Fox News host Sean Hannity has asserted 192 times that he and other Republicans do not want “dirty water.” Yet he has not once covered the recent coal-washing chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginia residents with no tap water to drink or bathe in -- an incident made more likely by the anti-regulation policies he supports.
On January 9, a storage tank at a Freedom Industries facility in West Virginia holding chemicals used to “clean” coal leaked into a river located near a water-treatment center. Residents noticed a strong odor soon after and were told to stop using their water.
The incident outraged many, but Hannity has instead focused his ire at those warning that Republican-backed deregulation would put people at risk of dirtier air and water. He has decried those saying these policies would lead to “dirtier air, dirtier water” 192 times*, calling the warnings “absurd and irresponsible scare tactics” and a vicious "lie." In fact, Hannity has wholeheartedly supported allowing more coal and enforcing fewer regulations -- a plan that could lead to more disasters like the one in West Virginia that he has ignored**.
Here are the five most infuriating things about the West Virginia spill that a self-declared “clean water” defender could have covered:
1. The company behind the spill is avoiding liability by filing for bankruptcy. MSNBC host Chris Hayes described how Cliff Forrest, the owner of the Freedom Industries who previously handed out “stop the war on coal” signs attacking President Barack Obama, filed for bankruptcy while opening another company that could take over “a big chunk of Freedom Industries' assets”:
2. The company initially failed to disclose a second chemical in the water. The public only learned about the second chemical 12 days after the leak, as the company had originally told state regulators that the chemical was "proprietary" information. The Centers for Disease Control said that information about the chemical is “limited” but that they didn't anticipate any new health concerns.
3. West Virginia residents still aren't sure if their water is safe. After five days of not being able to use their water, residents were told by West Virginia American Water that the water was safe to drink. However, two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that pregnant women should not drink the water. Hospital admissions have doubled since the ban was lifted, and many health experts have said that not enough is known about the chemical to state definitively that the water is safe to drink or bathe in. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said of the water supply, “it's your decision ... I'm not a scientist.”
4. There's a bill that might've stopped all of this. There are more than 62,000 chemicals that have not been publicly tested, including the chemical that spilled in West Virginia, which hampered authorities' attempts to assess and address the health risks it poses. The Safe Chemicals Act, opposed by the chemical industry, would address this by requiring companies to prove a chemical's safety before selling it.
5. But water pollution laws on the books aren't even being enforced. A 2009 New York Times investigation found that “In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses. However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment.”
Mike Elk, a labor reporter for In These Times, reported that workplace safety advocates “cited a single cause of why [efforts to implement safety and health regulations] die on the vine: media amnesia. Once a disaster is over, reporters turn their attention away from such unsexy topics as chemical plant safety, and industries lobby for regulatory changes to be killed in the dark.”
*Based on a Nexis search for “show(hannity) and (dirty air or dirty water or dirtier air or dirtier water)” from October 1, 2011 to January 26, 2014. Hannity repeated his complaint 39 times in 2013 after repeating it 153 times from October 2011 to December 2012.
**Based on a Nexis search for “show(hannity) and (west virginia or coal or spill or chemical)” from January 9, 2013 to January 26, 2014.