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Legislators Hear Suggestions On Water Crisis Prevention

Reported: Feb. 3, 2014 10:12 PM EST
Updated: Feb. 4, 2014 9:29 AM EST
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Charleston, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) West Virginia state lawmakers now have a lot to consider, after getting an earful during a public hearing on the water crisis Monday night. A lot of people just came to get out their frustrations about the water crisis, but there were also a lot of thoughtful messages about how our state can move forward and prevent another chemical spill and subsequent water contamination.

"We cannot undo the chemical spill, but we can make sure such a tragedy never happens again," a speaker said.

"The most important thing right now is to make sure things are safe, and then restoring our confidence--the confidence of our community and the workforce in our local authorities and in the ability of facility owners to respond to accidental releases of highly hazardous materials," a speaker said.

And many of those at Monday night's public hearing in the state capitol agree, Senate Bill 373 is a good start. The proposal calls for stricter regulation of above ground chemical storage tanks, like those at Freedom Industries. But speaker after speaker taking the podium, and some delegates, also don't think that measure goes far enough.

"Senate Bill 373 needs to address regulations of all tanks and all potential point sources for contamination of our streams and rivers," a speaker said.

"This is a crisis like we've never seen before so it needs to be an all encompassing bill. Now is our chance to really make something and get something on the books that it's important not to be over regulatory and be irresponsible, but also to be strict and stern so this doesn't happen again," said Del. Doug Skaff, (D) Kanawha Co.

One speaker even had an idea about how to make sure both existing, and any new regulations, are properly enforced.

"In this time of record profits for almost all big industries, that we don't charge them a small fraction or percentage of those profits to pay for the enforcement of these safeguards," that speaker said.

And one thing seems certain--concern about the water's safety isn't going away.

"I'm very concerned not so much for myself but for my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and I'm concerned for the community as a whole," said Mary Beam of Charleston.

That's why Beam's daughter's even been researching a special bacteria that can be put into the water immediately following a spill to eat away at chemicals before they cause problems.

"The response plan should have something in it that allows you to respond immediately other than just making a simple phone call," Beam's daughter said.

Now it's up to lawmakers to mull over all this public input...And determine how best to craft legislation that will ensure a water crisis like this doesn't repeat itself.

A couple of other common proposals from the public Monday night: allow county health departments to be involved in tank inspection, not just the DEP, and second, to include all the Chemical Safety Board recommendations issued after the explosion at Bayer a few years ago.

While the Senate's already passed a version of a bill to better regulate tank storage, the house of delegates is committed to being thorough, so that any new laws aren't just a knee jerk reaction, but something that could potentially be a model for the entire country to prevent large-scale water contamination like what we've experienced here.



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