“I’m Afraid of That Water: A Collaborative Ethnography of a West Virginia Water Crisis” was published this spring by West Virginia University Press. It’s a collection of oral histories collected in interviews following the 2014 Elk River chemical spill which became a nationally recognized disaster when it polluted the largest public drinking water system in West Virginia. The book evolved over four years with the collaboration of more than fifty people, most of whose drinking water became unsafe to drink within hours of the spill. The primary goal of this work was to record how a cross section of the citizenry experienced and interpreted this drinking water disaster.
Other chapters explore how this disaster fits into a larger framework of disaster studies, how its aftershocks inspired sweeping new state code to minimize future drinking water crises and how commercial interests have continued to persuade successive legislatures to roll back significant portions of the 2014 law. Essential components of a ‘safe’ water system that can protect the public from such spills are also discussed. Angie Rosser, executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition, with the experience of daily advocacy for safe, clean water for our ecosystem and citizenry, provides further context of the crisis and its lessons in her afterword.
Learn more and read excerpts from I’m Afraid of That Water: A Collaborative Ethnography of a West Virginia Water Crisis in Marshall University’s Graduate Humanities newsletter.