Watered Down Justice

For Immediate Release: September 24, 2019


Pam Nixon, (304) 546-7764

Eric Whalen, (971) 998-8786

New Report: West Virginia Counties Rank Among Worst in Nation on Drinking Water Health Violations

Most West Virginians Served by Municipal Systems Drank Potentially Unsafe Water During the 3-Year Study

Charleston, WV — Most West Virginia counties rank among the worst in the nation for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to a new report released today. Watered Down Justice (full report and WV factsheet) is a new analysis of EPA data that confirms there is unequal access to safe drinking water, based most strongly on race, a scientific conclusion that mirrors the lived experience of people of color and low-income residents in the United States. The report reveals that 65% of West Virginia counties experienced enough health-based violations to place them in the worst third of counties nationally for serving potentially unsafe drinking water. The report also measured the amount of time counties were out-of-compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and found 76% of counties in West Virginia among the worst third of counties nationally.

The report, released in West Virginia by People Concerned About Chemical Safety, adds additional concern about the state’s drinking water systems as many believe the state is experiencing a drinking water crisis brought on by decades of industrial pollution, disinvestment, and the possibility of large-scale chemical spills. The West Virginia State Legislature recently passed up an opportunity to consider strengthened protections for water quality standards, pledging instead to consider a bill on the issue during the 2021 legislative session. The state Department of Environmental Protection plans to collect comments from interested parties in 2020.

“This report reveals that West Virginians are served some of the worst drinking water in the nation. Legacy contamination from industry, inadequate funding and support, and the potential for hazardous substance spills all pose a significant threat to the safety and security of our drinking water, particularly for those who live in communities of color or low-income. It’s time state authorities hold polluting industries accountable and take action to protect our water,” said Pam Nixon, President of People Concerned About Chemical Safety.

“Those of us who suffered through the MCHM spill in January of 2014 know all to well what it’s like not to be able to trust the water coming out of the tap. Unfortunately many West Virginian’s live with that reality every single day. Let’s stop perpetuating the false narrative that pits business interests versus environmental concerns. The fact of the matter is, nobody wants to live, raise children, or relocate a business to an area that doesn’t have such a crucial resource as clean, potable water,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha).

“Quality of life and quality of water go hand in hand. Recent studies have shown that life expectancy in many parts of West Virginia are far below the national average, and our poor health is at least partially the result of both poverty and environmental pollution. The fact that our legislature is dragging their feet on meaningful action to protect our drinking water is a rallying cry for action to everyone concerned about our health,” said Ricardo Martin, President of the Charleston, WV Branch of the NAACP.

Race, together with ethnicity and language spoken had the strongest relationship to serious longstanding violations and ineffective enforcement of the nation’s drinking water law, the Safe Drinking Water Act. Aging, underdeveloped, and underfunded water infrastructure contributes to unsafe water conditions, as does dysfunction of the law, in part because some dangerous contaminants are not regulated.

“All West Virginians deserve access to clean drinking water. It’s a quality of life issue, but it’s also an economic development issue. Safe drinking water is the most basic type of infrastructure, and businesses are less likely to grow in areas with chronic boil-water advisories or drinking water violations. Legislators need to re-commit to funding drinking water infrastructure investments,” said Delegate Evan Hansen (D-Monongalia).

“Three-hundred thousand West Virginians can tell you what it’s like to live through a water crisis. But the truth of the matter is, the crisis isn’t over. Too many of our residents remain vulnerable and exposed to harmful chemicals. It’s time for leaders to take a thorough inventory of all that compromises the safety of the water we drink and commit to changes necessary to protect people’s health—no matter where they live,” said Angie Rosser, Executive Director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

Drinking water safety is likely even worse than described in this report. The EPA regulates only a small subset of drinking water contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the agency has failed to adopt a single new standard for an unregulated contaminant since 1996. Many serious drinking water contamination threats (including polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances or PFASs, which have impacted drinking water sources in Parkersburg, WV, for example) are not violations of the law. Private wells and noncommunity water systems are also not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Pathogens, naturally occurring elements, agricultural chemicals, and nearby industrial activities such as mining frequently contaminate these drinking water sources.

Nearly 130 million people in the United States get their drinking water from systems that violated federal law during the three-year period covered by Watered Down Justice. Drinking contaminated water is linked to high costs to human health, including cancer, compromised fertility, developmental effects, serious infections, and more.

Key report findings for West Virginia:

  • Most municipal drinking water systems in West Virginia were in violation of the law at some point during the 3-year period of this study.
  • Of 55 Counties in West Virginia, 36 (65%) ranked among the worst-third of US counties for the most health-based violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and only seven are among the third of US counties which had the fewest health violations.
  • 42 of West Virginia’s 55 Counties (76%) were among the worst-third of US counties for longest time out-of-compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, and only four are in the third of US Counties with the shortest time out-of-compliance.

Recommendations to secure safe and affordable drinking water for every community in the United States include:

  • Improving the national law to measurably increase access to safe drinking water for communities of color, starting by identifying, engaging and funding water infrastructure projects;
  • Preventing water contamination, by effectively controlling industrial and agribusiness discharges and spills and by expanding the list of chemicals and substances regulated under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water law;
  • Enforcing the law to ensure safe drinking water for all.

Key national findings:

  • NRDC, EJHA, and Coming Clean analyzed the approximately 50,000 active community water systems in the country and sociodemographic factors such as race and income.
  • The data from June 1, 2016, to May 31, 2019, included nearly 200,000 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the federal law.
  • Drinking water systems that consistently violated the law for years were 40 percent more likely to occur in places with higher percentages of residents who were people of color.
  • 130 million people in the US get their drinking water from systems that violated federal law during the period reviewed in this report.




People Concerned About Chemical Safety is an environmental justice organization dedicated to the protection of health and safety of all who reside, work, and study in the vicinity of local chemical plants producing highly toxic chemicals. Learn more at ChemSafety.org and follow us on Twitter @PeopleConcerned.

The Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA) organizes industry reform strategies for safer chemicals and clean energy that leave no community or worker behind. Learn more about EJHA here: http://ej4all.org/

Coming Clean is a nonprofit collaborative network of environmental justice leaders, toxic chemical researchers, and public policy advocates working toward just, healthy, and sustainable chemical and climate solutions.  Learn more at ComingCleanInc.org.  Follow us on Twitter @StopToxics

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Pam Nixon testifies before Congress on EPA’s failure to enact Aboveground Storage Tank legislation

Watch PCACS’ President, Pam Nixon, testifying before the Congressional House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing on “The Administration’s Priorities and Policy Initiatives Under the Clean Water Act” on September 18, 2019 about EPA’s failure to protect communities from water contamination from aboveground storage tanks.  Panel testimony available here.

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Earth Day EJHA stories with Rashida Jones and NRDC

There are over 12,000 high-risk chemical facilities in America — and roughly 40% of U.S. residents live within three miles of them. For Earth Day, we teamed up with NRDC.org, Rashida Jones, and Molly Crabapple to tell the stories of these vulnerable #fenceline communities — which are disproportionately black and Latino — that live every day with the threat of chemical leaks, spills, and explosions that threaten families’ health, their livelihoods, and ultimately, their lives. It’s time we tell the Trump administration and Congress to take immediate action to protect our communities from the dangers of toxic facilities!

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Pam Nixon testifies before Congress on Chemical Facilities and Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS)

On March 12th, 2019, our fearless leader, Pam Nixon, testified before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security’s Sub-committee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Hearing on “Securing Our Nation’s Chemical Facilities: Stakeholder Perspectives on Improving the CFATS Program.” Watch her testimony on how chemical security issues affect #fenceline communities at here (starting at 29:11).

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Claim Independence from Toxics in Dollar Stores!

Join the Campaign for Healthier Solutions (CHS) with Los Jardines-Institute, Tejas Barrios, Lideras Campesinas, People Concerned About Chemical Safety, and Jennifer Beals.

Sign the petition: http://chn.ge/1IrawaT

Ask Family Dollar, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and 99 Cents Only Stores to phase out toxic chemicals found in your products and stop exposing your customers, their children, and your employees to unnecessary risks.  It’s time to claim our independence from toxics in Dollar Stores!

See our Campaign for Healthier Solutions page for local details or visit www.nontoxicdollarstores.org for more details.

Posted in Campaign for Healthier Solutions, chemical, chemical disaster, chemical safety, chemical safety regulation, chlorine, Dollar Store Campaign, environmental health, environmental justice, right-to-know, toxic, toxic exposure, Toxic Substance Control Act, TSCA, Who's in Danger?: Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Why inhalation studies are important…

Posted in #SinceWestTX, #wvwatercrisis, chemical disaster, chemical safety, chemical safety regulation, Chemical Valley, environmental health, MCHM, right-to-know, toxic, toxic exposure, Toxic Substance Control Act, TSCA, Uncategorized, water quality, WV Water Crisis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

National Toxicology Program response

Read our letter to the National Toxicology Program regarding their most recent findings: NTP Letter

Posted in #SinceWestTX, #wvwatercrisis, chemical disaster, chemical safety, Chemical Safety Board, chemical safety regulation, Chemical Valley, environmental health, EPA, EPCRA, Executive Order 13650, fenceline community, Institute, Kanawha River, MCHM, Poverty and Chemical Disasters, right-to-know, toxic exposure, Toxic Substance Control Act, TSCA, water quality, Who's in Danger?: Race, WV Water Crisis | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Draft Roadmap Public Meeting


CONTACT:  Maya Nye, Executive Director, 304-389-6859 or maya@chemsafety.org


Roadmap to Chemical Release Prevention in Kanawha Valley

Join us for our May 15th Public Meeting!


  • WHO? The Chemical Release Prevention Project sponsored by People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a local non-profit organization dedicated to preventing chemical disasters. Presentations by Maya Nye, Chemical Release Prevention Project coordinator, and Rick Engler, board member, U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.
  • WHEN? Friday, May 15, 5:30-7:30pm (arrive by 5pm for the optional facility tour)
  • WHERE? BridgeValley Community and Technical College, The Advanced Technology Center (Room 132), 201 Science Park Drive, South Charleston, WV
  • WHY? Since October, People Concerned About Chemical Safety has been working with representatives from public health, environmental and emergency response agencies along with citizens, labor and chemical process experts to develop a roadmap for implementing the outstanding U.S. Chemical Safety Board recommendations.  Join us as we present our draft roadmap and hear from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board on updates to their recommendation. As enacted under SB373, the Aboveground Storage Tank bill, the Public Water Supply Service Study Commission will review the outcomes of this roadmap in consideration of their final recommendations to the legislature in June 2015. This event is open to the public. Public comments accepted. Details at cc/WVChemSafety.


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Local group calls on DEP to prevent cutting corners in Freedom site cleanup


Media Contact: Maya Nye, 304-389-6859 or maya@chemsafety.org

Charleston, WV — People Concerned About Chemical Safety (PCACS) is urging West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to prevent cutting corners on cleanup at the Freedom Industries site. They are also calling on lawmakers to fix federal laws that prevent DEP and public health officials from having the toxicological information they need to characterize risk and expedite cleanup.

Since the January 9, 2014 Elk River chemical spill, people have been pushing for testing to determine the long-term health effects of exposure to the crude-MCHM chemical compound. However, according to an April 26, 2014 Sunday Gazette-Mail article, “Freedom Industries seeks quick OK of leak site cleanup plan,” by Ken Ward, Jr., Freedom Industries officials are pressuring DEP to expedite the cleanup to “consummate a bankruptcy liquidation plan by mid-June.” Recent tests, however, performed by U.S. Geological Survey, Virginia Tech and University of Memphis leave more questions on the toxicity of the spilled material.

      • Past studies assume the spilled material to have the same fate properties regardless of temperature. However, a recent report from Virginia Tech and University of Memphis indicates differing fate properties[1] proving the previous hypothesis false. This indicates the potential for exposure concentrations to vary.
      • The U.S. Geological Survey recently determined that a form of methyl 4-methylcyclohexanecarboxylate (or MMCHC), was identified as another component of the spilled material[2] and that it “likely contributed to the tap water odor complaints of Charleston residents.”[3] No toxicological data is available for this chemical and the CDC has never established a screening level for this chemical.

What is clear from these recent findings is that the data does not yet exist to properly determine the risk at the Freedom cleanup site. In light of these findings, PCACS is urging DEP to ensure additional tests are performed to properly characterize site risk. To fund this process, DEP is eligible to seek restitution from the criminal case.

“The Freedom cleanup should not be driven by the bankruptcy settlement,” says Maya Nye, PCACS Executive Director. “We want to make sure that the cleanup is based on science so that years down the road we don’t find ourselves with another water contamination issue from this site. There is no reason why the criminals in this matter should get to walk away leaving taxpayers with the bill or a partially cleaned up site. They caused this mess and they should be responsible for ensuring that it is properly cleaned up, and that is going to require further toxicity testing,” says Nye.

Recent efforts co-sponsored by Senators Capito and Manchin to reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act still would not require that chemicals like MCHM are tested prior to being on the market. It also would preempt the state of West Virginia from taking such an initiative. According to Nye, “If the toxicity testing was required of chemicals before being placed on the market, DEP would have the information needed to characterize risk at the cleanup site, but they don’t. We are hopeful that our Senators will fix this gaping hole in current reform efforts.”

While they are not required to take comments into consideration under the Voluntary Remediation Program, DEP has set up an email address DEPVRPComments@wv.gov by which to receive comments regarding the Freedom cleanup. PCACS is urging citizens to contact DEP and tell them not to cut corners on cleanup. Visit www.chemsafety.org for more information.


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[1] Partitioning, Aqueous Solubility, and Dipole Moment Data for cis- and trans-(4-Methylcyclohexyl)methanol, Principal Contaminants of the West Virginia Chemical Spill. Andrea M. Dietrich, Ashly Thomas, Yang Zhao, Elizabeth Smiley, Narasimhamurthy Shanaiah, Megan Ahart, Katherine A. Charbonnet, Nathan J. DeYonker, William A. Alexander, and Daniel L. Gallagher, Environmental Science & Technology Letters 2015 2 (4), 123-127 DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.5b00061

[2] William T. Foreman, Donna L. Rose, Douglas B. Chambers, Angela S. Crain, Lucinda K. Murtagh, Haresh Thakellapalli, Kung K. Wang, Determination of (4-methylcyclohexyl)methanol isomers by heated purge-and-trap GC/MS in water samples from the 2014 Elk River, West Virginia, chemical spill, Chemosphere, Available online 24 December 2014, ISSN 0045-6535, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2014.11.006. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0045653514012648) Keywords: Methylcychlohexane methanol; Chemical spill; Contamination; Water; Isomer; GC/MS

[3] http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=4095&from=rss – .VT1miGbfesg

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Take easy action by April 17th & upcoming events


Tuesday, April 21st @ 6:00PM image17-200x300

FILM: Dear White People

Sponsored by American Friends Service Committee and PCACS

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film explores racial identity in acutely-not-post-racial America while weaving a universal story of forging one’s unique path in the world.


the-human-experiment-for-web-204x300Tuesday, April 21st @ 8:30PM

FILM: The Human Experiment

With thousands of untested chemicals in our everyday products, have we all become unwitting guinea pigs in one giant human experiment? The powerful and inspiring new documentary “The Human Experiment” goes behind the scenes in the fight to protect us from these toxic products before they cause irrevocable harm to our health.


Wednesday, April 22nd @ 6:30PM

FILM: Elk River Blues

Sponsored by WVIFF,WV Rivers Coalition & WV Citizen Action Group

Elk River Blues, sparked into eximage19-300x168istence after the historic spill in January 2014 of over 10,000 gallons of a coal-cleaning chemical called ‘crude MCHM’, documents the culture of lax regulation and legislative oversight in West Virginia.


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Posted in #SinceWestTX, #WVDerail, chemical safety, Chemical Valley, EPA, EPCRA, Executive Order 13650, MCHM, Poverty and Chemical Disasters, Process Safety Management, PSM, right-to-know, Risk Management Plans, Toxic Substance Control Act, TSCA, Uncategorized, water quality, Who's in Danger?: Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off