I turned off the TV when they showed the river. 1 year later, I've tuned back in, and it's gorgeous.

The chemical spill that prevented hundreds of thousands of people from drinking, bathing in, or cooking with their tap water put West Virginia on the national news. At the time, everyone called it a crisis. Now, the community sees it as a turning point.

You might remember seeing this on the evening news on Jan. 9, 2014.

A chemical spill in the Elk River poisoned the water for the city of Charleston and many surrounding communities.


West Virginia has long had an anti-regulation culture. This kind of disaster is what comes from allowing chemical industries to self-regulate. They aren't super good at it.

If this is where the story ended, it would be a downer and a half.

Luckily, there's more to it.

Thousands of people, from all walks of life — including those who used to oppose environmental regulation — suddenly couldn't shower, cook, or wash their dishes. And they got angry.


They held vigils. They joined long-time environmentalists. They demanded some action.

Because they learned that we all live downstream.

And they got results.

The bill that went to the legislature, with their recommendations, passed in both chambers unanimously. The governor signed it.

It probably didn't hurt that the legislators couldn't get a bath either.

It started as a crisis, but it brought the community together. It taught them about their power when they worked as a group.

Because of this chemical spill, people who used to see each other as opponents now see each other as collaborators.

The fight isn't over yet.

There's a bill in the West Virginia legislature that would roll back a lot of those positive actions. The struggle never ends, but at least now there are thousands of concerned, educated citizens paying attention.

Heroes