The one-year “anniversary” of the Elk River Chemical Spill was on January 9th.
This time last year, I was prepping for a professional writing course and saw friends on Facebook talking about a chemical spill in the river in my hometown. I texted my dad who was boiling water for spaghetti at the time. When the news first broke, there were no details about what counties were affected, about what you should do (or not do) with the water. Then, there was conflicting information about how to flush your system. People posted photos of skin rashes, reported their eyes and throats burning as they followed the instructions issued by officials. People started buying bottled water en masse (and bottled water was delivered by the National Guard). When I went home for the holidays a few weeks ago, I noticed that my dad was still drinking bottled water. It’s still unclear what the effects of the water are/will be.
Clean water (or a lack thereof) is not an unfamiliar topic in coal country, but I think many of us don’t really think of Charleston as coal country, despite the coal processing plants in the area and the Kanawha Valley’s less-than-affectionate nickname, “Chemical Valley.”
When I started my class the week after the spill, many of my students in CNY were unfamiliar with the issue, even though it was reported on by many national media outlets. The spill has important implications for folks in WV, yes, but it also affects people in surrounding areas and contributes to national conversations. Clean water discourse resonates with the fracking discourses in CNY. The way locals used social media and storytelling during and after the crisis has important implications for those of us who are interested in civic engagement and how narrative functions as a powerful mode of knowledge dissemination and community-building. And the conflicted responses of government officials–as I argued last year–can teach us a lot about environmental disaster discourses and professional communication (& the way we [fail to] communicate information clearly & effectively in a crisis).
I just wanted to share a few resources that have come across my various feeds recently that could be useful for folks wanting to know more about what’s happening or who want to incorporate some of these texts into the classroom:
- “On the Anniversary of the Elk River Chemical Spill, West Virginians Tell Their Stories” – The Huffington Post (for discussion of the power of storytelling)
- West Virginia Water Crisis – a series of blog posts & snippets from a documentary project by Krista Bryson (for discussions of constructing arguments through video)
- “How to Flush Your Plumbing System” – WV American Water (for professional & technical writing classes & discussions of instructions)
- Elk River Chemical Spill – a series of articles & podcasts from West Virginia Public Broadcasting (for discussions of how an issue is represented differently by diff media & stakeholders)
- OVEC_WV – the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition’s twitter account (for civic writing classes & discussions of grassroots organizing/coalition building)