Stupidity bordering on criminal

The water contamination story in Charleston was a screw-up for the record books. Kanawha County got clobbered when corporate stupidity teamed up with government clumsiness.

Elected officials who wouldn’t know a cyclic hydrocarbon from their elbow were quick to assure everyone there was no health risk. Elected officials should know better. If you don’t understand the subject matter then shut up and let qualified people do the talking. The problem was, nobody seemed to be qualified to discuss the technical aspects of this fiasco including the people who were marketing the chemical. After a few days everyone was told it’s OK to drink the water. Then they were told don’t drink it! Then again, it’s OK to drink if you’re not pregnant. Then we learned the contaminate was a mixture of half a dozen hydrocarbons, none of which had a fully researched safety data sheet available for reference. Translation? Nobody really knew anything about this smelly, toxic chemical mixture!

The corporate stupidity was mind-boggling and bordered on being criminal. When environmental officials showed up to investigate multiple complaints about strong odors issuing from Freedom Industries they were assured there were no problems. The odor was just some vapor escaping when trucks were loaded. Corporate deceit was quickly revealed when inspectors found a major leak in a storage tank that employees of Freedom were trying to fix.

The Kanawha Valley water supply comes out of the Elk River a mile downstream of the chemical leak. It took the water company nearly four hours to decide to stop pumping contaminated water after they were notified of the leak.

We learned that state and federal environmental authorities only regulate manufacturing plants. They don’t regulate storage depots like the Elk River site. Hello? How stupid is that corporate loop-hole. When a journalist suggested more regulation to fix that problem the conservative element in the audience said more regulation was bad and would drive businesses and jobs out of West Virginia. That’s the standard reply we hear every time the people try to force corporate America to be more responsible and accountable.

This type of stupid behavior will happen again. Elected officials will, again, make fools of themselves in public. And corporations will go on lying and cheating until lawmakers develop some guts and assign tough criminal penalties to punish corporate nitwits who think the profit motive trumps public health and welfare.

Ralph Chambers