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Saturday, January 18, 2014

West Virginia Chemical Spill Sheds Light on Need for Self Reliance

With all of this terrible business in West Virginia regarding the chemical spill from Freedom Industries, it gets increasingly clear that we are unprepared for many types of disasters and accidents. In my town, NYC, we come to a crawl when there's heavy snow, let alone if we were to be faced with something REALLY unexpected and life-threatening. 
 
The fact that we encounter these so called "unexpected" things may be the problem. I am reminded of a saying that tells us to "expect the unexpected", which in turn would assume that we should also prepare for the unexpected. When we take a step back, we see what we already know; which is that we are terribly unprepared, yet don't put in the extra effort to take proper precautionary measures.


The terrible chemical spill in West Virginia has left over 300,000 people without clean water to drink, bathe, cook or do dishes. Using the water to flush their toilets was the only thing they were given the "okay" to do. Yet, in less than a week since the spill, people are already reporting illness and bad symptoms from exposure to this much unknown chemical. There is no telling what kind of impact this will have on the general population's health, the environment and the immediate eco-system as well.

Aside from poor inspection, loose regulations, and uneducated use of highly toxic chemicals, this terrible tragedy shows how we individually need to be more self-sufficient. We are completely vulnerable and reliant on someone to feed us and water us. While this accident also reminds us of the dangers of chemicals, and the need to go natural; becoming self reliant and embracing more sustainable practices could help a future accident like the Freedom Industries chemical spill from being so devastating.

One of my favorite examples of self reliance are Earthships. Earthships are off-grid homes that are made from a small percentage of recycled materials. These unconventional materials include old, used tires, glass bottles and cans. What makes these homes on the top of my "want list" is their energy efficiency. Not only are they hurricane proof, but all your living needs are taken care of without infrastructure. Energy is fed to the home through solar and wind power. Sewage from the toilets are treated and used on site for the greenhouse that nurtures plants and edible crops.

The one thing an Earthship does that is relevant to this post, is it collects rainwater that is used to drink, do dishes, shower, and other fresh water needs. Graywater is saved from those things are used to flush the toilets. Imagine if homes in West Virginia had been using Earthship principles? The accident would still have happened, but they would not be as helpless and at the mercy of any system to take care of them. They wouldn't have to pick up and evacuate immediately if at all. If all buildings had rain water collection, there may be a surplus of water in times of emergency. Libraries, court houses, schools, office buildings, post offices, and other places who only need water for the bathroom may be able to tote extra water to those who need it. During rainy seasons, extra water could be stored in the city's emergency storage, and replaced with empty barrels to gather more. 

Check out  the documentary"Garbage Warrior" to learn about Earthships and their designer.


Is there a chance that the rain could be bad after the chemical spill? That is a possibility. But fresh water from rainy days passed will be already stored and safe for use in homes. Stopping collection of any fresh rain water until it is deemed safe, and conserving already stored water would make this ordeal less crippling.

by Chiot's Run / Creative Commons License
Fresh water from other sources could also be easily put into the home system, and no family or individual would have to come in contact with the contaminated water. They also would not be forced to evacuate if they have nowhere to go, are old, handicapped, stubborn (let's be real), or unable to in some way. Another major issue that may be avoided, are the hospitals. I can't imagine how terrible it is to have to evacuate hospitals full of the sick, weak and injured patients. With an extra large rainwater collection system in the hospital, an evacuation will be smoother, or not have to happen at all. They may also only need to evacuate low risk patients, while the very ill can stay. 

If the home was an Earthship home, or another type of sustainable model which utilizes an attached greenhouse to grow food, it would help to supplement the lack of fresh produce in the area due to many closed shops, farms and restaurants. There are even supermarkets popping up that have organic farms on their roof that grow the produce they sell within. Imagine if schools were also doing the same? Although, rooftop farming is another blog entirely that I want to get to!

With all of the different disasters we come in contact with from the unnatural to unavoidable acts of nature, my thought is that we should not be building anything new that does not have some kind of sustainability as well as be disaster proof in some way. New building construction should be hurricane and flood resistant, especially in high risk areas. New buildings should be equipped with rainwater collection, as well as supplemental energy from solar or wind. At the very, very least, a graywater system should be included in all new buildings to start. There are many sustainable technologies that should be standard issues in new construction, but they are still considered luxuries or novelties, and that is not the outlook that we need. We should view them as necessities, as they are tools that support safety and freedom. 

What are your thoughts and ideas on what we can do to protect our water supply and/or prepare for eco-disasters?

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