Bad Water

*Note: this article previously referenced Vox.com’s article, which says there are PA 18 cities where Children test higher than flint for lead poisoning. It’s been pointed out that this can be from lead paint (as is the case in Philly), and not necessarily from water sources.

There’s a water crisis in Flint, MI. If you haven’t followed the news let me catch you up. The city of Flint went bankrupt, and Michigan appointed an “emergency manager” to fix the budget. To save money, he unhooked their old water supply (from Detroit) and began pulling it from the polluted Flint River, instead. The river, not properly treated, corroded the city’s system of lead pipes, causing widespread lead poisoning. There’s been a lot of outcry and focus on Flint. The people who live there are upset, angry.

So am I.

Out of sympathy, yes. But also because we’ve got bad water in PA, too.

My water’s not drinkable. I mean really, I can’t taste it without making a nasty face, and I dare you to try. If you let it sit, it separates into rainbow-colored oil on top, with fuzzy brown particles on the bottom. I don’t know what it is or why. I just know it’s disgusting and scary. Chances are, has something to do with old coal mining, processing or factories.

I don’t even like showering in it, but what are you gunna do? My neighbor (who has 3 generations living on-again, off-again in their one bedroom apartment) said he doesn’t drink it either. He only drinks coffee, in hopes that brewing it purifies the water.

This town has a water system, but our slumlord landlord is cheap and keeps us on well water. It’s not the only way he’s tried to kill us.

We’re not the only ones on well water in town, either. And my town’s not so bad— I can’t imagine what it’s like in some of the other, even more run down towns in the area.

Water Trough Spring

Water Trough Spring, Central PA

So about once a week, I take a drive down to a good spring on Water Trough Road. There, I fill up a dozen jugs with fresh water. Long ago, someone ran a pipe into the spring so it’s easy to fill from. The clean water runs from the spring, under the road and then right into a dirty, orange coal creek. It feels special to get the good water before it’s ruined. Some of my family have been drinking from the same spring for generations.

It’s a popular spot. You always see people there. Some of them, like me, have bad well water. Some have “town water” and don’t trust it.

It’s a really nice place, but it’s sad if you think about how few places like that there are. You can’t trust most other springs in the area. Some even say you can’t trust this one.

Enough about my situation, though. There’s bad water everywhere. I want to tell you about the last time a water crisis made national headlines. Do you remember? People all across America were sending bottled water to help. It was two years ago, and the people in West Virginia have been taking action.

West Virginia

In 2014, a coal processing company (literally called “Freedom Industries”) leaked chemicals into Elk River, near the intake for the drinking water system of Charleston, WV and surrounding rural areas.  No one noticed until residents reported the smell in their water. A state of emergency was declared, and 300,000 people were told not to use the water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing or washing.

Chemical Leak, WV.
Chemical Leak, WV. Photo by Foo Conner

The chemical was “4-methylcyclohexanemethanol.” Good luck pronouncing that one.

Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy eight days after the spill. Just this past Thursday, the company was fined $900,000 (that even the judge admits will never be paid). Three officials from the company have been sentenced to probation, with fines.

American Water Company runs the drinking water system. They are a Jersey-based corporation with operations in 45 states and Canada. They had cut their chemical testing at their Charleston plant some years before to save money. After the chemical was discovered, they continued to supply and charge for the water. Just like Flint.

It took 2 months of cleanup before the smell left the water… but no one trusted the tap water anymore. Would you? In the aftermath, angry residents demanded that American Water start chemical monitoring again, and set up an alternative water source for future emergencies. The company pushed back— they didn’t want to invest in the water system. It would hurt their bottom line.

At first, residents protested the water company for continuing to bill them for water that was clearly contaminated. Now, two years later, they are demanding the water system go public. The campaign is called Our Water WV. They want safe & affordable drinking water, regardless of whether it’s a profitable enterprise. Of course, a public system isn’t a cure-all. Flint’s system was public, though, it was an un-elected official, given huge powers by the state, who poisoned the people of Flint. But from WV’s point of a view, a public system is crucial because it is (normally) run by politicians, who can be held accountable by local people, rather than a corporation, held accountable by Wall Street.


  1. I wonder how complicit the various governments are with the Nestle company that now owns many, many companies that sell bottled water. Capitalism, and by one of the nastiest companies in the world. Nestle is the company that sold, years ago, a baby formula that did not supply proper nutrients that resulted in the deaths of many babies. Also, the CEO of Nestle last year was quoted as saying: “Water is not a human right.”

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