extraction, and the health and well-being of the area’s population. – Ed.
West Virginia: The Rodney Dangerfield of the USA
Disregard for state’s environmental and health problems by mainstream media is shameful
By Michael M. Barrick
WEST UNION, W.Va. – If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all, you know that in Flint, Mich., residents have been unable to drink and use water because it is deemed unsafe. In fact, just today, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced he has opened an investigation to get to the bottom of the disaster – lead poisoning which makes the water unsafe.
Meanwhile, CBS News has reported that the Southern California Gas Company “ … acknowledged Thursday that it understated the number of times airborne levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene have spiked during the crisis.” That leak, affecting Los Angeles-area residents, is approaching three months without a resolution.
I’m pleased that journalists are uncovering these corporate shenanigans which threaten public health and safety, as well as the environment. But I do have a couple of questions for the mainstream media – Do you know that West Virginians have faced both of these problems for years, decades even? And, if so, why are you not covering this?
The questions are rhetorical, for I already know the answer. West Virginia is the Rodney Dangerfield of the United States and the media simply doesn’t care about the rural, mountain poor. Reporting on the misery caused to West Virginians by the energy extraction industry just doesn’t generate the ratings to justify upsetting advertisers (in case you have not been paying attention, the natural gas industry has launched a media blitz about its so-called “clean energy,” including on public broadcasting. Even the people’s network, it seems, has been hijacked by the industry).
Meanwhile, here in Doddridge County, West Virginia, groups like West Virginia Host Farms and the Doddridge County Watershed Association have been educating public health officials, journalists, researches and the general public about the dangers of fracking. Children are experiencing nose bleeds, people can’t sit outside in summer evenings for developing splitting headaches, and cancer rates are increasing. Indeed, I have interviewed a family whose daughter died of leukemia after being exposed to benzene. The benzene leeched into her well water from a fracking pad. Of course, the gas companies are hiding behind their lawyers in denial.
Simultaneously, all over the county, people drink water from storage tanks called water buffaloes. The water is simply not safe for human use because fracking pads dot the landscape, leeching and releasing untold amounts of benzene daily. Many of these families have had to use these storage tanks for years. Where is the outrage for them?
Meanwhile, in the southern part of the state, in Mingo County, a small community on top of a mountain near Kermit captures rain water, filters it, and stores it in water buffaloes. Yes, in the Unites States – “The greatest nation on the face of the earth. Period.” – as our president said the other night, West Virginia residents live as if they are citizens of a third world country.
And the media does nothing.
So, here is a plea to the mainstream media: Get out of your offices, put on some boots and jeans, rent a four-wheel drive and start visiting the shale fields, the mountaintop removal sites and the abandoned deep mine sites in West Virginia. Talk to the residents. Do not concern yourself with meeting with public officials unless you just want to get them on the record for admitting they can’t or won’t do their job, as in this story. Ironically, as you will read, the referenced story is about West Virginia DEP Secretary Randy Huffman visiting this very county last summer to investigate concerns about public health and safety.
If you want, I can introduce you to dozens of West Virginians that will be happy to tell their stories to you. They, then, will introduce you to their neighbors and friends. Then, before long, you will realize that poisoning people and the planet is “business as usual” in West Virginia.
As I noted in a recent article, the people get it – our institutions are failing from what I term “The Momentum of Mediocrity.” And yesterday, I posted an article reporting that two years after Freedom Industries made the water of the Kanawha Valley unusable for 300,000 people for over a week, virtually no progress has been made to address the root cause of that disaster. So, it is up to the people to tell their stories. Fortunately, West Virginia has numerous groups and individuals doing just that, every way they can.
Would we like to see the mainstream media report that West Virginias are dying from exposure to benzene and can’t drink their water because the energy industry pollutes it? Yes. But, we’re not holding our breath – for that. That’s because we’re too busy holding our breath every time the wind blows over a gas well.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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