Climate Corner: Becoming prepared for the next disaster

Apr 1, 2023

Callie Lyons

We have seen it happen time and again. Shell, IEI, train derailments like East Palestine, untold environmental accidents and disasters – and each of them a threat to our homes, our families, our health and our lives. What could be more important?

Yet each time it happens, we find ourselves in the void that occurs when we wait for the government to act and provide us with potentially lifesaving information. Valuable moments when action could be taken are sacrificed to uncertainty. Evacuation orders are late. Exposure overwhelms before culprits are identified and appropriate responses determined.

We can do better.

No longer should we be at the mercy of the government and the great unknown over such horrific incidents. If the history of C8 contamination in the valley has taught us anything, it’s that the U.S. EPA is not going to save us from harm. Watchers of the movie “Dark Waters” are no doubt familiar with attorney Rob Bilott’s famous words: “Who protects us? We do.”

It’s time we do.

Observing the examples of other communities faced with similar challenges, there is a path forward made possible because of modern technology and the availability of citizen science monitoring tools. We cannot wait for the next catastrophe. Advance work is required. We must be organized and prepared.

The strategy is simple. Form a team with the training, assets and infrastructure to respond immediately in a coordinated manner to document incidents, collect data, communicate information to the impacted public and work with experts to provide independent analysis and community safety and health recommendations.

We will need a small army of volunteers including nature observers and river watchers, sniffers and samplers, mappers and communicators. Add to that a process for reporting observations and developments, equipment and training for sampling air and water and a basic framework for coordinating community involvement.

One shining example of this is the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which was formed in 2000 to support communities whose health and homes were being compromised by the petrochemical industry. Among the tools developed by the group is a Bucket, a low-cost air sampling tool approved by the EPA, and the iWitness Pollution map, a crowdsourcing tool used to document pollution.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. An effective process has been defined by others like the founders of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade who are more than willing to share their expertise.

We need to learn from the past and prepare for the future. It is time for the Mid-Ohio Valley to have its own coordinated citizen response team — and it needs to happen before disaster strikes again.

Are you in?


Callie Lyons is a journalist and author living in the Mid-Ohio Valley. She is currently the chief researcher for the Murdaugh Murders Podcast. Her 2007 book, “Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal: The Hidden Dangers of C8,” was the first book to reveal the prevalence and danger of the PFAS family of highly fluorinated compounds used by industry in the manufacture of Teflon and thousands of other consumer applications.