What Lies Upstream a Chemical Spill In West Virginia Is The Tip Of The Contaminated Iceberg In Cullen Hoback

In early 2014 the residents of charleston west virgina were lucky to use the word advisedly that one of the chemicals that leaked into their water supply had a strong odor. Otherwise as what lies upstream illuminates in eyes opening detail they might never have known that their tap water wasnt safe to use. As in his superb 2013 documentary terms and conditions may apply director cullen hoback looks beneath an everyday aspect of life that we take of granted. In the case of the earlier movie the subject was the privacy rights we routinely and unknowingly trade away in the digital age in upstream, he examines the shocking lack of meaningful oversight for the water we drink cook with and bath in. The essence of both cases is thr unholy alliance between corporate and government interests and its effect on unsuspecting citinzens.

Opening in new york and los angeles a few days before its DVD digital release by gravitas ventures this quietly chilling wake up call is sure to be one of the most vital docs to his theaters in 2018. The area affected by the spill is one that hoback is familiar with from idyllic childhood visits to a beloved relative. Charleston is located in a swath of coal country known as chemical valley and MCHM the substance that leaked into the ELK river is a detergent for coal. The source of the spill was a rusting tank at a facility owned by the orwellian named chamical company freedom industries upstream from the intake center of the patriotically named west virginia american water.

Hoback is there during the days of emergency: the run on bottled water and ice at local markets, the anguished community meetings — in mining communities already decimated by coal-related cancers — and the glaring lack of answers from officials. Digging into documents and speaking with officeholders and scientists, Hoback learns that Eastman Chemical Company, the producer of MCHM, has only the sketchiest of data on the substance’s effects on humans. That makes the sudden about-face by industry and government, and their assurances that the still-stinking H2O is potable (with a vague warning to pregnant women), all the more disturbing.

 

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