By April Pierson-Keating
Recently, I wrote to my West Virginia senators and delegates and told them my story of growing up in Chemical Valley and ending up with metastatic breast cancer.
The tumors are not the kind you can just remove — the cancer is in my bones. My doctors think it has to do with my growing up in Charleston where I drank the water, breathed the air, walked to and from school each day, and played outside as much as possible.
We do know that the environment is a bigger factor in who gets cancer than genetics. Eighty percent of people who get breast cancer did not have a family history. No one in my family had any form of cancer, and I have one of the most life-threatening types.
Putting more cancer-causing chemicals into the streams does not make sense. There is no evidence it will create jobs, but it does have the potential to keep people from coming here to start businesses and families.
We have to ask ourselves why people are leaving the state. Lack of opportunity is one of the biggest reasons. I believe toxic water and air is another. Developing sustainable industries — solar, medical marijuana, agriculture, tourism — would give us an economic boost and improve life for our people here.
But there is another reason not to toxify our water. Gas and coal extraction releases cancer-causing chemicals and makes people sick. That costs the state money. Remediating toxic streams also costs money.
Property damage from storms due to the warming planet will cost money — indeed, it already has. The change in weather and temperature will also affect our ability to grow food. You certainly can’t grow organic or claim chemical-free food in a place with toxic water. And no one wants to swim, fish, or kayak in toxic water. Tourism, anyone?
We should be insulated here, since we have so much good water and good growing conditions, but we are losing it fast to industrial processes like fracking. Many people have lost their water from this process. Many are sickened. Many have left. People leaving the state will cost not just tax revenue. If we don’t gain about 60,000 in population, we will lose a seat in the House of Representatives.
West Virginia has a higher cancer rate than the national average. Our quality of life is the worst in the nation, according to the Gallup-Healthways scale of well-being. We can change all that, but allowing more toxins into the water is not part of that progress.
A recent notice put out by West Virginia Rivers Coalition explains: “SB 687 proposes to make West Virginia’s narrative water quality standards among the weakest in the nation by changing how a stream’s biological health is measured. The current method, sampling of benthic macroinvertebrates — the insects and animals that live at the bottom of a stream — is used by the majority of the country and all of West Virginia’s neighboring states. It is the most accurate and scientifically-sound way to understand a stream’s health. By using fish as biological indicators, as SB 687 proposes, the base of the food chain for stream life could be killed off before problems would even be identified — risking leaving West Virginia with more dead streams and expensive restoration costs.”
Our legislative contacts are easily accessible online. Please, communicate with your representatives and ask them to protect our people by protecting our water. Let’s show the rest of the country that West Virginia leadership cares about its citizens and has a long-term vision of health and prosperity by voting against SB 687.
April Pierson-Keating, of Buckhannon, is a member of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance.