The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

February 11, 2014

House panel holds hearing on chemical spill

CHARLESTON — Several stakeholders in last month’s chemical spill said 300,000 affected West Virginians can use their running water however they please. But no one ventured to tell federal lawmakers Monday that the water is “safe.”

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard testimony from government and water officials at a hearing Monday in Charleston. Almost exactly a month after the Jan. 9 spill, state and federal decision makers who lifted a water-use ban weeks ago emphasize the water met necessary scientific criteria.

State health officer Dr. Letitia Tierney said she is confident in the standard, but everyone has a different idea of what is safe. For instance, she said West Virginians can choose to base jump more than 800 feet off a bridge once a year.

“Some people think it’s safe to jump off a bridge on Bridge Day,” Tierney said. “I don’t personally think that’s safe.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, the Republican committee chairman from Pennsylvania, speculated that it’s more of a legal maneuver not to label the water safe.

“I suspect the main reason is everyone is afraid they’re going to get sued,” Shuster said.

Out of about 60 members on the congressional committee, four representatives attended — Shuster, Daniel Webster, R-Fla., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also asked questions with the panel.

The two-hour hearing included officials from the private water company affected, state health and environmental agencies, the federal chemical board, county emergency departments and West Virginia’s homeland security agency.

Despite receiving an invitation, Freedom Industries President Gary Southern did not attend. Since the company spilled its licorice-smelling chemical into the Elk River, Southern has appeared publicly twice — at a news conference the day after the spill and in federal bankruptcy court on Jan. 21. Under bankruptcy proceedings, the company is temporarily shielded from dozens of lawsuits, many by businesses that lost money while shuttered during the water-use ban.

“There is an odor emanating from Freedom Industries, and it’s not licorice,” Rahall said. “We cannot legislate morality into the billionaire corporate courtrooms where shell game playing abounds.”

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso also revealed that Freedom Industries knew of inadequacies months ago. The company ordered its own review of its tanks last October.

Hired environmental consultants found storage units at the Charleston location were “not necessarily” in full compliance with Environmental Protection Agency and industry standards. They found the same issue at a second Freedom Industries site in Nitro.

The chemicals that spilled were deemed “non-hazardous” and aren’t regulated under federal law.

Moure-Eraso also said the tank that spilled was situated on porous gravel and soil. A last resort containment wall wasn’t lined and provided little protection.

New Chemical Safety Board findings also show two small holes, about 19 and 10 centimeters each, in the tank that leaked. Originally, state environmental regulators described a 1-inch hole.

Moure-Eraso commented that the chemical board has responded to two other chemical disasters in the Kanawha Valley since 2008. Its subsequent recommendations for West Virginia to adopt a hazardous chemical release prevention program have not been adopted. The proposal would incorporate a variety of departments at multiple levels of government to prepare for spills.

“Perhaps qualified inspectors would have considered aging chemical storage tanks, located just upstream from a public drinking water treatment plant, to be potentially ‘highly hazardous’ and worthy of a closer look,” Moure-Eraso said in a statement.

Text Only
West Virginia
  • West Virginia chemical safe level following spill based on two weeks

    When federal officials decided what chemical levels West Virginians could safely consume in water tainted by a January spill, their standard assumed people would be exposed for two weeks, not 100-plus days.

    April 23, 2014

  • Some state Democrats flip to GOP

    As Republicans rally for more control in West Virginia’s long-time Democratic Legislature, a few Democrats have jumped ship to the GOP and are challenging former colleagues in midterm races.
    Republicans face their biggest election opportunity in decades in the House of Delegates, where a four-seat swing would put them in power for the first time in 85 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Gee’s move could save Ohio State millions

    Ohio State University expects to save millions of dollars because former president Gordon Gee is giving up part of his retirement package as he becomes president of West Virginia University for the second time.

    April 19, 2014

  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads