CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The leak of crude MCHM, a coal processing chemical that lead to upwards of 300,000 West Virginians being told not to use their tap water for days because of possible contamination, has many people wondering about potential other threats to water supplies throughout West Virginia.

Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) said the water emergency shows how important it is to revisit some regulations.  “We need to make it crystal clear that, in fact, any type of potentially hazardous or non-hazardous substances within a geographic proximity to a water intake needs to be identified,” he said.

“You need to inventory them.  You need to know what they’ve got and then you need to be able to have a notification if anything goes wrong.”

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has already indicated he’ll seek legislative action to provide better oversight of facilities where products, either made or stored on site, threaten the water supply.  Randy Huffman, state secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, has proposed requiring certification for chemical storage facilities, like Freedom Industries.

An estimated 7,500 gallons of crude MCHM, made up primarily of 4-methylcylohexane methane, leaked from a 40,000 gallon, 50-year old storage tank at Freedom Industries along the Elk River in Charleston last week.

The leaked chemical, which also made it through a secondary containment system, was found Thursday and prompted a do-not-use water order for customers of West Virginia American Water Company in parts of nine counties.

“When you have people living in close proximity to industrial activity, you’ve got to have those protections,” Huffman has said.

As of now, there is no requirement that such storage facilities be regularly inspected and, because crude MCHM is not classified a hazardous material, it appears Freedom Industries was not required to report the leak within a specified time frame .

Kessler said prompt notification with a built-in, alarm-type system should be a requirement for all facilities with chemicals or other products that could possibly make it into the water, not just hazardous materials.

“If it’s stored, manufactured or warehoused, it needs to be subject to early reporting,” said Kessler on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”  “Obviously, the reason for that is that you can notify folks and take preventive measures.  You can’t stop it, but you can certainly limit the extent of the damage by having early notification.”

He said more oversight, from state and federal officials, for such facilities is also needed and lawmakers should consider mandated geographic setbacks for potential problem sites.

The regular legislative began last week at the State Capitol and will continue through early March.

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  • Mike

    Inspections are required for chemical production facilities, but not for chemical storage tanks. A tank storing chemicals along a river has no laws on the books that require inspection. Then John Boehner says today no new regulations are needed as a result of what happened. Now how stupid is that? Hard line Republican leader trying to protect corporate profits while people suffer and get sick. The man is disgusting.

  • apeymama

    Ask them why a chemical holding facility was upstream of a water intake facility.

  • Hillboy

    A question that this crisis raises is this: If this chemical is being used to clean coal, why would we look only at facilities where the chemical is being stored? What about facilities where the chemical is being used on a daily basis? How are chemicals that accumulate in and leach from slurry ponds affecting drinking water? Or is that not an issue because it mainly only affects private wells and not large public water systems?

  • WVWorker

    I believe these types of facilities are required to have an industrial NPDES permit which has specific regulations to address situations like those that occured. It looks like the DEP was either not doing their job of enforcing compliance with the permit or perhaps requiring Freedom Industries of having a NPDES permit to operate a facility of this type.

    • Hillboy

      An NPDES permit is required under the Clean Water Act for facilities that discharge wastewater to US surface waters. This facility wasn't required to have an NPDES permit because it was a storage facility--there should not have been any discharges.

      • WVWorker

        An NPDES permit is required for any industrial type facility that has a potential of contaminating the ground water or surface run-off. It is not limited to wastewater.

        • Hillboy

          With some exceptions, NPDES permits are limited to licensed point source discharges. I'm not saying Freedom shouldn't have been more tightly regulated, just that this doesn't fall neatly within the CWA. I'm not hearing anyone saying Freedom technically violated the CWA at this point.

          • WVWorker

            And you probably won't hear anyone say they violated the CWA. If this had been caused by an individual and not a business you would hear about it being a violation. They say money talks. In some cases it can also create silence

  • curious

    So why won't they make the fracking industry disclose what all is being used in their processes? People that are going to be affected should have a right to know.

    • Hillboy

      Ordinarily the oil and gas industry would have been required to disclose what is in fracking liquid. However, they were exempted from disclosing the exact composition of their frack solutions. The O&G companies claimed that each company has their own unique recipe for frack liquid that is proprietary and to reveal it would be a disclosure of trade secrets. They were required to disclose what substances might possibly be included in frack water but not in what percentages etc.