U.S. senators propose bill to prevent chemical spills after West Virginia leak

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:40pm EST

Residents line up for water at a water filling station at West Virginia State University, in Institute, West Virginia, January 10, 2014. REUTERS/Lisa Hechesky

Residents line up for water at a water filling station at West Virginia State University, in Institute, West Virginia, January 10, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Lisa Hechesky

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three U.S. senators introduced legislation on Tuesday aimed at preventing chemical spills like the one that left 300,000 West Virginians without drinking water this month.

The bill streamlines oversight of chemical facilities and is designed to make sure factories are properly inspected by state officials and that proper response procedures are in place for accidents.

"No West Virginian or American should have to worry about the contamination of their water supply from a chemical spill," said Senator Barbara Boxer, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

"This commonsense bill makes sure all chemicals are appropriately monitored and protects the safety of the water we consume and use every day," Boxer said in a statement.

She introduced the legislation with the two senators from West Virginia, Joe Manchin and John Rockefeller, both Democrats.

More than 300,000 people around the state capital of Charleston were left without drinking water after a Freedom Industries tank leaked as much as 7,500 gallons (28,000 liters) of coal-processing chemicals into the Elk River on January 9.

The spill was about a mile upstream from a West Virginia American Water plant, the biggest in the state.

The bill, the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act, would require state inspections of aboveground chemical storage facilities and the industry's development of state-approved emergency response plans. It would allow states to recoup emergency response costs and to ensure drinking water systems have the tools and information to respond to spills and other emergencies.

The proposed legislation follows a move last week by West Virginia's governor to regulate aboveground storage tanks, including those near public water supplies and distribution systems.

West Virginia authorities lifted the ban on the use of tap water on January 18, but advised pregnant women to continue using alternative water sources. A day earlier, Freedom Industries had filed for bankruptcy protection after vendors demanded that the maker of specialty chemicals pay in cash, straining its finances.

"It's clear more could have been done more to protect the water supply for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians," Rockefeller said. He said the bill was a first toward bringing accountability to companies in the state.

(Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Amanda Kwan)

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Comments (7)
AlkalineState wrote:
The West Virginia chemical storage facility had not been inspected in 22 years (despite the state receiving federal grants to do so). We don’t need new laws. We need to enforce the ones we already have.

Jan 28, 2014 1:03pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Attention: This is not a “West Virginian” matter that needs national legislation lead by two West Virginians Senators. Had the State of West Virginia been ethically sound this would need no further legislation. As it is this is now a National issue which needs legislation headed by Senators from every state that is down stream from West Stream or is within the range to be polluted by air from West Virginia. For Rockefellar and Manchin to presume to take the lead on this issue is too little too late. It is time for them to hear what their neighboring states have to say. Every state is limited by the EPA to the amount of new job industry it is able to create in accordance to the amount of pollution it is already subjected too. The West Virginia State Congress just passed legislation lowering their aluminum release limits. A decision that is quiet frankly not theirs to make. The State of West Virginia already had an ethical responsibility to inspect all industrial facilities; however they have abused the public trust and neglected to inspect and only now last week passed state legislation to allow companies to hire their own engineers to inspect themselves. A charade is nothing more than allowing the fox to guard the henhouse. While I appreciate, the combined Rockefellar and Manchin recognition of the problem of corruption on the state level by attempting a federal fix, it should not fall on just their shoulders to straighten this mess out. It requires the leadership of every state involved and in fact the entire union because the costs when things go wrong in West Virginia rob the nation’s piggy bank of funds and jobs. Now this business of the state of West Virginian politicians including Governor Tomblin repeatedly insisting that the spill at maximum could only be 5,000 gallons when Gary Southern was reporting from the beginning that at maximum the worst it could be was 35,000 gallons and now today we learn the number has grown to 10,000 gallons is political corruption at the worst. Both the Governor and the Congressmen of West Virginia know that what they do or fail to do affects other states and the jobs in other states. So, at this point there needs to be an investigation into their purposeful attempts to cover up the full extent of this spill and if in fact they have hedged state regulators to go along with them. While Tomblin’s announcement to close a facility above a water plant is common sense, it is no credit to him that his common sense did not kick in until 300,000 people in his trust were affected. His has done nothing less than attempt to go to press first in a matter to save face for West Virginia. Sorry, but that just will not work at this point. One has to wonder now if his call to close the water intake valves was timely or delayed while he pondered the politics of it all.

Jan 28, 2014 3:35pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Attention: This is not a “West Virginian” matter that needs national legislation lead by two West Virginians Senators. Had the State of West Virginia been ethically sound this would need no further legislation. As it is this is now a National issue which needs legislation headed by Senators from every state that is down stream from West Stream or is within the range to be polluted by air from West Virginia. For Rockefellar and Manchin to presume to take the lead on this issue is too little too late. It is time for them to hear what their neighboring states have to say. Every state is limited by the EPA to the amount of new job industry it is able to create in accordance to the amount of pollution it is already subjected too. The West Virginia State Congress just passed legislation lowering their aluminum release limits. A decision that is quiet frankly not theirs to make. The State of West Virginia already had an ethical responsibility to inspect all industrial facilities; however they have abused the public trust and neglected to inspect and only now last week passed state legislation to allow companies to hire their own engineers to inspect themselves. A charade is nothing more than allowing the fox to guard the henhouse. While I appreciate, the combined Rockefellar and Manchin recognition of the problem of corruption on the state level by attempting a federal fix, it should not fall on just their shoulders to straighten this mess out. It requires the leadership of every state involved and in fact the entire union because the costs when things go wrong in West Virginia rob the nation’s piggy bank of funds and jobs. Now this business of the state of West Virginian politicians including Governor Tomblin repeatedly insisting that the spill at maximum could only be 5,000 gallons when Gary Southern was reporting from the beginning that at maximum the worst it could be was 35,000 gallons and now today we learn the number has grown to 10,000 gallons is political corruption at the worst. Both the Governor and the Congressmen of West Virginia know that what they do or fail to do affects other states and the jobs in other states. So, at this point there needs to be an investigation into their purposeful attempts to cover up the full extent of this spill and if in fact they have hedged state regulators to go along with them. While Tomblin’s announcement to close a facility above a water plant is common sense, it is no credit to him that his common sense did not kick in until 300,000 people in his trust were affected. His has done nothing less than attempt to go to press first in a matter to save face for West Virginia. Sorry, but that just will not work at this point. One has to wonder now if his call to close the water intake valves was timely or delayed while he pondered the politics of it all.

Jan 28, 2014 3:35pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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