West Virginia Chemical Spill Raises Questions

Last week in West Virginia, a chemical spill happened, contaminating a river which supplies water to hundreds of thousands of people. About 300,000 people in nine counties were told to stop using their water.

According to a CNN article, officials say there was not much regulation at the site where the spill occurred and that there is little known about the chemical that leaked into the river.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin told CNN, “We need to do what we can to see that this kind of incident never happens again. There’s no excuse for it.”

The facility where the spill happened is owned by Freedom Industries, a company that supplies products to the coal-mining industry. The chemical, MCHM, is used to treat coal to decrease the amount of ash. Health and safety officials said 7,500 gallons of the chemical had spilled.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been working to provide water to the affected areas. The spill happened on Thursday, Jan. 9, and by Saturday, FEMA had delivered almost one million liters of water from its Maryland distribution centers, according to a WSAZ article.

On Friday, President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for federal disaster assistance to West Virginia. This will supplement the state and local response efforts.

Though people are thankful for the help they’re receiving, the incident has raised a number of questions. How could this have happened? What caused the leak? Why did no one spot the problem before the spill occurred? How dangerous is the chemical MCHM?

An article published on huntingtonnews.net tackles the issue of hazardous chemical inventories being kept from the public, referencing a report from the Chicago Tribune and Reuters.

The article quotes the Chicago Tribune/Reuters report, “The U.S. hazardous-chemical reporting program, known as Tier II, is meant to alert residents to dangers in their communities and to inform planning that could prevent fatalities and injuries. The program grew out of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, enacted in 1986, following leaks of dangerous chemicals in India and West Virginia.”

The article says that Freedom Industries, the company involved in the spill, filed the required Tier II report, however, these kinds of reports are considered “tip sheets” for potential terrorists.

The Chicago Tribune/Reuters report from May, 2013 said 10 states would not disclose inventories at the time of the article, causing Reuters to conclude compliance with the federal law to be "spotty." Forty states had not responded after 45 days.

 

The original Chicago Tribune/Reuters report can be accessed here.
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-05-22/news/sns-rt-us-chemical-emergency-databre94l199-20130522_1_electronic-data-federal-law-arizona-official
For more information, see the WSAZ article and the huntingtonnews.net article here: http://www.wsaz.com/news/headlines/FEMA-Brings-Water-to-Residents-Affected-by-Water-Ban-239771551.html
http://www.huntingtonnews.net/79999
To learn more about the chemical spill, see this CNN article: http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/13/us/west-virigina-chemical-contamination/