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West Virginia chemical spill raises environmental terrorism questions

Nine counties around Charleston, West Virginia, the state capital, are dealing with the aftermath of a chemical spill that contaminated water for 300,000 area residents.

West Virginia chemical spill causes water contamination for 300,000 Charleston residents
West Virginia chemical spill causes water contamination for 300,000 Charleston residents
Photo by Tom Hindman/Getty Images

Last Thursday, an undetermined amount of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a chemical used to clean coal also known as MCHM, leaked out of a 40,000-gallon storage tank along the Elk River.

On Monday, West Virginia American Water began lifting the ban on tap water on a zone by zone basis. In a series of press releases on their website West Virginia American Water updated a map on where water bans were being lifted and gave customers instructions on how to flush their home plumbing systems.

On Tuesday, news reports told of lawyers gearing up to sue Freedom Industries, the company behind the West Virginia chemical spill, and looking at who to blame in the aftermath of the chemical spill.

An serious example of potential danger

No one has suggested the chemical spill in West Virginia has been anything other than an accident. Thankfully there have been no reports of illness or injury as a result of the accident. But the West Virginia chemical spill provides a very real example of what could happen in an act of environmental terrorism.

If an accidental chemical spill can disrupt the water supply of over 300,000 citizens for nearly a week, how much damage could be done if this were a deliberate act, properly planned for maximum effect?

An act of environmental terrorism, as in contaminating a water supply, could cause a tremendous amount of political chaos and social disruption.

A terrorist looking to contaminate the water supply needs to have something to use as a contaminant. It is convenient for the terrorist, and dangerous for the citizens, if there are large tanks of toxic chemicals near a river that feeds into the water supply.

Do local governments give much thought to how and where chemicals are stored?

What safeguards are in place to prevent accidents like this from happening in the future?

The questions raised here gives us cause to stop and think about the value of our water supply.

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If your primary source of water were cut off for an extended period of time, are you prepared?

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