State Should Safeguard Water
West Virginia legislators who began hearings on the disastrous Kanawha County chemical spill earlier this month already know one thing: We can’t count on the federal government to safeguard us from similar problems in the future.
That means the state Division of Environmental Protection should act immediately to check chemical storage facilities.
Neither state nor federal agencies charged with safeguarding water supplies did so in regard to the Freedom Industries storage facility beside the Elk River in Charleston. Had anyone been inspecting the firm’s storage tanks on a regular basis, it would have become apparent there were serious problems.
Not only did Freedom Industries’ tank holding one hazardous chemical leak, but a containment area around it was damaged. That allowed thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical to flow into the river, with some of it sucked into a water treatment plant’s intake pipe. About 300,000 West Virginians were told for several days not to drink water from their taps. Some people were sickened by the tainted water.
Reporters probing the disaster have learned neither state nor federal agencies had inspected Freedom Industries for many years. No one seemed to think that was part of their agency’s job description.
Whether it falls under the DEP’s statutory mandate or not, that agency should be inventorying chemical storage facilities near water sources. At least cursory inspections should be made immediately. More thorough monitoring should be scheduled.
If the DEP lacks authority for that task, legislators should provide it immediately. If the agency needs emergency funding for personnel and equipment, that, too, should be provided.
Again, West Virginians cannot rely on the federal government to safeguard us from chemical spills such as that on Jan. 9. That being the case, state officials should make the task a priority.