Remember that chemical spill in West Virginia we reported on last month? It left over 500,000 people without tap water for drinking, bathing, cooking, and even cleaning, and forced schools and nearby businesses to close.
The governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, has declared a state of emergency in 9 separate counties after the spill.
FEMA has graciously been providing bottled water and other assistance since the disaster ; However, state and local agencies have spent millions of dollars to handle the crisis. Governor Tomblin asked FEMA for grant assistance to provide the state with federal funding to reimburse it and the counties for providing clean water.
FEMA said “no”. Instead of helping W. Virginia cope with this crisis, Elizabeth A. Zimmerman (a FEMA administrator) wrote a letter to the governor, saying:
Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the event was not of such severity and magnitude as to warrant grant assistance under this emergency declaration.
Governor Tomblin’s response?
I am extremely disappointed by FEMA’s initial response, and I share the frustration and anger of West Virginians who have endured this crisis.
The extra FEMA aid that he requested is called “Category B, Emergency Protective Measures”, which is defined by FEMA as “activities undertaken by a community before, during and following a disaster,” that are necessary to reduce an immediate threat to life, health or safety.
In his request, he wrote:
This is necessary due to the extraordinary expenditures incurred by state and local responding agencies and the adverse effects on the economy and tax revenues. I must emphasize that the response is ongoing and several of the key agencies have not been able to take the time to provide estimates of their costs.
One source has estimated that hotels and restaurants have lost $1 million in revenue a day, while other businesses have had to close part of their operation.
While the initial emergency declaration was approved and resources were provided to support the immediate response, it was determined in this case certain costs associated with the response and recovery efforts were not beyond the response and recovery capabilities of state and local governments.
The governor and some members of W. Virginia’s congressional delegation are working on appealing FEMA’s decision.
The company responsible for the spill, Freedom Industries, immediately filed for bankruptcy after the incident, which makes it really hard for anyone to sue them for damages.
In the meantime, W. Virginia is still suffering the consequences of the spill – a shipment of bottle water brought by FEMA had to be removed from three schools in Kanawha County because of “odor and taste problems”. According to the West Virginia Gazette:
The bottled water was described as “musty” with a “strong odor” and “a problem with the taste,” according to a news release from the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. The water issues were related to storage, not the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM, which tainted the region’s drinking water.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper also urged the state’s congressional delegation to push for further assistance from FEMA. Carper said expenses for Kanawha County alone are expected to reach $500,000.
The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department believes the bottled water problem in schools is limited to Ice Mountain brand water. The Health Department immediately halted distribution of the water on Wednesday.
The water was in use at Sharon Dawes Elementary, John Adams Middle and Andrew Jackson Middle schools.
The ban on its use applies to one specific lot of Ice Mountain, although other lots of Ice Mountain water in storage have been taken out of circulation.
A spokeswoman for Ice Mountain, which is owned by Nestle, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman Allison Adler assured the public that the water tested negative for bacteria, but that further testing is being done:
The bottled water program has been in contact with the manufacturer regarding the taste and odor concerns and samples have been submitted to the company for further testing and investigation. It is believed that the odor is related to where the water bottles were stored prior to being donated to West Virginia’s schools.
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