An explosion in a fertilizer storage warehouse in Northwood, Iowa, near the Minnesota border, led to the evacuation of the town’s 2,000 residents Feb. 20. Plumes of smoke saturated with sulfuric acid and other chemicals hovered over the town as a result of the 7:30 a.m. fire at Northwood AG Products, in the city’s airport.
“The cops came to my house at 9:30 and told me I had to leave,” Dennis Lau told the Mason City Globe Gazette. “We didn’t know what was going on. They just told us to get out of town as fast as we could.” The evacuation lasted through late afternoon.
In southern West Virginia, working people are still dealing with the consequences of a Jan. 9 chemical leak from Freedom Industries. Use of tap water was banned for up to 10 days for 300,000 people in nine counties.
“Once they lifted the ban, we went ahead and showered but we still don’t drink the water,” Bentley Kirk, a surface miner from Madison in Boone County, told the Militant in a phone interview Feb. 23. “For a while bottle water was supplied to us. We now have to buy it ourselves.”
Up to 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), which separates coal from waste material, was dumped into the Elk River, a mile upstream of intake pipes for the West Virginia American Water Company, just outside Charleston, the state capital.
Freedom Industries’ storage tanks were half a century old. An October 2013 inspection found the tanks failed to meet federal safety standards. The tank containing MCHM wasn’t even inspected by the private company conducting the review, the Wall Street Journal said Feb. 10, because the Environmental Protection Agency considers the substance to be “nonhazardous.”
On Jan. 18, the same day state officials and the water company gave the go-ahead to drink the water in all counties, high levels of the chemical were detected in a half dozen schools in the Charleston area. Three weeks later a teacher and several students at Riverside High School were taken to the hospital after they collapsed from inhaling strong fumes, with MCHM’s characteristic licorice odor, coming out of the water faucet.
During the water ban “we sent our kids to stay with family in Kentucky,” said Kirk, “but my wife and I work so we had to stay here and tough it out.”
This situation “has had a lingering effect,” Kirk said. “You can’t get anybody to say you can drink the water but they say you can wash clothes in it. They said chemical levels were so low they weren’t registering, but they’re still flushing the water lines.”
Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy eight days after the leak occurred. A month later the company announced plans to entirely shut down its operations.
In North Carolina, a pipe running under a coal ash pond collapsed Feb. 2 at a closed power plant owned by Duke Energy. Over the next week up to 82,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of water gushed into the Dan River, which runs between North Carolina and Virginia. Coal ash is a by-product of burning coal to produce electricity.
While a company spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that municipal water supplies downstream had not been affected, the state Department of Health and Human Services is warning people not to eat fish from the area.
In Kentucky, a natural gas pipeline exploded Feb. 13 in Knifley, about 90 miles south of Louisville. The 1 a.m. blast set three houses ablaze, destroying two of them, and forced residents of 20 houses to evacuate.
The “30-inch pipeline supplies some of the fuel used to heat millions of homes and businesses in the Northeast and Midwest,” reported Reuters.
That same day, a Norfolk Southern Corp. train carrying crude oil derailed in western Pennsylvania. Similar recent incidents have caused explosive fires, although none was reported this time.
Capitalism advances the growth of humanity’s wealth only “by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the worker,” Karl Marx, a founding leader of the communist movement, noted in 1867. This observation is more urgent today.
What’s behind vote against UAW at Tenn. auto plant?
Australia construction workers walk out over co-worker’s death
Fight for workers control of industry
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home