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.