Obesity has been cited as the reason why West Virginia doesn’t need higher clean-water standards.
There’s a new reason to disregard clean-water protections in the mountainous, coal-mining state of West Virginia, and plenty of people in the United States were stunned to hear it.
That’s because the local population’s high obesity rates are apparently the reason given as to why West Virginia doesn’t need higher clean-water standards — this, in a state where water safety has long been compromised by coal mining and chemicals, including the PFOA and PFOS products manufactured there.
Obesity is an excuse given by the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, which successfully pressured the government to hold off on implementing new and safer water standards that would have brought them in line with federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations.
“Some of your lawmakers are literally arguing that because you’re fat, chemical firms should be allowed to expose you to higher levels of water pollution,” said an indignant Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, one of the leading voices on water resources in the U.S. and winner of the 2018 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization. He was by no means alone in his objection.
The Appalachian state is home to about 1.8 million people, some living in more progressive cities and on campuses. Yet many residents continue the rural life in beautiful but rugged coal-country terrain, and West Virginia has a reputation for lagging behind on income, education and health.
Where the latter is concerned, West Virginia has the highest rate of obesity in the nation. That’s according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and its annual State of Obesity report, which has placed West Virginians as the nation’s most obese Americans for two consecutive years. Among adults, 38.1 percent of the adult population is obese, as are 20.3 percent of young people ages 10 to 17.
Obesity is tied to the state’s No.1 ranking in diabetes and hypertension, but now it’s the rationale for why stricter water rules should be shot down. The West Virginia Manufacturers Association argues that because West Virginians are heavier, their bodies can handle more pollutants. The trade group also thinks that since Mountaineers may drink less water, they are less exposed anyway.
“Human health criteria are developed after consideration of several factors such as body weight, fish and water consumption” and other factors, the group said in its statement. Changing one of the factors – like weight, or water use – changes the ultimate criterion, and they say West Virginians may not be representative of other Americans in national averages used to develop the data for EPA rules. So they’re conducting their own research and are planning to submit their findings by October 2019.
The group argues that’s a compelling consideration because the EPA encourages states to incorporate state-specific science, and the high obesity rate would ostensibly establish a mitigating circumstance. In other words, West Virginians can be expected to tolerate higher levels of toxic chemical pollution.
The association has worked to prevent or stall changes since November, and so far has succeeded. The state’s legislature is voting in line with corporate interests against the standards that would set levels for chemical concentrations in the state’s rivers and waterways, some of which are known carcinogens.