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Dan Cook: Hugged a river lately?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Valley View is a slick bimonthly magazine focusing on Putnam County. Its editor solicited me to do the cover story and related photography for their inaugural issue in August 2013, "Our Most Valuable Resource." They blurbed it: "A Hurricane resident urges thoughtful stewardship of our plentiful water." (Contact me at and I will send you a reformatted .pdf copy.)The recent atrocity committed upon the Elk River has no doubt awakened a lot of folks to the fact that when your water supply becomes toxic, you are truly up the creek.That debacle lasted only a few days. Imagine what would happen if the damage wrought by that storage tank negligence had been permanent? All government facilities closed. Businesses moving outside the area affected or closing for good. Property values dropping below zero because no one wants any part of a toxic waste dump, even if you were giving it away.As the owner of a sign and printing business, I have years of experience managing flammable and fatal-if-ingested chemicals. Granted, the largest tank ever on my premises held only 275 gallons, but I was highly motivated to, as a leadership course in the Army taught me, "always have viable contingency plans."Hence, acidic, caustic and petrochemicals were stored separately, and there was always an ample supply of suitable empty containers to which contents of a leaking one could be transferred. Things especially dangerous were stored within a second, larger container.Besides considerations for visitor, employee and my own personal safety, I am a skinflint who hates to see costly materials wasted. But the biggest motivator was that my family and I lived next door to and downhill from my business. I have always said that owners of coal mines, chemical plants and other potential polluters should have to do the same -- especially billionaires like the chemical company-owning Koch brothers who spend millions every year slandering West Virginia on TV and in other ads accusing us of having a "bad business climate" and being a "judicial hellhole."Translation of the Koch diatribes: West Virginia has laws which limit "hooray for us and to hell with West Virginians!" environmental rapists like them dumping any scummy waste they want to into our soil, air and water.And, hellishly for the Koches, their kith and kin, West Virginia's courts at least marginally enforce those laws. The Elk River incident should convince any reasonable person that our Legislature and courts need to do more, not less.
During my 42 years in the graphics business, there were accidental spills and sudden leaks, but they were quickly stopped and contained so that nothing ever went into the sewer system, or even left the building. The cost of taking precautions was far less than the cost to my conscience (and perhaps my pocketbook) would have been.There is absolutely no excuse for harmful chemicals being released into our water supplies.None!Regardless of whether the management did nothing in advance to prepare for such leaks, or they, as has been proven by the polluting spill, made inadequate provisions -- or if they "did not know" -- they are absolutely guilty of incompetence and have no business managing such a facility.If they knew but did nothing just for the sake of their corporate pocketbook, there should be criminal charges for jailable offenses against the corporation and all its leadership. Their assets should have been frozen to prevent the usual ploy of selling them off to a shell corporation owned by their principals then bankrupting the gutted, violating entity.If you are one of those 300,000 affected by the recent chemical spill into the Elk River, you might now be convinced that environmental pollution is not some abstract crusade by those whom chemical polluters' lobbyists disparagingly insult as "tree huggers." It is real and can happen to you. When the water supplies are polluted, misery is inevitable.All of us should, at least symbolically, hug a clean river every day.
Cook is an author, artist and inventor who lives in Hurricane.
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