Review Ohio Chemical Rules

Both Ohio and Pennsylvania have rules in place to guard against chemical spills such as that earlier this month in Kanawha County, W.Va. As we noted in a story published on Sunday, had similar regulations been in place in West Virginia, the spill here might not have occurred.

Mountain State officials are preparing rules to require safety measures at chemical storage facilities, enforced by regular inspections. As matters stand, there is virtually no oversight of such sites.

Pennsylvania’s rules were enacted as a result of a 1988 disaster that had much more widespread effects than the Kanawha County spill. There, about 300,000 people were affected. Water supplies for about a million people were tainted when, in 1988, about 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked into the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh, with the tainted water flowing from there down the Ohio River.

Rules in the Keystone State seem tight enough to provide adequate protection. Ohio’s regulatory mechanism is not as strict, however.

Buckeye State chemical storage tanks are required to meet certain standards and are inspected annually. But as a state Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman told our reporter, emphasis seems to be on air pollution. Tanks are inspected to determine if gases are escaping, and EPA workers “check for obvious problems with liquid leaks,” she said.

There are rules that large tanks near waterways have “berms” to contain any liquid escaping from them – but the tank from which chemicals spilled in Kanawha County had a similar containment wall. It had a hole in it.

West Virginians are looking at the problem as a result of a disaster. So did Pennsylvanians. This might be a good time for Ohio to get ahead of the game, so to speak, and conduct a thorough review of chemical storage rules. Doing so could avert a catastrophe such as that from which many West Virginians are still recovering.