Don’t drink the water? West Virginian records each sip


Editors’ note: On Jan. 10, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced a state of emergency, banning the use of water except to flush toilets or put out fires, for nine counties with a total population of 300,000. President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration for the state, triggering immediate federal aid to the residents. The reason? A massive chemical leak from Freedom Industries polluted the Elk River, the source of drinking water for Charleston and surrounding areas.

Nikki Ardman, a mother of two children with autism, teacher and resident of West Virginia, recently performed an experiment: She drank the water for a month after authorities said it was OK to do so, and video blogged about it. Her experiment took some courage, as most of the 300,000 people affected did not go back to drinking the water – and for good reason – the water can make you sick. By the end of her journey, Ardman drew the conclusion that she may have to leave the state because of the terrible conditions this water crisis has produced. Below are Ardman’s story and a link to her video blog.


CHARLESTON, W. Va. – It might surprise you to realize that I’ve set out to prove that our water company, our state officials, and the EPA have our best interest at heart. As skeptical as I am about that assertion, I hope you understand that I have this instinctual attachment to enduring no harm from this. Besides which, as the state of affairs has dictated, we have no choice but to trust the decisions that can’t be resisted. I’m inclined to be all in or all out. If no harm comes to me from this exercise, I’m hoping that it can ease our minds into peaceful trust. If I suffer adverse effects from this exercise, I honestly don’t know what the next step is.

I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years. Human behavior is one of my favorite subjects, and my affinity for it gets plenty of stimulation. So many people will be buying their drinking water. Many of them have said they won’t trust the tap water for a very long time. It’s been one week for me today since the ban on water, and they finally lifted the ban here. I followed the directions for flushing, which, by the way, is my least favorite word right now. A bitter part of me wonders if they were counting on people buying water in bottles and jugs. I admit that it’s a bitter part of me. From our first lie, we were cognizant of liars. We see in others who we’ve been. Part of me also responds to this with fear.

I certainly do hope that everything will be right as rain. Let’s move forward without wasting energy on blame, if you please. Inexplicable facts already exist, and, while there are many versions of the truth, putting them to words in sequence and without emotion reveals to us which version we prefer.

The spill happened upstream of a water treatment plant. The filtration system couldn’t stop 4-methyl cyclohexane methanol from reaching our homes and businesses. The ban on water began. The smell. Water that burns. Press conferences. FEMA. Bottled water. Town hall meetings. Maps of red then blue. Flushing. Water treatment plants located down stream shut off their intake of the river’s water. FEMA leaves. Distribution centers shut down.

Can we focus on the water now? If it wasn’t apparent to you that there are some chemicals that simply can’t be filtered, you may have recently learned something new. This is just the one chemical. How many more chemicals do you think exist that can make it through our filters? I don’t have that answer. Unknown.

They’re unsure of the effects of MCHM to the human body. No wait. They don’t know at all about the effects of MCHM on the human body. I don’t know what the outcome of this exercise will be.

Nevertheless, I have faith that this is the right path. I’m going with the flow, honoring their wishes, and I’m drinking the recommended daily allowance of water from my tap. I’ll be video-documenting each glass for 40 days.

You can see the entire video blog on YouTube: WV Water Video Blog.


Photo: The Ardman family turn toy containers into rain barrels to collect water for bathing (Nikki Ardman).