CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The January 9 chemical leak on the Elk River in Charleston raised everybody’s awareness of the risk associated with chemical storage. The Kanawha County Commission soon after the spill asked the county’s emergency planners to catalog and inventory all chemical storage facilities in the county. The work is done and planners found at least 516 facilities in the county where chemicals are stored.
“The number very much surprised me,” said Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy. “That number includes a lot of oil and gas wells and that skewed the number substantially, but still there are a lot of facilities in Kanawha County that store chemicals.”
Officials used the Tier 2 reports, which are required by the state at most chemical storage facilities, to identify the storage sites. However, Deputy County Emergency Manager C.W. Sigman, said those reports don’t cover every potential threat.
“We’re not going to be satisfied with those numbers. We’re going to go out and do some windshield views,” he said. “A lot of places are under that threshold limit, but still pose a threat. They don’t have enough chemicals requiring them to fill out the paperwork and pay a fee, but if you have a thousand gallons of pesticide on a farm we want to know about it.”
All of the locations have been identified and plotted on an electronic map at the Metro 911 Center. The program enables an emergency official to pinpoint a location, click on the site, and have instant information on what chemicals are stored there and in what amounts.
“This is going to be a very valuable tool for us to use in the future if we have another situation if we have a report of a chemical leak,” said Hardy.
“It’s easier to have that visual representation instead of wondering what’s close by,” Sigman added. “If you look at that map you can more quickly identify where the problem is.”
Sigman said they’ll also be able to identify which fire company is responsible for any emergencies at the site and to develop a protocol now for how to properly notify the public if there’s a problem at that particular site.