Ken Ward Jr. on the West Virginia Chemical Spill

It's been weeks and West Virginia is still struggling with the aftermath of the massive chemical spill that poisoned the drinking water of over 300,000 residents. Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston Gazette has been providing top-notch coverage of the spill, and continues to ask the tough questions about why it happened and who's responsible. He recently had an interview with NPR's Fresh Air, where he discussed the catastrophe and the problems with lax oversight and regulation of industrial chemicals:

On Jan. 9, people in and around Charleston, W.Va., began showing up at hospitals: They had nausea, eye infections and some were vomiting. It was later discovered that around 10,000 gallons of toxic chemicals had leaked into the Elk River, just upstream from a water treatment plant that serves 300,000 people. Citizens were told not to drink or bathe in the water, and while some people are now using water from their taps, many still don't trust it or the information coming from public officials.

Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that the spill included "a chemical called crude MCHM, which was sold by a company called Freedom Industries — sold to coal companies for use in the process of cleaning and washing the impurities out of coal before they ship that coal to market."

For Ward, the episode is far more than the story of an accident and a cleanup: Ward says the spill and the sometimes confusing information authorities have provided about the risks to citizens reflect long-standing regulatory failures in West Virginia and across the nation.

Be sure to follow the link to listen to the whole interview. And just this morning, we learned of a coal-ash spill in North Carolina that has spewed up to 82,000 gallons of coal combustion waste into the Dan River. Coal ash is unregulated at the federal level. Though the EPA has promised to issue rules this December, it's been four years since the dam failure that poured over a billion gallons of coal ash into east Tennessee waterways and communities. Our water is a precious resource that, far too often, we don't think about until it's gone. Let's hope we – and our elected officials – take action so this never happens again.