The known and the unknown, post-crisis
I can take a few days without a shower. And I can drink bottled water for the rest of my life. But what's really tough about the situation we West Virginians have been through in the past week and a half is the not knowing.
(I'm writing this as if we've all had a shared experience for more than a week. If you just flew in from another country, picked up the local paper and don't get the context of what I'm saying, well, AVOID THE WATER FOUNTAINS.)
What do we not know?
• This started with a "licorice" smell in the air. How long until we let down our guard and think, "Oh, that's just one of those weird Kanawha Valley smells again."
• How long does it take for roughly 7,500 gallons of liquid chemical to leak through a one-inch hole in a storage tank? Is it some fraction or multiple of the amount of time for an "all-clear" to be declared to use the local water?
• How deep are the pockets of Freedom Industries and who is their insurer? Whatever money is there, I do not believe it will stretch around the courthouse and back.
• Will all of us get swept into a class action suit? Are we in for blood tests and questionnaires for the rest of our lives?
• Trying to remember: When is the last sip of local tap water I took, anyway?
• If the Centers for Disease Control has to make up a mathematical formula for the relative safety for a relatively obscure licorice-smelling chemical that's something along the lines of "effects on rats x 10 x 10," then what other things do those guys not know?
• What's the practical difference among parts per million? If you have a million parts and there's one thing in some parts and no thing in other parts - yeah, well, thanks anyway, I'll have a Coke.
• Is the flow of information something like this? Centers for Disease Control makes educated guess -> Water company and state government not too sure either -> Health department just going by what those other guys say -> Public sees Tanker Plant Boss evading questions and sipping bottled water -> Public intensely wishes Amazon would hurry up with drone technology for 300,000 air drops of Dasani.
• Yeah, I'm not drinking the water for a long time. But when will I feel OK using it to brush my teeth or to rinse the lettuce?
• If you are a student who was off for Christmas break and then for the polar vortex and then for the Aquapocalypse and then for Martin Luther King Jr. Day - if you've only been to school a couple of days in a month - how much cumulative learning loss is that? Can we rationalize that this is a life lesson? - Or is the real lesson that if your community's water supply is tainted you can stay in your PJs and play Minecraft?
But there are things we do know, and those give us some hope.
• Did you see when that Water Tank Boss made his only public appearance and tried to stop answering questions almost right away and Kallie Cart of WCHS, 8 months pregnant, told him he wasn't going anywhere? Yeah, you don't mess with a pregnant woman who hasn't had a shower.
• Kallie and all - there was not one representative of the local media who let this community down. I'm talking TV, radio, newspapers, everybody. Good job guys.
• The night this all hit, I got pretty worried about us. I was seeing pictures of people LOADING UP on bottled water and I was worried that West Virginians had become them - water looters and emergency supply bandits.
Just a few hours in, though, we collected our cool. People were checking on relatives, friends and neighbors. Water deliveries were organized. Showers, laundry, meals and water were offered in zones that were safe.
It's been a mess, but the kindness and generosity on display again makes you proud to be a West Virginian. That's what I know.
Brad McElhinny is editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5124. Follow him on Twitter @BradMcElhinny.