Frustrated West Virginia wants study on chemical spill -official

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 4, 2014 10:51am EST

WASHINGTON Feb 4 (Reuters) - Frustrated West Virginians want answers to questions about the safety of their water following a chemical spill, a state official said ahead of a U.S. Senate hearing into the accident that left 300,000 state residents without tap water for days.

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said she would be asking senators for a 10-year study into the effects of the Jan. 9 spill into the Elk River near Charleston, the state capital.

She wants to "make sure that we have the confidence back in our water in West Virginia, because we can't get back to restoring our economy if we don't have trust in our water," Tennant told CNN.

The state wants the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to supply all the information it can about the safety of West Virginia's water, she said.

Tennant is scheduled to testify before a subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, which is investigating the spill. Residents around 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.

West Virginia authorities lifted the ban on the use of tap water on Jan. 18, but advised pregnant women to continue using alternative water sources.

West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller and Senator Barbara Boxer of California, the environmental committee chairman, all Democrats, have introduced legislation aimed at preventing similar spills.

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.

"We must demand an explanation for how this happened. And Freedom Industries and others must be held accountable for the appalling damage inflicted upon the lives of hundreds of thousands of West Virginians who have been endangered by unsafe water," Rockefeller said in prepared testimony. (Reporting by Ian Simpson and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Ros Krasny and Phil Berlowitz)