Stranger Than Fiction

Last Updated: March 17, 2023By Categories: Business Management, Editor's Note, Editor’s Note

By Thad Plumley

When I saw the footage of a train derailment in February in East Palestine, Ohio, I thought it looked like something out of a disaster movie.

I bet a few residents in the small, quiet town near the Pennsylvania border did too. After all, a movie about a train derailment had been filmed nearby one year earlier. That movie, White Noise, debuted on Netflix shortly before the real thing with some locals even serving as extras in the film.

Reality, as it does from time to time, took a cue from fiction on that one.

But while the coincidences were impossible to ignore—train cars littering the area like thrown toys, the dark plume of smoke ominously hovering over the town, and people in hazmat suits taking soil and water samples, the reality was harsh and real: people were flat out scared.

Among the chemicals that leaked out of the tanker cars was liquid vinyl chloride, a toxic flammable gas used to make PVC plastic. It is a known carcinogen and the residents in the area wanted to know if it was safe to be in their home, let alone breathe the air and drink the water.

A health clinic with registered nurses, mental health specialists, and a toxicologist popped up in the weeks that followed the accident as everyone living near the cleanup site suddenly was nervous if they got as much as a headache.

Federal and state employees tested the municipal water system in the area, which is served by five wells, immediately following the accident. The tests showed the water was safe to drink, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan even tried to prove it by drinking tap water in front of news cameras.

Homeowners with residential well systems could get their water tested free of charge and hundreds wisely did so. Here’s hoping appropriate parties continue to monitor the area and step up if any remediation technology is needed by those well owners. That shouldn’t come as a cost to them.

You may have been asked about the disaster in the last couple months even if you don’t live near it. I hope you took the opportunity to explain the importance of annual water well testing and discussed technologies that can reliably aid in remediation efforts such as point-of-use and point-of-entry units.

Take every opportunity you can to educate your customers. Some occasions are not going to be as obvious as real life unfolding more like a movie. But flooding season will soon be here for some parts of America, tornadoes will sadly disrupt other communities this summer, and remains of winter-like weather will bring deep freezes to many parts of the country too.

All are examples of ways to start a conversation about well stewardship. Remind your customers how they owe it to themselves and their families to regularly test their water—and how you can be there for them when the unexpected really does unfold.


Thad Plumley is the editor of WWJ and the director of publications for the National Ground Water Association. He is currently the secretary for the AM&P Network Associations Council Advisory Board. The AM&P Network is a national association for publishing professionals.. He can be reached at tplumley@ngwa.org, or (800) 551-7379, ext. 1594.

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