If Big Coal Poisoned Our Water This Time, Which Terrorists Do It Next?

If Big Coal Poisoned Our Water This Time, Which Terrorists Do It Next?

If Big Coal Poisoned Our Water This Time, Which Terrorists Do It Next?

West Virginian officials are only slowly lifting the ban on using tap water in a nine-county area surrounding the city of Charleston, the state capital. More than 300,000 Americans have had to line up for water deliveries like refugees in a war zone. If some Al-Qaeda wannabe had claimed responsibility, the country would be under the kind of lockdown we saw in the days after the Twin Towers and Pentagon were attacked. Since an American corporation put 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River that supplies the area’s drinking water, no one outside the state seems to care. And the fact that the state is West Virginia instead of a media-rich place like New York or California is also keeping the lid on things. It’s pathetic.

Before we go any further, let it be clear that I am not equating American businesspeople with terrorists. Mohammed’s morons meant to fly the planes into the buildings. Freedom Industries didn’t mean to poison the water supply. In fact, I am quite sure that the company’s officers would rather the junk stayed in its storage tanks. They have expense accounts to pad, stock to manipulate and spouses to cheat on. Intentions and motivations do matter.

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That said, whether the poison came from Al-Qaeda impersonators (the real Al-Qaeda is almost completely gone now — it’s become a franchise operation) or from an industrial accident, the people around Charleston, W.Va., still can’t drink their tap water. Businesses had to close, and the source of the poison has no effect on that.

What unites 9/11 and this spill is the lousy security and inspection habits of America. Lax security at airports in Boston and Newark let terrorists with weapons onto planes. Imagine if someone at the metal detectors had said, “Sorry, sir, but you can’t take that box cutter on the plane.”

Lousy inspection and maintenance allowed the storage facility in West Virginia to leak. I am not giving any secrets away if I point out that someone who wishes America ill has noticed this, and he is even now thinking about how to deliberately replicate this accident. I’ll throw in that our power plants (nuclear and otherwise), electric grid, port facilities and bridges are just as vulnerable to accidents and attacks.


Our government is being half-assed about protecting us because, well, gosh darn it, it’s going to cost money. In 2002, Congress passed a law requiring utilities to study vulnerabilities and report them to the EPA. There was, however, no penalty for failing to do so. In 2007, Congress passed a law requiring security plans for chemical plants, but it exempted water treatment facilities. Apparently, if the poison is in a chemical plant it’s a threat; if it’s at a wastewater treatment plant, it’s not. In 2009, the House passed a bill to fix that, but it died in the Senate. Why? Because lobbying on behalf of the water companies prevented it.

Until now, we thought it was too hard to get enough poison into the water system. You’d need loads of the stuff because water automatically dilutes chemicals. Now, we know that the industry has thoughtfully pre-positioned massive amounts of poison right next to our rivers. It’s going to cost a lot to remove all of it from vulnerable areas. It’s going to cost a lot to inspect and secure all the dangerous chemicals in America.

But just ask the folks in West Virginia if it would be worth it.

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