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WV Groups Send an Open Letter to Flint

West Virginians say news of lead contamination in the drinking water of Flint, Mich., is painfully familiar. (Friends of Water)
West Virginians say news of lead contamination in the drinking water of Flint, Mich., is painfully familiar. (Friends of Water)
February 9, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Nearly 40 West Virginia groups are sending an open letter to the people of Flint, Michigan saying they know what it's like to have contaminated drinking water.

When the news leaked that Flint's water has high levels of lead, many folks in Charleston immediately thought of the Freedom Industries chemical spill two years ago. Angie Rosser, executive director with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, says her heart goes out to Flint residents.

She says they're putting the letter in the newspaper there, committing to help however they can because they know what Flint is going though.

"Being frightened about the health of our families who are exposed," says Rosser. "And also the outrage, maybe information was held back, and that the government let us down."

After the Elk River spill, the West Virginia Legislature passed a law to protect drinking water from leaky above-ground storage tanks. It also put rules in place to protect the Kanawha River as a possible future source of drinking water. But Rosser says since then, the state and the affected industries have not built on that progress.

"No. We're seeing actually the opposite," she says. "That there have been rollbacks in protections."

The oil and gas industry has criticized the above-ground tank law as overly broad and intrusive. The chemical industry has argued that the Kanawha doesn't need that level of protection, which will hurt that industry's ability to compete.

Rosser says the Elk River spill and the water crisis in Flint show how dangerous it can be for public health to let water-quality protections erode.

"Why now add more pollution, especially those that are most dangerous to us? Especially in light after we saw the damage and the cost that can happen," says Rosser.

The Elk River chemical spill in January of 2014 meant 300,000 people in nine counties couldn't drink their tap water. Rosser says that situation, and what's happening in Flint, show that water needs to be valued more and better protected.



Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV