After the chemical spill into the Elk River that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians, the state legislature took unprecedented action. The House of Delegates unanimously passed, 95-0, legislation that creates a new slate of state regulations, requiring the state Division of Environmental Protection to inspect and license storage tanks that are above ground, such as the Freedom Industries tank that leaked 10,000 gallons of chemicals into the Elk River.
Among other provisions, the legislation will require that water utilities that use surface water identify possible contamination sources located near the water intake valve; that all above-ground storage tanks be registered with the state Division of Environmental Protection, with regular inspections being made by the Division; that the Division determine which storage tanks above ground are already regulated by a different agency and thus did not need a second review; and that by July 2015, all water utilities have a source water protection plan in the event of another spill that could contaminate the water.
In addition, the House passed an amendment 83-10 that requires the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health to gather and store medical information on people exposed to the chemicals in order to determine the possible long-term health effects.
The Senate had already passed a version of the legislation, but since the House version differs in many ways, the two chambers will need to meet and work out the differences.
The West Virginia legislature’s actions took place following meetings with citizens groups, who described the effect the tainted water has had upon their lives. One noted that even two months after the chemical spill, most people are still not drinking the water, and many are not bathing their children in it. Too many people are concerned that they know so little about the chemical that polluted the Elk River. Many residents still showed symptoms of exposure to the chemical, and too many could still smell it coming from their taps.
The disaster resulted in at least 20 personal injury lawsuits being filed against Freedom Industries and West Virginia American Water. Separate state and federal investigations are also underway, led by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin respectively. Several groups have criticized as one of the causes a pervasive attitude of anti-regulation, anti-Environmental Protection Agency, and pro-industry — with water quality and public health becoming casualties.
For the sake of 300,000 residents around Charleston, as well as other West Virginians who have been fortunately spared exposure to chemical spills in their water, one can hope that once the legislation becomes law, industries within the state will be much more careful. Until then, for many people personally affected, their only recourse is to hire an experienced personal injury attorney and file a lawsuit.
The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia personal injury attorney, contact us today.