West Virginia Chemical Crisis: The Latest

West Virginia American Water customers line up for water at the Gestamp Plant after waiting hours for a water truck, only to have it empited in about 20 minutes on January 10, 2014 in South Charleston, West Virginia. West Virginia American Water determined Thursday MCHM chemical had 'overwhelmed' the plant's capacity to keep it out of the water from a spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston. An unknown amount of the hazardous chemical contaminated the public water system for potentially 300,000 people in West Virginia.
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Jan. 13, 2014, 1:35 a.m.

Three hun­dred thou­sand people in West Vir­gin­ia face a fifth day without drink­ing wa­ter from their taps after the leak of a coal-treat­ment chem­ic­al con­tam­in­ated sup­plies in the Char­le­ston re­gion, Bloomberg re­ports.

But Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Sunday there’s a “light at the end of the tun­nel” and things are “trend­ing in the right dir­ec­tion” after tests showed low levels of con­tam­in­a­tion from 4-methyl­cyc­lo­hex­ane meth­an­ol, the news ser­vice re­ports.

The ac­ci­dent has promp­ted bottled-wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion be­cause res­id­ents can­not use tap wa­ter for drink­ing, bathing, and oth­er needs.

The Char­le­ston Gaz­ette, which has ex­tens­ive cov­er­age of the dis­aster, re­ports that state reg­u­lat­ors have for years ig­nored calls for tough­er over­sight of chem­ic­al fa­cil­it­ies.

The Wall Street Journ­al has a front-page story that says the Free­dom In­dus­tries chem­ic­al-stor­age site that leaked op­er­ated with al­most no state and loc­al mon­it­or­ing.

And the chem­ic­al that spilled in­to the Elk River from the com­pany’s Char­le­ston fa­cil­ity “isn’t closely tracked by fed­er­al pro­grams,” the pa­per re­ports.

The ac­ci­dent is also re­ignit­ing calls for Con­gress to toughen fed­er­al reg­u­la­tion of chem­ic­als and in­dustry test­ing re­quire­ments.

Le­gis­la­tion to strengthen the Tox­ic Sub­stances Con­trol Act has lan­guished for years on Cap­it­ol Hill.

En­vir­on­ment­al De­fense Fund sci­ent­ists, in a week­end blog post, said the spill re­veals the “epic fail­ure” of the law passed in the mid-1970s.

“What is par­tic­u­larly mad­den­ing and out­rageous is that no one — not loc­al or state of­fi­cials, not the com­pany that owns the stor­age tank, not the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment — can say any­thing even close to defin­it­ive about what risk the chem­ic­al poses to people, even in the short term, let alone over time,” EDF’s Richard Den­ison and Jen­nifer Mc­Part­land write.

“And that’s where the fail­ures of TSCA come in­to sharp fo­cus,” their post states.

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