Huffpost Green
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mark Ruffalo Headshot
Scott Smith Headshot
John L. Pratt Headshot

We Are All Connected by Water: Our Elected Officials Must Be Held Accountable For Protecting This Natural Resource

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014 marked the four-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill ("BP Spill"). The BP spill should have been a wake-up call for elected officials and organizations tasked with responding to this type of disaster, but it seems like those in charge of protecting our waters have learned nothing. The procedures and technologies adopted, endorsed, and proven during the BP spill cleanup efforts have yet to become the standard. Instead of evolving, our officials are regressing -- focusing more on damage control than solving the issue. Four years later, we ask why?

Let's take a look at the very basis of science: data. Without data, there is no science. At Water Defense, we decided to take a second look at the process of water testing itself, and the results came up wanting. Here are a few examples:

In Charleston, West Virginia there was an estimated 10,000 gallons of chemicals, including 4-MCHM, spilled into the Elk River. We tested the water near the spill site within two days and had a non-detect, but found alarming concentrations in bathtub water tested within the affected community. Why is this important to everyone? Because all waterways are connected and spilled chemicals can travel quickly downstream into the water systems that provide the water for people to drink, bathe, and cook. While the local officials said the water was safe to drink, our results showed that the 4-MCHM contaminant had already flowed downstream and into people's homes, which is scary since there is very little known about the long-term effects of 4-MCHM and how it interacts with other chemicals.

In North Carolina there was a 27 million gallon coal ash spill into the Dan River. While newspaper headlines proclaimed the water quality to be steadily improving, we went to the spill site and found dangerous levels of iron and phthalates, which can be toxic to humans and aquatic life. Why did we find contamination? Because we tested samples from the water column -- beneath the surface and above the bottom of the river -- where life exists. Conventional testing methods used to inform the public only sample water for a split second (hence the term instantaneous water testing) from the surface of the river, which does not provide officials with accurate data.

One example of how some elected officials want to keep the public in the dark was captured on video. When we went to the West Virginia State House to donate our test results to the governor, we were escorted out of the building by police on direct orders from the governor's aide.

Why were we marched out? Within hours, the governor made an announcement lifting the ban on tens of thousands of peoples drinking the water. His reaction implies to us that he was concerned our findings might disrupt his plans. He later had to backtrack and issue warnings not to drink the water, especially pregnant women.

Our elected officials have the power to enforce the existing laws related to water and just say no to the lobbyists of the responsible corporations. Unfortunately they don't always do the right thing without a little encouragement. This is why we should all call your elected officials and ask them to be accountable to their constituency by telling us what's really in our water!

In the few short months since Water Defense has launched its water testing initiatives, we have quickly become known as a Watchdog organization, and rightly so. We are in contact with many great people that work at the EPA, Coast Guard, NOAA, and State Environmental agencies in Mass. and N.Y. These great people that do the real work within these agencies want to do the right thing and we are committed to helping them do it.

In February of 2014, we announced our collaboration with Cape Cod Community College and presented our Cumulative Water Testing at both the college and a local high school. One thing became clear to us from this experience -- the younger generation gets it. We are excited to see a partnership forming with this new and technologically-savvy generation demanding answers and influencing change within local governments.

As we write this, Mark begins filming Avengers - Age of Ultron. We invite all real world avengers to join us in avenging the world's waterways. Help us in our quest to make known what is in our water.

From Our Partners