I have no first-hand knowledge of the chemical spill into the Elk River in WV this past week, so I can only report on what I have read from mainstream media. Here are my impressions:
Jan. 10: From CNN TV, I am chagrined at the level of ignorance about the management of hazmat incidents. Early on none of the media accounts mentioned either the VA Dept. of Environmental Protection or the U.S. EPA. As of Friday night (the 10th), FEMA has given WV an emergency declaration. And it appears that the so called “responsible party? is not being responsive or owning up to full responsibility.
Jan. 11: The CSM had an article dealing with the nature of the chemical spilled and how little scientific information about it exists. W.Va. chemical spill: Is more regulation needed for toxic substances? Subtitle: Little information is known about Crude MCHM, the chemical that leaked into West Virginia’s Elk River and potentially contaminated the tap water of 300,000 residents.
Jan 12: From MSNBC:What did West Virginia officials know?
Officials seemed surprised to learn that MCHM was being stored in Freedom Industries’ facilities, and they did not appear to have an emergency plan in place to respond to the spill. “This was not a chemical we were familiar with,” West Virginia American Water Company spokesperson Laura Jordan told the Wall Street Journal Saturday.
From the NY Times: Critics Say Chemical Spill Highlights Lax West Virginia Regulations. Some excerpts:
Last week’s major chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River, which cut off water to more than 300,000 people, came in a state with a long and troubled history of regulating the coal and chemical companies that form the heart of its economy.
“We can’t just point a single finger at this company,” said Angela Rosser, the executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We need to look at our entire system and give some serious thought to making some serious reform and valuing our natural resources over industry interests.”
***lawmakers have yet to explain why the storage facility was allowed to sit on the river and so close to a water treatment plant that is the largest in the state. *** the site of the spill has not been subject to a state or federal inspection since 1991. West Virginia law does not require inspections for chemical storage facilities — only for production facilities.
From the Environmental Defense Fund’s blog: “ 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,***.