On December 16, several members of the House of Delegates, I included, held a press conference in Charleston at which we announced that we would be sponsoring a bill that would significantly improve drinking water protection.

Our bill was inspired by the movie “Dark Waters,” a feature film now being shown in theaters nationally. This film is about a courageous West Virginia farmer in Wood County and his equally courageous (and quite brilliant) lawyer who fought the DuPont company over pollution caused by some really nasty chemicals. They (the chemicals) are called, among other names, “C-8.” Mark Ruffalo stars as the lawyer.

They sued DuPont and, after at least a dozen years, won awards totaling almost $700 million for over 3,500 people in Wood County and environs.

These chemicals, technically called per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAs) are synthetic (made by humans) and are very persistent in the environment and in the human body. They don’t break down and can accumulate over time. C-8 type chemicals are sometimes called “forever” chemicals.

There was a documentary film made about this case a few years ago, and it has been shown at the National Conservation Film Festival (NCFF) held in Shepherdstown each fall. With the increased attention brought about by the release of the feature film, I hope that NCFF will consider bringing that documentary back for another presentation in 2020. News of this case began to become widespread as a result of a lengthy story in The New York Times Magazine a few years ago.

Meaningful Thresholds

Delegate Evan Hansen, of Monongalia County, is the lead sponsor of the bill. He is an environmental scientist and one of the owners of a company called Downstream Strategies, based in Morgantown.

One of the speakers at our press conference was Tracy Danzey. Tracy lives in Jefferson County now, but she grew up in Parkersburg, the county seat of Wood County. She was a competitive swimmer while young, and swam in the streams around her home town. She was unaware that those streams, and the tap water she drank, were all thoroughly polluted with C-8. She’s had severe health problems as a result. At the press conference Tracy made a powerful and articulate statement on behalf of our bill.

The bill, to be called the West Virginia Clean Drinking Water Act, would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to identify sources of PFA contamination in water sources and develop a scientifically based standard for PFAs in drinking water. The bill would also focus on ensuring that tap water is clean and would require the state to use science to come up with meaningful thresholds for safe drinking water.

Several legislators, who had not seen the film, issued a statement to the media criticizing “Dark Waters.” They said the movie had scenes in it that besmirched West Virginia.

I’m always on the lookout for folks from elsewhere who categorize West Virginia in particular and the Appalachian region in general in a condescending, mocking or otherwise demeaning manner. I’m quite sensitive about what I call “geographic bigotry.” I’ve seen “Dark Waters,” and it doesn’t contain a single scene that portrays our state, or West Virginians, in any way unfairly.

I usually try to stay away from partisanship in this space, but it’s a fact that all of those legislators that criticized “Dark Waters” prematurely were Republicans. Fortunately, those legislators who signed on to the statement represent a decided minority even among Republicans.

We hope to find Republicans who will support the bill, otherwise it cannot pass. In fact, we hope to find some Republicans who will sign on as sponsors.

 

— Mr. Doyle represents Jefferson County in the WV House of Delegates—District 67.

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