Independent Lens: What Lies Upstream
All series episodes
About This Episode
In the unsettling exposé What Lies Upstream, investigative filmmaker Cullen Hoback travels to West Virginia to study the unprecedented loss of clean water for over 300,000 Americans in the 2014 Elk River chemical spill. There he uncovers a shocking failure of regulation from both state and federal agencies and a damaged political system where chemical companies often write the laws that govern them. While he’s deep into his research in West Virginia, a similar water crisis strikes Flint, Michigan, revealing that the entire system that Americans assume is protecting their drinking water is fundamentally broken.
In January 2014, West Virginians noticed that their tap water had a peculiar smell. It was soon discovered that a mysterious chemical, MCHM, has leaked into the Elk River near Charleston from a damaged tank at a nearby Freedom Industries chemical plant, poisoning the drinking water supply for nine counties - nearly half of the state’s citizens. Hoback - whose interest was piqued by family ties to the state and a desire to understand why the contamination happened - embarks on an investigation that sends him down a rabbit hole of an unimaginable scale.