Days without water are a way of life in Southern West Virginia
HD Media GARY, W.Va. – Each morning Tina Coleman turns her faucet, she waits to see what color the water will be when, or if, it flows out.
Even on good days, when the water flows mostly clear, it can leave anything it touches gray.
That’s on top of the $150 she spends on her water and sewage bill each month – "that much money for water we can’t drink."
As U.S. Steel shrank its operations and paid less in taxes, the city got less money to pay its bills.
(Coal operators) were not interested in, for the most part, planning," said Amy Swann, director of the West Virginia arm of the National Rural Water Association.
"We’ve put money in there, a lot of it, and still people cannot rely on their service."
But for residents in some surrounding areas, places where Tina Coleman might considering moving, 50 days in five years is next to nothing.
In O’Toole, a small community about 15 miles from Gary, residents served by the town’s water system have been under a continued boil-water notice since May of 2002 – more than 16 years.
At least nine community water systems in West Virginia have been under boil-water advisories for longer than five years, according to the state, and all operate in Southern West Virginia: four in Wyoming County, two in Mercer County, two in McDowell County and one in Fayette County.
"That’s what you do – the water doesn’t stop running, so you can’t either … You work long hours, and you have to be on top of it at all times – really, you’re responsible for people’s health, their safety, too," Morgan said.
US Steel plant in Indiana spills contaminated wastewater into Lake Michigan
US Steel plant in Indiana spills contaminated wastewater into Lake Michigan.
The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that the wastewater contained hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen.
It is not clear for how long the spill occurred or how much wastewater spilled.
US Steel reported that it shut down all production processes, isolated the affected piping for repairs, and added sodium trithiocarbonate to the wastewater to convert and aid in removing the toxic compound.
Save the Dunes Executive Director Natalie Johnson questioned a delay in alerting the community, which came many hours after the spill occurred through the report first issued by the NPS on the beach closures.
Current EPA maximum containment level (MCL) is 100 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water.
However, the EPA is still waiting on the release of a final human health assessment to begin the process of adjusting its policy on chromium levels in drinking water; this assessment is most likely stalled due to chemical industry challenges, such as from the American Chemistry Council, which contends tat studies “show no adverse health effects” at the current 100-ppb limit.
The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that specializes in research and advocacy in areas of toxic chemicals and human health, indicates that more than 200 million citizens in all 50 states drink water contaminated with the compound.
Chicago drinking water contains levels of hexavalent chromium at 0.23 ppb, which are 11 times higher than the more stringently recommended maximum contaminant level.
According to federal records, the Portage plant is one of six facilities on the Southern shore of Lake Michigan that legally released a combined 1,696 pounds of the metal during 2015.