After more than a week since a chemical spill on the Elk River, some West Virginia American Water customers are still questioning the quality of the water running out of their taps.
“Make no mistake, the discharge of chemicals or other contaminants is unacceptable and neither I nor anyone standing here with me today will tolerate it in West Virginia,” Governor Tomblin said after he thanked the people of West Virginia for their patience as he and emergency officials worked to restore water service to more than 300,000 West Virginians.
At a press conference, Tomblin explained the legislation he will introduce to lawmakers in order to prevent such an accident from happening again.
“This legislation will address currently unregulated tanks. Those located in areas of critical concern, near our public water supply and distribution systems,” he said. “This proposed legislation will ensure that all above ground storage tanks are built and maintained consistent with required safety standards.”
Drafted with the help of the Department of Environmental Protection, the bill has multiple facets.
It will require all public water systems to have written plans in place to deal with any contamination possible near their intake sites.
It empowers the DEP to implement an above ground regulatory program, inspecting storage tanks and secondary containment systems.
Companies storing chemicals above ground will be required to self report the location of all of their tanks and provide an annual written report on any changes made to their storage locations.
DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said while all of the aspects of the bill will help ensure the future safety of the state’s water, it’s the annual certifications done by engineers that will be the most help for the department.
“The biggest thing is that we’re looking for an annual certification by a registered professional engineer that the tanks and secondary containment have all been tested and that they meet the requirements as outlined in the bill,” Huffman said after the announcement. “That’s huge. That would have prevented this incident last week.”
Huffman said the additional inspectors or equipment needed to meet the requirements of the bill will likely be paid for through fees the department will collect from the chemical industry, but those will be set in legislative rule making rather than in law.
Senate President Jeff Kessler said as his chamber moves forward with both the governor’s and the senate’s versions of regulations, they will focus on three major aspects: identifying the chemical inventory, certifying that inventory is being stored in a safe manner, and notifying the public and public officials of where these chemicals are located so emergency plans can be put in place.
“My pledge to you, and I see many of my Senators here today, never again. Never again.”