WV Book Team: Forthcoming book documents the 2014 Elk River chemical spill

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On Jan. 9, 2014, residents across Charleston, West Virginia, awoke to an unusual licorice smell in the air and a similar taste in the public drinking water.

That evening, residents were informed the tap water in tens of thousands of homes, hundreds of businesses, and dozens of schools and hospitals — the water made available to as many as 300,000 citizens in a nine-county region — had been contaminated with a chemical used for cleaning crushed coal.

“I’m Afraid of That Water,” announced in the new catalog from West Virginia University Press and available this spring, tells a particular set of stories about that chemical spill and its aftermath, an unfolding water crisis that would lead to months, even years, of fear and distrust.

Edited by Luke Eric Lassiter and Brian A. Hoey of Marshall University and Elizabeth Campbell of Appalachian State, the book was jointly conceptualized, researched, and written by people — more than fifty in all — across various positions in academia and local communities. “I’m Afraid of That Water” foregrounds the ongoing concerns of West Virginians (and people in comparable situations in places like Flint, Michigan) confronted by the problem of contamination, where thresholds for official safety may be crossed, but a genuine return to normality is elusive.

West Virginia writer Cat Pleska, a contributor to “I’m Afraid of That Water,” says of the book: “This is storytelling at its best, allowing for a large swath of the public to talk about the devastating effects of water contamination. All the chapter contributors coordinated smoothly to make this a highly readable book for the general, as well as the scholarly, audience. Such tragic events are likely on the rise. We must be informed and prepared.”

PB 978-1-949199-37-6 $29.99

To order WVU Press books visit wvupress.com, phone (800) 621-2736, or visit a local bookstore like Taylor Books or West Virginia Book Company in Charleston. To learn more about WVU Press, visit wvupress.com or Booktimist: A Blog about Books and Culture from West Virginia University Press. For updates on books and events, follow WVU Press on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or join our mailing list on wvupress.com.

Derek Krissoff is the director of West Virginia University Press. Reach him by email at derek.krissoff@mail.wvu.edu.