West Virginia Tightens Oversight After Spill

West Virginia Tightens Oversight After Spill

Source: Dow Jones News Service, March 9, 2014
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
By: Alexandra Berzon

The state will require stricter monitoring of storage tanks and water systems under a bill Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to sign in response to a chemical spill that tainted the water supply for 300,000 people here.

The legislation passed unanimously in its final vote on Saturday, two months after the Jan. 9 spill. About 10,000 gallons of a coal-processing substance called Crude MCHM leaked from a tank into the Elk River, contaminating a water-treatment plant about a mile downstream.

Little is known about the chemical’s long-term health effects on people, although it isn’t believed to be highly toxic. The water was declared acceptable after several days, but public concern remains high.

“You have 300,000 people who are fairly suspicious of their water system, which is kind of a basic thing,” said Nancy Guthrie, a Democrat in the West Virginia House from the Charleston area.

Under the legislation, the state has to create rules that for the first time will require owners of above-ground storage tanks to register them with the state and show proof that the tanks are inspected annually by engineers. Underground tanks are regulated separately.

Federal environmental laws don’t cover above-ground storage tanks other than those that hold oil.

The West Virginia bill would also require the state to keep a list of potential contamination sources to water supplies and inspect those sites once a year.

One of the bill’s provisions requires the water company affected by the contamination, West Virginia American Water Co., to create a new system that would warn about chemicals appearing in the water. The water company has said that while some water systems monitor for organic chemicals, a system that addresses all of the components specified in the bill isn’t technologically feasible.

The Legislature has debated the proposals for weeks. In the face of widespread public support for tighter regulations, industry groups that don’t often support new scrutiny didn’t publicly oppose the legislation. But they said they would work with regulators to try to ensure that the new rules aren’t too onerous.

“Everybody shares the same primary goal, to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” said Chris Hamilton, a lobbyist for the West Virginia Coal Association. “Being overly punitive isn’t the mission of the public.”

State Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, a Republican, said he doesn’t believe many of the new regulations included in the bill are necessary but still voted yes. “The public has pushed back,” he said.

Kris Maher contributed to this article.

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