After the recent diesel spill in Anthony Creek, we have all come to realize the importance of having a clean water source. It’s vital to our very existence. Yet we continue to live unsustainably, using fossil fuel resources that are toxic to our environment. Only when we have polluted that environment to the point that it alters our lifestyles, are we forced to pause and take a hard look at how our current society is negatively impacting the water and soil on which we depend for our survival.
Diesel fuel is known to have long-term adverse effects in aquatic environments. The fuel contains several harmful chemicals, naphthalene and ethyl benzene, which are both carcinogenic and mutagenic (Diesel Fuel MSDS). While these chemicals are not water soluble, they strongly absorb to soil particles. Previous studies have determined that naphthalene will accumulate in sediments by more than 100 times the concentration of the overlying water. Eventually these hazardous substances will biodegrade. Naphthalene can oxidize in the presence of light and air; however this process occurs only at elevated temperatures. There are microorganisms that will degrade the chemicals ultimately into carbon dioxide and water, but it is a slow process (Naphthalene, National Service Center for Environmental Publications, USEPA). The Greenbrier River Watershed will take a while to fully recover from the diesel spill and will need to be monitored to make sure it is safe to swim and fish in this summer.
The question on everyone’s mind is could this tragic environmental disaster have been avoided. Unfortunately, the answer is yes. We have alternative energy sources that are not toxic, but we are too complacent and content with the status quo to implement cleaner fuels into mainstream society. Instead we use hazardous substances and are ill-prepared when a spill occurs, allowing toxins to enter our water sources. We as a society must decide if it is worth losing our precious resources in order to continue with our current dependence on fossil fuels. We claim to be technologically advanced; however, we are still using dinosaur technology. We are either unwilling or unable to see how our lifestyles are poisoning our environment until it hits us where it hurts, in our own backyards.
The fossil fuel industry is not being held accountable for the destruction that is taking place. There are safeguards that can be implemented to avoid contaminating our most precious resource, clean water. Why aren’t these safeguards already in place? Corporations have too much leverage in the government so they are profiting at our environment’s expense. It is only when a disaster occurs that we realize; it’s time for us to wake up. We must hold the polluting companies accountable and require them to clean up their messes and prevent future catastrophes from occurring. The oil and gas industry should be required to equip each fuel tank with a tanker tourniquet, a simple devise that expands a chemical resistant flexible bladder to quickly contain dangerous and costly spills. Drivers transporting toxic chemicals should also be required to pass spill response training and have the equipment on board so in that critical first couple hours the spill would be contained before it enters our water supply. How much polluted water is it going to take for these safeguards to be enforced?
We owe a great deal of gratitude to the first responders attempting to control the spill and the workers at the municipal water system for acting as fast as they did. Those first 24 hours are crucial and without their quick response the situation could have been a lot worse.
Environmental disasters teach us valuable lessons and we cannot let these disasters occur in vain. So the real question is what are we going to learn from this and what are we going to do about it?
Leah Bryson, M.S.