A spill in West Virginia, in Chemical Valley

On the morning of Thursday, January 9, 2014, the people of Charleston, West Virginia, awoke to a strange tang in the air off the Elk River. It smelled like licorice. The occasional odor is part of life in Charleston, the state capital, which lies in an industrial area that takes flinty pride in the nickname Chemical Valley. In the nineteenth century, natural brine springs made the region one of America’s largest producers of salt. The saltworks gave rise to an industry that manufactured gunpowder, antifreeze, Agent Orange, and other “chemical magic,” as The Saturday Evening Post put it, in 1943. The image endured. Today, the Chemical Valley Roller Girls compete in Roller Derby events with a logo of a woman in fishnet stockings and a gas mask. After decades of slow decline, the local industry has revived in recent years, owing to the boom in cheap natural gas, which has made America one of the world’s most inexpensive places to make chemicals.

At 8:16 A.M., a resident called the state Department of Environmental Protection and said that something in the air was, in the operator’s words, “coating his wife’s throat.” Downtown, the mayor, Danny Jones, smelled it and thought, Well, it’s just a chemical in the air. It’ll move. A few minutes passed. “I stuck my mouth up to a water fountain and took a big drink, and I thought, We’re in trouble,” he recalls. People were calling 911, and the state sent out two inspectors. Eventually, they reached a chemical-storage facility run by Freedom Industries, a “tank farm,” with seventeen white metal pillbox-shaped containers clustered on a bluff above the Elk River.

The staff initially said that there was nothing out of the ordinary, but, when the inspectors asked to look around, a company executive, Dennis Farrell, told them that he had a problem at Tank No. 396, a forty-eight-thousand-gallon container of industrial chemicals. At the foot of the tank, the inspectors found a shallow open-air lake of an oily substance, gurgling like a mountain spring. When hazardous-material crews arrived, they followed a liquid trail under a concrete wall, into the bushes, and down a slope, where it disappeared beneath ice on the river.

Freedom Industries was obligated to report the spill to a state hot line. The operator, who identified herself as Laverne, asked what was leaking; the caller, a staff member named Bob Reynolds, said, “Uh, MCHM.”

“MCHM?” Laverne asked.

“Right,” he said, and offered the scientific name.

Laverne paused and said, “Say again?”

MCHM—4-methylcyclohexane methanol—is part of a chemical bath that the mining industry uses to wash clay and rock from coal before it is burned. There are more than eighty thousand chemicals available for use in America, but, unless they are expected to be consumed, their effects on humans are not often tested, a principle known in the industry as “innocent until proven guilty.” MCHM was largely a mystery to the officials who now confronted the task of containing it. But they knew that the site posed an immediate problem: it was a mile upriver from the largest water-treatment plant in West Virginia. The plant served sixteen per cent of the state’s population, some three hundred thousand people—a figure that had risen in the past decade, because coal mining has reduced the availability and quality of other water sources, prompting West Virginians to board up their wells and tap into the public system.

RTFA because we all need reinforcing on tales of politics and corporate greed in bed with each other. And how the rest of us are screwed to the wall because of their carelessness, lack of concern for ordinary citizens, their greed.

Mounties commandeer snowmobile – catch the bad guy on the tractor

Canadian Mounties were able to commandeer a snowmobile in order to track down a suspect who allegedly stole firearms and other items and then took off on a John Deere 6400 tractor.

“Blackfalds RCMP began following the movements of the tractor along the fields and secondary roads,” the RCMP said in a release. “The tractor was crashing through farmers’ fences and stands of trees on their properties.”

According to RCMP officers, Jesse Cecka was not “an experienced tractor driver, by any stretch of the imagination.”

“It was just tractor speed across the fields and secondary roads,” Cpl. Barry Ledoux told the Edmonton Journal.

The 25-year-old was captured after he rolled the tractor after it stalled while going up a hill.

…Ledoux said. “It was unique, but at the end of the day, the citizens of the area were happy we got the guy.”

Cecka was charged with break and entry, theft, theft over $5,000 for the tractor, breach of existing court documents and multiple counts of mischief.

My kind of police chase.

Mormon meeting which could have moved to include women – refuses to admit women to speak out

Hundreds of Mormon women who want ecclesiastical equality were denied admittance to a male-only session of their faith’s spring conference on Saturday, in their attempt promote the ordination of women into the lay priesthood.

Adorned in purple, members of Ordain Women marched through a hailstorm from a park to the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square, the heart of a four-block campus that is the global home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were seeking unfilled seats at the evening priesthood meeting at the faith’s biannual conference…

In advance of Saturday’s event, church officials had asked Ordain Women to refrain from bringing their cause to Temple Square, saying it would detract from the “spirit of harmony” at the two-day conference, which includes four events open to both genders and the male-only priesthood meeting. In a statement late on Saturday, church officials expressed displeasure with what they called the women’s “refusal to accept ushers’ directions and refusing to leave when asked”.

Ordain Women has objected to being characterized by the church as protesters. “We’re not activists. We’re not protesters,” said Kate Kelly, a Washington, DC-based human rights attorney and lifetime Mormon who last year co-founded the group with about 20 other women. “We’re people on the inside. We are investing in an institution … not critiquing it to tear it down,” she said…

Women are powerless in matters of church governance and can make no autonomous decisions, even at the highest levels, Kelly said.

Church officials declined an interview request in advance of Saturday’s event.

Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organisation for His Church,” said last month’s church letter to the group.

If it wasn’t already a painful experience to the women who still believe in a religion which excludes any serious role for them in the policies of that church – I would be tempted to look for something humorous, useless and foolish in the statements of the male insiders on behalf of the LDS Church.

Sadness, disdain for fools who believe they must continue doctrine centuries out-of-date as a bastion against a world that continues to change without their participation – is all I can feel.

Maryland lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana

State lawmakers in Maryland’s House of Delegates voted Saturday to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The state’s Senate has already approved a similar measure – but some changes made by the House would still need to be approved by the Senate in order to pass the bill before the legislative session ends at midnight Monday…

Some of the “decriminalized” penalties are crap and overblown. No doubt to be reduced at a later date.

Maryland’s Democratic governor will review the bill if it passes the General Assembly, said Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley…

Republicans had introduced several amendments to the bill – such as requiring a public service campaign highlighting the dangers of smoking, or letting it remain a criminal offense to smoke pot in public. None of the measures made it through.

“We don’t have to notify the public that they’re not supposed to use marijuana,” said Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery. “It’s still illegal.”

Much of Saturday’s debate focused on whether decriminalization would encourage teens to smoke marijuana…

Dumais said a better way to deal with drug abuse is to encourage treatment, rather than imprisonment.

Arguments in support of the bill tended to focus on racial disparities in drug law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union found last year that black people in Baltimore are 5.6 times more likely than the city’s white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Golly gee. Maryland politicians actually noticed that racial disparity, eh? Must be gaining slightly better vision – along with a touch of backbone.