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Delegates Roll Out Clean Water Legislation in Wake of ‘Dark Waters’

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, speaks as he is joined by members of the Democratic House minority to roll out the West Virginia Clean Drinking Water Act.

CHARLESTON — A group of Democratic lawmakers hope to use the movie “Dark Waters” as a catalyst for stricter drinking water regulations in the 2020 legislative session.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, held a press conference Monday to unveil legislation to identify sources of chemical pollution in water sources from PFAS contamination, a broad category that includes the chemical C8, formerly used by Dupont to make Teflon at the Washington Works plant near Parkersburg. PFAS also is known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

“Sadly many of those toxic pollutants remain unregulated across the country and in West Virginia,” Hansen said. “The goal of this bill is to reduce these harmful toxins in drinking water to protect the health of West Virginians and to strengthen the state’s economy.”

The West Virginia Clean Drinking Water Act would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to identify sources of PFAS contamination in water sources and develop a scientifically-based standard for PFAS pollutants in drinking water.

“It takes a source water protection approach to identify where these pollutants are being used and discharged and requiring those facilities that do use them and discharge them to disclose that to state regulatory agencies so that they can be properly regulated,” Hansen said.

PFAS chemicals have been used in manufacturing non-stick cookware, clothing, cleaning products, and firefighting foam. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the compounds don’t break down when absorbed by the human body, often accumulating in the body over time and leading to adverse health issues, including immune deficiencies, low infant birth weights, thyroid issues, and cancer.

A science panel created in the settlement of the first CB lawsuit against DuPont studied the health data from 70,000 residents in the Mid-Ohio Valley and found a probable link between C8 and six diseases in humans.

Hansen’s proposed legislation would identify all PFAS sources and include clean drinking water standards based on the best scientific standards. Currently, the EPA limits PFAS chemicals in water to .07 parts per billion. A deal made with Dupont and Chemours in 2009 and updated in 2017 requires monitoring of drinking water wells in the Mid-Ohio Valley. If the wells show PFAS contamination at .05 parts per billion, Chemours is required to offer filtration systems and drinkable water.

“The second aspect of the bill focuses on ensuring that the tap water is clean and it requires the state to use science to develop safe drinking water thresholds,” Hansen said. “These are the goals that public drinking water systems must meet to ensure that tap water is safe.”

Hansen a constitutional amendment will be introduced during the 2020 legislative session to add the right to clean air and water to the state’s Bill of Rights. The amendment, similar to House Joint Resolution 25 introduced during the 2019 legislative session, would require two-thirds majority of both the House and state Senate before being put on a ballot.

Both of these legislative efforts were influenced by the movie “Dark Waters,” which came out the first week of December. “Dark Waters” is based on a true story about events that led to a lawsuit against DuPont and C8 pollution. DuPont and seven other companies began phasing out the manufacture of C8 by 2015.

Several Republican members of the House signed a letter Nov. 19 criticizing “Dark Waters,” accusing the film of unfairly reinforcing Appalachian stereotypes.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said these lawmakers missed the point.

“I feel they truly missed the mark by attacking the messenger instead of addressing the important message that many West Virginians in and around Parkersburg area were harmed, even killed, as a result of the irresponsible and dangerous practices of their corporate neighbors,” Pushkin said.

Hansen introduced Tracy Danzey, a Jefferson County native who lived in the Mid-Ohio Valley and suffered health issues from C8 exposure. At age 25 she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma that led to the loss of her leg and part of her hip and her thyroid no longer functions.

“I was a competitive swimmer for all of my developmental years, so not only was I consuming the waters, but I was spending my days in them,” Danzey said. “I was just trying to be a strong girl making West Virginia proud. In retrospect it was a great violation.”

Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said that West Virginians should have to choose between clean water and big business.

“Regulation isn’t a bad word in this state because what regulation … is protection,” Rosser said. “It is our chance to have healthy lives. So we shouldn’t have to choose between taking a job and having cancer. We can do this correctly.”

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