I recently had a conversation with one of our Eastern Panhandle legislators, Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson. At the end of a long discussion about the Rockwool facility coming to Ranson, he asked me: “If you can’t count on the EPA and the DEP, then who do you count on?”

I took that question home with me and pondered it in light of all I know about the poisoning of the place where I was born, the Kanawha Valley, better known as Chemical Valley.

I grew up in Charleston along the Kanawha River in the 1940s. At that time, the river was a dark, turgid, festering sewer that you wouldn’t even put your toe in. Alex Cole, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition’s (OVEC) new organizer, is right that no one alive today even remembers when the Kanawha River was clean and free flowing.

Today, the Kanawha looks the same as it did in the ’40s. We know that the polychlorenated biphenyls (PCBs) lodged in the mud of the riverbed can never be removed unless you stop the water flow and dredge the whole length of the riverbed. Then where do you put the PCB-laden waste? Good old DuPont.

Why didn’t my grandfather stop them when they came to the Valley before I was born? If we let Rockwool get a toehold in the Shenandoah Valley, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be asking the same question.

Check out what else Cole has to say about the rivers flowing from Chemical Valley:

“Other people know where I live as Chemical Valley, and I see it that way, too. Many of the people in that cemetery ended up there with cancer after years of working for Carbide, DOW, FMC, Monsanto, Ambrosia, DuPont, Bayer, ClearOn, or Chemours ... pick your poison, any one of the ever-changing names upriver in Charleston is likely to kill you.”

When I retired in 1998, I moved back to the Kanawha Valley, the familiar rock outcrops and hills I loved and remembered. People told me things were cleaner than they were when I left. I believed them.

Then I noticed the river looked the same. My sense of smell told me the effluent from the chemical plants was not being discharged into our air at high noon. One sleepless night I was on my porch at 2 a.m. and I learned why DuPont was not pumping their effluent at noontime. They were waiting until the early morning hours. I checked on other nights and learned you could set your watch by the stench in the air.

After that came a chemical effluent mistake that made everything in the valley stink. It permeated into the upholstery of closed automobiles. It lodged in the carpet in the hallway of the building where I lived.

I had purchased a big pine Christmas decoration and put it in the hallway of the building where I lived at Quarrier Street and Greenbrier Street. My neighbor and I never smelled pine again. The stench outlasted Christmas.

Many in Jefferson County are already questioning the quality of our water. Have you noticed the strong and unappetizing smell of chlorine in our tap water? Because of our karst geology in the Eastern Panhandle, Rockwool’s poisonous runoff could quickly enter our aquifer and make the water unusable for human consumption.

Then we in Jefferson County would be in trouble, as they were during the 2014 water crisis in the Kanawha Valley when 300,000 people were without water for more than a week. What a burdensome expense it is to buy all your drinking and cooking water and carry a carton of bottled water up a flight of stairs. Do we really want to bring the Kanawha Valley to the Eastern Panhandle? Do we really want to be in a place where we can’t swim in the river or eat the fish we catch?

After all the pondering and thinking about Delegate Espinosa’s question, I still have no answer as to why we can’t depend on the EPA or the DEP. I believe that is a question our Eastern Panhandle legislators need to get answered for us.

I want them to stop our West Virginia Development Office from going to the European Union and accepting projects that are too toxic to be located in Europe. Our legislators must put a stop to this sneaking, dirty, polluting deal. No more European garbage for West Virginians.

Why would you send a Rockwool stink bomb to one of the two places in the state that is gaining population? Jefferson County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state. Because of population loss and loss of income in Southern West Virginia, the state is more and more dependent on Eastern Panhandle taxes to clean up after the extractive industries and to finance Medicaid for those who are part of the cancer clusters downstate.

When I look at the environmental destruction, the poisonous effluent, the permanently destroyed Kanawha River and the cancer clusters in Southern West Virginia, I am forced to acknowledge that we can’t depend on the EPA and the WVDEP. Let’s hope West Virginia’s 84th Legislative Session will shed some light on this subject.

Regina Hendrix resides in Charles Town.