CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers are getting an earful from residents who want accountability and action after spending days without usable tap water following the Jan. 9 chemical leak along the Elk River in Kanawha County.

Fifty people spoke for an allotted two minutes each at the State Capitol during Monday night’s public hearing in the House of Delegates on SB 373.

It’s a bill that, if approved, would establish regulations for above ground storage tanks, like the tank at Freedom Industries that leaked an estimated 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM and PPH.

Almost a month after the chemical leak that made it into the tap water for 300,000 West Virginians, Jill Watkins from South Charleston told lawmakers she still has many questions.

“My primary concerns now are how homes will be properly flushed of MCHM, how we view industrial chemicals from here on out — noting that, just because a chemical is not labeled ‘hazardous’ or ‘toxic’ that it can still have adverse impacts on the public and environmental health,” she said.

Laura Thaw from Charleston said she, like many people, is considering leaving the Kanawha Valley for good after the water contamination.  “I would like to remain a part of this community, but the risks sustained are beginning to outweigh the benefits,” she told lawmakers.

That is why, Nancy Ward, a small business owner, said the Legislature’s actions in the coming weeks will, in large part, determine the future of the nine-county region.

“We’re watching you and, depending on your actions, we will decide if this is a place we want to stay and raise our families, do business and retire, or is it time to leave,” Ward told lawmakers.

Richard Katz from Charleston agreed.  “It’s time to return this great state to its people.  We’re watching.  Our children are watching.  The nation and this state are watching what you do.  Please act.”

The House Health and Human Resources Committee was the first scheduled House stop for the bill the full Senate unanimously approved last week.

“We have to have the ability to prevent the situation from happening, the ability to respond quickly when it does happen and the ability to restore at the end of the day,” said Del. Don Perdue (D-Wayne, 19), the House Health committee chair.

“It’s just too big, if you will, to allow anything less than an absolute and complete vetting of all considerations.”

The bill was proposed at the State Capitol in the weeks after the Freedom Industries’ chemical spill that contaminated tap water for West Virginia American Water Company customers who get their water from the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant.

It would require all above ground storage tanks to be registered with the state, meet certain standards for safety and undergo annual inspections.

Company-hired engineers would conduct the yearly inspections.  However, at sites sitting less than 25 miles upstream from a treatment facility’s water intake, officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection would conduct a separate inspection each year.

Additionally, if the legislation is approved, public water systems would be required to have established emergency plans for future chemical spills.

“Water is a necessity to our every day life and we cannot allow it to be poisoned anymore,” Destiny Gallagher, 16, of Boone County told lawmakers on Monday night.

Perdue said he was listening and other lawmakers were doing the same.  “We all were guilty of saying to ourselves, ‘That isn’t going to happen,’ everybody, legislatively, individually,” he said of the lessons learned from the water emergency.

“For too many years, for too long, we took for granted something that was so precious to us that we couldn’t allow it possibly to fail and yet we did.”

The 2014 Regular Legislative Session continues through Saturday, March 8.

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  • flossrancher

    This "hearing" is like a group of sports fans getting together the day after the game and criticizing the umpire. The response to the fill has been made and the bill has been written. As reported in the Gazette this afternoon, a group of industry lobbyists met with the DEP on a Sunday afternoon away from the Capitol--with no citizen or environmental groups informed of the session--and wrote legislation requiring inspection and oversight of chemical storage tanks, but with 18 classes of exemption. The whole thing is over. No specific legislator will have his name particularly associated with this, so no one will lose an election over it. Anyone still talking about it is wasting his time. You've been had. Move on.

    • Jason412

      Thanks for the info.

      " (18) Aboveground storage tanks used in connection with oil and gas exploration, production, processing, gathering, treatment or storage operations or transmission facilities that are addressed in spill prevention, control, and countermeasure plans meeting the federal regulations set out in 40 C. F. R. Part 112;"

      That is one of the exemptions, so the way I'm understanding it that Greenhunter fracking waste water facility in Wheeling will be exempt from this? It's not regulated under any other law, this was supposed to cover it.

      I hope I'm reading that wrong, because if 20,000 gallons of waste water being stored feet from the Ohio isn't regulated the bill is entirely worthless

      • Jason412

        20,000 barrels I meant, not gallons

  • JT

    Sad part is that most voters vote a name more than who the candidate actually is whether on the local, state or federal level. I hope people are paying attention and do not get taken by the talk from the politicians and pay attention totheir actual actions . It's time to let them know that they do not rule us, they WORK FOR US.

  • blugldmn

    The county has unelected officials telling people where they can smoke.

    The state has laws to make people wear bicycle helmets.

    But in a state with as many chemical plants and the above ground tanks that go with them there are no regulations?

    People need to be held accountable!

  • Mason County Contrarian

    It's hard to expect anything from a Legi$lature whose membership receives campaign dollars from these chemical firms. They're all on the take--it's just up to The Feds to dig deep enough or journalists to ask the right questions to find the money trail.

    A single industry has been permitted to turn a nine-county region into a chemical kill-zone.

    • Jason412

      I posted this the other day but it was a day after the article had been published so it went pretty unnoticed, but it's worth reposting.

      Businessweek has a pretty good article "Who Runs Freedom Industries? West Virginia chemical spill mystery" on the history behind the 3 owners of the company.

      I found it interesting, according to the article, Kennedy's arrest for selling cocaine was tied to Charleston's former Mayor James Roark. And as recently as 2005 he had enough cocaine connections to make controlled buys and have his 40 month sentence reduced to 22 months. He also used to be an accountant for a restaurant while Danny Jones owned it.

      Pretty interesting read.

      • Charleston

        Wow! That's a very interesting read! Thank you so much for applying the link! I will spread the word! Thanks again!

      • Mason County Contrarian

        State and local politician$ are hoping that, if they stall long enough, this story and the public outcry over the safety of basic amenities will dry up. This story is beginning to take on an odor reminiscent of the Elk and Kanawha River fish of my childhood of the 50s and 60s and shows just how entangled public safety and politic$ have become. Hopefully someone in the media will continue to dig and expose the facts, regardless of the political fallout. Journalists will know when they are getting warm because that is when the politician$ will begin to yell the loudest and resort to attacking the questioner rather than responding to the question.

        • Jason412

          I agree some are stalling in hopes that this is soon forgotten. For anyone wondering why Danny Jones has been so silent, I would say his direct association with the coke dealing founder of Freedom may have something to do with that. I'm sure he's thinking out of sight, out of mind.

          • Mason County Contrarian

            Thanks, Jason.

            Sure does make one wonder, doesn't it? I think this whole thing probably has tentacles reaching beyond what has or has not been disclosed. Getting information from other sources than Faux News helps to make better judgments.

            Jason, as a child I would wonder along the banks of the Kanawha in Putnam County fascinated by the chemical sheen that floated along with the latest fish-kill. Who can ever forget the odor one picked up when crossing the I-64 bridge back in the day? Our school lunches were prepared with that water because our mashed potatoes smelled of that same odor.

            Then we heard about the cleanup necessary at the mess that was the old Fike Chemical facility.

            But no worries. We're patronizingly told that safe, clean drinking water cannot be assured any more than anything bought off a store shelf. Horse hockey.

            Thanks again for the info, Jason.


    I don't know what the big deal is about the Freedom leak... Everyday the chemical plants along the river use the rivers as their own sewage system to get rid of by products which are over 10,000 times more carcinogenic than what Freedom released and they dump tens of thousands of gallons each week in the rivers. Ask any boater on the rivers and they will tell you about going by pipes leading out of the plants, seeing and smelling the chemical waste they dump into our rivers. The plants usually do their dumping at night so no one can see them open their waste valves. But I fish at night and I see and smell what the chemical plants are dumping their waste into the rivers. Carbide has gotten smart and they have their waste pipes going into the rivers underneath the water, but you can see the waste coming out and up to the surface of the water. Where is the DEP and citizen complaints of this waste and by products being dumped everyday into our drinking water?????? Why is our cancer rates so high in the valley and so high down river from these plants????????

    • Jason412

      Maybe you should report what you know.

  • Randall Lowe

    This was done on purpose. This is a prime example how government creates a situation so they can use it to create a new law or levy to cost the tax payers more money. People need to get off their lazy butts and march to the Governors mansion and demand answers and let these crooks know you are not going to tolerate this type of dangerous action cause by the negligence and greed of the state government.

  • Justin Time

    And regardless of precautions and preventive measures approved and put in to code, a certain amount of redundancy of water sources should be implemented. Any water system that big should have more than one intake and more than one water supply.