House Health committee puts more on public health into tank bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The first committee in the state House of Delegates to take up legislation — introduced as a response to the Jan. 9 chemical leak on the Elk River in Kanawha County which contaminated the tap water for 300,000 West Virginians — could approve the proposed bill as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

However, House Health and Human Resources Committee Chairman Don Perdue (D-Wayne, 19) said some important changes are being made to that bill in areas of public health and emergency communication before the vote.

Del. Don Perdue (D-Wayne, 19)

“In revitalizing this whole water resource issue and the water resource plan and putting the public health back in the position of primacy, we believe is extraordinarily important,” said Perdue on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline” which originated from the State Capitol.

“We’re trying to define the public health aspects of this whole situation and stay within that venue.”

Overall, the bill, SB 373, would require all above ground storage tanks, those similar to the tank that leaked crude MCHM and PPH at Freedom Industries in Kanawha County, to be registered, meet certain standards for safety and undergo annual inspections.

As part of it, public water systems would also have to have established emergency plans for future chemical spills.

If approved, the changes from the House Health Committee will add to the criminal penalties for safety violations, better define water areas that are considered “zones of critical concern,” and address how public water emergencies are communicated to health officials and the public.

“I think that all of us recognize there’s no way to predict the unpredictable,” said Perdue.  “Having said that, I think if we start looking at our water as though it can be damaged very severely by an unpredictable event, then our vigilance has to be higher.”

Once the House Health Committee approves the legislation, it will next go to the House Judiciary Committee.  The full Senate unanimously approved the proposed bill last month.

“Legislation is like a series of intersections with stoplights and we’re at this intersection now and we’ve stopped,” said Perdue.  “We’re going to proceed with caution and, hopefully, we get a green light out of that committee and on to the next.”

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

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