An audience gathered on the Kalamazoo College Quad on Wednesday, April 27 to hear guest speakers discuss the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill, that occurred after an Enbridge, Inc. pipeline burst, in protest of the college’s endowment investment in fossil fuels.
The event, Stand Out Against Tar Sands Industry, was organized by Divest/Reinvest Kalamazoo to continue its three-year campaign challenging K to move investments from fossil fuels to a more sustainable option.
Students heard from two individuals directly impacted by the oil spill: Andrew from “Earth First! Journal” and Chris Wahmhoff, a Kalamazoo native.
Andrew, who would prefer we not use his last name, grew up in Marshall, where the spill occurred. He shared that Enbridge destroyed extremely diverse wetlands, and then failed to properly replace the wildlife or even clean up the tar sands. He condemned K’s involvement, “To my understanding, K College is directly implicit in the destruction of over 167 thousand hectares of wetlands and the displacement of indigenous communities.”
Chris Wahmhoff grew up on the Kalamazoo River. When the state declared the river safe, he paddled out for the first time since the spill. What he saw was “unrecognizable.” That which previously thrived with wildlife was now a sandbar. So when Wahmhoff attempted to stand up in the water, he sunk into the sand and had to be pulled out. He emerged with tar sands all over his leg. After vomiting for the next three days and forming a rash, Wahmhoff discovered that the tar sands had given him a rare skin disease. The disease is estimated to be present in 0.2% of the population, claims Wahmhoff, yet he knows eight other affected individuals.
A boy that Wahmhoff used to take care of went into the Kalamazoo River and got the same rash. However, instead of a rare skin disease, he got cancer.
Both speakers encouraged students to hold Enbridge responsible for its actions and to prevent future environmental violations by taking a stand. “Every time there’s a meeting, we can flood [it],” encouraged Andrew.
Readers interested in receiving more information about upcoming Divest/Reinvest events can contact Kieran Williams K’16 at Kieran.Williams12@kzoo.edu.