We’ve had an abundance of industrial disasters lately – a fertilizer plant fire in Texas, a train wreck in Canada that destroyed a town and killed 47 people, pipeline ruptures that poisoned wide swaths of farmland, and most recently, the chemical storage tank leak in West Virginia that poisoned the capital city’s water supply. One of the more egregious things about this last incident is the responsible company filed bankruptcy immediately after the spill, effectively absolving themselves of any liability. West Virginians have not only had to live with the direct effects of the spill and lack of water, but they will now have to pay for it too. The company’s name, Freedom Industries, is priceless - must mean the freedom to do whatever they want.
I like to think we’re somewhat protected here in Madison County, but then I look around. Our portion of the French Broad River, that provides a significant economic boost to the county through recreation and tourism, is also downstream from industrial parks, water treatment plants and large farms. The Norfolk Southern rail line that parallels the river is a major conduit for coal and chemicals coming from Kentucky and West Virginia. A train derailment in Marshall or Hot Springs, or into the River could be catastrophic. Trucks on I-26 could be carrying most anything from hazardous wastes to petroleum products. Yet even with those hazards, our danger from industrial accidents, while worse than many places, is not nearly as bad as many others.
We’ve made the choice to use chemicals and fossil fuels and, despite our encouraging steps toward alternative energy sources, we’ll be burning coal and gas for a while longer. Since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve intertwined our industrial worlds with our personal lives and it’s always been to the detriment of our communities and natural world. Until we decide our public and environmental health take precedence over the irresponsibility and profits of large corporations, I'm afraid we will see only an increase in the type of unnatural disasters we've been seeing lately.